Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Preserves

We have the key pieces of equipment you’ll need to make your very own.

As winter comes to a close and spring takes hold, the fresh fruits and vegetables available at markets become more plentiful. One of our favorite ways to capture the bold flavors of this produce is through preserving, pickling, and fermenting. In my family we can tomato sauce once a year so that we can easily reach for a jar of fresh sauce each time we make pasta, lasagna, or lentil soup. This week we’re here to help you get your gear ready before peak-produce season is here. While premade canning kits are available to buy, we’ve found that some of the items included aren’t necessary or worth the money. We gathered the equipment that you’ll need to make your very own jamsjelliesmarmalades, or pickled vegetables.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

This large stainless-steel pot had comfortable, grippy handles and a clear lid that allowed users to effortlessly monitor the pot’s contents. Its lid had a knob with a built-in dial that supposedly reads when the water is boiling and thus ready for processing, but we found it unreliable. More important, both the pot and the rack are made from stainless steel and emerged from our testing looking almost brand-new.

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This jar opener features a game-changing innovation: a spring-loaded hinge that pops the grabbers open when the handles are released. This made releasing jars a smooth, one-handed task by eliminating the need for the user to pry the grabbers back open. It had broad, molded handles that were more comfortable and secure than the classic rubber-coated rods. Its wide, plastic jar grips increased the contact between the lifter and the jar, giving it stronger, more confident hold. It also didn’t rust.

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A practical, no-nonsense spatula that aced every cooking test, with a great balance of flexibility and firmness for both the head and the handle; however, the head did become slightly discolored by the turmeric in the curry test, and if we were going to quibble, the handle, while providing a great grip, could be a bit more cushy. But all around, a terrific choice for nearly any job in the kitchen. (We also went beyond its top recommended temperature with no sign of damage.)

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With all-over tiny perforations that don’t allow small foods to escape, our longtime favorite colander has a draining performance that remains unmatched. Its 1 1/8 inches of ground clearance was enough to keep nearly all the drained pasta from getting hit with backwash. The model cleans up nicely in the dishwasher, and its handles are slim but still substantial enough to grip easily.

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With an ergonomic Santoprene rubber handle and a balanced, lightweight feel, this whisk was like an extension of a hand. It whipped cream and egg whites quickly, thanks to 10 wires that were thin enough to move through the liquid quickly but thick enough to push through heavy mixtures and blend pan sauces to smoothness.

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A larger sibling of our longtime favorite kitchen scale, this version accurately weighs ingredients up to 22 pounds. (The everyday OXO scale tops out at 11 pounds.) It shares the smaller version’s super-handy pull-out display, so you don’t have to peer under big bowls and plates. Very easy to use, this product has a simple “unit” button on the front that lets you switch between ounces and grams (no turning it over to find the hidden switch, as with other scales). At just 1¼ inches tall, this scale stores compactly; a steel platform pops off for washing by hand. Though it’s best for large-batch cooks, this scale does weigh in increments as small as 1/8 ounce or 1 gram, hence it can be used as an all-purpose scale, too.

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Our old winner is still the best instant-read thermometer on the market. It's dead accurate, fast, and so streamlined and simple that it's a breeze to use. It does just what we want: “Tell me the temp; get out of my way,” as one tester put it. Its long handle gave us plenty of room to maneuver, allowing for multiple grips, and a ring of slightly tacky silicone kept our hands confidently secured. The automatic backlight meant we never had to stop and adjust in low light, and the rotating screen is handy for lefties and righties needing different angles. The auto wake-up function is extremely useful; you don't have to stop and turn the thermometer on again midtask. The digits were large and legible, and it's waterproof in up to 39 inches of water for up to 30 minutes. It's also calibratable, promising years of accuracy.

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This small saucepan performed very well, earning a place in our kitchen. It cooked evenly and steadily and survived our durability tests virtually unscathed. Its handle felt secure and comfortable in our hands and stayed cool throughout testing. It also cleaned up easily. We think it’d make a great addition to any cookware collection.   More on this test

With a roomy, medium-depth basket of very fine, tight, stiff mesh, this strainer removed lots of bran from whole-wheat flour and produced silky purees. A long, wide hook allowed it to sit securely on a variety of cookware, and while its rounded steel handle was a bit less comfortable than some, it was still easy to hold. This strainer’s sturdy construction makes it worth its high price: It looked as good as new even after serious abuse.

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