It’s a late-autumn sound that’s greeted in our kitchen with fever-pitch anticipation and a mild dose of relief. A short symphony of vacuum-sealing ‘pops’ as several quart-size mason jar lids do their magic. This annual ritual has secured another batch of healthy, free-ranging, organic wild meat for our winter pantry shelf.
It’s one of the primary reasons I choose to be a hunter.
My grandmother did it out of necessity. Her and my grandfather raised seven kids, including my mom, on their hardscrabble farm in the Adirondack Mountains. They didn’t have electricity, let alone a freezer. Like many other families in rural America at that time, they had a deep, hands-on connection to their food. Hunting, farming and living off the land was a routine way of life. She canned tomatoes, beans, corn, and meat. Beef, chicken, pork, and venison.
The art of processing and storing wild meat in wide-mouthed mason jars was lost on our family until the early 1990s. One fall, after a successful northern zone hunting season, my dad and stepmother broke out the pressure cooker. They cleaned jars and simmered lids. They measured out canning salt and paved the way for my intense interest in all things canned-venison. I quickly became the only 20-something in town whose favorite piece of hunting gear was a Mirro 22-quart pressure cooker. Hook, line, and sinker.
Why go through the process of canning wild game when it’s easier and more conventional to just wrap it up and put it in the freezer?
It tastes damn good, it’s convenient to re-heat and it’s versatile from a recipe standpoint. Think of that fork tender, barbeque pulled-pork sandwich you love, only better. Grilled canned venison burritos with a good mole sauce are hard to beat. It’s also my idiosyncratic version of risk management for our most important food asset: wild game. There’s no need to worry when the electricity goes out after a big Nor’easter and the freezer isn’t working. Portfolio diversification works for wild meat too, even if your financial advisor never thinks to mention it.
What cuts or parts of the deer are most suitable for canning?
Anything you might normally put in the charcuterie, stew meat or grinding pile. My experience is that with a mature northeastern whitetail, you can get enough canning meat from one deer to do a full batch of seven-quart jars or up to 16 pint-sized jars.
What do I need for equipment?
- Pressure cooker: There are several good brands out there, pick one that fits your budget and needs.
- Quart or pint-sized mason jars with lids: Wide mouth preferred. It makes it easier to pack the meat. You can pick these up at most grocery stores.
- Canning salt: Follow directions for amounts, one teaspoon per quart jar in my case.
- Wild game: Mule deer, moose, elk, whitetail, black bear, pronghorn.
How does it work?
First and foremost, follow the instructions of whatever pressure cooker you choose to use. Cut or cube your wild game into stew-meat sized one or two-inch chunks or a little larger. They don’t have to be trimmed perfectly – just do the best you can. Brown the meat in a large pan and then let it cool prior to packing into clean jars.
Hand-pack meat into jars to approximately one inch below the rim. Add the canning salt. Wipe the rim clean, hand-tighten the warm-simmered lids, and place in pressure cooker with manufacturer’s recommended amount of water in the bottom of the canner. Apply heat and bring the pressure cooker up to the necessary pressure.
Once it has processed for the necessary amount of time, be sure to allow the pressure cooker to cool off before removing the lid – this takes a long time. There’s a lot of pressure and steam in there. Don’t get impatient and burn yourself. You have all winter to enjoy this meat.
Remove the jars from the inside of the canner safely by using a canning jar handle or similar apparatus. Place jars on a cooling rack and wait for the vacuum-sealing ‘pop.’ If the lids don’t seal for some reason, refrigerate it and eat at your earliest convenience.
How long will canned-wild game last in your pantry?
Urban legends claim it can last for years, but we’ve never let it sit around long enough to find out.
Recommended resources or books for canning wild food?
Canning Meat, Fish, Poultry and Wild Game: Canning for Beginners by Mary-Beth Stenson. Kindle Version available on Amazon
Canning Guide for Beginners – How to Guide with Recipes
How to can Vegetables, Fruits, Pickles, Salsa, Meat, Fish, Poultry, Wild Game by Ben Moore. Kindle Version available on Amazon.