How to Safely Can Meat For Long-Term Food Storage
Whether you have a surplus of beef from your own livestock, some wild venison meat from a recent hunt, or you found a great deal on some beef, pork or lamb from a local farm or even the grocery store, learning how to safely can meat at home is an easy way to preserve it for long-term food storage without taking up tons of freezer space.
Not to mention, the price of meat has skyrocketed recently. Between the increase in the cost of fertilizer, feed and fuel, ongoing supply chain issues and all-around inflation and higher food prices, meat is fast becoming a luxury for many households who simply can’t afford to pay the rising prices.
If you’re not already raising your own meat, this is another great reason to stock up while it’s still relatively affordable (because who knows how high prices will eventually go), and/or when you see a good deal.
You may even want to consider purchasing a side of beef from a local farmer at a better price than you’ll typically get from individual cuts at your local butcher or grocery store. It will cost more up front for a quarter, half or whole cow of course, but you will get enough meat to last for quite a long time. And if you learn how to can it, you’ll free up freezer space for other things, including the cuts that are better off frozen.
As a side note, I encourage you to purchase local, ethically-raised, grass-fed beef and pastured pork, etc. whenever possible. All meat is not created (or raised) equal. Industrial meat from animals raised in confinement in concentrated animal feed operations is not only much less environmentally friendly and sustainable, it’s much less healthy for you to eat due to the diet of the animals and the stress they endure. And of course it’s also horrible for the animals themselves. I always advocate for local, ethical, organic, and natural as possible, whether we’re talking meat or fruits and veggies.
That being said, I know not everyone has access to local farms and grass-fed beef, etc. So grocery store meats will work just fine. But whenever possible, always go for the highest quality fresh meat you can afford.
What are the benefits of canning meat at home?
Aside from all of the benefits I just mentioned (ie. taking advantage of sales, stocking up while you can, etc.), canning meat offers several other advantages:
- Long Shelf Life: Home canned meat can last up to two or three years on pantry shelves when canned and stored correctly.
- Preparedness: Not only does canning meat free up freezer space for other things, it also means you’ll have a shelf-stable source of protein that requires no electricity and doesn’t even require additional cooking once canned. This makes home-canned meat a fantastic preparedness item to have on hand in case of an emergency or power outage.
- Retains Nutritional Value: Unlike some preservation methods that compromise nutritional content, canning preserves the essential nutrients and flavours of the meat.
- Convenience: Having home canned meat on hand makes for quick and easy meals on busy weeknights, or any time you don’t want to cook, forgot to take meat out of the freezer, or don’t want to wait a long time for a meal to be ready to eat.
- Versatile: Canned meat can be used in all sorts of different recipes, from stews and soups to sandwiches, casseroles, tacos and quesadillas. I even mash my own home-canned beef up with vegetables and feed it to my toothless 7-month-old who can’t get enough of it!
What type of meat is ideal for canning?
The recipe and method I’m about to share with you here applies to beef, pork, venison or lamb.
While not all cuts of meat are ideal for canning (I prefer my steaks fresh, or at least thawed from the freezer and cooked to a perfect medium rare!), canning is a great way to preserve tougher cuts of meat like chuck roasts, eye of round, brisket and stewing meat.
Not only can these cuts be safely preserved by canning, but since all meat must be pressure canned to ensure safety, they end up tender and cooked to perfection in the jars, much like they would be if they were pressure cooked! (Because they are technically pressure cooked, just inside the jars).
You can also safely and easily can poultry and ground meat, however I’ll save the specifics on how to do both of those things for other blog posts. Here I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process to safely can whole, cubed meats at home.
Do I need a pressure canner to can meat at home?
Yes. All meat MUST be pressure canned to ensure it’s safe to eat. It is NOT SAFE to can any kind of meat in a water bath canner.
This is because meat is a low-acid food, which means it needs to be processed at much higher temperatures than a boiling water bath canner is able to reach. A water bath canner is safe for canning high acid foods like fruits, jams, pickles, etc. But only a pressure canner can reach the high temperatures that are necessary to kill potentially dangerous bacteria in low acid foods.
If you’re new to pressure canning, check out this post on how to safely operate a pressure canner at home.
And if you think I’m acting like the “canning police,” I also highly recommend reading more about botulism, and why it’s important to follow some very basic rules when canning, even if you’re a bit of a rebel like me;)
If you’re still nervous about pressure canning, I also offer a comprehensive canning course that will walk you through everything you need to know about both water-bath canning and pressure canning. I show you how to can everything from jams, fruits, pickles and pie fillings to vegetables, meats, broth and even full meals!
You can learn more about the Yes, You CAN! Course here and use code PREPARED2023 to take 20% off the regular price until the end of September, 2023.
You can also hit me up in the comments or via my contact form if you have any questions, because I’ve been there too! In fact, I used to hide around the corner when I first started pressure canning, afraid it was going to blow up. And then, when I did finally can my first batch of green beans, I was so scared to eat it that I dumped it all out!
Don’t let that happen to you, because in reality pressure canning is really safe and easy, and so long as you don’t cut corners, your food will be perfectly safe to eat:)
Raw pack vs. Hot pack method for canning meat
Before we get into the step-by-step process for canning meat at home, you’ll need to decide whether you’re going to use the raw pack or hot pack method.
The raw pack method for canning meat simply means you put the uncooked raw meat pieces into the jars and then process your jars. You don’t even need to fill them with water as the meat will release its own juices during the canning process.
The hot pack method requires you pre-cook the meat first by browning it. You don’t need to cook meat all the way through as it will cook in the pressure canner, but browning it first can improve the texture and appearance of canned meat. This is because when you raw pack meat, strands of protein are released and get stuck to the inside of the jar, which can be a little unsightly. However it’s completely safe.
With the hot pack method, you’ll need to fill the jars with hot water after you’ve added the meat.
Either method will work, depending on your preference.
Step-by-step guide to canning meat at home
If you’re ready to learn how to can meat at home, follow these steps to ensure your canned meat is safe, flavourful, and ready to eat whenever you are!
Step 1: Gather Supplies
Before you begin, gather the necessary ingredients and equipment. You’ll need
- Fresh, high-quality meat (beef, lamb, venison or pork will work)
- Pressure canner (I use and recommend an All-American Pressure Canner)
- Canning jars (pint or quart-sized)
- Canning lids and bands (I love Denali canning lids affiliate link)
- Jar lifter
- Canning funnel (optional but recommended)
- Cutting board and sharp knife
- Kitchen tongs
- Salt (optional for seasoning)
Click here to learn more about the canning tools and resources I use and recommend.
Step 2: Prepare your pressure canner, jars and lids
Unlike a water bath canner, a pressure canner only requires a few inches of water in the bottom. Check the manual that comes with your pressure canner to determine how much water your pressure caner needs to operate. Typically a pressure canner needs around 2 or 3 inches of water.
Wash jars with hot, soapy water and set aside. The official recommendation is to fill them with warm water and then place them in the canner on the stove and heat the water to a simmer. This is meant to keep the jars warm so that when you fill them, there’s no risk of them breaking.
However, unlike with water bath canning, you don’t need to sterilize jars before pressure canning because the heat from the pressure canner will sterilize them for you. So long as they’re nice and clean, you’re good to go. (For the record, I don’t bother filling my jars with warm water when pressure canning. I just clean them with hot soapy water right before I’m ready to start canning and then set them aside until I’m ready to fill them).
The number of jars you will need depends on the size of the jars you’re using and how many pounds of meat you’re canning. On average you’ll be able to fit around one pound of meat per pint jar, or two pounds per quart jar. Although I always recommend preparing an extra jar or two just in case.
As for lids and bands, always use new lids when canning. I know of some “canning rebels” who say they reuse lids, but once they’ve been used once for canning, the seal will have been compromised and might not seal again. There are reusable lids available for purchase if you’d like to be able to reuse them more than once, but otherwise always use new canning lids that are made for Mason jars. Do not use reuse lids and jars from store-bought goods.
You can reuse the bands (rings). Just make sure they’re clean first.
Step 3: Prepare the meat
Select lean cuts of meat (such as sirloin, round or chuck if canning beef). Trim off any excess fat and gristle, then cut the beef into evenly sized 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes to ensure uniform cooking and even distribution of flavour.
A small amount of fat is okay, but too much in your canning jars can cause seal failure or could create a finished product that’s unsafe to eat as even the heat from a pressure canner can’t reliably penetrate large amounts of fat.
Step 3: Precook the meat (Optional)
Pre-cooking the meat is optional, but as mentioned above, it can improve the texture and appearance of canned meat.
If pre-cooking, sear meat in a skillet first to lock in flavours. Turn meat while cooking to ensure it’s browned on all sides. Cook meat in batches if necessary.
Step 4: Fill the Jars
Fill canning jars with meat, leaving a generous 1 inch of headspace at the top. If desired, add a pinch a little salt for seasoning. For pint jars, add ½ teaspoon of salt per jar. For quart jars, add 1 teaspoon per jar.
If using the raw pack method, DO NOT add additional liquid.
If using the hot pack method, add your browned, hot meat to jars, then divide any meat drippings from your skillet equally between jars for added flavour. Bring a kettle of water to a boil and fill jars with hot water, leaving 1-inch headspace at the top. (You can also substitute the hot water for hot broth if you prefer).
Step 5: Seal the Jars
Remove any air bubbles and adjust headspace as needed. Then wipe the rims of the jars with a cloth or towel dipped in a little white vinegar. (The vinegar will cut through any fat residue which could prevent the lids from sealing).
Place canning lids and bands on jars and tighten them to “fingertip tight” (ie. until resistance is met and lids are on tight, but not too tight as you want bands to be just loose enough to allow any air in the jar to escape during processing.
Step 6: Process the Jars
Place the filled and sealed jars into your pressure canner and adjust the water level in the canner if needed according to manufacturer’s instructions. Seal the lid in place, but do not put the weighted gauge on yet.
Heat the canner over medium-high heat until steam starts coming out of the vent pipe in a steady stream. Then set a timer and allow steam to vent for 10 minutes before placing your weighted gauge on the vent pipe.
Use 10 pounds of pressure, unless you are 1,000 feet or more above sea level, in which case you’ll need to use 15 pounds of pressure to ensure a safe finished product.
Once pressure has been reached and your weighted gauge starts jiggling steadily, set the timer and begin your processing time.
Process pint jars for 75 minutes and quart jars for 90 minutes.
Step 7: Cool and Store
Once processing time is complete, turn off the heat and let the pressure canner cool completely. Once pressure is at zero, wait two additional minutes, then remove the weighted gauge and then remove the lid.
Let jars sit in the canner with the lid off for an additional 10 minutes before removing them. This helps to prevent siphoning (liquid loss) which can happen if jars cool too fast.
Carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter and place them on a clean kitchen towel on the counter. Let jars sit in place on the counter for roughly 12 hours until they are completely cooled.
Remove the bands from the jars and then store them in a cool, dark place (ie. your pantry) until ready to use.
And there you have it! Canning is a fantastic way to preserve meat in a shelf stable way that ensures you always have high quality sources of protein on hand for quick meals, emergency preparedness, and to free up valuable freezer space!
By following these simple steps, you’ll have tasty, preserved meats that’ll last you for ages. So, next time you’ve got an abundance of meat or find a great deal at the butcher’s farmer’s market or grocery store, break out your pressure canner and preserve it for future enjoyment!
After all, with the way things are going these days, you just never know when meat will become so scarce or so expensive that you’ll be glad to have had the forethought to put a little extra away when the gettin’ was good.
Other canning articles and meat preservation recipes:
If you’re interested in learning more about canning and preserving meats and other types of foods, here are a few other posts and recipes you might enjoy:
- How to Can Homemade Broth Or Stock
- Homemade Beef Jerky Recipe (Dehydrator + Oven Instructions)
- 6 Canning Rules You Must Follow to Ensure Your Food Is Safe to Eat
- 8 Time-Saving Canning Tips to Help You “Put Up the Harvest”
- 8 Ways to Preserve Food At Home
And of course, if you’re ready to dive into the world of home canning and learn the step-by-step process for canning everything from fruits and vegetables to meats and meals to fill your pantry with, be sure to check out my comprehensive Yes, You CAN! home canning course. Use code PREPARED2023 until the end of September 2023 to take 20% off the regular price and get lifetime access to the course and all bonuses!
- Fresh, high-quality meat (beef, lamb, venison or pork will work)
- Salt (optional)
- Prepare your pressure canner, jars and lids. (See detailed instructions in article for more information).
- Trim off any excess fat and gristle, then cut the meat into evenly sized 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes.
- Pre-cook the meat if using the hot pack method. Brown meat on all sides in a large skillet, working in batches if necessary. Set meat aside until it has all been browned. (This step is not necessary if using the raw pack method).
- Using clean hands or kitchen tongs, fill jars with meat cubes leaving a generous 1-inch headspace at the top of the jar. Add salt if desired for added flavour (add ½ teaspoon of salt to each pint jar or 1 teaspoon of salt to each quart jar).
- If using the hot pack method, fill jar with boiling water or stock leaving 1-inch headspace. If using the raw pack method, do not add any additional liquid.
- Remove any air bubbles and adjust headspace as needed. Then wipe the rims of the jars with a cloth or towel dipped in a little white vinegar. (The vinegar will cut through any fat residue which could prevent the lids from sealing).
- Place lids and bands on jars and place jars into your pressure canner.
- Process pint jars for 75 minutes or quart jars for 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. Increase to 15 pounds of pressure if you're canning at 1,000 feet or more above sea level. (See detailed instructions in article for step-by-step information on using a pressure canner).
- Once processing time is complete, turn off the heat and let the pressure canner cool completely. Once pressure is at zero, wait two additional minutes, then remove the weighted gauge and then remove the lid. Allow jars to. sit in the canner for an additional 10 minutes before removing them and placing them on a towel on the counter.
- Once jars are completely cooled, remove the bands and store jars in a cool, dark place until ready to use.
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