How to Make Sauerkraut with A $5 Fermentation Station

Want to learn how to ferment your own food? Here's exactly how to make sauerkraut using an inexpensive fermentation station!

This week, we got 3 big heads of red cabbage in our CSA share.

So naturally, we were excited to make a batch of fresh Sauerkraut.

Making sauerkraut in the summer is great because the warm weather allows the kraut to ferment faster. It usually only takes a few days in this warm weather.

We've been making our own sauerkraut for years, ever since we saw this video:

 

We realized the sauerkraut bought at the store is not fermented at all, just soaked in vinegar for flavor.

It's not really real sauerkraut unless you ferment it. And the stuff from the store is limp and soggy, while the home-made kraut is crisp, crunchy, and amazingly delicious.

I like to use red cabbage because I like the crisp texture. We also make a few variations of sauerkraut using this method - like Salvadorean "curtido" for papusas, and Kimchi.

When I saw the glass jar/airlock combo in the Mark Frauenfelder video that costs $20, I knew I could make the same thing for way cheaper.

We went to the thrift store and got this awesome 1970s 1 gallon glass jar with a plastic screw on cap that was perfect. It cost $2.

Then we went to the local fermentation/homebrew/jar store and got the airlocks, which were $2.

You can get your own airlock on Amazon here. 

(Disclosure: some of these links are affiliate links, meaning that at no extra cost to you, if you decide to purchase something I recommend I get a small commission, which helps keep this blog up and running! Thank you!)

 

Yes, technically you can just use a crock or a piece of cloth to keep dust out, but this method is a little more fool proof and we've never had any mold or bad stuff grow because the air-lock is made so that it doesn't let anything in, but air pressure can escape.

So basically you just take the jar, drill a hole in the plastic lid as wide as the rubber airlock gasket, and you're ready to go.

Yep, I'm pretty much in love with our heart-design 70s jar. We've also added a jar with cows printed on it and one with geese on it to our collection. Gotta love vintage stuff!

TIP: DO NOT USE A PLASTIC JAR!

You can only use GLASS jars for fermentation.

Plastic will leave a bad taste and is not good with the reaction of fermentation. Yes the screw on cap is plastic, but that does not come in contact with the cabbage at all.

DO NOT USE A METAL CAP!

There can be NO contact between metal and the sauerkraut (or any fermentation). So, stick with glass and a plastic cap.

Sauerkraut is just cabbage and a little bit of salt.

Everything else happens during fermentation.

Airlock in the cap, awesome 1970s retro glass jar. You don't have to make a gallon at a time but that's what we do! You have to sterilize the jar with boiling water before you put the cabbage in, so that nothing weird grows in it during the fermentation process.

Airlock in the cap, awesome 1970s retro glass jar. You don't have to make a gallon at a time but that's what we do! You have to sterilize the jar with boiling water before you put the cabbage in, so that nothing weird grows in it during the fermentation process.

Close up of the Airlock in the cap - you just stick it into the hole you've drilled. Should squeeze right in.

Close up of the Airlock in the cap - you just stick it into the hole you've drilled. Should squeeze right in.

Red cabbage! In my opinion it makes better sauerkraut than green cabbage and turns out crispy and crunchy. Yum! You can cut it up into small strips yourself, use a mandolin, or use a food processor.

Red cabbage! In my opinion it makes better sauerkraut than green cabbage and turns out crispy and crunchy. Yum! You can cut it up into small strips yourself, use a mandolin, or use a food processor.

We used a food processor.

We used a food processor.

In a bowl, put about 1 teaspoon of salt for every head of cabbage. Start mixing the salt in with the cabbage. Mush it all together. Mash it in with your hands and fists. It should start to get liquidy as the water draws out of the cabbage. Mash it with your fists and hands and make sure you don't have any cuts on your fingers because it will hurt like a bitch! Oh, and make sure your hands are really clean too!!

In a bowl, put about 1 teaspoon of salt for every head of cabbage. Start mixing the salt in with the cabbage. Mush it all together. Mash it in with your hands and fists. It should start to get liquidy as the water draws out of the cabbage. Mash it with your fists and hands and make sure you don't have any cuts on your fingers because it will hurt like a bitch! Oh, and make sure your hands are really clean too!!

Once the cabbage and salt is all mixed, mashed, and mushed, start packing it into the jar. Really mash it down into the jar with your fists. Squeeze out the liquids. There should be a good amount of liquid in the jar when you've packed all of the salty cabbage into it. You want the liquid to come up above the cabbage mixture, you don't want any cabbage touching the air. This keeps the cabbage from growing mold. So, the more liquid the better.

Once the cabbage and salt is all mixed, mashed, and mushed, start packing it into the jar. Really mash it down into the jar with your fists. Squeeze out the liquids. There should be a good amount of liquid in the jar when you've packed all of the salty cabbage into it. You want the liquid to come up above the cabbage mixture, you don't want any cabbage touching the air. This keeps the cabbage from growing mold. So, the more liquid the better.

Smash the salty cabbage mixture down into the jar. This is the part where you can find me mercilessly punching the cabbage down into the jar. Punch it! You have to be brutal.

Smash the salty cabbage mixture down into the jar. This is the part where you can find me mercilessly punching the cabbage down into the jar. Punch it! You have to be brutal.

Okay, this is a REALLY important step. You need to fill a small plastic baggy (zip-lock or whatever) with salty water. Make sure the salt is dissolved in the water, and squeeze out any excess air, and seal up the baggy. The reason you do this is so that IF the baggy leaks a bit, the water that leaks out is salty like the cabbage. The water-filled baggy acts as a seal and membrane between the cabbage and the air. You DO NOT want to the cabbage to have any contact with the air. The plastic baggy seal should cover the cabbage and the liquid should rise a little bit above it around the edges. Basically just make sure no cabbage bits are touching the air, that they are all under the salty water baggy.

Okay, this is a REALLY important step. You need to fill a small plastic baggy (zip-lock or whatever) with salty water. Make sure the salt is dissolved in the water, and squeeze out any excess air, and seal up the baggy. The reason you do this is so that IF the baggy leaks a bit, the water that leaks out is salty like the cabbage. The water-filled baggy acts as a seal and membrane between the cabbage and the air. You DO NOT want to the cabbage to have any contact with the air. The plastic baggy seal should cover the cabbage and the liquid should rise a little bit above it around the edges. Basically just make sure no cabbage bits are touching the air, that they are all under the salty water baggy.

This is a close up to show you how the plastic baggy full of salty water acts as a seal to protect the cabbage from air. This is so that nothing weird starts growing on your sauerkraut!

This is a close up to show you how the plastic baggy full of salty water acts as a seal to protect the cabbage from air. This is so that nothing weird starts growing on your sauerkraut!

Put a bit of water in your Airlock so that it seals the cabbage in the jar from the outside air. The airlock allows air to escape in "burps" but does not let dust or bad bacteria in. And that's it! The cabbage is now ready to go through the fermentation process to become sauerkraut.

Put a bit of water in your Airlock so that it seals the cabbage in the jar from the outside air. The airlock allows air to escape in "burps" but does not let dust or bad bacteria in.

And that's it! The cabbage is now ready to go through the fermentation process to become sauerkraut.

Now that you have the fermentation station ready to go, it's time to let it sit.

Find a dark, cool place that is out of the way and place the jar on a plate. The plate is just in case there is a bit of overflow of juices/liquids. Fermentation will push the air out of the airlock, but sometimes you'll get some purple liquid dripping out too. We put the sauerkraut in a closed cabinet, a closet, or the basement depending on the season.

If it is cooler or cold in your region or home, it will take longer to ferment, maybe a week of more.

If you live in a really warm environment or it is summer, it will only take a few days.

You can taste the sauerkraut after a few days and decide if it needs more time or is done. Just make sure you use a clean fork to taste it, and cover it back up with the baggy if you need to put it back into the dark for a few more days.

Once it has fermented to your satisfaction (based on your taste!), take it out of the dark and put it into the fridge. The cold fridge will halt the fermentation process and keep it fresh for weeks.

Now, enjoy your sauerkraut on everything! It's kind of addicting.

You can use this same Fermentation Station set-up to make any fermented food. You can make kombucha, curtido, kimchi, pickles, fermented radishes and beets, etc all using this same jar.

Experiment! I like to make the Vietnamese pickle mixture (daikon radish and carrot, salt and a bit of sugar) to make banh mi sandwiches.

Fermenting is not an exact science, which is what I love about it. If you have a favorite fermented food recipe, I want to know about it!

Leave a comment with your favorite sauerkraut variation!