The Best Way to Make Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is a great ferment to make, it is easy to setup, you don’t need a culture, or fancy ingredients, and the results are health boosting and delicious.
Making your own sauerkraut is super easy. However there are somethings that can go wrong if it is not setup ideally. And there are also techniques which take extra time, energy and money.
Which is why we decided to make a quick guide for you guys on the best way to go about making sauerkraut! Follow these steps and you can’t go wrong.
So let’s jump in and get to the know ins and outs of the best way to make sauerkraut.
The Basic Process
If you have never made sauerkraut before, let’s quickly walk through the basic process. And trust us, it is basic.
The first thing to do is select a jar or other container to ferment your kraut in. Do this by deciding how much you want to make, and then selecting a sealing jar. Here you have the option to opt for an airlock, but a simple mason jar or salsa jar will work fine.
Then all you need is your cabbage, salt, and something to weight the cabbage down with in the jar. A non-porous stone, or a small ceramic object can do the job.
Once you have your items together simply chop up the cabbage, place it into a large bowl and add salt. With one’s hands the next step is to massage the salt into the cabbage, then spoon it into your jars, pressing down firmly. Place the weight on top of the cabbage, seal up the jar, and place out of direct sunlight. Leave for +- one week.
See. It is easy! Now that you know what the basic process involves, let’s get into the step-by-step guide on the best way to make sauerkraut.
The Best Way To Make Sauerkraut Step-By-Step
Here we are going to break down each step of the process of the best way to make sauerkraut, so that you can pick up all the tricks and tips along the way.
The first thing to ascertain is how much you want to make.
Step 1: Decide How Much You Want To Make
Before selecting a jar and assembling your ingredients, decide how much sauerkraut you want to make. This will determine the size of jar you need.
Raw Cabbage To Jar Size: 3 pounds cabbage > 2 quart jar
A surprising amount of cabbage can go into a jar. To give you some perspective 3 pounds of cabbage will fit comfortably into a 2 quart mason jar. Incredibly right?
So if you are going by the amount of cabbage you want to process into sauerkraut, then use this formula to select out your jars. If you are going by the amount of jars of finished sauerkraut you want, then go the other way and calculate how many pounds of cabbage you will need to fill your desired quart sizes.
Step 2: Select Your Jars
Now that you know how many, and of what size, select your jars. Make sure that they are glass jars, with sealing lids. Plastic and metal containers are not advised. Some people choose to use crockpots to make their kraut in. However mason jars tend to be more manageable and convenient. Their lids also seal a lot better which is important.
Choose Whether Or Not To Use An Airlock
At this point you have the option to choose whether or not you want to use an airlock. Airlocks are simple fermentation devices that you can order online which can be fitted to the tops of jars. You can also opt to order jars that come with an airlock already fitted.
Airlocks are a nice thing to have if you are doing a lot of fermenting. Their function is to release pressure build up within the jar while it is fermenting, without allowing a fresh air supply to enter the jar.
Benefits of Airlocks
The benefits of having airlocks are two fold. Firstly they negate the need to manually release pressure from your jars of fermenting sauerkraut. If you do not have airlocks, it is very important that once you have set up your sauerkraut and is it fermenting, that you crack the lids of jars every day. If you do not do this, you risk the chance of an explosion happening! During fermentation the pressure can build up the point that it can literally explode glass jars. Which, needless to say, is a dangerous situation, and one to avoid at all costs.
The other benefit to having an airlock is that while it releases pressure out of your ferment, it does not allow air to enter as it would when one cracks the lids manually. This helps to ensure a super successful ferment, and lowers chances of mold and kahm yeast developing.
The most common type of airlock you can buy has to be permanently installed onto the lid on your jar. These types are a bit of a hassle, because if you buy one on its own, you need to get out the drill and DIY things before you can get on with your sauerkraut. And if you buy a jar with an airlock already fitted, that jar is a sole purpose object, that is quite bulky.
We have found that some of the best airlocks around are those that are known as pickle pipes. They have incredibly simple design, but work well. They are made to fit snugly into mason jar rings. This is awesome if you are going to be using mason jars for your sauerkraut. However they will not work on other jars, so that is one downside.
Having said all of this, be aware, that it is not absolutely neccesary to have an airlock. It is something that is great to have, makes fermentation safer, and saves you time because you do not have to crack lids daily. But, you can absolutely make a good batch of sauerkraut with out the use of an airlock.
Step 2: Find A Weight
Next up you will need to find your self something to weight the cabbage down in the jars while it is fermenting. This is important, because any cabbage that sticks above the surface of the brine that it makes, can contract mold. Or simple go slimy, neither of which is desirable.
You can opt to go without a weight, and instead press the cabbage down everyday with a spoon. During fermentation carbon dioxide bubbles form, which lift some of the cabbage to the surface of the brine, which is why you either need a weight to keep it submerged, or you need to press it back once a day. This can however get tedious, so we rather advise that one finds a suitable object to use as a weight.
Here are a few ideas of things that you can use.
Things you can use to weight the cabbage down:
- A non-porous pebble or stone
- A small saucer
- A tiny bowl
- A glass coaster
If you simply cannot find anything to use as a weight, and you want the convenience of having one, then you can also buy pickle pebbles online. They are designed to fit the different mason jar widths.
Step 3: Pick Up A Nice Fresh Cabbage
When making sauerkraut it is important to use as fresh a cabbage as possible. The reason for this is that it lowers the risk of kahm yeast and mold occuring. Kahm yeast is a non-harmful species of yeast which can develop on the surface of sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables. It is safe to ingest, however it smells terrible. Once a batch of sauerkraut contracts kahm yeast, the smell permeates the whole thing, even if you try to scoop it off of the top.
Kahm yeast typically develops on ferments which are unsealed, and which are made with old produce. So to avoid this, use a fresh cabbage, and go with the sealed fermentation method that we recommend. Some people like to open ferment, and simply place a cloth over the top of their open jar of sauerkraut to prevent flies from entering. But to lower chances of kahm yeast, we recommend close fermentation.
For more information on kahm yeast, check out this post where we do a deep dive on kahm yeast.
Step 4: Select Your Salt
You can use almost any salt for sauerkraut, however there are some recommended types of salt, and some which one should stay away from if you want to make your sauerkraut in the best way.
Salts which contain non beneficial addictive should be avoided, as they can inhibit the fermentation process. Natural salts which do not contain chemical additives are preferred.
Salts Not To Use:
- Salt which contains iodine
- Salt which contains anti-caking agents
- Kosher salts (also contains unwanted agents)
Salts To Use:
- Himalaya rock salt
- Pure sea salt
Step 5: Sterilize Your Jars With Hot Water
Now you are ready to start assembling your jar or jars of sauerkraut. The first thing to do is sterilize your jars using hot water. Do not use soap, as soap residues can interfere with the bacteria.
Be careful when you do this, as the jars can get hot.
Step 5: Chop Up Your Cabbage
Now it is time to chop up your cabbage. Finely slice up all of your cabbage and transfer it into a large bowl.
Step 6: Salt The Cabbage
Next up you need to salt the cabbage. You can either do this to taste, or calculate how much salt you will need based on the volume of cabbage. This is the safer option, as having enough salt is very important for ensuring proper fermentation so that mold has no chance of developing.
To calculate the salt quantity needed for the cabbage you are going to ferment, you will need to start by weighing the cabbage. Then apply this formula:
salt required = 0.02 x the weight of the cabbage
So for example, if you have 1 kilogram of cabbage:
0.02 x 1 kilo cabbage = 20 grams salt
Once you have calculated the correct amount of salt to use, toss it into the bowl with the cabbage. Then, using your hands, massage it in for a few minutes. The cabbage will become limp and then you can stop.
Step 6: Pack The Jars
Now simply pack the cabbage into your jar or jars using a spoon or your hands. As you pack the cabbage in, press it down firmly. You want to squeeze as much cabbage into the jar as possible. Once the jar is full, you should see a layer of brine covering the top of the cabbage. This is moisture from the cabbage that the salt has drawn out.
If you do not see a layer of brine forming, and you have compressed the cabbage into the jar with all of your might, then do this. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt with one cup of water, and use a little of this to top up the jar.
Step 7: Weight Down The Cabbage And Seal Up
Now it is time to place your fermentation weight into the jar if you have one. Once you have weighted down the cabbage, check to see if pieces are still poking above the surface. If this is the case, then here is an easy fix.
Take a cabbage leaf, if you still have one left, and use a piece of it to form a raft. Take the weight out of the jar, and place the leave under the weight that you chose, replacing the weight afterwards. This should keep any stray bits of cabbage from rising above the brine.
Now all you need to do is seal up the lid, and your ferment is ready to go.
Step 7: Ferment For 3 – 12 Days (burping daily if not using an airlock)
Place your sealed up ferment in a warm place (ideal temperature is 18 degrees Celsius, or 64 degrees Fahrenheit), but not anywhere that receives direct sunlight. Depending on the temperature, fermentation time can vary from 3 days up to 12 days or even 2 weeks. The warmer it is, the faster the sauerkraut will ferment. The colder it is, the slower it will ferment.
You can taste check your sauerkraut along the way to gauge whether it is ready or not. Also, some people like their sauerkraut strong and tart, and others prefer it mild. The longer you leave the ferment, the stronger and more tart it will taste.
If you are not using an airlock, be 100% sure to crack the lids and burp the jars daily. It is very important that you release any pressure build up that may occur. We do not want you to have an explosion on your hands!
So folks, that is the best way, that we know, of how to make sauerkraut! We hope that you found this guide helpful, and that you will soon be making a batch of your own sauerkraut. If you are wondering whether or not it is worth making sauerkraut, check out this post where we get into all the awesome reasons why making sauerkraut is a must. For your body (and mind actually!) as well as your wallet.
Until next time, happy fermenting!