7 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Making Pickles
Who doesn't love pickles? Here's how to avoid the most common mistakes when you're making pickles at home.
Making homemade pickles couldn’t be easier. All you need is a little prep work, your favorite produce (vegetables, fruits or both) and the brine of your choosing. But if you’ve had a bad pickle—one that’s soggy, too vinegary, too sweet or too salty—you know that making pickles can be a total letdown. Let’s clear up some easy-to-make pickle mistakes to ensure every bite is crunchy and delicious.
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Using table salt
There is a startling variety of types of salt at the grocery store these days, so take advantage of the times! When you’re making pickles, ditch the iodized table salt and use a specialty salt like canning salt or pickling salt instead. These salts don’t contain iodine or anti-caking additives, which can cause discoloration and cloudiness in your pickle juice. Their fine texture also helps them dissolve quickly.
If you can’t find canning salt, try using other additive-free salts, like kosher salt or sea salt. Just keep in mind that these salts contain large crystals, so they’ll have a different volume than canning salt. You’ll want to weigh the salt to match the original recipe and keep your pickles from turning out too salty or not salty enough.
While you can definitely pickle all kinds of vegetables (we’re looking at you, pickled green beans!), you don’t really want to mix them together without purpose. Different vegetables may need varying amounts of time to ferment, and the colors and flavors can bleed together. Unless you’re using a specific recipe for mixed pickles, like giardiniera, we recommend keeping the vegetables separate for the tastiest outcome.
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Using cucumbers that are too big
While big cucumbers are fantastic for salads and snacking, quick pickling isn’t the time for your garden’s overgrown cukes. Larger cucumber varieties contain more water, making it difficult to achieve that signature pickle crunch. The best cucumbers for pickling are small and firm. You’ll find pickling cucumbers at your local grocery store, but our favorite heirloom varieties are only found at the local farmers market.
Boiling (or not boiling) your vegetables
Pickles can be a creative process, but it’s best to follow the recipe’s instructions for boiling (or not boiling) the vegetables. Some vegetables, like zucchinis and cucumbers, will lose their crisp texture if they’re boiled in the pickling liquid. Others, like carrots and okra, need some time in simmering liquid to set the color and create the right texture. It’s especially important to follow the recipe when canning pickles to make sure the pickles are safe to eat.
Eating pickles before they’re ready
We love making easy refrigerator pickles because they’re ready in just 24 hours! But some pickles take several days to reach the desired level of flavor, and others (like lacto-fermented pickles) can take weeks. Be patient and taste along the way to know when your pickles reach their prime.
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When making a pickling brine, it’s important to ensure your measurements are fairly spot on. You don’t want to end up with too much or too little liquid in the end, and using too much salt can make your pickles taste too salty. To create the right balance of water, salt and vinegar, use measuring cups and spoons, and weigh the salt if you’re substituting a different variety.
If you’re an experienced pickler, you can loosen up when it comes to the spice measurements. Feel free to eyeball the herbs and spices to customize the flavor, or make your own homemade pickling spice instead of using store-bought spices.
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You’re only pickling cucumbers!
Did you know you can pickle avocados? Shrimp? Berries? There are a surprising number of foods you can pickle, so don’t limit yourself to cucumbers. Try pickled sweet onions for a relish to serve with barbecued foods, pickled bell peppers for a crunchy and colorful addition to your dinner plate and spicy pickled garlic as a tasty sandwich topping and tons of other exciting pickling recipes.