Making Fresh Fermented Sauerkraut at Home

Doc Forester’s Sauerkraut

After making sauerkraut for many years I decided to write down my instructions for a few friends in a fermentation club we started. So I thought I would post it here for folks to use.

I have my food and beverage lab room in the basement where the temp. stays 65-70 F year round except in the peak of summer. For best pickling I have found that the 62-70 F gets the best and most flavorful results. Just like in beer and wine making. Don’t make beer, cider, or wine in the same place you make vinegar or pickles. Cross fermentation will ruin the booze, turning it to vinegar.

For ALL types of fermented/lactic pickles, when fermenting in a brine use 2% by weight of salt
to water. When fermenting without a brine, like you do with sauerkraut, use 5% salt by weight to the vegetables. With sauerkraut I like to let the ferment get started naturally for a week or two, then I buy a some good yogurt and drain the whey off and add the whey to the bucket to boost the ferment and get good, healthy probiotics developing. Some people do this right from the start, but I read some university research that by letting the natural probiotics start the
ferment you get better flavor, then the yogurt probiotics develop it further. Over the years I find I agree. To drain whey, put yogurt in a funnel or colander lined with cheesecloth or paper towel. Have a bowl underneath to collect the whey. The drained yogurt becomes much thicker like a very firm Greek style and can be eaten as yogurt, or used in cooking.

For the fermentation I use those 5 gallon food grade plastic fermenting buckets for making beer that I got at the local home brew supplier. The lid is pre-drilled for a fermentation lock
and with one in, the gas can get out and air and mold doesn’t get in. Before each use I wash well, rinse well, and then wipe down inside with white vinegar to kill any mold spores. I have also wiped down the inside of the bucket with 190 proof pure gran alcohol (NGS), such as Everclear or Graves. I let the vinegar or NGS air dry.

You can easily do as little as 5-10 pounds in the five gallon bucket, up to around 20-25 lbs. I
weigh the cabbages and write this down for later. Then slice the cabbage thinly, either by hand, or with a food processor, depending upon my mood and time schedule. I then weigh out kosher or pickling salt, not iodized, to 5% by weight to the cabbage.

I put a 2” layer of cabbage in the bucket, and sprinkle on some salt, and do this in layers until
half the cabbage is used up. Then with clean hands I work the cabbage and salt together. The salt immediately softens up the cabbage a bit and releases liquid. I mix it all well, then start layering in the second half of the cabbage and salt. If you are doing 10 lbs. or less you can just layer all of it. But with more than that it is hard to mix it in one go. When the second half is layered, mix that like before, but don’t worry about the bottom half. If you want, which I highly suggest, through in a large handful each of caraway seeds, and cracked juniper berries. These give the finished sauerkraut a beautiful flavor. You can also add cracked coriander in small amounts.

I found a dinner plate the same size as the buckets inner diameter, and I put it on top of the cabbage to make sure the solids are beneath the liquids surface so they don’t dry out. Push
down on the plate firmly until it is covered with liquid. Then fill one gallon zip lock bags with a 2% brine solution and use 1-2 on top. If they leak, they have the correct salt brine to not interfere with the ferment. You can just use the zip lock bags without a plates, but I find the plate helps.

Let ferment for at least two weeks, preferably a month. Checking once a week to make sure the sauerkraut has no mold and is covered and submerged. If you get a little mold remove it
and sanitize the cover plate and use new bags of brine.

This following not necessary, but gives great results:
When I first start the ferment, and then later when I occasionally check on the ferment, as I am
closing up the container I charge my Isi seltzer bottle with a CO2 cartridge, no water, and stick the nozzle under the edge of the lid and slowly squirt in the whole cartridge of CO2 to remove the oxygen, and then close the lid. Doing so I have never had ANY mold or spoilage or oxidation. And I can let the ferments go a very long time. Remember, if you open the container to check on it you need to add more CO2 to flush out the air. Again, this is not necessary.

I have had amazing sauerkraut that went through a 3-4 month ferment before I cold packed it into 1 liter canning jars and put into my storage fridge in the basement. I have several jars left that are between 6 months to two years old. Up to six months old you can cook with it or eat it raw. Once it gets older than that, it get a bit mushy when you cook with it, but raw it’s still super crisp, tart and tangy, and the flavor is remarkable from the caraway and cracked juniper berries I added to the cabbage at the start.

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I’ll add a couple of my tricks for kraut-making. I use a meat slicer or a kraut slicer to slice the cabbage. It’s quicker and I find no glamor in doing it by hand although I’ve done my share & I know everybody doesn’t have a meat slicer. When I slice it I have some (very) large bowls & I put the sliced cabbage into the bowls & salt it. After it stands for half an hour it softens and I find this makes it a lot easier to pack into the crock/bucket or whatever you’re fermenting in. I really pack it in tight into the crock. I use all crocks for fermenting kraut. Once it’s packed I also weight it with a plate but I have some blocks of scrap granite I got from the local countertop place to weight it down. I find the bags of water hard to work around. My medium crock holds 50# of cabbage & the big crock holds 120# of cabbage.

Once it’s done I process it in mason jars per the ‘Blue Book’ recipe. It lasts indefinitely. We eat a fair amount fresh & the dog likes it too. The natural probiotics in it are good for everybody.

Cabbage is one of nature’s real health foods & lactic fermentation just makes it that much better. PLUS once you make your own you won’t eat store bought again.

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Thanks for your input, although for most people having a meat slicer or expensive kraut crocks might be a bit expensive. The beer making buckets I use are five gallons, which I think holds more than a family could eat in a year. Also, if you process the kraut the pro-biotics are killed off.

Always good to have expert opinions.

there is recent evidence that beneficial gut bugs can still feed on “dead” pre- and pro-biotics.

That makes sense, they provide the exact nutrients needed. Jus like when fermenting beer, wine, or for distilling I add yeast nutrients, some of which aare made from dead yeast.

Looking back at this I realized I made a mistake about the salt ratio. Where I say 5%, it should say 1.5-2.5% salt. USDA recommends 3 Tbs. salt to five pounds of cabbage, which is apx. 2.3% salt. But they also say 3/4 cup of salt to 25 lbs. cabbage which is apx. 1.2%. (This is based on using Diamond Crystal Kosher salt.)

Thanks for updating this!

I use 2%. 1# salt to 50# cabbage.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold