10 Tips for Canning Over a Wood Fire

I guess wood fire canning is pretty uncommon these days, but we decided to try.  Like everything else on our homestead, we try and we learn!  We are choosing to use a fire (instead of our propane stove) for a few reasons.  We’re trying to learn to be self-sufficient.  Propane costs money and wood from our property is free!  Our All American pressure canner is huge and it doesn’t fit on our stove.  We don’t want to heat up our house even more in the summer.

squash-picklesFor our first fire canning experience, we decided to use our pressure canner as a water bath.  We wanted to get a feel for how much wood it would take to build a fire hot enough, how long it would take for the canner to come to a boil, and just practice the process before throwing pressure canning into the equation.  We had been given a lot of zucchini and yellow squash, so we decided to make bread and butter squash pickles.  See the recipe here.

The second day we did more squash, dill pickles, and used the pressure canner for green beans.  (See 16 Tips for Pressure Canning Over a Wood Fire for more specific information about pressure canning.)  We did twice as much food in half the amount of time!  It was a long, hot day.  We couldn’t stop sweating and were dumping cold well water over our heads, but we canned a lot of food!  It was a successful day!

Here are the tips that I’ve learned from my wood fire canning experience:

  1. Have helpers.  This is the most important thing.  I couldn’t have done this by myself.  I’ll be honest and admit that I was kind of intimated by my HUGE All American pressure canner.  If you haven’t seen this thing in person, a picture doesn’t really do it justice.  It holds 19 quart jars.  It weighs 25 pounds when it’s empty.  When it’s full, it is over 100 pounds.  It takes two people to move.  My husband and I could do it, but for safety’s sake we let it completely cool before we moved it.  Once it is on the fire and full, you better have it where you want it!
  2. Don’t leave your fire and produce unattended.  Our animals came over frequently to check on us.  They would have gobbled up my uncooked squash if I had let them!  But besides that, it is not a good practice to leave boiling pots unattended.  Again, have helpers.
  3. Have lots of firewood ready!  My husband was on fire duty.  A short way into the process on our first day, he realized that he didn’t have near enough firewood collected.  He had his chainsaw ready and kept cutting more.  The second day, he was better prepared.
  4. Start the fire early and get it hot before you’re ready to start.  We didn’t accomplish this the first time we tried.  The second time the fire was good and hot.  The whole process went a lot faster with a hotter fire.
  5. Make sure your cooking grate is a good height.  We tried a couple different levels the first time, but in the end the lower height was better.  Things cooked quickly and we made good progress by moving things on and off the fire as we needed them.  We set our grate on two levels of concrete block.  It is on the right in the picture above.
  6. Have as many pots as you have available filled with water on the edges of your grate.  You can never have enough warm water.  You will want extra hot water when doing water bath canning.
  7. Have everything ready so that you don’t have to go in and out of your house to get your supplies.  Along with the regular canning supplies (funnel, ladel, jar puller, etc.), heavy oven mitts and long handled wooden spoons are a must.  In the future, we are going to try using welder’s gloves that go up to the elbows.
  8. You will be hot!  Have lots of drinking water on hand.  Shade is good, but our spot doesn’t have much.
  9. When sterilizing your jars, put the lid on your pot!  This was the biggest mistake we made when canning the first time.  Ash got in the water.  The squash took longer to come to a boil than I thought it would and my empty jars were sitting in the water staying hot for a long time.  By the time I was ready to fill them, I realized all of them were covered with a film.  We had to wipe them out and start again.  The second time, we kept the lids on!
  10. canning2Your pots will get blackened with the fire.  If you are concerned with this, it’s best to have pots devoted to outside canning.  It also helps to wash up your pots outside and have a couple dishpans devoted to this.  You will have lots of hot water from the canner when you are done.  You will not want to wash fire blackened pots in your kitchen sink.  I don’t like bringing soot into my house, if I can help it!

This was hard, hot work, but totally worth it.  We will continue to can this way for the rest of the summer and put up as much produce as we can.  We also plan to can a lot of chicken once our birds are old enough.  Canning over an open fire is possible, even when using a pressure canner.  Anything worth doing, takes some practice!

Please view this episode to see our first outdoor canning experience!

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About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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  1. You are doing a wonderful job Jaimie & family! You are right on the hot-hard-work but so worth it part– especially this winter when you open up those jars of summertime goodness and the family so enjoys every bite! <3 many more jars ahead for ya! -Lori

    • Thanks Lori! The other day, I kept saying,”I wish Lori Hughey was here to help me and show me how to use this thing!” Many more jars for you too, I’m sure. 🙂

      • Veran canner/farmer here. All my canners purchased new came with a warning to never use them over open flame as they would warp and then be unuseable on a stove top. What is your experience with this? We have been planning on trying pressure canning (we know e can water bath) over wood but haven’t wanted to ruin a canner.

        • I have never heard that. Ours did not come with a warning. It’s an All-American pressure canner. My neighbor used her pressure canner on an outside wood fire for three years without any problem. She now uses it on a stovetop.

  2. Jaimie….When my husband and I did a lot of camping, we found out that rubbing the bottom and side of the pan or pot with bar soap, like Ivory, would protect the pans from the black soot. When you wash the pans the soot easily comes off. We tried it and it worked but you have to put a heavy coat of soap on it. I’ve never tried it on a canning pot or a really hot fire. Maybe you could Google it and find other solutions. Thanks for sharing a little of your life with us.

    • We’ve always used liquid dish soap for the outside of the pots. Much easier to apply and really makes the washing up much easier.

  3. You are such a busy bee preparing for winter. Growing up we did food preserving on a wood fire. My dad build a stove, or whatever you would call it so that the fire was not open and we could work from the other side, not the fire making side, it made it much more bearable.

  4. susanne aufderheide

    I was telling my hubby I wanted to try thing and he gave me an odd look. Thanks for the advise.
    I do have a solution for the black pots. Put dish soap on the bottom and sides, makes cleaning a breeze.

  5. I am familiar with the soap for the outside of pots to help in cleaning them later. I thought about doing it, but in the end I decided not to. I don’t really care about the outside because they will only be used for canning/cooking outside. Yesterday I just sat them on the ground, squirted a little dishsoap inside with some hot water from the canning, and scrubbed and rinsed. They are ready for the next time. I just don’t care about washing the outside when I’m going to use them over and over. Canning season has only just begun. 🙂

  6. Thank you for all you and Zachary do! You and your family are an inspiration to so many! Praying you have much success and blessings on your homestead!

  7. How do you turn down the temp under the pressure canner once it starts to jiggle?

    • We used water and a corrugated metal “shield”. I will be writing a more in depth article about pressure canning soon. Look for it at the beginning of next week.

  8. Have you considered building a rocket stove as a heat source? It uses less wood and is more controllable. The downside is that it would require a lot of attention to keep the fire at the right heat.

    • We considered a rocket stove, but we need a very large cooking surface for big pots and lots of them! I don’t believe a rocket stove can provide that. I think a rocket stove is better served for one pot meals that don’t take too long to cook. We do have future plans for a better outdoor setup that would make less smoke in the eyes! But for now, this is getting the job down. We couldn’t wait for the perfect setup because the produce is coming in! As we learn, we will know better what we want to do for the future. You can’t know unless you try. 🙂

  9. How brave you are! Next time you cook or can over a fire, just smear some liquid dish detergent all over the bottom and partway up the sides of your kettles first. Then when you are finished, cleaning off the soot will be a breeze! I learned this when I was a young Girl Scout. I’m 65 years old so this was a while ago. Our rule was, if you forget to soap the pots, you get to clean the pots afterwards! It works really well. I know you say you aren’t worried about this in the comment above, but believe me, it will be worth it. That soot will build up and be a problem when you want to store your canning equipment. I suggest you try it on something else and see what you think! I do have a question. How did you regulate the pressure using the fire? I have a propane stove I’m using and have to constantly be fiddling with the fire to keep the pressure where I want it. In fact, I take a chair into the kitchen and read while this is going on!

  10. Hi Jamie, Lil Girl Scout trick I learned is to coat the outside of your cookpots with dishsoap before using them over a wood fire. The soot will wash right off.

  11. Rocket stoves are great for outdoor canning if you have the right one for the job. It’s called an “institutional” rocket stove, because it’s commonly used in institutions like orphanages all over the world to heat lots of water or cook lots of food. The pot capacity is typically about 50 liters. That’s a lot of hot water. You can build one yourself or buy it ready to use. Google “institutional rocket stove” to find links about how to make one. Google “instove” for a company that sells them.

  12. If you have no natural shade, why not create shade with a canopy over your prep area at least. I’d put a few chairs in there too. 🙂

  13. You have grit for sure. I can but never over an open flame, you made me break a sweat just reading it.

  14. I saw your 10 tips for canning over a wood fire. What are you using for your fire grate? I want to make a cooking area like yours, but am having trouble finding the grate! Help please.

  15. Do you have any pictures of your set up? I’d love to build something I can cook on outside on and your set up looks interesting. 110 degrees outside and a hot oven just don’t go together.

  16. Just a thought that might help with the blackening of the pots…. We learned and always taught our Boy Scouts to smear dish soap on the outside of a pot that you plan to cook over an open fire. (notice I said outside) bad things happen when some boys would smear the inside…. This really makes the cleanup a lot easier…. Just a bit of wisdom from an old “Eagle”…

  17. How much home canned goods does your family consume on average per week during the winter months? How do you figure out how much food to set aside (via canning)? Also, have you experimented at all with a dug out cellars? Or using sand to store root vegetables?

  18. Excellent article. In regard to your pans turning black from the soot, use either liquid soap or bar soap and smear or rub it all over the outside of your kettles. Then when you are done, your soot should just wash away much easier. My husband and I are Civil War re-enactors and we were both scouts in our younger years and they taught us about the soap on your pans. We keep a small bottle of cheap, Dollar Store dish soap in our kit. I am going to try canning this year on our fire pit in the back yard. I’ll start with tomatoes first since they’re a high acid food.

  19. Can I ask what you use for the grate? Having trouble finding a grate to cook on over an open fire. Thank you.

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