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10 Criteria for Preparing Home Canned Foods for Competition

Looking for criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition?

Do you think your canning is amazing and perfect? Why not let a judge decide.

Entering your canned food exhibits can help you learn so much more about safe canning for you and your family. You’re probably already canning your own garden and meat products for your own storage and use. 

Why not have a little fun and enter into the fair? You might just win first prize if you follow the 10 criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition. 

In this post, you’ll find:

  • The exact 10 criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition I follow to win first place. These criteria are according to a home canned food judging score card I received at a state competition. 
  • Exactly how to win first prize with your canning exhibits.
  • Finally, answering that question: “How do I enter into the fair?

10 Criteria for Preparing Home Canned Foods for Competition

For the first steps of the entering process, read my county fair exhibitor guide here

Color of Product Inside the Jar

Your canned product should look bright and clear in the jar. Blanching or cooking the product beforehand can help with this. 

And your recipe should tell you if you need to blanch beforehand or not. Pay attention to instructions to achieve a bright cheery product that will win first prize. 

That way, you’ll be able to see what’s in it in the future. And you’ll be able to know what to label your jar later on. 

Properly labeled container

This involves reading the instructions in your entry book before you enter into the fair or show. Different shows at different levels require different labeling for certain products. 

For example, some labels require your name, canned product name, date canned and altitude. While other shows I’ve exhibited only require the recipe card along with the jar (no label on the jar required). Pay close attention to your entry book. It will tell you what your labels need to look like. 

Also, you need to make sure you understand whether to include a recipe or not. Super important. 

Sometimes straight products (such as beets or green beans) do not need recipes included. Mixed recipes, such as salsa may require a recipe.  Although, I include recipes for EVERYTHING. Just to be sure. 

The judge will look at your jar and need to be able to know what’s in it. This helps them to understand the uniformity of the product. 

Uniformity/Texture of the product

The product in your jar should be nice and smooth. If you have canned a whole product, be sure the pieces are the same size. 

Also, watch out for crystalling such as in your jams and jellies. You shouldn’t exhibit a product that it crystalled…It needs to be smooth. 

Condition of Jars/Lid and band Free of Rust

Ugh – this can be a hard one if you’re using stored jars. 

You see, most shows around here permit you to exhibit products canned within the time between last year’s show date. This means that your jars can be prepared and stored for almost a year before you exhibit them again. 

And sometimes those jar lids and bands can become rusted. One simple trick is to take the bands off for storage. Another trick is to buy new bands for the fair to switch out. 

If it’s a lid, though, it’s a different story. You just shouldn’t exhibit a jar with rust on the lid. Choose a different jar if you can manage to enter into the fair. 

You’ll find out that presentation is everything when it comes to the criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition. Presentation outside of the jar and inside. 

Enough Liquid in the jars

Siphoning is a canner’s worst enemy. Siphoning is when liquid is released during the preservation process. I find it most prevalent with pressure canning after jars are heated or cooled too quickly. 

You need to pay attention to head space in order to win first prize. It’s one of the largest evaluation measure the judge will follow. And it will make or break your chance of getting that higher placing in class. 

I remember my first year exhibiting. On my comment sheets, over and over again, were the words: “Too little head space.” Since then, I won’t exhibit any jars that are obviously under the head space requirement. Keep reading for more info about proper head space as an important criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition. 

Undesirables (floaters)

This is one of the reasons I include recipes with every canned product I enter. By looking at my recipe, the judge can examine it and the jar to determine if what he/she sees inside is a floater or supposed to be in there. 

For example: Bread & Butter Pickles. Our recipe calls for peppercorns. Well, if the judge sees little dark balls floating around in the jar, the judge will want to know what that substance is. So, the recipe helps make that determination. 

Good Pack

A good pack means how full you fill the jar with your product. You want your product to move freely. You also want to be able to fit your air bubble spatula in without wrecking your product. 

I’ve learned this with green beans. I wanted to pack my green beans tight in the jars. This isn’t a good idea since I had no room to fit my spatula in without stabbing green beans. 

However, when I under filled some jars of green beans, the beans floated to the top leaving space at the bottom. This isn’t good either. 

So, you want a happy medium between the two extremes. You’ll find it if you keep practicing and keep canning. Practice makes perfect. 

Correct Head Space

Here’s more about head space. The most important evaluation measure you need to be aware of as far as criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition. If you want to win first prize, you need to pay attention to head space.

In fact, I’ve won second prize numerous times when my head space was off just a tad bit, according the home canned food judging score sheet. 

So, follow the instructions on your recipe exactly. It tells you what the head space should be for both the pack and the liquid. 

Use your head space spatula tool to measure. 

Pieces plump and unblemished

For veggies and fruits, you should exhibit jars with ideal and desired pieces, free from blemishes. 

So, when you’re cutting up or snapping your pieces, keep this in mind. You also want them to be very uniform and the same size in the jar. 

No foam or air bubbles

Jams, jellies and syrups often gather foam at the top. Before you fill jars, try to skim the top as much as you can. Foam is undesirable and can keep you from the opportunity to win first prize. 

One trick I’ve seen other canners do when it comes to foam is to use a small amount of butter. Apparently, the butter will break up the foam. You’ll still need to skim some off, but this makes it easier to do so. 

The other thing you don’t need is air bubbles. Look for air bubbles even at the bottom of the jar around the edge. Slide your spatula tool around the edge of the jar to relieve air bubbles. 

Just knowing and practicing all of these tips will help you to become a better home canner. It will also help you to achieve first place. 

How to Win First Price in Canning Classes at Fair Contests

The above criteria was obtained from the home canned food competition judging sheet from our state fair after exhibiting canning there. I won the first place in the salsa class at the state fair. 

So, I’m here to tell you today that if you watch out for all of the above criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition, you’ll surely do very well exhibiting your canning jars. 

Follow the instructions in your recipe. Use safe recipes from these three sources:

You’ll need some recipe cards to write your recipe out onto. Also, if you need labels for your jars.

The next thing to do when you prepare to enter into the fair is to make sure your jars are clean. The judge should be able to see clearly inside the jar. I use baby wet wipes to clean all my show jars successfully.

Finally, presentation is important to remember. Lids and jars should match in the brand name either Balls or Kerrs. So if you have your product in a Ball Jar, you should have a Ball lid on it. 

Also, one little perk that might get you brownie points is to position the lid to where the word Ball is even with the word Ball on the jar. Just a little nit-picky thing I do for extra points. It’s not really a top criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition…but remember that presentation is everything. 

Now that you have your perfect jars ready for show, how do you exhibit them to win first prize? 

How do I Enter Into the Fair?

I linked to my County Fair Exhibitor guide up above. It’s really pretty easy to enter into the fair if your local fair has open classes for canning. 

But here it is again if you missed it. 

This is a question not enough people are asking these days. Every show I attend, I notice entry numbers are dropping off – Especially in the area of food preservation. 

Yet, there thousands of people in canning groups on Facebook. What is stopping you from entering? Why should you even bother with it?

Why You Should Bother Entering Canning 

I get this question a lot. “Why should I even bother to enter into the fair?” 

There are a few reasons why I think you should bother to enter your canning at the fair: 

  1. It’s a humbling experience to have your product judged. Even if you won the second place or won the third place, take the comments from the judges back and apply them to canning next year. 
  2. Exhibiting adds entries to your local fair. 
  3. Your jar will more than likely be unharmed and unopened. So, you can still take it home and enjoy it after you enter into the fair.

Yes, all of these are great reasons to pick out your best jars to enter into the fair. It’s also really fun to show off your canning after it receives the ribbon.

The comments from the judges on the home canned food judging form can really be helpful for you to improve your canning. So, read them and practice to be better for next time. 

Read here for more info about how County Fairs are Important to Rural Communities

Have Fun and Enjoy the Process!

Having fun and enjoying yourself even if you don’t win first prize is important. Canning is an awesome skill to learn. Canning your own food helps you to become more self-reliant for the future. 

When you enter into the fair, you are practicing to be the best canner you can be and to can quality and safe product for you and your family. Whether you win first prize or not, your biggest prize is the stock pile of canned goods you have. The exhibition part is just for fun. 

Having a wonderfully deep supply of fresh canned goods for your family can help you preserve your harvest and provide tasty and healthy meals for your family. This is the top prize. 

So, you may or may not be already canning. How can you improve? Follow the 10 criteria for preparing home canned foods for competition in order to be a top prized canner as you put away stores of food to enjoy. And why not exhibit your best at the canning show at your fair? 

~ Much Love ~