Canning Chicken: A Horror Story
I was tickled pink when our landlords gave us 40 lbs of chicken quarters. Sure they were store-bought CAFO or as we call it “concentration camp” chickens but it was that much more money in our food budget we could spend elsewhere.
The real problem was what the heck were we going to do with it?!
The quarters where frozen into solid ten or fifteen pound blocks, way more than we could possibly use up at one time.
I decided canning it as unseasoned meat and stock would be the best way to go. I mean, how hard could it be, right? I’ve canned fish and meat with my grandma before and it’s really not any harder than canning green beans.
Little did I know….
So I merrily go about packing the jars nice and tight and get the bones and skin simmering away to make some awesome nutrient packed stock. Ok, as nutrient packed as anemic depressed chickens can be, but I digress.
Boiled water, got the pressure canner full to the stain line, about 4 inches up the side of the pot, a very useful consequence of the water around here.
Filled the jars with boiling water leaving an inch head space, fished the lids out of their hot tub with a butter knife (not the best way to do it, this thing makes it way faster and if you’re like me and seem prone to burning yourself, it’s a must have).
Wiped the rims, put the lids on screwed the caps finger tight and back a smidge.
Loaded up the canner, brought it to pressure, paced the kitchen impatiently and then I started to hear things.
Things I had never heard before.
Coming from the canner.
This is where you have to make some hard decisions.
A) turn the heat off and depressurize the canner and start all over again to figure out what the heck is going on
B) hope nothing too bad is happening in there and maybe a jar just moved, and finish out processing time.
I went with B
The strange popping sounds continued even after I turned the canner off and waited for it to depressurize. When the pressure lock finally dropped and it was safe to open it the noises had stopped and I was hopeful that it just some very excited jars.
So… I took the lid off and peered into the cavern of the pressure canner.
There were half empty jars and chunks of chicken and grease coated the entire inside of the canner.
Then at about the time my jaw dropped a lid shot off one of the jars and bounced around the inside of the canner.
Or at least I think that’s what happened.
As soon as I saw the lid coming off I started running toward the other end of the apartment, all of thirty feet away. You have to understand our place is tiny and banked to the walls so there’s essential a path down the middle of our “nest”. Of course the cats are always underfoot and when they saw me running they figured they needed to run too! Here I am trying desperately to get out of range of the exploding jars and the cats are right underneath my feet running along all excited like this is some big adventure. I seriously almost biffed it.
I know it’s hysterically funny, I even laughed at myself very soon after but at the time it was terrifying.
So I hung out at the other end of the apartment and decided that the pressure gauge must be off. That was the only logical explanation I could think of. It had to be reading much lower than the actual pressure in the canner creating so much pressure the lids were popping off. And, causing the jars to shoot chunks of chicken.
I called my grandma and she agreed that it must be the gauge. We stuck the lid in the car and vowed off pressure canning until we could get it checked out.
With the recent death of or second freezer in less than two years we found ourselves in desperate need of a functional pressure canner to save all the thawed meat. We took the lid to the county extension office and they checked the gauge. We were subjected to many quizzical looks and more than a few questions to make sure we weren’t poisoning ourselves. You could tell the ladies have their share of folks in that have started canning without any background information at all.
Not a wise decision!
Please, get a Blue Book , read the instructions for waterbath and pressure canning and find the right canning method, pounds of pressure and time for whatever food you’re canning.
Back to expoding jars, turned out the gauge was actually off, but not at the pounds we were canning with.
The kind extension office lady pulled out a USDA Tome of Canning to see if she could figure what went wrong.
Turns out pressure canned chicken expands.
Yes, remember I packed the jars tight?
You ain’t supposed to do that.
Fail blue book, fail!
It said nothing about not packing them tightly, how was I supposed to know!
So the mystery of the exploding jars was not mysterious at all just the expanding chicken blowing the lids off and shooting everywhere.
SO folks the moral of this story is get your pressure gauge checked every year and don’t tight pack your chicken (or rabbit or squirrel, so we learned).
The end and happy non-explosive canning!