Are you a canner? Around here, almost everyone cans a few things. Pickles, carrots, or the ubiquitous zucchini. But for some people, basic canning just isn’t enough. For serious homesteaders, canning meat like poultry is one of the final hurdles in the pursuit of sustainable living.
Canning chicken is a great place to start if you’re new to canning meats. The methods you use to can chickens can be used for all your domestic poultry, as well as small wild game. You can use this method to can pheasants, rabbits, and even squirrels.
Remember that all meats can present a few challenges to the canner. It’s important to always refrigerate your poultry well before canning. Handle it carefully to prevent cross-contamination and always be careful to keep your meat fresh.
If you’re not sure where a cut of meat came from, or how long it’s been sitting, don’t can it. Meat that’s on sale at the grocery store is usually safer in the freezer, where it will easily last for 6 months to a year. You simply don’t usually know how old grocery meat is.
However, if you have a trusted butcher or grocer that provides you with all the information on how old the meat is, go for it.
Be aware that any wild game may be diseased. Look closely at the liver of any animal you process (if possible) and pressure can wild game at 10 pounds pressure for the required length of time to be safe.
It’s important to remember that you should only can poultry in a pressure canner. A boiling water bath canner just can’t get up the temperatures needed to safely can meats. You’ll be processing poultry at 240°F while boiling water only reaches about 212°F before it turns to steam.
Pressure canners seem intimidating, but they’re surprisingly easy to use.
If you’ve been holding off on getting a pressure canner, read up on them. You’ll quickly realize that a pressure canner is an amazing asset, not an explosion waiting to happen, no matter what horror story your grandmother told you.
Preparing Poultry for the Pot
If you’re harvesting your own birds, butcher and pluck them as usual. Then allow the whole bird to chill for about 8-12 hours. Occasionally, store or farm-bought chickens will still have the liver and kidneys in the cavity. Remove these as well. Bought birds have already been chilled, so you can start canning them immediately.
If you’re processing frozen poultry, make sure that the birds have thawed completely before you begin. Now, chop the chicken into small or large pieces, to fit your jars.
When canning poultry, you don’t need to worry about removing the bones or skin. You can debone your chicken before canning – it’s a great option if you’re planning to just throw the canned chicken into a quick and easy meal – but you don’t have to.
Hot Pack vs. Cold Pack
You can pack your chicken pieces completely raw (cold pack) or you can partially cook the chicken before packing. Most people agree that hot pack chicken produces a better end product than cold packing. It maintains its flavor longer and I think that partially cooking poultry before canning encourages more juices and boosts flavor.
But raw packed chicken saves a new canner from accidentally overcooking chicken in the processing. It’s also less work and if you’re processing a lot of chicken, raw packing makes the whole process move faster.
Ideally can poultry with the skin still on. The pieces on the outer edge of the jar (touching the sides) benefit most from that layer of cushion that the skin provides.
Skin and bone aren’t popular right now, but both provide a lot of flavor and moisture. When processing chicken for long-term storage, you’ll see a noticeable improvement in flavor when you leave the bone in and the skin on.
Canning Your Poultry
Don’t forget that you should always start with sterilized jars and equipment.
Make sure your pieces fit well in their jars. They should fit loosely, but without wasted space. Leave an inch of headroom for expansion during processing. It’s a great idea to gently season the meat while packing.
Add about a half teaspoon of salt in each pint, or a teaspoon in each quart. You can also add pepper, garlic powder, paprika, or any seasoning you commonly use on poultry.
There is a lot of debate about whether or not to add liquid to a jar of poultry prior to canning. Generally speaking, if you’ve cooked your meat at all – even if you’ve just barely seared it in a pan, add some hot water or broth. Of course, unsalted chicken broth is the best liquid to add to canned chicken.
Truly raw-packed poultry does not need any added liquid unless you’re using only skinless and boneless chicken breasts. If you don’t have any skin or bones in your jar, a tiny bit of broth will help keep your meat tender.
Don’t add more than a tablespoon of liquid to raw packed boneless/skinless chicken though.
Reducing Air Pockets
Once your jars are packed, use a butter knife or chopstick to gently help the chicken settle in the jar. The goal here is to reduce the number of air bubbles that can make little pockets in your jars.
We don’t want any of those, so gently press into the jar and stir once or twice to make sure your poultry is well settled.
Wipe the Rims
Even the best packers get a bit of juice on the rims sometimes. Meat juices will ruin your seal though, so wipe each rim carefully with a hot, slightly damp cloth. Once the rim is clean, but on the top and tighten the lid.
Don’t worry about squeezing the lid closed as tightly as possible – just tighten it until it feels secure.
While you pack the jars, your canner should be warming up on the stove with about 2-3 inches of water in the bottom. Put your well-packed jars of poultry in the canner and process them. Whether you’re processing raw or hot-packed chicken, the process is the same.
If you have a weighted gauge pressure canner, process the jars at 10 pounds pressure at low altitude. Above 1,000 ft, process your jars at 15 pounds pressure.
With a dial gauge pressure canner, you’ll need to process at 11 pounds of pressure at low altitude. In this case, that’s anything below 2,000 ft. In high altitude areas (about 2,000 ft.) process at 12 pounds pressure.
It can be a little confusing since the different types of canners require different processing levels and have different interpretations of high altitude. Make sure you know what kind of pressure canner you’re using and how to use it safely in your location.
Chicken without bones should spend 65 minutes (for pints) or 75 minutes (for quarts) in the pressure canner. Don’t worry, even if you have partially pre-cooked your chicken before packing, you won’t overcook the meat.
Bones do take a bit more time to process safely. Chicken with the bones in should spend 75 minutes (pints) to 90 minutes (quarts) in the pressure canner.
What if it Doesn’t Seal?
Generally, when canning, if a jar doesn’t seal, you can try again within 24 hours. But when you’re canning poultry, trying again can lead to a pretty disappointing product. Processing poultry for over an hour two times tends to overcook the meat.
Twice-processed poultry tends to lose a lot of flavor and get grainy or dry.
If some of your jars don’t seal on the first try, use them right away or stick them in the freezer. Don’t reprocess the jars.
Some people like to can the giblets. These are the edible organs that sometimes come inside store-bought birds, and always come inside home-butchered animals. If you like eating giblets, or have dogs that love them, it can be worthwhile to can them.
But, unless you want all your poultry meat to taste like the giblets, can these organs separately. You use the same process, just don’t mingle the meats. Giblets have a strong flavor, and if you process them with your poultry meat, it will all taste like giblets.
Using Canned Chicken
Canned chicken can last safely for a long time. Most canners agree that poultry is at its best if you eat it within 18 months of canning. But as long as the seal is intact, and the jars are stored safely in a cool, dry location, your canned chicken can stay good for up to 5 years.
Home-canned chicken tends to have more flavor and a better texture than store-bought cans of chicken. So don’t be afraid to use this pantry staple in a variety of ways.
Canned chicken is a great addition to pastas, tacos, or wraps. You can add it at the last minute to bulk up soups or stews. Pop it onto pizzas or shred it into chilis.
One of the best things about canned chicken is that you don’t need to cook it again after processing. But, you also don’t have to worry much about overcooking it when you pop it into soups or chillis.
Just shred or chop up the meat and add it in near the end of the cooking time. The juices from home canned chicken help to boost flavor as well. You can pour them right into the pot as you’re cooking.