Do you still have meat from last year’s hunting season in the freezer? Can it! Venison and other canned meat becomes very tender during the canning process and makes for quick sandwiches and stews. You can also make big batches of wild game chili or spaghetti sauce and process those in pint sized jars in a pressure canner for 60 minutes. Pressure canning can be intimidating, but is safe if you follow the information presented below. If you are looking for hands on learning, check with your local Cooperative Extension about classes or find a trusted mentor.
Processing in a Pressure Canner
Canning is the process by which foods are placed in jars or cans and heated to a temperature that destroys microorganisms and inactivates enzymes. This heating and later cooling forms a vacuum seal. The vacuum seal prevents other microorganisms from re-contaminating the food within the jar or can.
The Pressure Canner is used to process foods under pressure which creates higher temperatures in the canner than can be achieved in a boiling water bath canner. The pressure most often used is 10 or 11 pounds, which creates a temperature of 240F.
PRESSURE CANNING IS THE ONLY SAFE METHOD FOR PROCESSING MEAT and other low acid foods such as vegetables, poultry, and fish. The pressure canner can supply enough heat to destroy the bacterial toxins that cause botulism as well as other types of spoilage. Failure to properly process low acid foods in a pressure canner can result in botulism which is often fatal.
Read your manufacturer’s instructions concerning the operation of your pressure canner; however, only use canning recipes and timetables that have been approved by USDA and published after 1994.
The following are general instructions for using a pressure canner:
- Place 2 to 3 inches hot water in the canner if you are canning raw packed foods. For hot packed food, the water may be gently boiling.
- Set the jars of food on the rack in the canner so steam can flow around each jar.
- Fasten the canner lid so that no steam escapes around the seal.
- Make sure the vent (petcock) is open.
- Turn burner heat to high, and watch for steam to escape in a funnel shape from the open vent.
- Allow steam to escape for 10 minutes.
- Close the vent, using a weight, valve or screw, depending on the type of canner. If it is a weighted gauge with varying pressures, be sure to use the correct pressure for the food.
- For a dial gauge canner, let the pressure rise quickly to 8 pounds pressure. Adjust the burner temperature down slightly and let the pressure continue to rise to the correct pressure. (If the burner is left on high, it will be difficult to regulate the pressure once it rises.)
- For a weighted gauge canner, let the canner heat quickly at first and when the safety lock engages adjust the burner heat down slightly until the weight begins to rock gently or “jiggle” 2 to 3 times per minute, depending on the brand of canner. Adjust the burner heat so as to have a continuous rocking or jiggling 2 to 3 times per minute. Start counting the processing time as soon as the weight rocks or jiggles.
- Keep the pressure constant by regulating the heat. Do not lower the pressure by opening the vent or lifting the weight. Keep drafts from blowing on the canner. Fluctuating pressure is one cause of liquid loss from jars (siphoning) and for dangerous under-processing.
- When processing time is complete, carefully remove the canner from the heat. If too heavy, simply turn off the heat. Removing the canner from an electric burner is recommended.
- Let the pressure in the canner drop to zero. This will take 30 to 45 minutes in a standard heavy-walled canner and nearly an hour in larger canners. Newer thin-walled canners depressurize more quickly. Do not rush the cooling process by setting the canner in water or running cold water over it. Never lift the weight or open the vent to hasten the reduction of pressure. Proper depressurization is important for the safety of the food.
- When canner is depressurized, open the vent or remove the weight. Older canners are depressurized when the gauge on a dial gauge canner registers zero, or when a gentler nudge to the weight on a weighted gauge canner does not produce steam. Newer canners are equipped with a safety lock. These canners are depressurized when the safety lock releases. Sometimes safety locks located in the handle of the canner will stick. If a nudge to a canner weight indicates it is depressurized then run a knife blade between the handles to release the lock.
- Wait 10 minutes, unfasten the lid and remove it carefully. Lift the lid with the underside away from you so that the steam coming out of the canner does not burn your face. Do not leave the canner unopened to completely cool. The food may spoil, and it may be very difficult to open the canner hours after it has cooled.
- Use a jar lifter to carefully remove the jars as soon as the processing time and depressurization time is over. Place the hot jars right side up on a rack, dry towel, wood board, or layers of newspaper to prevent the jars from breaking contact with a cold surface. Leave at least 1” of space between jars.
- Do not tighten rings.
- Allow jars to cool untouched for 12 to 24 hours.
Finishing the Canning Procedure
The following information applies to both the boiling water canner or pressure canner method of processing.
- Cooling Jars – Place hot jars on a cloth or rack so air can circulate freely around them. Keep hot jars out of cold drafts.
- Jar lids should not be re-tightened after processing. As jars cool, the contents in the jars contract, pulling the self-sealing lid firmly against the jar to form a high vacuum. Most two-piece lids will seal with a “pop” sound while they’re cooling.
- Testing for Seal – When jars are completely cool to the touch (about 12 hours), test each jar for a seal. Jars with flat, metal lids are sealed if:
- Lid has popped down in center.
- Lid does not move when pressed down with a finger.
- Tapping the center of the lid with a spoon makes a clear ringing sound. A dull thudding sound may indicate a weak seal or that food is touching the underside of the lid. To determine which, hold the jar up and look at it.
- If a jar is not sealed, refrigerate and use it within 2 or 3 days. Other options are to freeze the contents (in a freezer container) or to reprocess the food within 24 hours of the initial processing.
- To reprocess, start by removing the lid. Check headspace of food and liquid. Check the jar rim for damage. If no chips or nicks are on the sealing rim, the lid may not have been put on tightly enough or the lid may not have been prepared properly. Clean the sealing surface of the jar or replace the jar if damaged. Use a new lid and process for the full raw-pack time. After reprocessing, the food will be safe, however the quality will be diminished.
- Remove, wash, dry and store metal screw bands in a dry place to retard rusting. Wash jars and label each jar with contents, date processed and lot number if more than one canner load was processed on the date. For best quality, store between 50ºF and 70ºF in a dry place to prevent the lids from rusting and possibly breaking the seal.
- Before opening each jar, look for bulging lids, leaks and any unusual appearance of the food. After opening, check for off-odor, mold, foam or spurting liquid. Never taste questionable foods.
Recipe for Canning Meat Strips, Cubes, or Chunks (Bear, Beef, Veal, Lamb, Pork, Goose, or Venison)
1. Choose high quality, chilled meat. Remove excess fat.
2. Strong-flavored wild meats should be soaked for 1 hour in a brine made from 1 tablespoon salt per quart of water. Rinse meat.
3. Cut into 1-inch wide strips, cubes or chunks.
Hot Pack Preparation
1. Pre-cook meat to the rare stage by roasting, stewing or browning in a small amount of fat.
2. If desired put ½ teaspoon salt in pint jars, 1 teaspoon in quart jars. Skip the salt if you brined the meat prior to canning.
3. Pack meat loosely into hot jars, leaving 1-inch headspace.
4. Fill jar to 1 inch from the top with boiling meat juices, broth, water or tomato juice (especially for wild game.)
5. Remove air bubbles. Add more liquid if necessary.
6. Wipe jar rim. Place prepared lid on jar and hold in place with ring.
Raw Pack Preparation
1. If desired put ½ teaspoon salt in pint jars, 1 teaspoon in quart jars. Skip this step if you soaked the meat in a brine prior to canning.
2. Pack raw meat tightly into hot jars, leaving 1-inch headspace.
3. Do not add liquid. The meat will create juice during the canning process, which will cover most of the meat when completed. (It is still safe to eat if the juice does not cover all of the meat.)
4. Wipe jar rim. Place prepared lid on jar and adjust jar ring.
Process in a Dial Gauge Pressure Canner at 11 pounds pressure OR in a Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner at 10 pounds pressure
Pints 75 minutes
Quarts 90 minutes
Cornell Cooperative Extension Food Preservation Experts, Judy Price and Katherine Humphries
USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2006. So Easy to Preserve, 5th Edition, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, 2006. National Center for Home Food Preservation website: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/