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!
Once you’ve inspected your equipment, it’s time for the next step.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next, if you have more than 8 cans, add your disk and stack the next layer.
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.
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!