Reusing Lug Top Commercial Jars

Typical lug-top jars.

Typical lug-top jars.

A couple of years ago, I did a post on making jams and jellies without a water bath. I’m still getting hits on that post and it has generated more comments than anything else I’ve put up. Part of the reason I posted on the topic was that I have long felt the USDA canning guidelines are — well, instead of what I was going to say, how about overly obsessive? Repeat after me: Just because the USDA says to do something a certain way doesn’t mean there aren’t other perfectly good options.

Having learned over the years that many edicts, shibboleths and thou shalts from scientists and professionals ain’t necessarily so, it occurred to me that there’s another issue to discuss: reusing commercial jars with what are called lug caps. If you buy a jar of jam, jelly, pickles or relish, the odds are high that it is sealed with a lug cap. The inside of that cap has a ring or layer of what is called Plastisol, which takes the place of the rubberized ring on a standard canning jar lid.

Should you ask folks at a place like the USDA, they will tell you to store dry foodstuffs, nuts and bolts or similar items in those lug-top jars and use standard canning jars for all home canning, including jam and jelly. The USDA, like most bureaucracies, operates on the principle that one should never stick one’s neck out. Thus it makes only the most conservative of recommendations. Check most canning websites (say Ball and Kerr) and you will find similar advice. Ummm, those folks are trying to sell you glass canning jars… why would they want you to do something that would reduce their sales?

The fact is that lug top jars can be reused for many canning purposes. There are a few caveats:
1. Some lug top jars are of a shape that doesn’t fit easily into a canner. That standard commercial pickle jar, for example — you might get three in a standard pressure canner. I’m more likely to use those for storing fermented pickles and vegetables. I generally start the fermentation in a glass gallon jar, as there’s plenty of room to put in more veggies every day when I come in from the garden. Once I’m ready to store them, I decant the veggies and brine into these pickle jars and refrigerate (I don’t have a root cellar — darn it — but if I did I would have no hesitation about storing them there instead of the fridge).
2. As with any storage container that you will be using for canned goods, the jar and lid must be thoroughly washed. Check the jar for nicks or cracks. Make sure the lid isn’t bent and that the Plastisol doesn’t have any gouges or cuts.
3. Both jars and lids must be submerged and heated in boiling water to sterilize them before the hot food is placed in them. Leave them in the hot water until you are ready to pour in the food. Lug jar lids are a little harder to handle than canning jar lids and rings, so make sure you have a good pair of oven mitts. What I usually do is lift them out with a pair of tongs, shake off the hot water and drop the lid upside down in my gloved hand. Then I place the lid on the jar and tighten.
4. Do not tighten the lid too tight; screw it on just to the point where it feels snug. If you tighten it too much, you’ll either be breaking the jar or punching a hole in the lid to get your food out. The combination of hot food and hot jar will create a vacuum as the jar cools. This is what creates the vacuum that seals the lid.
5. For things like jams and jellies, I don’t worry about whether the jar is a standard size, as I’m not going to water bath or pressure can them. If you’re doing something like peaches, green beans or applesauce, I recommend you use only jars that are either pint or quart size. Processing times are developed for standard-size jars; if you use an off-size it may be over- or under-processed.
6. Lug jars typically have a button on top that indicates when the jar has sealed properly. As long as the button or the jar top is depressed, you’ll have a good seal. If not, store in the fridge, and plan to use that jar for something other than canning from now on. So yes, that means you can continue to reuse these jars for several years. Even if you happen to grab a jar that has lost its sealing ability, it’s not a disaster. Your food is fine as long as you refrigerate and use it within a week or so.

So strike another blow for freedom from the food police and use your common sense!

This entry was posted in Food, Health, Money Matters and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Reusing Lug Top Commercial Jars

  1. Jan Logan says:

    Some of my jars with lug lids did not seal when making tomato soup, so I cleaned them reboiled soup and recanned. Water bathed them again, still did not seal?? I threw them away then pulled them out of trash. Would they seal maybe in PC?

    • Bee says:

      It sounds as though the sealing compound in these jars is shot. I would not risk trying to use them for canning – they will still be fine for making things like fermented vegetables/fruit or dry storage.

  2. Janet says:

    Where could I buy replacement lids? Some smell and I can’t get the tomato stain out.

    • Bee says:

      The stain is not a big deal; I use them even when stained. While I have not found it to be a problem, I would not use them if they smell. First try washing and rinsing thoroughly, rinse again in a gallon of water with a couple of tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in it. Give them a final rinse, then leave them out in the air for a week or so. If you have to find replacements, I suspect your best bet in most cases is going to be yard, garage and estate sales. I’ve seen them offered on Etsy a few times, but don’t know of anyone who has sells new lug lids for any size but gallon jars – you can find those on Amazon.

  3. Andrew Zuk says:

    I am looking to can a potato based soup. If I pressure cook (in my pressure canner) the potatoes enduring with a thermocouple I reach over 240F for 5mins can I be sure all spores are destroyed and process then can with the water canning method?

    • Bee says:

      This is one of those sticky issues. Yes, it’s possible to can potato-based soup. But, potatoes are one of those foods that are harder to can because they are so dense. By the time you have them to a safe temperature, you’ve pretty much cooked everything else in the soup to death. That said, if you’re going to can this kind of soup, I would only use a tested recipe from something like “Putting Foods By.” Frankly, if it were me, I wouldn’t bother. Potatoes don’t freeze well, either, with the exception of mashed potatoes that have lots of added butter and cream. These make a great base for cream of potato soup – just sautee some well-chopped onions and a little celery, then mix in the liquid – water, chicken stock, milk – and slowly bring the frozen potatoes to boiling. Add cream as desired and toss in some chopped parsley.

      • Andrew says:

        Hi Bee!
        Thank you for the quick reply. My recipe is a cream of potato recipe so I’m not too concerned with the potatoes or other vegetables being mush (I high speed blend the cooked vegetables after cooking them in my pressure canner). That said my real question is once I kill the spores with 240F cooking in a pressure canner will I be able to then use the cooked vegetables for my recipe and can with a water bath or can the spores or toxins become reactivated? Thanks!

        • Bee says:

          OK, sorry – I misunderstood. I don’t know of anyone who recommends water baths for low-acid vegetables like potatoes no matter how they are cooked first.

  4. Patricia Annette Briggs says:

    I want the recipe

  5. JC says:

    Some lug top lids do not have a visible button on the top. Are they still reusable? And what exactly are Plastisol Lug Lids? Can you please post some pictures to help identify the different lids and clarify which ones are “Yes” and which lids are “No”. And thank you for your great web site!

    • Bee says:

      All lug top lids should be reusable. Even with those that don’t have a button, if the lid is properly sealed, you can see that it’s slightly sunken in when you look at it from the side with the lid at your eye level. If you have the slightest doubt, just refrigerate that jar and use within a month or so. The plastisol is the sealing compound on the inside of lug top lids rather than a brand. And you’re welcome!

  6. Louise Comert says:

    Can you please help me with sterilization of the jars with plastisol lug lids with pop up button. Is it ok to boil the plastisol lid? Does the boiling in water damage the plastisol? Your help dry much appreciated. Thank you.

    • Bee says:

      Hi Louise –
      My understanding of these lids is that they are supposed to be simmered for 10 minutes prior to using. To simmer, bring the water to a boil and then turn it down until an occasional bubble breaks the surface. The other thing I know is important is that you shouldn’t tighten them too much as it prevents the jars from venting (which is true of all canning jar lids). Once you feel the sealing compound make contact with the jar rim, stop. After they’ve been processed, the center pop-up button should be indented to indicate you have a good seal.

      • Louise Comert says:

        Hi Bee, thank you for your reply. Another dellima I have, should I boil the jars in hot water bath after filing them or not. Because I did do a test of the jars skipping the hot water boiling just hot fill and pop up bottom got concave when the jar is cold and when I opened the jar it had pop sound.

  7. Ozark Bob says:

    We have two spaghetti sauce jars we have been reusing for our orange marmalade for a few years now. We’ve used them six times so far and they continue to reseal every time. All of our pickles this year went into store-bought pickle jars, and every one of them sealed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *