Pickles are a summertime necessity, whether they're topping a burger or completing a perfect Chicago-style hotdog. But instead of tossing a jar into your shopping cart, try making them instead — you'll save money, and it can be done without even turning on your stove. With tips from pickling experts Marisa McClellan, author of Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint, and Bob McClure, co-owner of the Brooklyn- and Detroit-based McClure's Pickles, here's everything you need to know to have cucumber pickles ready by tomorrow.
The equipment: Two pint-size jars and a third jar in which you'll shake up the brine — all must be thoroughly cleaned.
Choosing your cukes: When canning pickles, kirby cucumbers (also fittingly known as pickling cucumbers) are a must because they can withstand more heat without getting soggy — but with refrigerator pickles, you can be more flexible. McClellan says kirby, Persian, or seedless English cucumbers are ideal; waxy slicing cucumbers are OK, too, but only if you cut out the seeds to prevent them from watering down the brine. The ideal kirbys are uniformly dark green, firm, and 1–1.5 inches wide by 3–6 inches long, says McClure.
The vinegar: The master recipe below calls for white distilled vinegar, but feel free to swap it out for cider or red wine vinegar instead. Rice vinegar can be used too: McClellan uses it in an Asian-inspired pickle with mint, cilantro, red chili, and honey, and she recommends using two parts rice vinegar to one part water because rice vinegar has less acidity, about 4.2%, than the 5% acidity found in other pickling vinegars. It's important to note that when canning pickles in a hot-water bath, the vinegar must be at least 5% acidity to avoid dangerous bacteria, but that's no worry here: "The safety issue is moot with refrigerator pickles because you're not making them shelf stable, so you can really do it to taste," McClellan says.
Pick your flavors: Don't be afraid to forgo the classic garlic and dill (though you can't go wrong there). McClure suggests adding curry, cardamom or lavender, flavoring the brine with sriracha for a kick, or replacing the white sugar with maple syrup for a smokier, sweet flavor. "A little bit goes a long way in a small environment," he warns, noting that ground and whole spices will have different potencies.
Spice it up: If you like your pickles hot, there are many routes you can take, whether it's adding everyday red pepper flakes, Korean chili flakes, ancho chili powder or fresh peppers. If you go the fresh route, McClellan says to cut the peppers at least in half so the flavor can permeate the brine. McClure's go-to is a fresh cayenne pepper—"It's hot but it's not overwhelmingly hot and it has this great, rich story in the spice," he says—but if you can't find one, the Anaheim chili is a close match.
Beyond the burger: There are plenty of ways to use up your pickles besides burgers, dogs, and eating them straight out of the jar. McClellan chops them up in potato or pasta salad or uses them as a Bloody Mary stirrer; McClure says they're great in an omelet with tomato and dill, but adding them to a fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza is a game changer.
Classic 24-hour dill pickles
Makes two pints.
- 3-4 kirby cucumbers
- 2 cloves of garlic (or more, to taste), smashed
- 8-10 sprigs fresh dill
- Dried pepper flakes or sliced fresh peppers of your choosing (optional, to taste)
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2/3 cup white distilled vinegar
- 1 cup water
- Slice the cucumbers (in halves, spears, coins—the thicker the cut, the crunchier the pickle).
- Divide the garlic, dill, and cucumbers between two very clean pint jars. Pack everything in as tightly as you can.
- In a third (also very clean) jar, combine the vinegar, salt, sugar, and coriander seeds. Seal the jar and shake vigorously until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. (Alternately, McClellan suggests popping the jar in the microwave for about 30 seconds to dissolve the sugar and salt.)
- Pour the brine over the cucumbers; gently tap the jars on the counter to remove air bubbles (you can also use a chopstick to release the air). Seal the jars and refrigerate for 24 hours. They'll keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though they probably won't last that long.
Five-day bread and butter pickles
- 3-4 kirby cucumbers, sliced into quarter-inch-thick coins
- 1/4 sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
- 1 tbsp water
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/8 tsp celery salt
- Pack one clean quart-size jar or two clean pint jars with cucumbers, onions, bell pepper, and garlic.
- In a separate clean jar, combine all other ingredients and shake vigorously until sugar and salt are dissolved. (Pop the jar in the microwave for a few seconds if sugar sludge remains at the bottom.)
- Pour brine over the cucumbers. Note: It will not cover them all the way, but the cucumbers will shrink down and release water as they sit.
- Shake up the jar(s) and refrigerate. The pickles will taste good after one day, but let them sit for five to get the bread-and-butter flavor.