Making Sauerkraut at Home – time tested methods

Dave and I decided to try making homemade sauerkraut this year. Okay, Dave did all the heavy lifting but I was very supportive and he worked on this while I was freezing and drying peppers.

We looked at dozens of recipes before settling on the method we are going to try this year. Before leaving Michigan, I bought 3 Very Large cabbages at Cargills vegetable stand for a buck apiece. These ranged from 5 – 7 lbs each and resulted in about 3 gallons of packed cabbage. You don’t need to experiment with this much. You could start with one small head of cabbage if you like. Here is the method:

Ingredients:

Cabbage

Canning Salt or Sea Salt

Gear needed:

  • Crock or food grade plasctic bucket (we used a 6 gallon bucket) (The food grade part of this is important. If you decide to line a non-food grade bucket with a plastic bag, make sure that it’s a food-grade plastic bag! The sauerkraut will sit in this crock or bucket long enough that it could start to leach toxins out of non-food grade materials.)
  • Potato Masher or other heavy kitchen tool (Dave found his very large fist worked better).
  • Plate or other item that just fits inside the crock or bucket
  • Weight (We used a 1 gallon wide mouth plastic jar filled with water) – needs to be clean
  • Clean cloth

Instructions:

  1. Quarter the cabbage(s) and remove the core. Slice/chop as finely as you like. We did this by hand.
  2. Add 1-2 lbs of cabbage to the bucket/crock at a time. Layer with Salt. One recipe we referenced suggested 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage. We didn’t measure. Hard telling how much salt we ended up adding. Add a second layer of cabbage.
  3. Use the potato masher or your fist to pack in the cabbage. Do this after you have added a layer of cabbage and before you add a layer of salt. Dave found that doing this after adding a layer of salt was more than a little abrasive on his fist. After packing each layer, sprinkle salt on that layer. Add another layer; pack; add salt, and so on. Using the potato masher or your fist to pound on the cabbage is breaking up the fibers of the cabbage, releasing the juices. This is necessary to the process of becoming sauerkraut. (I’m sure there’s some life illustration in that.)
  4. Fill to the top of the container if you have enough cabbage. We read recipes ranging from 1 quart to a 55 gallon drum. Container size doesn’t matter in this case – the method is the same.
  5. Cover with plate (or whatever you came up with). Place weight on top. Cover with cloth. The weight will help force the water out of the cabbage as the salt is drawing it out. The salt water becomes the brine in which the sauerkraut ferments without rotting.
  6. Leave the bucket to ferment. We put ours out of the way (by the fish tank in the dining room) so we won’t trip over it but it is still in line of sight so we will remember to take care of it. Disclaimer: this is as far as we have gotten. We will publish some updates as we progress. Here is what we will do next:
  7. Check on the sauerkraut every couple of days. Sooner or later a scum or mold will form on the surface. This is only a surface thing and will not affect the product. The cabbage is out of the air and protected by the brine. Scoop off what you can and don’t sweat what gets away. Rinse off the plate and whatever you are using for a weight. (over the long haul this should be in a cool place, not a heated room but for starters, we will leave it inside.) Sandor Katz of www.wildfermentation.com says, “Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.”
  8. The Sauerkraut should be ready in anywhere from a week to 8 weeks. Most people seem to average 4 weeks. When it is done, some people stop the fermentation process by putting it in the fridge, bagging and freezing it, or by canning it. Others, like Sandor, let it continue to ferment and scoop a jarful at a time to keep in the fridge. We will let you know how ours turns out in a few weeks!

BK (with vast assistance from DK)

  1. I was on line a picked up your recipet for kraut. this is the first time i
    have tried it . i am 74 yrs old. The kraut has been sitting for 4 weeeks, it is
    still forming scum, i have removed scum every day. boli the cheese cloth that
    covers it. I have a Plate on top of the cloth. the kraut is compressed down ,
    from tyhe start. I hava a bout a 3 Pound rock on top on the plate to keep the
    kraut under the brine. I have had to add to the brine ,because of the
    eveporation. How long do i have to waite before i can can it ? Dose the brine
    have to Stop scuming ? Please any information you can give me wil be gratfully
    apperated. Thank You and God Bless Samuel Kittle

  2. Hi Mr. Kittle,

    You may have started with someone else’s recipe as I just posted ours 2 weeks ago when we started our first ever batch of kraut.

    We have 2 batches going now totalling 65 lbs of cabbage. Ours is also still forming scum and I am cleaning it regularly but not daily. From the research I have done, you do not need to wait until this stops to consume or can your kraut. I recommend trying it next time you clean the cloth and replace it. Scoop some into a bowl and taste it to see if it is ready. You can taste it every day if you like. It could easily be ready in the 4 weeks it has been fermenting. That seems to be an average time people talk about although other people’s accounts range from 1-8 weeks.

    Good luck and let us know how it turns out!

    bk (and dk)

  3. Pingback: Simple Reuben Sandwiches « My Sister’s Kitchen

  4. November 15, 2007

    Hi – all I have to say is God Bless you for having this Saurkraut recipe.

    35 years ago my husband and I made homemade s-kraut in a 15 gallon crock (my grandmothers) with the wood slicer board – all I still have. It was the best s-kraut I ever had and he didn’t like s-kraut until then. In fact he fought me over the last jar.

    Well for years I said I want to make it again. So I am going to do it Thanksgiving weekend, 2007. I’m outside Detroit and we have the Nations’ largest farmers market. So i’m going to get a case of cabbage. I did remember that cabbage is best for s-kraut in the fall because the cabbage has more water in it.

    So I went to my trusty canning book and realized I had two questions that I didn’t know where to go for answers.

    First can this be done in a plastic 5 gal pail. you answered that – but where do I find a food grade plastic bucket????

    Second – I was doing this way before we would freeze produce – just canning. so it is ok to freeze in zip lock freezer bags or seal a meal bags????

    Thank you for having this out there you are sooo sweet ….or do I say saurrrrr – kraut :). charlene

  5. Charlene, Thanks for your kind comments. Some quick answers to your questions…

    Look for a food grade plastic bucket at a restaurant supply company. Any place that carries beer-brewing supplies will also have them.

    Yes, go ahead and freeze the kraut. We read that it didn’t freeze well, but we’ve been feasting on homemade sauerkraut out of the freezer since LAST fall. It works just fine!

    Enjoy!

    Barbara

  6. Two older people who like s-kraut, and thank you for the help. one question, how well does store gabbage work when doing this in the winter, and no farmers markt. also when canning it, how long in the canner. My mother many years ago used to make fried-down meat and can it, do you or anyone know how it was done. Thanks Ron

  7. Hi Ron and/or Jacki,

    Store-bought cabbage should work just fine when making kraut. I haven’t canned my sauerkraut, but I know that if you look on the USDA canning guidelines page, they’ll tell you how long to do it in a pressure canner. I’ve never heard of fried down meat, sorry. Again, check the USDA page for guidelines on canning meat. Best wishes,

    Barbara

  8. Hi there! am making kraut and it has been at 70 deg. for 8 days now and fermentation seems to have mostly stopped. Is that too soon? I skimmed daily and it was working good for a week. Did I do something wrong or should I just leave it alone for another 3 weeks? I did 3 crocks, 15#plain kraut, 15#with apple, 15#with carraway seeds. I don’t wanna loose 45# of kraut cuz it’s ruined or something. Thanx…Pat

    • Hi, Pat I read you added carraway seeds to one batch and apples to another how did this turn out? I would like to try both. Could you tell me how much you added to each batch? I do have another question, We started a batch 40# on sept 6th It has not developed any scum only a bit of mold on top which we took out is this normal? dose it have to form scum? or is it not started to work yet? Thanks Sheila

  9. Pat, my husband just emailed me his thoughts about your sauerkraut dilemma:

    Hi Pat,

    We have not run into this problem. Have you tasted it? Are you sure it has stopped? We read recipes before we did this the first time and read that it could be ready in as litle as a week. 70 is warmer that we have done this at so perhaps it went quicker? However, unless you stop the fermentation process, it should continue past this. My recommendation is that you first taste it. If it tastes done, continue with the recipe and refrigerate, can, or freeze as planned. If you are not sure, her are some addtional sauerkraut sites that may help: http://www.wildfermentation.com and http://waltonfeed.com/old/sauer.html.

    We hope it turns out well,

  10. You can find buckets to make kraut at any bakery or grocer that has a bakery. They get icing in 6 gallon buckets for the bakery goods.
    Home made kraut is the best in the world
    R. Cress rnjcress@acsol.net

  11. Food grade buckets can be found at most
    Dinners ask Owner. They recieve sliced pickles
    and other foods in them all the time. Most will
    just throw them away. And for amount of time
    for your Kraut depends on alot of factors.
    Temp of Kraut, amount of salt or cultures,
    mixing of kraut and sugar contant are the basics.
    Kraut left at above 70F may need a little more
    salt to slow it down. High temps can spoil your kraut. Best I found was in the basement 60 to 68F.
    Cooler temps takes longer but gives you nice crisp
    kraut. I just made my first Kolhrabi shred kraut
    and man did it turn out good!
    And last note don’t over waste your cabage!!!
    Organic cabage is the best it has natural yeast on
    the leaves that helps it ferment!!!

  12. can you leave it in too long, mine has been in for 2 months and still forming scum on top, didn’t know if it will turn mushy? please reply

  13. I started my first batch of sauerkraut on Jan 10 2009. I have not had any scum until today, when I opened crock there was a light colored scum growing on the surface of the brine, I was nervous about removing it because I thought is would break up, but it didnt it was like a skin or film.

    So I cleaned it up and removed some to try then closed it back up to see what happens.

    Also, I used cooled boiled water to make up my brine, my cabbage didnt produce very much on its own.

    Curious to know if anyone had a similar experience.

    thank you
    karen

    • Well my sauerkraut came out fine. It has been months since I bottled my finished product. I decided to refrigerate it instead of canning..

      My Sauerkraut loving friend says she loves it. I think I will try using some liquid from my favorite commercial brand, as a starter next time.

      Karen

  14. Hey guys…..
    Just finished up 35 heads of jersey wakefield cabbage……last year we let it work in the jars….worked fine but lots of mess….. so this year we worked it all up, added about 2″ at a time too a no. 12 crock and salted lightly (with canning salt) each lift…..then, I used a tamper too lightly tamp the cabbage too break down the fibers a bit…..afterwards, we mixed the kraut by hand, cleaned the top of the crock above the cabbage line inside and added a round pizza baking stone (basically a round flat ceramic stone about 1/2″ thick) and added a 1/2 gallon jar of water on top of that for a weight…..covered with cheesecloth and then some boards too let it breathe. (I added the boards because I didnt want too take a chance of our cat going swimming in the brine!!! ) I sat the crock in the dining room and we usually keep the house 70* or so. We’ll see what happens.
    I wouldnt have thought the cabbage would have had that much water in it but there’s about 3″ of natural brine over the plate when I put it in.
    Our hands got sticky while we were cutting and shredding the cabbage so I assume it has good sugar content.

    • I just made some myself, been doing it for years I keep mine in a churn, out in our shed. It makes in about 2 weeks …..soooooo good with smoked sausage.

  15. When I was a little boy in late 40’s my grandmother made kraut in a churn. She put the churn in the spring where we got our water and let it set there while it did its thing. I wnet with her every day to check on the kraut, one of my fond memories of her.
    A few years ago I got a churn and made some kraut and it turned out delicious. I added a little sugar to mine along with the salt. She said the sugar helped it to ferment. Don’t know if this is right or not. Seems everyone has their own way and it comes out delicious.

  16. I put my cabbage in a crock and after about 3-12 weeks there was no more liquid on the top so I pressure canned it, but it seems like it is not sour enough and not much flavor. Can I remove it from the jar and let it ferment some more or is it done fermenting because I canned it?

  17. My sauerkraut has formed scum, but I can’t seem to scrape all of it away. It’s white colored and has a strange sweet, but gross smell. When I try to remove the scum, some comes off in a film, but it looks like some is clouding up the brine. I’m worried that this is going to effect the final product. Am I being too cautious or is this something that could ruin the sauerkraut?

  18. Barbara, the first patch of saurkruat I made was in a stone crock it looks fine 4 weeks the second patch I put in a 5 gal.stainless steel pot 1 week ago,can I get a plastic bucket and put the kraut in it to continue the fermentation till complete thanks Ron . 8/22/2012

    • Way to go, Ron! The more I learn about the nutritional benefits of sauerkraut, the more I’m so tickled with how delicious this homemade treat really is!

        • Ron, you should be able to. Fermentation will slow or stop if you refrigerate or freeze the kraut. When you do the transfer, make sure you scrape off the top layer (esp. any bits of mold) before you transfer. You don’t really want that to get mixed through the kraut when you change containers.
          Barb

  19. Ron ,again Barb.
    Transfered from stainless steel pan to plastic food useable container , two days ago ,today the brine is a milky color and mold. On top . Sterilized container before using help can I save this batch