7 Best Tomatoes for Canning and Sauces

The trick to making the perfect sauce and canning tasty tomatoes is all in choosing the right variety. Gardening expert and pasta lover Melissa Strauss has some advice on choosing the best tomatoes for canning and sauce making.

sauce canning tomatoes. Displayed jars of canned tomatoes and tomato sauce on a table with clusters of fresh tomatoes and a bunch of fresh dill.

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Growing up with rivaling Italian grandmothers, cooking prowess was always a topic of contention between my parents. It was well known that great-grandmom Rosie made the best ravioli, and Camille took top honors when it came to eggplant parmigiana. But, when it came to sauce or gravy, depending on who was cooking, the prize rested firmly with Josephine.

As any Italian grandmother will tell you, the key to a prize-winning sauce is flavor and consistency. Not only must your sauce have a robust and savory-sweet flavor, but it also needs to stick to the pasta. No one likes thin, watery bolognese. Whether you prefer it with or without meat, sprinkled with asiago or romano, your sauce needs body and big, bold flavor. 

Secret recipes aside, the foundation of any good sauce is in the tomatoes. You can’t just toss any old tomatoes in a pot and expect to get a hearty Pomodoro. The same rules apply to canning, as well. You want your tomatoes to stand up to the heat without turning into a soupy mess. 

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What Makes a Tomato Good for Canning and Making Sauces?

Top view, close-up of tomato sauce in a wooden bowl next to a wooden spoon and several fresh cherry tomatoes on a black wooden surface.
For perfect sauce, opt for firm, dense paste tomatoes.

Technically, you can make sauce from just about any type of tomato. However, there are some characteristics that make a tomato better for this purpose than others. The first desirable trait for a sauce tomato is firmness. A good sauce tomato should be firm with a meaty interior and few seeds. 

Ironically, very juicy tomatoes are not great for sauce-making. The ideal type of tomatoes for canning and making sauce are paste tomatoes. You may know these by a number of different names. They commonly go by the names roma or plum tomato. Most of them are oblong rather than round. 

Paste tomatoes aren’t bred to be sweet and juicy. In fact, they aren’t that great for eating fresh. They tend to be quite firm and a bit dry and bland. It seems counterintuitive that this would be the type of tomato to make the best sauce, but it’s true! A good sauce tomato has substantial walls. The density of this type of tomato is what makes it a good sauce tomato. 

As far as flavor goes, paste tomatoes are not as flavorful as other types. This is actually a good thing when making sauce and canning. The more balanced acid and sweet flavors of these tomatoes will intensify as you cook them. The low moisture content means that you won’t have to cook them to death to get a nice, thick consistency. 

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San Marzano

Solanum lycopersicum 'San Marzano' is characterized by its elongated, lance-shaped leaves and elongated, plum-shaped fruits with a vibrant red hue and meaty texture.
Indulge in the unrivaled essence of San Marzano tomatoes.
Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum ‘San Marzano’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 6’+
  • Zones: 5-11
  • Structure: Indeterminate

‘San Marzano’ is the quintessential sauce-making tomato. This is the matriarch of all paste tomatoes and shows up in the breeding of most hybrid paste varieties. Technically, to carry the ‘San Marzano’ name, a tomato must come from the Campania region of Italy. Think of this as the champagne grape of tomatoes. You can certainly purchase seeds and grow these fruits in your home garden. However, to market them by their given name, they can’t grow outside their ‘protected designation of origin.’ 

These tomatoes are pricey if you purchase them at the store because of the limits on their farming. The Italian government is pretty serious about their tomatoes. In fact, they have confiscated millions of pounds of tomatoes marked as fraudulent ‘San Marzanos.’ 

So what makes these tomatoes so special? Well, it’s not their flavor when eaten raw, that’s for certain. If you’ve ever diced one of these and tossed it into a salad, you know that they are pretty bland. This is not one to eat straight off the vine. It is with the application of heat that the true nature of the ‘San Marzano’ reveals itself. They also have thick skin that is easy to peel, as an added bonus. 

Supremo Bush Roma

Solanum lycopersicum 'Supremo' features vigorous, determinate vines bearing abundant clusters of oval, smooth-skinned tomatoes with a green, orange and rich red color.
Perfect for compact spaces, enjoy abundant, flavorful container-grown tomatoes.
Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum ‘Supremo’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 3’
  • Zones: 4-11
  • Structure: Determinate

If you’re short on space and want a good paste tomato that will grow in a container, ‘Supremo’ is a great choice. This hybrid roma produces a ton of large, oblong fruits on a rather compact plant. In addition to its convenient size, this variety is very heat tolerant and matures early in the season. It is a determinant bush type, so the fruit all ripens around the same time. 

‘Supremo’ is a rare variety that is good for eating fresh or cooking with. The fruits are firm, meaty, and don’t contain a ton of seeds, but they are also very flavorful. You will have more fruit than you know what to do with from these plants, so it’s good that they are tasty fresh and cooked. This variety also has excellent disease resistance. 

Jersey Devil

Close-up of the fruits of Solanum lycopersicum 'Jersey Devil' which are uniquely shaped, resembling elongated peppers with a pointed tip, featuring a vibrant green, orange-red coloration and smooth skin.
With its pepper-like appearance and rich flavor, it’s a standout choice for sauces and fresh dishes.

Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum ‘Jersey Devil’

  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 6’
  • Zones: 4-11
  • Structure: Indeterminate

If you saw this one on the shelf, you might mistake it for a hot pepper. This uniquely shaped, elongated tomato has a narrow, pointed end, and tends to curve like a pepper. This is another tomato that is extra flavorful, so it’s good for eating fresh or cooked. Bred in New Jersey, this variety has a reputation for making excellent pizza sauce. 

‘Jersey Devil’ takes a while to mature, but it’s worth the wait. Once the fruit begins to ripen you will have a steady supply of large, tasty, robust tomatoes to work with. The fruits have a thick outer wall and very few seeds. Their fin shape makes them a conversation piece at the dinner table. This plant is indeterminate. It takes a while to warm up, but it will produce lots of fruit right up to the first frost. 

Russian Big Roma

The fruits of Solanum lycopersicum 'Russian Big Roma' are large, meaty, and oblong, boasting a rich red hue.
Known for its large, meaty fruits, it’s perfect for sauces.

Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum ‘Russian Big Roma’

  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: up to 8’
  • Zones: 3-11
  • Structure: Indeterminate

This popular heirloom variety is late to mature and produces very large, deeply colored fruits with good flavor and a meaty texture. As romas go, this is a hefty tomato with a nice balance of sugar and acidity. It is thought to come from Russia, hence the name. However, this hasn’t been proven. 

As you might expect, a big tomato like this takes a while to mature. Expect to see red fruit about 85 days after transplanting. Slice a ‘Russian Big Roma’ open to see what makes it great for canning and sauce-making. The flesh is very dense, and the seeds are almost non-existent. This is one of the largest roma tomatoes. 

SuperSauce

Close-up of a woman's hand displaying ripe 'SuperSauce' tomato fruits in the garden, characterized by large, oblong shape, deep red color, and meaty texture.
With its colossal fruits perfect for culinary adventures, it’s a garden gem.
Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum ‘SuperSauce’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 4’
  • Zones: 4-11
  • Structure: Indeterminate

Speaking of large roma tomatoes, ‘SuperSauce’ is probably the largest, and as its name suggests, it’s super for making sauce with! These huge, oblong tomatoes can weigh as much as two lbs each. The fruits are meaty and have few seeds. They also have thick skin that is easy to peel. These tomatoes are perfect for canning and making sauce. 

This plant is short and stocky. It has to be to support the extra large fruits it produces. You’ll definitely want to give this one some support, those heavy tomatoes can break branches under their hefty weight. In spite of their size, these fruits are relatively quick to mature. You should see red tomatoes about 70 days after transplanting. 

Margherita

Solanum lycopersicum 'Margherita VF' exhibits vigorous growth with dark green, serrated leaves and produces medium-sized, oval, deep red fruits with a smooth skin.
Ideal for Margherita pizzas, it’s versatile for sauce and canning.
Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum ‘Margherita VF’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 3’
  • Zones: 4-11
  • Structure: Determinate

This tomato gets its name from Pizza Margherita, and it works very well diced on a pie with fresh mozzarella and basil. It’s also wonderful for making sauce with and canning. The fruits are small to medium-sized with good flavor and deep red skin. The skin is thin and peels away easily, but you can also leave it on to add some texture to your dish. 

‘Margherita’ is a small but vigorous plant that produces a lot of fruit early in the season. It is a bush type, and determinate, so be ready to do some cooking when these fruits ripen. This tomato’s thin skin and sweet, tasty flesh make it a great all-purpose fruit. It’s a great tomato for sauce, canning, and for eating fresh. 

Pink Fang

Solanum lycopersicum ‘Pink Fang’ displays elongated, serrated leaves and yields medium-sized, oblong fruits with a vibrant pink hue, smooth skin, and juicy, flavorful flesh.
Exceptionally flavorful and uniquely shaped, it’s perfect for sauces.
Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum ‘Pink Fang’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 4’-6’
  • Zones: 4-11
  • Structure: Indeterminate

I know I said that most paste tomatoes aren’t the most flavorful for fresh eating. But, ‘Pink Fang’ is an exception. It’s also a very interesting-looking tomato. Long, light red fruits have green shoulders and pointed ends. They resemble a plump, shiny pepper. 

Inside, this tomato is dense and meaty, with a great balance of sweet and acidic flavor. These fruits make wonderful sauces, and they also work well for making salsa or slicing for salads. Their firm texture makes them stand up well to heat. Their quirky shape will bring smiles in the garden. 

What is the Best Way to Skin a Tomato?

Peeling your tomatoes is an important step in making tomato sauces and canning them. Some fruits have thick skin that peels away easily, but in general, they need some special treatment. If you’re struggling to remove the skin from your tomatoes, here is a tried and true method that should work well with any variety. 

  1. Score the bottom of your tomato with a sharp knife in the shape of an X.
  2. Lay your tomatoes in a glass bowl and pour enough boiling water over them to immerse them completely.
  3. Leave your fruit in the water for several minutes until the skin begins to wrinkle. This happens as it separates from the flesh. While your tomatoes sit in the hot water, prepare another bowl with ice and water.
  4. Remove your fruits from the hot water and quickly dunk them into the ice water to stop the cooking process.
  5. Use your fingers to gently peel the skin away. Voila! Peeled tomatoes!

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to have an Italian grandmother to make a tasty Arrabbiata. You do, however, need to start with the right type of tomatoes. When it comes to canning and sauce making, roma tomatoes will always take home the prize. You can take my word for it. I have it on good authority from my own children that I carried on the sauce-making gene. As for which side of the family my talents came from, I’ll leave that debate to my parents.

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