Basic Rules For Canning Meat (Book Excerpt)

In this excerpt from "Pressure Canning for Beginners and Beyond," author Angi Schneider lays down the basics for canning meat.

by Hobby Farms HQ
PHOTO: courtesy Dennis Burnett

Only can good-quality meat, and if you’ve purchased meat, it needs to be canned by the “use by” date. You want to be careful to not can any meat that may have gone bad. If the meat has a pungent smell or feels slimy, it should be thrown away, even if it hasn’t passed its use-by date.

Beef and pork should be kept cold until you’re ready to can it. If you’re processing your own animals, make sure you’re using good slaughtering procedures that keep the meat clean and sanitary. Home-processed meat should be chilled at 40 degrees Fahrenheit as soon as possible, and beef should be aged 3 to 10 days, depending on how much fat is covering the carcass. Home-processed pork does not need to be aged.

Trim gristle, bruised spots and fat from the meat before canning it. You don’t have to go crazy, trying to get every little bit of fat off; just trim the visible fat. There will always be some fat in the finished jars; you just don’t want an excessive amount of it. If a jar has too much fat in it, it can climb up the sides of the jars during processing and prevent the lids from properly sealing.

If the meat can’t be canned within a few days of aging, slaughtering or being purchased, it will need to be frozen. It can still be canned at a later date; it will just need to be thawed out first.

The texture of canned meat is a little different than when meat is cooked fresh. It will usually be more tender since the pressure canning tenderizes the meat. This means that tough cuts of meat, such as brisket, end up being tender without the long, slow cooking usually needed to make them tender.

We’ve found that pressure canning meats tends to make them a little drier, especially lean cuts like flank steak. The USDA allows for using a little bit of fat to brown lean meat before canning. You don’t want to add a lot of fat to the meat, but browning it in fat is perfectly safe.

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Our favorite meat to use for most recipes is brisket because it has fat marbled throughout the meat, which makes the meat less dry when canned.

Ground meats that are packed in broth or water end up a little “watery” in texture. One way to reduce the watery texture is to quickly fry the ground meat, sausage patties or meatballs to heat them up before serving. Gently press down on the meat, patties and meatballs to help them release the excess water. I don’t find this is always necessary, but I do if I’m adding canned meatballs to spaghetti sauce. Just know that if you do think the texture is too watery, frying will help.

Beef and pork strips, cubes and chunks can be canned with the hot-pack method or the raw-pack method. Ground meat must be canned using the hot pack-method.

Read more: Check out these pressure canning basics!

Canning Cured Meats

If you want to have a lively discussion among a group of canners, just ask if sausage, bacon, ham and other cured meats can be canned. You’ll get answers that range from, “Absolutely, they’re just like other meats. I do it all the time and no one has ever died,” to “Absolutely not! It’s unsafe, and you’ll kill someone.” Like many things in life, the truth is somewhere between these two extremes.

Cured meat is not just like other meat; the curing process makes the meat more dense and, therefore, harder for the heat to penetrate. The USDA doesn’t have any published processing times for canning any cured meat. We don’t know if the times are the same as uncured meat or not, so I err on the side of safety and don’t can jars of cured meats.

However, there are tested and approved recipes that have cured meat as ingredients. I’ve tweaked several of those recipes by altering the spices to create versions of our family favorites.

Breakfast sausage, which is an uncured sausage, is safe to can; just remember that some people report that sage, which is a common ingredient in sausage, turns bitter when pressure canned.

Uncured link or cased sausage is also safe to can. This is harder to find unless you make your own sausage. The texture ends up being a little more moist or watery than it is when you grill or pan fry link sausage, but the flavor is great. 

This recipe for chicken and vegetable soup originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Hobby Farms magazine. It is reprinted with permission from Pressure Canning for Beginners and Beyond by Angi Schneider, Page Street Publishing Co., 2021. Angi Schneider has been gardening and preserving food for more than 25 years. She is the creator of SchneiderPeeps and lives on a 1 12-acre homestead with her family on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

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