Learning how to can chicken is one of those things that looks much harder than it is. For the longest time, I figured it was just something grandmothers and backwoods residents did, whereas I had the luxury of a large deep-freezer. Then a few summers ago that freezer stopped working at a time when we couldn’t afford to replace it. We also couldn’t afford to throw out the 25 lbs. of chicken I’d bought on sale, so I needed to find a solution promptly.
We replaced that freezer the following year but I’m still in the habit of canning chicken. It’s not just in case the freezer breaks again though that’s part of it. Canned chicken is also fully-cooked so using it allows me to make dinner in minutes, something I truly appreciate on busy weeknights. Meanwhile, I don’t have to worry about BPA or many of the other concerns that canning food at home overcomes.
I also love the security of knowing we’re stocked up against emergencies. Living in the Midwest, we routinely experience power outages that can last for days. Not only does that ruin the food in the freezer, it also makes it hard to keep my family fed. When the electricity is out I’m able to easily make dinner using a jar of chicken over a can of Sterno, but it’s almost impossible to cook raw chicken that way. And, Heaven forbid, should there ever be the kind of emergency that cripples the food supply chain for a while? Well, I can rest a little easier then, too.
But let’s not focus on such worrisome things. Let’s focus, instead, on the fact that knowing how to can chicken lets you stock up on sales even if you’re short on freezer space! Buying 40 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts direct from the farmer through Zaycon Fresh seems overwhelming if all you’ve got is a tiny freezer. But once you know how to can chicken you can take advantage of their great prices — or those at your favorite bulk stores — without wondering what to do with it all.
How To Can Chicken
Equipment You Will Need:
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* Even if you have a water bath canner for preserving things like homemade salsa or ketchup, for food safety purposes you need a pressure canner for meats and other non-acidic foods. Do NOT try to can meats using the water bath method!
Step 1: Cut up the chicken
You can cut it into chunks or pieces, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you remove as much fat as possible; save it, though: chicken fat is great to cook with! Try to get your pieces all the same size, too.
For food-safety purposes it’s important to keep the chicken cold so I nestle the pot in a bowl of ice (which you can’t see in the photo). Also, since cutting 30+ pounds of chicken breasts into chunks takes quite a long time, I usually chop the chicken one day and can it the next. The pot gets covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight while I give my hands a rest.
Step 2: Get Your Equipment Ready
Canning meat requires hot, clean jars and lids. If you’ve got a dishwasher this step is as easy as running the jars through the wash cycle and using them as soon as it’s done. (Otherwise, wash them in a clean sink filled with hot, soapy water and rinse them well.) Meanwhile, heat the lids to simmering in a saucepan on the stove.
Prepare your canner as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions. For my Presto pressure canner that means filling it with 3 quarts of hot water, putting in the bottom rack, and setting it over medium heat on the stove.
You’ll also want to have a cloth and bowl of white distilled vinegar, a bowl of Kosher salt with a measuring spoon, and possibly rubber gloves ready to go. I’ll explain why as we get to those steps.
Step 3: Put the Chicken into Prepared Jars
Start putting chicken into jars. Since it’s important to keep the jars hot at this point you should only fill a few at a time, leaving the rest in the dishwasher or the sink full of clear, hot water. This is the part where I use rubber gloves because I can’t stand the feel of raw chicken. A wide-mouthed canning funnel is also useful for this step, but mine disappeared the last time I threw a canning party (yes, that’s an actual thing) so I just used my glove-covered hands.
When filling the jars, leave 1 inch of space between the contents and the rim of the jar. Known as “headspace,” this allows room for the chicken and juices to expand while cooking without breaking your jars.
Step 4: Add salt
I used pint jars this time since I just cook for me and my son now. If your family is larger you can use quart-sized jars. The only things that change are the amount of salt you’ll use per jar and how long you’ll process them. For pint jars, use 1/2 teaspoon of salt and for quarts use 1 full teaspoon. When canning meats you do NOT need to add water: as the jars process the meat releases liquids that make a delicious broth you can also use.
Step 5: Wipe rims and put lids on
Fat on the jar’s rim can keep the lid from properly sealing. Once you’ve filled a few jars, dip a cloth into the bowl of vinegar and wipe the rims to remove any residue. Then fish a lid out of the simmering pan of water, put it on the jar, and screw the ring on. Use your fingertips, rather than your palm, to turn the rings until they’re tight. This step ensures they’re tight enough to keep the contents from leaking out but not so tight that excess air can’t escape.
Step 6: Load the canner and vent it
Load the jars into the canner as you fill them. If you’re using pint jars you can process 14 at a time; place a layer of 7 in the canner then add a rack and stagger the jars in the second layer. Quart jars are processed 7 at a time in one layer.
Put the lid on the canner as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions, and then bring turn the heat from medium to high. This gets the water in the canner boiling, at which point you’ll start to see steam come out of the vent pipe. It’s important to watch for that steam so don’t walk away! When you see the first wisps of it set a timer for 10 minutes. This venting process removes excess air from jars and from the canner itself.
Step 7: Put on the Weight and Reach Proper Pressure
Put the petcock weight on the steam valve as soon as the timer goes off then turn the heat to medium. Your canner is now building pressure, so it is very important that you don’t mess with the lid or petcock again. With my huge canner, it takes roughly 10-15 minutes to pressurize. Smaller canners, or those that aren’t full, will take longer.
Keep an eye on the dial: your goal is to each 10 lbs pressure (15 lbs for those in high-altitudes). As soon as you reach that point set the timer for 70 minutes for pints, 90 minutes for quarts. You’ll need to watch the gauge and adjust the stove temperature as needed so the pressure doesn’t exceed 10 lbs (15 for high-altitudes) during the canning process.
Step 8: Allow the Canner Pressure To Release and Remove Jars
Turn the stove off as soon as the processing time is over. Don’t move the canner and don’t touch the weighted petcock; just let it cool on its own. This will take at least 20-30 minutes, but you’re fine wandering away from the canner now. When the dial shows 0 lbs. of pressure, slip on an oven mitt and give the weight a gentle tap. If you don’t hear a hiss then it’s safe to remove the weight; any noise means you need to wait another 5 minutes and check again.
Now it’s safe to remove the lid. Since the water inside is still scalding, you should wear oven mitts on both hands and be sure to tilt the lid of the canner away from your face as you open it. Don’t be surprised if you smell chicken broth at this point; as long as you don’t see it float around in the water at the bottom of the canner you’re fine. If you do see broth in the water it’s a sign you didn’t seal the jars properly!
Step 9: Remove the Jars and Let Them Cool 24 Hours
Using the jar lifter, or hands slipped into good oven mitts, remove the jars one at a time and place them on a thick, dry towel. You’ll notice a few things going on with the jars at this point: the liquid inside may be bubbling, and the lids may start making a PING sound. Both of these demonstrate that you’ve properly sealed the jars.
Be sure you let the jars cool on their own away from drafts, and don’t disturb them until they’re fully cool. Once they’ve reached room temperature it’s time to test the seal. Do this by gently pressing your thumb down on top of the lid: properly sealed jars won’t have any “give.” If the jar isn’t properly sealed you need to refrigerate it and use the contents promptly.
Step 10: Wash the Jars and Store Them
The canning process often leaves a film on the outside of jars. Before storing, wash the jars in warm, soapy water then rinse and dry them well. Check the seal one more time by pressing your thumb on the lid. Reprocess or refrigerate any improperly sealed jars.
Advice and Tips
• Always check your pressure canner’s parts before filling it. Make sure you can see light through the steam pipe and, if not, clean it with a toothpick. Ensure the rubber gasket is still flexible and in one piece.
• Be sure to use the bottom rack that comes with your canner so jars don’t rest directly on the floor of the pot.
• Arrange jars in the canner so they are not touching. The canning process will cause jars to shake slightly; if they’re too close they’ll knock against each other and can break.
• Inspect jars before use. Do not use cracked jars or those with nicks on the rims. Always use jars specifically meant for canning; leftover jars from commercial grocery products are not safe.
Using Canned Chicken
Once properly canned, chicken is shelf-stable for at least three years! To use, remove the jar ring, pry the lid off with a bottle opener, and use the chicken in your favorite recipes calling for cooked chicken.
Don’t have any? Then get yourself a copy of my cookbook, 30 Recipes Using Cooked Chicken: Real Food Your Family Will Love for recipes ranging from Chicken Sesame Stir Fry to Greek-Style Chicken Lemon Soup. (Amazon Prime members can borrow the Kindle version for free!)