Susan Wright, owner of Obadiah's in Machias, cuts moose meat into bite-size pieces for the stew in this 2015 file photo. Credit: Johanna S. Billings / BDN

When planning for putting up, we often think to fruits, vegetables and soups. But did you know that meat can also be preserved through canning?

Canned meat is a shelf-stable alternative to freezing and smoking meats. This makes it a good self-sufficiency practice, saving energy and freezer space. It can also make cooking dinner even easier since the meat is prepped in advance.

“It’s ideal for people who raise their own meat, or if you harvest your own meat if you’re a hunter [with] larger quantities that would reasonably fit in your home freezer,” said Kate McCarty, food systems professional at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “Some people just like to have a shelf stable product to reach for rather than something that requires energy to preserve.”

Meat is a low acid food, which means that pressure canning is required to preserve it safely.

“You’re combining it with the moisture inside the jar, [and] the fact that we’re keeping it at room temperature and that we’re creating vacuum seal for canning, all those factors together make conditions for botulism to grow,” McCarty said. “[It’s] not like other signs of food spoilage where you can see it, smell it, taste it; the food can seem fine, but it can still make you sick.”

This might deter some people from attempting to can meat, but McCarty said that it shouldn’t. Botulism is rare, and meat is no more prone to pressure canning error than any other foodstuff. McCarty said you just need to have your pressure canner checked by your local cooperative extension before starting (even if it is new — she said that factory settings can sometimes be slightly off) to make sure the contents reach a safe temperature through the process.

“I think it’s accessible, but there is an aura of fear around it,” McCarty said. “The product itself is high quality. You can certainly create a better product than you can purchase because you can control what goes into it.”

Unlike many other things you might can, McCarty said that meat is best canned after it has been cooked and prepared in what is called “hot packing.” Raw packing is also an option, and many recipes will include instructions for both, but McCarty said that the quality of the meat will be better using the hot packing method.

“When you do a raw pack, you put the pieces of meat in the jar and don’t add any additional liquid and cook it,” McCarty said. “The meat gets covered by liquid it produces while it’s being cooked. Apparently the meat we preserve today is leaner than meats in the past, [so it] doesn’t produce as much liquid. You might have meat in the jar that’s not covered by liquid, [and] as it sits over time that will reduce the quality. It’s frankly pretty unattractive looking.”

Other than that, McCarty said the steps for pressure canning meat are basically the same as pressure canning any other low acid food. As with any canning endeavor, McCarty said to consult recipes from a tested and trusted source, such as from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Ball Blue Book.

However, McCarty said that those recipes usually do not include things like salt and spices, which will add flavor to the canned product. McCarty said that in the quantities that you would add them to meat, you can go for it: a few tablespoons of Italian seasoning to chunked beef for stew, or maybe a touch of curry powder to canned chicken for a spicy treat.

“You can get a little jazzy,” McCarty said. “You can safely add small amounts of spices and salt for flavor. The recipe will be just for the general procedure for canning the meat. A few tablespoons is not going to affect the pH and you’re going to pressure can it, so it’s really going to be thoroughly cooked.”

Once you have canned meat, it is easy to prepare for quick weeknight meals.

“It will be fully cooked, so what you’re doing at that point is reheating it to serve it,” McCarty said. “You can can chunks of beef and use them in a stroganoff or a pot roast style dish. You could do chicken and shred it and serve it with tacos, [or in] Asian or Indian cuisine with rice. It’s just heat and serve.”

To learn more about canning meat, McCarty said that curious canners can join the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for a webinar on pressure canning meats this upcoming Tuesday, October 20.

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