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canning turkey

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The Damsel and her sister went completely insane and bought 40 pounds of turkey meat from a farmer. It had been cut off the bone, in great slabs of quivery raw meat.

The Damsel is a tentative carnivore. She eats meat happily, but doesn’t like to think about it too much. She likes it cut and shrinkwrapped on a little styrofoam tray, sort of unrecognizable, so she doesn’t have to think about what it used to be. Her favorite way to look at a piece of meat is on a plate at a restaurant.

Being faced with this great blob of turkey was difficult, but the sister petted and soothed the Damsel until the worst was over. They canned 21 quarts, plus a little for the freezer. And canning meat is pretty darn “old school.”

It’s really not that hard, no harder than regular canning. But to can meat, you MUST have a pressure canner, and you MUST follow the simple directions in order for it to be safe.

Put seven quart mason jars in the dishwasher (along with the breakfast dishes) while you:

. . . cut the meat. It’s up to you if you want it bite size, like the Damsel, or bigger hunks.

When your all finished cutting, perhaps the jars are finished washing. Stuff the meat in to the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Sprinkle in a teaspoon of chicken bouillon into each jar, if you’d like. The Damsel likes.Here’s our handy headspace picture . . .

Put on the jar lids and rings, screwing the rings on finger-tight. Now it’s ready to process.

Put three inches or so of water in your pressure canner on to heat. Put the rack in the bottom (this keeps the jars from being in direct contact with the bottom of the pot, which can break the jars) and then the jars . . . seven will fit in one batch. Check the water level. It should be about up to the shoulders of the jars . . . where it starts to curve in. The jars shouldn’t be immersed as they are in a water-bath canner. Add or subtract water as necessary. Then put on the canner lid so it’s tight.

Adding a glug or two of vinegar to the water will keep the jars from getting cloudy during processing. Doesn’t affect the meat–just the look of the jars.

There is a gadget called a “petcock” that fits over the pressure canner’s steam valve. This shouldn’t be put on yet. Let the canner continue to heat until a steady plume of steam is coming from the valve. When the stream of steam is steady and plentiful, start counting ten minutes. Let the canner vent in this manner for ten minutes.

Now place the petcock over the steam vent. It should settle into place so that steam no longer escapes, but instead builds up pressure inside the canner. The Damsel admits she was scared when she did this the first time. Just be careful not to burn yourself.

Now it’s time to do a little quick google-fu. You need to find out how long you should process the jars, and at what pressure. This depends on your altitude, and whether you’ve used quarts or pints. There are plenty of charts online with this info, or you can call your local extension service. The Damsel lives at 4500 ft, so she processed for 90 minutes at 13 lbs. pressure.

Now you babysit the canner. Watch the dial carefully, and adjust the temperature on your stove up or down to maintain the correct pressure. Remember it takes time for stoves to react, especially electric ones. It’s better to have a little too high pressure than too low, but don’t let it get too high. Pressure canners can be dangerous if they aren’t watched.

A “cool” idea: the Damsel’s sister has this groovy campstove, so they did the canning outside. This worked out great, especially because it’s VERY HOT in the Damsel’s village at the moment, and a kitchen can become a sauna pretty fast after blowing hot steam for 10 straight minutes, and then 90 more minutes of hot, hot, hot.

When the 90 minutes of babysitting are over, remove the canner from the heat source and let it cool. You aren’t supposed to hasten it . . . just let the temperature drop naturally. It takes a while. The Damsel hates waiting, but there’s nothing for it.

Finally! A glimpse of the finished product. The turkey has formed its own broth. Take the jars from the canner and set in a non-drafty spot to finish cooling. Carefully check the rings. If they are really loose (this sometimes happens with the violence inside the pressure canner) you can retighten them gently, but it’s best to not disturb the lids as they begin forming the seal. After 24 hours, check the lids. If they are depressed, it’s sealed. If the middle bops up and down when you press on it, it isn’t sealed, and needs to be reprocessed or put in the fridge.

Now the hard part is trying to get yourself to open one of these babies and use it, because it’s so precious to you by now.

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  • Minivanmaniac

    I have to say, those pictures are really nice. Way nice bokeh. It’s like a professional took them. Actually, it’s like an insecure, attention-seeking, validation-craving sister took them.

    The one drawback of canning outside on a camp stove on a windy day is the flame on the burner kept blowing out. I spent the last 60 minutes of processing time standing in front of it as a wind block. That was icky.

  • damselindisdress

    I was just thinking how stupid of me it was that I didn’t take your picture, so you could be WORLD FAMOUS on my blog!!! Do you have a glamour shot we could upload?

  • Carol

    Wow, that was super brave. You two are the real deal.

  • Erica

    Super nice pictures. :^)

    So…what do you use canned turkey for?

  • Wow. I am so impressed! Have you used canned turkey before? Like Erica, I’m curious about how you put it to use. I have a pressure cooker/canner on my wish list and am hoping to get it for Christmas. Pressure cookers frighten me a little bit, but I want to learn the skillz.

    I love the part at the end where you said it would be hard to use because they’d be so precious. So true, I’m sure!

  • Jenni Kelland

    I’ve bottled (in a previous life) chicken, fish, deer and elk, but never turkey. I want to do it/have it in my pantry! How many bottles did 40 pounds give you and did you buy just meat or whole turkies?

  • I want to say thank you so much for all of your wonderful posts. You have inspired me to start canning my own foods and being more self reliant. It really gives me a sense of accomplishment and I feel good about what I’m feeding my family. Thank you so much and keep up the amazing work.

  • I like to eat my meat processed too. I would NOT have made a good pioneer… meat from the actual “source” makes me gag. I would have been an excellent nut and berry gatherer.

    It sounds super interesting. I have heard of wards buying up huge quantities of meat… and I always wondered what they did with them.

    Now I know. I think I could probably do this!

  • Chloe Rowles

    WOW! I AM impressed! I could never……….
    I see that there are some tricks that you can not teach an “old dog”.

  • maimeyrocky

    I am totally impressed. TOTALLY!

  • My girlfriend cans turkey and swears by it. She and her sister cook up several huge turkeys and then strip off the cooked meat and can away. Someday I’ll be so organized to do the same. Until then, I just admire all that work.

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  • Ohio Momma

    I just loved this article. This year my employer is giving away fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving. There are only the 2 of us and our toddler, so we are going to can the turkey so we can have it to use any time of the year. Until I read your article I was not sure how to go about it. Thanks!!!

  • Renee

    Just found your blog and love it. I live in northern Utah…..where did you get the turkey, i want to bottle some. I know this is an older post.


    • damsel

      Hi Renee…my sister and I ordered a boatload of it from a turkey farm in Moroni. I’m not sure of her contact there…I can find out.

  • Babci

    Thank you Damsel, I just purchased two 12 lb frozen turkeys @59 cents /lb, a pressure canner, 24 quart canning jars, and a jar of granular chicken bouillon. tomorrow, thanks to your fabulous website, I will can my first jars of turkey. I’m experienced at water bath canning. Pressure canning looks much the same.

    • thedamselindisdress

      yay! Let me know how it goes.
      Margot (The Damsel)

  • Mike Gideon

    Hi Damsel,

    Your instructions are the most complete I’ve read (amusing too). Thanks so much for sharing. My quesiton is this: Is that meat fully cooked by the time it is done? Can you simply open a jar and start eating it? If or if not, does it hold true for all other types of meats?
    A different article but I watned to comment on it. Your article on pressure canning salsa was super. I lost count of how many articles I read of the same content just coppied and pasted. I am going to pressure can my salsa, and didn’t want to mess with vinegar and or lemon juice. I read only one article that mentioned using lime jice (duh… in salsa), but it didn’t give any measurements. I thought for sure the heat from the pressure cooker would make everything safe. Thanks for confirming this.
    Thanks agian,

    • thedamselindisdress

      So glad you liked it, Mike.

      Yes, the meat is fully cooked by the time it’s undergone all that pressure and heat.
      Come back soon!
      Margot (The Damsel)

  • Bev

    My husband decided we need to can turkey… He bought two 20lb frozen turkeys they were cheap 49. a lb. Is it best to can the turkey raw or cook it. I have seen it done both ways and I’m a little confused at which would be the best way to can it. Let me know..

    • thedamselindisdress

      You could do it either way, but I did it raw to skip that step. The turkey becomes completely cooked during the canning process.
      Hope that helps!
      Margot (The Damsel)

      • TLM

        So same amount of time, pressure & everything? Should I add broth to it? I have never canned any meat.

        • thedamselindisdress

          It’s possible you could be safe with less time, but the official info doesn’t list times for starting with cooked turkey. It wouldn’t hurt anything, and would be extra safe, to just follow the times and pressures for raw meat. If it were me I would add broth just for added flavor. As an alternative, you could also pack the meat in freezer bags and just freeze it.

  • TLM

    I have leftover turkey, fully cooked & pulled from the bone, i have had it in frig. for two days. Is it safe to can & how ? I wasn’t sure if it is done the same way & same time period as raw. Your instructions where so wonderful for raw, iam just timid as to the exact process of cooked turkey being canned. Thank you

    • thedamselindisdress

      After 2 days, your turkey should still be quite safe to can. See my other reply and let me know if you have any other questions.