Meat can only last so many months in the freezer before quality starts to suffer. Canned meat, however, can last years if properly prepared. Most kinds of meat can undergo this process, in cooked or raw form — from chicken and beef to seafood and wild game. The best tips for canning meats involve becoming familiarized with the proper procedure for the specific type of meat that is to be preserved, and then using a pressure canner to ensure a uniform bacterial resistance. Otherwise, illness is a distinct possibility.
Two options exist for canning meats: the hot-packing and raw-packing methods. The hot-packing style involves cooking the meat until nearly finished then placing it into pint or quart-size jars, followed by some salt and a liquid, such as hot stock or even tomato juice. Raw packing is like it sounds, adding chunks of meat — bone in or out — while still adding specific amounts of salt, though no cooking or liquid. A method is not only devised for regular chunks of most every kind of meat, but also for ground meats and even meat stock.
For both methods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends leaving about 1 inch (about 2.54 cm) or more of space at the top then processing the jars in a pressure canner. Though some may wish to use the other preserving method, a water bath, the Clemson University Extension emphasizes that canning meats and vegetable should be confined to the pressure canner. This is due to the typically low acid levels in these foods. The high acid levels in fruits or pickled preserves, however, allow for the water bath method, since these foods have added resistance.
Though pressure canners will have specific instructions, the basic operation is the same across all brands. A few quart jars or several pint jars are stacked via rack system into the canner, which is filled to a certain level with water. With a tight lid and precise pressure gauge and adjustment lever, the pressure canner then ensures that each jar is cooked for a specific amount of time at an even 240°F (about 115°C). Depending on what is in the jars and whether pints or quarts were used, canning meats could take between one or two hours.
Specific instructions are readily available for preserving each type of meat, like the guide provided online by the USDA. Often, several paths exist, each with a unique blend of liquid, herbs and even natural preservatives. The amount of salt, cooking times, and longevity are slightly different for each kind of meat being saved for later.