Every year we buy a quarter of a cow from a farmer friend of ours, which comes up to about 100 lbs of meat. It usually keeps our family of 6 stocked for around 10 months. Initially we store all of that beef in a large deep freezer, but as the seasons progress I need that freezer space to begin storing strawberries, blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, corn, and other crops I like to freeze throughout the year. So, during the winter months I work my way through the freezer, canning most of that beef to preserve it long term.
We prefer to get more ground beef than anything because it’s so versatile. It’s also really easy to can. I love using canned ground beef for tacos, spaghetti and other pasta dishes, sloppy joes, casseroles– basically any meal that requires browned ground beef is perfect. Canning it beforehand really saves on cooking time. Plus, it requires no electricity to keep it preserved until I’m ready to use it.
Here’s how to can ground beef, according to the directions in Jackie Clay’s book, Growing and Canning Your Own Food:
- A pressure canner
- pint or quart jars
- 2 piece canning lids
- a slotted spoon
- a wide mouth funnel
- a lid lifter (or tongs)
- a jar lifter
- ground beef (lean is best)*
- canning or Kosher salt
*We prefer grass-fed beef, which is lean. The less fat, the better– you’ll need to drain as much of it off as possible before canning. I’ve found that 6 lbs of ground beef fills 8 pint jars. This may differ slightly depending on how lean your meat is (fattier selections will cook down more, with less actual beef and more grease to drain off).
The first step is to brown the ground beef. You’ll only need to lightly brown it, as it will finish cooking during the canning process.
Meanwhile, get your jars and lids washed and sterilized. If you have a dishwasher, you can run the jars through a cycle and keep them in the dishwasher so they remain hot until you’re ready to fill them. Lids will need to be simmered in a pot of hot water for 5 minutes (never boil!). Alternatively, you can heat a pot of water and allow the jars and lids to simmer for at least 5 minutes before canning.
(Make sure there are no nicks or chips in the rim of the jars which would prevent the lid from sealing.)
Drain the grease from the cooked ground beef. You can dump it into a strainer to drain, or use a slotted spoon. Just be sure to drain it as thoroughly as possible. An excess of fat in your jars can cause seal failure down the road.
Fill hot canning jars with browned and drained ground beef. Use a wide mouth funnel to help you do this without making too much of a mess.
Fill the jars leaving 1″ headspace. This is the amount of space between the food and the rim of the jar. It’s important that you leave the appropriate amount of headspace to avoid boiling over during the canning process.
Add canning salt for best flavor (optional). 1/2 tsp per pint jar or 1 tsp per quart. Salt has nothing to do with preservation, so if you’d prefer to leave it out that’s fine. If you don’t have canning salt you can also use Kosher salt. Iodized Table Salt is not recommended as it can discolor your product after the canning process.
Make a broth to fill the jars. Add water back to the pan you used to brown the ground beef, stir it up to mix in the pan drippings, and bring it to a boil. Ladle this into your filled jars to 1″ headspace.
Remove the air bubbles. Using a plastic or wooden utensil, poke around in the jar to release any trapped air between the pieces of food. Never use metal as this can scratch the glass and cause etching, which will weaken the jars. Removing air bubbles will ensure proper headspace and even heating during the canning process.
Wipe the rim of the jar to remove any food particles or grease. If the rim isn’t perfectly clean the lid may not seal properly. Dip a clean cloth in white vinegar and run it around the rim of the jar several times to cut the grease and remove stuck on food.
Retrieve canning lids from simmering water. A magnetic lid lifter is really useful for this. They come in most standard canning tool kits. Tongs also work well.
Adjust the two piece lids. Carefully set a clean lid on the rim of the jar, and hold it in place with one finger while screwing the band down finger tight.
Place the filled jars in a pressure canner. I try to keep the jars from touching as much as possible to reduce the chances of breakage, but if you’re using all wide mouth jars they will likely touch– that’s okay.
Process pints for 75 minutes, quarts for 90 minutes at 10 lbs pressure. Be sure to follow your pressure canner’s manufacturer’s directions throughout the canning process.
Remove the hot jars from the pressure canner using a jar lifter. Once the canner has finished processing and the pressure has dropped back down to zero, allow it to sit for an additional 10 minutes before removing the lid. Careful! Hot steam will be escaping, so remove the lid away from your face. Carefully lift the jars by the neck (not by the lid) using a jar lifter.
Allow the jars to cool at room temperature for 12-24 hours before testing the seals. I prefer allowing a full 24 hours for best results. Keep the hot jars away from drafts or sudden drops in temperature until they’ve cooled completely to avoid breakage.
As the jars cool and the lids begin to seal, you’ll hear a loud “bing” sound. This is telling you the lids are sealing properly. (Tattler Reusable Canning Lids do not make this sound, only the metal ones do.)
Test the lids to make sure they’ve sealed properly. Once the jars have cooled for 24 hours, remove the metal bands and gently lift up on the lids. They should not come off easily. If a lid does come off, either put it in the fridge to be eaten right away, freeze it, OR you can re-heat the meat and go through the canning process again from start to finish using a clean jar and a new canning lid.
Wipe and dry the metal lids before storage to prevent rusting or corrosion. During the canning process, liquids will often seep out of the jars causing grease to remain in the canning water. This grease is then deposited on the jars and needs to be wiped off once the jars have cooled. Food residue or grease remaining on a metal lid will cause it to rust over time, potentially ruining the lid and putting the contents of the jar at risk of contamination. Make sure they’re clean before storage.
Store home canned foods in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. It is best not to stack jars directly on top of one another, but instead place a piece of cardboard or wood between them to reduce the chances of seal failure on the bottom row of jars.
Consume home canned ground beef within one year for best flavor, texture and nutrients.
For more details on how to can meat safely, check out my article: 23 Things You Need To Know To Can Meat Safely.