When someone hears that I can poultry, they often ask, “Why? Don’t you have a freezer?” Yes, I have a freezer … a huge one. But I also have a pressure canner, and I like to can a portion of our chicken. It’s easy, tastes delicious, frees up space in our freezer and gives us shelf-stable meat for the pantry.
Canning some of your chicken meat is a great alternative to freezing. Also, canning allows you to stock up on chicken and turkey and not be limited by freezer space.
All poultry, including wild game such as duck and dove, can be canned with the following raw-pack method instructions. I’ll use chicken as the example. But just know you can replace it with any poultry.
You may can chicken with or without the bones. Producing jars of bone-in chicken is probably my favorite way to can chicken. It’s easy to cut the chicken into pieces; put them in a couple of prepared jars; add hot water, salt and maybe some dried herbs; and have a cooked whole chicken on the pantry shelf ready to use.
While it may seem like wasted space to can chicken still on the bones, the bones add more nutrition to the chicken and broth. While under pressure, the bones release nutrients such as collagen, which is why the broth will be gelatinous instead of liquid once the jars cool off.
A Whole Chicken
Always start with fresh, quality chicken for canning. If you’ve purchased the chicken, it needs to be canned by the use-by date. It’s perfectly fine to freeze the chicken, then completely thaw it out and can it later if you don’t have time to can it when you purchase it.
If you’ve butchered and dressed the chicken, let it chill for six to 12 hours before canning. This will allow the rigor mortis to fade and the meat to relax. Keep poultry cold until you’re ready to can it.
The skin can be left on the chicken for canning or removed. The skin will add more fat to the jars. If you can pasture-raised chicken, this extra fat can be a good thing because they tend to have less fat in the meat than commercially raised chicken does.
The texture of canned chicken is different than when cooked fresh. It’s not bad, just different—like the difference in texture between white meat and dark meat or a difference between roasted, grilled or boiled chicken.
My personal opinion is that the white meat tends to be a little drier after canning, so I’m not a fan of canning jars of chicken breast for my family. However, some people enjoy that texture and love canning chicken breasts.
Read more: Raise meat birds for healthy, homegrown protein!
Prepare the Equipment
The first thing you need to do to can whole chicken is get your pressure canner, jars and lids ready. Chicken is a low-acid food and must be canned in a pressure canner.
Wash your pressure canner, quart jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Use wide mouth jars if you can. They’ll be easier to pack than regular mouth jars.
Add water to the pressure canner according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
The jars need to be kept warm, so put them in the canner while you prepare the chicken. Put the canner on the stove, and heat over medium heat. The water should be about 140 degrees Fahrenheit and not boiling to avoid thermal shock.
Set the lids aside. They don’t need to stay hot.
Prepare the Chicken
Cut the whole chicken into pieces. I like to cut the leg and wings off with a knife, then use kitchen shears to separate the breast from the back. Sometimes, I’ll separate the drumstick and thigh, and cut the breast in half. It just depends on how big they are.
I don’t add the back and spine to the jars. I save those to make broth later. Because the wings don’t have much meat, they can also be saved for broth instead of canning with the whole chicken.
Pack the Jars
Remove a jar from the canner, and pack it with the chicken pieces. I like to put a drumstick, thigh, breast and wing in each jar. You may need to arrange the pieces several times to get them to fit. You’ll want to pack them tightly.
If the chicken is pretty large, you might not able to get half of it in one jar. That’s fine, just use another jar.
Add 1 teaspoon of noniodized salt to each quart jar, if desired. You can also add any dry herbs you like to the jars, although most people avoid adding sage, as it can get bitter while under pressure.
While there is no need to add water to raw packed chicken, there may not be enough natural juices in the chicken to fully cover the meat. Meat that isn’t fully covered may discolor but is perfectly safe to eat. Because I like the meat to be fully covered in liquid, I add hot (not quite boiling) water to my raw-packed whole chicken.
Chicken is packed with a 1 1⁄4-inch headspace because it tends to swell. Use a bubble removal tool and remove any air bubbles if you added water to the jar. If you didn’t add water, there won’t be any air bubbles to remove.
If you don’t have a bubble removal tool, use a silicone spatula or chopstick. Don’t use a butter knife, as the metal can scratch the jar and weaken it.
Recheck the headspace. All the chicken (and water, if added) needs to be about 1 1⁄4 inches from the rim. Wipe the rims with a clean, damp cloth, and put the lid and bands on the jars. Tighten the bands to fingertip tight, like you would a mayonnaise jar.
Put Under Pressure
Place the jars of chicken in the prepared pressure canner, and lock the lid in place. Turn the heat up to high, and when the canner starts venting, set a timer for 10 minutes. You can turn the heat down just a bit.
It doesn’t need to gush out of the vent pipe. But it does need to be a steady stream.
After 10 minutes, put the weight on the canner and bring it up to pressure. When the canner is at 10 pounds per square inch (adjusted for altitude—see below), set a timer for the correct processing time.
The processing times for canning poultry with bones and canning poultry without bones are different. Process the jars of poultry without bones at 10 psi for 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts, adjusting for altitude, if needed. Process the jars of poultry with bones for 65 minutes for pints and 75 minutes for quarts, adjusting for altitude, if needed.
When the processing time is finished, turn off the heat and allow the canner to naturally depressurize. This will take 30 to 60 minutes. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions that came with your canner.
Read more: Learn more about the basics of pressure canning.
Removal & Readying for Storage
Once the pressure canner has depressurized, lay a clean towel on the counter to set the jars of chicken on. Remove the weight from the vent or open the petcock and let the canner sit for 10 minutes before opening the lid. This keeps the liquid in the jar from surging and lids being compromised.
When you remove the canner lid, remove it away from your face to avoid the blast of steam. Let the jars sit in the canner for another 5 minutes before removing them.
Using a jar lifter, remove the jars from the canner and place them on the prepared kitchen towel to cool. Leave at least 1 inch of space between the jars. Let them cool for 12 to 24 hours and then check the seals.
If everything has sealed, the jars are ready to be stored away. Use home-canned poultry within one year. If a jar didn’t seal correctly, put the jar in the refrigerator to use within a week.
Unlike leftovers, it’s fine that the home-canned chicken has cooled at room temperature for 12 to24 hours. Any bacteria, yeast and mold spores have been destroyed by the canning process.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Chickens magazine.