The Best Cucumbers for Pickling

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Here's how to choose the best cucumbers for pickling, whether you're planting them or shopping at the farmers market.

It’s a great year to grow some cucumbers, especially if you’re a fan of pickles. Growing cucumbers is easy, and you’ll be rewarded with a huge crop—but do you know the best cucumbers for pickling?

The first year I made pickles from my garden cucumbers, I assumed any type would work just fine in the brine. Big mistake: I ended up with disappointing pickles that had tough skins and mushy centers. It turns out there really is a reason why some cucumbers are meant for slicing and snacking, and others are meant for making pickles.

Our step-by-step guide has all you need to know.

What Makes a Cucumber Good for Pickling?

What if I want to eat my cucumbers and pickle them, too? Technically, can’t any type of cucumber be pickled?

The reason certain varieties are considered better for pickling is that, in the end, they make better-tasting pickles. According to Angela Gerace, who creates award-winning pickles at her company The Tipsy Pickle, the best pickling cucumbers should have thin skins. (This is rare in most grocery store cucumbers.)

  • Thin skin: “The thicker the skin, the harder for the brine to really get absorbed,” she says. “Thin is better.”
  • Firm, dry flesh: Angela also notes that pickling cucumbers should have firmer and drier flesh, which stays crunchy even after a long brine.
  • Small size: Cucumbers bred specifically for pickling are shorter: anywhere from 1-1/2 to about 6 inches long. They also have squatter shapes with ends that are blunt instead of pointed—this allows whole and spear-cut cucumbers to be packed snugly into jars. (Which shape you choose might depend on the type of pickle you crave.)

The Best Pickling Cucumber Varieties

We’ve rounded up some of the most popular types of pickling cucumbers, including options for larger gardens, small plots and container gardens. (First-time grower? Be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to growing veggies.)

No matter the type, all cucumbers prefer full sun and consistent watering. The plants cannot tolerate any cold snaps, so wait until all danger of frost has passed before sowing your seeds. Pick cucumbers often to keep the plants producing and to avoid oversize, bitter fruits. Use these cucumber recipes if you need recipe ideas beyond pickles.

Boston Pickling

Pickling Cucumbers At Wilson FarmBoston Globe/Getty Images

  • Plant type: heirloom, vining
  • Days to maturity: 55
  • Size: 3-inch fruits
  • Disease resistance: downy mildew, powdery mildew, scab, angular leaf spot
  • Plant spacing: 12 inches

Boston Pickling has been a favorite of gardeners for more than a century because it produces cucumbers continuously throughout the growing season. The flesh is firm, crunchy and holds a lot of flavor from the brine. This is Angela’s pickling pick.

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Bush

Cucumbers growing in the greenhouse.Fordvika/Getty Images

  • Plant type: hybrid, bush
  • Days to maturity: 50
  • Size: 4- to 5-inch fruits
  • Disease resistance: scab, cucumber mosaic virus
  • Plant spacing: 18 inches or 1 plant per container

With this compact variety, as long as you have sun, you can grow tons of cucumbers in even the tiniest spaces or containers. Although its growing season is shorter than other, non-compact types, you can solve this by planting more continuously over the season (aka “succession planting”).

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Calypso

Calypso Pickling Cucumber Via Amazonvia merchant

  • Plant type: hybrid, vining
  • Days to maturity: 52
  • Size: 4-inch fruits, 1 inch in diameter
  • Disease resistance: angular leaf spot, anthracnose, cucumber mosaic virus, powdery mildew, scab
  • Plant spacing: 12 inches

Calypso is a high-yielding pickling cucumber that is especially prized for its disease resistance. The fruits have firm interiors that make them great for eating fresh as well as pickling. Grow these vining plants on a trellis for easier access.

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H-19 Little Leaf

H 19 Little Leaf Via Highmowingseeds.comvia merchant

  • Plant type: nonhybrid, compact, multi-vining
  • Days to maturity: 58
  • Size: 3- to 4-inch fruits
  • Disease resistance: angular leaf spot, anthracnose, scab, cucumber mosaic virus, powdery mildew
  • Plant spacing: 12 inches

This pickling cucumber is a great choice for small gardens or containers. As the name suggests, this plant has smaller leaves and grows fruit from multiple vining branches, which makes harvesting easy. Despite its small size, H-19 produces lots of cucumbers.

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National Pickling

National Pickling Cucmbervia merchant

  • Plant type: heirloom, vining
  • Days to maturity: 52
  • Size: 5-inch fruits
  • Disease resistance: cucumber mosaic virus, scab
  • Plant spacing: 8-12 inches

Developed by the National Pickle Packers Association, this cucumber variety produces abundantly throughout the season. The cucumbers are short, thick and perfectly shaped for packing into jars. The 3- to 4-foot vines can grow upright on a trellis or along the ground.

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Wisconsin SMR 58

Start of the Spreewald cucumber harvestpicture alliance/Getty Images

  • Plant type: nonhybrid, vining
  • Days to maturity: 55-60
  • Size: 6- to 8-inch fruits
  • Disease resistance: scab, cucumber mosaic virus
  • Plant spacing: 12-24 inches

This pickling cucumber variety was bred at the University of Wisconsin. It’s a favorite of midwestern gardeners and picklers because the plants are such heavy producers. SMR 58 is a great choice to grow on a trellis, not only to make harvesting easier but also so cucumbers will grow straight and fit better inside canning jars.

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Tips for Picking the Best Pickling Cucumbers

Does it matter what size the cukes are?

When it’s time to pickle, select pickling cucumbers from your harvest that are similar in size. That way they’ll brine at the same rate and fit well together into canning jars.

When should I pick cucumbers?

Pickling cucumbers are meant to be picked when still small, for the best flavor and to fit into jars. Check the description on the cucumber seeds you planted to confirm their size at maturity, and pick them often.

When ripe, cukes are firm and have good color. If picked too early, cucumbers may not stay firm after brining. But, because the fruits grow so fast, the more common problem is too-large, overripe cucumbers. When in doubt, taste test. If it’s bitter, spongy or has very hard seeds, it’s overripe and should be composted.

What if I’m not a gardener? What should I look for when buying pickling cucumbers?

The best place to purchase pickling cucumbers is a farmers market, produce stand or local farm. The cucumbers will not only be fresher but also free of waxy coatings found on cucumbers shipped across the country. They may also be organic and free of pesticides. Be sure to choose pickling cucumbers and not slicers. (In stores, they’re often labeled as Kirbys. At the market, ask the farmer!) Make sure they’re all the same size, and choose smaller ones from the bin to be sure they’re not bitter.

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Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.