Many of us are guilty of collecting kitchen equipment and tools randomly. Before we know it, our cupboards become a collection of bits and pieces from different projects, but we still always seem to be missing something we need. This comprehensive list of essential food preservation tools and equipment will help you buy the correct items so you can always be ready to preserve and store food as it becomes available.
A pressure canner is required to can meat or fish, while a water bath or stock pot is necessary to can high-acid items. Other essential food preservation items include canning jars and lids, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers. Dehydrators and freeze dryers are versatile appliances to preserve food.
Anyone dipping their toes into the exciting world of preserving their own food for the first time can quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of equipment and special tools they seem to need. Let’s take a step back and find out what is actually required and which items you can get later.
Food Preservation Tools And Equipment
Food preservation is a broad term that encompasses many techniques. The most common ways to preserve food include canning, pickling, fermenting, freezing, curing, drying, and sugaring. You may also just want to store bulk dry ingredients safely as emergency rations or stockpile during special offers.
Each food preservation method requires specific equipment, but if you have the correct basic tools on hand, you will find that there is a lot of overlap. As long as the emphasis always remains firmly on food safety, and you have the essential items, there are plenty of hacks that will get you through your first few harvests or canning seasons without requiring an enormous outlay.
In addition to some trusty kitchen basics like an excellent knife, chopping board, measuring spoons, and mixing bowls, which you probably already have, there are some specific food preservation items you will need. There are extra items that will make the process easier, but you should be able to manage them even if you don’t have them right away.
We have divided the list into the essential items required to preserve food safely, additional useful equipment, and other small food preservation items.
What Are The Four Most Essential Food Preservation Items?
Four pieces of food preservation equipment and tools should form the backbone of any homestead kitchen. These are must-have items, so even if you can only choose one or two food processing items to begin with, these should be top of your list.
- Pressure Canner
A pressure canner is the number one essential item required by everyone who plans to preserve food by canning. It is a heavy-duty item that is able to superheat food to much higher temperatures than a water bath.
All low-acid foods that you want to can be processed using a pressure canner. That includes food items like vegetables, meat, fish, or broth. There is no substitute for a pressure canner since it creates a pressurized environment that eliminates harmful bacteria.
If you need to choose between buying a pressure canner or a water bath canner, or if you don’t have space to store two large pots, it is better to select the pressure canner. It can double up as a water bath canner if needed, but a hot water bath canner can never do double duty as a pressure canner.
- Water Bath Canner
Many popular high-acid foods, like tomatoes, fruit preserves, and pickles, don’t need the intense heat of a pressure canner to be safely processed. Preserving these foods safely only requires a water bath canner.
Although it is handy to have a dedicated water bath canner since it is a convenient size and has a built-in rack and tight-fitting lid, an ordinary stock pot can also work admirably. The essential thing is that you always follow the process to safely heat-seal your jars.
- Canning Jars And Lids
There is no substitute for proper canning jars and lids. For food to be preserved safely and last as long as possible, the lids must form a pressure vacuum to prevent spoilage.
Canning jars are reusable, so after your initial outlay, you will be able to reuse the same jars for years to come. However, the flat-top canning lids should never be reused. Fortunately, they are inexpensive and available in bulk.
Once you are stocked up on canning jars, keeping a good supply of flat lids handy is a good idea. That way, you will always be ready if you are blessed with a sudden windfall of produce from a kind neighbor.
- Mylar Bags And Oxygen Absorbers
If you regularly preserve food by drying, mylar bags are essential items in your food preservation artillery. These nifty space-age bags are entirely different from regular plastic bags. Mylar bags have a special coating that creates a barrier against oxygen, light, and moisture.
Adding an oxygen absorber to a mylar bag along with your dried food will keep it safely preserved for extended periods, sometimes even decades. Mylar bags can be used for small items or, when teamed up with 5-gallon buckets, can also be used to preserve bulk dry food items safely.
Useful Food Preservation Equipment
If you preserve food regularly, it may be worth your while to invest in some specialized items. Although they are not absolutely necessary to successfully preserve food, they will save you time, and in the long run, they may also save you money.
These are some useful pieces of equipment that should definitely be on your wish list once you have all the food preservation essentials:
- Food Dehydrator
Dehydrating seasonal harvests is one of the quickest and healthiest ways to preserve them. Everything from figs to tomatoes can be dehydrated and stored to enjoy later.
Although it is technically possible to use your regular stove oven to dehydrate most food items, it does have some limitations, especially if you dehydrate food regularly. A food dehydrator is an asset as it makes dehydrating hassle-free and safe.
- A Home Freeze Dryer
Admittedly a home-freeze dryer is a pricey item, but it is unbeatable in terms of the range of food it can preserve. Anything from eggs to ice cream can be freeze-dried and stored.
Because of the cost, a home freeze dryer isn’t a realistic option for everyone, but it is something to be aware of if you preserve food regularly. After all, it isn’t often one comes across an appliance that can preserve food for up to 25 years while retaining the original color, nutritional value, and taste!
- Blanching And Steaming Basket
There are plenty of foods that must be plunged into boiling water before being processed further. You may not think that a simple blanching and steaming basket is an essential food preservation tool unless you don’t have one.
Having a dedicated blanching basket saves you from having to fish around over a steaming pot trying to hook stray ingredients. Most steamer baskets fit inside a canning pot, pressure cooker, or stock pot and will make the process of blanching and steaming food quick and easy.
- Storage Bag Sealer
Although you can use a hack and seal your mylar bags using a clothes iron or a hair straightening iron, having the correct tool does simplify the process. It makes the process much quicker, and you can feel confident knowing that your mylar bags are sealed tightly every time.
Essential Canning Tools
Not all essential food preservation items are large and expensive. Some of the most important things you will need are gadgets you probably would never have recognized before you started on the exciting journey of food preservation.
Although you can double up and make do with many of your regular kitchen items, having the correct tools will help you get the job done faster. Many canning tools are standard and can be purchased in kit form from major retailers.
The contents of canning kits can vary, but they should always contain the following basic tools:
- Jar lifter
- Canning funnel
- Canning tongs
- Bubble remover
- A magnetic lid lifter
- A canning rack
- A steaming rack
Miscellaneous Items Needed To Preserve Food
There are multiple ways that you could choose to store particular food types. For example, if you have had a bumper chili crop, you could create sauces, freeze, salt, dry, or make chili pickles.
No matter which food preservation method you use, there are a few items you may need to successfully preserve, pack and store your food for future use. Let’s go through a list of things that may be required to get your food from fresh harvested to safely preserved.
- Waterproof markers and labels – Never rely on your memory when you store food. Always label all items with the contents and when it was packed.
- Kitchen timer – Have a large timer to let you know when your ingredients have cooked, stewed, simmered, soaked, pickled, or boiled for long enough.
- Candy thermometer – Useful for indicating the setting point when making jelly or other preserves.
- Ladle – If you don’t already have one, it is something you will need. A large ladle is invaluable when bottling hot ingredients.
- Food-grade buckets – Anyone interested in emergency preparation food storage or preserving surplus dry rations may benefit from keeping some food-grade plastic buckets with lids on hand. Dry foods like rolled oats and white rice can be stored for over 20 years in mylar bags sealed inside 5-gallon buckets.
How Long Can You Preserve Food In The Freezer?
Up to now, we have only covered food preservation tools and equipment required to store food at room temperature. One of the most common ways to preserve food is to freeze it.
Freezing food increases its shelf life. The lower the temperature, the longer one can expect the food to last. In fact, frozen food kept at a consistent temperature of 0F should last indefinitely.
Of course, you can’t just pop any food into the freezer for long-term storage and expect it to emerge in a few months looking as appetizing as when it went in – unless it was packaged and sealed correctly. A vacuum sealer is one of the most valuable tools for anyone who relies on their freezer to preserve food for long periods.
Besides preventing freezer burn from air exposure, a vacuum sealer is also a great way to save precious freezer space so you can fit more in. Of course, this handy tool is also helpful for resealing everything from cereal to crackers to keep them fresher for longer.
Is A Freeze Dryer Worth It?
Freeze dryers come with a hefty price tag. They are also sizeable appliances that take up a lot of space. However, they have almost magical powers of being able to safely preserve foods without destroying their color, nutritional value, or taste for more than twenty years.
A freeze dryer can be an invaluable tool for anyone who does a lot of food preservation throughout the year. It is easy to use and can even safely preserve fragile foods like mushrooms and eggs.
The downside is the cost and the fact that even the largest home freeze dryers only hold a maximum of five trays. Considering that it takes at least 20 to 40 hours to freeze dry most foods, it is a time-consuming technique, and if you have a large harvest, it could take weeks to process everything.
Freeze drying is particularly useful in some situations, for example, if you are packing freeze-dried products for emergency preparedness or are an avid hiker who regularly requires freeze-dried meals. However, a freeze dryer remains a nice-to-have food preservation item for most of us.
A pressure canner is the most essential piece of equipment for preserving food. There is no substitute for it, as it is the only safe method to can low-acid food like meat and vegetables.
Besides a pressure canner, everyone preserving food should have a hot water bath canner, canning jars with the correct lids, and mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. So long as the basics are in place, additional food preservation equipment and tools required can grow over time.