The Complete Dry Canning Food Storage Guide
There are many long-term storage methods to preserve food for decades. Dry canning is one such method and may be used to store dry foods such as rice and beans for twenty plus years.
- What is dry canning?
- Why dry can – what are the benefits?
- What foods can be dry canned?
- What is the process to store food using dry canning?
- Is dry canning safe?
Continue reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.
If you've ever had pantry moths, you'll be able to relate. My experience with them began with one or two ... no big deal. Soon, however, there were hundreds. They were in everything ... opened spice jars, salt shaker, ramen noodles and even sealed packages of taco seasoning mix. I don't know whether there had been a small puncture in the package that allowed them access or if they chewed a hole in the packet themselves. Either way, they were in my food and I didn't like sharing. While preparing meals, I began checking every single ingredient for moths, cocoons, eggs or webbing. I threw away hundreds of dollars of food!
I read all the articles and watched all the videos about what people did to get rid of the moths. I tried everything they suggested to get them under control. My biggest success had been the Terro traps, but they worked only to a point. The larvae still continued to damage and contaminate my food. I had to find a way to stop the cycle.
Eventually, the moths had migrated to every level of my split-level home and into every room, including the bedrooms, bathrooms and closets. After two whole years of moth combat, I stumbled across an article about dry canning. Dry canning was the final tool that helped me win the battle against the pantry moth. Best of all, my food is safe now and decades from now!
I still keep Terro traps set up in a couple of areas in my kitchen and pantry. They catch the occasion moth that hatches from food that I've purchased. They help keep the moths out of the food that I've opened. I no longer worry about the food that I've dry canned.
What is Dry Canning?
With the advent of COVID-19, many people have started to seriously think about what needs to be done to prepare for a WTSHTF scenario ... everyday people ... not just preppers. Dry canning, also called oven canning, is one method of long-term food storage that is easy for anyone to accomplish.
What is dry canning?
Dry canning is a process that allows you to store certain foods in sealed mason jars for long periods of time. Dry canning is accomplished by placing mason jars filled with dry goods in a 220 degrees Fahrenheit oven. After the food is dry canned, it is sealed in a sterile environment that will keep it safe for decades. Dry canning has been around since the early 1940s. It is an excellent way to store food without the use of refrigeration.
Benefits of Dry Canning
So, why should you dry can food that is already dry? Good question! Actually, there are several good reasons to dry can food for long-term storage rather than just placing the food in a container or closed mason jar.
- Heating the dry foods in the oven kills most, if not all, insects, insect eggs and their larvae. This ensures these pests will not be munching on your food item while you think it is safely stored, reducing the likelihood that you will find the food already partially consumed and/or filled with defecation and dead insects.
- Once sealed, dry canned food is safe from moisture and insects until the sealed jar is opened in the future.
- Food stored in mason jars keeps your pantry neat and organized since much of the food you've already canned and stored in your pantry is in jars of the same size.
- Some people store bulk amounts of flour in large containers or buckets and use oxygen absorbers to maintain its freshness. This process will keep the flour fresh until the bucket or container is opened to use a portion of flour; then, it begins to deteriorate. If flour is dry canned in mason jars, when you open one of the jars, the flour will be used much quicker because the packaging is smaller. You run a greater risk of having to throw away flour stored in a larger container before you can use it; whereas, the dry canned flour is more likely to be used before it can go stale or be invaded by insects.
- Many people store surplus flour, rice and sugar in the freezer to prevent the insects from hatching. Dry canning frees up this freezer space for items that actually need to be frozen such as meat.
- Food dry canned in mason jars is safe from rodents. Other storage methods – plastic containers, heavy-duty food-grade plastic buckets and plastic bags – are easy for rodents to access the foods. Yes, a determined little field mouse can chew through a heavy-duty plastic bucket. So can your kid’s hamster that escaped last week.
What Foods Can Be Stored by Dry Canning?
Dry canned food must have extremely low moisture content for success. The foods must be those that would not normally require a method of preservation for storage such as refrigeration, canning or freezing. Foods that can be successfully dry canned are those which would normally be stored in dry, moisture-proof containers such as plastic containers or buckets with lids, canning jars or vacuum-sealed bags or containers.
Examples of foods that can be preserved through dry canning include:
- All types of dry beans and bean mixtures such as pinto, black, lima, lentils, garbanzo, etc.
- All types of rice such as brown, long-grain, short-grain, wild, quick-cooking, etc. Brown rice does not store for as long a period as white rice. Its oil content can cause it to become rancid after 3-5 years.
- All types of flours such as wheat (white and whole wheat), rice, oat, etc. Flours made from nuts such as almond flour should be avoided because these flours wouldn’t store well long-term due to the oils in the nuts which become rancid.
- Dry pasta that does not contain eggs or oil
- Sugar (not brown sugar)
- Powdered milk that is dry canned should be used within a year for best results.
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Whole grains
- Cheese powder
- Ready to eat cereals that are low-fat and do not contain eggs or brown sugar
- Dry baking mixes that do not contain oil, brown sugar or eggs. Any mixes that contain powdered milk should be used within a year for best results.
- Dry spices
JUST DON'T DO IT!
Foods You SHOULD NOT Dry Can
Certain foods, although dry, should not be dry canned. These foods include:
- Foods that have a high oil content, such as nuts and seeds, will go rancid over time. Small amounts of oil may be safe, but it’s always a little risky to dry foods with any oil content, especially when stored for decades.
- Brown sugar has too high of a moisture content.
- Cornmeal will turn into mush when exposed to too much heat.
- Seeds and barley often become rancid when exposed to direct heat.
- Shortening is also an oil and anything containing shortening should not be dry canned.
Canning Jars and Size
Canning jars are an investment that you will use again and again, so let's talk about them for a second.
Jars can have a narrow mouth, also known as regular mouth, or a wide mouth. I used to not be concerned about the size of the mouth of my canning jars. Now, I only purchase wide mouth jars; however, if I can pick them up for a good price at garage sales or estate sales, I'm thankful for whichever I find. I snatch them up - narrow and wide mouth alike.
Why wide mouth? Wide mouth jars are easier to get your hand into when you need to pack vegetables into the jars such as cucumbers for pickles, or when you need to tamp down vegetables into the jars for lacto-fermented food such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Additionally, sometimes you have to pack ingredients into hot jars. Your hands are less likely to come into contact with the jars with a wide mouth, especially if you have to stick your hand in a hot jar for whatever reason. Hot jars can be painful and cause a nasty burn. Size matters for older adults, as well, who need to get arthritic hands into the jars. Even washing the jars is easier when they have a wide mouth.
Sure, we're not talking about canning pickles here, we're talking about hot canning, but the jars you purchase will be used over and over again.
As you prepare for dry canning, consider the amounts you will use for one recipe or one meal and put that amount in one jar.
Something to think about ...
Once you've opened a jar, the contents are exposed to moisture in the air and become accessible to insects which can cause the food to begin to deteriorate. You maintain your food’s quality by limiting its exposure to air and moisture. This is best accomplished by limiting the number of times the package of food is opened and closed. Think about this when deciding what size of jar you want to use to dry can your food stores.
Other Considerations When Dry Canning
When dry canning, please consider the following items, tips and warnings.
- Read the labels of any mixes or prepackaged items to ensure that they do not contain oil, eggs, nuts and any of the “do not dry can” group. Foods that contain these ingredients do not dry can well.
- Air temperature also affects the quality of stored food. Dry canned food best maintains its quality when stored between 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Label the food items. Labels should include information such as the date the item is dry canned, the name of the food item, special cooking instructions, ingredient lists (packaged foods or mixes), or anything else you may need or want to know when you use the food item.
- The heat used in dry canning may decrease the nutritional value of the food.
- Whole grains store better than cracked or ground. For instance, wheat berries store better than wheat flour or bulgur.
- If you are dry canning food that has been stored in the freezer, bring it to room temperature prior to dry canning. This will reduce the likelihood of condensation forming in the jar and help to prevent jars from breaking because of temperature differences.
- When filling jars with bags of beans, you can save the extra beans that don’t make a full jar. After you have a variety of beans, mix them together for a bean soup mixture. Fill jars with this mixture.
- Because you are not canning perishable food items, you can reuse old lids that are in good condition. The metal part of the lid should not be dented, and the rubber should be fully intact. When you reuse lids for dry canning, be sure to check the seals extra carefully. If they don't seal, you'll need to repeat the process until you have a good seal. For this reason, I typically use only new lids. I'm lazy and don't want to do it again.
- Tattler Reusable Canning Lids are not recommended for dry canning purposes.
Is Dry Canning Safe?
The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) deems oven canning unsafe; however, they do so in reference to the process of oven canning butter. They warn that the jars may break when heated in the oven and that oven heated jars are not sterilized.
In response to these issues, I have never had a jar break when heated in an oven. Plus, in the process outline above, the jars are sterilized on top of the stove. Additionally, butter is not being dry canned, but oven canned. Although the two terms can be used synonymously, as far as this article goes, there are differences. Butter is an oil and would not keep for long periods of time. Some people do make ghee from butter to increase its shelf life without refrigeration. This article is discussing dry canning, and as such, does not consider butter to be a "dry" ingredient.
Oven canning is not appropriate for the preservation of any food other than dried food items. Do not use the dry canning method to process wet foods such as meats, vegetables and fruit.
When answering the question, is it safe to process food in the oven, the NCHFP states that processing food in the oven “can be dangerous because the temperature will vary according to the accuracy of the oven regulators and circulation of heat.” They continue to state that dry heat penetrates jars of food very slowly and warn that jars may explode in the oven.
Again, in response to this, the dry staples such as those addressed in this article do not contain botulism which was the main concern the NCHFP was addressing.
Additionally, the food items that we are using here are normally stored long-term as is ... dry in some sort of container. By adding heat to the process, we are extending the length of time that they can be stored by eliminating certain issues that may affect their long-term storage such as insects.
However, dry staples such as beans, rice and flour have very low moisture content, making canning unnecessary for storage. These ingredients would have been stored in a bag, jar or container for long-term storage, as is, and any harmful organism would have been in or on them either way. Prior to dry canning, the foods are already dry. After dry canning, they are even dryer.
Note: The temperatures used in the dry canning process is not high enough to destroy Clostridium botulinum spores or other bacterial spores.
Aside from that, botulism thrives in moist, low-acid foods. There’s no moisture in foods that are dry canned properly; therefore, the conditions for botulism don’t exist after processing.
The heat process is used to kill as many insect larvae and eggs as possible and to eliminate any trace of moisture; thereby, taking steps to ensure your foods’ long-term preservation. Dry canning extends the period of time dry staples such as those listed as safe can successfully be stored.
Technically, although the process discussed here is described as dry canning it’s not canning at all. It’s merely a very useful method of storage.
Having said all this, if you decide to dry can any type of food for your long-term storage needs, you are solely responsible for the outcome. You are responsible for any side-effects that you may encounter as a direct or indirect result of dry canning.
How to Dry Can
Dry canning takes quite a bit of time but it’s very easy to do. These are the items you will need:
- Food items that you intend to dry can, should be room temperature to prevent jar breakage
- Canning jars, lids and rings
- Canning funnel
- Silicone oven mitts or potholders
STERILIZE THE JARS
Wash the jars with warm soapy water. (If washing by hand, this is when you'll wish they were wide mouth jars.) Rinse well. Inspect the jar for cracks and nicks. Do not use damaged jars.
Add 1” of water to a pot that is large enough to put a lid on with the jars in it. Add a splash of white vinegar.
Place the jars top side (open side) down into the pot. Cover the pot with a lid.
Bring the water to a simmer and steam the jars for 15 minutes with the pot covered. Begin timing when the water begins to boil.
If your dishwasher has a sterilize setting, you can sterilize the jars in the dishwasher.
THOROUGHLY DRY THE JARS
Using the silicone oven mitts, remove the jars one at a time from the pot. They will be very hot!
Thoroughly dry each jar with a clean cloth, especially the inside. Be careful ... they are very hot.
Place them on a rimmed baking sheet. You can use a flat baking sheet, but the rim provides a lip to hold the jars helping to keep them from sliding off the sheet.
Put the baking sheet with the jars on it in a 220-degree Fahrenheit preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes to ensure they are totally dry.
Take the jars out of the oven and allow to cool completely.
Canning Funnels Make Filling Jars Easy
FILL THE JARS
Jars must be completely cool.
Make sure there is no moisture in the dry ingredients. If there is moisture, this will cause your dry ingredients to begin to cook when placed in the oven. Cooked items cannot be dry canned, even accidently cooked ingredients. This will significantly reduce the shelf life of the food ... kind of defeating the purpose of this whole exercise.
Using the canning funnel, fill each jar with food to be dry canned leaving ¾” headspace at the top of each jar.
Tap the jars to make sure they are full.
DO NOT place lids on the jars before placing them in the oven.
HEAT THE JARS AND LIDS
Return the jars to the rimmed baking sheet and put them in a 220-degree Fahrenheit preheated oven.
Bake for 60-90 minutes, even longer for anything larger than a quart – the larger the jar, the longer the time should be.
During the last 15 minutes, place a pan with the lids in the oven to sterilize the lids. Do not use water. This will heat the seals and prepare them for placement on the jars.
These Are the Silicone Oven Mitts I Use
SEAL THE JARS
Remove the jars from the oven, one at a time. This will keep them hot. The silicone glove really comes in handy for this step.
Wipe the rim of each jar with a clean dry cloth, making sure there is no debris on the rim. Debris and chipped rims can prevent a good seal.
Add a band and tighten. Again, the silicone glove really comes in handy for this step, allowing you to hold the jar securely with the glove and tighten the lid.
I place a large folded towel on the counter, placing the jars on it to cool. Allow the jars to cool completely.
You should start hearing the seals popping fairly quickly after this. If the center of the lid has not popped down after twelve hours, the jar has not sealed. You will need to repeat this whole process for that jar using a new lid or use the food item soon.
After the jars have cooled and seals have been tested, label the jars with the jar’s contents, the date and any other pertinent information, such as instruction on how to use any mixes you have stored.
Congratulations! You have dry canned food that will last on the shelf for many, many years – some people say they’ve had success opening a jar after thirty years. I’ve never had the food remain on the shelf that long.
Dry canned food should be stored in a cool, dark and dry location.
Congratulations! Well Done!
You just successfully preserved food for your families' future use. Way to go!
Recipes for Make Ahead Mixes
In this section are several mixes you can make and dry can. Make the recipes as is or multiply the ingredients for large batches.
Feel free to mix up some of your favorite dry mixes. Just remember to not include the ingredients that don't dry can well such as powdered milk, brown sugar and oil.
Need a little inspiration on mixes to dry can?
Instant Cinnamon Oatmeal
- 5 cups quick oats - make sure to use quick oats.
- ¼ cup powdered milk
- ½ cup sugar (you can omit sugar and add honey after the oatmeal is made and allowed to thicken.)
- 2 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Because this mix contains powdered milk, it must be used within one year for best results. For long-term storage, omit powdered milk and add milk when serving.
Mix together. Dry can.
Directions for use: Add ½ cup to ¾ cup boiling water to 1 cup of oatmeal mix. Stir and let stand to thicken.
- 4 cups wheat flour
- 1 cup powdered milk
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup sugar.
Because this mix contains powdered milk, it must be used within one year for best results. For long-term storage, omit powdered milk and add milk instead of water when making the batter.
Mix together well. Dry can.
Directions for use: Mix together 1-1/2 cups mix, 1 beaten egg and 1 cup water. Pour batter onto hot, oil griddle. Flip to cook both sides.
What Are You Waiting For?
It's your turn. Time to dry can food items for long-term storage. When the next food shortage occurs, you’ll be ready with a well-stocked pantry. Order grains in bulk to save money.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Cindy Murdoch