Any gardener that has grown tomatoes knows well that with tomatoes when it rains, it pours. The end of the summer often has gardeners with overflowing baskets of tomatoes that just can’t be eaten before going bad.
This overabundance is the main reason why there’s so many different methods of preserving and using tomatoes. When properly done, canned tomatoes can store for over a year and still keep their fresh, sweet flavor- which can be a real relief when you’re lacking fresh veggies in winter.
Home canning is a skill that many gardeners eventually learn, as your plants grow stronger and more vigorously, providing an incredible amount of produce. The more you practice canning, the more you learn through experience what you like best and how to achieve that.
What Determines Best Tomatoes for Canning
There’s hundreds of different kinds of tomatoes and each lends itself to a different kind of preserving, depending on the method and desired outcome.
When canning tomatoes, you’re making a simple tomato sauce to be preserved, so the best tomatoes for canning are those that have thick walls with lots of tomato flesh and little juice or seeds.
Of course, each person has their preference of taste and texture for tomato sauce. So, the ideal tomato for you depends on, for example, whether you mind seeds in the sauce or how thick you want it to be.
Another characteristic that makes certain types of tomatoes better for canning is whether they’re determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes will fruit all at once whereas indeterminate provide a couple fruits at a time over the span of weeks.
Many gardeners prefer to do a big canning session in one go, so it’s helpful when all the tomatoes are ripe at the same time.
I’ll explain in this article why some varieties are the best tomatoes for canning, but the bottom line is that any tomato will work. All of these tomatoes are tasty eaten fresh off the vine or stored as a sauce. If you’re interested in canning, it’s better to work with what you have than not try anything!
Tips for Growing Canning Tomatoes
Here are a few extra things you can do when growing tomatoes specifically for canning so that they produce the best yield and make the process easier.
If you’re growing determinate tomatoes, plant them a little late, in early summer and not late spring. This way they’ll fruit in early fall and the weather will be a bit cooler when you harvest and can. Some of these determinate varieties produce tons of heavy fruits, making a pretty serious harvest.
It also helps to fertilize your tomatoes right when the plants begin to fruit. Giving them this extra boost of nutrients right as their fruiting allows the plant to give you its biggest and healthiest crop. There’s also ways to prune your tomato plants for a bigger harvest.
As tomato harvest approaches, make sure you have all the needed canning supplies on hand so that when the time is right, you’re ready to go! It’s best to can the tomatoes while they’re still fresh so you get all that flavor.
It’s easier to buy tons of jars and have them ready to use than to have to go shopping once your kitchen is full of tomatoes! Plus, most often you need citric acid for canning and this stores for a very long time, so you can get it well in advance.
The last tip is to keep track of how your canned tomatoes turned out and what tomatoes you used. Whether you do this mentally or actually write it out is up to you, but having some record will help you determine for yourself the best tomatoes for canning based on how you like your sauces.
Best Tomatoes for Canning
Now, let’s get into the most common tomatoes that have been established as favorites by home canners for centuries!
The San Marano is an heirloom tomato, cultivated in Italy by generations of farmers trying to create the best canning tomato. Since the practice of canning tomatoes originated from the Mediterranean, it’s no wonder that one of the best canning tomatoes also comes from this region.
The San Marzano is a plum tomato, a type of tomato that has very thick walls and not much juice, providing lots of tomato flesh for your sauce. They also naturally have few seeds and a very sweet flavor.
These tomatoes are resistant to Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt 1 and 2 and grow very well in low humidity regions. As with many heirloom varieties, San Marzano tomatoes aren’t as productive as hybrid types.
San Marzano tomatoes are typically 6 to 8 0z, so you’ll need stakes to support these plants. However, this plant is indeterminate, so it won’t be full all at once. These plants fruit after 85-90 days, a bit longer than most tomato types.
You can often find San Marzano plants at plant stores, but if not the seeds are very common.
As the name implies, this is an heirloom tomato bred by Amish communities in Pennsylvania, cultivated for tomato pastes and sauces. Amish Paste is also a plum tomato, having a similar size and shape to the San Marzano.
Amish Paste has a very sweet flavor and grows in an oblong, oval-shape. This makes it very easy to de-seed, because you simply cut it in half and slide the seeds out.
Again similar to the San Marzano, these fruits are heavy and require stakes to support the plant when they fruit. Yet, Amish Paste is determinate, making it even more ideal for canning and even more necessary to have support.
These plants fruit around 85 days after planting and are grown from seeds.
You’re likely already familiar with Roma tomatoes, since this variety is very popular throughout the U.S., but you might not have known that they’re great for canning.
Roma tomatoes have a similar shape as San Marzano and Amish Paste, which is why these three varieties are the most common for canning. They all have thick tomato flesh and oblong shapes that make slicing and de-seeding very easy.
One great thing about Roma tomatoes is that while they don’t have many seeds, you can save the seeds you take out and replant them because this plant is an open pollinator!
Roma tomatoes are also resistant to Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt 1 and 2. They also only grow to 4 feet, a great reason to grow for those with little space.
However, you’ll still need stakes for this plant- it’s determinate and 80 days after planting will get heavy with fruit. Roma tomatoes are slightly smaller than San Marzano or Amish Paste, making them great for can whole or in halves, if you like a more chunky sauce.
The large red tomatoes in front are the Supersauce tomatoes.
This tomato has earned its name for being a huge tomato that’s perfectly structured for making sauces. Supersauce tomatoes are typically at least one pound and can grow to be 2 pounds! The Supersauce is kind of an XL version of the traditional paste tomatoes I’ve shown so far.
Keep in mind that a plant that fruits this much has many needs too. Its fruits are huge plus this plant is determinate, so you’ll need sturdy tomato cages for the Supersauce.
On top of having huge fruits, this plant also produces tons of tomatoes. The Supersauce is a hybrid tomato breed, so it grows vigorously and fruits heavily. If you grow Supersauce, be prepared for an intensive harvest!
The Atkinson is another heirloom tomato that has been bred to grow well in hotter climates. Whether very humid or dry, Atkinson is known to grow very well in the southern U.S., in USDA zones 8 and south.
This heirloom is also resistant to root knot nematodes, a parasite that thrives in hot climates with short winters and can destroy crops. Atkinson tomatoes fruit in 70 days, a bit quicker than the average tomato plant.
Atkinson tomatoes are also indeterminate, providing fruits for several weeks after the 70 day point, with hefty tomatoes about 8 oz in weight.
The Bonny Best is an American heirloom tomato that’s been bred in the U.S. since 1908! It’s believed that this variety was also cultivated in Pennsylvania. The Bonny Best is a cold hardy plant that grows very well in colder climates.
This tomato plant is also very reliable, producing uniform paste tomatoes that are 6 to 8 oz. Bonny Best is determinate and fruits after 78-80 days.
This tomato is more of a favorite for making dense tomato pastes, but is also commonly used for canning tomato sauces.
The Bradley is a strong tomato plant that definitely needs stakes or a cage and is very resilient, up to dealing with the cold. This plant will produce tomatoes after 75 to 80 days and is indeterminate, so it will continue fruiting up to the first frost.
You can often find Bradley tomato plants in plant stores, but if not the seeds are widely available.
You can probably tell from the name that this cultivar is an heirloom tomato from Italy!
The Costuloto Genovese is preferred for canning because it has a high acid content, which helps kill the bacteria in the tomato and ensure that there won’t be any spoilage. These tomatoes are also quite large, growing to 8 oz. with thick walls.
This tomato plant fruits after about 80 days and will continue to fruit for weeks, since it’s indeterminate. It may be a bit difficult to find these seeds, since this variety isn’t super popular in the U.S., but this isn’t a rare variety either.
The Better Boy tomato is a hybrid plant and because of this, it fruits very heavily. The Better Boy is another classic canning tomato, regarding its size and shape. It comes with little juice or seeds and has lots of tomato flesh.
This plant is indeterminate and will fruit 70-75 days after planting. The shape of the Better Boy is also perfect for canning, it’s a classic round shape and grows to 8 oz.
Following the Better Boy is the Big Mama, a larger version of Roma tomatoes but not quite as oversized as the Supersauce.
Along with the large size of the tomatoes, who grow to 8 to 10 oz, the plant itself also grows very large. The vines usually grow up to 6 feet and can spread out to 5 feet, so they’re not exactly ideal for balcony gardens.
Big Mama tomatoes definitely need cages because the plants themselves are so big, plus their huge fruits. Additionally, these plants are indeterminate so they will continue to have large fruits and be weighed down.
These tomatoes have also been bred to have thicker skins, so they peel off easily. This is a huge help when you’re canning, because it’s necessary to peel off the skins.
This is another hybrid variety that has been cultivated for canning. Biltmore plants are disease resistant and their tomatoes have few seeds.
The Biltmore fruits after about 70 days and is determinate, requiring stakes to support the weight of this fruit. This is another common variety of which you can usually buy the plant.
Despite its name and propensity to be a great salsa tomato, the Fresh Salsa is another favorite for canning. This makes it very attractive for those who like to can and make salsa!
Fresh Salsa are also plum tomatoes with dense walls, which is what makes them great tomatoes for canning. These tomatoes are slightly smaller, only growing to about 5 oz., and the plants only grow to 4 feet, making them a great choice for hanging baskets.
These plants fruit early, about 65 to 70 days after planting, and the seeds can be bought in most stores.
Golden Fresh Salsa
This is the same kind of tomato as the Fresh Salsa, but with this variety the ripe fruit is a bright yellow.
This tomato is also very meaty with little juice and fruits in the same time frame. If you’d like this variety, look for seed packets specifically for Golden Fresh Salsa.
These tomatoes are called Gladiators because they produce an impressive crop for such a small plant. The Gladiator plant only grows to 4 feet tall, but has a spread of 5 feet and produces 8 oz tomatoes.
The Gladiator is a hybrid plant that was bred for pastes, but works equally well for canning. It’s very disease resistant and indeterminate, fruiting after 75 days . You can buy the seeds at most plant shops.
Bison tomatoes are also heirloom tomatoes, with a strong acidic taste great for sauces. These plants grow very well in colder climates and are a favorite in the northern states.
The size of Bison tomato plants make them great for containers because they’re more compact plants. These plants are determinate and will fruit 70 days after planting.
Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red
The name of this tomato might seem a bit odd and it is, in fact, named after the actor Clint Eastwood. Well, it’s actually named after a character, Rowdy Yates, played by Clint Eastwood in the film Rawhide.
The Rowdy Red is a strong hybrid tomato that’s impressive both with its flavor and size. These tomatoes have lots of acidity and grow to be 8 oz in weight with very firm flesh. These plants are also quite disease resistant and indeterminate, fruiting after 78 to 80 days.
These gorgeous heirloom tomatoes are huge and have skin that can be red, green, orange, or pink, with pink flesh inside.
These are not the best tomatoes for canning, but rather for tomato juice, because they have lots of juice and their flesh has lots of water. Yet, since they’re so large and flavorful, there’s lots you can use for sauces and these are perfect if you like a thinner sauce.
The Black Krim is a much rarer tomato variety that is an interesting find and addition to your garden. This is another heirloom tomato, cultivated in Russia- this heritage plus its almost black skin gives it its name.
When fully ripe, these tomatoes have a dark red and purple skin color that makes it look black. The Balck Krim produces large, beefsteak tomatoes with lots of tomato flesh and a rich flavor.
You’ll definitely need stakes for this plant, since it grows quite large and produces large yields of heavy tomatoes. Plus, this plant is indeterminate so, 80 days after planting it will continue to bear its large tomato fruits.
Sweetie is actually a cherry tomato and cherry tomatoes are generally the worst kind of tomato for canning. This is because cherry tomatoes have a low ratio of flesh to skin, so you’ll have to peel the skin off many tomatoes to have as much flesh.
Generally, cherry tomatoes are sweeter and have more seeds, so this will reflect in your sauce. However, many people prefer cherry tomatoes because they’re less heavy and don’t require cages, have a sweeter taste, and are very versatile.
So, if you like to grow cherry tomatoes, you might as well grow some good for canning as well! And amongst cherry tomatoes, these are your best bet.
Sweetie cherry tomatoes fruit a bit early, 70 days after planting and are indeterminate. You can often buy the plants for these since this is a very common type of cherry tomato, but if not the seeds are available almost anywhere.
This name comes from its color, as the Green Envy is green even when fully ripe. This is another cherry tomato variety, but is actually a hybrid that has been bred to produce a higher yield.
The Green Envy is another ideal cherry tomato for canning. Although small, these tomatoes have relatively thick walls and not as many seeds. Despite being green, this tomato still has a pretty sweet flavor, so keep that in mind when making your sauce.
The plant grows to about 5 feet tall and doesn’t need serious support, but a trellis definitely helps! These tomatoes also fruit earlier, about 60 to 65 days after planting. As with most cherry tomato plants, the Green Envy is indeterminate.
You can usually buy the plants for these, but the seeds are available as well.
Time to Start Planting
There are many different kinds of tomatoes that have become favorites for home canners, since preserving tomatoes has been practiced for centuries. Especially in regions where tomatoes grow natively, there’s a whole culture around growing the right tomatoes for canning sauces, pastes, and salsas.
We can thank the generations of farmers that tried and tested many different kinds to find the best tomatoes for canning, for the best sauces. And we should definitely make use of this knowledge.
But, at the end of the day, really any tomato will work. All that’s needed for canning tomatoes is the tomato flesh- and all tomatoes have this! Even if you’re growing just a few tomatoes indoors, you can still begin canning and preserving them.
The differences between the best tomatoes for canning and the less ideal, comes down to the process and the desired sauce. Many people aim for a smooth sauce, therefore without seeds, so tomatoes with little seeds makes the processing easier.
Additionally, for a thicker sauce, you’ll need more tomato flesh and less juice or water. So again, you’ll pick different tomatoes for this goal.
If you’re reading this, that shows you’re interested in canning tomatoes, which is fantastic! It’s a super useful skill that many gardeners take on to make the most of their produce. If you’re already growing tomatoes, regardless of what type they are, you can start canning now!
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.