Canning wild game meat using the “Raw pack” method.
First, for safety reasons, please read and follow the instructions for your specific pressure canner. This post is not meant to cover step-by-step instructions for every canner or every situation.
Canning is a great way to preserve your game and unlike freezing, it will last for years. Since it is already cooked you can make great meals at a moments notice without having to thaw and cook your game.
You will have some options as to what size jar you want and it will increase or decrease the canning time slightly. You can use quarts, pints or half pints or a combination of both as long as you cook to the time for the largest jars. I base my jar size on how much meat I have to can, how much time I have and how many jars of a particular size I still have in the pantry.
I prefer wide mouth jars as they are easier to fill and empty, plus they are much easier to wash. Most canners will hold 7 quarts and 16 pints with no problem. Some canners say they will hold more pints, but since different companies make different diameter jars you will need to experiment with different brands and sizes.
Because each canner load can take a couple hours from start to finish I try to only do full loads to maximize my time and output. Having done this for a while I have learned that I need 13 lbs of meat for 7 quarts or nearly two pounds per jar. I also use 13 lbs of meat for 16 pints, which equals ¾ lb per jar with a little left over. If I am doing less then 16 pints then I figure how many jars and multiply by ¾ lb then I add ½ lb just so I have enough meat prepared. With these numbers I know how much meat to set aside during the butchering process or how much to thaw out when I am ready to can.
I usually decide if I am canning during the butchering process and if I am not planning to make burger then I start with the low leg meat and work my way to the best cuts. This way when I am done with the canning meat I can make roasts or steaks out of the rest. If I am making burger and only doing a little bit of canning then I will start with the best cuts I have available after steaks and roasts. A great thing about pressure canning is that the ligaments and tendons in pieces like the lower leg are cooked away during the process and you are left with a tender meal from a very tough piece of meat.
I start by cutting the chilled meat into 1- 1.5 inch square pieces. If I am doing multiple canner loads then I only cut enough for the first batch. Once the first batch is cooking I will continue cutting for the next batch.
Now I place the canner on the stove and add a couple inches of water. I turn the stove to a medium setting to start warming the water.
Once the meat is cut it is time to fill the jars. I find it is easier to keep the rim of the jar clean by using a canning funnel. I fill ¾ of the way they with a rubber or plastic spatula I poke the meat around to remove air pockets. Then I add a little more meat. Do not pack the meat in and make sure to leave 1 inch of headspace. With the Raw pack method you can add a teaspoon of salt to one quart of meat, but do not add any liquid. I choose not to add salt or spices, as I don’t know how I will be preparing the meat later.
Now I place the lids in a bowl of hot water to set for a few minutes.
Once the jars are filled you will need to wipe the rims of jars with a cloth and then place a lid and band on the jar. Do not over tighten the bands, only finger tight.
When all the jars have lids I then place them in the canner. Make sure you have a rack to keep the jars from sitting directly on the bottom. If you are doing quarts you will have six in a circle with one in the center. When doing pints you may have a circle of seven with one in the center. Then you will stack another eight on top of those. Make sure to stagger them so the second row is not sitting directly on the jar below it. With the center from the second row you can often stagger it with a bottom one from the side.
Now I turn the stove up to high and put the lid on the canner. Make sure your seals are seated correctly and that the lid is on properly. Depending on the stove, it can take a few minutes for pressure to build and for the steam to escape. I let it steam for a few minutes before putting the weight on the vent. It may take a couple minutes for the vents to seal.
If everything is sealed it won’t take long for the pressure to rise. Once the pressure gets to about 8 lbs I start turning the stove down, letting it settle on 11 lbs pressure. I have instructions that state both 10 and 11 lbs so I use 11 lbs. Once it is up to pressure you will want to check every so often to make sure maintains throughout the process.
Timing will start once the canner is up to pressure. There are a few time variables based on Hot pack, Raw pack, size of jars and elevation. Here at basically sea level with a Raw pack I follow these guidelines.
Quarts – 90 minutes
Pints – 70 minutes
When the correct time has passed, remove the canner from heat and allow it to cool down. Do not manually relieve pressure as it can lead to bad seals or cause a jar to crack. After about 30 minutes, or once it has depressurized, I take off the weight to release steam. Once all the steam is released I open the canner and remove the jars. I use a gripper made for canning, but I know some use oven mitts or the like. I place the jars on a towel on the table to cook and finish sealing.
Now is the moment of truth. Did I put in too much meat? Did I clean the jar well enough? Will it seal? If everything went as planned you should start to hear the lids pinging as they seal. I try to count them, but sometimes I miss one so I need to manually check the jars. After a few hours I will tap the lids with my finger. You will quickly learn which ones sealed and which ones didn’t by the tone.
Once they have cooled over night I label the lids with the date and type of meat and then I put them back in the box for storage. Typically they go into a pantry, cupboard or closet that does not get too hot nor too cold.
Canned meat can be used in almost any recipe that calls for meat. It can be shredded for tacos, added to stews, used for French dip or Hoagie sandwiches, or even eaten right out of the jar. When hunting or especially steelheading in the winter it makes a great treat after warming near the truck heater.
Here are a couple of good links to canning meat info.http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/1983-09-01/Canning-Meat.aspxhttp://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/he188w.htm