If you’re the sort to mindlessly munch through a jar of pickles or can’t fathom the idea of a hamburger without one, you may not realize how quick and easy it is to make your own pickles at home, creating a supply that can last you through next grilling season, or keep them easily grabable for daily crunching.
Step 1 - Select Your Cucumbers
The first thing to know about pickles is they are a pickled cucumber. Although it seems basic, the pickling process changes the flavor of the vegetable to the point that sometimes people don’t realize it. The good news is that if you know anyone with a garden or grow one yourself, you probably have a prolific supply of cucumbers at your disposal. Typically during cucumber season gardeners are desperate to share their harvest.
Kirby cucumbers are the classic go-to option for dill pickles because they hold on to their crunchy appeal while English cucumbers come out a bit softer. Persian cucumbers, with their thinner skin, are another good option.
Another important note about cucumber selection—make sure each vegetable is firm and ripe, avoiding those that are overly ripe or immature.
Step 2 - Prepare Your Cucumbers
Always wash produce before canning to remove dirt and chemicals. Also cut away any bruises or blemishes. Really, you can’t go wrong with your choice of whole cukes, spears, or sliced coins as long as you keep sizing fairly consistent. Shape and size comes down to personal preference and intended use.
Step 3 - Pick Your Flavorings
During the pickling process your cucumbers can obtain a variety of different taste profiles depending on what you mix in. For dill pickles, you will need dill of course, but typically the flavoring comes from dill seed rather than fresh dill fronds. From there, it's the dealer's choice as to what flavors to experiment with. Try some garlic, red pepper flakes, black or colored peppercorn, mustard seed, or celery seed. For sweet pickles you can also add ¼-cup sugar. Many people also like to mix in bell peppers and onions.
Step 4 - Make the Brine
You will be surprised how easy brining is. Simply mix equal parts water with cider vinegar, rice vinegar, or white wine vinegar. Each vinegar brings its own characteristics to the table. Cider vinegar is traditional and adds the most flavor, but it also darkens the pickles. White vinegar brings a sharper taste with less coloring. Whichever vinegar you decide on, ensure it has an acidity of 5% or higher.
Then add pickling salt aka canning salt. For reference, one and one-half pounds of cucumbers will require one cup of vinegar, one cup of water, and one and one-half tablespoon of salt. Place these three ingredients along with your choice of seasonings and sugar into a saucepan and bring just to a rolling boil before adding to the cucumbers. Make more or less brine to suit the amount of pickles you want to make. Note that brining is a process so this exact technique can be used for any other vegetables you may want to pickle, such as beets, carrots, cauliflower, or red onion.
Step 5 - Select Your Process
Pickles are ready to eat after a few days in the brine, but the flavor continues to improve as they marinate. The good news is you can keep your pickles in the brine in a non-metal container refrigerated for several weeks and use them as you wish. You can also reuse your brine for the next batch.
To make your pickles shelf stable, pack them into jars with the hot brine, leaving ½-inch headroom at the top. Avoid using metal utensils during the canning process. Seal each jar tightly and process the jars in a hot water bath for five minutes. Processing pickles might make them a bit softer because it cooks them. For the crunchiest pickles, keep them fresh, but note processed pickles will provide an easy grab solution when your fresh supply runs low.
Step 6 - Store Your Pickles
If you’ve processed your pickles, select a cool, dark, dry place for storage. Avoid excessive heat. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using your homemade pickles within one year of canning. Refrigerate pickles after opening the jar.
For fresh pickles, cover the bowl or place pickles in jars and keep refrigerated at all times. Use within three weeks.