For sportsmen of the Midwest, freezer space comes at a premium. In a state like South Dakota, you can walk into the average outdoorsmen’s garage and find an ice chest full of fall harvests, like deer, antelope, elk, duck, goose, swan, pheasant, paddlefish, walleye, and more. It becomes a game of Jenga around November when you need to carefully remove a package of deer brats and bag of goose jerky just to get to a stack of ground elk.
Hunting and fishing less isn’t an option, which is why everyone should consider canning their meat.
I began canning meat last season, and turned an entire antelope buck into a shelf of quart jars. Besides just saving some room in your freezer, there’s a number of other benefits to canning.
For starters, canned meat is super easy to work with. Since the meat gets cooked while canning, it’s ready to be eaten as soon as you crack the seal. You can opt to serve it on a cracker at room temp, or add some heat and watch it shred to perfection. Simply put it next to a pile of mashed potatoes, drop it into a vat of stew, or place it on a piece of bread; you can’t go wrong.
Another benefit of canning meat is that it allows you to turn undesirable cuts into something new. Neck meat and flank steaks won’t be looked at the same after canning, giving you fresh perspective on what normally becomes jerky or burger.
You’re also able to bypass any aging, not needing to worry about hanging your critter for weeks to get a tender product. This makes canning early season ungulates ideal, when garage temperatures don’t get low enough to keep a deer. The same goes for older critters, if you tend to think that rutting bucks don’t taste the same as a doe, then canning is the way to go.
However, getting the end product isn’t as simple as dropping some jars in boiling water. With canning meat, there are some hard rules that you need to follow to ensure you don’t get sick. Although your grandparents might have done it differently, procedures have evolved to guarantee your deer won’t give you botulism.
One of those rules 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. Unlike tomatoes and fruits, which have a high acidity to kill bacteria, which can be canned in a pot of boiling water. Pickles are an exception, which have a low acidity, but the addition of vinegar increases the acid levels. To summarize, the pressure canner kills bacteria that the meat can’t do on its own.
Another rule, which is more about taste than safety, is that a little bit goes a long ways with canning. You’ll notice with the recipe below that there’s only a touch of spice involved, and that’s because the meat absorbs a ton of flavor in the canning and storing process. You’re free to add whatever herbs and spices you want, but remember that it doesn’t take much to liven things up.
And finally, with the storing process, it’s recommended that you keep the jars in dark places that won’t freeze or get too hot. If there’s no room in your pantry, then basements, cellars, or climate controlled garages will do the job. The USDA does indorse the idea of eating canned meats within a year, but this is for quality rather than safety. I’m not a believer, though, as I’m still chewing on my canned antelope from 2016, and he tastes just as good as he did 14 months ago.
Quart jars, rings, and lids
1. Trim up meat so that the majority of fat and tendons are removed.
2. Cube the meat into pieces that are about the size of a golf ball.
3. “Cold pack” the raw meat into the quart jar, leaving about 1 inch of headspace. Use a spoon to tightly pack in the meat.
4. Put 1 teaspoon of non-iodized salt, ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and two cloves of garlic on top of the meat.
5. Place on lid and screw on ring. Put your jars in the canner.
6. Follow the directions that are specific to your pressure canner, which will suggest something like adding 3 quarts of water, and canning for 90 minutes at 15 pounds of pressure. It’s important that you know your canner, though.