A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish & Game


By Wilbur F. Eastman, Jr.

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Preserve your meat properly and enjoy unparalleled flavor when you’re ready to eat it. This no-nonsense reference book covers all the major meat preserving techniques and how to best implement them. You’ll learn how to corn beef, pickle tripe, smoke sausage, cure turkey, and much more, all without using harsh chemicals. You’ll soon be frying up delicious homemade bacon for breakfast and packing your travel bag with tender jerky for snack time. 



The mission of Storey Publishing is to serve our customers by publishing practical information that encourages personal independence in harmony with the environment.

The information in this book is true and complete to the best of our knowledge. All recommendations are made without guarantee on the part of the author or Storey Publishing. The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of this information. For additional information, please contact Storey Books, 210 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA 01247.

Note: Many of the food preservation procedures described in this book are subject to U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines. Storey updates information upon publication of each edition and encourages readers to check for the most current standards by writing to Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20250-0900; calling 202-720-3029; or visiting the agency’s Internet site at http://www/reeusda.gov/. You may also contact the Extension Service in your county. In Canada, contact Public Information Request Service, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Sir John Carling Building, 930 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C5; 613-759-1000; or visit the agency’s Internet site at: http://www.agr.gc.ca/aafc_e.phtml.

Storey books are available for special premium and promotional uses and for customized editions. For further information, please call Storey’s Custom Publishing Department at 800-793-9396.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

A guide to canning, freezing, curing & smoking meat, fish, & game/Wilbur F. Eastman, Jr.

    p. cm.

Originally published: Charlotte, Vt.: Garden Way Pub. Co., ©1975 under title: The canning, freezing, curing & smoking of meat, fish, & game

Includes bibliographic references and index.

ISBN 1-58017-457-4 (alk. paper)

1.   Meat-Preservation. 2 Fish as food. I. Title: Canning, freezing, curing & smoking meat, fish, & game. II. Eastman, Wilbur F. Canning, freezing, curing & smoking of meat, fish, & game. III. Title.

TX612.M4 E3 2002



The publisher wishes to thank Karen Schneider, M.E.Ed., CFCS,
and M. Dale Steen, M.A.T., CFCS, of the University of Vermont Extension,
for updating and revising this book in 2002. The 1989 edition
was revised by Lavon L. Bartel, Ph.D., R.D., then of
the University of Vermont Extension.


This book has been designed to provide basic information to help people safely process meat, fish, and game at home.

By processing, I mean the procedures for canning, freezing, curing, and smoking; in other words, storing meat for future use.

Even if you should decide not to do your own processing, the book can still provide you with an understanding of what has happened to the meat products you see in the markets and that you may ultimately purchase for household needs.

It is intended that you find a certain amount of repetition in the book, concerning not only preparation and processing but also concerning the precautions you must take to perform these procedures safely. Since this is basically a do-it-yourself reference book, you are not expected to read the entire book each time you want directions; instead, refer to the process you intend to use or to the type of meat you wish to process. To save you time and to make the book as efficient and practical a tool as possible, some amount of repetition and referral seemed not only reasonable but also important.

No book of this sort can presume to be complete. Therefore, you are frequently referred to the instructions the manufacturer supplies with processing equipment, and alerted to the fact that new materials and equipment are constantly coming onto the market.

The recipe sections throughout contain selected recipes that should show that processing is simple and may be made personal; it is by no means meant to be a complete roundup of processed meats but is meant to encourage you to strike out on your own provided you do not disregard the customary precautions that have been discussed.

When researching material for a book, the author frequently encounters a variety of methods and directions in connection with various facets of the subject under investigation. Sometimes these methods and directions are at considerable variance with one another. The subject of processing meat is no exception to this experience.

For instance, there are honest debates concerning the value of saltpeter (potassium nitrates/nitrites) for curing meat. Some insist that saltpeter controls botulism; potassium nitrate has antioxidant and bacteriostatic properties that help retard spoilage and bacterial growth. Others maintain saltpeter’s main purpose is to give meat a bright color, though it also adds flavor; still others maintain that it is an additive that could possibly be harmful to the body if ingested in large quantities, that meat can just as easily be cured without it, and that there are other ways to protect against botulism.

Another area of sharp differences is home processing versus commercial processing. Certainly, commercial plants, especially those under rigid federal control and inspection, are required to butcher, chill, and process within fine temperature ranges with specific and definite standards for brines and precise periods for the smoking process.

Since this book is concerned with home processing, we cannot insist that you use the same controlled conditions you would find in a commercial packinghouse, nor can we expect that you can use the identical methods for processing meat. Such exact and well-respected conditions cannot be achieved at home with the controls a commercial plant is equipped to handle. Therefore, we have tried wherever possible to present a standard that has been established for home and farm use, one that is safe to follow. For this standard and to make the book as authoritative as possible, we have relied heavily on publications of the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of the Interior, the Canada Department of Agriculture in Ottawa, various state universities, and publications of manufacturers of processing supplies and equipment.



Seldom does a family want to consume an entire beef as it is slaughtered or an entire hog or wild deer. Not only would this cause the animal to lose its welcome, but it would prevent the opportunity to save some of the beef and pork for later consumption, when market prices are higher, to eat venison throughout the year, or to have meat available for a balanced diet. Neither would it allow for the enjoyment of the succulent ham, corned beef, bacon, and smoked fish that are high on the list of choice meats of most families, for it takes time to make these choice meats.

Spreading the availability of meat out over future months and thereby providing for a balanced diet require that meat be preserved or stored in some manner until it is wanted for the table. Storing meat safely requires a process that inhibits or stops the growth of enzymes and pathogenic organisms that can cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness.

This is done in several ways: canning, freezing, curing, and smoking. It is also accomplished when meat is dried and when fat is rendered into lard. We call all of these methods processing.

This book, then, is concerned with ways of processing meat; and when we say meat, we include poultry, fish, and game. The emphasis is on canning, freezing, curing, and smoking, but we shall mention some of the other ways meat and meat products are processed for storage until wanted for later use.

When we discuss processing methods in future chapters, you will be advised of the recommended procedures to ensure a safe product. And over and over we shall remind you to take careful sanitary precautions when handling meat.


To understand why, we need some background information on enzymes and microorganisms.


Enzymes are proteins that start chemical reactions without being changed by these reactions. Most biochemical reactions involve the use of these specialized proteins. Enzymes can produce both desirable and undesirable changes in foods. Therefore, in the food processing business, enzymes can be considered both a positive and a negative factor. A positive change due to enzymes is the conversion of one food to another. For example, enzymes are used to convert milk into cheese. Another positive change caused by enzymes is the ripening of produce.

Undesirable changes in a food’s texture, flavor, and color can also occur because of enzymatic activity. Enzymes trigger the rotting of foods. Enzymatic activity can be slowed down or stopped by the addition of heat or cold.

Microorganisms. Molds, yeasts, and bacteria are the microorganisms of concern in food processing.

Molds and yeasts are fungi. A fungus is a plant that lacks definite roots, stems, chlorophyll, and leaves. Fungi are widely found in nature and play a major role in helping organic matter decay. Molds and yeasts play a key role in food processing. Fungi reproduce by developing spores. Spores are resistant to harsh environments and can be easily carried to other surfaces.

Molds grow quickly, so the mass of mold plants can be seen by the naked eye and appear as a fuzzy growth in a wide range of colors. Molds can affect the quality and safety of foods. They can cause spoilage and off flavors. Although mold growth is more commonly associated with breads and fruits, molds can grow on refrigerated meats that have been exposed to air.

It was once thought that food molds were not dangerous to humans, but we now know that certain molds produce mycotoxins. These toxins can cause foodborne illness and allergic reactions. There are unharmful molds that play an important role in the production of cheeses such as blue, Brie, and Camembert.

Freezing will stop mold growth. Mold will die at temperatures between 140 and 190°F (60 and 87.8°C); however, the toxins produced by molds are heat resistant.

Yeasts cause fermentation and require sugar and moisture to survive. They are necessary for the production of beer, breads, and sauerkraut. However, they can also cause food spoilage that can be recognized by the presence of bubbles and an alcoholic smell or taste. Heating food products to 136°F (57.8°C) for 15 minutes will kill yeast.

Bacteria. Present in soil and water and carried by air, bacteria are very small single-celled organisms that multiply through cell division. The head of a pin can hold thousands of bacteria. There are many kinds, both good ones and bad. The bad bacteria, called pathogens, are infectious disease–causing agents, which feed on nutrients in food and multiply very rapidly, given the right conditions. Other bacteria are not infectious in themselves, but, as they multiply, discharge waste, and die in food, they discharge toxins that poison humans when the food is ingested.

Foodborne illness involves bacteria more commonly than any other biological forms, including yeasts and molds. It is essential to control bacterial growth when processing meats.

To control bacterial growth, you need to destroy the bacteria or create an environment where bacteria cannot grow. Most bacteria thrive in warm, moist, protein-rich environments that have a neutral pH or low acid. Given time and the right environment, bacteria will multiply rapidly. Temperatures between 40 and 140°F (4.4 and 60°C) are ideal for bacterial growth. However, there are some bacteria that can tolerate extreme heat or cold. A few even like low moisture, or high acid, or high salt content.

Animals host many microbes, including pathogenic bacteria. Meats are high-protein foods; therefore, bacteria will thrive in them unless controlled or destroyed. In the food processing business, meat is called a potentially hazardous food because of its ability to sustain bacterial growth.

Time and temperatures can control bacterial growth. For example, freezing meat at 0°F (–17.8°C) will stop bacterial growth but will not kill any existing bacteria. Refrigerating meat at 40°F (4.4°C) or below will slow bacterial growth for a period of time but will not kill bacteria. Temperatures above 160°F (71.1°C) will kill many bacteria. However, the spores produced by some bacteria are not destroyed at these temperatures. Of particular concern is the bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.

C. botulinum spores can become vegetative cells that produce a toxin called botulin. When ingested, botulin causes a foodborne illness called botulism. Botulism is deadly. Therefore, the standards set for the processing of all low-acid foods, including meats, are based on the temperatures that will destroy C. botulinum spores.

The spores of C. botulinum can survive temperatures in excess of 212°F (100°C). Meats need to be processed at a temperature of 240°F (115.6°C) or higher to destroy the spores. A pressure canner is needed to bring the temperature of the meat above 240°F (115.6°C). As an extra safety precaution, it is recommended that all canned meats be heated to 212°F (100°C) after opening. Then simmer them for at least 15 minutes before they are consumed to guarantee that the toxin produced by C. botulinum spores is destroyed.


The U.S. Government has set up standards of sanitation for establishments slaughtering and processing meat products. No doubt you have noticed a stamp on fresh meat similar to the top illustration on the next page. The stamp means that the meat has been inspected for wholesomeness and freedom from disease and that the establishment where the animal was slaughtered and processed was inspected and meets federal standards.



Canning is a method of preserving or storing food in jars that have been processed through a series of steps that, collectively, remove oxygen; destroy enzymes; prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeast, and molds; and help form a high vacuum in jars.

This chapter outlines those steps. It is important to note that all references to “meat[s]” in this chapter refer to poultry, fish, and game as well as to beef, pork, lamb, and veal; any exceptions will be specifically identified.


Of the millions of families in North America who can food each year, many can meat. They do this for many reasons, among them:

Canning is easy, provided certain rules are followed without unapproved shortcuts. And the result is the availability of highly nutritious meats.

It is economical to can. The initial investment for containers and the necessary utensils is small. Furthermore, most of the equipment may be reused many times, so the investment may be spread over many years.

Canning allows one to obtain and store in quantity when meat is most readily available and when prices are lowest. This further adds to the economy of canning.

Canned food is easy to keep, since containers are more or less standard in size and allow for convenient storing.

Canned food is easy to see and identify because it’s in clear glass jars. Still, careful labeling is important.

Because jars come in different sizes, the contents provide convenient quantities for use without having large amounts left over. And a sudden influx of company can be accommodated simply by opening a few jars to provide for hungry appetites at a moment’s notice.

While some people like to freeze meat, freezers are not available for everyone; so for them canning meat is an alternative to freezing.

Canning provides safe food. The process of canning, if done properly, will kill molds, yeasts, and bacteria that might otherwise contaminate food.

There is no storage cost. Once meat is canned, there is no further cost (such as that of electricity if you freeze meat) to store the containers until their contents are consumed.


While special guidelines may be given in the separate chapters that cover beef, pork, lamb, poultry, game, and fish, certain considerations are of paramount importance when selecting and holding all kinds of meat to be canned.

• Whether the animals are home-raised, obtained locally, or purchased from commercial outlets, be certain that the meat comes from a healthy animal. If purchased meat bears the approval stamps of federal or state inspectors, you have such assurance at the time you obtain it.

If there is any doubt whatsoever about home-raised or local meat, have it inspected by a veterinarian. In the case of wild game, if there is the slightest doubt about its quality, ask a veterinarian to examine the carcass before making any attempt to process the meat.

• Until you are actually ready to can meat, it must be kept cool, and that means as close to 32°F (0°C) as possible without freezing, but always well below 40°F (4.4°C). Why? To prevent spoilage and to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

If you plan ahead and live in an appropriate climate, you may be able to obtain meat for canning during the colder months, when outside air temperature is frequently well below 40°F (4.4°C), making chilling easier.

• If meat is to be held beyond a few days before being canned, store it frozen, then thaw it under refrigeration when you’re ready to can it.

Necessary Equipment

Canning is a method of storing food in airtight containers in a way that destroys potentially harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria.

To accomplish this requires that the containers be sterilized; that all traces of bacteria, molds, and yeasts in the food be killed; and that all air be driven out of the food being canned. In order that canned food is not later contaminated by air from outside the containers, the containers must be sealed airtight.

Heat, then, is required to kill the bacteria, molds, and yeasts. The heat also expels the air from the food and from the containers, creating a vacuum that seals the containers and prevents outside contamination.

Pressure canner. This is the absolutely essential piece of equipment you must have if you are going to can meat. In order to destroy the potentially harmful bacteria that may be present, the containers and food being canned must be heated to 240°F (115.6°C), which is impossible to do safely without building up 10 to 15 pounds of steam pressure, depending on altitude (see page 18). The only way to reach this temperature safely is with a pressure canner. Meat should never be canned without one.

The importance of a pressure canner cannot be overemphasized. If you cannot find one in good condition, forget about canning meat; think instead of other ways to process it.

Pressure canners come in various sizes, and the right size for you will depend, of course, on several factors: how many people there are in your household, how much canning you plan to do, the size of the containers you plan to use, and for what other purposes you plan to use your canner. A pressure canner may be used for many purposes other than for canning; it is very useful to have around the kitchen for making stews, baking beans and brown bread, cooking vegetables, and countless other purposes.

Parts of a Pressure Canner

Thoroughly wash all metal objects that will be used, such as knives, pans, saucepans, enamelware, and porcelain utensils, in hot, soapy water, then rinse them in boiling water.

If necessary, scrape wooden surfaces and equipment, such as work boards, butcher blocks, and wooden spoons, to remove all traces of dirt and foreign material. Then disinfect them with a chlorine disinfectant, such as bleach diluted according to directions on the container. The chlorine disinfectant should remain on the surfaces and be left to air-dry. Do not rinse it off. Treat food grinders accordingly.

Wash the cloths you use with soapy water and rinse with boiling water.

What Method of Canning to Choose?

Actually, there are not multiple methods to choose from when canning meat. There is only one, and it is mandatory — the steam pressure method. No other is recommended. Even though some books that were published before the pressure canner was invented mention other methods, don’t attempt them. No responsible person would dare suggest that meat, poultry, and fish be canned by any method other than steam pressure.

The boiling-water-bath method is safe for acid foods, such as tomatoes and fruits, but not meats. With this method, food is put into jars, sealed, then placed in a deep kettle or pot, and filled with water to come a couple of inches over the tops of the containers. Then the water is left to boil for a prescribed length of time. The water can never become hotter than boiling (212°F [100°C]), but this is hot enough to kill the organisms that would cause highly acidic food to spoil.

The open-kettle method, once used for jams, jellies, preserves, relishes, and some pickles, is no longer recommended as a safe and reliable method.


As we have noted, practically any kind of meat, including game, fish, and poultry, may be canned successfully and easily, provided simple and basic instructions are followed to the tee. In the Complete Guide to Home Canning, Agriculture Information Bulletin 539, revised in 1994, the United States Department of Agriculture mentions the following as the most popular for canning:

• Beef, veal, mutton, lamb, pork

• Chicken, duck, goose, guinea fowl, squab, turkey

• Rabbit

• Game birds

• Small-game animals

• Large-game animals

Large-game animals are treated the same as beef; small-game animals and rabbits are treated like poultry. Poultry, rabbits, and small-game birds may even be canned with bone in.


On Sale
Aug 15, 2002
Page Count
192 pages

Wilbur F. Eastman, Jr.

About the Author

The late Wilbur F. Eastman, Jr., authored A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish and Game

Learn more about this author