By Michael Pendley
Ask most hunters about the best way to preserve their venison and they will answer “in the freezer.” But what if you’re going someplace that doesn’t have electricity?
Or you have limited freezer space? Or what if your power goes out for an extended amount of time?
The answer is to take a page from our grandparents and great-grandparents and pressure can some of our venison. Canning not only will free up space in your freezer and provide meals during extended power outages, but also pressure-canned venison tastes really good. And it makes a quick and easy lunch or dinner.
Pressure canning has been around a long time. Like most inventions, it came about because of money. Specifically, a reward of 12,000 francs posted by the French government in 1795 for anyone who could come up with a way to safely feed Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s army.
French confectioner Nicolas Appert accepted the challenge and, in 1809, came up with a way to cook food sealed in glass jars under steam. While Appert and the French government didn’t fully understand the science behind the pressure developed under steam cooking, they knew it made the food shelf-stable for long periods.
In 1858, American John Mason invented a glass jar with a molded screw pattern at the top to accept screw on lids with rubber seals, making jars reusable and the seal more reliable.
Through the early 20th century, National Presto Industries refined their pressure cookers for home use. By 1917, the United States Department of Agriculture determined that pressure canning was the only safe method of preserving low-acid foods without risk of food poisoning. In kitchens across the country, homemakers were quickly discovering the many benefits of high-speed cooking in their pressure canners.
Other manufacturers quickly joined the home-canning market. By the mid-1940s, pressure canning for food storage had reached an all-time high with pressure cookers making up the largest market share of household goods items in dollars sold on a national level.
The combination of modern refrigeration and World War II brought a temporary end to the rise in popularity of pressure canning. But by the 1970s, a new breed of do-it-yourselfers discovered the benefits of pressure canning their food, and many manufacturers once again began producing pressure canners for the home market.
But those early pressure canning days weren’t without issues. For starters, faulty pressure-relief systems sometimes caused pressure canners to explode, often with catastrophic results. And unsafe food-handling practices often spread food poisoning and even botulism to people who had eaten canned foods.
Luckily, today’s advanced safety designs have all but eliminated any risk of over-pressurization, and following USDA guidelines will guarantee your food will be safe to eat for years to come.
What can you do with your pressure-canned venison? Just about anything. Use it for tacos, in soups and stews, add cheese and peppers for a killer cheesesteak sandwich, make a quick stroganoff to pour over noodles, or serve it over mashed potatoes. One of my favorite things to do is to eat it with a fork straight from the jar while sitting in the deer stand waiting for next year’s canned venison to stroll by.
You can use just about any part of your deer for canning. The process tenderizes the venison as it cooks, so it’s a great way to use up tougher cuts like the front shoulder, shank meat, and sirloin tip. To prepare your meat for canning, simply trim away as much fat and connective tissue as possible and dice the meat into roughly 1-inch cubes.
You can choose between pint- and quart-size jars for your venison. Quarts take a bit longer, but they work great when feeding a large crowd, like a deer camp. For me, pint jars are the most convenient. One pint of canned venison will feed even a couple of hungry people, and it’s easy enough to open a couple jars if you need to feed more.
When it comes to seasoning your canned venison, a little goes a long way. One half-teaspoon of non-iodized salt and a bit of black pepper sprinkled over the top of the venison is usually enough. You can also toss in additions like diced onion and your favorite type of fresh pepper.
These instructions are based on my Mirro brand 22-quart canner. Depending on your brand and size of pressure canner, the instructions might be different. Always read your owner’s manual for specific times and pressures for your canner.
Remember to keep everything clean—including jars, canners, and work areas—for maximum food safety. You can run the canner indoors over your stove’s burner or outside over a gas-burning camp stove. Either works just fine.
- Step 1: Pack the jars tightly with meat, leaving ½- to 1-inch of headspace above the meat. Use a butter knife to release any trapped air bubbles and then push the meat down to fill the space. If you want to mix in onions and peppers, add them in randomly as you fill the jars with meat.
- Step 2: Sprinkle on 1/2 tsp. (for quart jars, use 1 full teaspoon) of non-iodized salt and add a dash of pepper. Don’t worry about adding water or any other liquid to the jar. The venison will release moisture as it cooks, forming a tasty gravy.
- Step 3: After filling the jars and adding the seasoning, wipe the rim of each jar clean with a damp paper towel to make sure the lid is able to make full contact with the rim. Place a clean lid on each jar and screw the ring on finger tight.
- Step 4: Pour the recommended amount of water into the canner. (Consult your manual.) Add 1 tbs. of white vinegar. Gently place the jars into the canner; it’s OK if the sides touch each other. Place the lid of your canner in position, making sure it clicks into place for a tight seal.
- Step 5: Select the correct weight for canned meat as listed in the instructions included with your brand of canner (or find the info online). Set the canner over a hot burner until you see steam escaping from the lid vent. Wait 10 minutes for the air inside the cooker to equalize, then place the selected weight over the vent. Venison cans at 10 pounds of pressure close to sea level, 15 pounds at high altitudes. For my canner, that means I place a 10-pound weight (which actually weighs just a few ounces) over the vent.
- Step 6: Once your weight starts to jiggle and release a little steam, reduce the heat to between low and medium. You want just enough heat to maintain a boil inside the cooker. When you are at the correct temperature, you should see a bit of steam or a wiggle from your weight every 10 to 15 seconds.
- Step 7: If using pint jars, set a timer for 1 hour, 15 minutes. For quarts, go 1 hour, 30 minutes. Once time is up, turn off the heat and walk away. Let the temperature inside the canner slowly reduce until steam no longer escapes from the vent and the lid of the canner is loose enough to remove.
- Step 8: Using a jar lifter, move the jars from the canner to a folded towel on the countertop. Continue to let the jars cool, from several hours to overnight. As they cool, the lids will sound off with a “pop” as they seal themselves to the jar. Once the jars have cooled, you can test the seal by pushing down on the center of the lid. If the lid sinks then springs back up, the jar did not seal. Simply place that jar into the fridge and eat its contents over the next few days. I also like to date the lids before storing.
Tips for Safe, Successful Canning
- Inspect the canner to make sure the gasket is flexible and not cracked, that all vent systems are in working order, and that none of the vent holes are clogged with food debris from previous canning sessions.
- Ensure jars are clean and sterile before starting the canning process by boiling them for 10 minutes. Allow them to cool before filling.
- Don’t overcrowd your canner. Packing the canner too tightly or taking your jars out too soon can result in undercooked meat.
- Adjust your canning times if you live higher than 1,000 feet above sea level. Consult the owner’s manual for your brand and model of pressure canner for the correct adjustments.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.