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canned_sauerkrautTo me, there are three things that you must have with a hotdog: Stadium Mustard (there is no finer mustard), sauerkraut and a nice cold beer.  I am entirely sure I could sustain life for many years on only this meal. 

The Stadium mustard is a lock and I can pick a good beer, but I must say store bought sauerkraut really sucks. It’s either too tangy, not tangy enough, mushy or even downright odd tasting. That’s because “Big Food” does god only knows what to that poor cabbage to get it in that jar, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Making your own homemade sauerkraut is easy, delicious and hell, it’s even kinda fun.

You only need a few simple tools, fresh cabbage and some time to allow the magical powers of fermentation to do their thing.

What You’ll Need
sauerkraut_making 

Cabbage – Fresh heads of cabbage, washed and trimmed of any nasty pieces.  You’ll want about 10-15 pounds worth of heads.

5 Gallon Food-Grade Plastic Bucket with Lid – Sure you could use a stone or ceramic crock, but you could also wash all of your clothes in a river, so lets stick with the 21st Century here and use plastic.  Make sure you get a food-grade plastic bucket, the one I’m using is not food-grade, but the bright orange bucket makes for excellent contrast against the light colored cabbage so it works well for pictures. You can usually get free buckets from grocery store bakeries, they use them all the time.

Another Lid that Fits inside the Bucket – This is going to keep your cabbage submerged during fermentation. It doesn’t have to fit tightly from side to side, but the closer the better.

Something Heavy – Can be anything clean, some people recommend rocks, but I’ve never seen a clean rock in my life, so I opted for a zipper-top bag filled with water and a mason jar filled with water. This will be used to keep the interior lid down below the surface of the brine.

Pickling Salt – Make sure you buy pickling salt and don’t try to wing it with regular table salt.  Pickling salt is cheap as hell and it doesn’t contain any agents to prevent it from clumping like table salt does.  The problem is that those non-caking chemicals make for a very cloudy brine.

Long Knife, Food Processor or Grater – You’re going to need to slice/grate the cabbage, so whatever you’re comfortable using is fine.

Scale – This kraut thing is done by the pound, so a scale is helpful in knowing how much cabbage you have when it comes time to salt it.

Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe

12 Pounds Shredded Cabbage
8 T. Pickling Salt

slicing_cabbage_for_sauerkraut
1. Slice the Cabbage – Slice the cabbage how ever you find the easiest.  I prefer to use a long serrated knife which allows me to go all the way through a head in one cut. Working with a head of cabbage can be difficult so here is how I make it easy to take one apart:

  • Place the head on it’s core and cut it in half.
  • Lay half on it’s cut side and cut it in half so that you now have a quarter.
  • Using an angled cut, cut the core out of the quarter and discard the core.
  • Slice the cabbage to a thickness of 1/8 inch.
  • Repeat with the other 3 quarters.

Now the thickness of the cut is completely up to you.  I like a nice hearty piece of sauerkraut, so I keep it kind of thick:
sliced_cabbage
If you prefer a finer sauerkraut, you can shred it more or dice it.  It’s totally up to you, at this point the major goal is breaking down all of the cabbage.

I like cutting one head at a time and salting because it allows you to ensure that the salt is well mixed with the cabbage, something that is crucial to this whole process.
 cabbage_for_sauerkraut
2. Weigh & Salt the Cabbage – A head of cabbage, once the core is removed, weighs in at about 3 pounds.  This is perfect. Using the ratio of salt to cabbage above you’ll notice that for every 3 pounds of cabbage we’ll need 2 tablespoons of salt.  Weight out 3 pounds of cabbage and place it into your fermenting bucket.
cabbage_sauerkraut 
To ensure that all of the cabbage gets covered with salt, I use one hand to stir the cabbage and the other to sprinkle the salt.  Make sure to stir well and get as much salt as possible in contact with the cabbage.

Repeat this process until all of your cabbage has been salted in the bucket.
fermentation_bucket 
4. Preparation for Fermentation – Now that everyone is in the pool, take your interior lid and place it on top of the cabbage.  Make sure to get as much as possible underneath it and push down to crush the cabbage as tight as it will go.

Place this bucket in a room somewhere in the 75° range and let it sit for 24 hours.

Once 24 hours has elapsed check on your cabbage to ensure that enough moisture has been drawn out of the cabbage to cover all of it with water.  You may need to push down on your lid again to get the water to come up over it.  If enough liquid has been produced, move onto step 5. 

If your cabbage still looks a little dry, you’ll need to give it a helping hand.  Mix up a batch of brine using 1 quart of water and 2 Tablespoons of salt, making sure that that salt is dissolved. Pour this over your cabbage and push the lid down until the water comes over it.
DSC_0035-1 [1024x768]
5. Fermentation – This is the big waiting game.  Get your heavy object and put it on top of the lid to keep it and the cabbage submerged in the salty brine. Store your bucket somewhere in your house where the temperature remains around 75° for the best fermentation possible.

Keep in mind that while fermentation occurs your cabbage with transform into sauerkraut and they don’t sell any sauerkraut scented air fresheners, so make sure you don’t place this somewhere where you’ll have to smell it all the time. An extra bedroom or closet is best, but if you have to have it in a room that you spend some time in, after the first few days you can cover the top of the bucket with a loosely placed lid or plastic-wrap.

Fermentation can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 5 depending on temperature, but I suggest monitoring your sauerkraut every few days to be sure that there is no mold growing on top of the liquid. If there is, just skim it off, wash off the interior lid and whatever you have weighing it down before you place them back in the bucket.
sauerkraut
6. Sauerkrautification – How do you know your sauerkraut is done?  Only one way: taste it.  Try the cabbage once a week to see if it meets your tanginess requirements.  The longer it ferments the more tangy it will become, but whenever it gets to where you like it, you can put the breaks on fermentation.

You can stop fermentation a number of ways:

  • Fridge – Place your bucket in the fridge and it should drastically slow down the fermentation process, but it won’t last forever this way, so either it all or preserve it.
  • Freezer – You can freeze sauerkraut, but you’ll need to put it in a zip-top bag making sure to get all of the air out. That being said, freezing is not a long term solution as it can greatly affect the quality of the sauerkraut.
  • Canning – Canning is my method of choice for long-term sauerkraut storage. It’s easy to do, takes about a half an hour and will allow your sauerkraut to outlive you.  Ok, maybe only if you’re really old.

canned_sauerkraut


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60 Responses to “How to Make Homemade Sauerkraut”

  1. Jill Says:

    Or you could buy a can of Weinkraut at Hansa Import Haus on Lorain Avenue (across from Touch Supper Club). It is the best sauerkraut you will ever eat – and there is no preparation or soaking involved.

  2. Jill Says:

    Here’s a photo: http://www.germandeli.com/gunsauer105o.html

  3. Mark Says:

    Kind of takes the point away from making your own, no?

  4. Harold (SMM) Says:

    Wow. You know, this actually looks fun to try. I never really thought about doing it myself, but I’ll have to give it a go. Thanks for the easy to follow steps and photos that helps a lot. I take that you can’t put a lid on top of the bucket.

  5. CaptainPoopity Says:

    She did say “or”

  6. Andrew D'Angelo Says:

    Mark,

    Where can one buy fresh/live lobster in Cleveland?

  7. Carolyn Benko Says:

    Can you use red cabbage to make saurkraut as well as green…

  8. sharon Says:

    Your receipe is great, love your easy instructions. Would you know how a person would make a whole head of cabbage sour, woulod you just place it between the shredded cabbage or what do you do? thanks for answering my question.

  9. Lorrie Says:

    Yes, you can use red cabbage to make sauerkraut–you will end up with pink sauerkraut, but just as tasty as the other kind!

    You can also add juniper berries and caraway seeds (very traditional), or other shredded vegetables, like carrots, onions, and garlic.

  10. Zach Says:

    Your article is very thorough, with clear instructions and pictures. I’m tempted to try to make some sauerkraut soon, as i so enjoy it. The autumn season also makes me want some butternut squash…

  11. Harley Says:

    What can you do with the sauerkraut if it taste to salty.

  12. Dawn Says:

    It is Oct. and I am crocking kraut.

  13. candace daniels Says:

    My kraut isn’t doing what I think it should be doing. It isn’t terribly pungent(there is a bit of a kraut smell) and doens’t seem to be fermenting like I thought it would. It is on it’s 4th week. Any suggestions. Perhaps I am just impatient!-C

  14. victoria Says:

    my kraut has been sitting for 6 weeks and still not very strong. It is in a garage around 50 degrees. what is the longest this could take??

  15. Randy Says:

    The cabbage will not ferment at temps below 55 degrees. 65-75 is best. The cooler the temps, the longer it will take to ferment. It’s also a good idea to cover it witha piece of cheese cloth or a towell to keep the bugs out and the smell in.

  16. rose Says:

    how do I can the kraut? do I have to heat it?

  17. amy Says:

    Very interesting. I never cared for kraut until I feasted at a german deli, which used a recipe with caraway seeds and apples. It was to die for and I dream of it often. here in southern California ,great kraut is hard to find and I would like to start a new tradition with the kids. by the way, I am astounded at the weight and size of the cabbages you guys grow out there. ours are pitiful. thanks for the tips.

  18. Tim Says:

    I made kraut 3 weeks ago.I used regular table salt. It quit bubbleing after a week. It is starting to smell and taste like kraut. The temp. has been in the60s, given a couple more weeks will iat be ok thank you

  19. Ilene Says:

    Can you ferment just a small amount of cabbage, like 1/2 a head? I hadn’t thought about making so much. Once you ferment it, how long does it last?

  20. Jenna Says:

    I salted my first ever batch on new years day in a crock pot liner. It sits on my kitchen counter (our house is not warm). I never really saw bubbling, but it is beginning to taste like kraut. I put saran on top, then the weighted dish then more saran and a lid. Is it okay if I never saw bubbles? I am starting to get scummy water and a little bit of rubbery white mold stuff. Is it done and should be refrigeratored and eaten?

  21. Clif Says:

    Very nice help. My wife amazed me by making saurkraut just like this several years ago. I was sure she needed to add water, but no need to.
    We’re gonna do it again and experiment with a few additions, like garlic, rosemary, etc…… or maybe peppers, like the Korean Kim-chee. But heck, just good basic kraut, with great mustard and a sausage makes a great meal.

    I’m from a German family, and I miss the good German kraut! Gotta make my own.

  22. kayla Says:

    So my husband started his own sauerkraut almost 3 weeks ago and it has gone from a sauerkraut smell to a beer fermenting smell. Is this normal? What did we do wrong?

  23. Mark Says:

    No, that sounds like he’s doing it exactly right. Cabbage turns to saurkraut by way of fermentation like grain to beer, grapes to wine, etc.

  24. Tommy Says:

    My saurkraut is firm and tastes good but has small white worms. What did I do wrong????

  25. Mark Says:

    Either the cabbage had worms in it when you started or possibly an insect laid eggs in there while it was working. Regardless of what happened, I’d suspect if you did anything wrong, it would be not enough salt. That mix should be salty enough where nothing can survive in it except the yeasts required to carry on fermentation.

  26. virginia park Says:

    Is pickling salt any different than canning salt? Most recipes call for canning salt. What about seasalt? Would that work?

  27. Mark Says:

    Mark, what is your canning process? Thanks

  28. Mark Says:

    Standard hot pack canning method. 10-15 minutes for kraut.

  29. Mark Says:

    All three of those will work. You just never want to use table salt or anything with iodine or anti-clumping agents. They will make your brine cloudy and rather unattractive.

  30. karen Says:

    Just made my second batch of kraut for the year. This time I experimented by adding broccoli, onions, garlic, and carrots to one batch, beets to another. It all sours in the end, but I think it looks pretty and adds different nutrients. Didn’t have enough apples to try that. That will be next year’s project.

    A few things I learned over the years. While a plastic pail works, a crock or glass jar makes for better tasting kraut. If you don’t have a crock, try to get a couple of gallon size glass jars. Instead of putting a lid or plate on top, I use the cabbage leaves that I would have discarded. I make a nice thick layer and weight it down with a glass jar with water, or maybe a vase, depending on what fits the tightest in the jar. Leave a couple of inches of headspace for the juice to raise and put it in some kind of pail or pan so if it runs over there is no mess. When I used my big crock, I adjusted the weights according to how much was needed just to keep juice above the cabbage. Push too much out and it will be dry when canning.

    Two weeks fermenting is okay, but that third week makes it fantastically sour! I do not touch my kraut until the 3 weeks are up. No peeking. If you leave it alone, the fermentation smell usually only last maybe a week, then nothing, since you aren’t opening it up to allow the smell out. The top leaves will be icky, just throw them out, whatever is a nice color and is crisp is good. Then, it’s pork ribs and saurkraut with dumplings, YUM!

  31. Claudia Says:

    Mark,
    Thanks for this awesome tutorial! I have MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity). Due to my MCS, and multiple food sensitivities (i.e. MSG, sulfites and sulfates), I can’t eat commercial sauerkraut. Years ago, I found true sauerkraut, but lately have come home empty handed when looking for a natural, organic sauerkraut. Whatever happened to the basics: cabbage, salt and water ? ? ? I have several heads, of cabbage growing in my garden, and can’t wait to get started on my homemade sauerkraut. YUM!

    Karen,
    Thanks for the hints, on using glass jars. Due to my MCS, I can’t use plastic of any sort. From what I have learned, since being sick (5 years), even “food grade” plastic isn’t good for anyone, as carbon molecules leach into the food, that is in the container. :O Glass or a large crock pot is the best container to use. Large crock pots are expensive. So, I’m thinking one gallon glass jars are my next option.

    It’s good to know that the top layers of cabbage leaves will be icky. :D Once I got started, I probably would have considered layers, of cabbage leaves, as a solution, to an interior lid/cover. So, thanks for that hint.

  32. Tammy Says:

    I made saurkraut in jars about 3 weeks ago (first time) I kept the lids loose , the kraut appears dry… should I add water??? Should I tighten lids??? Should I process the jars??? Please help if you can:) :)

  33. Mark Says:

    What do you mean when you say you “made saurkraut in jars”? It sounds like your cabbage dried out too much. If it hasn’t, you may not have used enough salt and you could risk a contaminated product.

    That’s not worth the risk.

    I’d ditch whatever you made and start over.

  34. Kathy Says:

    Thanks for all the good suggestions. I made my first batch and love it. I have had digestive problems because of intestional operation and eating a bowl a day works wonders on the digestion. The only drawback is that the salt makes my ankles swell. Can I wash the kraut to get salt off without losing any of the enzymes? Thanks in advance.

  35. Kelly Says:

    Great recipe, easy to follow. The taste is out of this world and I am not a big fan of kraut (until now).

  36. Kahryn Says:

    what is hot pack canning method

  37. Shell Says:

    Mark,
    Your recipe is very close to my father-in-law’s. The only difference is that I keep it in the container over night, then I rinse it a bit (keeping a little of the salt taste is good!), I then put the kraut in sterilized qt jars with 1 tsp salt and fill with cool clean water. Place flips & rings – just hand tightened – and put them in a cool dry place for 30 days or more. Tried and true for over 70 years! We’ve never lost a kraut lover and have taught many our recipe

  38. Shell Says:

    Kelly
    I was never a ‘kraut fan’ either, until I had home made. Now I don’t know how anyone can eat store bought sauer kraut!! This recipe is awesome.

  39. Nelinda Jaynes Says:

    Eden Organics now makes and sells organic sauerkraut in a glass jar. However when it is canned, it loses most of the probiotics.

  40. Amy Jo Says:

    Just mixed up a batch following your clear and concise directions. Now …the wait begins! Looking forward to the fun.

  41. Jessica Says:

    I started my kraut 3 1/2 weeks ago. I have tasted it and I think it tastes tangy enough but boy does it smell that something has rotted in it. I spoke to my sister-in-law and she stated every time she canned the kraut that her lids to her canning jars would always pop weeks away like the fermentation was still taking place. How do I prevent this from happening to my kraut?

  42. Kim Johnson Says:

    For me, the main reason to make homemade s.k. is to get all the beneficial bacteria, which are destroyed by high heat/temps (this is why any canned product may taste good, but will still be inferior). For this reason, making only the amount you can store in fridge and eat is the ideal way to go. Of course, taste is the other and equally important reason!

  43. Oktoberfest 2011- Sauerkraut « The Fearless Cooking Club Says:

    [...] used to make sauerkraut in the very crock I purchased. Eatingcleveland.com has a fabulous Homemade sauerkraut step-by-step blog with great pictures. Check out a German recipe if you want to spice it up. [...]

  44. Chuck Says:

    Great tutorial ! Simple explation of why not to use table Salt. Buckets from the Home Centers are food grade. As long as there is a number 2 inside the little tri-angle thingy you are good to go. Orange, Gray or White makes no difference to HDPE plastic.

    I am one not to worry about contamination. I live in New Jersey (47 Years) and breath the air and drink the water here. So any plastic molecule is not going to hurt me.

    I am using 2 liter soda bottles with smaller bottles holding down the cabbage. Maybe I will upgrade to a crock or some larger jars. Wiil keep an eye out at Fleas and Yard Sales.

    Thanks again for a great how to.

  45. Erin Says:

    I made the sauerkraut and got to step 5 this am. When I checked it out tonight, (having had to add 1 at of brine to it this am, the water is way over the top of the cabbage…the cabbage is approx 1 inchish under water….should I pour some of that off or just leave it!

    Thanks for the fab instructions!

    erin

  46. Mark Says:

    Just leave it, you’ll be fine, the concentration of salt should still be fine.

  47. Erin Says:

    thanks a lot! There’s even more liquid now, but I’ll leave it! The real tough part is going to be waiting!

    Thanks again,

    erin

  48. Charlotte Says:

    I made my sauerkraut appropx. 2 weeks ago and it tastes a little sauer. My problem, however, is that the kraut is not crisp but seems too soft. What did I do wrong?

  49. Mark Says:

    Could be a lot of things. Too much salt. Temps too high. Most of the time it’s too much salt and too fine of a cut on the cabbage.

  50. Daryl Says:

    i have a 10 gallon crock i used to make my kraut.It has been sitting for 3 weeks.I checked it tonight & it had stopped bubbling thought it was done. I ate a little off the top tasted good smelled good. The problem is when i went to get some off the bottom of the crock the juice seemed very thick. It smelled and tasted no different than the top of the crock.I’m at a total loss. Is it possible its not done yet

  51. Sue Opaska Says:

    Started my batch of cabbage this past Sat. (Only 2 days). Plenty of liquid but it looks cloudy. Is this normal?

  52. Kevin Says:

    I wanted to share my thanks for posting this very through guide for making sauerkraut or as we call it kapusta. I have finally decided to make homemade kapusta at home. I’m very excited to finally have good kapusta to eat, make salads from or other recipes. I will post here and share the results. Thanks again!

  53. Mary Sinave Says:

    What do you do for the canning so the lids seal and what kind of lids. My mother use to use the zinc covers with the rubber bands. I don’t think I will be able to find this in this day of age.

    Thanks

  54. Micky Says:

    My kraut has been going about 4 weeks in a 2 gallon crock. (my house is not very warm as we keep it cool) It tastes pretty good, but there are still bubbles in it when I open it up and push it down. Should that quit before I can it?

  55. Mark Says:

    You can leave it as long as you’d like. If you think it tastes good, then it’s time to can.

  56. Micky Says:

    Can you make fermented pickles with the same ratio of cucumber weight to salt and cover them with water and a weight?

  57. Mike Says:

    Karen: uzené,kyselé zelí, bramborové knedlíky for Easter all from scratch… I love my heritage.. whats yours?

    Mark: My 300lb batch of kraut will have its first tasting for this easter sunday dinner.. I like to buy my cabbage around st pattys day I get great deals as the grocery stores get a great price and I can usually get it at there cost this year was the highest I’ve ever paid @8 cents a pound, a jar makes a great xmas gifts along with a bottle of midwest wild grape,apple or corn wine mmm mmm
    Cheers Mike

  58. Mike Says:

    Kathy, some may have already said this, but when cooking or preparing my kraut I always empty the jar of kraut into a big bowl then remove the kraut into a strainer rinsing it, then adding the saved juice back into the kraut to get the desired flavor..

  59. Barbara Says:

    We made kraut with Savoy cabbage this year (It was labeled “Late Dutch Flat” but it ended up being Savoy). It’s been in the crock (covered and weighted in the garage) for about three weeks but is still white and crisp. It doesn’t seem to have enough liquid in it. Can I add more brine?
    We’ve made kraut several times and have always had good luck. I’m wondering if the Savoy cabbage is making it ferment differently than before.

  60. Donna Says:

    I made kraut, for the first time. I read that many people say to use sea salt but that makes the water cloudy. For a clear brine, use kosher salt. I only let mine sit for 10 days and now have it in the fridge. It tasted good to me, although I thought it is a little tough. Maybe crisp is a better word.

    The store bought tastes good but you loose all the good bacteria, which is the reason to make your own. I also added caraway seed, just because.

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