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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

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

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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.


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