For sportsmen across the nation, freezer space comes at a premium. You can walk into the average outdoorsman’s garage and find an ice chest full of harvests, like big game, waterfowl and fish. It becomes a game of Jenga each fall when you need to carefully remove a package of elk brats and bag of goose jerky just to access bricks of ground deer.
When my freezer hit max capacity a few seasons ago, I looked to canning meat as an alternative. Besides just saving room in my freezer, it’s opened up a bunch of new options for wild game meals. However, getting the end product isn’t as simple as just dropping some jars in boiling water.
One thing to take note of with canning meat is that you have to use a pressure canner. This is because meat has a low acidity, which doesn’t have a low enough pH value to kill bacteria. Tomatoes and fruits have high acidity to kill bacteria, and that’s why you can just use a pot of boiling water. Cucumbers are an exception as they also have low acidity, but the addition of vinegar during the pickling process increases the acidity to kill bacteria.
In summary, the pressure canner kills bacteria that meat won’t. This will save you from unnecessarily getting botulism, a foodborne illness that will give you flu-like symptoms.
For your selection of meat, really any undesirable cut will do. Neck trimmings and flank steaks won’t be looked at the same after canning, giving you new perspective on what normally becomes jerky or burger. With canning, you’re also able to bypass aging since the extreme pressure shreds the meat into perfectly tender morsels.
After you’ve canned your harvest, it’s best to store the jars in a dark area that doesn’t get too hot or cold. If there’s no room in your pantry, then basements, cellars, or climate-controlled garages will do. The USDA recommends that you eat canned meat within a year, but this is for quality rather than safety. I’m still using jars of canned antelope from two seasons prior, though, and it tastes just as good as it did 22 months ago.
Trim up meat so that the majority of fat and tendons are removed.
Cube the meat into pieces that are about the size of a golf ball.
“Cold pack” the raw meat into the quart jar, leaving about 1 inch of headspace. Use a spoon to tightly pack in the meat. Don’t add any liquid, as the meat will create natural juices during the canning process.
Put 1 teaspoon of non-iodized salt, ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and two cloves of garlic on top of the meat. Adding a few slices of green pepper or onion is optional, and note that a little bit of flavor while canning will go a long way.
Place on lid and screw on ring. Put your jars in the canner.
Follow the directions that are specific to your pressure canner, which will suggest something like adding three quarts of water, and canning for 90 minutes at 15 pounds of pressure. It’s important that you know your canner, though.