This study was conducted to investigate the association between consumption of processed foods and esophageal cancer risk. A population-based case-control study was designed. For the present study, 254 patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma with pathological diagnoses were selected from Yanting during 2008 and 2010 and 254 community-based controls were selected from the same area, individually matched with cases by age and sex. Data on demographic, lifestyle and dietary factors were collected using food frequency questionnaires. A conditional logistic regression model was used to estimate the odds ratio (OR) with adjustments for potential confounders. Compared to the frequency of <1 time/week, the intake frequency of >3 times/week of preserved vegetables had a significant association with esophageal cancer (OR = 5.01, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.07, 12.17). In stratified analyses, the OR of increasing intake of preserved vegetables for esophageal cancer were 2.02 in men (95% CI 1.18, 3.48), 3.15 in women (95% CI 1.28, 7.75), 2.41 (95% CI 1.45 4.01) in the persons <65 years old and 1.28 (95% CI 0.35, 4.65) in persons ≥65 years old. Consumption of pickled vegetables was not associated significantly with esophageal cancer risk. Intake of salted meat with a frequency of ≥1 time/week meant that the OR increased to 2.57 (95%CI 1.02, 6.43), but no significant trend or association in subgroup analysis was observed. Preserved vegetable consumption was associated with increased risk of esophageal cancer, while no association was found with pickled vegetables.