Although most people hear the word “canning” and think “jams and pickles,” the art of home canning extends to all sorts of foodstuffs, including a wide variety of meat and seafood. So if you’re short on freezer space and don’t care for jerky, never fear: canning help is here!
The most popular meats for canning include beef, lamb, pork, and chicken. They aren’t the only meats you may can, though—domestic rabbits and small game also can well, and use the same simple method as chicken and other poultry.
The largest challenge in canning meat lies in the fact that meat is one of the best breeding grounds for bacteria. It’s essential to use high-quality, fresh meat and to handle it quickly and in extremely clean conditions. In addition, you should only can meat that comes from a known source—and that doesn’t mean knowing the name of your grocery store manager! It is essential to know that the source of your meat was raised in healthy conditions and that the meat was handled properly and with the highest regard to sanitation. In most cases, this means growing and slaughtering your own domestic animals, or purchasing meat from a farmer who you know and trust and whose operation you are familiar with.
If you are canning wild game, only use meat from a freshly killed animal that appeared perfectly healthy.
The Importance of Pressure Canning Meat and Seafood
All meat and seafood absolutely must be pressure canned, rather than processed in a boiling water bath. Because it takes only one spoonful from one jar of poisoned food to cause serious illness or death, the pressure canner may be the most important investment you make.
All pressure canners work according to the same principle. The pan has a tight sealing lid with a regulator. When a small amount of water (usually 1 to 3 inches) is heated in the canner, it is converted to steam, which builds up pressure and reaches temperatures substantially higher than boiling. At 10 to 15 pounds of pressure, the temperature is 240° to 250° F. Safety features maintain pressure at reasonable levels and auto-release if the pressure becomes too high.
Pressure Canning Step by Step:
- After packing Mason jars and fitting them with lids and screwbands, put the rack in the canner and add 2 to 3 inches of water. Then place jars on the rack. If you like, you may fill the rack before placing it in the canner. Put the lid on the canner and fasten it securely.
- Open the petcock or remove the weight. Heat on high until steam flows out.
- Continue to heat on high for 10 minutes before closing the petcock or placing the weight on the vent port. During the next 3 to 5 minutes, the pressure will build.
- When the dial gauge shows the recommended amount of pressure, or when the petcock begins jiggling or rocking, set the timer for the time specified in your recipe. At high altitudes, increase the pressure ½ pound for each 1,000 feet above sea level.
- Maintain a temperature at or just above the specified gauge pressure. Weighted gauges will jiggle 2 or 3 times per minute or rock slowly, depending on the brand. Avoid large variations in temperature, which may cause liquid to be forced from jars,
jeopardizing the seal.
- When the time is up, turn off the heat, remove canner from burner if possible, and let it depressurize. Do not use cold water to speed depressurization and avoid opening the vent port. Let the canner sit 30 minutes if loaded with pints, or 45 minutes with quarts. Some models cool more quickly and have vent locks that indicate when pressure is normal.
- When pressure has returned to normal, remove the weight or open the petcock. Let canner sit for two minutes before unfastening and removing the lid. Keep your face away from the canner to avoid escaping steam.
- Using a jar lifter, remove the jars and place them on a folded towel, allowing at least 1 inch of air to circulate between them.
The Importance of Cooking Meat and Seafood
Canned meat should also always be cooked. Although it has been a popular American practice in recent history to preserve meat by raw canning, it is not possible to guarantee the safety of meats packed raw.
It is always a better choice to freeze, rather than can, raw or undercooked meat. It is absolutely necessary to use a pressure canner when canning any kind of meat.
Process your cans at 10 pounds per square inch at sea level or 15 pounds per square inch at altitude. This process will destroy any and all bacteria and ensure that your meat is safe to eat. To keep your meat from spending too much time in warm air, work with a small amount at a time while storing the rest in the refrigerator.
As with any canned food, inspect your cans for signs of spoilage before you enjoy the contents.
Signs for Spoilage of Meat Products Include:
- A broken seal
- An “off” odor
- Seepage around the seal
- Small bubbles in the food
- A spurt of liquid when you open the container
- Yeasty or cloudy liquid
- Mold (even the tiniest amount!)
Tips For Canning Red Meats
Prime cuts of beef, lamb, pork, veal, and large game should be canned in the largest pieces you can fit in your containers. To can these large pieces, follow these steps:
- Wipe the pieces of raw meat with a clean, damp cloth. Remove any bones or fat that is visible on the surface of the meat.
- Place the pieces in a large, shallow pan with ½ cup of water.
- Cook over medium heat, turning often, until pieces are cooked medium well.
- Pack meat in straight-sided jars. Add boiling liquid (meat stock or vegetable stock are good choices) until jar is full, leaving an inch of headroom.
- Process at 10 pounds per square inch at 240° F. Pints should be processed for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes.
Most organ meats do not can well, with the exception of tongue. To can tongue, soak the meat in cold water for 4-6 hours, scrubbing the tongue and changing the water every two hours. Boil the tongues in a large pot. Skim off the foam that initially rises to the top, then lightly salt the water and continue to cook until the tongue is done medium well. Remove from water, rinse with cool water, then remove and skin or other inedible parts. Pack as for other pieces of meat.
Tips For Canning Poultry
Poultry is canned slightly differently from the red meats listed above. The process for canning poultry includes chicken, turkey, goose, and duck, as well as domestic rabbits, wild birds, and other small game. Unlike with red meat, you may leave the skin on. Pack raw pieces into a large pan, cover with chicken or vegetable stock, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until meat is medium-well done. Pack meat with broth as for red meat, above.
You may also can the giblets of your poultry. If you have enough liver to process and pack separately from your other giblets, do so. Use canned giblets in meat sauces, gravies, or meat pies. To pack gizzards and hearts, clean and trim off any gristle or fat. Cut gizzards and large hearts in half. Boil in broth until done medium well. To pack livers, first remove any fat and cut away the gall sac and any connecting tissue between the lobes. Cook over medium heat in broth until done medium well—they will cook much more quickly than other giblets, so watch them closely.
Tips For Canning Seafood
It is also possible to can many kinds of seafood. Most fish and shellfish have very low acidity, which means it is essential to only can them with a properly used pressure canner, just as with other types of meat. Freshness is also of the essence when canning seafood, as even a couple hours at room temperature will turn fish unfit to can.
Salmon, lake trout, whitefish, mackerel, mullet, and shad can both be raw-packed, although they should be brined prior to canning. To make a brine, dissolve ¾ cup of pickling salt in a gallon of cold water. Immerse your pieces of fish in the brine, weighing them down if necessary, for one full hour. Drain the pieces but do not rinse them. Other fish and shellfish (aside from clams) should be precooked to medium well before being packed. ½ pint jars should be processed at 10 pounds and 240°F for 70 minutes.
Clams are a special case. Clams should be purchased (or dug) fresh and alive. Once brought home, hold your clams in clean, cool saltwater (not sea water!) made from ¼ cup pickling salt to 1 gallon of water for 24 hours, then steamed open, removed from their shells, and acid blanched in a boiling solution of 2 teaspoons of citric acid powder dissolved in a gallon of water for 2 minutes. Pack and process steamed and acid blanched clams in ½ pint jars at 10 pounds and 240°F for 60 minutes.
A Final Note
When proper procedure and safety precautions are followed, canning meats is an efficient, productive, and delicious way to store food for the future. So be safe, follow directions, and above all, enjoy your adventures in canning!
Read our detailed review on the All American Pressure Canner Cooker. We consider it to be the best on the market and it is manufactured in the US.
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