Canning Tomato Sauce

This year, 2022, is the first year that we started our own plants. We’ve gardened for plenty of years before this but stepped up our game this year. We decided that with the world being a little bit crazy, it was time for us to learn how to start seeds. There were a lot of wasted efforts and definitely some dead plants. However, in the end we got enough plants in the garden and they were extremely fruitful. My mother didn’t have quite as much faith as I did and actually bought more tomatoes too. I had 33 tomato plants in my garden and she had at least double that. As you can imagine, it’s been a lot of tomatoes. We divide our harvest by four though so, to be fair, there really isn’t excess. This year we’ve focused on canning tomato sauce for it’s versatility. 

What Do I Mean By Versatile?

The biggest thing people need to learn about canning is not necessarily the techniques. Sure, the recipes will help you to can whatever it is that you are looking for (and I truly mean that, people can butter). However, if you aren’t going to use the thing you are canning in the manner that you are canning it then your efforts are pointless. 

A good example of this is jalapenos. There are a lot of people who make these into cowboy candy and then preserve it. Other methods of this include freezing or pickling. When it comes to this crop I know that there are only certain ways that we will use it. We’ll use pickled jalapenos on pizza and my husband will use some on sandwiches and other various foods. We’ll use the frozen ones to make the best stuffed jalapenos ever. We choose not to turn our’s into cowboy candy because I know that we will use, at most, one jar. 

The same works for tomato sauce. If you just can the tomato sauce you can turn it into so many different things really easily vs. canning each of those individually. Using a jar of tomato sauce you can turn it into: enchilada sauce, ketchup, bbq sauce, chili base, spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, tomato soup, pizza sauce, and I’m sure there are more that I’m forgetting.

The other option is to can each of those individually. Our issue with canning them individually is that we typically end up with too much of one or the other. Yes, we do can tomato soup and spaghetti sauce. It’s more important to us to have a high level of just plain tomato sauce so that when we run out of one of those things we have the option to turn it into whatever we need it. Hopefully that makes sense. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you are going to can. We just love that plain sauce can be turned into tons of things. 

Plus if, someday, we can’t get to the store we want to have the ability to be flexible with what we are cooking. The prepper side of us knows that having plain sauce with some other spices/seasonings on hand will get us pretty far in this situation.

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Tomato Type

For this one thing, tomato type matters quite a bit. You will definitely want to make sure that you have meaty tomatoes. When I first started gardening I always wanted to grow the big pretty ones or the round ones that we saw at the store. It was what we were use to. Then we started canning and found out how much better romas and paste tomatoes perform. Our very favorite were the large Amish Paste tomatoes that I grew this year. They are so thick and wonderful to work with. Our regular Romas were a close second and also performed very well for our tomato sauce. You can absolutely use any type you have (even little cherry tomatoes) but the water content will be higher and that just means you will need to cook it down longer. 

We do most of our tomato canning outside on our Camp Chef! Well worth the investment.
We do most of our tomato canning outside on our Camp Chef! Well worth the investment.

How to Can Tomato Sauce

I’m not going to lie, this isn’t my favorite thing to can. It takes quite a bit of effort and we choose to do it in very large batches to make that a lot easier for us. Unfortunately, I’m not able to measure in lbs or bushels of tomatoes. I can’t tell you how many tomatoes it will take for a quart of sauce (mainly because it depends on what type you are using). If you are going to do tomato sauce in the way that we do it- make sure you have quite a bit. It’s a lot of equipment for a small round of tomatoes.

  1. Clean your tomatoes. We use a double sink to wash them first, give them a second rinse, and then pull them out to try.
  2. Chunk them up. You do not need to core them or peel them. Just cut them up into reasonable chunks. For reference, we cut a regular size roma into 4 pieces and cut our cherry tomatoes in half.
  3. Cook them down on medium/low heat, stirring often. This will take around 20-30 minutes but it is worth it. Make sure that all of the skins on the tomatoes are mushy before pulling it off the heat. There will be quite a bit of sauce already in the pan- that is okay! We actually like to use a potato masher on this step to help mush down the tomatoes so that they cook well. I cannot understate how important this step is. If your tomatoes are not cooked enough it’s going to make the next step very difficult and/or you will lose a lot of your “meat” that you want for the sauce. 
  4. Once your tomatoes are cooked put them through a sieve or food mill. If you are doing a small batch one of these small food mills is going to work best. However, we do the large batches and use our Squeezos- they work awesome! I’ve also heard there is a KitchenAid attachment but we don’t have one (yet). 
  5. Once your sauce is done you will want to put it back onto the heat and cook it down to get some of the water out of it. You could easily just can it as soon as it’s done too but it will be more watery than what you buy in the store. We cook it down on low for about a day or two until it’s the consistency that we desire. 
  6. Once your sauce is at desired consistency, remove it from heat. Prepare your jars and lids as needed for canning.
  7. Add ½ tsp citric acid per quart or ¼ tsp citric acid per pint of sauce. You can also use lemon juice if you prefer. The ratio for that is 2 Tbsp per quart of sauce or 1 Tbsp per pint of sauce. 
  8. Using your waterbath, you will process quarts for 40 minutes and pints for 35 minutes. 
The most important tool to canning tomatoes- our Squeezo! We all have them now and they are the workhorse of our process.
The most important tool to canning tomato sauce- our Squeezo! We all have them now and they are the workhorse of our process.

In Summary: Canning Tomato Sauce

I don’t want to brag but we’re basically experts at canning tomato sauce after this year. We have been doing all of our canning outside and it’s been a big family affair every weekend. We’ve canned well over 100 quarts of just plain tomato sauce so far this year and we definitely aren’t done yet. It might not be the easiest thing to can but it is one of my favorite things to have on hand and is quite a bit of cost savings (if you aren’t buying new jars). 

What is the easiest thing to can? What do you dread the most? 

I really love to can pie filling. I think it’s fun and I love seeing it thicken up. Honestly, I probably dread tomato sauce the most. At first it’s tons of fun but after the first couple rounds it gets old and it’s so much work!

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