Friday, November 30, 2012

Dry-canning Meat

When you cover meat with broth or water and then run it through your canner, the meat will be tender and juicy.  That's a good thing for most meat.  If you're going to use it in stew, soup, or gravy, it's excellent.  But if you want to use ground meat for things like spaghetti and tacos, it'll leave the meat soggy no matter how much you try to fry the water out of it.
When you make hamburger or sausage patties and can them covered with liquid, the burgers will likely crumble as you lift them out of the water.  In our opinion, it also boils the flavor out of the meat.
A few years ago I heard about something called  'dry canning', a technique for canning meat.  Now it's the only way I can burgers and ground meat.  Sometimes I can stew chunks and roasts that way too, but they do okay with water or broth over them.
Most of our meat-canning starts like this.  It's usually an animal we've raised or hunted.  This particular animal is (was?) a buffalo.  Some people are squeamish about this part of it, but to me it's part of the package of being self-sufficient.  I also like knowing that the meat I ate had a good life, wasn't confined, and didn't spend time in a feedlot being pumped full of anti-biotics or hormones or anything else.  But this post isn't an argument for home-grown or wild meat.
Regardless of how you acquire your meat, the first thing to do is prepare it for canning.  In this picture I'm browning ground meat on our woodstove. 
While the ground meat was browning I made burger patties out of some of the rest of the meat.  I use a canning lid from a wide-mouth jar as a sizer.  I want the patties to be about the size of the diameter of a wide-mouth jar. 
Then I brown them on both sides.
Once they're browned I drop them in jars, stacking them until the jar is nearly full. Now that they're browned they've shrunk a little bit and they fit perfectly in the jar. 
I don't have many of these jars. They're a short pint with a wide-mouth.  I can fit four nice-sized patties in them, which is just right for my husband and I.  If the kids or grandkids are here, I can use a quart jar of patties, or a couple of jars.  Eight patties fit in a quart.
From left to right I've canned burger patties, ground meat, and stew chunks.
Even if you don't add any water there is moisture in the meat.  You can see that it has pooled in the bottom of the jars.  This meat had been frozen and thawed before prepping and canning it, so I think it had more moisture.  Sometimes if the meat is exceptionally dry I add about half an inch of water to the jar.  It steams through the meat as it cans and keeps the meat moist.  I canned a batch of dry stew meat with no added water and the top inch or so was dry and somewhat hard.  I had to soak them in water.  So I think a little bit of water helps.
Most of the meat we can is lean, so fat isn't an issue.  However, we can bacon and sausage, which can be fatty.  Dry-canning is good for these foods because they're not as likely to boil over as high-fat meat, which can lead to jars not sealing properly.
These are browned sausage patties ready to be canned.  I make the sausage patties smaller and fatter, and I put them in regular mouth pints this time.  Generally it's hard to get the meat out of a regular mouth jar, but I was out of wide-mouth jars so I used what I had. Since the patties were smaller, they weren't hard to get out.  I put about 1/2 inch of water in the jars before I canned them, but I didn't need to add salt or anything else.  Sometimes I can a blob of ground sausage instead of patties and use it for sausage gravy with biscuits, but usually I make patties and if I want some for gravy, I crumble them up when I use them.
To can bacon I put a piece of wax paper on the counter, then lay the bacon on it, putting the strips side-by-side.  A second piece of wax paper goes over it.
Now I roll is up.  I cut the strips of bacon in half before I put them on the wax paper so they won't be as long.  You can fold the bundle in half after you roll it up if you don't want to cut the strips.  I shove the wax paper bundle of bacon strips into a jar and can it like that, nothing extra added.  When you go to use it, carefully unroll the wax paper, lift the strips off and into a pan.  They're fully cooked in the canning process, so all you have to do is heat them.  You can eat it right out of the jar, too, if your power is off or if you're camping and don't want to heat it.  It's great on sandwiches or burgers.
You can also just shove the bacon in a jar and can it, but you'll never get it apart.  I can some in half-pints and we use them in omelettes, as bacon bits on salads, in stir-frys, or added to homemade baked beans or bean soup.  Without separating them with waxed paper they pretty much crumble into pieces, but they're delcious.
You MUST use a pressure canner to safely can meat.
Be careful, too, not to over-stuff the jar with meat.  Dense meat, like roasts or chicken breasts, might not reach the very high temperatures needed to kill pathogens in the middle of the meat.  It might be best to can those in broth or water, or cut them in half lengthwise before putting them into the jar, so the piece of meat is smaller and the heat won't have to penetrate as far.
Yes, it's okay to leave the bone in chicken breasts when you can them.  You won't fit as many in a jar, but some people prefer them that way.  Same with pork chops or other meat.  It takes up space but it's safe to include bones.
When your jars are cool, remove the rings and wash the jar.  If you want to store them with the rings on, dry the jar and ring, and screw the ring back on the jar.  You can store them either way.  Once it's sealed the ring isn't necessary, but the ring can protect the lid from accidental bumps on the rim, which could unseal the jar.
Canning times and pressure:
For beef, pork, venison and all other "meat" meats:
90 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure if you're under 3,000' of elevation
90 minutes at 15 lbs. pressure if you're over 3,000' of elevation.
For chicken and turkey:
70 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure if you're under 3,000' of elevation
70 minutes at 15 lbs. pressure if you're over 3,000' of elevation

For fish:
100 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure if you're under 3,000' of elevation
100 minutes at 15 lbs. pressure if you're over 3,000' of elevation
(Some canning guides say 90 minutes)
Follow the standard canning prodecures of putting the lids in hot water to simmer, etc. 
Storing canned meat:
The best place is cool and dark with a steady temperature.  If you have cabinets in a back room or basement, those are good.  Try to avoid excessive moisture, such as a damp basement or root cellar.  The lids and rings will rust, which could make it hard (or impossible!) to get the rings off.  If the rest gets bad, it could rust through the lid, but that's rare.  A dry root cellar or basement are okay.
You can put the jars back in the box they came in, or find a box from the grocery store, and push them under your bed.  Dry-canned meat doesn't have to be protected from freezing.  Meat canned with water or broth can't be allowed to freeze because the liquid will expand and could break the jar.  That's why it's safe to put dry-canned meat in an unheated shed or garage in cold climates.
Light is the enemy of fat, and even lean meat has some fat.  That's why it's not a good idea to store them on shelves that are open to light, such as a basement with windows.  If you want to store them there, consider stapling or tacking an old sheet or blanket across the front of the shelves.
Shelf life
Shelf life is tied to how you store it.  In ideal conditions of dry, dark, cool, steady temperatures, and if you've been diligent about safety and following instructions while canning, it's probably safe for 10 to 20 years.  Definitely safe for five years, if you're very sure they were processed the full length of time at the right temperature, and if you're sure the jars really sealed on their own and you didn't get antsy and tap them and the lid popped down but isn't really sealed.
If you're unsure, try to use them up within two years.  Take a quick sniff and look it over when you open the jar.  If the flavor is off or you're suspicious about anything, throw it away.  The contents, not the jar.  The jar can be washed and boiled, and reused.  Never, ever, reuse a canning lid, especially for meat.  Some people take a chance when they're canning things like fruit, but it's not recommended.  Don't take a chance on it with meat.
I'll be happy to answer questions about anything I neglected to include here, or track down answers if I don't know the answer.


  1. Great post! I've used the jar ring to make sausage patties and it's easier to make the patties and then just push from the open area to get them out and into the frying pan.

  2. I' m sitting here with my jaw dropped... what a brilliant idea, to use the ring instead of the lid, for a mold or 'form' for making the patties! Thank you!


  3. When canning bacon, I think you mean to say "parchment paper" instead of "waxed paper". What you are using in the picks, as well as what little bit I can see of the box, I believe is parchment paper. Not to be nit-picky or anything cause this is great info, I'm just not sure how well waxed paper would work and I'd hate for someone to make a mess of their bacon. By the way, have you ever tried frying the bacon first? I read another blog that said it keeps better texture that way - I haven't tried it yet.
    Thanks for a great post!

  4. I have a electric stove. Is it harder to do pressure cook on it then gas?

    1. No. If you're familiar with your stove you shouldn't have trouble adjusting the temperature to keep it in the range you need for the right pressure.


    2. I used to can on my electric stove. Never had a problem, you just can't set it and walk away, you have to monitor it constantly since sometimes stove fluctuate but no biggie, once you get the temp set just right, everything goes smoothly.

  5. how much water do you put in the pressure canner? will the jars float up or is the weight of the meat enough to hold them down?

    1. I accidently put this in as a comment below instead of a reply, so I copied and pasted my answer to move up here:

      My pressure canners hold seven 1-quart jars, and I put two quarts of water in it. Most of the water is under the rack on the bottom of the canner, leaving about an inch of water around the bottom of the jars. I've never had one float, so the weight of the meat must be sufficient.

      Be careful not to pack meat, especially ground meat, too tightly. That could keep the center of the meat from getting as hot as it needs to, to kill pathogens.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. In the absence of parchment paper I have used butcher paper, it's thicker but it works!

  8. Can anyone tell me if the ground meat is okay if still pinkish in the middle when opened after canning in pint and 1/2 jars for 90 mins? It was dry canned after being lightly browned first...........

    1. All canned goods should be boiled (cooked????) 20 minutes after opening. This will get rid of the pink. I browned mine well first.

  9. every other canning instructions ive read ,says that fish has to be processed for 90 minutes, do you think 70 is safe?

    1. I got the canning times out of the instruction book that came with my Mirro canner.... back in the 1980's, which I still refer to when I'm canning.

      I got to thinking that maybe there are different recommendations nowdays so I just googled it. The Presto online canning guide recommends 100 minutes!

      I will be changing the time shown for fish in the above post. So if you're looking at this after I update it (Feb. 14, 2016), you're looking at the newer information.

      Thank you, "Anonymous" for bringing this to my attention.


  10. I would like to know if you can dry can chicken and turkey? Also Fish. I do a lot of canning but didn't know about dry canning,

    Thank You

    1. I have dry-canned chicken and turkey, with good success. But I haven't dry-canned fish yet. Since fish can sometimes be on the 'dry' side, I'd add about a quarter to half an inch of water to the jar for moisture. But like I said, I haven't dry-canned fish.

      Thank you!