How to Pickle: Step-by-Step Pickling Guide

Quick-Pickling and Water-Bath Pickling

June 25, 2019
Pickling tips and recipes-Thinkstock

Enjoy today’s fresh vegetables all year by pickling them!

Photo by Thinkstock

Mmmm. Ready to make homemade pickles? Just follow our step-by-step pickling guide for beginners. Making pickles is such as easy process and you can pickle nearly any vegetable—not just cucumbers. Add flavor to your plate and preserve the summer bounty!

What Is Pickling?

Pickling is the process of preserving food in a solution of an acidic liquid (such as vinegar or lemon juice), salt, and water. The acidity of the solution alters the flavor and texture of the food, while also preventing harmful bacteria (like the one that causes botulism, Clostridium botulinum) from developing.

You can pickle most vegetables, including cucumbers, green beans, peppers, okra, turnips, carrots, asparagus, and even avocados!

How to Pickle Vegetables: Quick-Pickling vs. Traditional Canning

There are essentially two ways to go about pickling:

  1. Quick-Pickling: A fast and simple process, quick-pickling is as simple as putting your vegetables in a pickling solution and waiting a bit. Quick pickles (aka “refrigerator pickles”) will last for several weeks in the refrigerator. This process is best to use for pickles that you know you will be eating within a short period of time.
  2. Water-Bath Canning or Pressure Canning: These processes are more complex than quick-pickling, but will allow you to properly preserve your produce for longer. Canned pickles that are truly preserved using a water-bath canner or pressure canner will last about one year. (They make great gifts, too!) In this article, we’ll talk primarily about water-bath canning.

Simple Pickling Recipe

Ingredients for 2 Pints of Pickles:

  • 1-½ pounds cucumbers or other veggies
  • 1-cup vinegar. Use white distilled or apple cider vinegar with 5 percent acidity. Use white vinegar when a light color is desirable, as with fruits and cauliflower. Think twice before using red wine vinegar, as it will turn all your vegetables pink!
  • 1-½ tablespoons salt. Use noniodized canning or pickling salt (not iodized table salt!). Pickling salt has no additives. Iodized salt makes the brine cloudy and may change the color and texture of the vegetables, as well as possibly leave sediment at the bottom of the jars. 
  • 1 cup water
  • Optional: 2 teaspoons dill seed or spices/herbs of your choice. The classic is dill seeds (not the ferns). Mustard seed or peppercorns could also be used. For herbs, dill, mint, basil, or anything that’s overtaking your garden will be great. Always use fresh spices in canning or pickling, as spices lose their flavor quickly. 
  • Optional: A few garlic cloves, peeled and smashed, enhances flavor.

Supplies:

  1. For quick fridge pickles, you can just pour the pickling solution in any plastic or glass container that has a lid; you don’t have to use canning jars or anything special.
  2. For jarred pickles that you plan to preserve, you’ll need two proper canning jars with screw bands and lids. You can re-use the canning jars and bands as long as they’re not nicked or rusty. However, you must use a pack of new jar lids to ensure a tight seal. Never reuse lids.

The method is similar for each; it just depends on if you’re going to process the jars in a canner or not.

Preparation

  1. It’s best to use veggies from farmers’ markets (or your own garden). Avoid using waxed supermarket produce for pickling; the acid or salt will not penetrate them properly. Seed catalogs are a good source of information about suitable varieties. Kirby cucumbers are the classic for pickles (not English). Persian cucumbers are a great size for packing into pint jars.
  2. Select only the freshest vegetables for pickling that are free of blemishes. Use as soon as possible after picking. Pick cucumbers early in the day to help prevent a bitter flavor.
  3. Select the most uniform produce. It’s better to have vegetables be equal sizes. Select firm cucumbers of the appropriate size: about 1-½ inches for gherkins and 4 inches for dills. Use odd-shaped and more mature cucumbers for relishes and bread-and-butter style pickles.
  4. If you are planning to can your pickles for long-term storage, you’ll need to sterilize your jars and lids. To do this, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the jars and lids in the hot water for at least 10 minutes. If you are planning to make quick pickles, just wash your container or jars in hot soapy water, rinse, and air dry.
  5. Scrub produce well to remove dirt. Be sure to remove and discard 1/16-inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers. Remnants of blossoms may contain an enzyme that causes excessive softening of pickles.
  6. For crisper pickles, put the vegetables (whole or sliced) into a wide bowl and spread a layer of pickling salt on top. Cover and let sit overnight in a cool place. Discard the liquid that will have emerged from the vegetables, then rinse and dry the vegetables before pickling or canning as usual. The salt helps to pull the moisture out of the vegetables and makes them crisper in the end.
  7. Measure or weigh carefully, because the proportion of fresh food to brine and other ingredients will affect flavor and, many times, safety. 

Pickling Instructions

  1. Add any optional herbs/spices to the jars or other containers, splitting them evenly between the two. 
  2. Cut your vegetables into even sizes, whether you’re doing spears or coins, and put them in the jars. If you’re going to be canning them in a water-bath or pressure canner, pack the veggies into the canning jars tight (without smashing them), leaving at least ½ inch of open space (“headspace”) below the rim of the jar. 
  3. Make your pickling brine! Combine the vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil, then pour the hot pickling brine over the veggies and cover, nearly filling each jar and again leaving about ½ inch of headspace. You may not use all the brine, but make sure the brine completely covers the vegetables. 
  4. If you’re making quick pickles, you’re almost done! Let the jars rest on the counter for one hour. Then put a lid on the container and place in the fridge. Wait anywhere from three days to a week, and the veggies will taste truly pickled. Bear in mind that the longer it brines, the better it tastes! You can also reuse the brine for your next batch.
    The quick-pickling process stops here. To make pickles for longer-term storage, continue with the water-bath canning process below.
  5. If you’re going to now process and preserve your pickles for longer storage, tap the two jars to remove any air bubbles and top up with brine if the veggies settle. Use a sterilized plastic spoon to push on the veggies and release any additional trapped air. Add the lids and bands. Always wipe the rim of the jar clean for a good seal after filling and just before putting the lid on.  
  6. Place the jars in a boiling pot of water or water-bath canner to seal them. When the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for 10 minutes and remove the jars.
  7. Remove jars and you should hear the jar lids “ping,” which means the jars are properly sealed. If you do NOT hear that ping, treat them as fridge pickles and use within 2 weeks.
  8. Leave jars undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours to cool. Do NOT retighten bands, as this may interfere with the sealing process.
  9. After jars are complete cool, double check the seals. Unscrew bands and press down on center of lid. If you don’t feel any give, lid is properly sealed. If the lid springs back up, it didn’t seal. Put the jar in the fridge and eat within 2 weeks.
  10. Label and date your jars and store them in a clean, cool, dark, and dry place such as a pantry, cabinet, or basement. Don’t store in a warm spot!
  11. To allow pickles to mellow, wait at least 3 weeks before consuming. Keep in mind that pickles can be done earlier. It’s all up to you and your tastes! Just don’t let them go too long or the veggies’ texture can deteriorate and turn rubbery.
  12. Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 1 year (as recommended by National Center for Home Food Preservation).

See our full guide on how to “water-bath can” for details on processing properly.

More Tips on Pickling Measurements

Here’s how much of each ingredient to use per pound (or tablespoon) of fruit or vegetable:

Pickling salt 1 pound fruit/veggies = 1 ⅓ cup pickling salt
Granulated sugar 1 pound fruit/veggies = 2 cups gran. sugar
Brown sugar 1 pound fruit/veggies = 2 ¼ to 2 ¾ cups, firmly packed brown sugar
Dried herbs 1 tablespoon fruit/veggies = ½ teaspoon crushed dried herbs

See our Measuring Vegetables and Measuring Fruits charts to translate pounds to cups.

Our Favorite Pickling Recipes

Note that some vegetables, like crunchy carrots, okra, and beets, should be boiled a little before pickling. Others, like delicate zucchini and cucumber, don’t need to be cooked ahead of time. 

Also, unless you are very experienced, we suggest pickling different vegetables separately. They all pickle differently and at different rates. For example, onions and zucchini will pickle much more quickly than heartier vegetables, like radishes or carrots.

Now, some of our favorite pickling recipes to try:

Kosher-Style Dill Pickles
A simple and classic dill pickle recipe yielding tasty results.

Crunchy Dill Pickles
This super-easy dill pickle recipe results in delicious, crisp pickles that go great with anything. Perfect for a summer picnic or cookout!

Pumpkin Pickles
These pumpkin pickles are a nice change from the usual sweet pumpkin treats. They make a great pairing with a cheese plate and add color to any autumn meal.

Pickled Pumpkin
Pumpkin Pickles. Photo Credit: HandmadePictures/Shutterstock.

Pickled Peppers
When you only have a few peppers, this pickled peppers recipe will do nicely. Just grab some white vinegar and go!

Perpetual Pickles
Technically more of a marination than a pickle, this recipe lets you keep a continuous supply of marinated veggies.

Jane’s Zucchini Bread-and-Butter Pickles 
Even pickle devotees will be fooled into thinking you’ve used cucumbers.

Summer Squash Pickles
When your neighbors refuse to take any more summer squash or zucchini off your hands, it’s time to pickle.

Pickled summer squash
Summer Squash Pickles. Photo Credit: Sherry Yates Young/Shutterstock.

Zucchini Relish
Another great way to use up extra zucchini, this relish goes great on hot dogs and sausages. 

Dilled Green Beans
Pickled green beans with a spicy kick!

Verna’s Beet Relish 
The author of this recipe, Verna, says this is “good with roast beef or almost anything.” She likes it spicy, so hold back on the horseradish and cayenne if you prefer a tamer relish.

Pickled Green Beans
A simple, no-frills pickled green beans recipe.

Pickled green beans
Pickled Green Beans. Photo Credit: Bjoern Wylezich/Shutterstock.

Curried Apricot and Peppercorn Chutney
Something different for your taste buds—a sweet chutney with a subtle spice.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles 
A very simple recipe for classic refrigerator pickles. (Also see our instructional video.)

Easy Kimchi 
Kimchi is a tasty fermented food that’s easy to make at home. It’s considered Korean “soul food” and has been served as a side dish there for many generations.

More Resources

Do you make pickles at home? What do you usually pickle? Let us know in the comments!

Source: 

This article was originally published in October 2014 and has been updated.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

great post

Thanks For sharing this information. It’s Nice..!!!

Picking

Our favorite thing to pickle here is spicey pickled okra. It is absolutely delicious. My husband could eat his weight in it and my kids love it too.

Stalled at the first step

I prepped veg with the salt to remove the liquid then life happened and it's been sitting on the bench for a few days, is there no recovering this? It does have some white bubbles ... :(

pickling tips

The Editors's picture

The white bubbles give us pause, Libby.

canned rhubarab

Growing up SDA and vegetarian we grew our own fruits and veggies and canned and froze them,homemade canned grape juice etc,jams and jellies etc..Learned alot of old school ways from my grandpa and my daddy who grew up in the great depression. My daddy use to make canned rhubarb which was really good on pancakes etc...he also canned boysenberries and gooseberries...is there a recipe you could suggest in canning rhubarb..my daddy is 89 now and can't remember how he did them...would really like to enjoy rhubarb canned again ;)

Like you, I grew up in a

Margaret Boyles's picture

Like you, I grew up in a family that tended food gardens and preserved the harvest for the colder months. Although I didn’t at the time (so much work!), today I consider it one of the great gifts of my small-town upbringing.

As for rhubarb, we grew it then, and I have a small patch now. I’ve eaten many dishes of stewed rhubarb and rhubarb pies, but I’ve never canned it. 

But I think this is the recipe you’re looking for. With all science-tested recipes, the National Center for Home Food Preservation is the smart cook’s go-to resource for safely preserving just about anything.

The University of Montana Cooperative Extension has ever prepared an entire rhubarb cookbook. Maybe you’ll find something there that brings back the memories of home. Good luck!

Pickling Eggs, non refrigerated

I would love to find a recipe for pickling quail eggs, that doesn't require refrigeration. That is the only recipe I have at the moment. Could you please publish egg reciepe's for non refrigerated eggs? That would be great. Have searched the Web over. Nothing!

Pickles

I am not sure if i processed my pickles long enough in hot water bath. Instead of storing them is it safe to put in fridge and just eat right away? Also if receipe calls for garlic clive can i substitute jarred minced garlic?

are my pickles safe?

The Editors's picture

Yes, you can store them in the fridge and eat them within the next few weeks. And yes, you can add minced garlic.

zucchini relish

I canned my first batch of zucchini relish 4 days ago. It tasted great. However today while I was canning my 2nd batch, I realized that I did not put vinegar, which the recipe called for, in my first batch. The jars have already been processed. Can I take the relish out of the jars and reboil the mixture with vinegar and reprocess the jars? Or should I just toss the relish out?

asparagus

Hi I was wondering if I can use a dill pickle recipe to can asparagus . I've never done this before and there are just to many recipes out there and most call for to much sugar for my liking . Please help !

pickled vegetables

When canning pickled vegetables. I packed the vegetables in hot (HOT) jars, covered the vegetables with a boiling hot vinegar mixture, then put the lids on. The jars sealed before they went into the water bath, do I have to/need to process the sealed jars in a water bath?

to bathe or not to bathe...

The Editors's picture

If it’s not too late, we would say better ot be safe than sorry. Process the jars now, rather than wish you did later. Hope this helps!

Pickled cauliflower

I canned some pickled cauliflower in late July of this year using Mrs Wages spicy dill pickle mix. Delicious. But now in mid October the top portion of the cauliflower is turning brown. Why, and is it safe to eat?

unsealed pickled beets

I pressured canned pickled beets in August. All sealed great. Two months later we are getting ready to go south for the winter and packing up the canned goods. We found 7 out of 14 quarts had unsealed. A few days after moving the jars into packing crates we have discovered 3 more have unsealed. I used a new brand of lids called Empire. Never again. My question is this...Are they still safe to eat? I opened one and it smells great. Pressure canned at 15 pounds for 15 minutes.

Bad beets??

The Editors's picture

Hi, Linda, This is, as you know, a pretty important matter. Our best recommendation is that you click into the site below from the National Center for Home Food Preservation that is specifically about beets. Briefly, it is noted there that the size of the jar dictates the time in the pressure canner, as does your altitude. Note also on this site the links to “Using Pressure Canners” and “Principles of Home Canning” for additional guidance.

Here is the site: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/beets.html

It would be tragic to have to discard the beets after all that work but it would be better to be safe than sorry.
All the best!

Canning Pickled Beets

I was looking at this site to determine the correct time to wait before eating my pickled beets. I read this question about the pressure-canned pickled beets not staying sealed & wondered if it was because they were pressure-canned rather than using a boiling water bath - which is the method my Blue Book recommended for Pickled Beets.

Pickled Garlic

Hi, I tried pickling today for the first time as my garlic wasn't getting used quickle enough. I pickled about 7 heads of garlic today in two,what I estimate to be 350 ml, jars today. The hot brine recipe asked for 1 and a quarter cup of vinegar, 3/4 cup of water and a tbsp of coarse salt. The bottle of vinegar I bought didn't have enough in it, there was only 1 cup of vinegar. I poured it over the garlic and it almost covered it completely andI topped it up with some boiled water. I processed the bottles in a water bath for 15 mins and let them cool before they went in the fridge where they are turning a lovely blue around the edges. I'm wondering if there is too little vinegar for the garlic to be safe to eat?

good garlic?

The Editors's picture

Without knowing more—the source of your recipe, for example—we can not respond absolutely to your question but we suggest you consult these sources in determining a solution to your dilemma (all are education web sites and each presents alternative storage options):

• Suggests that garlic is not suitable for canning  (see page 2): http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uc_davis/uc_davis_garlic.pdf

• see page 3 (the link here redirects to the page above): https://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/home-food-preservation-ne...

• This page states “There is no scientifically tested process for canning garlic; disregard information to the contrary on the internet”: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/food/canning/canning-tips/31preserving-...

It is a disappointment to learn that your efforts were in vain but it would be better to be safe than sorry.

Freeze it.

I vacuum pack and freeze excess garlic. Minimal work and it still tastes good.

Dills Sealing

I put down 5 quarts of dills on Monday and just noticed that 2 of them did not seal properly. The lid isn't tight to the touch. What do I do to fix this or can I? Thanking you in advance for your reply.

loose lids

The Editors's picture

You might be wise to eat the loosely lidded jars first, Bev. Put them into the refrigerator asap and keep them there until they are consumed.

We are planning on making

We are planning on making dilly beans but would like to process in the pressure cooker because we can process more at once and generally faster timewise. I cannot find a conversion from a water bath to a pressure cooker. I believe they would process at 10lbs pressure but looking for confirmation on length of time. Is there a way to convert from water bath to pressure cooking?

Pressure cooking canning

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kari, This is a dodgy idea, apparently. The National Center for Home Food Preservation advises against it, depending on the size of your jars and equipment. (There is too much to explain; pls see details here: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/pressurecookers.html

Another source says simply and directly, pressure cookers are not safe: http://foodsafety.wisc.edu/consumer/fact_sheets/pressurecannerandcooker.pdf

We certainly understand that this may alter your plans but we can not recommend the idea and have no further information. Sorry, Kari.

Salty and Shriveled

It's been years since I made spicy green beans but I don't remember this happening before.
My beans looked shriveled so I opened a jar to taste - very salty. Also, my one jar of asparagus all but disintegrated. Will the saltiness mellow after a few weeks (it's only been a few days) and what did I do wrong with the asparagus? Help...

Salty beans

The Editors's picture

Hi, Deb, In the beans, did you use table salt? Does the container say “iodized”? If so, that could be the source of the problem with both vegetables. It is best to used pure salt, with no additives. Table/iodized salt can contain anti-caking additives that create undesirable conditions for pickles, from cloudy liquid to discoloration (and disintegration as you describe), and may be the reason for the salty taste. You need to use Kosher salt or “pickling salt.” And, no, the saltiness is not going to go away.

I forgot to boil the vinegar

I forgot to boil the vinegar/sugar/salt before adding the vegetables for zucchini relish. I just brought all of them to a boil. Is that ok? Are they ok to can?

Pressure canning dilly beans

I have looked everywhere! You said in a comment that you can not do cucumbers cause it will turn them to mush but green beans are a harder vegetable. So is it ok to do them in the canner? I have done green beans plain and the recommended time was 25 minutes but because of the acidity of the vinegar and I do not want to overcook, "better crispy" should I only do for 10minutes?

Pressure Canning Green Beans

The Editors's picture

Hi Chris,

Yes, pressure canning is the way to go with green beans. We recommend sticking with 20 to 25 minutes (or any recommendation that came with your canner); food safety should be the highest priority.

Beetroots are sealed but not quite covered by vinegar

I have baked beetroot in sterile jars together with hot spiced vinegar. There is a good vacuum seal on the kilner jars, but I can see beetroots are not quite covered.....should I break the seal to top up the vinegar, or just turn jars over from time to time? And if I should top up, should I use hot or cooled vinegar?
Help!!!!

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