Learn how to make an easy and flavorful salsa for canning that's safe, uses all-natural ingredients, and is thicker than typical canned salsas. It's our family's favorite and I know it will become yours, too!
Our family LOVES salsa - if we don't eat it everyday, at least I think it's safe to say we eat it every other day. So of course I would want to make our own salsa for canning from the garden tomatoes, peppers, and onions we grow. It took a number of years, though, to find a safe salsa recipe that was "the one."
When I finally did find my favorite salsa for canning, there was no going back - every August and September I make enough batches to see us through to the next season. Store-bought canned salsa can't hold a candle to this!
Finding a Safe Salsa Recipe to Can
The one thing I learned when teaching myself to can salsa was that in order to use a water-bath canner to make salsa shelf stable, it's important to use a recipe from a trusted source that uses USDA guidelines.
This is because there are so many low-acid ingredients in salsa (peppers, onions, and garlic) that it creates a delicate balance between the acid (tomatoes and usually another ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice) and the low-acid ingredients.
So I started testing recipes from a Kerr canning book, the Ball Blue Book, the Oregonian newspaper, and some preserving books from the library that all used safe guidelines. While they all had good flavor (I was using wonderful produce, after all!), they were usually really watery and/or vinegary. Boo.
I think others felt the same way, because a recipe soon appeared on the USDA website for a Tomato-Tomato Paste Salsa. It called for two 12-oz cans of tomato paste and 2 cups bottled lemon juice instead of vinegar, which produced a thick sauce and minus the overly vinegar taste.
Sadly, my search for the best recipe wasn't at an end, though. We found that the salsa wasn't very spicy and when I took the time to look at the ingredients of bottled lemon juice (it must be bottled - fresh lemon juice doesn't have the consistent acid level for canning) I saw that it's full of preservatives!
Great. I've got all these organically grown vegetables and I'm adding preservatives. Boo again.
The Best Salsa Recipe
I continued looking for the perfect canned salsa recipe and finally found the one that is now our favorite in a book from the library that published only tested recipes (I wish I had the title, but I just copied the recipe all those years ago before blogging).
It used just one small can of tomato paste and only 3/4 cup of vinegar, so it's still thick and the vinegar doesn't overpower the flavor.
NOTE: according to the USDA, it is safe to substitute bottled lemon juice for the vinegar in this recipe if you wish, but NOT the other way - it is not safe to substitute vinegar for lemon juice in other recipes, since lemon is more acidic than vinegar.
I adapted the recipe by increasing the peppers by 1/2 cup, and then decreasing the onion by a 1/2 cup to keep the recipe in balance. This makes the salsa a bit more spicy, which we like. I also added a few more dry seasonings which is okay to change in canning recipes since it doesn't affect acidity.
You can NOT add any other ingredients to this recipe, including mango, pineapple or fresh cilantro. It has not been tested with these ingredients.
NOTE: if your spice level is lower, use 1/2 cup more onions and 1/2 cup less peppers!
This salsa is really easy - the majority of time is spent prepping the ingredients, though a food processor makes it quicker. It cooks for only 30 minutes, which gives you just the right amount of time to get all the canning equipment in order and jars cleaned.
Salsa for Canning Tutorial
1) Start with 5-6 pounds of washed tomatoes.
I use about 1/2 slicing tomatoes and 1/2 paste tomatoes- the slicers have some of that great flavor and the paste tomatoes add thickness, so I like to include both.
2) Peel, Core & Chop
You can peel, core, and chop the tomatoes by hand OR use the food processor method to cut your prep time drastically:
Update: Use a Food Processor
I now just core and quarter the tomatoes and use the food processor to chop them- peel and all! No one can tell there are peels in the finished salsa and it takes SO much less time.
This is awesome - do it and you won't be sorry.
Either way you chop, you want to measure out 7 cups. There are both large and small tomato chunks in the processed option, but it's not a big deal.
The One Drawback to Processing
When hand-chopping tomatoes, you can drain any water that accumulates while cutting them, which helps make a thicker salsa. However, this doesn't work with the quicker processing method, so the resulting salsa is a bit thinner, but the savings in time totally makes up for it, in my opinion.
UPDATE ON SAFETY OF USING SKINS IN CANNED PRODUCTS:
After a number of readers mentioned that they wondered if it was safe to keep the tomato skins on, I reached out to the Oregon State Extension Office about it. The professor I emailed with spent quite a bit of time researching this, in fact saying, "this one has been killing me – very difficult to track down any reliable information."
It basically boils down to this:
"Due to the consistent history of using peeled tomatoes in canning recipes, processing conditions using skin-on tomatoes have never been evaluated. It is possible that the skins have minimal to no impact on the thermal transfer, but this has not been verified." Joy W., Associate Professor, Oregon State University Extension
She cited the studies that have been done on tomatoes, finding some bacteria in the cores but that the remainder of the tomato was low in bacteria, as well as mentioning the botulism outbreaks in plain tomatoes in the 70s that resulted in the recommendation to always add citric acid or lemon juice. There's nothing else, the NCHFP mainly states removing the peels are for texture reasons.
So here's my take that I wrote back to her:
"With modern appliances like food processors, we can chop the tomatoes and skins for products like chutney and salsa and have no issues with taste and texture. The tomatoes are still cored, so the root and stem ends that might have bacteria in them (according to the study you mentioned) are removed. Also, my tomatoes are grown and harvested by me using no pesticides.
Since I eat the skins of my peppers grown right next to the tomatoes and can them with the skins in jellies and chutneys, why not the tomatoes?
Because of this, I'll keep processing the tomatoes for chutney and salsa with the peels because it saves so much time, but I will mention the caution to my readers with your recommendation and let them make their own decision."
3) Once you have 7 cups, place the prepped tomatoes into a large stockpot.
4) Prepare Peppers
You'll want to break out gloves for this next step - trust me, you will want gloves for this part. The one time I didn't use them I couldn't sleep that night because of the burning sensation in my hands that no amount of washing could remove!
Once you're gloved up, cut in half and seed enough Anaheim chilies to equal 1-1/2 cups chopped. You can use other mild, long green chilies or even add some sweet peppers if you'd like. It's okay to change the variety of peppers, just not the total amount in canned recipes.
Note on the photos: I was doubling the recipe when taking these photos, so there is more in each one than a single batch would call for - so yes, you can double the recipe!
You can simply cut the peppers in large chunks and put them in a food processor to do the rest, or chop them by hand. I like the way the processor chops them mostly fine, but also leaves a few larger pieces so that there are some peppers in every spoonful.
Once chopped and measured, put the mild peppers in the stockpot with the tomatoes.
Then chop jalapeño peppers to equal 1/2 cup, seeding if desired (leaving the seeds will result in a spicer salsa). Add them to the stockpot.
TIP: if you want a milder salsa, you can skip the jalapeños and use all milder peppers. If you'd like it spicier, decrease the mild peppers and increase the jalapeños. You can play around with the types of peppers you like best, just not the amount - a total of 2 cups of peppers for one batch is the limit for safety.
5) Prepare Onions
Peel and quarter onions, chopping enough to equal 1-1/2 cups, either by hand or in a food processor, and add to the pot.
6) Mince Garlic
Again, by hand or throw them in the processor, too.
NOTE: there are 6 cloves instead of the 3 the recipe calls for - remember I'm doubling the recipe, in order to get 10 to 11 pints out of each canning session.
7) Cook Salsa
Once the garlic is in the pot, add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and boil gently for 30 minutes. Stir often, making sure it doesn't burn on the bottom
TIP: cheap, thin-bottomed stock pots tend to burn, but thicker-bottomed pots don't - it's worth it to pay a few dollars more. #lessonlearned
8) While the salsa is cooking, you can prepare your water-bath canner, jars, and lids. Here's step-by-step canning guide where I take you through the whole process if you've never canned before. And here is a video tutorial you can watch as well:
Wait, do I have to can it? Can I freeze salsa?
Nope, you don't have to can salsa - you can freeze salsa! Just let the finished salsa cool enough to put into freezer safe containers and be sure to leave a good 2-inches headspace to allow for expansion.
TIP: If you are freezing, you can put as much peppers or other fresh ingredients you want in the salsa. You don't have to worry about low-acid food ratios or anything if you're not canning to make them shelf stable.
After 30 minutes, the salsa will have cooked down, looking nice and salsa-y, with flavors all melded into yummy goodness.
You can taste it at this point to see how spicy it is (every year my peppers are different, depending on our summer weather) and add cayenne pepper if you'd like to increase the spiciness. You can also add salt, pepper, or dried herbs (again, dry ingredients are fine to add - you just can't add anything else fresh).
9) Can Salsa
Fill pint jars with salsa leaving a 1/2-inch headspace, attach lids and place in canner.
Bring to a boil and process pint jars for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let jars sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner to a towel-lined surface. Cool completely, check the seals, label and store in a dark, cool pantry for a year to a year and a half.
Update: I now use and l.o.v.e the stainless steel, glass-topped canner I mention here. SO much better than the cheap enamel one shown here!
That's it - you've made and canned your own salsa!!
Having home-canned garden salsa in the depths of winter is always worth it. Not only do you save money, it can't compare with the typical flavorless bottled stuff!
2020 NOTE: Long time readers (as well as me) have been making this salsa since I first published it on the blog back in 2009. One of them alerted me to the fact that the amount of onions and peppers had been changed in the recipe. I honestly don't know why that happened, but do think the recipe is better as written with the onions and mild green peppers at 1-1/2 cups each, not the 1 cup each that was listed recently. So I've changed it back to the original pepper and onion amounts, though the change in the jalapeños was needed to be standard since the sizes of jalapeños vary greatly. I apologize for any confusion, the recipe now is what it always was, and is based off of the original tested recipe with only the changes I explained in the beginning, so you can be assured it's still safe!
Can I use quart jars to can salsa?
I've been getting this question more often, so thought I would answer it here:
Unfortunately, it is not recommended to can salsa in any jar larger than a pint (16 ounces) because there are no tested recipes that use quart jars.
That said, you can find recipes on Google that show canning in quarts, but they aren't official, tested recipes found in publications like Ball Blue Book of Canning and the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
In the end, it's up to you, but I can't recommend it - and definitely not for this recipe, as the processing times have only been tested for pint jars.
Favorite Canned Salsa Recipe
- 7 cups chopped cored, peeled tomatoes (if using a food processor, no need to peel)
- 1½ cups chopped onion
- 1½ cups mild chopped green chili peppers *anaheim, ancho, or even red/yellow sweet for a milder salsa
- 1/2 cup jalapeños ** finely chopped (and seeded if you'd like - leaving the seeds makes it spicer)
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 3/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar***
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 to 2 teaspoons pepper
- 1 to 2 teaspoons dry oregano
- 1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne powder to taste
- In a large stainless steel stockpot, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.
- Reduce heat and boil gently until thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning.
- Prepare canner, jars, and lids.
- Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rim and attach lids.
- Place jars in canner, covering by at least 1-inch and bring to a boil. Process for 20 minutes, turn off burner, remove lid and let jars sit for 5 minutes before removing them to cool on a towel-lined surface for 12 to 24 hours. Check seals before labeling and storing.
Other easy tomato canning recipes you may like:
This recipe has been updated - it was originally published in September of 2009.