First, the disclaimer: The USDA does not recommend canning bacon and has determined the practice to be unsafe. Once again, nothing you see me do on this blog should in any way be construed as a recommendation that you do the same. I make my own decisions. You’ll have to make yours.
That said, here’s how I can bacon.
To keep from repeating myself too much there is some information on pressure canning on the Canning Milk post.
You may ask, “Why can bacon? Can’t you just leave it hanging in the smokehouse?” Sure, if you make your own bacon you can simply hang it, however, here in Oklahoma it will go rancid in the summer. Some may contest that, but it’s a fact down here in the south. Also, you may purchase your bacon in which case it’s a mild, wet cure and absolutely won’t keep at ambient temperatures.
For this post I’m canning 20 pounds of bought bacon that we found for $1.90/lb locally, cheaper than we can buy fresh side meat for curing our own and saving us a trip to The City to get it. (In Oklahoma, at least south central and western Oklahoma, “The City” is synonymous with Oklahoma City.) Next summer there will be pigs again, Lord willing, and next fall perhaps a post on how we cure bacon.
Most of the online bacon canning instructions describe wrapping the slices in brown paper or parchment paper. I don’t do anything that fussy. Apparently it’s an aesthetic thing to try to produce nice slices for frying, though the end result pictures I’ve seen aren’t much prettier than what comes out of my jars. I don’t buy nicely sliced bacon, anyway. Usually I get ends and pieces or irregulars like the ones in the pictures above. Plus, my husband and grandson don’t set much store by pretty when it comes to bacon. Personally, I like to can it in half pints. A half-pint is the perfect amount of meat and fat for me to make about a quart of bacon gravy to go over biscuits. David and Oran, however, disagree so I’ve started canning it in pints – roughly a pound to the pint – so there’s leftovers to nibble on.
I pre-cook the bacon in a 350 degree or so oven on large sheet pans. My pans hold 3 pounds a piece. You can also fry it in a skillet. Cook it until it’s about half-done.
Fill your jars. I absolutely don’t worry with placing the slices nicely. I just stuff them in with a pair of tongs. Make sure to use a jar funnel to keep as much grease as possible off the rims. Divide the accumulated drippings from the cooking sheet or skillet between the jars. I pour them into a Pyrex measuring cup and use that to pour into the jars. This batch made about 1/3 cup drippings per jar.
Grease is the enemy of a good seal. I go to extremes when canning meats to avoid grease on the jars or rims. Wipe the rims well. I do three wipes. The first is with a just slightly soapy rag, turning the rag to a clean part for each jar. Second, I wipe with a clean water rag, again using a new part of the rag for each jar. Finally, I wipe with yet another rag dampened in vinegar. I also add about 1/4 cup vinegar to the canning water to keep the jars cleaner. On the left, no vinegar (and a cooler jar.) On the right, vinegar in the water. No kidding.
Position your lids and rings. I keep them in simmering water while I fill the jars. Place the jars in the canner, fit the lid (not the weight) and heat till steam escapes the vent port (the stem where the weight sits.) Let it exhaust for 10 minutes and place the weight. I use a weighted gauge canner instead of a dial gauge and process everything except milk at 15 pounds. (Safe canning pressures depend on altitude. Here’s further info with a chart.) I prefer the weighted gauge because I can hear it rocking and am less likely to wander off and forget that I’m canning.
My weighted gauge has 3 parts. The main part, on the left, is the 5 pound gauge.
Add one ring and it becomes a 10 pound gauge.
Add the last ring and it is 15 pound gauge.
Process for 75 minutes for pints.
When we get ready for bacon I pop open a jar , dump the contents in a skillet, tease it apart and fry it till it’s crisp.
For gravy I add enough flour to make a nice roux – enough that there’s no free grease floating around but not so much that it looks like dry crumbs – usually about 2 tablespoons flour per tablespoon bacon grease for each cup of gravy. You eventually learn to eye-ball it. Cook the roux a minute or two, don’t let it burn. Whisk in milk (canned milk works great), the amount depending on how much roux you made, and bring it to a boil, stirring to keep it from sticking. Cook, stirring for 3 to 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over hot biscuits or fried potatoes. We also use our canned bacon in eggs, greens, beans, potato soup or Oran’s Egg Pie.
Finally, just for interesting reading, here are the CDC botulism surveillance statistics for the last few years.