Let's can some meat!
We're all spending much more time at home, and what better way to spend that time than learning something new and practical.
Canning meat using a pressure cooker is a skill that will save you both time and money, and also keep you prepared for emergencies and an uncertain future.
When canning meat, you must always use a pressure cooker. The low acidity of meat means a regular boiling-water canner will not be able to heat it at a high enough temperature to make the food safe for storage.
Pressure canning can be scary, and that's understandable. Pressure cookers can be ominous: The bubbling, hissing, pressurized metal pot, if used incorrectly, can indeed malfunction and be dangerous.
Though I pretty much never leave the kitchen when I'm using the pressure cooker -- I want eyes on the pressure cooker the whole time -- I also usually set a timer on my Google Home device to remind me to check it every so often, just in case I get distracted by something else.
Cleaning is an important step
To begin, we'll wash our pint jars and lids. After washing them with soap and water, I also place my jars into the open pot and boil them.
The rings and lids do not need to be brand new, but do check the rubber seals to make sure they are intact and able to seal properly.
Boiling your jars can't hurt
It isn't necessary to sterilize everything like this when using a pressure cooker, but it's a habit I have as a former boiling-water-bath canner that has stuck with me (and it just gives me a little extra peace of mind).
A great way to store meat long-term
I find canning meat is especially useful when you find yourself suddenly with a large quantity of meat. Canning is a popular method of preserving meat from hunting, but I had the opportunity to get this six-pound cut of pork from a farmer friend of mine.
Start by cutting the excess fat from the meat to remove the tough bits and gristle. It helps to do this when the meat is cold or even partially frozen so as to make the handling easier.
Slice the meat into strips against the grain, and then into cubes of about an inch or an inch and a half. The size isn't super important, the point here is to make the meat versatile and easy to use right out of the jar.
Trim the fat
I discarded these fatty trimmings after cutting the pork into cubes to be canned.
Filling the jars
Now I fill each jar with the cubed meat. Pack the meat into the jars well, because it's going to shrink as it cooks inside the pressure cooker. Leave about an inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
Salt to taste
Once the meat is placed into the jars, add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to each jar. The salt here is just for flavoring, not a part of the preservation process.
Add more flavor
I like to add a little bit of liquid to my jars, usually a bit of stock or boullion of some kind, just to give the meat a little hit of flavoring.
I will probably be adding this meat to some kind of recipe when it comes time to use it, but giving it some basic flavoring like this means you could eat it it right out of the jar without much other preparation if you wanted to.
Pop any air bubbles
The meat tends to seal itself up against the side of the jars creating air pockets, so we'll need to insert a knife down into the jars to free that air. Slide a butter knife around the sides of the jars to release the air bubbles, wiggling the knife four or five times around the sides to get all the air out and let the liquids down.
Don't worry too much about the liquid you've added. As long as your jar is sealed properly, the meat will be safe to eat even if it's not completely under liquid.
Once the meat is packed in your jars and you've added any liquid you prefer, wipe the rims of the jars and add the lids and rings.
The pressure's on
I can meats into pint jars, which tend to hold about a pound of meat each, which I find to be a good portion size to divide the meat into.
Fill your canner with 2-3 inches of water and set it on the burner.
The pint jars need to be pressurized at 10 pounds for 1 hour, 15 minutes. I choose to keep the pressure a bit higher than that -- around 12-13 pounds, just to be safe.
As another precaution, I like to keep an eye on my pressure cooker as it works and I always stay in the room, using my Google Home as a timer.
Ready to store
The finished product! I now have six pints of ready-to-eat cooked pork that will be shelf-stable for at least two years and require no refrigeration.
Canned meats can be added to soups, stews and stir fry, or you can eat it right out of the jar.
You lose the fat, you lose the flavor
In this case, I'm not done yet! I had some nice pieces of fat trimmings from this pig, and I've decided to render down the fat into a lard to use for cooking.
Keep your fat cool for easy slicing
To prep the fat for rendering, you'll want to dice it up into small pieces. Because fat gets so soft and squishy when it's warm, I like to refrigerate or even partially freeze the fat to make it easier to chop.
Render it down low and slow
Rendering pork fat is simple -- the secret is to keep the temperature low and slow. After starting the heat on medium in my stock pot, I soon turn it back to just above low and cover it.
Don't let it brown
Stir the fat every once in a while. You don't want to brown the fat, which will create a darker lard in the end. We want to warm and melt it only. It can take about five or six hours on low to get a good puddle of fat.
Once it looks like you have a nice puddle of fat in your pot, strain the mixture using a cheese cloth. I usually double the cloth up so as to remove as many bits of remaining meat as possible, which will be impurities in our lard.
Behold your new secret ingredient
The end result from the fat trimmings of a six-pound piece of pork is about one pint of lard. Homemade lard is trans-fat free and it's really, really delicious. Lard is a great fat to use as a cooking oil, as it has a high smoke point. Use it as your secret ingredient in pie crust and baked goods, or to fry eggs, and even to season your cast iron.