While it might not be the first ingredient on your grocery list, sauerkraut plays a big role in so many of our favorite dishes. A Rueben wouldn’t be the same without it, and neither would grilled bratwurst.
Because this condiment plays such a major part of our go-to comfort foods and German dishes, it’s worth learning to make sauerkraut yourself. You’ll get to take pride in learning how to ferment and get to customize the flavor.
How to Make Sauerkraut
Our favorite sauerkraut recipe comes to us from Taste of Home’s very own Josh Rink, food stylist and fermentation expert. To make your own at home, here’s what you should grab at the store:
- 6 pounds cabbage (about 2 heads)
- 3 tablespoons canning salt
- Optional: 2 peeled and thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, 2 thinly sliced sweet onions, 2 teaspoons caraway seeds and 1 teaspoon ground coriander
Test Kitchen-Recommended Products for Making Sauerkraut
Step 1: Core and Slice Cabbage
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To start, quarter the cabbage and remove the cores. Then slice the cabbage thinly (1/8-inch thick is perfect). Work slowly and carefully—it’s a lot of chopping! If all this slicing seems daunting, you can use a mandoline slicer to make uniform cuts more quickly.
Once you’re done, pop the sliced cabbage into a large bowl (the largest you have) and mix with the canning salt. Let the cabbage sit until it starts to wilt and release liquid—about 10 minutes.
Test Kitchen tip: Be sure to use pickling or canning salt here. This coarse salt doesn’t have any additional ingredients or anti-caking agents that interfere with the recipe. A large box costs only about two dollars, so grab one and use it for many batches of sauerkraut and pickles to come.
Step 2: Squeeze, Squeeze and Squeeze Some More
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After letting your cabbage rest with the salt, it’s time to squeeze. Squeezing all this cabbage has several benefits according to Josh. First, it helps release the liquid from the veggie. It also helps work salt thoroughly into the mixture and helps soften the cabbage up even more so you get that just-right sauerkraut texture.
This is also the most laborious part of the process. You really want to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze to get every bit of liquid out of the cabbage. When you think you’re done, give the cabbage another squeeze.
This process should take about ten minutes, so don’t rush! Just take your time and get your workout in!
Step 3: Prep Any Extras
To make traditional sauerkraut, all you need is cabbage and salt. However, if you want to amp up the flavor a bit, you can add additional ingredients. Josh recommends apple, onion and caraway. These flavors work really well with German dishes. If you prefer a little heat, Josh recommends adding some crushed red pepper.
To prep, peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Thinly slice the onion, too. Then toss the apple, onion and caraway seeds with the prepped cabbage.
Step 4: Pack Cabbage into a Crock
Next, firmly pack your cabbage mixture (liquid included) into a fermenting crock or glass fermenting container, removing as many air bubbles as possible. Use a pickle packer or wooden tamper to help you along the way.
Ideally, the cabbage mix should be covered by one to two inches of liquid. If you find that there isn’t enough in your container, you can make a brine to compensate. This is super simple: Combine four-and-a-half teaspoons of canning salt and a quart of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil until the salt is dissolved. Cool and add to the crock—covering the cabbage by two inches.
Step 5: Weight It All Down
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After that, you’ll want to weigh the cabbage down. If you’re using an old-fashioned crock, place a dinner plate or pie plate over the cabbage. The plate should be slightly smaller than the container opening, but large enough to cover most of the shredded cabbage mixture. You can weigh this down with heavy jars filled with water.
If you have a fermentation kit, it’ll typically come with weights. Press the weights down over the cabbage (the weight should be submerged in the brine) and screw on the top. Follow the guidelines included with your kit (Josh likes this one from Kilner).
Step 6: Wait
After getting your crock of cabbage all set, all that’s left to do is wait. Store the crock in a 70 to 75ºF room for three to four weeks. A long time, we know!
Check the container a few times a week to ensure that the cabbage is submerged. Also, skim away any scum that may form on top of the liquid. This sounds gross, but this is a totally normal part of the process. Just scoop any foam off with a spoon.
Throughout the process, the scent will change—again, this is all part of the fermentation process.
You’ll know that your cabbage is officially sauerkraut (and the fermenting is complete) when the bubbling has stopped. Once fully fermented, transfer the sauerkraut into containers and stash in the fridge for up to three months.
How to Store Sauerkraut
While you’re making sauerkraut, store your crock or jar somewhere between 70 and 75ºF. A corner of the kitchen counter works fine, so does the pantry. You want it out of the way enough so no one bumps the container, but accessible enough because you should be checking on it every few days.
Once the sauerkraut is fermented and it’s ready to eat, you can pop it into glass jars or airtight containers and keep it in the fridge. You should eat it within three months. If you’re not a regular sauerkraut eater, you might want to consider giving a few jars away since this does make a fairly large batch.
How to Serve Sauerkraut
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Sauerkraut is, of course, delicious served up with sausages or with corned beef (especially for Reubens). But you don’t need to stop there! Josh recommends adding sauerkraut to skillet dinners with potatoes, onions and bacon. It gives simple ingredients a bit of personality. Even dessert! Add some to this delicious chocolate cake with sauerkraut (really!).
Use Homemade Sauerkraut in These Recipes
Slow-Cooked Sauerkraut Soup
We live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which has a rich heritage of German culture and dishes that include sauerkraut, potatoes and sausage. We enjoy this recipe on cold winter evenings, along with muffins and fruit. The “mmm’s” start with the first whiff as the door opens after school or work. —Linda Lohr, Lititz, Pennsylvania
When I first made this dish, my 2-year-old liked it so much that he wanted it for every meal! You can use almost any pasta that will hold the sauce. —Crystal Bruns, Iliff, Colorado
This is one of our favorite main dishes. Because we raise our own pork and beef, the meat we use is always freshly ground. For variety, these meatballs can be cooked with a sweet cream gravy or steamed with tomatoes. But we prefer them with homemade sauerkraut. —Iona Redemer, Calumet, Oklahoma
Fans of the classic Reuben sandwich will go crazy for baked pastry spirals of corned beef, Swiss and sauerkraut. They’re so easy to make, and bottled Thousand Island dressing makes the perfect dipping sauce. —Cheryl Snavely, Hagerstown, Maryland
Slow-Cooked Reuben Brats
Sauerkraut gives these beer-simmered brats a big flavor boost, but it’s the special chili sauce and melted cheese that put them over the top. Top your favorite burger with some of the chili sauce; you won’t be sorry. —Alana Simmons, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Sauerkraut Hot Dish
We often serve this hearty dish at family gatherings, and the men especially seem to enjoy it. My sister gave me the recipe about 15 years ago. It’s been a favorite ever since. The unusual blend of ingredients is a pleasant surprise.
—Nedra Parker, Dunbar, Wisconsin
Cranberry Sauerkraut Meatballs
I tried these meatballs at a birthday party for a friend, and now I make them all the time. They are super easy to make and perfect for a potluck or a Sunday afternoon football game. —Lisa Castelli, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin
New Yorkers say my Reubens taste like those served in the famous delis there. For a little less kick, you can leave out the horseradish. —Patricia Kile, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania
New World Stuffed Cabbage
European immigrants brought their favorite stuffed cabbage recipes to the New World in the late 19th century. Here’s my take on tradition. —Katherine Stefanovich, Desert Hot Springs, California
Pork Tenderloin with Cran-Apple Sauerkraut
I love all the ingredients in this recipe because together they’re perfect for Oktoberfest, a fun festival during my favorite time of the year. Serve the pork and sauerkraut with a hearty dark bread, such as rye or pumpernickel, along with an ice-cold beer. Delicious!—Barbara Lento, Houston, Pennslvania
Fridays are pizza nights at our house. We do a lot of experimenting, so we don’t have the same, old thing every week. With only five ingredients, this pizza is a snap to whip up, and it tastes just like a Reuben sandwich. —Nicole German, Hutchinson, Minnesota
German Potato Salad with Sausage
Hearty and saucy, this potato salad is an old family recipe that was updated using cream of potato soup to ease preparation. Despite the “salad” name, this is a hot and filling dish that brings comfort food to the supper. The sausage and sauerkraut give it a special zip.
—Teresa McGill, Trotwood, Ohio
Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs
Here’s a juicy, delicious and savory meal in a bun! I make these bacon-wrapped hot dogs for picnics, barbecues and tailgate parties, and they always get compliments. To transport, wrap the hot dogs in foil and then in paper. —Peter Halferty, Corpus Christi, Texas
My version of sloppy joes comes from an old family recipe. Make these sandwiches even more German by stacking everything on a pretzel bun. —Jason Koren, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
My husband, being born and raised in Wisconsin, loves bratwurst sausages. So I tweaked this strudel recipe to include some of his favorite filling ingredients and it was an instant hit. Serve with extra mustard for dipping. —Cleo Gonske, Redding, California
Mom brewed her own sauerkraut and, of course, the cabbage was from our big farm garden! Blending the kraut with spicy sausage and apples was Mom’s favorite way to fix it, and I still love this country dish.
—Rosemary Pryor, Pasadena, Maryland
Every August, our town hosts a Bratwurst Festival. To celebrate the sausage season, we stuff brats and sauerkraut inside pita bread. —Brooke Young, Bucyrus, OH
Caramelized Ham & Swiss Buns
My next-door neighbor shared this recipe with me, and I simply cannot improve it! You can make it ahead and cook it quickly when company arrives. The combo of poppy seeds, ham and cheese, horseradish and brown sugar makes it so delicious. —Iris Weihemuller, Baxter, Minnesota
Paddy’s Reuben Dip
This slow-cooked spread tastes just like the popular Reuben sandwich. Even when I double the recipe, I end up with an empty dish. —Mary Jane Kimmes, Hastings, Minnesota
Hot Dog Sliders
An American favorite, hot dogs, turn into a fun treat that is great for a laid-back party. They get three special treatments in this recipe: Chicago-style, Bavarian and South of the Border. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen
I love a good Reuben sandwich and thought, “Why not make it into a pizza?” It’s got extra cheesy goodness in the sauce, and smells wonderful coming out of the oven. —Tracy Miller, Wakeman, Ohio
Surprise Sausage Bundles
Kielbasa and sauerkraut star in a tasty filling for these scrumptious stuffed rolls, which make a great dinner with soup or salad. My family also loves leftover bundles right out of the refrigerator for a quick lunch. —Barb Ruis, Grandville, Michigan
Reuben Brunch Bake
I created this when I wanted something different for a graduation brunch for two of our sons. When I realized I had most of the ingredients on hand for the Reuben dip I usually make, I decided to use them in a brunch casserole instead! Everyone asked for the recipe. —Janelle Reed, Merriam, Kansas
Reuben Bread Pudding
Our Aunt Renee always brought this casserole to family picnics in Chicago.
It became so popular that she started bringing two or three. I have also made
it using dark rye bread or marbled rye, and ham instead of corned beef—all the variations are delicious! —Johnna Johnson, Scottsdale, Arizona
You’ll need only five ingredients to stir up this hearty dip that tastes like a Reuben sandwich. It’s requested at all the gatherings we attend. —Pam Rohr, Troy, Ohio
Reuben Eggs Benedict
When it comes to food, two of my all-time favorites are Reuben sandwiches and eggs Benedict. So naturally I combined them into this incredible breakfast dish. I serve mine with bacon on the side, but hash browns and fresh fruit go great, too! —Jessica Rehs, Akron, Ohio
Josh Rink, Taste of Home Food Stylist, contributed to this article.