Best equipment for cabbage shredding and sauerkraut fermentation?
December 16, 2015 8:13 PM   Subscribe

If you have personally made sauerkraut, what equipment would you recommend/not recommend?

I've made it before using a knife to cut (took forever and was hard to make the pieces uniform) and a large glass jar to ferment. It turned out OK but not as delicious as some. After almost 3 months it still doesn't taste complex and developed.

I know I want a shredder to make the process easier, but unsure about the pros and cons of various models.

I'm also wondering if a crockpot would be better, or one of the professional systems complete with airlock.
posted by mysterious_stranger to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My mom shreds cabbage in a blender with water, which seems to work great.
posted by WesterbergHigh at 8:17 PM on December 16, 2015

I shred cabbage with a mandoline. Beware shredding your fingers of course, but it works well and quickly.
posted by clavicle at 8:26 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I use a mandoline to slice super-thin and ferment in a large glass jar. Takes a week or two to start getting interesting and by a month or two it's definitely complex and developed. I don't bother getting the pieces uniform and always throw a few chillies in for luck.
posted by coleboptera at 8:57 PM on December 16, 2015

For cutting, try a mandoline for small quantities or kraut cutter if you're making a bunch.

In my experience a cool temperature and the right amount of salt are the main things you need for good-tasting kraut. If you're not having trouble with mold, your container is probably fine.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:57 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mandoline, then salt and smash it a bit with a blunt object to bruise and get some juices flowing. A knife is fine too as uniformity of the cabbage pieces is not particularly important.

I ferment in a large Mason jar with an air lock (air lock and rubber grommet from the homebrew shop or eBay, plastic storage lid from anywhere, all you have to do is drill a hole and assemble). However, I don't think it really matters as long as there is no mold.

I'd say cabbage quality and temperature are the most important factors, much more so than cutting technique or fermenting vessel. But there are many factors, some out of your control, so I'd just try some more batches before investing in any expensive equipment.
posted by ssg at 10:07 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I used a knife, crock pot, towel, plate, and a gallon jar of water for a weight. It was OK, but too tedious to repeat.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:31 PM on December 16, 2015

Are you using salt? I've made sauerkraut by chopping with a knife (sometimes a mandoline), macerating by hand with sea salt (this takes forever, but I do it while watching TV), and then jarring for about a month. It always tastes AWESOME. This is the recipe I use.
posted by Brittanie at 1:40 AM on December 17, 2015

If you want to do a lot of cabbage fast, a food processor would work. Use the chopping plate/slicing disc instead of the blades.
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:43 AM on December 17, 2015

Assuming that you are making small quantities of 'kraut, you might benefit from the Perfect Pickler, or something like it. I tried doing a few quarts of kimchi, and got nice results; the lid and the airlock worked really well.

I make and can a LOT of sauerkraut, and have used this style of crock and a box slicer similar to this, set over a plastic tub. If I were doing smaller batches, I'd cut wedges of cabbage heads and use a mandoline to help speed the process and get more consistent width. Mash the hell out of it, and use enough salt.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:17 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The best? An electric meat slicer. The best way to ferment? In vacuum bags sealed in a chamber vacuum sealer (at least for the first 3 days or so, then under a weight in any vessel). This is the best way if money is no object.
posted by Infernarl at 6:49 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't use a grater on the cabbage: you end up with a mess that's too small, and which turns into cabbage paste in your brine.

Do pound the cabbage with a pestle or a dowel of some sort when packing. Breaking it down by bruising it first creates natural juices which are better than using water, and will start the cabbage breaking down.
posted by Gilbert at 6:59 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have used one of these for fermenting the sauerkraut, and a food processor to shred the cabbage. I use the same process as outlined above - mashing it up with sea salt.

When I have been successful, it was some of the best, most complex sauerkraut I have tasted after about 2 weeks of fermenting. The other times I think I either over-macerated the cabbage, or there was some unwanted element (mold? the wrong kind of bad bacteria?) in the batch.
posted by baniak at 7:01 AM on December 17, 2015

I make about 5lbs of kraut at a time (usually 2 heads). I use a 10" chef's knife to slice, as uniformity is not that big of a deal to me. For fermenting, I have a ceramic picking crock like this one. I've tried using both a food processor, and a cabbage shredded. The convenience does not offset the cleanup involved with either.

While shredding the cabbage, I toss several large handfuls in the crock and mix with a pinch of salt each time, then tamp it down as far as I can using my fist or the blunt end of a meat tenderizer. Once I've finished with all the cabbage, I top it with a plate that fits just inside of the crock, then weigh it down with a growler filled with water. I cover the whole thing with an old pillow case and secure it with a piece of twine around the top of the crock. After about two weeks (three if it's cooler in the winter, as cold temps slow fermentation), I take a peak. The top should be covered with a dusty-looking green/white mold. That's usually a good sign it's done. I scrape of the mold, taste a small amount for sourness, and if I'm satisfied, pack it in quart-size mason jars and keep it in the fridge to prevent further fermentation. This usually makes about 3 quarts of sauerkraut.

I've been making kraut and sour pickles for 6 or 7 years now. This process has worked pretty well for me so far. Have fun!
posted by slogger at 7:09 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

We do sauerkraut almost every winter. First, you want a winter cabbage not summer, it will be firmer and made for storage.

Then seconding a mandoline, although we use a food processor. Do not bash the cabbage with salt, more like massage it in a big bowl with the salt. I agree that overmaceration will destroy the cabbage fibers and make it mushy not crisp. Julienned carrots are also delicious - we add about a tenth of the cabbage volume.

Seconding a crock for fermenting, although we successfully use a sturdy plastic bucket. Anything where the cabbage can be submerged in its liquid will work. Typically, the cabbage should fill the bucket almost full, then a plate is placed on top, and a heavy object to keep it tamped down - a rock? a brick? anything. Then a loose towel or ideally some cheesecloth to keep it clean. Keep in a cool dark place and taste after a few days. You literally don't need anything fancy.
posted by tatiana131 at 9:06 AM on December 17, 2015

5 gallon plastic bucket and a plate. i chop it all up with a kitchen knife. uniformity isn't everything. sprinkle in coarse salt with the cabbage and try to mix it best i can at the end. the trick is to put saran wrap under the plate to seal the edges from air and a water jar on top. if you have access to water-tight large plastic bags you can use those to seal and weight the top. if it doesn't brine up after half a day, put a little water in to start it.

in my experience, assuming you have the correct amount of salt (it's easy to over salt if you don't use coarse grain salt). delicious kraut is largely a function of temperature control. around 70 degree average during day and cooler at night for 4-6 weeks seems to have the best results for me, but i bet stable temps around 60 would work great too. also if it's too salty it won't ferment easily, but too little salt and too high a temp is bad news. i'm not sure how you managed to keep it going for 3 months... are you trying to do it in the refrigerator?
posted by at 9:14 AM on December 17, 2015

I've tried many methods, and the one that worked best for me was using an airlock with one of these mason jar lids. There are so many variables with fermentation, many of them leading to the wrong kind of mold. With these lids, I've never, ever had a mold problem. For me, they take an iffy process and make it almost foolproof.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:18 AM on December 17, 2015

I'm using the Crazy Korean Cooking buckets, which come in different sizes. The interior features a free-moving plastic lid with a gasket for making an airtight top (plus a little valve that pops if you get pressure). It's simple and seems to work reasonably well, but does require daily attention the first few days as CO2 comes off.
posted by Nelson at 9:19 AM on December 17, 2015

Thank you so much for all the great answers, this gives me a lot of leads to look into.

For my current (and first ever) batch of kraut:

* I did use a beautiful fresh green cabbage. I'm unsure whether it was winter or summer cabbage. The resulting kraut is nice and crunchy.

* I should have been more clear regarding uniformity, it's not that I need the pieces to look the same, but I had trouble cutting consistently thin pieces. I wonder whether thinner pieces might be more fully fermented by now.

* I did mush the cut cabbage up with salt using my hands, until lots of juice came out. I didn't have to add any water to get the liquid level above the cabbage in the jar.

* I might have used too much salt. It tastes very salty (and I generally like salty things). I'm wondering whether the salt inhibited the kraut from developing. It is not very sour.

* I watched the developing kraut like a hawk because the instructions I was using said that if mold developed I would need to scrape it off. I remember seeing some versions of kraut making instructions where it was said that mold would ruin a batch. I'm surprised to see that it could be considered a positive sign.

* I'm also wondering whether the simple screw-top on my glass jar might have let in air and that disturbed or retarded the process. Hence the interest in airlocks.

Anyway, thanks!
posted by mysterious_stranger at 10:46 AM on December 17, 2015

The Pickle Pipe is a new gadget that serves the same purpose as an airlock but is much less fiddly. I got a set a little while ago as a Kickstarter backer and have the first batch of sauerkraut fermenting now.
posted by Lexica at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering whether the salt inhibited the kraut from developing. It is not very sour.

absolutely this. not sour after a long time means either too much salt or too low a temperature. if it's too salty you can try doing a really really long ferment... or use it for cooking.

also, it's key to keep air from being in contact with the ferment. for obvious reasons you can't put it in an airtight container, so you need some kind of layer sealing off the top of the kraut. saran wrap works pretty well. i wouldn't worry at all about the white mold, don't bother even scraping it off. if it starts going pink or gray is when there are problems.
posted by at 5:51 PM on December 17, 2015

After roughly chopping the cabbage, I macerate in KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook. This releases juice without destroying the cabbage structure.
posted by ohshenandoah at 6:30 PM on December 17, 2015

Oh, oops: no, I wasn't trying to ferment it in the fridge. It is there now, but was out at normal room temps for well over 2 months, in a dark pantry.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 12:24 AM on December 19, 2015

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