Everyday Meat Canning

One of the most important ways of preserving food on the homestead is Canning.  This week, we made our monthly trip into the city for our supplies.  I scored big time in the meat department, where I found chicken on sale for $0.97/lb, ground beef on sale for only $2.99/lb, and beef stew meat on sale for $2.28/lb.  I love a good deal, so I couldn’t pass these up, especially because we officially exhausted our meat reserves the last week of April.

So, what do I do with all this meat when we live without a refrigerator?  I can it of course! Canning originally started in the late 1700’s.  While the process wasn’t perfected or wholly understood even until much later.  Home canning didn’t become a popular until around the 1860’s.  With the invention of The Mason Jar by a New York tinsmith, John L. Mason; many people were able to participate in the home canning of fruits, meats, and vegetables.

Living on an off-grid homestead means you have to learn how to keep your food from spoiling.  It’s not like we can run to the grocery store once a week, it’s over 100 miles to the city for us.  Now, in the winter, it isn’t hard to keep food cold in Alaska.  We found that by keeping an icebox inside our cabin with a one-gallon jug of frozen water in it kept all our typically refrigerated foods well.  It’s not a problem freezing the water jug in the winter either, just a few hours outside and it’s hard as a rock.  I have 2 jugs that I alternate just in case the weather isn’t cold enough to freeze in a few hours.

However, with the seasons changing and the melting snow, we are faced with the facts that our little system that worked so well in the winter isn’t going to work at all in the spring, summer, or even fall. I knew the day would come when I would have to start canning and let me be honest, I was dreading it!  I always thought of pressure canning as something difficult and beyond my reach.  I also thought that canned meat would be disgusting, you know like buying a can of SPAM?  I couldn’t have been more wrong about both of those assumptions!

Here’s the easy, low down on canning meat.  I’m going to walk you through step by step so you can see just how easy and practical it really is.  Regardless of where you live, city, suburb, country or Bush; canning meat makes sense on several levels.  First, it’s a great way to preserve it.  Second, it takes less space, leaving you plenty of room in your fridge or freezer (if you have one).  Third, canning meat makes meal time a breeze!  The meat is already cooked, all you need to do is warm it and add seasonings if you so desire.

Find the Sales!

Canning meat is ideal when you find outstanding deals on meat, or for any meat that’s close to its “sell-by date”.  It makes sense to stock up while it’s dirt cheap.  If you’re an avid fisherman or hunter, you can also can anything you bring home. (We can’t wait for our chance to process and can our own.)

Purchase Canning Equipment

If you don’t already have it, you’ll need mason jars, a pressure canner, and a canning tool set. You can find them all at Wal-Mart or through the Amazon link below.  I prefer Amazon because as a prime member, I get free shipping and where we live it’s easier than going to the city and hoping they have it in stock.  When I can meat, I use pint size jars because they hold 1 lb or just a little more.  I also prefer the wide mouth jars because they’re easier to load and unload.  I just ordered the Presto 23 Qt pressure canner.

When you get your new mason jars, be sure to check them thoroughly for any cracks, chips or other defects.  I had to go to town to buy more from the local True Value because mine were all cracked at the bottom and a few even had pieces of glass inside of them.  While it may not sound like a big deal, the local town is 30 miles one way!

You can see in the circled areas the cracks in the bottom of the jars.

Once you’ve inspected your equipment, it’s time for the next step.

Sterilize Everything!

Remove all the bands and lids and place them in a pan of boiling water.  (This is one reason you’ll need the Ball Canning Kit.) Place your mason jars in boiling water as well.

Time to Cook

Once you get your cans, lids, and bands in water, it’s time to start cooking.  First, you should know that when pressure cooking, you don’t have to cook your meat first, it can be done by “Raw Pack” or “Hot Pack”.  Raw pack is exactly what it sounds like.  You place your meat in the can raw.  The pressure and heat of the pressure canner will thoroughly cook your meat, saving you a time-consuming step.

I raw pack everything except ground beef.  The reason for this is because if you raw pack ground beef, your final product comes out more like a meatloaf log and can be difficult to get out of the can.  Unless you’re using wide mouth jars, it’s really a hassle.  However, even with the wide mouth jars, it can be difficult to deal with.

The second reason I don’t raw pack ground beef is because it loses much of its volume in the cooking process.  In other words, when raw packing ground beef, you won’t be able to pack a pound in a pint-size jar.  However if you hot pack ground beef, you will always get at least a pound per pint jar, sometimes a bit more.

Raw Packing

When using the raw packing method, simply load your jars.  In this demonstration, I canned chicken and used the raw method.  Make sure as you load your jars you leave room for the lid.  Fill the jar with your choice of liquid; you can use broth, stock, or plain water.  I used water and added seasons to the raw pack.

My chicken being raw packed. I use lemon pepper and a little bit of Himalayan salt.

When adding your liquid of choice, make sure you don’t fill your jar more than halfway.  If you fill it more than halfway with a liquid you run the risk of not getting a proper seal because your meat will also release its own juices in the cooking process.

The blue line on the right is my fill line. Be sure not to fill your jar more than halfway with liquid.

Once you have your jars filled, wipe the rims with a clean rag or paper towel.  Make sure there is nothing on the rims otherwise you won’t get a proper seal.  After wiping the rims, add the lids and bands.  You don’t need to tighten the bands excessively, just enough to be fully closed.

Load Your Pressure Canner

Once all your jars are filled and sealed, load them into your pressure cooker.  The Presto 23 Quart Pressure Canner holds 16 pints when double stacked.  For double stacking, you will need to purchase an extra disk, although many people stack the cans directly on top of one another.  I don’t do it this way because it increases your odds of breakage in the pressure cooking process.

Add Water to the Pressure Canner

You only need 2-3 inches of water in the pressure canner.  You don’t want the jars submerged in water.  The blue line shows you where my water level was for this batch.

The blue line shows you the water level. You only need 2-3 inches of water in the pressure cooker when canning meat.

Next, if you have more than 8 cans, add your disk and stack the next layer.

I didn’t have a disk yet, so I used a wire rack to double stack the jars.

Start Cookin’

Put your lid on the pressure canner, turn up the fire and let’s get cooking!  You will cook meat at 10 lbs. pressure.  For pint-size jars, the processing time is 75 minutes.  For quart size jars, processing time is 90 minutes.

At the beginning of the heating stage, you will need to vent the steam.  I set the heat to medium-high and allow the canner to get hot enough that I can see the steam being released through the valve where the regulator weight goes.  Allow the steam to vent to 10 minutes before placing your weight on.

Once you get your pressure up to the right setting, lower the fire while keeping an eye on the pressure gauge.  This takes some time to learn, if you lower the fire too much you will lose pressure, but if you leave it on high your pressure will continue to increase.  Once your pressure has been maintained for 10 minutes, start your timer. I always set a timer for 30 minutes at a time so that I can keep an eye on the pressure to make sure it isn’t getting to high or low.

When the timer is over, turn off the fire and allow pressure can release on its own without removing the weight. If you remove the weight while there is still pressure in the canner, it can cause the jars inside to break because of the rapid change in pressure.

To remove the cooked jars, you will need the tongs in the Ball Canning Kit so as to not burn yourself.

The end product is juicy and looks great.

2 of the cans of chicken that we pressure cooked once done.

Repeat as Needed

Repeat the process as many times as you need to get it all cooked.  Yesterday, I canned over 40 pounds of meat.  It took me nearly all day because most of it was ground beef, but it was well worth it!  The canned chicken is the juiciest I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.  The same is true for stew meats, the meat is so tender that it melts in your mouth!

Have you ever eaten home canned meats?  Please leave me your feedback and questions.  I would love to know if you have any special little tricks that you’ve picked up along the way.

Now, get canning!

8 thoughts on “Everyday Meat Canning”

  1. Never in a million years thought about canning meat! Growing up Italian, we had lots of canned veggies-mostly given to us from friends and neighbors. But meat is a new one on me! The chicken looks like soup, btw–yummy!

  2. Thank you SO much for writing up this excellent tutorial on meat canning! I only have a couple of questions 🙂 First of all, I’m using an older pressure canner, a Mirro 12 Quart. Does that mean I can get 12 quart jars in it? (Can you tell I’ve never used a pressure canner??? LOL) Also, I noted where you said to let the pressure get up to five pounds and then release… I don’t think mine tells that (of course, again… newbie here). My pressure gauge is metal with four different pressure readings. So should I put it at 5 pounds for a certain amount of time? And finally… you said to keep letting off the pressure until the steam was wet… at the risk of sounding COMPLETELY stupid, lol, what does that mean? And thank you in advance!!! I think I’m going to try this in the next few weeks for adding it to my blog and I’ll definitely link back!!

    1. Stacey, great questions! Let’s get these answered one by one.

      1. I’m not sure how many jars you will be able to fit in your canner. My advice is to put empty jars in it before you do anything and see how many will fit. This way you’ll know before you get them all filled.
      2. I clearly need to edit this post in regards to letting the pressure get to 5 lbs and then releasing. Here’s what you need to do. Once you have your filled jars in the canner, close it up and turn your heat on medium high. Let the canner get hot enough to where you are venting the steam for a good 10 minutes. You’ll be able to see the steam venting where your weight goes. After you have vented the steam for 10 minutes, put your weight on and then allow the canner to get to 10 pounds pressure. So, your gage should read 10 pounds pressure. If you’re a little bit over it’s okay, but not under and not 13 pounds or more.
      3. Once you have your weight on and have gotten to 10 pounds, make adjust your heat and make sure you maintain that 10 pounds for at least 10 minutes, then start your timer for either the pint jars or the quart jars, whichever you’re using.

      I’m so sorry for the inconsistency in the post and what I’m saying here. I’ll edit this post this afternoon to correct it.

      1. No need to apologize! I’m sure anyone who has pressure canned before knows just what you’re talking about. I guess I’ve heard so many horror stories about those things blowing up that I may be just a tad bit overly anxious 🙂 Thank you so much for the explanations, however, and it brings perfect clarity. I am going to write these notes in a notebook for myself so I can refer back as needed. THIS is important information <3 Thanks!

        1. Stacey, I have updated this post with the correct information. Please be sure you check it out and have the right notes. Again, thank you for your questions, it’s important to me that I am providing accurate information to our readers and your questions have allowed me to see the errors and correct them!

          As for the horror stories, I was right there with you the first time I did it! I had NEVER canned anything previously to canning meat, but I had to do it because we don’t have any other way to keep it. I had some great guidance from a few friends but was on my own while doing it. I now know that some of the things I had originally written in here, based on their advice, wasn’t accurate; hence the errors you helped me find. I now look forward to canning our meat because it’s such an easy way to make meals and I love seeing it on the shelf! My end goal is to have enough in “back” stock to have 18 months minimum! I just need enough storage space for that. 😉

          1. What?? Canning meat was your first canning experience?? THAT is amazing, girl, GOOD JOB!!! I started canning tomatoes first, because rumor has it they’re the easiest. True, because they’re acidic, but then I moved on to canning other veggies, fruit, and jams. A great way to use up a fall harvest, for sure! This post has REALLY given me confidence to dust the old Mirro off and put her to work 😉 We actually have chicken legs and thighs on sale for .97 cents a pound, so I think I’m going to give it a try!! I’m crazy excited about it! I’ve always shied away from buying too much meat on sale because I’m afraid of freezer burn. With this, it’s just a whole new ball game. Going to start slow and see what happens! Again, thank you so much! I’ve book marked your page here 🙂 Your info is just great <3

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