I first learned about canning meats when I was watching a show about surviving in Alaska, and the participants were catching salmon and canning it. Up until that time, for some reason it had just never even occurred to me that one could can meats, even though I had seen canned meats in the store plenty of times. My mother would can peaches and pears when I was little, but she never did pressure canning.
A year or so after watching that show, my local church asked me to help put together some ideas and plans for emergency preparedness for those who might be interested. I have to confess that I was not exactly an example of preparedness at the time. So I had to kinda learn it all from scratch. Some of the preparations we worked on involved having some food stored away in case of an emergency. And so I did more research on canning meats, and talked with a few people who had done it, and found it was a lot easier than I expected it to be. (Note: By “easy” I mean ‘not overly complicated’ rather than easy as in ‘quick’. Just want to throw that out there right now.)
I have since found that I really enjoy having canned meats around – they have been so helpful on nights when I need a quick and easy meal!
I usually can chicken when I can find it on sale in the 40lb boxes for about $1.30-$1.50/pound. Since we’ve had a few of those sales where I live recently, and with the Zaycon chicken deals being introduced into some new states and areas, I wanted to give you guys another option for storing/preserving all that chicken!
Now, I’m not going to go through all of the specific details for the actual canning part, because that will differ based on your particular model of pressure canner. So be sure to read through your canner’s instruction manual for the specifics. And for those who are new to pressure canning, please note that a pressure CANNER is different from a pressure COOKER (although a pressure canner can be used to pressure cook, a pressure cooker cannot usually be used to pressure can unless the manual specifically states that it is approved) – totally clear as mud?
For canning chicken using the raw-pack method (meaning that you don’t have to pre-cook the chicken), start by gathering all your supplies. You will need:
- pressure canner (this is NOT the same as a pressure cooker)
- approved canning jars
- canning lids and rings (lids must be new, rings can be used)
- salt, preferably pickling salt if possible
- boiling water, chicken broth or chicken bouillon
- ladle (for filling jars after chicken is in)
- wooden chopstick (for removing air bubbles from jars)
- jar lifter (for moving jars into and out of hot canner)
- tongs (for taking lids out of simmering water)
- hot pads or hot mitts
Start by preparing your jars. Wash and dry them. For chicken, I add 1/2 tsp of salt to each jar. (The official instructions say to use pickling salt, but I’ve used regular kosher salt in the past with no problems.)
Then get your stove and pots all situated. You will need your pressure canner with the appropriate amount of boiling water (and vinegar to help reduce water spotting) – check your canner’s instructions for how much water you need. You will need another pot with boiling water (for adding to the jars), and a smaller pot with simmering water so you can heat the lids.
Here’s what my stovetop looks like on chicken-canning day:
Next, time to prep the chicken!
The big 40lb boxes pf boneless, skinless chicken breasts come with 4 bags inside. The breasts are butterflied, and have a little bit of fat on them which you’ll need to trim off.
Cut the breast halves apart and trim any remaining fat. Keep the fat and trimmings in a separate bowl (you can use them to make chicken stock).
Cut each chicken breast into smaller chunks – doesn’t have to be precise, just so they are easier to stuff in the jars.
Pack the chicken pieces semi-loosely into the jars, leaving 1-inch of space between the top of the chicken and the top rim of the jar.
You don’t want a lot of big empty spaces, but you don’t want to smash it flat beyond recognition, either. The chicken will expand while processing, and then shrink. If you pack it too full, you may prevent the lid from being able to seal (more on that later).
Next, add boiling water (or you can use chicken broth if you’d like) to within 1-inch of the top rim of the jar. Pour some water in, poke around the sides with a spatula, plastic knife or chopstick, to help remove air bubbles, and then fill a little bit more if the water has settled below that 1-inch mark.
Once filled, take a clean wet rag or towel and wipe the rims of each jar to make sure they are clean and there is nothing there to impede the seal. Take a hot lid from your simmering pot, and place it on the jar, make sure it is centered, and then put on your ring.
Because the pressure canner uses steam that fills the entire container, you can double stack your jars in a pressure canner. Make sure the water in your canner is now at boiling. Place your jars in your canner according to the manufacturer instructions. Mine says to place the second layer of jars offset by half a jar, so the top jar rests on the edges of two bottom jars.
My particular model of canner can fit 16 pints jars at a time.
Once all your jars are in, put on the lid and process according to the instructions. (It’s basically a process of: create steam, let it vent for 10 minutes to get all extra air out, put on stopper/weight, bring to pressure, then hold at pressure for specified time, turn heat off after time is up, let pressure reduce to zero naturally, wait ten minutes, then open the lid and carefully remove jars.)
For chicken, the processing time is 75 minutes for pints, and 90 minutes for quarts. (One pint jar holds about 1lb of chicken, and a quart jar holds about 2lb.) You’ll need to look up in a canning book or in your canner manufacturer’s instructions to find out what pressure to can at – here where I live it is 13 psi. You must keep your pressure at that amount (or higher) throughout the processing time – if it dips below that, you’re supposed to start the time all over again. Because of that, I usually end up processing at 14 psi, because for the first little while the pressure will fluctuate as you get the heat settings figured out, and that way I have a few moments to adjust the heat before dipping below the 13 mark.
Once the jars are in, and you’ve vented the canner and brought it to pressure, there isn’t much to do but sit and wait. I usually bring a book with me and just sit in the kitchen so I can keep an eye on the pressure. You will need to adjust your burner settings periodically, as the heat and steam builds up and the pressure increases. I start out at high for getting to a boil, venting and getting to pressure. Once at pressure, I can turn down to med-high, then turn it down little by little every 10-15 minutes or so, until by the end I’m down to med-low for the last half hour or so.
Once your jars are out of the canner, leave them alone for 12-24 hours and then test for seal. Press the middle of the lid – if it flexes down, it isn’t sealed. If you can barely move it, then you’ve got a good seal. Any jars that don’t seal can be reprocessed (with a new lid) or moved to the refrigerator to be used soon. After 24 hours, you can remove the rings, wash the jars, label them with the date, and store them away!
[For specific instructions on the actual canning process, which I have not gone into here, I recommend the Ball Blue Book or the National Center for Home Preserving's web site at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/.]
Here are a few of my favorite recipes for using canned chicken to make quick meals: (please forgive the terrible pictures – I have absolutely no photography skills whatsoever)
Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup
Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos
Curry Chicken Pot Pie
Note: The canned chicken works best in recipes calling for diced/chopped or shredded chicken.