If you’ve ever wondered how to make old fashioned sauerkraut, you’re in the right place. In this article, I provide step-by-step instructions, along with photos, for how to make old fashioned sauerkraut.

What is Old Fashioned Sauerkraut?

a bowl of homemade old fashioned sauerkraut
Homemade sauerkraut with black pepper and parsley in wooden bowl on rustic background.

Before I get into the step-by-step instructions for making sauerkraut, I first want to provide my definition for old fashioned sauerkraut.

Put simply, I’m defining old fashioned sauerkraut as lacto-fermented sauerkraut that is made with just two ingredients: cabbage and salt.

Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

Since I mentioned lacto-fermented sauerkraut, I want to briefly explain what is meant by lacto-fermentation.

According to The Spruce Eats, in stage one of lacto-fermentation, you submerge vegetables in a brine “that is salty enough to kill off harmful bacteria.” In stage two, lactobacillus organisms convert sugars such as lactose into lactic acid. This process does two things. It creates an acidic environment that preserves vegetables, and it also provides a tangy flavor.

Some popular lacto-fermented foods include:

  • Radishes
  • Snap peas
  • Cabbage
  • Garlic
  • Kimchi
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Turnips

You are probably familiar with some of these already. Lacto-fermented cucumbers are often referred to as sour pickles, and basic lacto-fermented cabbage is often referred to as sauerkraut, which is the topic of this article.

Pro tip: People sometimes use the words, “pickle” and “ferments” interchangeably.  To learn how I define them differently, read my article Pickling Vs. Fermenting | Are Pickles and Ferments the Same?

How to Make Old Fashioned Sauerkraut

This post includes affiliate links.

Now let’s get into how to make old fashioned sauerkraut. At the end I’ll also provide instructions for canning sauerkraut, and the pros and cons of doing so.

Gather Your Ingredients and Tools

The very first step in making old fashioned sauerkraut is to gather the ingredients and tools. The great news is, since old fashioned sauerkraut is so simple, it doesn’t require a ton of ingredients or tools.

Ingredients

As I mentioned above, there are only two simple ingredients in old fashioned sauerkraut:

  • Cabbage
  • Salt

In terms of the type of cabbage, plain old green cabbage that you can buy at almost any grocery store works great. Organic cabbage is ideal, but not 100% required. Start with organic if you can.

In terms of salt, two popular options are kosher salt and canning and pickling salt. However, the only salt you can’t use in fermenting is table salt, or any other salt with iodine.

In another step, I’ll explain how to figure out how much salt to use.

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Fermenting Tools

Fermenting tools are also very basic. In this article, I demonstrate using mason jars, together with this stainless steel fermenting kit that I purchased from True Leaf Market.

Pro tip: Use this link to get $5 off your first purchase from True Leaf Market:

I chose this kit because I love using mason jars, and since the parts are sturdy and made from medical grade stainless steel, they should last a lifetime.

The following are popular fermenting options that you can pick up on Amazon:

Note that a kraut pounder or wooden meat tenderizer are popular tools, but since I don’t have one, as you’ll see a bit later in this article, I just used my hands as well as a wooden spoon.

You’ll also need a large, non-reactive bowl. 

A kitchen scale, is helpful when it comes to being precise with the salt to cabbage ratio, but isn’t absolutely necessary.

Thankfully, kitchen scales are very inexpensive, and there is a wide range of them available on Amazon.

Prepare the Cabbage

Once you’ve gathered all the ingredients and tools, it’s time to prepare the cabbage.

Preparing the cabbage is the most time-consuming part, but it isn’t difficult.

Remove Outer Blemished Cabbage Leaves

I got a bit carried away removing cabbage leaves, but I didn’t want any “yuck” in my sauerkraut.

First, after washing the cabbage, remove the outer leaves. You’ll notice the leaves likely have some tears, are a bit wilted on the edges, and may have some blemishes.

As you can see in the photo above, I err on the side of removing more rather than less leaves. I don’t want to ferment any cabbage that is less than perfect, but you don’t need to be quite as drastic as I am. The main thing is to remove the first couple of leaves.

Remove the Core and Shred the Cabbage

Core and cut the cabbage into wedges
Thinly slice the cabbage.

Next, I like to remove the cabbage core. I do have one friend who leaves the core in her sauerkraut, but most if not all recipes that I’ve read for sauerkraut recommend removing the core.

Once you’ve removed the core, cut the cabbage into wedges, and then thinly slice the cabbage.

Add Salt to the Cabbage

Though it’s a bit hard to see, I put the salt on the bowl full of cabbage and then used my hands to mix it in.

As I mentioned above, two popular types of salt used in fermenting are canning and pickling salt, and kosher salt. (I used kosher salt.) The main thing is to avoid salt with iodine.

In terms of the proper ratio of salt to cabbage, this is where it gets a little tricky, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated!

The article, How Much Salt Do I Use to Make Sauerkraut provides the following four methods:

  • Taste
  • Volume (using measurements)
  • Weight

When it comes to volume, or using measurements, the book, DIY Pickling (available on Amazon) recommends using four teaspoons of pickling salt to two pounds of cabbage.

Since I recently bought a kitchen scale to use in breadmaking, and since I wanted to be more precise, I weighed both my cabbage and my salt.

Since the article I linked to above on how much salt to use recommended a 2% brine, that’s what I went with.

Here’s the simple formula for determining how much salt to use for a 2% brine:

First, I weighed the cabbage so I’d know how much salt I needed for my old-fashioned sauerkraut
Then I weighed the sale to make sure I’d end up with a 2% brine for my homemade sauerkraut.

In my case, after I prepared the cabbage, the cabbage weighed 1021 grams. 1021 (grams of cabbage) x .02 = 20.42 grams of salt.

If you’re not used to working in grams or used to weighing your food, here’s an idea of what this looks like in terms of volume/measurement:

1021 grams = 2.25 pounds of cabbage

20.42 grams = 4.79 teaspoons salt

This is very close to the measurement ratio recommended by DIY Pickling above, of four teaspoons of pickling salt to two pounds of cabbage.

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Let the Cabbage Rest

Once you’ve added the salt to the cabbage, mix it into the cabbage and let it rest for about an hour. You don’t need to crush the cabbage, but you do want to mix in the salt well.

The salt will draw the water out of the cabbage and create a brine. This brine plays a crucial role in helping the cabbage ferment, so don’t toss it!

Here’s what the cabbage looked like when I first added the salt in:

bowl full of shredded cabbage with salt on top, just waiting to be turned into old fashioned sauerkraut!
You can see that the bowl was very full of cabbage, almost to the point of overflowing when I first added the salt.

Here’s what it looked like just 15 minutes after I added the salt:

I was surprised by how much the cabbage shrank just 15 minutes after adding the salt.

And here’s what it looked like after an hour:

Cabbage shrunk way down an hour after adding in salt.
It’s amazing how much the cabbage shrank within an hour after adding the salt

It’s amazing how much the cabbage has shrunk down! While you can’t see it, there is a lot of brine under the cabbage in the bowl.

Pack the Cabbage into a Mason Jar or Crock

Using a wooden spoon to pack the salted cabbage into a mason jar. A canning funnel makes this less messy.
A canning funnel makes it easier to put the cabbage into the jar

Now it’s time to pack the cabbage into your mason jar, crock or whatever container you’re using. About two pounds of cabbage will fill a quart size mason jar.

While it’s not completely necessary I used a canning funnel to make it easier to put the cabbage into the jar.

Pro tip: Even if you don’t do any canning, I recommend having a canning funnel on hand. They make it easier to fill mason jars with everything from flour, dehydrated food, and anything else you want to store in mason jars. You can get a canning funnel inexpensively on Amazon.

As you put the cabbage into the jar, use either your hand or a wooden spoon to pack the cabbage down. It’s important for the cabbage to be firmly packed into the jar.

Once you’ve packed all of the cabbage into the jar, you can top the jar with remaining brine. It’s important to make sure that all of the cabbage is covered with brine. Just be sure to leave enough space for a weight (or as I demonstrate in the next step, a pickle helix).

Add a Weight and Lid

Now it’s time to add a weight or pickle helix as well as a lid. The lids that come with the fermenting kit I use has a valve on top that allows gases to escape. If the lid you use doesn’t have a valve, close the lid, but don’t screw it too tightly.

a pickle helix inside the mason jar to hold the cabbage under the brine.
Put the pickle helix inside the jar after packing your jar with the vegetables you are fermenting. When you put the lid on, it pushes down the coil to keep everything under the brine.

Allow to Ferment

old fashioned sauerkraut fermenting
I put the sauerkraut in a cabinet to ferment so it would be out of the light. Note that I put a plastic tray underneath it just in case some of the brine bubbles up and leaks out.

Now it’s time to let your cabbage turn into sauerkraut through the fermentation process!

The ideal fermentation temperature is between 60 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if like me, you live in a warmer climate, fermentation can take place at a higher temperature. During the summer my home can dip into the low eighties for a short period of time, until we feel uncomfortable and turn on the air conditioner. Since we live in a warmer climate, we set our thermostat at 78 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, and it works fine.

The main difference with a somewhat higher temperature is that the fermentation process may take place faster. If you live in warm climate, you can use a 3% brine instead of 2% since more salt slows down the fermentation process.

If fermenting in a warmer environment, you can start tasting your sauerkraut after a week to see if it’s to your liking. If the temperature in your home is between 60 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, start tasting it around two weeks in. The longer you let it go, the sourer it will be.

Once it’s to your preferred level of tartness, remove the weight (or pickle helix) and store in the refrigerator. I like using these lids that I buy on Amazon when putting my sauerkraut in the fridge.

The flavor will continue to develop over the next month, but you can eat it as soon as it’s fermented. It will last in the refrigerator for several months.

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How to Can Old Fashioned Sauerkraut

Before I get into the instructions on how to can old fashioned sauerkraut, I want to say that I personally don’t recommend canning it. The reason is that the canning process kills healthy probiotics, and the probiotics are the main reason I make sauerkraut. Also, since sauerkraut lasts in the fridge for several months, you don’t need to worry about it going bad any time soon.

Having said that, if you have a bumper crop of cabbage, or you managed to get cabbage super cheap and bought a lot of it, you may not have room for all of it in your fridge. In that case, canning is a way to preserve it and make it shelf stable.

Here’s how to can old fashioned sauerkraut

When canning sauerkraut, I prefer the raw pack method.

First, thoroughly wash your jars. You can sterilize the jars if desired, but that’s not 100% necessary.

Pack the sauerkraut into the jars, and cover with the brine. Leave 1/2 inch headspace. Debubble the jars, and then check the headspace again and add more brine if needed.

Wipe the rims and add your lids.

Water bath can pint jars for 20 minutes, or quarts for 25 minutes, adjusting for altitude.

Note: If you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level, adapt the canning time, as I explain in this article How Altitude Impacts Canning | How to Adapt Canning Recipes Based on Your Altitude

Recommended Fermenting Resources

Thanks so much for reading this article. Here are the items that I use when fermenting. These are affiliate links, which means if you click on them and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission. But as you can see in this article, these are the products I actually use and love.

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