How to Can a Whole Turkey

As I was cleaning and organizing my freezer one day, I realized that I had not one, but two frozen turkeys at the very bottom, that I had long forgotten about!  These frozen birds were 4 or 5 years old!  What can be done with this much meat given that Thanksgiving was months away?  Can it!  Let me show you how to can a whole turkey!

frozen whole turkey in packaging

Maybe you’re like me and found a large portion of meat, deep in the dark corners of your freezer, that you don’t anticipate eating anytime soon!

As long as your turkey has been kept frozen, it will keep indefinitely, although the quality may suffer a bit.  However, both of these turkeys turned out amazing and they were at least 4 years old!

If you’re going to can an entire turkey, you will need to thaw the bird out, in the refrigerator for a few days, just like you would for Thanksgiving.

whole raw turkey in sink

Once the turkey is thawed, prepare it like you would if you were serving it for dinner.

The only difference will be that we are not going to cook the turkey all of the way.

Actually, we’re going to cook it about 2/3 done.  The goal is to see some “pink” near the bones when you cut into it, so “not quite done”.

While the turkey is in the oven, we can prepare our jars and other supplies. 

You will need a pressure canner to can meat, and there are no exceptions.  Only a pressure canner will heat the food up enough to kill pathogens in a low-acid food like meat.

While jars do not have to be sterile for the pressure canning process, they do need to be very clean. 

Use hot soapy water to clean your jars, I’ll be using pints.

pint jars soaking in hot soapy water

Once the jars are clean, put them in your pressure canner to keep hot.

To do this, add the amount of water to your pressure canner that is recommended for the canning process, mine is 3 quarts.  Turn your burner on to medium.

Add water to your jars until they are half-full, then put them in your canner’s water to keep hot.

canning jars in canner keeping warm

Once your turkey is finished cooking, you’ll need to remove it from the oven and let it sit for at least 20 minutes, to rest.

As you can see here, it’s still a little pink inside the turkey and this is what we want for moist canned turkey.

cooked whole turkey with breast sliced

Now it’s time to cut your turkey up into small chunks that will fit into your jars easily.

You can combine your white and dark meats or keep them separate, whatever your family prefers.

My family prefers the white meat, so I’ll save the dark meat for Turkey Soup.

chopped white meat turkey

chopped white meat turkey

All of my breast meat is cut up and ready for the jars!  

We will use the rest of our whole turkey to make soup and broth, but let’s can the white meat first!

Remove your hot jars, one by one, to fill them leaving 1″ head space.

turkey white meat in canning jar

Pack the meat down just a bit, then add hot water (purified water is best, if you have it) or broth to the meat.

Leave one inch of headspace.

plastic spatula releasing air bubbles in canning jar

Insert a plastic knife or spatula around the inside of the jar to release any air bubbles.

canning jar full of turkey meat

Dip a clean cloth into white vinegar and wipe the rims with it.  Vinegar helps to dissolve any fat residue that may prevent the lid from sealing.

wiping the rims of canning jars full of turkey

Place clean lids and rings on, twist only finger tight.

See how fast canning a whole turkey goes???

putting lids on canning jars

Place your jars into the pressure cooker, making sure you have the correct amount of water in the bottom for your canner.  Check your owner’s manual.

Canning Times for Hot Pack:  Process at #10 of pressure in normal elevation.  With boneless meat, process quarts for 1 hour 30 minutes, pints for 1 hour 15 minutes.

If you choose to leave bones in your meat, process quarts 1 hour 15 minutes, pints 1 hour 5 minutes. (Less time because the bones act as a heat conductor.  However, I don’t waste the space in the jar with bones, use those for soup!)

canned white meat turkey

We are just getting started with canning a whole turkey!  Check out all of the food that you can make from one turkey!

jars of turkey meat, turkey soup and broth

Next is soup, let me show you how to make and can Turkey Soup and then Turkey Broth!

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