Learning how to can venison at home is a logical next step to hunting for food. These tips will guide you in canning deer meat that’ll provide hearty meals for your family all year long.
After I learned how to can venison at home, it became one of my favorite foods. These days, I don’t much care for meat from other animals. While I continue to love venison steaks, roasts, and ground meat, one of my hands-down favorite ways to eat deer meat is canned. Home-canned venison is delicious, easy to use, and shelf-stable. Keep reading if you want to learn how to pack your pantry with jars of this healthy meat that you can use later as the main ingredient of yummy meals.
Begin with quality deer meat. Although some people claim their home-canned meat from old bucks is as good as that from button bucks, I’m not convinced that pressure canning weakens the taste of strong meat. Instead, I make jerky from the flesh of old bucks.
Assemble the canning equipment and supplies. You’ll need a pressure canner (not a cooker), because canning deer meat in a pressure canner is the only safe way. You’ll also need glass Mason jars with new lids, canning rings, a jar lifter, a funnel, and kitchen towels. Review your pressure canner’s manual. Make sure the canner’s gauge and gasket are in good working order, and that the steam vent or petcock is clear; your local extension office will test the gauge for accuracy. If you don’t already own a pressure canner, the market offers several good starter options. Metal-to-metal-seal canners are pricey, but they’re built like tanks and hold large quantities of jars. If you own a glass-top cookstove, make sure to buy a canner rated for it.
When you’re ready to start canning deer meat, begin by preparing the meat. Make sure the meat is clean and as fat-free as possible. Remove as much sinew as you can manage, because it’s unpleasant to eat, even when softened by pressure canning.
Cut the meat into uniformly sized chunks or strips. Canned chunks are suitable for future meals of stews, beans, and baked-potato toppers, while strips are great for barbecue, fajitas, and stir-fries. Alternatively, you can grind the deer meat and lightly brown it in oil before proceeding with the hot-pack canning method outlined below.
How to Can Venison at Home
Now, you’re ready to start canning deer meat! Wash the glass jars and metal rings in hot, soapy water and rinse them well, then heat the jars until you’re ready to fill them. I like to gently simmer the lids to soften the seals. Add water to the canner as indicated in the manual and put the rack in the bottom. Place the canner on medium heat to start heating the water. Screw the gauge onto the canner lid and set it aside.
Next, turn your attention back to the meat, where you have two choices for preparing and filling the jars: raw pack and hot pack. To raw pack, simply stuff the jars full of raw meat cubes or strips, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Optionally, for taste, you can pour 1 teaspoon of salt on top; Himalayan pink salt is my preference. To hot pack, first sear the meat in a frying pan in a small amount of olive oil, while heating a stockpot of water to boiling. Add several teaspoons of salt to the boiling water (again, salt is optional). Pack the pan-seared meat into the canning jars and ladle hot water over the meat, stopping 1 inch from the top of the jars.
Venison will taste delicious regardless of the jar-packing method you choose, however, both have their advantages. Raw pack is quicker, because you skip the steps of searing the meat and adding boiling water to the jars. (Raw meat will produce its own broth.) With hot pack, searing the meat will allow you to pack more into a jar. Although hot-packed meat can be more flavorful, because browning caramelizes meat’s natural sugars, this method is more time-consuming. For this reason, I generally raw pack.
Some preservers add beef bouillon to their jars of venison, but this produces meat that’s much too salty for my household’s taste. You can also add black pepper and other spices to the jars before canning, but be cautious with the amount, because the canning process intensifies flavors. In my house, we add other flavorings later, after we’ve opened up the jar to cook a meal.
Whether you use raw pack or hot pack when canning deer meat, the next step is to remove air bubbles by gently pushing a wooden skewer or plastic knife down the insides of the jars. Wipe the rims clean with a towel, add the lids, and secure the rings over the lids by finger-tightening them. Gently place the filled jars inside the pressure canner.
After you’ve filled the canner, put on its lid and increase the heat until steam vents forcefully from the petcock for 10 minutes. Then, install the weighted gauge and wait for the pressure to rise. I find that medium-high cooktop heat works best for me. When the dial shows about 2 pounds below the desired pressure, I lower the heat slightly. For example, when the interior pressure reaches 9, I lower my stovetop temperature to medium to let it climb to the 11 pounds my altitude calls for. If I don’t do this, the canner will overshoot and I’ll have to waste time getting it down to 11. Refer to your canner’s manual for the exact pressure your altitude requires. If you’re using a weighted gauge, use the next-highest pressure — for example, stop at 15 pounds if your altitude calls for a pressure of 11 pounds.
My stove does an excellent job of keeping a steady pressure without requiring much adjustment, but each stove is different, so you’ll have to find what works for you. It’s far better to can food at 1 pound over the recommended pressure than under; the latter is unsafe!
Refer to your canner manual for the canning time required for your altitude. Meat generally needs to be canned a minimum of 90 minutes for quarts or 75 minutes for pints. Only start counting the canning time after the gauge has reached the correct pressure. Please don’t leave your canner unattended, especially with small children in the house.
I set a timer so I know exactly when the correct canning time has passed. When the timer beeps, turn off the stove and gently slide the canner off the hot burner. Allow the pressure to come down naturally and slowly. Don’t try hurrying this along by removing the weight, because this could prevent your jars from sealing properly.
When the dial gauge shows a pressure of 0, you may remove the weight. Wait 10 additional minutes before removing the lid. Do this carefully, turning the lid away from your face and hands. Steam is incredibly hot and can burn you badly! With a jar lifter in one hand and an oven mitt over the other, remove the jars carefully, using the gloved hand to support each jar. Place the jars on a towel in a safe location where no one can bump or knock them down, and out of cold drafts. Let them sit undisturbed overnight, or up to 24 hours. Then, remove the rings and check the seals on the lids. Eat the contents of any unsealed jars immediately. Wipe down sealed jars and write the contents and date on the labels. Home-canned venison can be stored up to one year in a dark, cool area.
Canned Venison Recipe Ideas
One of the easiest ways to cook with delicious, home-canned venison is to simply open a jar, heat up the meat, and serve it over mashed potatoes.
Another easy serving option is to heat a small amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet, and then add a jar of drained venison. Stir-fry until the meat is thoroughly heated and slightly crispy. Serve with potatoes, rice, pasta, or biscuits. You can use the reserved liquid to make gravy.
One of my favorite ways to make a meal is to simmer a jar of drained meat in barbecue sauce for 10 minutes, and then serve it on rolls or over mashed potatoes. This is delicious on a salad too!
I also like to use fajita or taco seasoning on a jar of drained venison. In a heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add drained venison, 2/3 cup water or reserved broth, and a seasoning packet. Simmer for 10 minutes, and serve with taco shells, fajita wraps, baked potatoes, or a salad.
Stews are extremely easy to make with canned venison. Into a stockpot, pour a home-canned jar of meat (including its broth), several peeled and diced potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery. Add desired seasoning and water to cover the ingredients. Simmer until tender, and serve with biscuits or crackers.
You can also use canned venison in beans instead of ham. Soak the beans overnight, drain them, and add double the amount of water as beans (for example, 4 cups of water to 2 cups of soaked beans) and a jar of meat. Cover and cook on low until tender.
I hope you’ve learned some handy tips on how to can venison, and that you’ll try your hand at canning delicious venison this year! You’ll discover many wonderful ways to use this home-canned meat in all your favorite recipes. You’ll save time and money with prepared meals made out of this healthy, sustainable meat choice.
Jenny Underwood is a home-schooling mom on a fifth-generation farm in the Missouri Ozarks, where she gardens, forages, hunts, and preserves food. Follow her at Inconvenient Family.