Canning turkey at home saves a lot of freezer space and allows you to put ready-to-eat, home-cooked meals right on your pantry shelf.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re canning leftover turkey after Thanksgiving or raw packing turkey meat directly into canning jars, the process is simple and straightforward.
We raise our own heritage birds, and they grow quickly with the abundant forage on our land. Since heat lamps use a lot of electricity, we raise our chicks without heat lamps to avoid overtaxing our off-grid infrastructure.
That means we pick up polts as late as possible, usually in early June. By the time they’re 6 months old around Thanksgiving, those birds can be near 40 pounds, even with minimal supplemental feed. That’s way more than our family of 4 can eat, even with dedication.
Most of the birds are cut up and packaged as cutlets with a food saver vacuum sealer, but our Thanksgiving bird is roasted whole. A bird that big means a lot of leftover turkey. Thankfully, canning leftover turkey is easy and allows us to save much-needed freezer space.
Canning Turkey Leftovers
If you’re preparing turkey for canning, usually the meat is cooked to about 2/3 done before packing into jars. Fully cooked turkey has a tendency to be a bit dry since it’s a low-fat meat, and it’s commonly over-cooked. No one likes the thought of giving their family salmonella on Thanksgiving, and it’s easier to slather dry turkey in gravy or cranberry sauce than worry about undercooked meat.
If you’re planning to can fully-cooked leftover turkey, here are a few ways to prevent the canned turkey from being too dry:
- Do your best not to overcook it!
- Brine the turkey before cooking to maintain moisture
- Rub butter under the skin to add a bit of extra fat to an otherwise lean meat
- Serve the white meat, and save the richer, fattier dark meat for canning
- Add salt to the canning jars along with the turkey meat
Start by picking the turkey carcass of any remaining meat, and then make a flavorful turkey bone broth by simmering the turkey carcass in water, along with carrots, onions and aromatic herbs. We allow ours to simmer for at least 4-6 hours, and sometimes overnight on very low heat.
Chop the leftover turkey meat into pieces, based on your preference. We chop them into roughly 1-inch pieces because that allows for more versatility when serving.
You can pack whole breasts or thighs into the jars, bone and all if that’s your preference. Leaving the bone in just creates a chore for later and is a waste of jar space in my opinion. Nonetheless, the size of the pieces is not important, it’s totally up to your family’s preference.
Food shrinks during the canning process, and pre-cooked turkey is no exception. Since it’s cooked it will shrink less than raw meat, but still be sure to pack the turkey tightly into canning jars.
Your goal is to get as much meat as possible into each jar while still leaving a full 1 1/4 inch headspace at the top of the jar.
Pour boiling turkey stock over the meat, and use a nonmetal implement to remove air bubbles. Check around the sides of the jar, and give the center of the meat a little press to try to shove out any remaining air bubbles.
Air bubbles left in the canning jars mean that there may be meat left exposed to air inside the jar after canning. Though that’s perfectly safe, the meat will discolor over time and dry out.
Top of the jars with extra stock after removing bubbles, but still maintain 1 1/4 inch of headspace.
Canning Turkey ~ Raw Pack
If you’re trying to put up a lot of turkey on harvest day without taking up freezer space, raw pack might be tempting. Raw turkey meat can be packed into canning jars, with or without bones. All that goes into the jars is turkey meat, and the meat will produce its own liquid during the canning process.
Raw pack saves the extra work of cooking the turkey and making turkey stock for packing, but it produces an inferior product. Often raw turkey doesn’t have enough liquid in the meat to properly fill the canning jar with flavorful liquid, leaving meat exposed to air in the jar. You’ll also miss out on the chance to add the extra flavor that a well-made bone broth can contribute.
Even if you’re not canning leftover turkey, I’d still recommend cooking the turkey before you pack it into jars for canning. It’s also a lot easier to debone a turkey that’s been cooked, even if it’s only partially cooked before canning.
Turkey Canning Timetables
The canning time for turkey meat is the same, regardless of whether the turkey is cooked or raw before canning. I know, it seems strange, but the total canning time is more about sterilization than cooking and it takes the same amount of time to safely can turkey meat whether it’s raw or cooked.
The main considerations that determine canning time are the size of the canning jar and whether the meat is bone-in or boneless. While you’d assume that bone-in turkey would require more canning time, it’s actually just the opposite.
Bones are great conductors of heat and canning jars packed with bone-in turkey will be less densely packed. That means that the heat of the pressure canner can more easily penetrate the contents of the jar, reducing canning time.
If you’re below 1000 feet in elevation, use 10 pounds of pressure in a weighted gauge pressure canner (11 lbs in a dial gauge pressure canner). Above 1000 feet, consult this table for canning chicken and rabbit, as times and pressures for canning turkey are the same.
Canning Boneless Turkey
- Pint Jars – 75 Minutes at 10 lbs pressure (below 1,000 feet)
- Quart Jars – 90 Minutes at 10 lbs pressure (below 1,000 feet)
Canning Bone-In Turkey
- Pint Jars – 65 Minutes at 10 lbs pressure (below 1,000 feet)
- Quart Jars – 75 Minutes at 10 lbs pressure (below 1,000 feet)