Nothing compares to the crisp tang of a really good pickle. While store-bought pickles are tasty (read about our search for the best one out there), homemade pickles taste fresher, use wholesome ingredients and are truly one of the easiest foods to preserve. Your grandmother might have spent an entire afternoon putting up vegetables, leaving the house smelling like a vinegar factory. Today, most cooks like to make quick pickles, also known as refrigerator pickles. Quick pickles are made by soaking vegetables in brine and storing them in the fridge-planning to eat them within a month or two rather than storing them on a shelf for years. The perks of quick pickles include:
- Quick pickles don’t require fancy ingredients or canning equipment.
- The hands-on work takes an hour or less, and your pickles will start tasting pickle-y in just a few hours. Their optimum flavor and texture lasts about two months.
- Since you’re not cooking the pickles or heating them in jars to seal for long-term storage, the veggies stay crisp and crunchy, never getting soggy or flaccid.
- You can easily experiment with different veggies and flavor combinations.
Want a recipe for a classic quick pickle? Click here. Otherwise, check out our guide to customizing your pickles.
How to Make Any Quick Pickle: A Primer
Quick pickles have three basic components: vegetables + brine + flavors.
You can pickle just about any vegetable. Going to a farmers market this weekend? Select the best-looking produce you can find for pickling. Fresh vegetables will keep their taste and texture better than older veggies will.
The tastiest pickles are made from naturally firm and crisp vegetables, such as summer squash, carrots, Brussels sprouts, green beans and asparagus. You can even think wilder and pickle watermelon rinds or mushrooms! (Find some bold pickling recipes here.)
Leave slim vegetables, like green beans or asparagus, whole. Larger vegetables do best cut into smaller pieces, which lets them absorb the brine better and will ensure more even flavoring. You can cut veggies into coins, slices or spears: It’s up to you! Always cut off the ends and stems, which contain an enzyme that can make pickles soggy.
Want to make a classic cucumber pickle? Kirby cucumbers are the most common variety for pickling, but often, the specific type of cucumber isn’t listed on the label. Seek out cucumbers that are short and firm. Bumpy skins are a good sign, too.
The brine is the magic sauce here. It has two functions: preserving the vegetable and adding flavor. Ingredients like vinegar, salt and sugar all stave off spoilage. Their flavors also mimic the tang of fermentation. (Want to try old-fashioned fermentation at home? Try making sourdough bread or yogurt.)
A basic pickling liquid contains equal parts vinegar and water, plus salt. For quick-pickling, the brine is heated, allowing the salt to dissolve and the other ingredients to come together (more on that in a minute). Then you pour it over the veggies. As they soak in the brine, they soften slightly and take on tons of flavor.
Here’s where the home pickler can have a lot of fun! While classic pickle flavors like dill are delicious (and totally nostalgic), all kinds of flavors taste good with pickles. Be careful when adding herbs, spices and aromatics to pickles: Their flavor will get stronger over time. Here’s a quick guide:
||How Many?||How to Add
||Try These Favorites|
|Herbs||Add one type of herb. Adding more can muddy the flavors.||Use dried or fresh. No need to chop up; whole sprigs are fine. Simply place with veggies in brine.||Bay leaves, basil, cilantro, oregano, thyme, rosemary, dill, tarragon|
|Spices||Use one or two spices. A hot spice and a fragrant spice usually work well together (e.g. red pepper flakes and coriander)||Toss them into the brine so the heat can bring out their flavors, then pour over the veggies.||Red pepper flakes, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, peppercorns, chili powder, cayenne, fenugreek, fennel seeds.|
|Aromatics||You can use as many aromatics as you wish, but their flavor will intensify over time. You can even pickle aromatics on their own for a sharp, distinctive flavor.||Slice aromatics with the main vegetable you’re pickling; pour the brine over all.||Garlic, sliced onions, spicy peppers such as jalapenos or bird’s eye chilies.|
3 pounds pickling cucumbers (about 12)
1 small onion, halved and sliced
1/4 cup snipped fresh dill
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, sliced (optional)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2-1/2 cups water
2-1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/3 cup canning salt*
1/3 cup sugar (or less, if you prefer a tangier pickle)
Yield: about 4 dozen pickle spears
*Test Kitchen tip: Unlike standard table salt, canning salt (also known as pickling salt) does not contain iodine (which can cause discoloration of the pickles) or anti-caking additives (which can cause the brine to be cloudy). It’s also much finer, which allows it to dissolve quickly. If you don’t have canning salt, you can use the same amount of kosher or sea salt.
Step 1: Prep the veggies
Cut each cucumber lengthwise into four spears. Remember to trim the ends off to remove those enzymes that cause pickles to soften. Chop the aromatics and herbs as desired.
In a very large bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion, dill, jalapenos and garlic.
Step 2: Prep the brine
In a large saucepan, combine the water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil. (Watch out! Boiling vinegar is pungent and can bring tears to your eyes if you inhale it.) Cook, stirring, until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Turn off the heat.
Step 3: Pour the brine
Pour the still-hot brine over the contents of the bowl. Let them stand on a counter to cool. Toss the vegetables with a wooden spoon to make sure they all get coated in brine.
Step 4: Let ’em sit and pickle
Once the brine has cooled to the point that it’s no longer steaming, cover the bowl tightly. Put it in the fridge for at least 24 hours to let the brine steep into the veggies, turning them into pickles.
Test Kitchen tip: The garlic may turn a greenish hue due to a reaction between enzymes and acidic ingredients (in this case, vinegar). Don’t sweat it.
Step 5: Enjoy!
After a day of chilling, the pickles are ready to eat. You can store them, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
How to eat your pickles? Try them on a cheeseburger or grilled cheese, or serve them on a cheese plate with a cocktail (or mocktail) on the porch. (Or just eat ’em right out of the jar when the craving strikes.)