How to make sauerkraut

Josh Sherman
6 min read

Sauerkraut is one of my favorite things to make. Incidentally, it’s one of the easiest things to prepare. It’s always an exercise in extreme patience. As they say, “it’s ready when it’s ready”.

Before we talk about it being ready, let’s talk about how to start your journey.

To begin you will need cabbage and salt. The cabbage can be any variety of your choosing, you can even use Brussels sprouts. For the salt, stick to something like sea salt or kosher salt as the iodine in table salt could give you trouble.

I mostly make kraut from green cabbage and the cabbage to salt ratio is only about 1.5 tablspoons for every 3-5lbs (which is usually a single head). It make not seem like a lot of salt, but it should be enough to get the juices flowin’ and the enzymes working.

You will also need a way to cut up the cabbage (mandoline, V-slicer, good ol’ fashioned knife) and a vessel to ferment in. You can get some really nice crocks that are specially made for making saurkraut or you can just do what I do and use a large glass jar. Stay away from plastic.

The size of the vessel will really depend on the amount of cabbage you are planning to put in it. Since sauerkraut has a tendency to “burp” and bubble over when you fill the container up too far, I tend to fill the jars only 2/3 of the way to the top.

Preparation is about as simple as it gets. You’ll want to slice and dice your cabbage, very much to your liking (but thinner slices means more surface area for the salt to touch). You’ll take that sliced cabbage, put it in a bowl and sprinkle on the salt. Then you’re gonna [wo]man-handle it.

Squish it up, punch it down, make sure that the salt gets mixed in. You’ll notice as you give it the business that the cabbage will start to release liquid. Once it starts to release it’s juices, you can start to pack your jar(s). Be sure to pour any liquid left in the bowl into the jar.

Side note, you could put the cabbage into the jar and sprinkle a little salt at a time over it, massaging it in layers. I’ve used this technique but I find it takes far too much time and effort and doesn’t allow me to really take out my aggression on the cabbage.

Now that the cabbage and salt mixture is in it’s new home, you need to give it a few hours to release more of it’s liquid. After 2-4 hours, punch the cabbage back down again and determine if you have enough liquid to cover the cabbage. If you don’t have enough liquid, you will need to add some brine.

Brine is just a mix of salt and water. I use the ratio of 2 cups of water to 1 tablespoon of salt. Just as before, use something like sea salt or kosher salt. Also, you should try to use filtered water (or tap water you’ve let sit around for a bit) as the chlorine from tap water could cause problems.

Even though I make 2 cups of brine at a time, I usually don’t need a whole heck of a lot to cover the cabbage. I only weant the cabbage to be 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch or so below the brine. There will be stubborn cabbage that floats up which I don’t pay much mind to because of how I weight things down.

To weight down the cabbage to keep it as best submerged as possible, I stick a ziplock baggie filled with brine on top. The brine not only provides weight, but the nature of liquid ends to create a bit of a seal around the edge and keeps the majority of the little floating pieces below the surface.

The use of brine inside of the bag also means that the bag could break and it not be the biggest deal in the world. The brine isn’t very salty or anything.

In the past I have tried to weigh down the cabbage with plates, jars and even with the large outer leaves of the cabbage. It’s all a pain in the ass compared to the plastic baggie. The only thing that may be comparable would be the weights that are specificially designed for the crocks. Between you and me, those weights cost more than the large jars I’ve been able to pick up at Ross and Home Goods ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Once the baggie is in place, I put plastic wrap over the top of the jar to help keep the bugs out. Gnats love vinegar-y, fermenting things.

Once covered, the waiting begins. It usually takes a week to ten days before it stops tasting like cabbage and salt and begins to taste like sauerkraut. YMMV based on your your house’s temperature. We typically keep the house between 74 and 78 degrees. You should start to see bubbles forming the first day but if not, definitely by the second day.

The only upkeep is to keep pushing the cabbage down. I try to do this every day. Remove the baggie of brine, push the cabbage down so it’s below the brine, replace the baggie and go about your business. You’ll want to check for mold or an weird colors during this time. Mold you can usually just spoon out and it not be an issue. If the cabbage turns pink or blue or anything, throw that shit out immediately.

I must warn you, like most fermentations, there is a stinky phase. The cabbage will smell like a gym bag and you’ll think that it’s gone south. This is just part of the process and should progress to the sour aroma of sauerkraut in a day or so.

After a week, if you haven’t tried your sauerkraut yet, you really should. It will be sour but tends to be on the mild side at this point. By that time, I usually stop worrying about the baggie as well as pushing the kraut down every day.

You can leave the sauerkraut out to sour further for as long as you’d like. The longer it sits out, the more sour it will become. For extended periods of time, be mindful that you may lose some brine and should be adding more in. Even though we don’t really need to weigh things down at this point, you still want to make sure everything is covered.

Once the sauerkraut has reached it’s desired level of sourness, you can stick it in the fridge to slow down the process and put it into hibernation. Sauerkraut will remain edible for the most part, indefinitely. Even in the refrigerator you should be mindful of any weird smells or colors or the appearance of mold.

If it stops tasting like sauerkraut, it probably needs to be thrown out.

That being said, sauerkraut is an excellent first step into the wonderful world of fermentation. It’s also the gateway into things like kimchi as well as other non-cabbage based fermented foods (and drinks!).

Please note that this recipe was deliberately unspecific (because it’s far from an exact science) and can easily be adjusted up or down depending on your needs.

Ferment on!

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About Josh

Husband. Father. Pug dad. Musician. Founder of Holiday API, Head of Engineering and Emoji Specialist at Mailshake, and author of the best damn Lorem Ipsum Library for PHP.

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