09:52 – It was 73.5F (23C) when I took Colin out at 0710, sunny and windy. More work on science kits today, with Barbara volunteering at the Historical Society museum this afternoon.
Commercially canned meats versus home-canned meats
As a basis of comparison, a 1.75-pound can of Keystone canned ground beef costs $6.28 at Walmart.com, with free shipping on orders of $35 or more. Canning that same 1.75 pounds of ground beef yourself requires buying not just the fresh ground beef, but a canning jar, a pressure canner and accessories, and the fuel required to process the jar. And, of course, your time.
I checked the prices at Sam’s Club. Ground beef in bulk, depending on exactly how much you buy and whether you go for the 80/20 or 90/10, costs $3/pound give or take $0.25. Call it $3.00. So 1.75 pounds of ground beef costs about $5.25. That leaves you $1.03 to work with if you want to break even. Sam’s doesn’t offer much in the way of canning jars, so I checked Walmart.com. Two cases of wide-mouth quart jars (24 jars) with lids and bands costs $18.98, or $0.79 each. That quart jar will hold anything from 1.5 pounds to two pounds of ground beef, depending on how you process it. Call it 1.75 pounds on average. So, at $5.25 for the meat and $0.79 for the jar, we’re already at $6.04. Even assuming we don’t allocate any of the cost for the canner and other equipment to this batch, we have $0.24 per jar left to pay for our fuel, effort, and time.
Yes, you can re-use the jar once it’s empty, although you’ll need to buy a new lid for it. Those run about $0.20 each in quantity. Or you can buy re-usable Tattler lids, which run roughly a buck apiece, but can be reused repeatedly. Let’s say you get ten uses out of each lid. That takes your cost down from $0.20 per run to $0.10. On that basis, your total materials cost drops to about $5.35 per 1.75-pound jar, or about $0.93 less than buying the can of Keystone ground beef. Given the time, effort, and fuel required, I don’t consider that anything close to break-even, which is why we don’t can ground beef.
Granted, this is worst case. Walmart also sells Keystone 1.75-pound cans of pork, chicken, or turkey for $6.28, and those meats are less expensive than beef. And, of course, you can often find meats on sale. In fact, one of my correspondents buys all of his meat on the expired rack at his local supermarket. This stuff is typically one or two days short of its sell-by date, so the supermarket knows they’ll have to throw it out soon. That, and no one wants to buy meat that close to its sell-by. So he often gets tremendous deals when he offers to buy everything on the expired rack. He often gets 40 or 50 pounds at a time and pays 33% to 50% of the normal price. He then takes it home and sticks it into the freezer until he has time to do a big canning run.
So, yes, if you do what he does, you may end up getting 50 pounds of nearly-expired fresh ground beef for $50 or less instead of $150. On that basis, he’s spending less than half of what the commercial Keystone meat would cost, even counting the cost of the jar and lid. He has the biggest (41.5 quart, $450) All American canner, which can process 19 quart jars per run, so he and his wife get roughly 35 pounds of meat canned per run. They do the same thing with chicken, turkey, pork, and bacon, buying all of them only at a deep discount. They figure their home-canned meat will be safe forever and will taste just as good in five years or more as it did the day they canned it, so they’re accumulating a lot of home-canned meat. At last count, they were up to 300+ pounds of meat in more than 150 quart jars. Per person, for their family of six. That’s almost a ton of meat, and should be enough to last them 18 months to two years, eating as much meat over that time as they eat normally. And they’re always eating really cheap meat.
If you’re willing to do what they do, it does make economic sense to home-can meats, even after the cost of the canner. Otherwise, not so much.