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Date: 28 May 2014. Processing in Pressure Cooker (Preserving Meats, Part 2)

[Part One, Canning Primer is recommended for neophyte pressure cooker users as a First Read.]

In the years I've been canning or preserving meats I have learned a couple of tricks that ensure good results. It's important to note that the old canning books (circa 1920's era) had different standards than we use today. The following is how I do it, but of course you must make sure it works for you. Your local County Extension Program (think "agriculture") will have details on how they do things. This is what I do aboard Seaweed:

Disclaimer: It's not my fault if something goes wrong. And goodness knows I've had Oh-Shoot moments while doing this stuff. Failure modes are noted below.
 

Canning and Processing Meats aboard Seaweed

 

#1. Everything has to be hot.  Translate that to mean that on your stove you will have one pot of hot water with the jars for the next batch resting in the water.  I set that burner to simmer.

A second pot will be your pressure cooker with water in it -- again hot.

And the contents you're going to can need to be hot as well.

 


First I fill the jars.  Sure that sounds basic, but there's a bit of an art to the process. I have a filler funnel and it makes packing the meat easier than without. Although not "essential" it does make the process easier.  And, because the top edge of your jar has to be clean, that helps keep the food off of it.

Of course pack the chunks first. Whatever is bulkiest goes in, then a broth or "fill in the tiny spaces" part is added. The funnel makes that packing part easier.  Below I've added some diced petite tomatoes to a jar of meatballs.  The broth will fill in the air pockets and the chunks of tomato will fill large spots.

I am aware that some of the older canning books say you may cook and can in the same fell swoop, however I've had repeated failures doing so.  Thus, everything is cooked prior to my canning it. 

Side Note:  Now things like cabbage leaves I'll just wilt in the microwave so they will bend because I know they will be fine when processed. Ditto green peppers.

Failure Mode #1: When I tried to process pork by adding chunks of uncooked meat the problem was (from observation) that the meat shrank so much that there was too much head space* and thus, the food spoilt.

*Head Space: the air above the food. Too much will allow bad stuff to grow.

Failure Mode #2: Regarding that head space, if you don't have enough up there, when you process the food it will expand out of the jar creating a mess. Been there/done that too!
 

 

Please note the jar on the right below. That's my lasagna, and as you can see the good stuff is just to the bottom of the where the ring is on the jar.  Lasagna is a special case item. When I make it, I fill the jars so when they are inverted the cheese layer is on top.

For lasagna I add a tablespoon of sauce at the bottom of the jar, then my layer of cheese, followed by noodle, meats and cheeses, etc.  I want that big bit of cheese at the bottom of the jar. That's because when it's eaten I'll invert the jar and, if I'm fortunate, the layers will be intact with a nice dollop of mozzarella cheese at the top.

 

These jars of sausage chips were first filled with the sausage, then some had some hamburger pressed around the edges. All had the broth I'd cooked them in added to fill in the air pockets. In any event, all of the jars are filled to just below the ring that holds on the lid.

 


In my pressure cooker I have about one inch of water in the pan as I start adding my jars.  When all the jars are in the pressure cooker, then I use the water from the pot I had the jars warming in (remember, it's been simmering) and fill the water to just below the rings on the canning jars.

~ About the Lids ~

When your jars are filled, wipe down the top edge. To get a tight seal there cannot be food particles on it. Then simply place a lid on top. Add the ring and screw it down. Not tightly -- just until it snugs up.  Some day you will have to remove that ring so let's not be Wonder Woman today!
 


Next, close the lid on the pressure cooker and let the temperature rise. For mine, it has two settings: high and low. I start on high and when the steam starts to come out, then turn the pan down to just above simmer -- so the pressure cooker hisses but doesn't shoot water all over the stovetop.

Another side note: Newer pressure cookers are designed so that steam can escape.  They will not explode like some of those made decades ago.
 


On the top of my pan were two numbers (1 and 2) indicating high and low. It seemed like I was always going to my booklet to double check which was which. That's why I used my nail polish and wrote on the switch. It's not fancy, but it does work.
 

Preserving Time Chart for Meat

 
Aboard Seaweed I use only the half cup jelly jars and the one cup wide-mouth jars made by Kerr and formerly made by Ball so my times are reflective of the smaller jars. If you're using the one pint jars (the largest I advocate for meat) you'll need to increase the time processed.
 
Deep Breath.  The jars have been added to the pressure cooker and water is just below the rings.  I close the pressure cooker, and raise the temperature of the stove to about medium.  On the lid of my canner I've got the switch set to High and I wait. When steam starts to come out and I hear a sizzle, then I know it's time to start preserving my meat.

Number One. I lower the temperature on the stove to just above simmer and turn the switch on my pressure cooker to Low.  I listen to hear the sizzle and watch that the steam is still coming out. Not a lot, but just a bit.  [Pretend you're boiling potatoes -- you want sizzle but not a mess on the stove: it's the same principle with canning.]

Number Two. When on Low I've got the sizzle, I turn on my timer for one hour.

I switched over to the smaller jelly jars a couple years back and have continued to cook them for the same amount of time as the one cup jars. It's easier -- and often I'll have more than one size in the pressure cooker. Anyway, one hour is it.

If you use a larger size jar (the pints) add time to your processing. I'd opt for an extra half hour, cooking pints with meat for one and a half hours. To confirm that 1.5 hours is sufficient, I'd check for the bubbles. Continue reading for that important double check of your success.

Number Three. In one hour the food should be done. It will be preserved and have a shelf life of at least a year. I've eaten sausage that was two years old without issue/no loss of quality but I consider everything "good to go" for a year.

 


The next part is important for a good result and for safety too. You'll need the
tongs I advocate.  Amazon calls them Jar Lifters -- same thing, different name. And I burnt my fingers more than one time trying to use pot holders. Tongs are about $5 and worth the price.

Lift out the jars and put them on a cooling rack. You will be able to see the liquid inside the jars bubbling. That's okay -- it means you've had success.
 


You will also start to hear POPs, and that's perfectly okay too. What is happening is that the lids are sealing.  Later, an hour or so later generally, touch the jar tops. They should be cooled off and you'll note all the little bumps that were in the lids no longer move.

However, once in a while you'll find one that did not seal properly.  The top will make a sound and move when you push on it. You can re-do that jar.

Take off the lid, wipe down the edge and feel for any nicks. Any with a chip will not ever seal so throw that jar away but keep the contents. If you simply had a food particle trapped between the lid and the jar edge, you can start again.

Lids are not re-usable.  Okay, you can reuse them (I have) but the doggone seals fail within a short period of time. Lids are about a dime each. Use new ones for every jar every time.  Brands don't matter.

So, your jars are done.  They have cooled off and now it's time to store them away for those lazy days when a book beckons and the breeze is blowing. There's no need to cook tonight.

As for me, I'm having a cold pork plate tonight with sliced tomatoes, zucchini and some fresh scallions. All dipped in Ranch Dressing.  It's not fancy but it is easy and a nice way to spend an evening while I finish up the latest book on my Kindle. Life does not get much better.

Have you ever preserved foods in a pressure cooker.
And, did your family can years ago?

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