Written by Pam Grant
DISCLAIMER: The preparation described below is a raw pack, pressure canning method of preserving meat. The newest versions of The Ball Canning Guide no longer recommend a raw pack method. For safety reasons, they recommend using a method which slightly precooks the meat prior to canning. After careful consideration, our family has opted to use the method we have used for years with a few changes in pressure canning times. If you plan to try canning meat, be advised that canning methods, cooking times, and preparations do change and you should always consult a recent edition of a published, reputable canning guide before attempting any canning project.
What did your great-grandmother do when she butchered a cow, pig, chicken, or wild game (moose, deer or wild turkey) that was brought home by the hunter in the family? How did she keep all that meat throughout the year to feed her family without refrigeration or freezers? She preserved the meat the same way she preserved the harvest from the garden. She canned it. Yes, some was, no doubt, smoked or dried and preserved that way, but far more of it was canned. Canning allowed it to be stored easier, longer, and safer than hanging smoked or dry meat in the cellar where mice could help themselves to a snack or moisture could cause mold. Great-Granny probably water-bath canned her meats, whereas today we have the pressure cooker to make it much safer.
My husband's family has always put deer meat up in canning jars and on occasion other meats as well. Jar Meat, as it is known in his family, is a winter treat we all enjoy to this day. Normally, in our home, it is prepared simply with a gravy made of its own juices and poured over potato or noodles. This meat can be used in a variety of ways from stroganoffs to soups, stews, or casseroles.
The first order of business is acquiring the meat. For this type of preparation, beef, pork, lamb, or venison, or moose works best. It doesn't have to be something acquired through hunting or strictly for those living the "farm" life. If you're lucky enough to find a good sale on beef stew meat or pork roast and don't have anymore freezer space available, then this is an excellent option for taking advantage of that "can't pass it by" bargain. The meat should be kept chilled and cut into ½ inch to 1 inch pieces.
All the excess fat, tallow (hard fat found in beef, sheep, deer, and moose which I am told – but have never tried it - can be later used to make candles), tendons, and sinew should be removed. The meat I used is venison. If you process your deer or other meat creature as we do, please be sure that the meat remains cool (35 to 40 degrees F ) at all times.
For this process you will need a pressure canner.
This is different from a pressure cooker in its size (you are able to get 7 to 14 quart jars in a cooker depending on its capacity).
Here are some things to remember when using a pressure canner. Since these are under a great deal of trapped pressure, it is imperative that you read your owner's manual (comes with a newly purchased canner). Be 100% familiar with how the unit you own works. Pressure canners can be extremely dangerous, and if used improperly they can explode. In addition, be sure to check all the rubber gaskets and rubber safety valves to be sure the rubber isn't cracked or dried out. If there is any question as to whether a rubber gasket is safe, then replace it! Be sure the pressure gauge is attached properly to the lid. The instruction manual for your canner will tell you how each gauge should be attached.
As always, with any canning project make sure you have clean sterile jars with no chips or cracks and rings which are sterile and free of rust. Lids should be new and never be used a second time. The rubber seal on each lid weakens with the heat used to seal it and may not form a proper seal on a second use. Once you have these items ready to go, you can start canning meat!
Here is a list of everything you will need in an easy to follow format:
- Pressure canner
- Quart canning jars (pints can be used if you are canning for one)
- Rings for all jars
- Lids for all jars
- Meat (cut into ½ to 1 inch pieces) free of excess fat and sinew
- Water bath canner to sterilize the canning jars, ring, and lids
- Boiling water
Put 1 teaspoon salt into each hot sterile quart jar. Pack in meat snugly into jars leaving 1 inch head space (empty space) at the top of the jar.
Fill jars with boiling water. Use the handle of a wooden spoon or a long knife to release trapped air in the jar. This is done by sliding the utensil along the inside of jar and pushing slightly onto the meat.
This will release any air bubbles trapped in the middle of the meat and allow the fluid to get into all the nooks and crannies. Don't rush this step too much. It is important to remove all the air that you can. Top off jars with more boiling water after air is out, but remember to keep the 1 inch of head space on the top of each jar. Place lid and ring snugly onto each jar. Place the recommended amount of water in the canner. You will have to refer to the book that comes with your pressure canner for this amount. Depending on the size of the canner, this amount will vary. In my canner's case it is 3 quarts of water. Carefully arrange all jars in canner, and place lid on canner and closely follow the directions recommended by the manufacturer of your canner to bring your canner up to pressre.
For this recipe we kept our canner at 11 pounds pressure for 1 hour. Never leave a pressure canner unattended. NEVER! They should be closely monitored because it only takes a few minutes for the pressure to rise to dangerous levels if not watched carefully.
Once you have kept your canner at the desired pressure for the allotted amount of time, turn off the burner and allow the canner to cool down to normal pressure on its own. Once the pressure has normalized, the lid can safely be removed. I hate to sound redundant, but be sure to check the instructions for your model canner for proper cool down period and method as they vary.
The jars can now be removed from canner and should be placed in a place where they will be free from drafts and can finish the cooling process. We cover ours with a kitchen towel till completely cool.
That is it. The jars can now be stored in your pantry for up to one year, but they rarely make it that long in our home. Be sure to write the date on the top of each jar with a permanent ink marker so you will know from year to year which jars were made when.
In researching for this article, I read several accounts of people eating home-canned items including meats 30 or 40 years after it had been put up. This is not a safe practice and I strongly discourage you from "testing" that jar of string beans great granny had stored in her cellar. Throw it away! Home canning can be a wonderful way to preserve food for a later time, but it has to be done safely and with a lot of common sense. In all my articles I always recommend you read a good, recently printed, canning guide from a reputable source and follow the directions. You will hear, "well my family has done things this way for 40 years and we ain't killed nobody yet." Well that's no doubt true; however, as science has progressed and methods have improved, we've learned which methods are safe. Companies like Ball and others constantly test microscopically to see if their methods are killing all the known types of bacteria and molds and such. They are coming up with new organisms every day in the laboratory. So just because someone has a method of canning they have used in the past and found to be safe, use your own good judgment and arm yourself with all the latest information out there that is available.