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When you go to the grocery store or look for canned meats online the price may shock you. If you want really high quality meats then there is even more of a premium. Canning your own meat is much more economical and not as hard as you might think.
What You Need
This is an absolute must. Meat must be pressure canned to be safe for consumption and long term storage. Not using a pressure canner can result in spoilage and in worst cases severe cases of food poisoning. This is definitely not something you want to risk.
For practical purposes we suggest using a larger canner so you can get the most out of each canning session.The Presto‘ is a good choice because it is inexpensive, easy to use, and will hold either 7 quarts or 9 pints at a time. If you can a lot or plan on canning a lot in the future it is highly advisable to get two canners so you can make the most out of your time.
The size of the jar you choose is more important than you might think. I suggest using pints for those that plan on preparing meals for 2-3 people and quarts if you have a family of 4 or more. A pint will hold a pound or so of meat whereas a quart can hold 2-3 lbs depending on the meat and how much broth you want to have in it.
Wide mouth jars can be nice because you can reach in them and pack or clean them a bit easier than standard mouth however the lids and rings can be harder to come by sometimes.
- Funnel For Filling Jars
- Lid Lifter
- Jar Lifter
- Towels For Cooling Jars Off
Canning tools sometimes come in handy kits that are helpful to get if you are just getting started.
A Quick Note On Stoves
I personally use a gas stove but electric works just fine for canning as well but takes longer to get to temperature required for proper pressure. Even a quality hot plate will work if it is powerful enough. I definitely would not recommend ever using one of the smaller hotplates. You need a powerful hotplate if you are even going to try it and you need to read the specs to make sure it can take the heavy weight of a fully loaded pressure canner.
If you don’t have a stove or want to can outside I recommend looking into a small gas burner that is like that found on a standard gas range. Big turkey fryer style eyes and stands are too hard to regulate.
Don’t get me wrong I have canned with a turkey fryer propane element with help but the manufacturers of pressure canners definitely tell you not to do it and I am not going to do it again. You have to be very careful and keep it turned very low or you burn your food, bust jars, and more. It is so important to be careful with canning. Invest in the right tools for the job and be safe.
Choosing Your Cuts
One thing that can definitely be said about canning meat with a pressure canner is that it will be very tender and just flake apart if done right even if you use very tough cuts.
The more fat in a cut of meat the more broth you will get at the end. Too much fat will result in canned products that have a very distinct layer of fat above the meat. Sometimes these can be good for cooking up with some beans and rice or similar so if you get some jars like this don’t despair.
Smart Meat Buying
Holiday Turkey Canning
One of the cheapest ways to put back some canned meat is to buy up a lot of cheap whole turkeys during the holiday season. Grocery stores often have specials where you can buy a whole turkey for under $0.60 per pound with a minimum purchase. In my area I can get a turkey with each $25 or more grocery order from before Thanksgiving to right after Christmas.
There is no doubt that you can get some cheap chicken at times. Marked down whole chickens are good way to go when you can find them. It is best to can them immediately if they have been marked down in price and not freeze them. If you don’t have the time to can chicken immediately you can get the fresh stuff that has not been marked down and freeze it until you have the time if you catch a good deal.
Beef is going to be your most expensive canned meat but keep in mind that you don’t have to get the top cuts to can. Hamburger, London Broil, Chuck Roast, Stew Meat, etc. can all make fabulous canned meat.
Whole Animal Canning
If you live in a farming area or just know a small farmer you may be able to get a half or whole animal at a reduced price per pound because you are buying so much at once. In my area I can get ½ of a pasture-raised pig for $2.99 lb. Keep in mind that this comes dressed and ready to cook or cut up however I want it. Beef can be done the same way if you do a bit of research and make arrangements.
Canned pork from a pig raised on pasture. Notice how fat rises to the top and you have your cuts at the bottom. This is typical for canned meat.
NOTE: For more on selecting the right jars, be sure to check the previously publishing “Canning Jars 101” article here.
Bone-in vs. Boneless
For the sake of space and convenience I strongly suggest either deboning meats before canning and using what is left to boil down for broth that can then be canned. Bones take up a lot of space in jars and you are not going to want to eat them anyway so best to boil them up and can broth.
There are other ways to go about this such as cooking all the meat with the bone in and then allowing to cool and deboning then and then pressure canning what is left after bones are removed. I find this method more time consuming and messy overall.
This being said the rest of this post will proceed using the first method.
The Meat Canning Process
- Wash and dry jars, rings, and lids.
If they are new you can get away with just a quick wash with light soap. New jars have a smell to them from the factory and you don’t want that in your canned foods.
- Debone meats.
This is the part where there is a higher risk of injury especially if you have little experience handling knives. The most important thing to remember is to take your time. As you gain experience doing this type of thing you will get naturally faster.
- Cut meat into cubes or pieces that will fit into jars.
- Pack jars with meat.
You can pack meat up to just below the last ring on the jar mouth. You need to leave this one inch head space to allow for expansion during the pressure canning process.
- Fill jars to bottom ring of jar with water or broth.
You can add some salt or other seasoning as desired. One of the great things about canning your own is that you can adjust the salt and seasoning to suit your own tastes and dietary requirements.
- Wipe off any food debris from jar rims and place lids on them.
Add rings and tighten until firm but do not over tighten or you risk cracking a jar.
- Place pressure canners on stove and fill with the right amount of water as directed by your pressure canner instructions.
For your standard canner that holds 7 quarts you would use 3 quarts of water for example.
- Place jars in canner.
Make sure to use the metal stand or rack that sits in the bottom. This is very important as it keeps food from burning and jars from cracking from a major temperature change.
- Put lid on pressure canner and lock into place.
Use medium heat to bring pressure canner to a steam. When you notice steam coming out of the top wait 10 minutes and then add the weight that comes with the canner. If your pressure canner has a gauge then pay attention to that.
The pressure you can at depends on your elevation. I am above 1000 feet so I use 15 lbs. of pressure, which works well with the included weight with the Presto canner. Below 1000 you can use 10 lbs. of pressure.
- Allow the pressure canner to come to pressure on medium heat.
With the weighted type pressure canners the weight will start knocking back and forth. If it seems to be knocking too hard you can cut back the heat some. You want a steady knock and steam.
- Process at pressure for the recommended time.
Here is a list of the standard times for different meats:
- Turn off heat after the allotted time has passed. Allow the canner to cool naturally at least until the metal valve drops back down or the pressure gauge reads zero.
Even after that there will be a lot of heat and steam in the canner so if you do choose to open it, keep your face away and make sure to use good protective gloves. If possible give it a little more time to cool down. Sometimes I do my canning in the evening and then just allow the canner to cool overnight before I take out any jars.
- When things are cool enough remove your jars. You can use a jar lifter if they are still too hot to handle with bare hands.
Place them on a clean towel and leave for 12 hours if you can. Moving them around too soon can risk breaking the seal. You want your jars totally cooled to room temperature before you go putting them into storage.
- Wipe down jars with a rag and allow to dry before storing.
You will get a greasy layer on the outside of your jars during canning. If you leave it on it can cause a mess or mold to grow on the outside of the jar later.
- Store canned meat in a temperature controlled room for best results.
A basement works just fine but if it is a bit damp the lids and rings will rust over time. Best storage conditions are mid temperatures 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit and dry.
- Cooking Down Broth.
Any bones or scraps left over can be cooked down into delicious broth that is excellent for soups, gravies, or adding flavor and calories to rice and bean dishes. To do this put everything in a large pot or two and pour in enough water to cover well. Add salt or spices if you want towards the end of the cooking time.
You can cook down bones and scraps as long as you want really but it gets more and more concentrated so you need to keep this in mind when cooking with it. Of course if you are trying to save on jars and are low on storage space then cooking it down more may be best for you.
When you are done cooking it down, ladle the hot broth into jars and process at pressure using the chart below. If you want a clearer broth you can run it through cheese cloth or a fine mesh colander before putting into jars.
All charts are courtesy of The National Center For Home Food Preservation and the USDA
A shelf life of 1-2 years is standard for canned meats that have been stored under reasonable conditions but you will find that the best flavor is within the first year. Still this is a good way to put back some protein that doesn’t require refrigeration and allows you to take advantage of good deals when you find them.
If you are a bit wary of canning, be sure to check out Gaye’s original post on overcoming the fear of canning here.
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