How To Make Sauerkraut In A Jar

Fermentation doesn’t get easier than this.

September 20, 2016
homemade kraut
Rebecca Straus

My family is about 99 percent Pennsylvania Dutch, which means it was practically my destiny that someday I would learn to make sauerkraut. My dad used to make it the old-fashioned way, in a special crock kept in the cellar for several months. When he finally opened it, it would stink up the whole house. For this reason, I hated sauerkraut for most of my life. I tried it again years later and discovered it really wasn’t as offensive as I thought—in fact, it was pleasantly sour.

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I recently decided I wanted to try making my own, but I didn’t want to deal with the crock or mass-produce a year’s worth of kraut, which is how it’s done traditionally. Enter the mason jar, the perfect vessel for making a small batch of sauerkraut in a short amount of time. I tried this method a couple of times, and it’s easy to do and the kraut comes out great. Here’s how to get started.

cabbage head
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Gather Your Supplies

Sauerkraut is the simplest fermentation project you can try. It only requires two ingredients: salt and cabbage. You can use any type of cabbage you want—green, red, heirloom, whatever. If you want to get fancy, you can add other veggies and spices to the mix, such as carrots, garlic, and caraway seeds, but I like to keep it simple and just stick to cabbage. As for the salt, you can use almost any kind as long as the only ingredient on the label is sodium chloride. The salt needs to be free of additives like iodine or anti-caking agents, which can interfere with fermentation and alter the taste. Sea salt and pickling salt are both good options. Granulated salt, as opposed to coarse, works best too, because it dissolves more easily.

Related: 7 Foods For Good Gut Health

For this method, you’ll also need a wide-mouth Mason jar. One head of cabbage fits nicely in a quart jar, or alternatively, two pint jars. For a double batch, you can fit two heads of cabbage into a 2-quart jar. Just go with whatever you have on hand. You don’t need to sterilize the jar as you would for canning, but be sure to wash it and your hands thoroughly before you begin. 

shredding cabbage
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Prep Your Cabbage

Start by removing any yucky outer leaves, as well as one or two of the good, healthy leaves underneath (set these aside—you’ll need them later). Next quarter your cabbage and cut out the core. Then slice each quarter into strips, keeping them as thin as possible, somewhere between ⅛ and ¼ inch wide. If you’re a low-tech kind of cook, you can simply use a chef’s knife, which is what I did the first time I tried making sauerkraut. However, my strips ended up wider than I would have liked, so the second time around I went with a handheld slicer (sort of like the junior version of a mandoline). The slicer created thinner, uniform strips, but sent small shreds of cabbage sailing all over the floor and table. (Rodale’s Cabbage Shredder + Slaw Board might be a better option.) This was a pain, but I found the thinner strips made better kraut, so the mess was worth it.

add salt to cabbage
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Add Salt

Adding the salt is the most crucial step. The salt draws the water out of the cabbage, creating the brine that's responsible for the fermentation process. If you use too little salt, you’ll end up with mushy, moldy sauerkraut. Too much, on the other hand, slows down fermentation and keeps the beneficial bacteria from multiplying.

Related: The Best Natural Salts To Buy

The magic ratio is 1 tablespoon of salt for 1¾ pounds of cabbage (or total veggies if you’ve opted to add other ingredients). If you’re like me and don’t own a kitchen scale, you can always estimate. Your average head of cabbage will weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 to 2½ pounds, and most recipes recommend 1½ tablespoons of salt for one medium-sized head of cabbage. Start by mixing in 1 tablespoon and then do a taste-test. It should be very salty but not overpowering and disgusting. Add more salt if needed.

knead the kraut
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Knead It Real Good

You have to knead the cabbage to get the frothy brine flowing. A co-worker told me that it was crucial to do this for a full 10 minutes, and she was right. If you don’t work the cabbage thoroughly, there won’t be enough brine to cover it once you transfer it to the jar. Set a timer, queue your favorite playlist, and get your hands in there! 

mash the kraut
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Mash It Down

Scoop the cabbage into your jar and pack it down as tightly as you can. There shouldn’t be any air bubbles, and the brine should completely cover the cabbage. I used my fist to stamp it down since my hands were already messy from kneading, but you can use a wooden spoon if your fist is too big to fit in the jar. 

stuff leaves into a jar
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Anchor It

Remember those fresh cabbage leaves we set off to the side in the beginning? Wedge one into the jar so that it acts as a net, keeping the shredded kraut from floating to the top. It’s also helpful to use some kind of weight to keep everything pressed down. During fermentation, the brine levels will fluctuate, so you want to make sure the kraut is as compact as possible to prevent it from drying out. A glass paperweight or a smaller jar filled with marbles are both good options. I didn’t have either of those, so I got creative and used a shot glass filled with dry beans—anything that's clean, small, and heavy will do the trick.

fermenting cabbage
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Wait Patiently

Your jar-o’-kraut needs about a week to 10 days to ferment. It’s a good idea to open the lid to release the gases every other day or so to keep the juice from overflowing (you may want to place a saucer under the jar just in case). Higher temperatures cause the fermentation process to speed up, cooler temperatures slow it down. 

fermenting cabbage
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Check It Frequently

There’s no specific moment when sauerkraut is “finished.” If you’re using a standard green cabbage, it should be ready when the cabbage has turned white and slightly translucent. If some of the cabbage is still green, it needs to ferment a bit longer. The flavor gets more tangy with time, and less salty (good news if you added a little too much). After a week of fermenting, open up the jar and taste it. If it tastes good to you, then it’s done. If it’s crunchier than you’d like, or too mild, let it go a few more days, tasting periodically until you hit on a flavor and texture that you love. 

kraut dog
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Enjoy!

Once you’ve determined that your sauerkraut is finished, transfer it to the refrigerator, or freeze it for later. You can keep it up to a year in the fridge thanks to that good bacteria, but chances are it’ll be gone long before then. Eat it plain, on an organic hot dog, or whip up that German classic, pork and sauerkraut

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