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How to Make Sauerkraut

I know a lot of people think they don’t like kraut. Once you learn how to make sauerkraut and have it fresh and crunchy, it might turn you into a believer.

A decade ago I would have been in the “no thank you” sauerkraut camp. It was wet, squishy, and simply not for me.

Then I went to school for sustainable food production and we learned about fermentation and made a batch of our own. This kraut was crispy, crunchy, tangy yet a little sweet.

Ever since that first batch I have kept kraut in my house at all times.

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a process of preserving foods that goes back thousands of years. It is the process of creating an oxygen-less (anaerobic) environment that allows healthy microorganisms to break down foods which then creates either acid or alcohol. With either alcohol or acidity, bad bacteria doesn’t stand a chance and your food is preserved.

What can I add to my kraut ferment?

I typically make a standard cabbage kraut. Popular additions to kraut include:

  • Combination of red and white cabbage
  • Caraway seeds
  • Shredded Beets
  • Shredded Apple

Just make sure the majority of your shredded material is still cabbage.

diy sauerkraut rough and tumble farmhouse

How long does sauerkraut take to ferment?

It will take anywhere from 2-4 weeks for a fully fermented kraut. This depends mostly on temperature. Warmer weather will make for faster fermentation. Cooler weather will take a little longer.

How do I know the sauerkraut is ready?

Watch for the bubbling and foaming to recede as a good indicator that fermentation is finished.

Another way to see if it is done, is to taste it. I recommend tasting the kraut at least once a week. Use a clean fork and pull out a little scoop.

Want it tangier? Leave it in there another few days and try again.

How to Store Sauerkraut

If you aren’t canning your kraut (which I recommend NOT canning if at all possible as this kills all the good living bacteria) then you need to keep it cool. Once cooled, the fermentation process slows to a standstill.

Glass mason jars are a great option for storing sauerkraut. From there, you can keep them in a fridge-like root cellar.

We keep a mini fridge in the basement for overflow food items and that is where I stash my jars of kraut.

how to make sauerkraut rough and tumble farmhouse

What can you eat sauerkraut with?

The sky is the limit! Sauerkraut is great on hot dogs, brats, and burgers. It is delicious on sandwiches.

Sautee it with potatoes, or even try it on the side of your morning eggs.

A really good kraut is delicious eaten straight out of the jar.

One tip for eating kraut is to consider serving it in a separate container or on a piece of folded paper towel. The kraut juice is super good for you and delicious, but it does tend to take over a plate and make everything soggy.

Ingredients for Sauerkraut

Salt

Do not use iodized salt. The iodine will inhibit the growth of good bacteria. Other than that, feel free to try different salts and see how your ferment turns out.

I typically go with kosher salt but I know that Redmond’s and other sea salts are popular for their additional mineral content.

Cabbage

Just about any type of cabbage will do. The head should be firm and solid. No busted heads or loose leaves. A crisp head of any type of cabbage will work well.

The cabbage I used for this recipe has been stored in a root cellar for three months and is still in perfect condition for making a batch of sauerkraut.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosure here.

kosher salt rough and tumble farmhouse

Tools for Making Sauerkraut

A Way to Shred the Cabbage

However you do this is entirely up to you. Some folks toss the cabbage in their food processor and have great success. Others say that results in too fine a shred and you end up with limp kraut.

I picked up a great old kraut slicer at a second hand store for five bucks.

You can grate the cabbage on a hand grater.

Or what I did for years was simply slice it up thinly with a knife and cutting board.

antique kraut cutter rough and tumble farmhouse

Fermentation Vessel

Kraut can be made in a glass or pottery containers. I don’t recommend plastic or metals for fermentation.

You can make kraut in quart or half gallon size mason jars.

For years I used these two crocks I picked up at a thrift store and a garage sale.

We were blessed by good friends of ours with a beautiful fermentation crock from a local artist as wedding present. It has been my go-to crock ever since. Check it out in the video below.

Masher

A good solid mashing tool is necessary to smoosh all the juices out of the cabbage. You can often find suitable tools in the odds and ends kitchen section of thrift stores.

Long handled meat tenderizers, woodworking tools, all sorts of things. My friends with a HUGE crock use a baseball bat.

fermentation tools rough and tumble farmhouse

Follower

A follower is used right on top of the cabbage to keep it all together and submerged under the brine. A lot of folks just use a clean cabbage leaf. Plastic wrap will work fine too.

Depending on your technique, you might need an additional follower.

For example, when I make kraut in my wide open crocks, I use a cabbage leaf on top of the shredded cabbage. Then a small side plate goes on that, because I need something solid to rest my weight on. More on the weight below.

Weight

For fermentation and not rotting to occur, all the kraut needs to stay under the brine. A weight will press down on the follower and keep the cabbage under the liquid layer. A mason jar filled with water will do this purpose fie. I’ve also seen a well washed rock used, or ziploc bags of brine.

If you are fermenting in a mason jar, they make special weights made just for mason jars that work well.

Cover

A flour sack towel works well to cover the weight and the whole top of the fermentation vessel. Flies love the sweet smell of kraut and a towel will help keep them at bay.

Storage Jars

Kraut is easiest stored in mason jars. Again avoid plastic or metal.

Bowls

Large bowls or even sheet pans to temporarily place your shredded cabbage. This might only be necessary if you are making a big batch.

Scale

I like to salt by weight, bt you can salt by taste too.

How to Make Sauerkraut

Prep

The first step is to wash all your utensils and crocks.

Next, shred up the cabbage. You can slice it with a knife, throw it in the food processor, or even try grating it. I use an old fashioned kraut slicer.

Weigh the shredded cabbage in a large bowl. Per pound of cabbage, add 1-1.5 tsp of salt. Toss the cabbage and start squeezing and massaging it. This helps the salt break down the cell walls faster, which will give you that much needed cabbage juice.

Give it a taste. It should taste like a good salty potato chip.

slicing cabbage rough and tumble farmhouse

Smoosh

Next, place a handful in the bottom of your jar/crock. Put in enough so you have the bottom covered in about 1-2 inches of cabbage.

Now start smashing it with whatever mashing tool you have. I find a good smash to start, the more of a press and twist works well. One of the goals of this is to smoosh out the cabbage juice.

Another goal is to pack the kraut firmly down into the jar to push out any oxygen that can create spoiling.

Continue doing this, add a layer, smoosh it down.

anaerobic fermentation rough and tumble farmhouse

Weigh it Down

By the time your jar is mostly full you should be able to press into the cabbage and have a nice layer of liquid (brine) cover the shredded cabbage.

Take a clean cabbage leaf or a small piece of plastic wrap and lay it over the top of the cabbage. This will help keep the cabbage all together, no floating rogues.

Follow this with weights or a solid surface on which to place your weight. For example when I do a large open crock, I will do cabbage leaves, a small plate, then a mason jar filled with water for a weight.

crock weights rough and tumble farmhouse

When I use my large lidded crock, I place a cabbage leaf on top then my custom made weights.

Clear away any cabbage debris that are above the brine line.

Place a flour sack towel or similar over the whole kaboodle to keep flies or other curious creatures (I’m looking at you, cats) out of there.

Keep the crock in a place where you can keep an eye on it. Within a day or two you should notice bubbles and possibly foaming. That’s all good!

Taste the kraut every few days. Once the fermentation has slowed and you like the taste, your kraut is ready to go!

Want to learn more about fermentation?

Check out my Canning for Beginners post that has a ton of great fermentation resources.

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