When I first heard of folks home canning meat I was a little suspicious. Besides just sounding gross, it had to be unsafe, right? That was a long time before I got interested in producing my own food, and a long, long time before I did any research on the subject. There are several reasons one might want to can her own meat. My reasons include having shelf stable protein, knowing where it came from, and knowing exactly what is in the jar.
I’d like to know that a power outage mid-summer wouldn’t mean having a huge BBQ in order to avoid losing an awful lot of food. I’d like to get the freezer down to no more meat than I can easily can in one afternoon of canning on the camp stove. Keep in mind most freezers will stay frozen for two or three days without power if you keep them full and closed. So if you’re not completely comfortable with the idea of pressure canning you’d have a couple days to get used to the idea.
If you’ve listened to the news lateley you probably already feel just a little creeped out thinking about the meat you eat. I am a serious carnivore and even I don’t especially like to get meat at the grocery store. Who knows how it was raised, what it was fed, or if one package is even cuts from the same animal? Lateley we’ve been going in on sides of local beef with friends. Also my husband hunts, so much of that meat is harvested locally as well. Since we live in an area with heavy commercial farming and I’m certain the deer graze on orchards whenever they can, I wouldn’t call it organic meat, but I’d still bet it’s got McFranken beef beat for safety and nutrition.
Home canning your food means you know exactly what is going into, and coming out of the jar. I’ve given up flour for lent, (and as a way to get past a weight loss plateau). Last week I made my family sandwiches for lunch and intended to have a store bought can of chili for myself. Wouldn’t you know it has flour in it? Why a can of chili would need flour in it I can’t imagine, but I can guarantee when I can mine there won’t be any flour, salt, or sugar in it. You just plain don’t need it.
All these reasons, plus a healthy spirit of adventure pushed me past the heebie jeebies and prodded me to try pressure canning meat for the first time. I’ve pressure canned before, having started with beans, so the basic pressure canning procedures still apply, just the recipe for prepping the product differs.
Before you do any canning at all you should make sure you have an up to date canning manual. The old standby is The Ball Blue Book. I like the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning, and Growing and Canning Your Own Food by Jackie Clay. Whatever you choose, read it thoroughly before you begin, and keep it open to be referenced while you work.
Pressure Canning Pints of Stew Meat
I always start by reviewing the directions for a given food, then gathering my supplies, and checking the gasket and petcock on my canner. I want to make sure the gasket is flexible and fitting properly, and the petcock should be clear of debris. I sterilize my jars and utensils by scalding them in boiling water, then I hold them in a warm oven until I need them.
For my recipe I used several packages of local stew meat. I lightly browned the meat to shrink it and heat it through, but I didn’t fully cook it. I added water to the browned meat in the pan to make a broth.
As soon as the broth simmered I lightly packed the meat into my jars and added enough of the broth to cover the meat and allow one inch of headspace.
Next I poked a wood spoon handle into the jars to release any air bubbles, and wiped the jar rims with a clean damp rag to remove any debris.
Then I added my hot, previously simmered lids to the jars, and screwed bands down to fingertip tightness.
Now I added three inches of water to the canner, and then placed my filled jars on the rack at the bottom of the canner. The rack is necessary to insure that the water can circulate under the jars, and to keep the jars off the direct heat of the burner. My canner allows a second level of jars, with an additional rack between layers.
Next I re-checked to make sure the gasket was fitting properly, and closed the canner lid according to the manufacturer’s directions.
With the lid on properly, and the canner centered on my largest burner I turned the heat on “high”. I allowed the canner to forcefully vent steam for ten minutes. It takes a few minutes of gently steaming before it reaches a forceful vent.
Once the canner was properly vented I added the fifteen pound weight to the petcock. We are at 1035 ft elevation, which only requires 11 pounds pressure, but with a weighted guage canner the 15 pound weight is the only option over 10 pounds. Personally, I feel just a little more safe knowing that I am canning with more pressure than is truly necessary.
Now I waited for the weight to begin to jiggle indicating that the proper pressure had been reached. Since the burner was still set on high, and we only need a gentle jiggle, I started timing and began to very gradually reduce the heat to a level where the weight would not be erratically dancing on the lid. It takes about 15 minutes of tiny downward adjustments to get the jiggle where I want it. I settle for a little more active than is really necessary, but I like to err on the side of over processed as opposed to under processed. So far I have never had a problem with my canner running dry, but I suppose that could be a problem with running the canner at too high a pressure, because steam is continually escaping from under the weight.
I processed my pints of stew meat at 15 pounds pressure for 75 minutes. After the proper processing time, I turned the heat off and let the pressure drop on it’s own. Doing anything to speed the cooling will cause the pressure to drop too quickly and cause food to be sucked from under the lid, which can cause seal failures. It took about forty five minutes for my canner to de-pressurize, after which I removed the weight, and lid.
I used a jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner. Although the canner has cooled enough to depressurize, it is still very hot to the touch, as are the jars.
I placed the jars on a folded towel on the counter and ignored them for twenty-four hours. After twenty-four hours I checked the seals by pressing on the center of the lid. It should not pop or flex when pressed. Any that pop or flex are not properly sealed and should either be refrigerated and eaten soon, or reprocessed with a new lid.
I removed the metal screw bands from the properly sealed jars and gently washed the outside of the jar to remove any residue that may have been present. Then the jars of stew meat were placed in our dark, cool, and unusually dry basement. I’ve never seen such a dry unfinished basement, even in the rainy season I’ve never seen or smelled any moisture or mildew. The builders must have done an exceptional job with the moisture barrier, which is great for our food storage. We do continue to watch for signs of moisture or rust on our canned goods, however.
For dinner tonight, I opened one of the jars and added it to some chopped carrots, celery and potatoes to make a 30 minute “stew”. After a long day shopping for materials, and working on the new rabbit hutch, a quick wholesome meal was just the ticket.
I think I ‘ll do up some good homemade and flour-free chili next. How do you feel about pressure canning, and what do you can?
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