Recently we bought 20 pounds of chicken breast which was on sale at a deep discount. Although we do keep some meat stored in the freezer (get it while on sale!) another way to preserve it is by canning it yourself. Long term storage of the jars require no refrigeration, making canning your own foods are great way to be prepared.
Here’s how we canned our own chicken:
First, when canning meats (or any low acid food), the processing temperature must be heated to a temperature of 240 degrees-F, which is only accomplished by using a pressure canner (as opposed to a typical boiling water canner at 212 degrees-F.).
At 10 pounds pressure (using a weighted gauge canner) or 11 pounds pressure (using a dial gauge canner) the temperature will reach 240 degrees-F (at or below 1,000 feet above sea level), which is hot enough to destroy the bacterial spores that emit toxins.
I use the ‘raw pack’ method for canning chicken. Note that when the chicken ‘cooks’ in a pressure canner the jar will fill with the oils from the meat. You don’t need to add water.
Prepare the chicken breast by cutting into pieces and slices which will simply fit in the jar. I cut them about 1″ thick in cubes and longer strips. It’s only a matter of preference. I fill a bowl ahead of time with the chicken pieces so that it’s ready to go…
Note that a 1-pint canning jar will hold nearly exactly 1 pound of chicken (that’s convenient).
The easiest way to prepare the canning jars is to simply wash them in the dishwasher. Leave the door closed afterward so the jars stay warm. Only take them out a few at a time when ready to fill (then shut the door of the dishwasher to keep the rest warm). The reason for using warm jars is to help prevent ‘cold shock’ (breakage) when the canning process starts.
Similarly, prepare the pressure canner itself by filling it with 3 quarts water (many pressure canners will have a marked fill line inside for easy reference). Then while on the burner, warm up the water in the canner to just under a boil, and then shut off the burner. The reason is to have the water already warmed so as you finish preparing each of the individual jars with the chicken, you’ll place them into the warmed pressure canner (helps reduce ‘cold shock’).
Warm a pan of water to just under boiling (air bubbles on the bottom just starting to make their way to the surface) and place the jar lids you’ll be using in the water bath. Note that if you place the lids into hard boiling water apparently the sealing surface of the lids may become compromised.
Okay now it’s time to fill the jars. Use your canning jar funnel to facilitate loading the chicken without getting ‘stuff’ all around the jar rims (which will compromise a good seal). Leave a one-inch head-space between the top of the jar and the top of the chicken.
After the pack, you must remove the air bubbles. This can be done by placing a nonmetallic small thin spatula inside the jar between the food and the side of the jar. Press spatula back against the food to release trapped air. Repeat several times around the inside of the jar. After doing this, press down on the pack of chicken and if you need to add more chicken pieces to fill to within an inch of the top, then do it.
Image: Ball Blue Book
Next, although not necessary, you might add 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon of canning salt on top of the chicken (it will mix in while cooking). I do this for added flavor, and salt is also an added preservative. Note that ‘canning salt’ is salt without the added ‘filler’ that they use to prevent clumping. If you use regular salt it doesn’t ‘hurt’ anything, it will just become cloudy in the mixture after canning.
Next, wipe the glass jar lid surface with a paper towel or clean cloth to ensure a clean seal.
After each jar is filled, use a magnetic lid lifter tool (very convenient) to grab a lid out of the warm bath and place it on the jar. Don’t touch the lid seal with your fingers. Only the sealing compound should be touching the glass.
Next, screw on a ‘band’ over the lid and adjust (tighten) ‘finger tight’. The adjustment of the band (the tightness) should be firm and snug, but not as tight as you can make it. Here’s a neat little tightener tool (which I have) which will set the tightness perfectly, Ball Jar Sure Tight Band Tool
Finally, place the jar into the pressure canner on top of its removable bottom plate (which is used to keep the jars from sitting directly onto the bottom to prevent breakage).
According to Presto, you can double stack jars on top of each-other without a problem, although there is a stacking plate (rack) for this, which I think I’m going to go ahead and purchase for convenience….
When the pressure canner is full, securely attach the canner lid (but leave the vent pressure regulator weight OFF) and fire up the burner to high. You must leave the weighted regulator OFF the vent in order to allow the chamber to release all of its air and fill completely with steam. When you begin to see steam shooting out of the vent, you must let it steam freely for 10 minutes. It takes a little while to get the packed pressure canner hot enough to make steam, but it’s a necessary step.
After 10 minutes of venting the steam, place the weighted regulator over the steam vent. Now the canner will begin to pressurize. Watch your dial and allow the pressure to increase to 11 pounds. You will eventually get used to your own stove and fiddling with the temperature control to maintain 11 pounds pressure (don’t let it drop below 11 once you’ve reached it).
When reaching 11 psi, begin a 75 minute timer if using pint jars of raw chicken.
90 minutes for quart jars.
I find that even after initially getting the gas stove burner setting just right for 11 psi, the pressure will drift a bit. Also, I notice that once the jars inside apparently reach ‘cooking temperature’ that suddenly your psi reading will begin to shoot a bit higher – requiring you to lower your burner to compensate. After awhile you will get used to what you have to do. That said, you do need to keep an eye on it through the process to ensure that you’ve kept the pressure at least 11 psi for proper internal temperature of 240 degrees-F.
When it’s finally done, simply shut off the burner and let it sit there until the dial gauge pressure drops to zero. Then you can remove the weighted pressure regulator from the vent to ensure release of residual pressure. Then open the canner and use the jar gripper tool to remove jars to a counter on top of a towel.
Let the jars cool naturally. Don’t touch the lids. The lids will begin to self-seal as it cools. You’ll probably hear the popping sound as they seal.
Store jars in a cool dry place! Published shelf life is at least one year, although in reality these will store for many years.
When consuming properly processed home canned chicken, although technically safe to eat without cooking, it seems to be a simple preventative measure to heat and cook the chicken (~ 10 minutes) with your meal as a precaution. You would probably do this anyway…
My pressure (cooker) canner:
Presto 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker