Cool and crunchy, delightfully sour and capable of going from snack to sandwich without a hitch — that's what I call a good pickle. Did you know that they're a cinch to make at home? You don't even need to set aside the afternoon; you can make a few pint jars in less than thirty minutes. Here's everything you need to know to make your own batch of homemade dill pickles right now.
Choosing the Best Cucumber
Kirby cucumbers are the classic pickling cucumber. They hold up better than English cucumbers during pickling, remaining firm and crunchy instead of becoming overly soft. I've also found that Persian cucumbers make very nice pickles — they have thinner skin and are the perfect size for packing into pint jars. Persian pickles are what I used in the tutorial today.
You can also use this recipe as a template for pickling other vegetables. Okra, green beans, garlic scapes, and even carrots all make delicious pickles if you're feeling like branching out into other parts of the garden!
No matter what cucumber or vegetable you use, make sure they are ripe and feel firm — avoid limp or wrinkly vegetables. Wash the vegetables before pickling and cut away any bruises or blemishes.
Dill Seed and Other Flavorings
The main flavoring for dill pickles comes not from the feathery dill herb fronds we use in so much of our cooking, but rather from the dill seed. It's not something that most grocery stores carry, but you can find it at Whole Foods, many smaller co-ops with bulk herb counters, and online at places like Penzeys.
Aside from dill seed, a few smashed cloves of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes help round out the flavor of the pickles. You don't have to stop there, either! Play with mustard seed, celery seed, black peppercorn, or any other spice that tickles your fancy.
The Pickling Brine
These pickles are made with a very basic brine of equal parts cider vinegar and water mixed with salt. This brine gets poured over the cucumbers — whole cukes, spears, or sliced coins — and transforms the vegetables into pickles. While you can certainly eat the pickles right away, they get even better after they've had some time to soak in the brine.
Keep the ratios the same, and you can make more or less brine to suit the amount of pickles you want to make. You can also swap out the cider vinegar for rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, or another vinegar to suit your taste.
To Process or Not to Process
These pickles can be processed in a hot water bath for 5 minutes, which makes them shelf stable for around a year. The downside is that the hot water processing will cook the cucumbers a bit and can sometimes give the pickles a softer texture. If super-crunchy pickles are your aim, skip the processing step and just keep the jars in the fridge — they'll keep refrigerated for several weeks.
Place the lids over the jars and screw on the rings until tight.
How to Make Dill Pickles
Makes 2 pint jars
What You Need
1 1/2 pounds Kirby or Persian cucumbers 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed 2 teaspoons dill seed 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional 1 cup cider vinegar 1 cup water 1 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt or kosher salt
Chefs knife Cutting board 2 wide-mouth pint jars with lids Large pot, if canning
Prepare the jars: If you are planning to can your pickles for long-term storage, bring a large pot of water to a boil and sterilize the jars and their lids. If you are planning to make refrigerator pickles, simply washing the jars and lids is fine.
Prepare the cucumbers: Wash and dry the cucumbers. Trim away the blossom end of the cucumber, which contains enzymes that can lead to limp pickles. Leave the pickles whole, cut them into spears, or slice them into coins, as preferred.
Add the spices to the jars: Divide the garlic, dill seed, and red pepper flakes (if using) between the pint jars: 2 smashed cloves, 1 teaspoon dill seed, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar.
Pack the pickles into the jars: Pack the pickles into the jars. Trim the ends if they stand more than 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Pack them in as tightly as you can without smashing the cucumbers.
Bring the pickling brine to a boil: Combine the vinegar, water, and salt in a small sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil. Pour the brine over the pickles, filling each jar to within 1/2-inch of the top. You may not use all the brine.
Remove air bubbles: Gently tap the jars against the counter a few times to remove all the air bubbles. Top off with more pickling brine if necessary.
Tighten the lids: Place the lids over the jars and screw on the rings until tight.
Optional — Process the pickles for longer storage: For longer storage, place the jars in a boiling pot of water. When the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for 5 minutes and remove the jars immediately. Make sure the lids pop down; if they do not, refrigerate those pickles and eat them first.
Cool and refrigerate: Let the jars cool to room temperature. If you processed the jars, they can be stored on the shelf. If unprocessed, store the pickles in the fridge. The pickles will improve with flavor as they age — try to wait at least 48 hours before cracking them open.
Canned pickles will keep for at least a year on the shelf and for several weeks in the refrigerator once opened; refrigerator pickles will keep for several weeks.
Dilly Beans and Other Pickles: Many other summer vegetables can be pickled following this method — green beans (a.k.a. dilly beans), okra, garlic scapes, etc. Experiment to find your favorites!