If this article caught your attention, you’re a true homesteader at heart—no matter how small your flock. If you have a self-propagating flock, this will play to your advantage: Excess roosters are an excellent source for chicken bone broth.
The 48-hour cooking process softens their flavorful—but typically firm—meat. What a comfort to have precooked, homegrown, free-range chicken bone broth canned and at the ready for long winter days!
Why Chicken Bone Broth?
There are numerous health benefits from consuming quality bone broth. But this article isn’t written to belabor them.
We’re here to discuss canning equipment preparation (you can skip this part if you’re already experienced), prepping your broth/stock and canning jars, and … drumroll … the mysterious pressure canning process! (It’s really not that hard.)
A small caveat, however: If you’ve never canned before, I strongly recommend working through several batches of applesauce, jam or tomatoes before attempting to can meat. I’ll explain why in a minute.
But first, here’s some canning vocabulary. (Not dictionary definitions—just for the purposes of this article.)
- Processing: the procedure by which filled jars are heated in boiling water and subsequently vacuum-sealed. Necessary processing times vary by size of jar and ingredients.
- Water bath: a boiling pot of water with an unlocked lid
- Pressure canner: a specially designed, airtight pot with locking lid (utilizing a rubber gasket), air escape valve and specially manufactured weights to place on the air escape valve in order to sustain perfect pressure on the packed jars during processing.
- Packing jars: Unlike vacation suitcases, food needs space. To pack a jar for canning, precooked foods must be loose to:
- allow any air bubbles to escape
- ensure adequate heat penetration during processing. Densely packed foods aren’t recommended for home canning and aren’t covered in this article.
Water Bath Vs. Pressure Canning
Many hobby canners put up fruits as jams, jellies and preserves. Some put up pickled vegetables, relish or sauerkraut. These are all high-acid foods.
As a general rule, high-acid foods may be safely processed in a simple boiling water bath.
A boiling water bath is a pot of water in which sterilized filled jars are processed, but with a simple lid atop. This boiling process, when done correctly, sanitizes the contents of the jar and the cooling process seals the jars as the temperature lowers.
By contrast, meat and most garden vegetables are low-acid foods. This includes green beans, potatoes, onions, even spices and herbs. If processed in only a boiling water bath, these foods are subject to spoilage and scarier things, such as botulism.
Low-acid foods must be processed in a pressure canner.
A pressure canner also boils the contents but—surprise—under pressure. The pressure is raised by sealing the lid and capping the air vent with a weight specifically designed for the purpose. During processing, steam builds pressure inside the pot until the gauge lifts.
This lift of the gauge then reduces the pressure to the point where the gauge falls back down, and the process repeats. When the pot is holding at the correct pressure, this process happens so quickly that the weight rattles. (It’s kind of cool, actually.)
Making Chicken Bone Broth
I like to use extra roosters for chicken bone broth. For flock maintenance, it’s usually best to cull birds at the end of summer. Standard breeds hatched in spring are usually full-size by about 5 months old, but you don’t have to wait. The younger the bird is, the more tender the meat.
When picking a new breeding rooster, I let the batch reach 1 year old before culling. This way, I can determine the best breeding stock.
I’ve heard many people eschew harvesting their older culls. They protest there’s no way to cook them with positive results. Oh my, but there is!
The secret is in long, slow cooking. The 24- to 48-hour chicken bone broth cooking process is a perfect fit.
The following recipe provides a great introduction to making chicken bone broth. I recommend trying it for a delicious chicken dinner before attempting a giant batch for canning purposes.
Slow-Cooker Chicken Dinner x2
- 1 fresh (or frozen and thawed) whole chicken. Note: If you have a 4-quart slow cooker instead of a 6-quart, you may need to cut up the chicken and reduce the vegetables for it to fit.
- 1 teaspoon (3 cloves) garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon whole rosemary
- salt to taste
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- chopped potatoes and carrots to fill pot around chicken
- 2 cups cold water (to start)
- cold water to fill pot (day 2)
- noodles or rice, dry or precooked. Dry will yield a richer flavor, but less soup (day 2).
Rinse chicken. Sprinkle garlic, rosemary and salt inside the body cavity. Add onion.
Place breast-down in slow cooker. Surround with chopped vegetables. Add 2 cups cold water. Cover and cook on low setting until meat falls off the bone.
Remove vegetables and debone chicken. Serve warm.
Return chicken bones to broth in pot. Fill pot with cold water and continue cooking until total cooking time has reached 48 hours, or bones are hollow. Strain broth and return to pot. Discard bones.
Your chicken bone broth is ready to eat!
Meal No. 2
To make chicken soup: Add 1 cup noodles or rice, 1⁄2 cup small chopped carrots (if desired) and any leftover meat from the chicken. Cook on low until additional ingredients are tender.
Add salt and/or additional spices, as desired. Enjoy!
Now that you’ve made and enjoyed a batch of chicken bone broth, you should be ready to tackle a large-scale batch for canning.
Cooking Chicken Broth
Four standard-breed chickens should yield enough broth for roughly 7 quarts of canned bone broth stock. (A full standard canner will hold seven quart-sized jars.)
I specify “standard-breed” as opposed to a Cornish Rock hybrid meat bird, which has a much beefier carcass. You may of course use Cornish Rocks, but I encourage using the cull roosters.
If free-ranged or at least kept on pasture, their meat is more flavorful. Besides, you’re mostly interested in the bones.
Unfortunately, four chickens won’t fit in a slow cooker. So, plan your broth-making days for a weekend when you are off work and can monitor the stove top.
I use a 3-gallon stockpot in addition to my slow cooker for making large batches of bone broth. (Once I start canning, I want to make it worth the bother of pulling all the equipment out of the cellar!)
What You’ll Need
• 4 chickens, plucked (You may use skinned birds. The broth may be slightly less rich.)
• water to fill and continually refill pot—lots of water!
• salt (optional)
• very large stockpot (3-gallon recommended or use multiple smaller pots)
• lid for stockpot (optional, but very highly recommended. The resulting steam will reduce liquid much faster without a lid.)
• large slotted spoon
• hot pads
• strainer (not essential but recommended)
Fit chickens into the pot any way that they’ll stay below the water line. Fill pot with water, and set on low heat to simmer. You may use high heat for the first hour to help the pot heat up. But then set a very low flame for the duration of the cooking time.
(I have an older gas stove, and use a cast iron heat diffuser on the burner underneath my thick-bottomed stockpot. From time to time, I’ll raise the heat to high for about 5 minutes just to keep the heat diffuser good and warm. Then I return it to the lowest flame.)
If the chickens float above the top of the waterline (they will, at first), reach in with the slotted spoon and rotate them from time to time to keep them cooking evenly on all sides. A few times a day should suffice. A lid on the pot helps keep the exposed chicken from drying out and cooking unevenly.
You may find that the pot loses a lot of water even with a lid on top. Add more as needed to keep the water level high. You’ll want to monitor the pot through the night, as well. It’s a great time for a movie marathon, or a camp out on the kitchen floor!
After 24 to 48 hours of cooking, your stock is ready for the next step.
Preparing the Broth
Remove the chicken from the broth and place on plates to cool just enough for handling. Strain broth into smaller pots, then pour back into the big one and return to heat. If you don’t have another large container into which to strain, sift the pot with your slotted spoons until all inedible debris are removed.
Debone chicken and discard all but the meat.
If you want to include the meat in your bone broth, return to the pot.
If you’d rather keep your broth as is or use the meat for other purposes, put meat in the refrigerator for later use.
Canning The Broth
Let’s check your progress.
- Your finished broth—with or without meat—is keeping warm on the stove.
- You’ve cleaned up your mess, discarded scraps from deboning the chicken and wiped down the countertops. (I’m serious. Clean up your mess first. You’ll thank me later.)
- All of your equipment is clean and nearby.
Now, we’re ready to start canning!
- canning jars
- canning lids
- canning lid bands
- pressure canner, all components (See manufacturer’s instruction booklet for your model.)
- small saucepan
- ladle or measuring cup
- magnetic lid wand (optional but worth it!)
- canning funnel
- clean plate
- bubble freer (plastic food- and heat-safe bladeless knife)
- canning jar lifter tongs
- clean washcloths for wiping lids (several as they can get sticky)
- heat pads
- large amount of clean counter space near the stove (probably double what you think you’ll need)
- clean kitchen towels or a plethora of hot pads (for countertop heat protection)
Wash, rinse and sterilize all jars. Many people sterilize in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. The method my mother taught me: Place the clean, rinsed, wet jars upside-down on a top oven rack. Turn the oven on to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Allow to sterilize for a minimum of 10 minutes after reaching boiling temperature at 212 degrees. Once sterile, turn off the oven. Leave the sterilized jars upside down on the oven rack until immediately prior to use.
Remove jar lids from box and separate from each other. Place in saucepan. Cover with warm water, turn burner on low and allow to simmer lightly until use.
Jar lid bands don’t touch food, so they don’t need to be sterilized. Wash and rinse them all.
Pressure Canner Prep
If your pressure canner has been in storage, wash and rinse all parts thoroughly.
Check the rubber gasket to ensure it’s in good condition.
Set the pressure canner on the stove, put in the base rack, and set the lid on top. (Don’t lock into place.) Set the gauge nearby.
Put about 2 quarts of water into the pot and simmer on medium heat. (Note: Different sizes of canners require different amounts of water. See your manufacturer’s booklet for specific details. I currently use a Mirro 22-quart canner with a 7-quart capacity.)
If processing less than full capacity at seven quart-sized jars, add an extra pint of water.
You should have the following ready to go.
- finished bone broth simmering in its pot
- pressure canner simmering nearby
- ample clean counter space around stove
- warm, sterilized jars still upside-down in the oven (or upside-down on the counter, if you used the boiling water method)
- warm, sterilized lids simmering on the stove
- clean lid bands for jars
- clean canning equipment
- clean counter space by the stove
Once you’re all set, take a quick breather, if you need it!
The Canning Process:
Packing the Jars
Flip a sterilized jar right side up near the pot of broth and put the canning funnel in its mouth. Fill the jar with broth (and meat, if desired) to 1-inch from top. Caution: Don’t overfill.
Remove canning funnel, and set aside on clean plate dedicated to the purpose. Run bubble freer around inside of jar to remove trapped air.
With a clean, wet (preferably hot) cloth, thoroughly wipe rim of jar, taking care to leave no trace of grease. Fat or grease is a major contributing factor to badly sealed jars of meat, leading to broken seals and spoilage. Take extra care to ensure a perfectly clean jar rim.
Using the magnetic lid wand, pull a sterilized jar lid out of the simmering pot and place on the filled, clean jar.
Screw a band down tightly onto the lid, utilizing hot pads as necessary. Place jar into the open pressure canner to keep warm.
Repeat process until canner is full or you run out of stock.
The Canning Process: Processing
With all jars now inside the canner, check the water level. Add water if necessary.
Make sure the rubber gasket is inside the pressure canner’s lid. Settle the lid down onto the pot and rotate to lock in place.
Place the 10-pound weight gauge on the steam valve.
Turn up the heat to high or medium-high (depending on your range).
Stay nearby to monitor the canner, so that you catch when it starts to rattle. Processing time starts the moment the correct pressure is reached inside the pot. Overprocessed jars can break or explode from excessive pressure, so it’s important to note when the correct pressure is reached for processing time.
Process quart jars for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.
Once processing time completes, turn off the burner, but leave the pressure gauge on top. (Pressure will be very high!) Wait at least an hour for the pressure to reduce before attempting to remove the pressure gauge. Take care not to get burned by either the pot or residual steam.
If in doubt, wait. Remove gauge when safe to do so.
Removing the Jars
When you observe the steam stop hissing from valve, do the following.
Make certain pressure inside pot is at dead zero before attempting to open the lid.
Open the canner’s lid away from you, using it as a shield. (In case any jars break on contact with the air or any other reason!)
Check the seals. Carefully remove jars from pot with jar lifter tongs, keeping upright. Don’t allow the inner liquid to touch the upper part of the jar, where the lid seal is. Set on a kitchen towel on the countertop in a cool spot until cool to the touch.
Once the jars are cool, twist off the bands, if desired. (I’ve found canning lid bands are less prone to rust if kept in a box or kitchen drawer rather than on the jars.)
Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe off any mineral residue. Use a permanent marker to write “Chicken Bone Broth” and the current date (month/day/year) on your jar lid.
Set the finished jars neatly in your pantry or cellar and take a photo as you admire your handiwork.
Congratulations! You’ve done it. You actually canned bone broth!
As with many other worthwhile things in life, pressure canning can present a bit of a learning curve. I’ll say from personal experience, though, it’s a great feeling to know your harvest is beautifully displayed on the pantry shelves, not dependent on the freezer.
So, maybe your canning attempt didn’t go quite as planned. Here are some possible problems and suggestions as to what might have gone wrong:
- Broken jar(s)—Some possible causes are overprocessing and/or defective jars. While it’s disheartening to open up your canner after a good day’s work and see a jar in pieces with contents spewed all over the pot, don’t despair. Sometimes a jar had an invisible weakness. Of course, if it was due to overprocessing … well, learn your lesson and move forward.
- Jars not sealed—Some possible causes are grease or chips on the rim or defective or damaged lids. Remember to wipe down jar rims thoroughly before placing the lids on top. Make sure the cloth is very clean without residual grease.
- Did you check each lid before you placed it on a jar? Or did you attempt to reuse old lids? It goes without saying that if you try to reuse single-use canning lids, they’re not likely to work the second time around!
In Gardening for Food and Fun: The Yearbook of Agriculture 1977, Nadine Tope, specialist-in-charge of extension foods and nutrition, wrote a section titled “Pressure Canners, Vital for Low-Acid Foods.” In it, she wrote that atmospheric pressure is like the thickness of frosting on a cake.
“Where it is thickest, it weighs more per square inch than where it is thin,” she wrote. “At sea level, where the atmosphere is the thickest, it is heavier than atop a mountain.
“As altitude increases, atmospheric pressure or its weight per square inch decreases. Altitude affects the boiling point of water. Where altitude is least, at sea level, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. As altitude increases, the boiling point of water decreases.
“The same is true in a pressure canner. Under 10 pounds pressure at sea level, water boils at 240 degrees. As altitude increases, the temperature in a pressure canner at 10 pounds of pressure is less than 240 degrees. This difference is enough to affect the safety of canned products at altitudes above 2,000 feet.”
Different vegetables, herbs and spices require different processing times for storage safety. The general rule for varying ingredients is to look up the correct processing times for each one, and process your new recipe for the longest time needed for any listed ingredient.
While these instructions are specifically for chicken, the general procedure for making bone broth is the same for all meat bones. (I.e., cook on low heat until the bone marrow releases into the broth, yielding hollow bones). However, if you wish to can other species’ bone broth, research the specific procedures and processing times.
For further study on your own, I highly recommend the top-notch book Putting Food By from authors Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg and Beatrice Vaughan. It contains a wealth of information on food preservation.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Chickens magazine.