Canning beef for long-term storage is a reliable alternative to freezing. Ideal for leaner, high-quality cuts of meat (even bone-in cuts), canning ensures that you will always have a key ingredient for a homemade meal available without overstocking your freezer. The canning process is relatively easy, but strict safety precautions should be followed.
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Preparation and Safety
Before you start canning, invest in a pressure canner and Mason-style jars.
A pressure canner is a sealed kettle that raises the temperature at which water boils by increasing the pressure inside. The normal boiling point of water is 212 degrees F (though it varies slightly by altitude). Beef and other meats must be heated to 240 degrees in order to prevent bacteria such as botulinum (the cause of botulism) from contaminating the jar.
A Mason jar is a sturdy glass container designed specifically for canning. The jar comes with a two-part lid, consisting of a flat disc and a screw-on ring. The ring holds the disc in place and creates a seal. Wash each jar with hot water and dish soap before use, check it for cracks, and always choose a size just large enough to hold the amount of beef that you want to can. You can generally find jars in pints and quarts.
The best methods for cooking meat for canning are browning, roasting or stewing. Cut the cooked meat into cubes, strips or chunks, according to preference. Ground beef should be shaped into patties that can be stacked inside the canning jar. You can also add water, broth, or any drippings from the beef. Pack tightly and leave approximately 1 inch of space at the lip of the jar. To remove any air bubbles that may have formed, insert a plastic or rubber (not metal) spatula into the container and run it along the sides.
If you are canning raw meat, however, do not tightly pack the jar. Layer the meat loosely and slap the bottom of the jar with your palm after adding each piece.
Consult the owner's manual for your canner's specific operating instructions, and to determine the proper settings for your altitude. Fill the canner with a small amount of water (at least 2 inches), place the jar or jars inside with a jar lifter and secure the lid. Pressure cook pint-sized jars for at least 75 minutes and quarts for 90. During cooking, the canner should only release steam from the petcock valve on its lid. Jets of steam from other parts of the canner indicate an imperfect seal or a leak.
After the minimum cooking time has passed, remove the canner from the heat source and let it sit for at least 10 minutes so that it can depressurize. Older canners may require as long as 45 minutes. Carefully remove the hot jars and set them on a cloth or a wire rack. Do not leave them in a cool place or anywhere with a draft as a sudden drop in temperature may crack the glass. Leave the jars overnight or for up to 24 hours.
Later, check that the lid is properly sealed by tilting the jar. If it leaks, or bubbles begin to form inside, then the jar is not safe for storage. Another test is to press down on the lid with your finger. If it doesn't move, then the seal is probably good. Failed seals can be remedied by replacing the jar (the problem may be small cracks or nicks on the lip) and/or lid and repeating the pressure cooking process within 24 hours. Label each jar clearly, identifying the contents and the date of canning. Store in a cool, dry place.