Making sauerkraut in a crock is the traditional way to prepare this probiotic vegetable ferment. While modern water locks make it easy to do small-batch sauerkraut in a mason jar, this old school method is still one of the easiest ways to make sauerkraut at home.
Basics of Homemade Sauerkraut
Homemade sauerkraut is incredibly easy, and all you really need is a bit of fresh cabbage, salt, and patience. There are many ways to make it, and all manner of modern appliances and tools designed to make a simple process even more foolproof.
Regardless of the tools used, the process of making sauerkraut is always the same.
- Chop Cabbage ~ Fine or coarse chop, doesn’t matter. Red cabbage, green cabbage or napa cabbage, it makes no difference.
- Place in a Container ~ Anything that holds water will work. A bowl, jar, or in this case, an earthenware crock.
- Add Salt ~ Generally about 2% by weight. Weigh the cabbage, then multiply by 0.02. Some recipes use 1.5%, others use as much as 3%. Don’t have a scale, no worries. Exact amounts matter less than you think. More on this later.
- Pound the Cabbage and Salt Together ~ The salt, along with a bit of mechanical force helps the cabbage release its juices. I use a big wooden spoon, but they sell specialized sauerkraut pounders these days. Continue pounding until the cabbage is covered by its own juice, about 5-8 minutes.
- Weigh Down the Cabbage ~ Place some kind of weight on the cabbage to keep it submerged. Again, they sell fancy pickling weights for this, but a small saucer, jar, rock or even a Ziploc bag filled with water will work. Anything to hold the cabbage under the brine.
- Allow the Sauerkraut to Ferment ~ The total amount of time will depend on the temperature in your house and your own tastes. Recipes range from 3 to 6 weeks.
Once the sauerkraut has “finished,” it’s best to keep it in a cold environment to slow down the fermentation process. Raw sauerkraut will keep a long time, assuming it’s not contaminated and it’s kept under the brine.
Sauerkraut was traditionally made in an earthenware crock and kept in the root cellar or basement, where it would ferment during the last warm-ish days of fall after the harvest, and then keep all winter long. A sauerkraut crock is a natural preservation vessel, designed to both make and store the sauerkraut.
Choosing a Sauerkraut Crock
There are two main types of sauerkraut crock: Open Crocks and Water Sealed Crocks. In plain terms, one type is open with no meaningful seal or water lock, and the other has a rim that holds water and creates a one-way valve to seal the crock.
Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Open Sauerkraut Crocks
Open Crocks are just a glazed stoneware crock with straight sides and a lid that sits on top. While it’s not exactly “open” since it does have a ceramic lid, the lid doesn’t “seal” in any way, and more or less just keeps dust and critters out of the crock.
Inside the crock, the sauerkraut is weighed down by weight to keep it under the brine. This prevents mold from developing on the surface and keeps the cabbage in an anaerobic environment that’s necessary for sauerkraut fermentation.
I use an open one-gallon crock from Ohio stoneware, but they also make a 2-gallon crock, a 3-gallon crock, and even a giant 5-gallon crock for serious fermenters.
I chose an open crock because I can use the crock for a number of other food preservation projects. Historically, they were used for egg preservation, preserving cheese in wood ash, potting meats or making duck confit.
As you can see, I get a lot of mileage out of my stoneware crock, and it’s not just for sauerkraut.
The downside is that without a seal, the sauerkraut is at a higher risk of developing kham yeasts (harmless, but ugly) on the surface, or surface mold if any sauerkraut floats above the brine (so keep it under the weight).
Water Sealed Sauerkraut Crocks
Many years ago in college, I used a water-sealed crock made by a potter roommate of mine. It was a huge handmade 5-gallon crock, elaborately painted and a true labor of love.
Back then, the only way to get a water-sealed sauerkraut crock was to commission one from a potter, since it was long before home fermentation came back into vogue.
These days, there are multiple brands of water-sealed sauerkraut crocks in all manner of sizes and colors. They used to be quite expensive as a specialty good, but now they’re about the same price as open crocks.
Water sealed crocks have a U-shaped well all along the top edge of the crock. Fill that well with about 1/2 inch of water and then put on the matching lid and you’ve created a water lock or one-way valve.
Bubbles from inside the sauerkraut crock can push their way out, but outside air cannot get into your ferment.
A water lock is an extra bit of protection against contamination by mold, yeast, and fruit flies. Many people will only make sauerkraut with a water-sealed crock, but personally, I don’t find it to be strictly necessary.
I love my versatile open crock, but if you’re only ever going to use your crock for sauerkraut, it makes sense to get a specialized water seal crock since they’re about the same amount of money.
How to Make Sauerkraut in a Crock
Regardless of the type of crock, the process of making sauerkraut is the same.
Start by shredding or chopping the cabbage. I generally slice the cabbage in half, take out the core and then slice it into long, thin strips. You can use a mandoline cabbage slicer or just a sharp chef’s knife.
That’s my preference, but there’s really no right way to do it.
Some eastern European methods dice it into 1 or 2” squares, which works well if you’re going to use it in sauerkraut soups later. Other methods toss whole cabbages into a giant crock, no chopping at all. (Though if you’re going to do cabbages whole, the process is a bit different because the brine needs to penetrate the whole cabbage.)
The reason I go with thin slices is because they’re versatile to use, easy to eat and the thin slices mean that the cabbage releases plenty of its own juices to create a flavorful brine.
Once the cabbage is sliced, add it to your fermentation crock. It takes about 3 lbs of sliced cabbage to fill my one-gallon crock to the top. Once muddled down and salted, the crock will only be about half full.
All in all, my one-gallon fermentation crock can hold about 5 to 6 pounds of cabbage for sauerkraut, provided that the only other ingredient is salt and no water is added. If I want a full crock, I’ll let my initial 3lb cabbage get started and then add more sliced cabbage and salt a few days later.
Add salt, and pound down the cabbage until it releases its juices and the salt is well incorporated. Use either a strong wooden spoon, your fist, or a sauerkraut pounder.
How Much Salt To Add to Sauerkraut
So here comes the million-dollar question…how much salt to add to sauerkraut?
In a recipe with just two ingredients, the amount of salt is the only real measurement. Use a digital scale to weigh the cabbage, and then add in 2% of that weight in salt.
I started with a medium-sized 3 1/2 pound cabbage, and trimmed off the outer leaves and core, leaving 3 pounds of shredded cabbage. That’s about 1360 grams. Multiply that by 0.02 and you get roughly 27 grams, which worked out to be exactly 4 tsp of fine pink Himalayan salt.
Salt measurements vary pretty widely in sauerkraut, and there are even some techniques for making vegetable ferments without added salt (but you’ll need a culture to get those off to a good start, and honestly, no salt is pretty bland).
Some recipes use as little as 1%, but those are at higher risk of spoilage. Others use 3% (or more), but they come out wicked salty. Starting with 2% salt by weight is a good middle ground, meaning a minimal risk of spoilage without being too salty.
If you don’t have a scale, really it’s not the end of the world. I imagine a babuska making sauerkraut in a crock a thousand years ago would have laughed at the thought of weighing the salt. Sauerkraut has enough salt when it naturally releases its juices, and those juices rise to cover the cabbage within 24 hours.
Add a bit of salt, pound the cabbage, then add a bit more. Once you’ve thoroughly pounded the salt into the cabbage, add the fermentation weights and give it some time.
With 3 lbs of cabbage and 4 tsp of salt, it took about 6 hours for the brine level to rise up to fully submerge both the cabbage and the fermentation weight. No need to add extra water and then the cabbage is fermenting in its own nutrient-rich juice.
An alternate method suggests adding 1 tablespoon of salt to a quart of water and then pouring it over the top of the cabbage. This makes measuring the salt easy, as you’re just adding a brine over the cabbage, and there’s no need to weigh anything.
Lacking a scale, use the brine method, or just use your best judgment.
Within a week, perhaps a bit sooner, you should see small bubbles rising to the top of the ferment. It’s not like making homemade wine, where the bubbles froth like crazy. They’ll only be a few, and it’s easy to miss.
If you don’t see your sauerkraut bubbling, no worries. I’ve had plenty of great batches where I never once saw bubbles, especially if it was particularly cold in the house.
Be sure to check in on the water level though, and if it starts to get low, add water. Some people say to add brine, but water is the only thing that has evaporated from the crock. All the salt you originally added is still in there. Adding more brine will only result in a very salty sauerkraut.
I try to add water anytime the level drops below the top of the fermentation weights, and that ensures that everything says submerged.
Below you’ll see a photo of the sauerkraut crock after about 3 weeks of fermentation. There are visible bubbles, but the water level has dropped and I’m about to add more water to bring it up above the top of the weights.
My house stays pretty cool in the wintertime. Upstairs we usually keep it about 62, and our basement stays about 45 all year round. I’ll often allow my sauerkraut to go 6 or more weeks before sampling. Generally, if kept at room temperature (72 degrees) during the initial ferment, sauerkraut is finished to most people’s tastes in about 3ish weeks.
That said, when sauerkraut is finished is a matter of personal taste. It will continue to ferment with time, and the flavors will become more pronounced.
Generally, it’s started at room temperature for the first few weeks to ensure that it gets off to a good start and the lactobacillus outcompete any spoilage bacteria. After about 3-4 weeks, it’s moved somewhere cool for long-term storage.
If sauerkraut is stored in a cool place, like the refrigerator or my 45-degree basement, it should keep on its own for 3-5 months. Be sure to keep the water line above the cabbage, and check periodically for spoilage.
Other than that, feel free to pull out a serving of kraut whenever the mood strikes you. Remove the weights, and use clean implements to scoop out as much as you need before replacing the weights and lid.
The process for fermenting in a crock, open or water sealed, is pretty straightforward.
I’ve taken you through the basics of making sauerkraut in a crock, but that’s not the only lacto-fermented vegetable you can make in a fermenting crock. Traditionally, all manner of vegetables would have been fermented this way, often adding brine for less juicy vegetables that cannot provide all their own liquid.
Feel free to experiment with other storage crops, like carrots or radishes, or add spices and turn your kraut into kimchi. If you want to get really adventurous, you can always try Russian Brined Apples for a unique treat.
More Easy Fermentation Recipes
Want to keep your crock bubbling? Try any of these easy fermentation recipes:
I’ve successfully used the brine method (1 tsp. per cup water) and add a bit of red cabbage for fun. Great recipe.
I’ve always wanted to know how to do this. Excellent info. Thanks!
I’ve been using a water lock crock for years for my sauerkraut and every batch has been great. Many old timers in my area made collardkraut and was fantastic. I tried making it just like cabbage kraut and it’s been a disaster each time. Wondering if you have ever tried making collardkraut and if so , how did you make it?
I haven’t made collardkraut, and I’ve heard it’s nasty because of sulfur compounds specific to collards/kale. I haven’t fermented either of those because of things I’ve read about them not coming out great. Sorry I don’t have any advice for you on that one.
Hello Ashley! I’ve just found you and love your posts, thank you! Looking forward to reading all your fun and fascinating content! Mahalo!
Thank you for this information!
I am just using my one gallon crock for the first time.
I used over six pounds of cabbage and carrots, and it’r about half way full.
Will it ferment properly if the crock is half empty??
Thanks in advance for your advice 🙂
Yup, that’s totally fine, just make sure it has a weight on it and it stays below the water line. Good luck with your batch!
Thank You for this article on homemade sauerkraut this is my first time making it but i did not know how long it took to see it start fermenting so really now it is just patience and waiting.
Awesome! Let me know how it turns out!
I have made cabbage kraut twice in an expensive crock I bought at an estate sale.
The first batch came out great. I cut the cabbage into 3/8“ to 1/2” strips. Six weeks later it was very tasty.
A few months later I tried again. This time I used the food processor. It made 1/8” strips and it was mush in six weeks. Did I goof up by going thin?
Yes! Super thin strips will definitly get mushy in the kraut. Slicing by hand or using a mandoline slicer is the way to go. Beyond that, higher temperatures can result in mushy kraut and it’s been pretty hot here in the past 6 weeks (though I don’t know about your place). I’d suggest slicing by hand and making sure that it stays on the cool side of room temperature (60-70 degrees F).
It’s cooler here now and I’m going to try it again. Thanks for your reply.
Did you use to blog about stuff fundies like?
My cousin is married to a former Dean of Religion at BJU.
I married a Southern Baptist girl 40 years ago. She went to the Independent Baptist church my folks attended until we moved to a Southern church about 20 years ago. We had a great Awana Club and saw many children saved. Then our liberal pastor ran us off. Thanks for the kraut help.
I make my crowd in a 20 gallon crock add salt dill garlic and caraway seed it’s pretty good I put it outside in my Bilco doors sometimes it gets down to 2530° 40s but after about three weeks my juice drops down below my weight I pull it in the house and then The juice comes back to the top is it too cold to be outside or is it done working I don’t know I can’t figure this out
Fred Willian Hauser
What about using the old fashion kraut cutter,
You can definitely use a kraut cutter.
Fred Willian Hauser
It has been three days now and using my open crock as I always have used with no issues, I have a 12 gal one full to within 5 inches from the top, lots of liquid has now covered the lid that is weighted but I am seeing lots of bubbles already. Do I need to remove the lid, take the cheesecloth out and rinse it off then place it back on, Like I said it has just been a few days since first starting?
I have personally never used cheesecloth in my sauerkraut so I am not sure if that is something that you need to do or not. If your house is on the warmer side it is normal to see more activity earlier in the process.
After you have weighed the mixture down, do you then keep a lid on it while it ferments? I’m a sauerkraut making newbie and would like to use a vintage crock I have but it has no lid. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe and all the information!!
Yes, after you add your fermentation weight, you should cover with a lid that has an airlock to release built up gases. A lid is necessary to reduce the risk of cross-contamination between particles in the air and your ferment.
Very educational. thanks. I’m going to try for my first time. I have a crock with a lid. After the weight is placed on the cabbage do I have to cover with anything else besides the lid besides addicted cabbage juice up over the weight. Thanks again
Nope. However, you’ll want to use a lid with an airlock so that the built-up gases can be released. Otherwise, you’ll need to burp your ferment at least twice a day.
So, I made cabbage sauerkraut in a glass gallon jar with the glass lid, rubber gasket and the wire closure that keeps it firmly closed/sealed. It seems I shouldn’t keep it closed all the way and I need to release gases. Can I open it every so many days to release pressure, or just loosely keep the lid on it? I have it all well submerged in it’s brine.
You’ll have to burp the ferment once or twice a day to release the built-up gases. Leaving the top open could introduce contaminates to your ferment, so it’s not advised to do that.
i read another blog that suggested using a food processor to shred the cabbage, which is what I did. Now i read yours and I learn that it might turn to mush. I’m disappointed and hope my kraut is edible after all.
Shredding it with a knife or a food processor should yield the same result.
Hi. Are you responding to messages here? I have a question about sauerkraut. I’ve been making it on and off for about 50 years. Just now we have a 2 gallon crock on the kitchen table – for about a month – averaging around 70 degrees – full gallon jar on top for a weight – a sort of moderate salt content – always covered with brine – no sign yet of mold or discoloration – doesn’t taste overly salty, or particularly pickled. It just seems like it is on hold, indefinitely. I don’t get it. Every other batch, year, time – it has definitely gone through it’s stages and come out great. So, why won’t it progress?
Sometimes it just takes longer than usual. It could have something to do with the culture on the cabbage leaves, and maybe they’re just not as robust this time. The cabbage itself has lactobacillis on the outside, which is where the culture comes from. If for some reason there was a lower concentration, it’ll take them longer to ferment the whole crock. If there’s no mold or other issues, I’d just give it more time.
My grandmother use to pickle bean. I’m not talking about the dilly beans. She used salt just like in cabbage. They were the best beans ever but that was in the town of Boone, NC. I’ve looked for a recipe for them but have been unsuccessful in
finding one. Any ideas?
Sorry, I’m not sure what her recipe was, but it sounds delicious!
How do you cure a ham
I’m actually working on some meat curing post this year, so hopefully, I’ll have that written up for you sometime in 2021…
I’m gonna try sauerkraut for a first time in an open crock. I have no lid for it. After I weight it down can I cover the top of crock with a towel or cheesecloth? Any other suggestions would be appreciated. I’m nervous about failing 😬
A towel or cheesecloth should do it, good luck!
I’ve used a fermenting crock for years but hadn’t used mine in a while. Made kraut last month. When I went to the basement to retrieve it, the crock was “spidered” on the outside with salt. The sauerkraut was disgusting. I was very sad. I threw it away and cleaned the crock. It continued to “bleed” salt. I’m not sure what has happed to my crock. Can a crock go bad? Can I send you a picture of it? I’d love some input. I am purchasing a new crock
I think your crock maybe cracked or the enamel got messed up? That’s my best guess, though I’ve never run across this problem before. I’d say your crock is probably done and you should try a new one. Sorry, I know that’s sad news.
Hi there…great post! I live in Florida and the average Temp in the house is often 75-77 degrees. Dips into the 65-70 range for a few winter days. I have a large 3 gallon crock with water seal. Do you think it’s too warm to make kraut? I tried it once. It was just ok. No mold but rather boring. Also, I do brew kombucha and wondered if there would be any issues with crock being close to the booch? Thanks!
That temperature will be fine to make sauerkraut, it will just speed up the fermentation process. If it didn’t have a lot of flavor, you might want to let it ferment a little longer. The longer it ferments, the stronger the flavor will be. It is always a good idea to keep different ferments separated from each other.
I’m wondering if you can use wine instead of water to replenish the liquid, and if so, how much. Thanks.
I wouldn’t since wine would add alcohol which would inhibit the lactobacillus in the crock. If you wanted to add wine for flavor, I’d imagine you could do it if you simmered the wine for a while to drive off the alcohol and just leave flavor. That said, adding brine to top it off is really the best to keep the ferment going strong.
I made my first batch since I was 19 I’m 61 now worried the whole time wish I had read this before mine was a bit salty added brine didn’t know I could just add water . With this info I’m ready to do a new batch
I am so glad you were able to get some helpful information from the article.
I have a 5 gallon crock that I loaned to my son. This was the first time he was making sauerkraut. He didn’t watch it or look after it, thinking it would look after itself. I continuously reminded him to no avail. The moral of the story it became covered with black mould and had to be discarded.
Now I’m wondering if the crock can be used again after a good cleaning or perhaps there is something that should have been used to clean it. I’m scared to use it now.
We are retired and there is just 2 of us so I make sauerkraut in a one gallon jar on my counter, it turns out perfectly.
I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use it after it has had a good cleaning.
Just thought I would touch base and let you know that on my first attempt at making sauerkraut I was successful and it’s delicious. We fermented ours for 8 weeks and kept a close watch on it for fear of screwing up I canned 10 pint jars (hot bath method) and have gotten rave reviews from family. I can’t wait to do this again. Thank you so much for your blog
Hi. I am making my first batch of sauerkraut. The brine is about 2 inches over the top of the weights. Smells good and has bubbles. Question is a few pieces of cabbage float to the top and get mold on them. I scoop them out. Is the sauerkraut still ok?
It should be fine. I would just keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t develop any more.
Thank you for your instructions and the links to purchase the crocks, etc. In 5 days my sauerkraut will be 2 weeks old. It is doing perfect. I retired 4/30/2020 so I now have time for gardening and canning and fermenting. Thanks again.
Wonderful! I hope it turns out for you!
I am new to fermenting I have a crock but no lid is it ok to cover with cheesecloth or something?
Yes, it’s totally ok to do that.
Fred Willian Hauser
I have always covered mine with cheesecloth, I do remove it and rinse it out every couple of days.
If you like your sauerkraut with caraway seeds, when should you add them? With the salt so they’re present during fermentation or once you deem it finished?
I would add the salt to the cabbage, massage it for a few minutes and then add in your spices and continue to massage for a few minutes more.
Curious as to when I should take off the water sealed top? And if I do take it off to take a peek do I just put it back on and make sure it has enough water to seal it again? If I do and it’s not done yet did I just gum up the works? Thx so much.
You can take the top off to check your sauerkraut. It won’t hurt a thing. As a matter of fact, you don’t actually have to have the water lock at all.
I have 3 ceramic crocks for sauerkraut- 2 water sealed and one open. When I make kraut in the open crock, after 3-4 weeks, I get a thin, whiteish mold over the top of the brine. Am I doing something wrong?
I think you’ve probably got kahm yeast. Here’s an article covering that: https://fermentools.com/what-is-kahm-yeast-is-it-safe/
While it could be mold, kahm yeast is more likely if everything is staying submerged below the brine line. (If stuff is up above the brine, then yes, it could be mold, just make sure you keed it submerged)
I routinely make sauerkraut every year. I use a huge water sealed crock with good fitting weights. I have found that layering grape leaves over the shredded cabbage helps keep all the small cabbage bits under the brine and away from the potential risk of spoiling. I am curious if you have tried this and what are your thoughts.
I am a fan and use your site as a reference for my preserving. I loved the ash cured cheese you posted some time ago. Always reading you…
Thanks for sharing that. I have used leaves and other things to weigh down ferments in the past. I have found it to be very helpful especially when you have smaller pieces.
I started my first batch of kraut this evening. It is hard to find a crock in Alaska without giving up your first born child. I’ve heard of people using a 5 gallon plastic bucket so I decided to give it a try using your recipe. On the lid of the bucket it installed an air lock from my wine making equipment. Have you ever heard of anybody using this method?
Yup, that should work just fine. Just be sure to weight the kraut down so it stays under the waterline. You can even fill plastic ziploc bags with brine and use them as a weight. (Use brine in case they leak, if you use water to fill it’ll dilute the brine mixture). You’ll also want to make sure you leave plenty of headspace, like 6 inches or more. That’ll keep the kraut from rising up if CO2 gets trapped in it, because if that happens it can clog the water lock, which gets messy fast.
Fred Willian Hauser
I have always pressured canned mine, I now read I shouldn’t due to the heat destroying it. Can I hot bath it and if so for how long.
Cabbage itself cannot be water bath canned because it is a low acid food. Fermenting it does allow it to be safely water bath canned although it does kill the beneficial bacteria in the kraut. It will still taste wonderful though. The processing time will depend on the size of jars you are using along with your altitude. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a chart for canning kraut here. https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/sauerkraut.html
My kraut is 2 weeks old. In the last 2 days it formed a crust of mold on top. Plenty of juice covering everything. Skimmed the mold. Is it still ok?
I would watch it and see what happens now that you have skimmed the mold off.
My sauerkraut was no good. It looked like sauerkraut but was bitter and didn’t smell like sauerkraut. I used 3 table salt per 5# cabbage and stomped it to get plenty of juice. I ended up with 45# of sauerkraut in a 10# crock I had weight on it to bring the brine to the top not sure if I had to much weight of 45#. I covered it with a towel and fermented it for 6 weeks at my house temperature which ranged between 67-70 degrees. I had green mold on top of the kraut. So not sure what went wrong if I fermented to long at that temp. Could you tell me what could have happened
If you have mold on the top then it sounds like you must have had some bits of cabbage float to the top which started to mold. The mold probably contaminated the batch. You want to be sure that there aren’t any pieces of cabbage floating on the surface of the brine.
What kind of salt should be used? Iodized?
Kosher or canning salt is best, as it doesn’t have any other additives. Iodized salt has anti-caking agents.
I have been making sauerkraut in crocks for a few years now. It turns out good except the top 6 inches or so of cabbage turns to mush and I have to throw it out to get down to the good crisp cabbage. Any idea why this keeps happening?
Do you have the cabbage weighted down in the crock?
Yes, weighed down with pretty heavy weights and a plate to hold the cabbage under the water
This is my second year of doing kraut in a crock. I had mine on my enclosed back porch and it fermented for approximately 8 weeks.
I made sure it was completely covered. I filled the crock with kraut, covered with a layer of cheese cloth and tucked it in on sides. (keeps from having floaters)I then added my weights. It was covered well with liquid. It turned out nice and crispy. Maybe try covering with some cheese cloth next batch along with weights. I also had it covered with a towel.
Good luck with your next batch.
I had mine down in the basement for 7 weeks .the basement stays pretty warm. I’m wondering if I let it go for too long