Homemade Sauerkraut

I’ve been wanting to make my own sauerkraut for quite some time now. It’s the perfect project for me: I love fermenting things, I love sauerkraut, Mark loves sauerkraut…really the question is why I haven’t been making sauerkraut for years. The following procedure makes about a gallon of sauerkraut and costs next to nothing.

How to Make Sauerkraut

2 heads of green cabbage, about 5 pounds total
kosher or other non-iodized salt

Can’t get simpler than that, no? You’ll also need a large (at least a gallon) jar or jug, which you’ll probably want to sanitize by running through the dishwasher just prior to using, or filling with boiling water for a few minutes.

Take each head of cabbage, wash it, and remove any yukky outer leaves.

Cut each cabbage into quarters.

Cut the core out of each quarter.

Grate each quarter. I found that a mandoline vastly expedited the grating process. Some of you may have grandparents with “kraut cutters”. It seems like a very grandparent thing to have. These are large mandoline-like apparatuses for grating cabbage for sauerkraut. Or you could try the far more modern approach of a food processor; I don’t have one so I can’t tell you how well they may grate cabbage.

Here is my grated cabbage:

You want to add non-iodized salt at the rate of 2% of the total cabbage weight. I was feeling rather metric the night I was making my sauerkraut – maybe I was feeling German – so you can see that I’ve measured 22 grams for half of my my 2,200 grams of cabbage (I only had a mixing bowl large enough to measure one head of the cabbage at a time). 2,200 grams of cabbage is just about 5 pounds for you Americans, and 22 grams of salt is about 3/4 of an ounce (so you’ll need 1.5 ounces of salt total). A lot of recipes I’ve seen online have called for between 2 and 4 Tbsp of salt for 5 pounds of cabbage, if you don’t have a scale. I’m so used to bread baking that I felt more comfortable weighing it. Salt is one of those things that varies drastically in weight from type to type and brand to brand.

Now in your clean jug or jar, add a layer of cabbage, then sprinkle some of the salt on it:

Continue adding layers in this manner:

Periodically tamp the cabbage down with a potato masher or similar implement.

You really want to press hard on the cabbage to it becomes quite compact …

… and begins to exude water:

Continue adding layers and periodically tamping until the cabbage and salt are all gone. Ideally you want the cabbage to be covered in its exuded water at the top. Place a plastic bag or other piece of plastic into the jar, entirely covering the cabbage (if you are using a wide-mouthed jug, you can use a plate or something instead). Then place a weight on top of the plastic. It’s not obvious from the photo, but on top of the plastic bag, there is a smaller, water-filled jar acting as my weight.

Place in a cool place for 3 weeks, checking periodically for any white scum that may form on the top and removing it if you see it. Apparently the white scum is harmless (just gross) and extremely common, however, I never saw any on my cabbage. I had made sure the cabbage was submerged in water and then completely covered by the plastic.

After three weeks, taste it. If it taste good and sour, it’s done. If not, let it sit a few more days and taste it again.

Here’s what it looked like when I opened it up:

Now a bonus recipe. This is how my mom prepares sauerkraut for holidays: To one pound of sauerkraut, add celery seed, butter, salt & pepper, and 2 slices of bacon cut into small pieces; cook for at least 30 minutes. I threw a very small dish of this together for tasting tonight, using Earth Balance and some vegan “bacon” bits (and microwaving for one minute).

Honestly, though, I didn’t like the bacon bits at all. Maybe it’s simply been too long since I’ve had it that way: at least 20 years now. And I don’t see any need for the Earth Balance. So I think I’ll just stick to the celery seed and salt & pepper. I also want to play around with other additions to the sauerkraut, both during the fermentation and afterwards. Stay tuned!


  1. Kaylen Said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 11:47 pm

    I buy a commercial sauerkraut that has ginger, carrots, and cabbage in it. It’s an excellent combination.

  2. renae Said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

    Oooh, that sounds really good; I will definitely have to try it out – I love ginger!

  3. Jain Said,

    December 23, 2008 @ 7:29 am

    The store bought stuff seems to last forever in the fridge. Do you know the shelf life of homemade?

  4. renae Said,

    December 23, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

    I don’t know from experience as this is my first batch, but from what I understand it will last at least 6 months. Even though I made quite a bit, I imagine it will be long gone before it goes bad.

  5. Tina Said,

    December 24, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

    If you store it in a cool place, it keeps forever.

  6. Aunt Lynn Said,

    December 29, 2008 @ 8:47 am

    Renae brought some of her homemade sauerkraut to Christmas dinner and it was delicious, as was everything else she brought – stollen, two kinds of bread, and three kinds of cookies. I think I gained 5 pounds.

  7. Jain Said,

    January 12, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

    Thanks for the storage feedback.

    Renae, I ~never~ would have tried this before you posted your tutorial, now I have a batch “cooking” on a shelf in a cool room. Thank you!

    I planned to use a jar like yours but my masher was too large and jars of water wouldn’t fit through the opening. After fretting over the appropriate container, and finding and rejecting some $100 fancycrocks at amazon.com, I realized I had a crockpot with a huge crock that never gets used, and it worked perfectly.

    3 weeks from today is Groundhog Day and we’ll be having fresh sauerkraut for our feast! Woo hoo!

  8. renae Said,

    January 12, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

    I love the crockpot idea! My crockpot also routinely goes many more than three weeks without use, so I’ll have to remember that when I want to have multiple batches of things going on. (I happened to get a “fancycrock” for Christmas…) Let me know how the kraut turns out!

  9. Jain Said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    3 weeks later…

    It worked!

    I can’t believe it didn’t turn green or black or gross after sitting for 3 weeks. It just turned yummy! Ah, the glories of fermentation!

    Happy Groundhog Day!

  10. renae Said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 12:18 am

    Glad to hear it, Jain!

  11. sarah Said,

    April 10, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

    Mine was black. BLACK. and mushy… it had so broken down that it was not recognizably “cabbage”.


    the only thing I can think is that the container i had it in wasn’t air tight. I had it in a crock, while you had it in a jar with an airtight lid. Do you think that was the problem? I’m afraid to taste it. It smells like death.

    it is rotten.

  12. renae Said,

    April 10, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

    Sarah, ugh, that sounds nasty. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t turn out, but definitely throw that away. I’ve never had sauerkraut spoil, but I would guess either it was because your crock wasn’t airtight, or it wasn’t properly sterilized. When you don’t have an airtight seal, you have to skim the top of the sauerkraut every day to remove any mold that forms on the top layer that is exposed to the air. I find it much easier to just make sure the vessel you are using is airtight. The large jar that I used in this post was free, or you can buy crocks that have a rim you fill with water to form an airtight seal. I have one like this one, which I usually use for sauerkraut. If you want to use a non-airtight crock, check it every day, removing the top layer every day if it has grown any mold or is slimy, then pack the remainder back down tightly. I hope you have better luck next time.

  13. Jain Said,

    September 14, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

    Re: spoiled kraut: My first attempt was perfect, the second rotted. :o(

    The first was in a glazed crockpot with a glass lid, the second in a thrift store crock with a crockery lid. The air-tightness of the two vessels was similar; i.e, neither as tight as your jar with a screw-top lid. I wondered if the crock (failed attempt) contained some element that didn’t react well to fermentation.

    Next time, I’ll use a wide-mouth jar with a screw-top lid. I’m on the prowl for a masher that will fit my jar opening.

  14. Jain Said,

    September 14, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

    Embarrassed. That emoticon was supposed to be a frowny face.

  15. Jen Said,

    December 31, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

    Hi Renae and others,

    I am a “Bubbies” kraut fan but have always been scared to make homemade. I got up my nerve 3 weeks ago.

    I used crock pot from a discarded slow cooker I had for many years. I knew it would come in handy someday! I used a cup saucer, concave up, that would cover the veggies. It fit perfect. A jar of water for the weight. A tight weave dish cloth and the lid. I used cabbage only and salt. Filled the crock almost halfway. Placed the basement near the door where it is cool and checked every 3-4 days

    The brine came up over the saucer the last week of fermentation. I saw it bubble, too! There was a small amout of off-white, slightly thick, slimy film on the saucer, but no “mold”. I discarded the contents of the saucer.

    I poured off some of the brine into a clean bowl then used a plastic fork to move the kraut from the crock to 2 clean glass “Bubbies” jars. Everything smelled good like kraut but a little yeasty. Not bad at all. The kraut is sour and crispy. At the bottom of the crock the liquid was a little thick, cloudy and dare I say slimy.

    I poured the rest of the brine into the clean bowl. I added enough salt water to the brine bowl to cover the kraut in the jars. This made the brine less thick, too. Oh yea, I added caraway seed to the jars. They are in the fridge now.

    It was then I went on the internet looking to see if the ‘little bit of slimy’ on the bottom was ok. I found your site and it is a good one. Love your info and style. Will try variations of ingredients next time.

    I think it’s ok. I ate about a cupful and it is like heaven! I’d eat more but I’m going to be cautious. We’ll see how I feel overnight.


  16. dee Said,

    May 3, 2012 @ 12:01 am

    Go to a wine and beer store (like arrow wine) and buy a wine making airlockand rubber stopper. Drill a hole in the lid of the jar, insert the rubber stopper (it has a hole in the middle for the airlock) put the airlock in the stopper, fill the airlock with water and you have a air tight jar that can release the gas that builds up from the kraut. For less then $2.

  17. Ron Scott Said,

    July 12, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

    I recently purchased A 20 gal crockpot which is black inside, is it ok to make kraut in it?

  18. Jain Said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 6:12 am

    Update on my spoiled kraut (I’m still obsessed, 4+ years later): I’d been using the crock that held the spoiled kraut as a utensil holder. When my dog started slopping water from his water dish all over the floor, I used said crock as a water dish. I noticed a brown stain beneath it on the floor and discovered it had some hairline cracks in it. The poor guy got sick so there was certainly something toxic in the cheap, cracked crock. It’s a great recipe, just be careful with your vessel!

  19. Renae Said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 10:58 am

    Jain, yikes, your poor dog! Thanks for the advice, and I would just add a reminder to everyone to always thoroughly sterilize all utensils and vessels prior to making the kraut, and after reading about jain’s experience, after coming into contact with spoiled kraut.

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