Canning Meat

Canning is the perfect way to preserve food for later use without the addition of chemicals and additives found in commercially preserved foods. While many people will freeze meat in order to preserve it for later use, not many have considered the convenience of canning meat. Canned meat can last for many years when it has been properly handled and stored, giving it a longer shelf life than frozen meat.

Nearly any kind of meat can be canned, but be sure you choose cuts and preparations that you enjoy as well as high-quality meats. As with all things, the higher the quality of your meat, the better your canned product will be. Lean meats, or meat with the fat trimmed, will be ideal for canning.

When preparing meats for canning, never use any canning method but pressure cooking and for the times recommended. Keep your meats cool while you prepare them (unless you are canning cooked meats) and handle your food as quickly as possible to reduce risk of contamination. Botulism and other food-borne illness are not able to be detected by sight, smell or taste. For this reason, following proper canning procedures are essential. Heat processing (and pressure processing, specifically) kills the bacteria that may contaminate your food, and the sealing process keeps your food from becoming re-contaminated. If you observe that the seal is not complete, you must either refrigerate or freeze within 24 hours. Do not guess when it comes to canning, especially meats.

Pints should be cooked for 75 minutes and quarts for at least 90 minutes, and this is true whether you are canning cooked or raw meats. You will gauge your processing time from the point when your pressure cooker reaches 10 pounds of pressure (or 11 pounds if you are using a dial gauge canner). The time and pressure used should be adjusted for your altitude.

When canning cooked meats, you will want to fill the jars with meat that is cooked to approximately 2/3 done-ness and hot broth, leaving 1 1/4 inches of headspace. Ground meats are generally better canned after cooking and with excess fats removed. Raw meats will be packed without liquids.

If you wish to can fish, choose a fatty fish (but not tuna), and keep them on ice until ready to can. Make certain the skin is next to the glass, and do not add liquids. The processing time for fish is 100 minutes. Do not can with head, tail, fins and scales and do not cook.

It is possible to can smoked fish, but not as simple as other methods. Smoked fish must be only lightly smoked prior to canning and must be processed in a 16 to 22 quart pressure cooker. Tin cans and quart jars are not safe for smoked fish. Fish should be cut into pieces that will fit vertically into pint-sized canning jars with at least 1 inch of headspace. Do not add liquid to your jars.

Different kinds and cuts of meat may require variations in temperature and pressure. Consult tested, USDA approved and current recipes for all canning, as most food-borne illness are the result of improper handling and storage of food.

It is highly unadvisable to attempt cooling your pressure cooking faster than by simply removing from heat source. Once jars are removed from the canner, do not allow them to set in a drafty location.

Once your jars have cooled for 24 hours, test the lids. They should be concave and not move when pressed. If they do not meet these requirements, your seals are not secure and you must reprocess or cold-store your canned meat.

Canning your own meat can give you the peace of mind of knowing what is in your foods as well as being sure about the freshness and quality of the food that you eat. A small investment of time is definitely worth it.