Canning Corned Beef

Ok, this isn’t your typical corned beef recipe…

A Tale of Tradition and Discovery

Let me share a quick story with you. Every year, on the eve of hunting season, my dad prepares corned beef hash as a good luck charm. We gather around, enjoying the delicious corned beef and potatoes, sharing stories, and keeping the tradition alive. For years, he relied on Hormel Corned Beef. But then, one year, it disappeared from the shelves. In that five-year drought, he had to settle for sub-par brands.

That’s when our new pressure canner entered the picture. Intrigued, we decided to try canning our own corned beef. It was around St. Patrick’s Day, there were sales, and we had space in the canner. And so, we embarked on a culinary adventure.

After a successful taste test, we sent a jar of our homemade corned beef to my dad. Judging by his response, it was a hit! He swore off Hormel, and I can’t even remember if he got a deer that year. Considering his track record, odds are he didn’t come back empty-handed.

Now, let me guide you through the process of creating this savory treat that will not only fill your plate but also stock your pantry with protein and calories. Who knows, maybe it’ll bring you some hunting luck too!

Diversity, Protein, And Cost!

When it comes to long-term disaster preparedness, having a pantry stocked with a variety of foods is crucial. And in terms of nutritional value, protein takes the spotlight. That’s why we focus on ensuring variability and protein content in our stockpile.

Our spice pantry is one of our most prized possessions. By purchasing spices in bulk, we can add variety to our stash of beans, rice, and pasta. And let me tell you, variability is a powerful thing. Food fatigue is real, and protein tends to lack diversity. Sure, we store beef, chicken, and pork, and some of us go the extra mile with game meats like venison, fowl, and fish. But introducing corned beef to the mix adds a delightful change to our pantry.

Not only does corned beef provide the desired variation, but it also delivers a hefty dose of protein and calories. Well-trimmed corned beef boasts about 800 calories per pound and 56 grams of fat, which is comparable to ground beef.

You might not need those extra calories now, but imagine the situation when you’re having long, strenuous days and your pantry is mostly filled with carbs. A can of corned beef will be a welcome sight, providing you with much-needed nutrition.

And let’s not forget about the financial aspect. As with any DIY project, canning your own corned beef is much more cost-effective compared to the store-bought alternatives. Not to mention that homemade corned beef is lower in cholesterol and sodium, while offering valuable nutrients like potassium and iron. Plus, it avoids the harmful additives found in commercial products, such as sodium nitrite.

Currently, a tin of Hormel corned beef costs about $3.99 for a 12-ounce can, which adds up to $5.32 per pound. On sale, you might find corned beef for just under $4.00 per pound. And believe me, the homemade version is of far superior quality.

Now, the cost savings may not be as significant as with chicken or pork, as corned beef already undergoes significant processing. However, if you decide to cure your own corned beef, it’s fairly simple. All you need is a brisket and some time.

If you choose to go down this route, follow the recipe but skip the cooking step. Just brine the corned beef without cooking it. By doing this, you can bring the cost down to below $2.00 per pound. Talk about savings!

Journey Into Pressure Canning

Before we delve deeper into the corned beef canning process, it’s essential to understand that meats and low-acid foods cannot be safely preserved using a water-bath canner. Due to the fats and high pH levels found in meats and their juices, a water bath won’t provide sufficient sterilization.

But don’t worry, we have a solution: pressure canning. As the name suggests, pressure canners utilize higher pressures to achieve higher temperatures.

Equipped with an integrated gauge or weight, pressure canners allow you to build up internal pressure in a controlled manner. When it reaches the recommended level, the canner operates at temperatures approximately 30 degrees higher than those of a water-bath canner.

The temperatures in a pressure canner range from 240 to 245 degrees Fahrenheit (115-118 degrees Celsius). Food preservation specialists have developed specific canning and cooking times to ensure the safe preservation of meats and other low-acid foods.

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If you’re new to pressure canning, it’s always a good idea to consult a reference book or pressure canning cookbook to verify a recipe. As I’ve gained over a decade of experience in pressure canning, I’ve become more comfortable exploring beyond simple canned pork and chicken.

When venturing into new recipes, I scour my pressure canning books, browse the internet, visit the websites of local cooperative extension offices, and consult various universities for a consensus on recipes. However, I always start with a reliable book as my foundation.

Essential Pressure Canning Equipment

Like any canning project, pressure canning requires a few essential tools. Let’s start with some convenient items that will protect you from burned fingers: jar lifters and lid lifters.

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A jar lifter is a handy tool designed to safely remove scalding hot jars from the canner. Its shape allows it to grip both regular and wide-mouth jars securely.

Next, we have lid lifters. Sure, you can survive using a fork or butter knife to retrieve lids and rings from a pot of boiling water. But let me tell you, it can be a little sketchy at times. That’s where a magnetic lid lifter comes in, making the job simple and safe.

Now, let’s talk about jars. These are one of your most valuable resources. In this recipe, we’ll be using pint jars, with each jar holding about a pound of corned beef. Jars come in two sizes: regular-mouth and wide-mouth. While wide-mouth jars are slightly easier to work with, either option will work just fine. I often mix jars in the canner, simply using whichever ones I can grab first.

Jars can be a little pricey these days, but the great news is that they are reusable. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times my jars have been through the canning process, especially since many of them were first used by my grandmother.

If you need new jars, double-check that they are canning jars and not decorative ones. The jars specifically designed for use as centerpieces may not hold up to the heat of boiling water. Trust me, the last thing you want is to spend time cleaning your canner or dealing with a broken jar in your pantry.

If the store shelves are empty, I recommend checking out second-hand stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. They often have used jars available. As long as the jars are free from cracks and nicks, they are good to go.

While jars are reusable, lids, unfortunately, are not. You’ll need a new lid for every trip through the canner. I suggest buying lids in bulk when they go on sale. A sleeve of 150 lids always puts a smile on my pantry’s face. And even then, I keep an eye out for sales, ready to stock up on a few more boxes when prices are low.

If you’re new to canning, make sure your jars and lids match. Over time, as you accumulate more jars, you’ll likely end up with a mix of wide-mouth and regular-mouth options. That’s when you can make the most of sales and buy whatever’s the best deal.

Lastly, let’s talk about the canner itself. A pressure canner is a significant investment. There are several options on the market, and reviews are readily available. Personally, we saved up and purchased the All American 915. It can hold 7 quarts or 17 pints in two layers, making it ideal for canning large quantities. However, I have friends who use the Presto pressure canner with great success. Both brands have proven reliable. In fact, we’ve processed hundreds of jars without any issues. Lately, I’ve been eyeing the Presto for those times when I only have a few jars to process, as the All American can be quite a beast to handle for just a small batch.

Cautionary Steps for Pressure Canning

When it comes to safety, most precautions for pressure canning are similar to those for water-bath canning.

First and foremost, ensure proper sanitation by washing your jars before use. A quick scrub with a bottle brush and plenty of soapy water will do the trick. Make sure there are no remnants from the jar’s previous use.

Additionally, clean the threads of the jars. Grease and rust may accumulate there. A run through the dishwasher’s short cycle is usually sufficient to get them spotless.

You don’t need to sanitize the jars beyond this point. The pressure canning process will eliminate any critters inside and outside the jars.

Next, pay close attention to temperature. Cold food goes into cold jars, while hot food goes into hot jars. Sudden temperature changes can cause thermal shock, leading to broken jars. So, be mindful of the temperature transition.

Lastly, follow the specific instructions for your canner, especially regarding altitude adjustments. Most canners require adjustments in cooking time or pressure when you’re more than 1,000 feet above sea level. Read your instruction manual carefully and set the weight or gauge accordingly.

Modern pressure canners incorporate multiple safety systems, making them much safer than their predecessors. We’ve all heard those horror stories from the past. But with proper maintenance and precautions, those stories can remain in the past.

Ingredients for Canned Corned Beef

Just like the other meats I can, chicken and pork, corned beef canning is exceptionally simple. You’ll need a slab of corned beef, and that’s about it!

Okay, maybe there’s a bit more to it, but not much. Your one and only ingredient is corned beef. We use the same package that we would for an Irish-boiled dinner.

If you’re not familiar with it, corned beef typically comes in a sealed package. The bag contains brisket and curing brine, often accompanied by a packet of spices. Everything you need is inside that bag.

Briskets come in two cuts: flat cut and point cut. Flat cuts are more expensive because they consist of one large muscle that butchers trim quite lean. On the other hand, the point cut makes up the majority of the brisket and is well-marbled.

So, which one is better? It’s hard to say there’s a clear winner. However, using only point cuts can result in a final product that’s a bit fatty. Now, that’s not to say that fat is a bad thing, but too much fat can be overwhelming. To strike a good balance, we usually buy one flat cut for every two point cuts. Once we’ve cut and cubed them, we thoroughly mix them to ensure an even distribution of fatty and lean pieces.

One last note on preparing the corned beef: the curing liquid can be messy and slimy. So, as I take each cut out of its bag, I give it a good rinse and pat it dry. And remember, don’t lose the spice packet!

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Cutting And Cubing

As I mentioned earlier, canning corned beef is incredibly simple. Unpack, rinse, dry, cut, and can. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

I usually plan for about one pound of corned beef per pint jar, so I purchase accordingly. If I’m taking out the canner, I want to fill it up. And if there’s any extra space left, I’ll experiment with a jar or two of something new, as long as the processing times align.

Once I’ve rinsed and dried all the cuts, it’s time to start slabbing and cubing. Each brisket is sliced into ¾-inch slabs. Going thicker than that won’t allow the heat to penetrate evenly.

After slicing, each slab is diced into ¾-inch cubes. Again, sticking to that ¾-inch thickness is crucial.

If you prefer to trim out some of the fat, go ahead. Remember, fat means calories and flavor. You can always leave it in and skim it off later if desired.

We usually place the cubes in a large bowl and mix them thoroughly. This way, the fatty cubes get distributed evenly among the leaner ones, preventing any single jar from being overloaded with fat chunks.

Depending on the irregular shapes of the point cut, you might need to be a little creative. But as long as the final pieces are smaller than ¾ inch, you’ll be fine.

Embracing Fat as Our Friend

Now, let’s talk about fat. It’s an important component of our diet and a significant part of this corned beef recipe.

First and foremost, fat means calories. Although we might not need those extra calories right now, it’s good to be conscious of our intake. By keeping the fat in the jars, we ensure that this valuable resource will be available when we need it. If you happen to crack open a jar during non-crisis times, simply remove the fat and move on. It’s no loss.

Secondly, fat is flavor. The rendered fat flavors the end product once you cook with it. When canning at high temperatures, the fat liquifies and adds its taste to the juices that render out of the beef.

By removing the fat ahead of time, you’re minimizing the added flavor in the final product.

Lastly, the fat will render out during the canning process. The high temperatures in the canner will melt both the top fat cap and any intermuscular fat between the muscle fibers.

As the fat liquefies, it mixes with the canning broth created during the cooking process and eventually rises to the top.

Once the jar cools, the fat will solidify into a whitish or reddish layer. It might not look the most appetizing, but it holds value.

If you don’t want the added fat in your diet, simply open the jar and scrape it out. It has a greasy texture and can be easily removed.

But if you’re up for a little indulgence, keep the fat and use it in your recipe. We always cook our corned beef with potatoes, and the rendered fat is perfect for browning them up. Once the potatoes are nicely browned, you can either pour off the extra fat or soak it up with a paper towel.

Entering the Raw Canning Zone

When it comes to canning meats, you have two options: raw and hot pack. In this recipe, I’ll focus on the raw pack method, as I haven’t come across a hot pack corned beef recipe. But feel free to explore further if you like.

With raw pack canning, all the cooking happens during the canning process itself. The raw (or in this case, cured) meat is cubed, jarred, and immediately canned. You might be wondering when the corned beef gets cooked.

Well, during the canning process, the corned beef will be held at a temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit (115 degrees Celsius) for 75 minutes. This doesn’t include the additional 45 minutes it takes for the canner to reach that temperature or the 30-45 minutes it needs to cool down afterward. After nearly three hours of boiling, the corned beef will be thoroughly cooked!

Raw pack canning is wonderfully straightforward. There are no extra pots to dirty or additional spices to add. Just cut, pack, and can. It’s the epitome of ease, and I’m all for simplicity!

Proper Storage of Canned Corned Beef

Every jar of corned beef, just like any other food in your pantry, is precious. Treat it well, and it will treat you well in return. To ensure its longevity and quality, follow these storage guidelines.

First and foremost, find a cool, dry, and dark place to store your canned corned beef. Avoid attics, garages, and sheds where fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels are rampant. You want cool and consistent temperatures, ideally on the colder side.

Set up storage spaces in your kitchen, pantry, closets, or even under your beds. If possible, make room in your basement, where temperatures tend to remain around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius). Basements are especially suitable since they offer a cool and stable environment. However, never let the temperature exceed 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius).

Keep in mind that moisture is an enemy. It can attack the metal lids over time. While the insides of the lids are coated to resist corrosion in the presence of salts and acids, the outside coating provides less protection.

Moisture, particularly in basements, can slowly degrade the lids. That’s why I highly recommend conducting annual or seasonal inspections of your pantry. During these inspections, pay close attention to each lid. If you notice any pinpricks of rust, bring those jars to the front and use them as soon as possible. When you open them, follow the safety consumption guidelines I’ll mention later.

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Lastly, avoid exposing your jars to direct sunlight. Light can alter the nutritional chemistry and texture of food. While this alteration isn’t harmful, it’s not ideal. Always shield your jars from direct sunlight. If you don’t have a closed-off room to store them, consider placing the jars in boxes. Local stores usually have plenty of surplus boxes available, and you can often find ones that perfectly fit a dozen pint jars.

If you provide your canned food with a consistently cool, dry, and dark environment, your corned beef can last for at least a year. The USDA recommends consuming all home-canned goods within a year.

That being said, I must confess that I’ve opened and consumed many jars well beyond the one-year mark. Some have even reached the five-year mark. But please don’t take this as a recommendation. I’m simply sharing my personal experience. Your health and tolerance for consuming food beyond one year are your own considerations. I believe in personal responsibility, so make your own informed decisions and prioritize safety.

Enjoying Canned Corned Beef

Speaking of safety…

When you open a jar, always rely on your senses. Humans have trusted their senses for tens of thousands of years, so why stop now?

Every time you crack open a jar, whether it’s a day old or a decade old, observe it for any signs of spoilage.

First, take a look at the contents. Are the color and clarity as they should be? Is the canning liquid cloudy? Do the contents match the expected color? If any of these answers is no, do not consume the corned beef. Discard the contents and recycle the jar for next year.

Second, inspect the lid. Is it dimpled as it should be? In severe cases, the lid may even be bulging. If it looks anything other than dimpled, move on and find another jar.

Next, listen carefully as you pop the lid. You should hear a slight hiss as the air rushes in to replace the vacuum. If there’s no hiss, walk away from that jar.

Lastly, give the jar a sniff. Trust your nose. If it smells off, it likely is. Empty the jar into the bin and wash it for your next canning adventure.

In my experience, only a few jars have gone bad over the past decade. I’ve had no qualms about discarding a suspect jar. I’m not so attached to a single jar that I’d risk my family’s health.

Making the Best Canned Corned Beef Hash

Now, it’s time to bring that jar of corned beef to life and create a delicious corned beef hash – the ultimate good luck meal before a hunting adventure!

For this recipe, you’ll need 2-3 medium-sized potatoes, a small onion, and one jar of home-canned corned beef.

Once you’ve completed your external inspection of the juice, corned beef, and lid, pop the jar open. After passing the sniff test, scrape out the fat layer and transfer it to a pan (preferably cast iron). Turn the heat to medium.

Wash the potatoes, cut them into ½-inch cubes, and finely dice the onion. Rinse the diced potatoes and pat them dry. Add them to the pan with the now melted fat and cook until they brown and crisp. Once the potatoes start to brown, add the chopped onions.

While the potatoes are cooking, drain the liquid from the corned beef. I highly recommend rinsing the jar once or twice to remove any excess salt. Simply fill the jar, replace the lid, and gently shake it for 5-10 seconds. Drain and repeat if necessary.

Set the potatoes aside and add the corned beef to the pan. Sauté it until it crisps up. Then, return the potatoes to the pan to reheat.

Serve up a portion of your hash with a couple of over-easy eggs for a truly satisfying good luck charm before your hunting expedition!

Other Delicious Ways to Enjoy Canned Corned Beef

While the canned corned beef hash recipe I just shared is undeniably delicious, it’s not the only way to savor this mouthwatering food.

Here are a few more ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Make a corned beef sandwich on rye bread with Swiss cheese and bacon.
  • Serve it with a bit of black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic as a tasty main course.
  • Whip up a corned beef and corn casserole, adding cabbage, rice, and tomatoes for extra vitamins, minerals, and flavor.
  • Incorporate corned beef into your pasta dishes, enjoying it with your favorite sauces.
  • And, of course, don’t forget about the classic corned beef and cabbage vegetable dish. I like to add a bit of vinegar to mine for an extra tangy kick.

Remember, once you open a jar of canned corned beef, store any remaining portions in the fridge.

Reflecting on Tradition and Discovery

Let me take a moment to share a final thought with you.

My introduction to corned beef occurred on a Friday night before what turned out to be a successful deer hunt. I can’t recall the exact year, as the many occasions have blended together over time.

But what I can tell you is that I now contribute to this tradition in a way that holds more meaning than simply accumulating calories in our pantry.

Our first batch of corned beef came about by chance, as we tossed a few extra jars into another canning project. We waded into this adventure cautiously, testing the waters. And it worked! Ever since that fateful day, every March, we rush to the stores to hoard nearly 20 pounds of corned beef for ourselves. We also buy several more pounds to share with family and friends.

The sheer number of jars we dedicate to this recipe speaks volumes about the ease and value we find in adding corned beef to our pantry. It provides a delightful change of pace and ensures we have a range of options at our fingertips.

Now, it’s your turn to give it a shot. Even if you only start with a pint or two, take the plunge and make room in your canner for corned beef. You might be surprised by the results. Who knows, it might become your own lucky charm in the years to come.

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