As a child, my family lived in a rural area without the convenience of deep-freezers powered by electricity. This meant that my mom and grandma had to can food out of necessity, including my mom’s prized creation of home-canned chicken. Canning chicken is an economical and reliable way for those who raise chickens to make use of surplus meat.
However, even those who don’t raise their own chickens can take advantage of great deals on chicken at the butcher shop, supermarket, or from local farmers. Additionally, canning is a great way to extend the shelf life of poultry that’s about to expire in the freezer. It’s not just chicken that can be canned either – other poultry such as turkey, geese, ducks, and even rabbits can be preserved this way.
Once you have a supply of canned chicken, there are countless ways to use it in delicious recipes. One of my family’s favorites is my mom’s recipe for canned chicken and dumplings – a comforting and satisfying meal that’s perfect for winter evenings. Give it a try and see for yourself why canned chicken is such a valuable pantry staple.
The pressure canner
Nowadays, I find that canning chicken is much simpler than in my mom’s time, thanks to the pressure canner. This type of canner ensures the safe preservation of low-acid foods, such as meats, fish, and vegetables, by regulating and gauging the temperature to reach the appropriate level of sterilization. In contrast, in the olden days, mom and grandma used a “boiling water bath” canner over a woodstove, which involved guesswork and was not suitable for low-acid foods.
Although we never got sick from eating mom’s and grandma’s canned goods, improperly canned foods – particularly meats, fish, and vegetables – caused food poisoning for many people in the past. To avoid this, it is essential to use a pressure canner for low-acid foods according to the manufacturer’s directions to prevent botulism.
Pressure canners are available in various sizes, and it’s important to ensure that second-hand or older models are in good working order, with gauges that have been tested by the manufacturer or county extension agent.
It is also crucial to use approved canning jars that are free of nicks and have new two-piece, self-sealing lids. Outer bands can be reused if undamaged, but inner lids must never be reused. Old-fashioned jars with glass or zinc-lined lids, rubber bands, and galvanized screw tops are not safe for proper sealing. And, it’s essential to avoid using recycled jars from store-bought food, as they may not be strong enough to withstand the pressure and their lids lack sealing compound, which is necessary for a secure seal.
To begin with, gather your canning equipment, including a pressure canner, jars, lids, a timer, and a jar lifter. Additionally, you will need the birds you wish to can. If you are using fresh chicken, make sure that they are thoroughly cleaned and all pin feathers have been removed.
In the case of processing previously frozen birds, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator, so they will be ready to use in the morning. While handling the birds, it’s recommended to keep the kitchen as cool as possible to ensure that they maintain their optimal condition when placed in the jar.
Methods of packing jars when canning chicken
There are two basic methods for canning poultry: the “raw pack” method and the “hot pack” method. My preferred method for canning chicken is the raw pack method, where the chicken parts are packed “raw” into prepared jars.
This method reduces the amount of work needed for canning and produces tender meat without precooking. However, it is important to follow the exact timing provided in the pressure canner manual to prevent the meat from falling apart or becoming stringy. Adjusting the manual directions is not recommended.
The raw pack method is the one I learned from my mom and the one I like to use. If you are canning only a few birds, such as three or four whole chickens in one session, it works well as it can fill a 6-quart sealer. For larger canners, you can process as many jars as it can accommodate in one session. If you have to process multiple batches, keep the unprocessed jars in the refrigerator until it is their turn for the canner, and do not leave them at room temperature.
In my experience, one quart of canned raw-packed chicken – which includes one half of a breast cut into two pieces, one leg, one thigh, and one wing – is sufficient to feed a family of four. If you want to add extra pieces to each jar, you can fit in another leg or thigh, or perhaps two.
However, keep in mind that the more chicken you add, the less broth you will have, and you will end up with fewer jars of the finished product. On the other hand, you can process more birds in a single batch. So, when deciding on the number of pieces of chicken in each jar, consider your needs, the desired amount of broth, and the number of chickens you want to process per batch.
The other common method of packing food into jars is the hot pack method. This involves precooking the chicken first. The chicken parts, whether whole or cut up, are boiled until tender, cooled, and deboned. The hot meat is then packed into jars and covered with the broth in which it was cooked. The jars are then processed in the pressure canner according to the directions for hot packed poultry in the manual.
This method allows you to process two or three times as much chicken in a single batch. Smaller jars may be more suitable for this method. The choice of jar size depends on how much meat your family needs per meal. Larger jars are good for serving guests if a quart is too large for a single-family meal. While I prefer the raw pack method mentioned earlier, you may wish to try both methods to determine which works best for you.
To can chicken using the raw pack method, I processed three plump whole birds, which produced six quarts of canned chicken meat in broth, excluding the necks, backs, and wing tips that I saved for making broth. While these pieces can be added to the jar, I find them better suited for the soup pot.
Before canning the chickens, I always make a rich chicken stock by simmering around five pounds of chicken soup parts (giblets, necks, wing tips, and backs) bought from my local butcher at reasonable prices. This provides ample broth to cover the meat in the jars for processing and leaves enough leftover chicken stock to make a batch of canned chicken soup the following day. Additionally, I can simmer the saved soup parts from the whole birds canned the day before to add to the stockpot, ensuring nothing goes to waste.
Note that homemade chicken stock can be substituted with store-bought stock, bouillon powder or cubes, or even water, depending on preference. It is also possible to omit the liquid entirely, allowing the chicken to form its own juice during processing. However, adding salt to each jar is recommended for enhanced flavor.
To determine your preferred method, it is best to try both and compare. Personally, I find homemade stock worth the time and effort as it can be tailored to your taste. If using stock, heat it to boiling before use, and if using water, have a tea kettle ready to boil.
Start by washing jars and sterilizing them in boiling water for five minutes. While not required, I find it to be an extra safety measure and removes any food or odors from pre-used jars. Keep the jars hot until ready to fill and prepare the lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
If using whole chickens, cut them into uniform, serving-sized pieces. I use the “standard” cut, which involves removing the legs, thighs, wings, and back from the breast and then cutting the back into two pieces for stock-making. Leave the skin on for extra flavor.
Pack the cut-up chicken pieces into the hot jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. For added flavor, add a sprig of fresh herb and a pinch of dried hot chile flakes to some of the jars. Pour boiling stock over the chicken and remove any air pockets with a spatula. Wipe the rims of the jars with a cloth dipped in vinegar to remove any grease.
Apply the prepared lids and lightly screw on the metal bands. Process the jars in a pressure canner according to the manufacturer’s directions, taking into account the jar size and altitude. The processing times will vary depending on whether the meat is bone-in or boneless.
After the processing time is up, let the pressure canner depressurize before removing the lid. Remove the jars from the canner and let them cool without disturbing. Inspect each jar carefully to ensure it has a proper seal. If the lid is flat or bulging, treat it as an improperly sealed jar and handle accordingly.
Safety check before eating home canned foods
Before using any jar from your pantry, it is important to carefully examine it. First, run your hand over the jar to check for any signs of grease or stickiness, which could be indicative of a leak. Look closely for rust or discoloration around the lid’s edges, and check if the lid is bulging.
Once you open the jar, observe it for any signs of activity, such as bubbling, spurting, off-odor, or discoloration. If you notice anything suspicious, do not consume the contents. Always follow the golden rule: when in doubt, discard it! And, remember, if you suspect the food has gone bad, dispose of it in a secure manner where pets or other animals cannot access it.
My two favorite recipes
Herbed Dumplings with Canned Chicken Recipe
This recipe from my mom is a classic that has stood the test of time! It’s perfect for canned chicken since it requires minimal cooking time. I always choose recipes that don’t take too long to cook when using canned chicken.
To start, make the dumpling dough:
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- a pinch of salt and dried mixed herbs to taste (such as parsley, basil, and oregano)
- 2 Tbsp. margarine or butter
- 1/2 cup milk (more or less)
In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Cut in the margarine with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Add just enough milk to form a soft dough.
Now, on to the chicken:
- 1 quart canned chicken with broth
- 3/4 cup boiling water
Empty the canned chicken with broth into a saucepan. Pour one cup of boiling water into the jar to rinse out the jar and then add it to the chicken in the pan. Heat the mixture to boiling, and then drop spoonfuls of the dumpling dough onto the hot chicken. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and let it simmer for 12 minutes without peeking. When the time is up, test the dumplings with a fork. They should be light and fluffy. If they’re not quite done, cross your fingers, cover the pot again, and let it simmer for a few more minutes.
Chicken (or turkey) soup
Homemade chicken soup is a family favorite, and each recipe can be unique. Here is how I make mine, which can be easily adapted to your liking.
- 2 to 3 quarts of homemade chicken broth
- Leftover cooked chicken or turkey meat
- Vegetables (celery, carrots, cabbage, turnip, parsnips, onions) to taste, cut into large chunks
- Barley (optional)
- Fresh minced or dried herbs (oregano, parsley, rosemary, and basil) to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Put the homemade chicken broth into a stock pot and bring it to a boil.
- Add the leftover cooked chicken or turkey meat to the broth.
- Add the vegetables and barley (if using) to the broth. Cut them into large chunks so that they stand up better during the canning process.
- Add the fresh minced or dried herbs to the broth.
- Simmer the soup for 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Ladle hot soup into prepared jars, dividing the vegetables equally among the jars.
- Wipe the rims of the jars with a cloth dipped in vinegar, put on lids and outer bands.
- Place the jars in a pressure canner and can according to the instructions in your pressure canning manual. Adjust for altitude and jar size used.
- Remove the jars from the depressurized canner and let them cool. Check for proper seals before storing.
Having a few jars of homemade chicken soup on the pantry shelf is super handy for any time a craving strikes. And remember, each homemade chicken soup recipe can be unique and is always delicious!
Suggested resources for preppers:
Harvesting and canning wild greens
The #1 food of Americans during the Great Depression
Survival Foods of the Native Americans