Sauerkraut is one of the most well-known fermented foods out there. It is a staple of many cultures all over the world. When people tell me they don’t like sauerkraut, they are most often referring to the mushy jarred stuff found at the grocery store.
That is not at all what fresh homemade sauerkraut is like.
I’ve converted hundreds of people into kraut lovers by giving them a taste of the real sauerkraut and I recommend that, if you’ve never tried it, you make a batch and see for yourself.
Yield: 2 quart jars
- 2 heads of green cabbage (about 5 pounds)
- 2-3 tbsp coarse kosher salt
Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage and discard. Wash the cabbage with cold water. Cut each head in half lengthwise and remove the core from each half.
Shred the cabbage into thinly sliced shreds, about 1/8 inch thick. You can also use a mandolin or cabbage shredder for this step if you have one. Try to keep the shreds uniform in size so that it ferments evenly.
Collect shreds in a nonreactive bowl, such as glass, plastic or solid stainless steel. Once all cabbage is shredded, mix in the salt. Use clean hands (nail polish and jewelry removed, or wear food safe gloves) to mix the salt with the shredded cabbage, squeezing and mashing with your fists to tenderize the cabbage.
You can also use a wooden tamping tool for this process. But be intentional about not over mashing the shreds or it will turn into a mushy ferment.
Massage the cabbage until you can pick up a handful and squeeze liquid from your fist. Once liquid accumulates, you can transfer the cabbage shreds into a clean quart jar. Leave 1 to 2 inches of headspace (room from the cabbage to the rim of the jar).
Use your fist or cabbage tamper to tightly fill the jar. Pour in any excess liquid from the bowl in the jars as well. This liquid is the brine that the sauerkraut will ferment in.
Once the jars are filled, there should be enough brine to cover the shreds. If there is not enough liquid, check again in the morning. More often than not, there will be enough.
You will need some sort of weight to keep the cabbage pushed under the brine. Keeping the shreds submerged under the brine is the key to a successful ferment. There are weights specifically made to fit jars, but you can also get creative—see the notes section below on alternative options.
Wipe off the rim of the jar with a clean dampened towel and add the canning jar lid. Tightly screw on the ring.
This is a longer ferment, ranging from two to six weeks. The temperature in the space where you are fermenting in with decide how long it takes. The warmer a room, the faster it will ferment.
Ideally ferment between 60-75 degrees F (15-23 degrees C) and keep out of direct sunlight.
Burp the jar daily, especially at first when the ferment is very active. Unscrew the lid briefly, and tighten it back on to allow any built-up gas to release.
At least once per day, you’ll have to use a clean utensil to push down the weight and submerge the cabbage again. Scoop away any pieces of food floating on top of the brine to avoid mold.
Taste test the ferment after week two. If it still tastes of raw cabbage, allow it to ferment another week and taste again. Some people prefer a very sour and soft sauerkraut and therefore will ferment closer to the six week range.
Once fermentation is complete to your taste, transfer the jar into the refrigerator, with the brine and all.
Fermentation does not stop once the ferment is transferred to the refrigerator. However it does slow the process way down. The taste and texture will continue to change, therefore it’s best enjoyed ideally within six months.
We enjoy sauerkraut with many meals in our household. View it as a finished veggie side dish that can be added to a variety of meals. It’s not just for bratwursts and porkchops.
If you do not have a glass jar weight, you can improvise by using an easily removable small food-grade glass dish that fits inside the jar. Or, if you have a smaller glass canning jar that can fit into the mouth of the jar you are fermenting with, you can use that to keep the produce pushed under the brine.
You may substitute fine sea salt instead of coarse kosher salt if you prefer. Consult a salt conversion chart.
Consider substituting one head of red cabbage for one of the green ones to make a beautiful pink kraut!
Expect foam-like bubbling, at least in the first week of this ferment. It’s completely normal.
This recipe has been adapted from Can It & Ferment It (expanded 2020 edition) with permission from Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. For more sauerkraut recipes, check out WECK Small-Batch Preserving, and WECK Home Preserving by Stephanie Thurow.