Preserve Meat, Poultry, and Fish with a Pressure Canner
Pressure-canning meat, poultry, and fish is a great skill to learn. Not only will it save money and provide healthy food for your family but it also helps you prepare for lean times. Once the jars are safely sealed, you may keep your harvest for several years without electricity.
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Hot Water Bath vs Pressure Canning
High-acid foods, such as fruit, pickles, and jam may be preserved with a hot water bath canner. The acid in the food, along with proper processing, prevents the growth of bacteria in the jars. Low-acid foods, however, need to be processed in a pressure canner to safely preserve them. Meat, poultry, fish, and many vegetables fit in this category.
How To Pressure Can Food
To pressure can food, you’ll need the following items:
- Pressure canner
- Canning jars
- Screw tops and new canning lids
- Food to can
- Canning funnel – not necessary, but helpful
Before you begin, make sure you read the instructions for your pressure canner and check the condition of the canner. If the gasket is warped, cracked, or feels sticky, you should replace it. (Note – some pressure canners are made to operate without a gasket.) Be sure that the overpressure plug is in place and that the pressure vent tube is clean. Use a piece of wire threaded through the hole to clean the pressure vent tube.
The pressure canner will have an automatic pressure control that is either weighted or a dial. Either one is fine but it must be a selective pressure control, allowing you to choose the proper pressure for canning different foods. The weighted control should allow for 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure. If you have never used your pressure canner, or if you are concerned that it may not be in good condition, contact your local extension office. They may be able to check the canner and answer your question.
Preparing Your Food and Jars
Check to see how many canning jars your canner will hold. The jars may touch. My Mirro pressure canner holds 7 quarts or 9 pints. Once you know how many jars you can process at a time, you have a better idea of how much food to prepare.
Wash the jars thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Make sure there are no chips or cracks in your jars. Wash the screw tops and follow the manufacturer’s directions for preparing canning lids. (*Note – Ball lids are now made BPA-free and they should not be boiled ahead of time.
Prepare the food you will be canning. You may can beef, pork, venison, fish, chicken, turkey, or other poultry with a pressure canner. You may also can soups, stews, chili, and sloppy Joe mix as long you use the longest processing time with the highest pressure required for any of the foods in the mixture. For example, chicken soup containing chicken, broth, potatoes, celery, and carrots will need to be processed for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure for quart-size jars – the requirements for canning chicken, which has the longest processing time.
Beef, pork, venison, and lamb will need to be boned before canning. Chicken, turkey, rabbit, and duck may be canned with bones in, but I prefer to remove all bones prior to canning. Fish may be boned or canned in large chunks, bone-in.
- Precook meats until medium done
- Cut in chunks, shred, or dice and fill jars
- Add stock or water, leaving one inch of headspace
- Add salt – optional
- Rabbit and poultry may be raw-packed – cut up, pack the meat in jars, and cover with water
- Wipe rims with a clean cloth, place canning lids on jars and tighten screw bands by hand
- Place jars in the pressure canner
- Add the required amount of water to the canner (check the instructions for your canner)
- Helpful Hint! Add a splash of vinegar to water in the canner to prevent mineral buildup if you have hard water.
Follow these processing instructions for the foods you are preserving. Begin timing when the canner reaches proper pressure (control begins to jiggle according to pressure canner instructions).
Process all of these foods at 10 pounds of pressure (15 pounds if your elevation is over 1000 ft).
Beef, Pork, Venison, Lamb
- Process pint jars for 75 minutes, and quart jars for 90 minutes.
Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Rabbit – with bones
- Process pint jars for 65 minutes, and quart jars for 75 minutes.
Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Rabbit – without bones
- Process pint jars for 75 minutes, and quart jars for 90 minutes.
- Process pint jars for 110 minutes.
- It is not recommended that you can fish in quart jars.
- Salmon should not be cooked first. Pour hot water over the salmon and scrape any color from the skin.
- Process pint jars for 20 minutes, and quart jars for 25 minutes.
- Skim all fat from the stock before canning.
Processing Procedures, Hints, and Tips
Once your jars are packed and settled into the canner, the water is added, and the lid is properly in place, you will need to heat things up. Turn the heat on (I find it works best to slowly heat the canner up, preventing liquid from escaping from jars from the uneven pressure caused by rapid heating) and wait for the lid to lock into place and steam to escape from the vent tube.
Allow the steam to escape for 10 minutes, then place the weighted gauge in place (if this applies to your canner). Wait for the pressure to build up, causing the gauge to jiggle. Begin timing at this point. The gauge should jiggle 3 times per minute or slightly more. If it is jiggling a lot more than this, slowly lower the heat.
Tips and Hints:
- Do not use a smooth glass cooktop for canning. The burners are not designed for this purpose. You may purchase a separate burner to use for canning, or you may set up a propane burner outside.
- Do not make big adjustments to the heat under your canner as it is processing. Swings in temperature will cause uneven pressure between the inside of the jars and the interior of the canner.
- It is advisable to do a ‘wet run’ before you start canning foods. Put the recommended amount of water in your canner and process without any jars of food inside. This will allow you to get the hang of canning without potentially ruining any food or breaking jars.
- It is normal for a small amount of steam to sputter from the overpressure plug as the pressure builds up in the canner.
- If the lid isn’t locking into place, you may need to adjust it so that the locking mechanism lines up properly. Use potholders to protect your hands.
When Processing Time is Up
It is very important that when the processing time is finished, you allow the canner to cool slowly until the pressure has returned to normal. Do not put your canner in cold water, remove the pressure gauge, or try to open the lid. You may damage the canner, cause the liquid inside jars to bubble out, or you could scald yourself. It may take several hours for the pressure to slowly stabilize so that you may safely remove the lid.
What Went Wrong?
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Here are some common problems encountered when using a pressure canner:
- The pressure never builds up – the gasket may need to be replaced, the overpressure plug may need to be replaced, the locking pin may not be lined up properly, or the burner may not be hot enough.
- Pressure gauge stops jiggling – water inside canner may have all evaporated off (may cause burned scent), food may have stopped up vent tube. Turn the burner off, and allow the canner to cool and pressure to drop to normal before opening the canner to investigate.
- Liquid escapes from jars, leaving larger head space than recommended – canner heated too quickly, cooled or pressure decreased too quickly, or heat levels were not stable during processing. If jars are sealed, the food should be fine to use. Freeze jars if you are concerned about safety, making sure that there is enough room in the jar for the liquid to expand.
- Jars don’t seal. Review the instructions on the box of canning lids and make sure you are following them. Most lids need to be heated in water before placing on jars.
Do you pressure can your own meats, poultry, and fish? Do you have any helpful hints for the best results?
For more information, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
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Thank you for sharing at the Homestead Blog Hop!
I did not know that with the newer Ball lids, they should not be boiled first. Learning every day!
Great Post Lisa! A lot of people are put off about canning meat. We have canned: seasoned ground beef (my fave), meat sauce, sausage links and pork loin. All with great success.
Melissa @ Little Frugal Homestead
I’m going to try this today! I’ve had success with bottling grapes for jelly and now that I’ve got 3 too many roosters in my flock I’d say it’s time to make soup!! I’ve already precooked the meat, cooled it and separated it from the bone. Bone broth is simmering on the wood stove so now to pack the jars with veggies and chicken. Do the veggies go in raw? Does the water/broth go in cold or boiling or does it matter?
Hi Lara…sorry to keep you waiting! The veggies can go in raw, I put very hot broth or water in the jars.
Best wishes! Good for you for canning up your own chicken!
Hi Lisa: (Questions asked here are for anyone who wants to answer or share your experiences and thoughts).
Thanks for the great, (and so understandable), tutorial. We do watch a lot of homesteaders and off grid type reality shows on TV. One of the things that they show quite often is that they are either “smoking” or “canning” meats or fish, or making a “dried jerky” out of some meat. My thoughts on doing the “canning” of
meats were that since their was “water” involved, all of the meats that were canned
were basically being “boiled” as the method of cooking. None of them ever showed that FIRST, they cooked the meats! I just couldn’t imagine “boiled” meats ever
being “tasty”! Therefore, I just decided that canning meat or fish was something I never would do!
However, the way that you presented the canning of the meats, poultry and fish…it
made it sound more “palatable” somehow. So now you have peaked my interest and therefore I now have some questions.
So, say for instance, I want to can some ground beef for spaghetti, for tacos, etc. Then I would first crumble the ground beef in a skillet and brown it in the frying pan til it starts to get browned and then put it in the canning jars, right? OK, so then what about if I want to can more ground beef to make hamburgers or some meatloaf out of it? Do I shape the meat into burgers and partly cook them, like to med. rare, or medium? Then for the meatloaf, do I shape the ground beef into shape of a meatloaf, (seasoning it like normal), and then partially cook it to med. rare or medium?
OK, so then with meats, do you add water to the inside of the jars? Wouldn’t the water more or less then, “boil” the meatloaf and/or the burgers? Plus wouldn’t it also more or less, “wash-out” the seasoning/taste that you use? Then too, wouldn’t the water also cause the meatloaf or burgers to be watery and break apart it’s shape?
Now on the poultry and the Salmon, (I think it was just the Salmon, and not any of the other types of fish, right???)………So on the poultry and the Salmon, being put into the canning jars “raw”, you still fill up the jars with water, leaving some headroom in each jar…..So then by the time you have finished the “canning” times, all of the fish and the poultry are then “cooked”, right? Because it has been “boiled”, right? So then can you open up that can of Salmon and season it and “Grill it” still?
Also, with the Salmon, wouldn’t it be all broken up, (sort of like tuna fish in the can or the pouches)?
OK also, I wasn’t really for sure I got what you said about the fish? So do you pre-cook all fish, with the exception of the Salmon? If I went deep sea fishing and got a tuna and decided to can it, would I pre-cook it? So then, when you pre-cook any of the meats, you said not cooking the meat all the way, so then when you then put it into the canning jars and add water, then while it is being canned for those 90 minutes or whatever the time would be for that particular meat and size canning jar, does that complete the cooking of that meat the remainder of the way? So then all you do before you serve and eat it, is to heat it back up?
One last thing, I think, if I am remembering correctly, that you can reuse the jars as well as the screw rings, from one year to the next, simply washing them and also sterilizing them in a water bath prior to using each year, is this correct? How long do you water bath your jars and lids? Is it different times for the pint jars than the quart jars? But I heard that the lids won’t ever re-seal after the first time, so you are supposed to throw them away when you open a can and use it all up, is this correct?
Sorry to take so long answering your questions. If you have more questions, check this link out…
They give a lot of information there that is very helpful.
Whether you precook any meat, poultry or fish before canning, it will be thoroughly cooked once it has been canned. Yes, you are basically boiling them. You can add 2 tsp of salt to each quart jar, as well as herbs and spices to make them tastier.
Ground meat should be browned first and then drain the fat before canning. Add water, meat broth, or tomato juice to fill jar, leaving 1″ of headspace.
It is not necessary to precook any fish before canning. They tend to crumble up and break apart. You would not really be able to grill any fish after canning.
You can form ground meat into meat balls, but you would have trouble forming it into burgers or meatloaf and then put it into your canning jars.
You do not need to sterilize jars, lids or screw bands before pressure canning. Just wash jars and screw bands with hot, soapy water and rinse before filling. It is not recommended that lids be reused. Some people have told me that they do, but I think you would have a higher incidence of jars that don’t seal properly and it isn’t safe to do. You can order Tattler reusable canning lids. They cost more and I have had problems with them not sealing as well as the one use lids. But some people swear by them, so maybe I just didn’t do it right.
Great information! I just started using my pressure canner and canned up all my chicken broth!
That’s great, Nancy! Best wishes with your canning adventures!
I love having canned meat on hand! Great tutorial!
Thanks so much Sandra!
We got a canner from a second hand store and ordered a new gasket online right away. I didn’t want to take a chance the old one was faulty and ruin a lot of hard work. Just a little tip.
Not a bad idea! You can also have your local extension office check the gasket for you to make sure it is in good condition. 🙂
Oh how I am wishing that I had my Grandmothers pressure canner. I gathered up most of her supplies but left the pressure canner because all she ever pressure canned was green beans and Mom did potatoes. I didn’t like either one and that was the only things I knew to pressure can so I thought I would never use the thing. Now I am wishing I would have gathered it up. Oh well. Thanks for the tutorial. When I do find a pressure canner I know where to turn for some great instructions
Hi Happy Momma,
I’m sorry to hear that your Gram’s pressure canner didn’t make it into your kitchen 🙁 You might be better served with one of the newer models, anyway. So, chin up! You could ask for one for your birthday 😉 Best wishes!
Using a pressure canner can sure be intimidating at first. Now that I’m used to it, I use it a lot for meats, broth and vegetables. Great post!
I was pretty nervous the first time I use my pressure canner…such a long time ago and so many jars of home canned goodies have come out of my canner since then:-)
Kathi, when I first started canning, I think I must have stretched all of my crow’s feet out around my eyes. My eyes were practically bugging out of my head with terror and I was unable to look away from what I considered a ticking bomb on my stove for the whole canning cycle. It was a very long, long summer…
I’m glad you got past your fear, Kayla!
I don’t have a pressure cooker anymore, but I always check the second hand stores. I just don’t think I would do enough to justify the price of it new, but maybe one day! Thanks for the great info.
I never thought to look for one at a thrift store, Heidi. Good idea! I have checked garage sales, to no avail. I think it would be nice to have a second one so I could do two canners at once 🙂
I love this post! You have explained the process in simple and understandable terms! Being a canner myself, I think that everyone should learn how to use a pressure canner! The ability to be able to store meats (fish, poultry, game, beans, etc..) without the need for a freezer is so important. Also, canned meats and beans are so convenient – just pour into a pot, heat and eat – No thawing or additional cooking time required!
Thanks so much, Vickie! I’m glad that it is easy to understand…sometimes I’m not sure if I explain it well. It sounds good in my head!
I love being able to grab jars of homemade soups, stews, meats, veggies and fruits to make a quick and satisfying meal too 🙂
I have never used a pressure cooker, but it would be nice to be able to can meats and soups. I have been a little afraid of pressure canners and it sounds like it takes quite a bit of time. But maybe I should invest in one. Thanks for the info
It can be fairly time consuming, but if the power ever goes out, that time has been well worth it!