How To Can Meat For Food Storage | Just Plain Living

How To Can Meat For Food Storage

Canning meat is easy with a pressure canner, and it is an affordable way to put up food.

Do you know how to can meat? Many people are used to canning jellies, jams and pickles, but did
you know that you can use a pressure canner to put away tasty, tender and convenient jars of meat? 
Pressure canning meat - a quick guide to getting safe, easily stored meat in your pantry
Canning meat with a pressure canner is a fabulous way to store large amounts of food in the cupboard with no additional energy cost.

This post contains affiliate links.

First - you need to know that it's easy

If you have a safe, modern canner and even moderate intelligence (and yes, you have far more than that!), you can do this.

The "hardest" part is watching that canner and convincing yourself that it honestly will not blow up. 

It won't. 


Don't limit yourself to jams and jellies. You can pressure can any kind of meat for long-term, convenient storage


Unless you're using your grandmother's canner (and please don't - get a new one!), your canner is full of safety features to keep you from blowing up. I promise.

The best part is having home-made stew (or spaghetti or chicken and dumplings or .... ) on the table in ten minutes. 

Second - you will save money. You can buy meat when it is on sale, or process your home-raised meat, and know that it’s safely put away until you need it.


Third – it stores well. As long as you can keep your canning jars from the extremes of temperature, the meat will keep just fine for a year or more. I have eaten meat from two-year-old jars that have been stored in a normal kitchen cupboard.

Fourth – Pressure canning is NOT the same as boiling water bath canning. Both of them are wonderfully useful, but they’re both for different types of food.

There are two ways to pressure can meat - raw pack and hot pack.

Hands down, raw pack is easiest. However, it doesn't work with every kind of meat.

Super simplified procedure for canning meat:
  • Fill clean (not hot and sterilized) canning jars with cold, raw meat. No water. No broth. Spices optional.
  • If the meat is cooked, pack it in more loosely. Add broth, covering it to 1” headspace. Generally, 1” headspace is where the smooth jar becomes the threads.
  • Wipe off the rims with a clean cloth dipped in hot water and vinegar.
  • Add heated lids, and put on rings finger-tight.
  • Put lid on pot.
  • Vent according to your pressure canner’s guidelines.
  • Add the weighted gauge.
  • Process for the correct amount of time according to the food and jar size.
  • Turn off heat and let pressure drop naturally to zero.
  • Do NOT cool the canner with water or attempt to open it.
  • Remove weight.
  • Remove lid to a safe place.
  • Remove canning jars from canner.
  • Carefully place on tea towel, not cooling rack, on the counter. If there is any danger of the jars cooling too rapidly or being hit by a cool breeze, cover with a bathroom towel.
  • Cool 12-24 hours and then test the seal on each canning jars .
  • Refrigerate jars that did not seal and use them within 24 hours.
  • Remove rings, wash jars, label lids and put away.
Of course, there's more to it than that, so keep reading. Please don't can unless you have the Ball Blue Book or read up on the latest USDA recommendations online. 

Don't rely on your mother's canning books.

Although most of it will be fine, some of the information will be outdated and you'll have no way of knowing which.

The following pictures are of me trying to can beef in slices instead of chunks. Turns out that it doesn't work nearly as well - perhaps if I had wide mouth jars. The meat ended up shredding when it came out of the jar, while chunks keep their shape much better. Still tasted fine, though. I haven't really found a way to "ruin" meat, as long as it was processed correctly. Raw or cooked beef, pork, ham, chicken, turkey - it all comes out delicious and tender.

Raw packing meat is EASIEST.

The only problem I find is that sometimes it doesn't make enough broth to fill the jar. If this happens, the meat is still good.

I put some vinegar in the water for the lids, and I use that, with a clean cloth, to wipe the rims.

Having the rims super clean helps achieve a proper seal.

I bring the lids to a boil and then immediately turn the heat off, and I let them set while I fill up the jars.

Lids used to have to be boiled for five minutes, but it seems that tests have shown that they actually seal better when they're just heated in hot water.

In fact, when my sister started canning, she called to ask me why her canning jars weren't sealing. After some questions, I realized she was boiling her lids hard. 

When she started just soaking them in hot water, they all sealed.

The meatballs in this picture below were cooked and then cooled in the fridge before cold packing.
Ground beef must be cooked before processing. Because it has been cooked and will yield no broth of its own, broth or tomato sauce MUST then be added to cooked meat.

However, I want to remove the fat off the top and I don't want to mess around with hot jars, so I cool it completely and quickly and then pack it cold - with liquid added
.
The raw meat, though, needs no liquid.

It seems strange to do this the first time, but it's true. Raw meat plus optional spices - I usually put 1/2 teaspoon each of salt, onion and garlic, as well as a few twists of the pepper mill.

If you look, you’ll quickly see that I have both cooked meatballs and raw stew meat. They are prepared differently, but processed the same in the canner.


I LOVE this little magnetic lid lifter! Get a canning kit. Oddly enough, the cheapest way to get the lid lifter and jar lifter is to buy the canning kit, but I definitely, definitely recommend picking up a stainless steel canning funnel.

My mother canned pickles and jam for years without a lid lifter or jar lifter. When I asked how she managed, she told me that she burned herself a lot. Guess what Mom got for her birthday? Bernardin Canning Starter Kit And she loves it. :D


How tight do the rings go on? Finger tight is what the manufacturers tell you :D And, at the risk of sounding sexist, that's the fingers of a typical woman.  Men, go easy on those rings.

"Help! Dad put the ketchup lid on last and now I can't get it off!" We’re all familiar with that, and you do not want it happening with your canning jars.

There needs to be enough room for air to escape but not enough room for water to get in. Make sense?

Fill the canner with water just to the line marked in it. For my 23 quart Presto pressure canner that's 3 quarts of water - I fill my kettle and pour it in twice. Then put in the jars.

Very important - the jars and the water need to be at the same temperature. Hot jars in cold water or cold jars in hot water = broken jars. That's called thermal shock. It'll only happen to you once, because once you are trying to dispose of a nasty mixture of water, broken glass and spilled meat, you
It does NOT matter whether you use hot water or cold water, but make sure that everything (food, jars and water) is at about the same temperature.
 
Oh - if you have hard water, add a splash of vinegar to the water. It will keep the calcium deposits off your jars and pot.

Make sure you have a second canning rack because it's plain silly to just can nine pints. Canning eighteen pints takes only a little bit longer to come to pressure at the beginning, and no more time to process. So doing eighteen instead of nine saves a lot of time and money.

A three-piece weight and a second rack really should be included in the standard canner, but they aren’t.

I tried improvising when I started pressure canning, but in the end I bought a new rack from Presto and had it shipped to me.

How do you use the second rack? Set it on top of the bottom jars, then add another layer of jars just like you did the bottom layer. With my canner, two layers of pints brings it to the top of the canner.  With a third rack, I can triple layer half-pints.

My 23 quart canner will hold 7 quarts, or it will hold two layers of 9 pints each, or it will hold three layers of 11 half-pints each. Seems counter intuitive, but I can clearly process 8 quarts worth of food if I use pint jars or 8 1/2 quarts if I use half-pints, so don't be afraid to use small jars if that's what your family will use.

Then I bring the entire thing up to boil and vent for TEN FULL MINUTES. (Different canners have different venting times, so read your manual). My manual says to then put the weight on and heat "at a reasonably high temperature." What is that supposed to mean? I've found that 9 is just about perfect. At 8, the pressure lock won't come up, but at 10, it splutters madly and loses too much water.
I have noticed recently that many experienced canners on Yahoo's canning2 list start timing their ten minutes from when the pressure lock goes up. I count from when a steady stream of steam is rising OR when the lock goes up, whichever comes first.

It is very, very, very important to follow your manual's directions and vent the canner. I came across a website that was purporting to teach people how to can, and the writer said, "Oh, I forgot to vent again." Arrgh!

If you do not vent properly, you have no way of knowing that the entire contents of your canner are at the same temperature and pressure. This can lead to improperly processed food.
Improperly processed food can kill you.
You want a scary feeling?

Opening up your canner and finding just a tiny bit of water at the bottom. If that ever happens, you're probably putting the heat too high for the processing time.

The food is fine, as long as there is still SOME water in there.

But don't do it again.

Pressure is climbing. When it gets to 10, the weight starts rocking. If you're NOT using a 3 piece weight, at PSI 11, you start watching it like a hawk and adjusting the heat constantly to keep it at 11. For an hour and fifteen minutes. Pain in the patooshy, let me tell you. Get a 3 piece weight.

The reason why you pressure can meat at 11 PSI when you do NOT have a 3 piece weight is that the gauges are notoriously unreliable.

They can be as much as 2 pounds off when they come out of the factory. When I got my 3 piece weights, I found that 10 PSI, according to the weights, is actually 11 PSI on my gauge.

A year later, 10 PSI by the weights was 9 PSI by the gauge.

The gauge is NOT accurate.

Some Meat Canning FAQs

Do I cook the meat when I'm ready to use it?

The meat is fully cooked - and incredibly tender and rich-tasting - when processing is finished. 
Official word is that, in order to protect against botulism, you should boil all home-canned foods for ten minutes after opening.

I'll admit that I don't usually do that - I often mix our turkey and pork with mayonnaise and relish and eat it just like that. Boiling home-canned food for ten minutes tends to produce baby food. Blech.
But, yea .... official word is "Boil ten minutes". If you're in any doubt that the meat is safe, if you even suspect the vaguest hint of botulism, toss it. I would not, even in a survival situation, boil doubtful meat and expect to stay healthy.

What can you do with your pressure canned food? This picture shows you a jar of home-canned chicken, some home-canned chicken broth, and some cheap, store-bought vegetables (ignore the barley, and the oats in the back).


Even taking into account that I had to make dumplings (which must be the fastest bread product out there) it took twenty minutes to have chicken and dumplings on the table.

What temperature should everything be at?

When I put my jars in the canner, everything is at room temperature except the meat itself, which I keep in the fridge until it is ready to go in the jars. Many people complain about cracking jars because of temperature shock and I am too cheap frugal and lazy efficiency-minded to want broken jars in my canner.

How much water or broth should I add?

For raw pack, none.

If the meat going into the jars is RAW, you do not add any liquid. It will create its own. It may, or may not, be enough to fill the jar and that's quite fine. Most of my jars of raw packed meat have an inch or more of empty space.

Is the meat safe if not a full jar of broth forms?

Yes.
All of the canning guides agree that the meat is still safe, as long as it has been properly processed and the jar has sealed. The meat that is not covered with liquid might discolor a little as it sits in your cupboard, but it's still safe. I have jars of beef which did not form enough broth and I've used them a year after canning - they were perfectly fine.

What times do I process?

The only really safe answer here is - consult a modern, up-to-date canning book.

However, the general rule of thumb that I follow is 75 minutes for pint jars and 90 minutes for quarts. Bone-in chicken is slightly different (less time) as is seafood (more time). Otherwise, cooked and uncooked beef, pork, poultry, venison are all processed the same.

Anything with meat in it, I process for that amount, although soup (less than 50% meat and vegetables to broth) can be done for slightly less time.

What PSI do I use?

That's impossible to answer. You'll need to know your altitude and check a canning manual. We're at sea level, so I use the 10 PSI weight for everything that I currently can.

One thing I can tell you, though - the PSI does not change according to the size of the jars, or how many jars you're processing. The PSI changes according to your altitude and the type of food you're putting up. Fruit, for example, is processed at 5 PSI.

What's different if my meat is already cooked?

If the meat is already cooked (like a baked ham or roasted turkey), you will need to add broth to fill the jar.

If the meat and broth are hot, then you'll have to make sure everything is hot - which I find to be a royal pain in the patooshey.

I treat cooked meat just like raw meat - I warm up the de-fatted broth just enough to pour it into the jars.

That may not pass muster with the safety people, though, so do it at your own risk. I have never seen anyone address this - they all say to add the just cooked, hot meat to hot jars and fill with hot broth. I don't have a stove big enough to hold all of those pots!

At any rate, the time and the pressure remain exactly the same. In fact, the picture above shows cooked meatballs and raw beef going into the same canner load. You can process different types of meat at the same time, cooked and uncooked.

How tight do I put the lid on?

"Fingertip tight".  Not LOOSE but not overly tight. When I first started canning, I was not tightening the rings enough and I had more seal fails than I do now. Now, that doesn't mean getting out the wrench. Tighten it firmly with your fingertips.

My canner is making a lot of weird noises and doing weird things!

So does mine. I can't watch videos on the computer while I'm canning - it makes a dreadful racket.  Sometimes I stand beside the fridge and peek at it around the edge, because I think all of that pinging and hissing and rattling and banging just cannot be good. I hear sounds that are exactly like what I expect an exploding jar would do. The jar pings. The various seals hiss and splutter and spit water. The metal shifts and makes banging sounds. So far nothing has exploded. But what a dreadful racket it makes!


Can I leave the room/house when it's processing? Can I turn the heat off at the end of processing and go to bed?

NO to both.

Well - you can go quickly to the bathroom IF you have a three piece weight . If you're relying on the gauge, you're going to have to keep your eye, not your ear, on that thing the entire time. You want to keep that thing in visual range (gauge) or at least earshot (weights) the entire processing time.

At the end of processing, it is VERY tempting to turn it off and go to bed, especially if you're canning at night. I know! When I'm canning, I'm rarely finished before 11:30 and I'm tired. However, you can't do it. If you think you won't be able to stay awake to finish the processing, don't start. I mean it - you CAN NOT leave this until it's finished.

Turn off the heat.

Wait for the pressure to hit zero. It'll keep rattling and hissing as the pressure drops. While you're waiting, put clean, dry dishtowels on your counters - one for the lid and one for your jars. This is the time when I do my last bit of cleaning up, so that I *can* finish and go to bed.

Pressure is zero? Wait FIVE minutes and remove the weight (ALWAYS use oven mitts just in case there is some trapped steam). Do not remove that weight until the pressure is definitely, completely at zero.

Because the weights are small, I always drop them immediately into my canning kit box. That way, I don't lose them.

No hissing? Wait FIVE minutes and turn the lid to unlock it - again, use oven mitts because any escaping steam is burning hot. Lift the lid, tilting it AWAY from your face. (Get just one steam burn on your hand and you'll never be tempted to tilt it toward your face!)

If you're nervous at all, unlock the lid, crack it to let steam escape, and then wait FIVE minutes before removing it. I've never done that, though.

Remove the lid and place it either in your empty sink or on a clean dishtowel.



Do NOT rest it on the stove or anywhere you might bump it. It is HOT.
 

In addition, while it's hot, it can be dented and ruined if you drop it because the metal is softer.

If you dent and ruin your lid, you will cry many tears.
 

Use a jar lifter to remove your jars from the canner. (The curved end is to grab the jars, and the flat end is to hold. Please don't ask why I consider this an important point to mention. I'd like to maintain some dignity here.) Wear oven mitts.  Place them on a clean teatowel, close together but not touching. Make sure they're in a draft-free place so that the temperature doesn't drop too quickly. Put a towel over top of them. If you have double-racked, use tongs to remove the top canning rack .
Okay, the towel bit might sound odd, but I have had NO jar failures since I started putting a towel - a real towel, not a dish towel - over top of my hot jars until they have completely cooled.

DON'T let your skin touch the canner, the lid, the canning rack , or the jars.

They are all incredibly hot and will burn you very, very badly.

Do not tighten the rings. Do not touch the lids. Do not, for the sake of all that's holy and good, turn the jars upside down or put them on their sides. Do not disturb them, if at all possible, for twelve hours. Twenty-four hours is recommended, but twelve is still good.

In the morning (preferably 12-24 hours later, but I have preschoolers), remove the rings, wash the jars and lids with a clean cloth, dry them, label them and put them into storage. It's okay to give them a good scrub if they're dirty. If the lids come off, it was a bad seal. Mr D tests some of my jars at random by lifting them up by the lids.

The food is still boiling INSIDE the jars!

Yes - that can happen for up to an hour after the jars are removed. Just enjoy it, because it's pretty cool. Every single time I have had a bubbling jar, it has sealed beautifully. If some jars are bubbling and some are not, take note of which one - I've found that the non-bubbling ones are more likely to not seal right.

My lids sealed, unsealed and sealed again!

That has happened to me and it's rather worrying when it happens. They'll ping off and on for a while. However, the jars sealed just fine.

An hour has gone by and some of the lids are still unsealed.

That's not a good sign.

I know the experts say that you should give it twelve hours or more, but I've not once had a jar seal after an hour.

Tap the lid and see if it goes down - if it does, that still counts as sealing.

Make note of which one(s) are still unsealed. They'll need to go in the fridge after about twelve hours and be used right away.

Again - the experts say twenty-four hours, but if a jar hasn't sealed in 12 hours, I've found that it never will and I'd rather it be refrigerated right away.

Rings off or on when storing them?

Off.

Definitely off.

If a seal fails and you have the ring OFF, the lid will pop off and you'll, be able to see. It won't make a mess, it will just pop up and off slightly.

This is also, by the way, a reason not to stack filled jars.

If a seal fails and you have the ring ON, your jar might explode. Or worse, you could eat the food without realizing that the lid hadn't sealed.

Rings that are left on will also rust onto the jars. They are then very difficult to remove, and then they might pop off the lid during removal and contaminate your food.

Will the meat be cooked when I'm done?

After processing for 75-90 minutes at 10 PSI or more, I can promise you that your meat is completely cooked and fork tender.

The cheapest, toughest stew beef will come out incredibly tender but still firm enough to hold its shape in a stew.

How much time should I set aside?

If I put the kids to bed at 7 and have everything completely ready to go, I can fill the jars, load the canner, process, cool down and have them out by 10.

That's for a canner full of meat (18 pounds of meat), with pint jars in about 3 hours. It's not 3 hours of work, though. As long as you're close enough to hear your canner and keep an eye out for problems, you can do a lot of things.

Do I REALLY need a three piece weight ?

I wouldn't want to can without one, and I’m an experienced canner who processes most of my family’s food this way.

When you rely entirely on the gauge, first you can never be completely sure it's accurate, plus you have to have your eye on that darned thing for the whole time.

You can't go the bathroom.

You can't sit and use the computer.

You have to physically WATCH that thing.

Plus because you're fiddling with the temperature to keep the pressure right, you're more likely to have escaping liquid and bad seals. A $10 set of weights makes an incredible difference.

So, yes, if your canner doesn't come with one, make sure to get one.

Sum it up – what do I NEED to pressure can?

  1. A safe, modern pressure canner. Two of the most popular ones are Presto 23 quart pressure canner and All American 921 21-1/2-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner The Presto is the most popular, but survivalists and preppers might want the consider the All-American, which does not need replacement gaskets every year.
  2. A second canning rack for the Presto (the All-American comes with two)
  3. A canning kit with magnetic lid lifter, jar lifter and more
  4. Optionally, but I recommend it, a stainless steel canning funnel
  5. If you have a Presto canner, a three piece weighted regulator because the canner really should come with one but does not. Having an extra sealing Ring on hand is also wise because my experience is that they fail when you have vital canning to do.
  6. Jars. Do not re-use glass jars from jam and other condiments. They are made for single use and are not designed to withstand pressure canning a second time. I mostly use pint jars but you can also use half-pints or quarts. The first jars you buy will come with lids and rings. After that, buy canning lids. The reusable canning lids are more expensive but are worth the price.
  7. Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today
The initial output is fairly high, but every item in that list will last you for *years*. Stay tuned for a step-by-step on safely canning vegetables.
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Just Plain Living: How To Can Meat For Food Storage
How To Can Meat For Food Storage
Canning meat is easy with a pressure canner, and it is an affordable way to put up food.
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