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Absolutely nothing beats venison. It’s a goal of ours to harvest our limit of deer every season to fill the freezer to feed our family since we can’t raise many animals for meat (aside from poultry) on our one acre homestead. This gives us a sustainable, healthy, and inexpensive source of meat to feed us for the year. It also takes up a ton of freezer space. So, we typically can up part of it. Canned venison is great to use for quick meals on busy days or just as a shortcut to something wholesome and delicious.
After we butcher a deer, we usually age it and then package it up in vacuum seal bags to fill our freezer with an abundance of delicious red meat. And I don’t see us not doing that any time soon. Absolutely nothing beats a delicious backstrap steak on the grill. But, freezer space is at a premium and if the power goes out it can result in a lot of wasted meat.
We strive to waste as little as possible and believe in head to tail use of the meat we hunt as well as raise. As such, I’ve been becoming more and more interested in preserving meat without refrigeration with some old-fashioned methods. But canning meat is something I feel confident in doing and is an incredibly simple way to preserve that has been done for decades.
Residential refrigeration has only been available since 1913 and wasn’t commonplace until the mid-1940s. I remember an older woman I knew when I was younger that was born in 1913 telling me a story about them getting electricity for the first time when she was 6 years old. Pretty amazing. They definitely didn’t have a refrigerator, let alone a great big deep freezer.
Canning meat was popularized a lot during WWI and became a popular method of meat preservation all the way up until the mid-1940s when refrigeration was more readily available and accepted.
How To Can Venison
Canning venison is surprisingly easy. I wouldn’t even steer away a novice from trying their hand at it. This method can also be utilized to can other wild game such as elk or bear and can even be used for beef or pork.
A Note On Pressure Canning
First and foremost, you must use a pressure canner to safely can any meat, including venison. Putting it in a water bath is not safe and things you cannot smell or see could be in that jar of meat.
I know some people are really afraid of using a pressure canner. Which makes things like canning broth and meat impossible. But, using a pressure canner is not really all that difficult. I’ve been using pressure canners and cookers in some capacity my entire adult life. My mom used a pressure cooker multiple times a year my entire life. Nothing bad ever happened. And using a pressure canner allows you to can so many more foods… safely.
Canning food safely is just one of those things I won’t back down from. It’s not worth the risk to me or my family and friends. So, make sure you can this properly using a pressure canner. They’re worth their weight in gold, they really are.
Raw Pack or Hot Pack?
There are two ways of canning venison. One is to raw pack, which is just like it sounds. You pack raw meat into a warm, sterilized jar. The other is to brown the meat before packing, called hot pack.
Both result in safe, delicious canned venison. However, a lot of folks say that taking the extra step to brown the meat results in a more flavorful product. Does it? Maybe. But, I have 3 kids, my husband works off the homestead 60 hours a week and I have other things to do. To me, it’s just not worth the extra step and mess that it makes. So, I raw pack.
If you do choose to hot pack, you simply put some olive oil in a skillet and brown the meat like you would to make a stew that was to simmer all day. Once it’s done browning, but you’re not done working your way through all the meat, you need to keep it warm. A slow cooker is a great way to do this. If you don’t have one, or don’t want to pull one out, a 5 quart pan with a bit of broth in the bottom (so the meat doesn’t stick) placed on low heat on the stove top will do the trick. See? Extra dishes. But, if you want to and you have the time, go for it.
Do I Need to Add Anything To the Jar?
You don’t have to add anything to the jar at all. Not even water. This usually comes to a surprise to people, but the meat actually creates enough of its own liquid that it isn’t necessary to add any extra.
I always add salt to savory canning recipes. Some people swear by adding a cube of pork fat, I think that’s silly and takes away from the flavor. Just like when we make burgers, I never add ground pork or lard to the burger. They taste less like venison and more like beef to me.
I do choose to add some onion to the jars. It’s not necessary, it just brings out some flavor and most recipes I use canned venison in utilize onions anyway. Another quick easy addition is a clove of garlic. Some people choose to add herbs and/or pepper all of those things are fine. None of them will affect the time you need to can the meat.
It’s really up to you whether or not you add anything beyond meat to the jars. Try a few different things if you want. Add some herbs to one, maybe a bay leaf or some thyme. Add a clove of garlic to one. Be creative and think about how you like your venison seasoned when you prepare it fresh (or from the freezer). I suggest the salt as it brings out some of the flavor, but you don’t have to.
Use High Quality Venison to Can
This is important. Just like all foods, the final product is only as good as what you put into it. We hunt and process our own deer for this very reason. We can see the deer in the field before we take the shot and we are able to see the meat on the bones after it is harvested to insure it’s healthy.
I know not everyone has room to process deer in their home. We certainly don’t have room to hang it, but I do have a trick for aging the meat that I will share with you and keeping the amount manageable so that just about anyone could process their own.
We did used to take our deer to a butcher, but we weren’t happy with the results and I like gaining the skills to butcher and process our own. Anyway, make sure the meat is healthy.
You will want to remove any fat, bruised pieces, gristle and silver skin. Most deer, of course, don’t have a ton of fat and gristle, but all of these things give the final product an off-putting flavor and it’s not very palatable. Kinda hard to chew. So, cut all of that off (that you can). You can give it to your chickens or dogs for a tasty treat or render it down if you’re feeling spunky.
Can I Use Previously Frozen Meat?
Yep. If your freezer goes out and you have way too much meat to even attempt to consume in a short period of time, you can absolutely can it. You will just want to make sure it is not freezer burnt and thawed out before you begin.
Cubed or Sliced Meat And Packing Your Jars
Whether you slice your meat into thin strips or cube it up is entirely up to you. Depending on what you’re going to use it for can help determine what you do with it. In fact, if you wanted, you could slice a few up (these go great on sandwiches) and cube some up (which is great for stew) and process them together.
You just need to make sure the meat will fit and that you pack your jars as tightly as you can. You don’t have to be super finicky about it, just try to get them packed nice and tight.
Make meals a cinch with this easy canned venison recipe. Eat it as is warmed up or on a bed of rice or mashed potatoes or use it as a quick addition to soups, stews, chili, and sandwiches.
- 6 Pounds Venison (cut into 1" cubes or sliced into thin strips)
- 6 teaspoons Salt (divided)
- 3 Tablespoon Onion (diced, divided) optional
- 6 Cloves of Garlic (divided) optional
- Start by sanitizing your jars and washing lids and rings. I generally sanitize my jars in the dishwasher and just wash the lids and rings before getting started on canning day.
- Cut the venison into 1" cubes or thin slices trying to make sure to remove as much fat and silverskin as possible.
- Chop up onion and separate garlic cloves from bulb of garlic removing the outer shell.
- Pack the jars tightly with meat, a ½ Tablespoon of chopped onion, and one clove of garlic. I usually add the garlic and onion to the bottom and pack the meat on top of those.
- Leave a generous 1" of headspace at the top. If you see a lot of air pockets, use a spatula along to remove the air pocket and push the meat down into the space. You want this to be as tightly packed as you can manage, but you probably won't get all of the air pockets. That's ok, just get as many of the big ones as you can.
- Once you have the jars packed, sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt onto the top of the meat.
- Wipe the jar rim with a clean, damp cloth and center the lid on the jar. Tighten the ring to finger tight.
- Place the jars in your pressure canner. Add about 3" of water and a Tablespoon of vinegar to your canner. Tighten the lid to the top.
- Start with high heat and allow the water to come to a boil until steam begins escaping the vent. Allow canner to vent for 10 minutes.
- Place the weight on the vent. You'll need a 10 pound weight under 1,000 ft and 15 for over 1,000 ft.
- Allow the canner to come to pressure. Once the weight starts jiggling, reduce the heat to medium. You should continue to see and hear your weight jiggle every 10 to 15 seconds once you reduce the heat.
- Process pint jars for one hour fifteen minutes. You can can this in quarts, which you will process for 90 minutes.
- Once the jars have processed, turn off the heat and allow the canner to come down to 0 pressure naturally. Once the canner reads 0 pressure, carefully remove the lid and allow the jars to sit for another 2 minutes.
- Remove the jars to a towel-lined counter to sit undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours before checking the seal. Store good seals in a cool dark place. If one doesn't have a good seal, place in the refrigerator to eat within a few days.
You can add bell pepper and/or herbs of your choice to flavor your meat differently.
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Serving Size:1/2 Cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 171 Total Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 90mg Sodium: 593mg Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 0g Protein: 34g
How to Store and Use Canned Venison
Canned venison will keep for a long while when stored properly. Simply make sure you keep it in a cool, dark place and you can enjoy it for months to come. You will want to remove the rings after you have checked for a proper seal and label with the contents and date. We have a pantry cabinet we keep all of our canned foods in.
It also makes it super easy to put a meal on the table. It’s great over mashed potatoes or a bed of rice. You can use it in stews, for tacos or fajitas, to make a quick sandwich or even just heated up as is.
You have to give this a try, it makes all of that canning stuff seem incredibly easy once you do. You don’t have to cook it or do any real prep work other than slicing the meat up which makes the whole process a little less daunting. I hope you try it and enjoy it!