I think if the real Suzy Homemaker had to can 100 pints of meat, or anything, she would be haggard and worn. However, modern day technology and science makes the tasks of our ancestors a proverbial cake walk. I often tell my students that I truly am the laziest preparedness person they will ever meet. If there is an easy way to do something, I find it. I work full-time nearly 6 days a week and have to manage my physical and emotional energy wisely. I assure you that if canning meat was a real torture, I certainly wouldn’t be doing it. So today, I’m going to hold your hand and walk you through this task step by step. Why? Because it’s too easy and too cheap for you NOT to be doing it. I find that it’s about a quarter of the price of canned meats—even those at Costco. Not only that, but there is a distinct difference in taste between the commercially canned meat and that which you can yourself. Seriously; I’ve NEVER tasted store-bought canned chicken that’s as moist and tender as the meat I can myself. It’s truly a delight!
Why I love to can my own meat
Oh yeah, and another reason why I love canning meat is because my freezer is always FULL but I hate to miss out on buying loads of meat when it hits a rock bottom price just because I’m out of room. I mean really, I’m going to wish I had it later, right? So, when I can the meat instead of trying to find room in my freezer, I’m only limited by the number of jars I have on hand. Considering I can get those in abundance at Goodwill or at Salvation Army type stores; that really isn’t an insurmountable problem.
Just to answer a few anticipated questions initially; no, you do not have to add water to your canned meat. The meat, just like our own bodies already has sufficient moisture in it. However, I do so because I look at it as “free” broth that gets a deeper flavor over the years; so why not? Also, yes, you are able to can any kind of meat. I even can bacon! You can even can shrimp, halibut, ground beef, turkey, and steak.
I try to keep the meat in as big of a piece as I can so that I don’t get pigeon-holed into a specific use for the meat. For example, when I bottle pork sirloin, I keep it as large a piece as possible so that I can use it as a small pork roast with potatoes and carrots or I can cut it up for Pork Guisada. This is also why I do not pre-season my meat with ANY seasoning, though a pinch of salt is fine, it’s not necessary.
Here’s what you’ll need to can your meat:
- A pressure canner. (I use an All-American brand. They are currently about $200 bucks on Amazon.com)
- Clean Mason jars with NEW lids (it doesn’t matter which brand you use, Kerr, or Ball. I don’t think I’ve even seen the actual brand “Mason” is quite some time). I prefer to use the large mouth, pint size jars since 1 pint usually holds a pound of meat and that’s what most recipes call for.
- A sharp meat knife
- Paper towels
- White Vinegar (dampen your paper towel with it when you clean the rims of the jars.
- A butter knife
- Meat (with or without the bone in it. Your meat does NOT have to be cooked unless it’s ground meat. In which case you should brown it and then pack it.) When I’m bottling fresh fish, I take out the major bones as much as possible, but I don’t bother with the tiny ones. They tend to disintegrate in the jar through the pressure canning process.
Open the jars and lay the lids off to the side while you work with your meat. Cut your meat to the desired size and place it in the jars. I prefer to only handle the inside of the jars once I’ve started packing them so that I don’t get any fat or oil on the rims as that can compromise the seal. Fill the jars up only to the bottom of the screw rim area on the jar—no further. This is known as “head space/head room.”
Once you’ve filled all of the jars with meat, pour in enough warm water to fill in the gaps of the meat packing. Remember, you don’t want to fill the jars any higher than the lowest point of the screw portion of the jar. (If the jar is not a wide mouth jar, then I actually stop right at the bend on the top of the jar, which is just below where the screw joint begins.)
Once you’re done filling in all of you jars with water, then go back with a butter knife and slide it down the inside of the jar. Doing so will allow more of the water to fill in the air gaps of the meat in the jar. I press the meat in a bit towards the center of the jar while I’m doing this to encourage better filling. Inevitably when you’re finished with this process, your jars will need a tad bit more water. Fill accordingly.
Once you’re finished filling the jars, take a clean paper towel, moisten it with vinegar, and then wipe the outside screw rim of the jar as well as the top rim. You want to make sure that there are no meat pieces, oils, debris, or fat on that section as it will compromise the jar sealing properly. Place the lid firmly on each jar and screw on “finger tip tight.” You don’t want to man-handle these tightly closed at this point.
Place one of the racks that should be a part of your pressure canner set at the bottom of your pan. This is a must as the jars should not come in contact with the bottom of the pot. Fill your pressure canner 2 to 3 inches with water. (see your instruction manual for your particular canner) (Using warm or hot water will result in it taking less time for your canner to come up to full pressure. ) Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar. This will prevent the calcium/hard water stains on the jars and in your canner. Place the filled jars on the bottom rack inside your pressure canner, giving each jar just a bit of wiggle room. (NEVER put your jars directly on the bottom of the canner; always use the rack.) Then place your second rack on top of that layer of jars and top it with filled jars as well.
Place the lid on the canner according to manufacturer’s directions WITHOUT the pressure weight. Turn the burner on High. Allow steam to exit pressure valve for 5 minutes, then place the pressure weight on your pan, according to manufacturer’s directions and in consideration of your altitude.
Bring your pressure canner up to the appropriate pressure measurement (based on the kind of meat you’re cooking and your altitude) and then adjust/lower the heat to hold that pressure without needing to extract much heat or steam from the pressure weight valve. (This should take anywhere from 60-90 minutes.).
Upon finishing the pressure canning, remove the pressure canner lid according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Wipe off all of the jars with a clean, dry cloth and tighten the lids (as they will loosen in their grip during the canning process). Label the contents of the jar simply by writing on the flat part of the lid. I label it with the kind of meat in the jar as well as the month and day it was canned i.e. “Chx Brst 1/10” (translation: chicken breast, January 2010—thanks to all of my years waiting tables) Store in a cool, dry, place. Your canned meat will now store easily and safely for 3 to 5 years and you will love the taste!