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    How to Safely Can Meat at Home

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    How to Safely Can Meat at Home

    Pressure canning is an advanced canning technique that goes beyond the hot water bath that is most often used for traditional pickled foods and canned fruits. Pressure canning actually raises the temperature of the water up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temperature in an open and traditional water bath never gets above 212 degrees F (the boiling point of water).

    The high temperature in a pressure canner not only kills bacteria, it kills some types of bacteria that could be resistant to a mere 212 degrees F of boiling water in an open pot. The botulinum pathogen is of particular concern and requires temps above 212 degrees to be eliminated.

    This is particularly important with foods that can hold a variety of bacteria, or provide ideal conditions for bacterial growth and meats definitely fall into that category.

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    pH is the Key

    pH Scale

    pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of anything. It measures acidity and alkalinity on a scale of 0 to 14 with 0 being the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. The number 7 at the middle of the scale is considered neutral. The reason that’s important has to do with the way pH can encourage or inhibit bacterial growth.

    Acidic foods create a hostile environment for bacteria while alkaline foods provide a nurturing environment. That’s why many canning recipes call for the addition of things like vinegar or fruit juices.

    Vinegar is diluted acetic acid and juices like lemon juice, orange juice and others have varying degrees of citric acid. Adding an edible acid to a canning jar helps with preservative properties.

    Unfortunately, many foods just don’t taste that good if soaked in a jar full of vinegar or citrus juice. Meats, fish, beans and other foods that are more alkaline need extra steps and care for preservation, and when something like vinegar is out of the question – pressure canning is very good solution.

    Applying pH to Food Preservation

    For the most part, foods don’t exceed a pH of 7 and most fall in a range from 3 up to 7. Few foods fall outside the range, and that’s a good thing when you consider that things with a pH of about 1 or 2 include hydrochloric or sulfuric acid, and concentrated lye comes it at around 13 or 14.

    As a general recommendation, any foods that have a pH of 4.5 or more should be pressure canned. That would include all meats and seafood and most vegetables. Fruits tend to be the only types of foods that go below 4.5 due to their naturally acidic nature.

    Most meats hover around 5 to 6 on a pH scale which is somewhat acidic but getting close to neutral. It’s why pressure canning is always recommended for preservation of any type of meat and that includes seafood.

    Salmon and trout move up to almost 7 on the pH scale and while that’s considered neutral, there are no acidic characteristics to naturally inhibit bacterial growth.

    And then there are food combinations like soups, stews, spaghetti sauce, chili and the list goes on. Even though these food combinations may have strong acidic characteristics from one ingredient, added ingredients with higher pH make those combinations automatic candidates for pressure canning.

    Here’s a brief chart highlighting some of the average pH characteristics of common foods starting with meats and seafood. This will give you an idea of how foods can vary in pH from meats and seafood to fruits and vegetables.

    Food TypeAverage pHType of Canning
    MEATS:  
    BEEF5.5Pressure Canned
    GAME (VENISON)5.9Pressure Canned
    PORK – RAW5.65Pressure Canned
    POULTRY5.9Pressure Canned
    FISH6.9Pressure Canned
    SHELLFISH5.9Pressure Canned
    VEGETABLES:  
    BEETS5.9Pressure Canned
    CARROTS6.1Pressure Canned
    CUCUMBERS5.45Pressure Canned
    PEPPERS5Pressure Canned
    TOMATOES4.6Pressure Canned*
    FRUITS:  
    STRAWBERRIES3.45Hot Water Bath
    BLUEBERRIES3.2Hot Water Bath
    RASPBERRIES3.6Hot Water Bath
    MELONS6.3Pressure Canned
    ORANGE4Hot Water Bath
    LEMON2.3Hot Water Bath
    APPLE3.5Hot Water Bath
    CHERRIES4.2Hot Water Bath
    PEARS4Hot Water Bath

    The telegram is that meats, seafood, and vegetables should be processed with pressure canning while many fruits only require a hot water bath, although there are some rare exceptions like melons. Don’t assume that a fruit is automatically acidic.

    There’s a longer list identifying the pH of foods that’s worth considering. If you’re planning on canning something, it’s probably on this list. Here’s the link: Master List of pH of Foods

    Home Pressure Canners

    There are essentially two styles of pressure canners. One is a heavier gauge of stainless steel with locking screws on the top.

    Dial Gauge Pressure Cooker

    They tend to be more expensive but are generally safer especially for higher pressures up to 15psi. Many of these types of pressure cookers also have a PSI gauge which will get into in a minute.

    The other type of pressure canner has a locking lid that you turn to lock or release.

    Weighted Gauge Pressure Cooker

    It’s critical that any pressure that has built up be fully released before unlocking the lid or the contents can literally explode out of the canner causing a mess at best or severe burns at worst. They’re sometimes made from aluminum and tend to be cheaper and usually have a weighted gauge to manage PSI. They work fine but require extra attention under pressure.

    Understanding PSI

    Air Pressure Gauge

    PSI is the acronym for “per square inch.” It’s how much pressure you have in your pressure canner. Most pressure canners have a small weight that is simply placed over the top of a projecting steam vent.

    The weight has different pressures marked on it and you simply place the weight over the vent for the pressure you want. The pressure options are usually 5, 10, and 15 PSI. Any excess pressure is released past the weight to maintain the pressure.

    As a side note, these weighted gauges actually deliver 10.5 PSI at a reading of 10 PSI resulting in a slightly higher temperature as an extra added safety measure to ensure a temperature of 240 degrees F. That’s because 10 PSI is the standard recommendation for pressure canning at 240 degrees F.

    You see these types of weighted gauges on both types of pressure canners including the lock-down pots and friction lid canners. More expensive pressure canners have more elaborate controls with dial gauges, but the old-fashioned weighted vents work fine for general use.

    However, a weighted pressure gauge with only 5, 10 and 15 PSI increments can be a head scratcher when a recipe calls for a PSI of 11 or 14. When that happens, go to this link to see how to compensate when you only have the 5, 10 and 15 PSI weighted gauge options,

    The reason this is so important is because PSI is what determines the temperature in your pressure canner. The higher the pressure or PSI, the higher the internal temperature. Here’s a chart to give you an idea of how that works:

    PSI to Temperature Conversion for Pressure Canning

    PSIFAHRENHEITCELSIUS
    15250121
    14248120.5
    13246119
    12244118
    11241115
    10239.5115
    9237114
    8235113
    7232.5111
    6230110
    5227109
    4224107
    3221.5105
    2218103.5
    1215102
    0212100

    This chart tops out at 15 PSI and there’s a reason. Any PSI higher than 15 can be extremely dangerous although some commercial grade canning operations will use those higher pressures with industrial grade canners. This shortens the processing time.

    In some cases, a poorly designed or manufactured home pressure canner can actually blow the lid off the canner, or rapidly release super-heated steam through a failing lid or gasket. Make sure you carefully read your owner’s manual so you understand how to safely use your pressure canner.

    Standard Recommendation for PSI

    As a general rule, the USDA recommends a canning pressure of 10 PSI for home pressure canning. This accomplishes the 240 degree F. that can effectively kill all bacteria. Times vary and we’ll cover that in a chart, but on average it’s recommended that a processing time of 75 minutes for pint jars and 90 minutes for quart jars be used for most foods including meats.

    PSI’s higher than 15 also put tremendous pressure on canning jars and can cause a jar to burst or implode inside the canner. Even if all is well with a higher PSI, foods cooked at pressure higher than 15 PSI often become limp, soft or even shredded.

    Ideally, you want the food to come out of the canning jar close to the same texture it had when it went in. Managing the proper PSI of least at 15 or less can help ensure that and avoid an accident with the pressure canner, although it’s best to stick with the 10 PSI usually recommended.

    After you’ve determined the temperature you need to safely process a specific type of food, you can then adjust the gauge to maintain that pressure and that temperature. Don’t be tempted to just go to a higher PSI and temperature just to “make sure.”

    The PSI and temps are not only determined by food safety related to bacteria but also to retain color, taste and texture as much as possible. After determining the proper temperature and PSI, all that remains is to determine how long to keep the food in the canner.

    Here’s a chart with recommended times and pressures for meats and seafood.

    FoodPSIResulting Temp.Canning Time
    BEEF  10  24075 min for pints, 90 min for quarts
    PORK  10  24075 min for pints, 90 min for quarts
    POULTRY  10    24065 min for pints, 75 min for quarts
    FISH  10  240100 min for pints, 120 min for quarts
    SHELLFISH  10  240110 min for pints, 125 min for quarts
    VENISON  10  24075 min for pints, 90 min for quarts
    COMBINATIONS  10  24075 min for pints, 90 min for quarts

    However, there’s another factor that affects food safety with pressure canning and that’s altitude.

    The Altitude Factor

    Cabin in the Mountains

    Altitude affects the amount of pressure in a pressure canner. To compensate you will need to add more time for processing or raise the pressure to compensate. This is when the ability to go to higher PSI’s like 15 can help.

    But as we’ll see in the chart below there are some higher altitudes that require higher PSI’s. For the record, anything above 20 PSI is considered dangerous for home canning. We’ve provided a link to more information if you live above 10,000 feet.

    Dial-Gauge Pressure Canner:

    ALTITUDERECOMMENDED PSI
    0 to 1,000 feet above sea level10 PSI
    1,001 to 2,000 feet above sea level11 PSI
    2,001 to 4,000 feet above sea level12 PSI
    4,001 to 6,000 feet above sea level13 PSI
    6,001 to 8,000 feet above sea level14 PSI
    8,000 1 to 10,000 feet above sea level15 PSI

    Weighted-Gauge Pressure Canner:

    ALTITUDERECOMMENDED PSI
    0 to 1,000 feet above sea level10 PSI
    1,001 to 10,000 feet above sea level15 PSI

    More Info: Canning 101: On Adjusting for Altitude

    Notes on Canning

    Canning Supplies

    Mason Jars with sealed lids are the standard recommendation for canning meats. Wide mouth Mason jars are preferred because they allow easier access especially for large chunks of meat or fish.

    The fundamental canning recipes are the same although the addition of things like salt, hot pepper flakes and mustard seeds can help to further inhibit bacterial growth.

    Some recipes for fish and shellfish also call for varying amounts of vinegar which is a proven canning ingredient to also inhibit bacteria.

    In some recipes it calls for the meats or recipe ingredients to be cooked before canning and processing. This isn’t always necessary because the pressure canning process effectively cooks everything in the jars. However, if you want a sear on beef; crispy bacon or grill marks on chicken, go ahead and cook it before canning it.

    It’s also important to follow standard canning procedures involving sterilization in boiling water of all jars, lids and canning tools before final canning and processing. Pressure canning is highly effective but it doesn’t work miracles and the fewer bacteria you have in the food at the start, the better.

    Classic Meat Canning Recipes

    There are numerous recipes for various meats and combinations on the Internet. Here are 4 that are very popular.

    Canned Ground Beef

    (Makes four1-pint jars)

    Canned Ground Beef

    Canned ground beef is a staple survival food and when pressure canned can be stored in a pantry, root cellar or refrigerator if you have space. It’s a great foundation ingredient for a variety of recipes. As a general rule, figure one-pound of ground beef for each 1-pint jar.

    Ingredients:

    • 4 pounds of ground beef

    Directions:

    1. Brown the ground beef in a frying pan.
    2. Drain off the fat (optional). Some people allow the fat to congeal at the top of the jar.
    3. Use a canning funnel to spoon the ground beef into a 1-pint, sterilized Mason jar.
    4. Seal the lid tightly and pressure can at 10 PSI for 75 minutes.
    5. Pull from the pressure canner and let cool for 12 hours before labeling, dating and storing.

    Shelf-life: 3 years

    Canned Spaghetti Sauce

    (Makes six 1-pint jars)

    Canned Spaghetti Sauce

    This is a great time-saver for a fast spaghetti dinner. You can use your favorite recipe or try this one.

    Ingredients:

    • 2 pounds ground beef
    • 2 cups diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
    • 2 sweet bell peppers diced
    • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
    • 1 medium onion diced
    • I tbsp. Italian Seasoning
    • 1 tsp. salt
    • ½ tsp. black pepper
    • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

    Directions:

    1. Brown the ground beef and drain. Leave in the pan
    2. Add the onion and bell peppers and cook until onions transluscent
    3. Add the tomato sauce and seasonings and stir and simmer for a few minutes.
    4. Ladle into 1-pint sterilized canning jars.
    5. Pressure can at 10 PSI for 75 minutes.
    6. Remove from canner and let cool for 12 hours before labeling, dating and storing.

    OPTION: You can brown and drain the ground beef and then add all of the other ingredients to the jar uncooked. The pressure canning process will cook everything.

    Shelf-life: 2 years

    Canned Chili

    (Makes six 1-pint jars)

    Canned Chili

    Chili is another easy meal when it’s prepared and ready to go. Spicing is up to you but spices like cayenne, chili powder and red pepper flakes have preservative properties to some degree.

    Ingredients:

    • Chunks of beef cut into about ½-inch cubes. 2-pounds total. (You could also use ground beef)
    • 1 medium onion
    • 1 cup diced pepper (your choice: bell pepper or Poblano or one of the hotter peppers depending on your tolerance for heat. You could also combine peppers totaling one cup)
    • 1 small can tomato paste
    • 1 tbs Chili powder
    • 2 tsp Salt
    • 1 tsp pepper (Pepper is you choice: black pepper or cayenne or red pepper flakes. Or just spice to suit your family’s taste).

    Directions:

    1. Brown the beef and drain. Set aside.
    2. Brown the onion and peppers.
    3. Add the tomato paste to the pan with the onions and peppers and spices and stir together while cooking over medium heat.
    4. After a couple of minutes add the beef chunks (or ground beef) and mix together.
    5. Spoon into 1-pint mason jars.
    6. Seal the lids tightly and pressure can at 10 PSI for 75 minutes.
    7. Remove the jars and let cool for 12 hours before labeling, dating and storing.

    Shelf-life: 2 years

    Canned Trout

    (Makes four 1-pint jars)

    Canned Trout

    This is a variation on pickled herring using trout. You could also use salmon or any other fatty fish that is firm and will remain intact after pressure canning. Avoid using flaky types of white fish. They will shred into pieces in the jar.

    Ingredients:

    • 2 pounds trout filets
    • 8 cups of water + 2 cups of water
    • ½ cup sea salt
    • 4 cups white vinegar
    • ½ cup sugar
    • 2 tsps. Mustard seeds
    • 2 tsps. Whole allspice
    • 2 tsps. Black peppercorns
    • 6 bay leaves
    • 6 cloves
    • 1 lemon sliced
    • 1 medium onion thinly sliced

    Directions:

    1. Heat 8 cups of water and dissolve salt.
    2. Let brine cool to room temperature.
    3. Submerge the trout fillets in the brine and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours.
    4. Bring the sugar, vinegar, and the remaining 2 cups of water and all the spices to a boil.
    5. Simmer 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let this steep until cool.
    6. After the trout have brined, layer them in a glass jar with the sliced lemon and red onion.
    7. Divide the spices between your.
    8. Pour over the cooled pickling liquid. You’ll probably have more than you need.
    9. Seal the jars and pressure can at 10 PSI for an hour and 40 minutes.
    10. Remove the jars from the canner and let cool for 24 hour before labeling, dating and storing.
    11. Refrigerate after opening because these are often used as a snack.

    Shelf-life: 1 year

    Pressure Canning Fails

    Like anything else, there are ways to do some things wrong when it comes to pressure canning. Here are some of the most common missteps.

    • Failure to determine the proper PSI, time and any adjustments to PSI and timing due to altitude.
    • Not using sterilized canning jars and equipment.
    • Improper seals or gaskets on pressure canners.
    • Not monitoring pressure at the being of the heating process to ensure the canner is up to the proper pressure before timing.
    • Failure to properly vent the pressure canner even after the heat has been shut off.
    • Using old canning jars or lids that don’t fit properly with a tight seal.
    • Ignoring any manufacturer instructions for use, cleaning and care of the pressure cooker.
    • Attempting to can foods that do not process or store well long-term after home canning including dairy, peanut butter, mashed pumpkin, or sweet potato pulp.
    • Failing to follow the recipe.

    Storage and Shelf Life of Pressure Canned Meats

    The average shelf-life for a properly, pressure-canned meat is 2 to 3 years. Fish and shellfish have a shorter shelf-life up to 1-year. Combination meals like soups, sauces and stews top out with a 2-year shelf-life.

    A primary factor affecting shelf-life is storage. Refrigeration can extend shelf-life or storage in a cool, dark environment like a root cellar. Traditional pantry storage aligns with the shelf-lives we identified above and in the recipes.

    Various Meats in Canning Jars

    There’s a lot of information about pressure canning out there. If you’re thinking about doing some serious pressure canning it’s a wise idea to take the time to read some of these articles and watch some of these videos. We’ve also included some links to books that can make for an easy kitchen reference.

    Articles:

    Videos:

    Books:

    Play it Safe

    Take the time to read and watch some of the information listed above, and don’t forget to carefully read the owner’s manual for your pressure canner. Also pay special attention to PSI, canning times, altitude and storage practices.

    It’s not really that hard once you get the hang of it, and it’s a great way to get a lot of food into storage for a fraction of the cost. Especially meat.

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