In this post, we will learn how to can meat (except ground meat as that is a slightly different process). Canning meat is an easy way to preserve your meat without the need for refrigeration. If you hunt or if you grow and raise some of your food you probably know how important freezer space is. Canning your meat is an easy way to free some of this freezer space. The meat is also softened in the process and ready to be added to any recipe!
Hunting season is in full swing here in the south and I am enjoying it so much even though I am not out there hunting myself (this is completely on the top of my list of things to learn how to do!).
I really believe that meat you harvest from nature is the healthiest meat you can possibly eat. Hunting, in my opinion, is the best way to source your food.
Even if I try to feed my farm animals the best diet I can afford, I would still never be able to do as good as nature does. Not only that I love that the animal was free to roam around instead of being fenced. I also love that it had the option of choosing what it wanted to eat and when.
This year, I rely on my amazing neighbors (cause I’ve separated from my husband) to supply me with some meat and so far I’ve been able to put about 20 pounds of meat away.
Since I have this amazing meat coming right from nature, I’ve started exploring ways to preserve it other than just packing it and freezing it. There is nothing wrong with freezing it, of course, in fact, I still have venison from two years ago in my freezer, but sometimes freezer space is in high demand on the homestead with the garden going and the chickens and ducks multiplying that I felt like it was a good idea to can some of this meat up.
How to Can Meat – Venison, Beef, Pork, Elk, Caribou, Moose, Bear…
I’ve started working on a smokehouse and I am eager to try my hand at smoking and drying meat this way. I originally designed it to smoke deer hides after I brain tan them (you can read more about the process in How to Tan Deer Hide) but as I started building it I realized that there is much more I can do with it. So learning how to preserve meat by smoking is on my list too but for now, I’m going to concentrate on canning some of my meat.
I love canning. I know it might be a bit intimidating at the beginning but once you get the basics down it’s kinda the same process for everything.
Meat is a low-acid food, therefore, when canning meat you must use a pressure canner. I know this can be even more intimidating for some people, it definitely was for me at the beginning, but it’s really not a big deal and I’ll show you step-by-step how to do this.
Why Would You Want to Can Meat?
Free up some freezer space – we talked about this earlier, if you have other things that need to go in the freezer like vegetables from the garden or other meat you raise on the homestead you might want to can some of your meat.
Don’t depend on electricity – if you are living off the grid you’ll want to can your meat. Or maybe you live out in the country and electricity goes out often and doesn’t come back quickly, then it might be smart to can at least some of your meat.
If you are a preparer and want to make sure you have a supply of food that will last awhile, canning your meat can be a great solution and addition to your stash of food.
The meat is softened in the process – if you raise animals for meat or if you hunt, you know that most of those animals actually moved before they were butchered. I find it especially true with deer and other animals that come straight from nature.
For example, on a deer, there is almost no fat (and the fat that is there doesn’t taste good so the dog gets it…) and the meat can be a little tough sometimes. In most cases, it just tastes better if you cook it longer or pressure cook it before using it to prepare dinner (you can see the process that I follow in my recipe Pulled Venison Wrap).
Well, when you can your meat you have to use a pressure canner, so really your meat is ready to use in any recipe. It’s already soft.
No need to thaw – man, I am just so bad at remembering to take things out of the freezer the night before! I don’t know if there is a cure for this or not but really I’ve tried many things and I am still bad at this.
I love that the meat is right there on the shelf ready for me to use. I can just grab a can, empty the liquid (or not), and use the soft meat in any recipe. It’s convenient!
It’s simple – I always thought that preserving meat would be a difficult job. I don’t know about the other processes because I haven’t tried them yet, but canning meat is super easy!
There are two ways to do this…
Raw Pack vs. Hot Pack…
Hot pack means that you pack the meat into the jars after you cook it. You don’t have to cook it all the way, just add some oil to a pan, let it heat and once the pan is hot add the meat cubes and brown them. Then you pack your jars with the browned meat.
When you cook the meat before canning it the cubes shrink and you are able to fit more meat into each jar. Some also say that it improves the shelf life of the meat.
In the raw pack method, you simply pack the meat in the jars while it’s still raw. I find that it’s much easier and saves you the step of cooking the meat.
Usually, after you just butchered and processed a large animal like a deer, being able to skip even one step is as divine to a homesteader as a picnic is for ants.
So I’ll take it! Raw pack it is around these parts.
How to Can Meat – the Raw Pack Method…
I came back the other day from a Hanukkah party and found this deer ham on the porch wrapped in a plastic bag.
Did I already say that I have the best neighbors ever?
Anyway, they went hunting and butchered the deer and brought me one of the hind legs. There was about 10 pounds of meat in just this hind leg! It was a deer.
I start by cleaning the meat. There is a lot of this white connective tissue/film thingy on deer meat and it’s very tough and gummy to eat so I try to remove as much of it as I can. In some areas it separates from the meat easily and in some it’s a bit more difficult. It takes some time but it’s worth the effort.
Then I just start cutting the meat off the bone. I don’t have a certain method here…
My goal is to end up with cubes that are about an inch or an inch and a half in size.
This is really the hardest part… After a while, I wound up with a large bowl full of beautiful cubed meat. Some of it I canned and some of it became ground meat that was made into the perfect venison hamburgers (Read: Ground Venison Burgers From Scratch).
I try to get as much meat as I can off the bone. The connective tissue that you saw above, any pieces of fat, and dirty meat (if there is any) go to the dog, the bone is going into a large pot of water to make venison broth which I will use in the canning process instead of water and seasonings (Read: Making Bone Broth).
Since I wanted to use the bone broth for canning, I placed the meat in the fridge and went ahead and cooked the broth. You don’t have to use broth. We will go over your options in a minute.
When I was ready to can, I washed my quart jars with hot water and soap and placed them on the counter. I also made sure that I had new lids and rings (don’t have to be new rings) to close the jars.
No, you don’t have to sterilize your lids and soap and hot water is just fine for the jars.
I filled each jar with the cubed meat (if you choose to go with the hot pack method, you’ll cook the meat first before you pack the jar)…
You want to pack it well in there so I used the back of a wooden spoon to kinda push it in…
Make sure to remember to leave one-inch head space…
Now, let’s talk about liquid, shall we?
In the raw pack method, when you process your meat in the pressure canner it will form its own liquid. I read somewhere that meat has between 10% to 30% of water in it. So in many places, it will be advised not to add liquid at all to the jars when using the raw pack method.
I find that venison is super lean and doesn’t form much liquid at all, so I personally choose to add a little bit of liquid to my jars.
You have four options…
- add just water.
- add whatever seasonings you want to the bottom of the jar before you put in the meat in it and then add water.
- use broth or stock instead of water (the broth or stock are already seasoned).
- or try to add no liquid at all.
I chose to use the bone broth I made so I added a little bit into each jar (just a couple of tablespoons).
Note that in the hot pack method, since you cooked the meat and it shrank and some of its juices left it, you have to add liquid.
Another important thing to note here before we go forward is that you want everything to be at the same temperature. This is NOT an exact science and please don’t take this too hard. Just make sure your jars are warm, your broth or water is warm, and the water you are going to add to the canner is warm to prevent the jars from breaking.
I used my bubble remover to make sure the liquid found its way to the bottom of the packed jar…
And made sure the liquid is coming up just below the band in the jar. This jar in the picture above actually has a little bit too much broth in it. You need to remember that the meat will form some liquid as well and we don’t want the jar to overflow.
If you choose to try not to add any liquid and after you process the jars the meat is sticking out of the liquid (i.e the meat didn’t form a lot of liquid…) I just want you to know that as long as your jar is sealed the meat will be fine even if it’s not completely under liquid.
Next, I use a clean paper towel to clean the rim of the jar…
And I close it with the lid and ring, making sure to not close it too tight.
Once all your jars are filled, go ahead and place them in the pressure canner (on the rack). Mine is a Presto canner and I love it. It’s pretty simple to use (hopefully in the future I’ll be able to buy me a nicer canner that can hold many more jars but for now the Presto one is great).
I’ll show you how I use my canner and I am pretty sure it’s probably a very similar process in other pressure canners but it’s still important that you’ll learn your canner and make sure to make any adjustments if you need to.
Once my jars are in the canner I add warm water to just below the band of the jars (be sure to follow the instructions for your particular canner as some don’t require this much water).
I close the canner and turn the heat on high. It usually takes between 10 to 15 minutes for steam to start coming out of the vent (notice that the weight is not on the vent yet). Once you see steam coming out set the timer to 10 minutes and allow it to vent.
After 10 minutes of venting steam, I place the weight on the vent and watch the dial.
I live under 1000 ft in elevation so I wait for my dial to reach 10 psi (again check your canner instructions as some require 11 psi for my particular elevation). If you live above 1000 ft you want to process the meat at 15 psi.
I set the timer for the processing from the moment I put the weight on the vent. The National Center for Home Food Preservation will tell you to process pint jars for 75 minutes and quart jars for 90 minutes. You should probably follow those directions, however, I am going to be completely honest and say that I usually prefer following the advice of an old grandma better, so I personally process quart jars of venison for 45 minutes and they seal and the meat is just fine.
But I like to live on the edge ;-), you don’t have to, of course.
Once the time is up, turn the heat off and let your canner cool completely before trying to open it. Once it has cooled, open the lid and use the jar lifter to remove the jars. Set your jars on a towel on the counter and let them cool completely for at least 12 hours (I usually leave them overnight).
When they are cooled, check that all the jars have sealed by pressing on the lid. If there is no movement the jars are sealed. You can remove the rings and store the jars in the pantry. Removing the rings allows you to see if anything funky is going on inside the jar.
That is it! It’s really a simple process that once you’ve done it once you’ll probably do it again many times because you’ll see how simple it is. The meat can stay in the jar for two years and some say that even longer than that!
You can do this with any kind of meat; beef, elk, caribou, moose, pork, rabbit, bear, deer, duck, and chicken (did I forget anything?). The only thing that might change is the amount of liquid and the seasoning that you want to add or you can try to not add any liquid at all.
When you are ready to use your meat, just open the jar and use it! You can use the broth too if you’d like. This is great meat for pretty much any dish that doesn’t call for ground meat and it’s already soft, seasoned, and ready to go!
If you have any experience with canning meat or if you do it differently from me please comment below and share your thoughts.
If you’d like to see how the hot pack method works, Jill at The Prairie Homestead has a great Canning Meat post using the hot pack method with beef, so go check this out as well.
I hope this helps!