Time for Homemade Sauerkraut

I love sauerkraut.  I love it on hot dogs.  I love to cook pork chops in it.  I can get other people to eat it if I make reuben sandwiches and pile on lots of kraut.  But I don’t like the crap from the store.  Sometimes I wonder if that store-bought “sauerkraut” is just leftover cole slaw from the deli department.  Yuck!  Gotta make my own!

Cabbages are ripe in the fall.  Cabbages have soaked in the sun all summer and storing sugar and becoming delicious.  Time to chop some up and save for snowy days.  I learned how to sour cabbages for preservation from my Irish-German father.   He always took such delight in making and eating sauerkraut.  I don’t know how much raw cabbage he ate while he was making sauerkraut, but he said it was important to get the salt levels just right.  I have to follow tradition.  I will eat my fill of cabbage doing this!

Homemade Sauerkraut

Cutting Up the Cabbage to slice for Homemade Sauerkraut

Your farmer’s market or supermarket should give you some nice big cabbages this time of year.  I like the ones that are fairly large and firm and heavy for their size.  I don’t wash them but I do remove the outer few leaves and anything that is brown or bruised or I don’t want in my crock.  Cut out the cores.  I cut the head in quarters and then the core is easy to remove in one slice.  Load up the shuttle and start slicing.  Keep your hands outta’ there!  If your blades are sharp, you shouldn’t have to push down on the cabbages at all.  Just keep up the back and forth on the shuttle.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Loading the Shuttle

Homemade Sauerkraut

Homemade Sauerkraut with Pop’s Mandoline

Speaking of salt levels, you’re shooting for 2-3% salt in your final brine.  I usually start with 15 pounds of cabbages because that’s what it takes to fill my 3 gallon crock.  Between the outer leaves and the cores, I lose a couple pounds, so I use about 3 to 6 ounces of salt or about 1/2 a cup.  The salt just gets sprinkled in as you’re shredding–maybe a tablespoon every time I put another cabbage head in the shuttle.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Nice fine slicing!

Once you’ve got the crock mostly full, start mashing.  A potato masher works.  Something with some weight to it is good, so it does some of the work for you on the downswing.  Too heavy and your arm is going to get tired.  I use a clean wine bottle.  Use a little caution that you don’t bring the bottle down on the edge of the crock.  I aim for the middle of the cabbage and let the slaw on the bottom come up around the sides.  Push the sides down into the center and keep pounding.  This circular motion is good to mix in the salt and makes sure all the leaves are equally bruised.  The aim here is to drive some of the water out of the leaves and make the brine.  It also opens up the cells of the cabbage leaves so that the fermentation action can get in and ferment all the way through the leaves. Finally, mashing the cabbage down this way, just makes more fit in the crock.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Traditional Tamping Method for Homemade Sauerkraut

Once you’re getting close, you should have a nice clear liquid coming up.  If you’ve been tasting your cabbage this whole time, it should be just a salty as a pickle juice, which, in fact, it is!  Speaking of pickle juice, that’s what I’m using to culture this batch.  I have a nice batch of garlic (kosher) dills in the fridge that I just finished fermenting.  That should be a delicious start to my ferment!  Lacking any previous batch to “back-slop” with, you can use a little whey strained out of active yogurt.  Honestly, my father never did this culturing.  There should be plenty of lactobacters living on the surface of the leaves for all of this to work just fine, but I like to get it a jumpstart.  The salt we’ve added will keep the bad bacteria and mold at bay while the lactobacters take the time to get established.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Homemade Sauerkraut makes its own brine.

Final step.  Find a cover.  It’s important to keep the cabbage completely under water.  If you have a plate that fits in your crock, you can use that.  A full bottle is a great weight to hold down the plate.  Lately, I’ve been using a ziptop bag full of brine.  Push the cabbage down, so you have a good level of brine above the cabbage and then add your weight to keep it down there.  Find someplace about 65 degrees and dark is good too.  Throw a dishtowel over the whole thing to keep out dust and flying critters.

Check your progress every couple of days.  Scum off any colonies of mold before they really take root.  Once you get the surface cleaned off, you can pull out the weight and see what’s doing down below.  Grab a little taste if you’re curious or brave  – but only if your hands are really really clean!!!

Homemade Sauerkraut

The brine bag weight in action.

Depending on, well, a lot of things, but mostly temperature, your kraut should be ready in a couple weeks.  I like mine pretty sour so you might want to start tasting sooner.  You can just move the crock into the coldest place you have to slow the fermentation down to a crawl.  The fridge is good if you have the room.  You can pack it in freezer bags for convenience or you might can it, but you’ll kill all the healthy probiotics in the stuff.  It’ll still be delicious, just not as good for you!

Watch my video about making sauerkraut:  Better Done Yourself Sauerkraut on YouTube

About John MacDowall

I was born in Poughkeepsie, NY. We moved to a farm during middle school where I learned about raising animals and growing food. Now, I live in the affluent suburbs of Washington, DC and wonder why people eat the way they do.


  1. If you don’t have the energy or inclination, can you ferment thinly sliced cabbage and use the water/salt brine technique to ferment it like you do all those other vegetables you have shown how to ferment?…PS, thank you for all your wonderful youtube instructions about fermenting.

    • I’ve always done it this way but if you can try experimenting with getting it sliced very very thin. You will have to experiment with little batches until you find what thickness makes the crunch you like. Use just enough brine to cover because you don’t want to dilute the flavor too much. Other than that, yes, it can be just like the other vegetable ferments.

  2. Hi John, I’ve been watching your. Ideas and finally I jumped over to the website. I see you grew up around making kraut and farm life. So I guess making these things has been a family thing. I watched a lot of Donna Schwenk videos because she is like the queen of fermented vegetables. Anyway she didn’t start using cultured/fermented foods till her 40s when she had bad health, and within months she started noticing improvements. Did you ever go through a health challenge and notice the benefits of consuming fermented foods? I’m 33 And just learning about these foods/drinks after battling a bacterial/parasite infection that has been so bad I haven’t been able to work for a year. I’m desperate to heal, but docs just gave me antibiotics and well still trying to get better. I’m just curious if you have a personal story of healing. It might make a great video too! Thanks for your page, it’s helping me heal!!

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