Canning Chicken: A Horror Story

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. 

Canning Chicken: A Horror Story

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.
You can:
 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.

The horror!
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.

Canning Chicken: A Horror Story

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!

Canning Chicken: A Horror Story

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12 thoughts on “Canning Chicken: A Horror Story

  1. no freezer and no reliable electric so I have been thinking on and off about getting (importing actually which is costly) a pressure canner and stories like this makes me question that decision. there is no way i could get the pressure gauge checked every year too. i am glad you are fine and you saved the meat at the end.

    1. Have you looked for somewhere to have the gauge checked? Pressure canning would be great for you if you could have the gauge checked regularly. You might also look into cured meats as another option. I hope you find some better ways to preserve food, thanks for stopping by!

    2. If you use a weighted gauge on your canner, you never have to get it checked. Dials go out of calibration, but weights never do. I restore canners a lot and change out the old vent tubes for weighed gauges. Please don’t give up on the idea of canning. It is awesome, and meats are lifesavers. I save so very much money buying my meats in bulk and canning.

    3. I have a vague memory of my grandma using a canner with different weights, sounds like I need to look into this! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a knowledgeable and encouraging comment.

    4. Actually, that’s not necessarily true. We had to wait until the women who does the testing was there and we had to pay $5. Also,for people outside the US or in very rural areas it can be a long way to somewhere to get them tested. Thanks for stopping by and giving your input, hope to see you again!

  2. Whoa – that’s scary! I was just thinking about canning chicken, so this post came just in the nick of time for me! Thanks! For Nihal (the first comment), you might look into getting a pressure canner that doesn’t have a gauge! Mine just has the weighted thingy (5, 10, 15 pounds) and a gauge actually isn’t necessary. It’s nice, but not necessary. That way there isn’t anything to be calibrated every year. They are perfectly safe, you just have to spend more time in the kitchen making sure that weighted thingy jiggles about 2-4 times a minute, which shows that it’s up to the right pressure!

    1. That’s GREAT advice, thanks so much for sharing, I hope she drops by at some point to see it. It was VERY scary, and I’m from a long line of canning folk so you would think if anyone would be non-pulses it would be me, lol, not so. Thanks for stopping by, please visit again soon!

  3. I want to get a pressure canner, but on the other hand, I sort of like the plop and go aspect of my water bath canner. I can’t do corn or chicken but I don’t have to worry about the gauge. I’m going to make the jump eventually but I’m taking my time with it. My name is Katie and I host Inspired Weekends, now open. All entries get pinned. I would love to have you link up!

    1. Totally understand, water bath canning is a whole lot less fuss. Once you break into the pressure canning waters a whole new world of possibilities opens though. Home canned meat and green beans alone should be enough but then bone broth and beans and all sorts of other awesome things are possible too! I’m heading over to check out Horrific Knits and Inspired Weekends right now, I think my canning horror story will fit right in 😉

  4. new to this stuff what is not tight packed? lol about how much chicken do you put in. ive been wanting to do this but a littls leary.

    1. Hi there! Tight pack means that you pack whatever you are putting in the jar as tight as possible, you just fill to whatever the recommended hight for what you are canning. Its hard to say how much chicken or anything else goes in one jar since it won’t be the same depending on all sorts of factors, which is why in canning how much you put in is decided by how tightly you pack and where you are filling to (for example inch head space, 1/2 or 1/4 headspace, meaning how close to the top of the jar you can fill.) I hope that helps! Also, you should realize that is is a very unusual and bad canning experience, you more than likely will never have something like this happen.
      Your first canning project should be something simple and safe like pickles or jam, its perfectly normal to be leery, just don’t let it stop you from trying! I hope you’ll stop by again.

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