Tips and Tricks for PERFECT Pickles

There are many ways of canning or pickling cucumbers out there.  I have experimented with a few.  My first batch was with a package I found at a local store, and I just added cucumbers, garlic and pepper to give it a little more flavor.  Canning is a labor intensive process and I learned a lot with the pre-packaged mixes before trying recipes.

Few things have changed in the canning process over the last few decades.  I did learn that my fancy new flat top stove did not work with the standard canning kettles.  I now use a propane burner that typically is used for outdoor fish fries or deep frying turkeys. 

The first step is sterilizing your canning jars.  In the time before dishwashers this was a huge chore and took most of the prep time, now it as easy as running a load of dishes.  Tops and lids can be sterilized by boiling a small pot of water, throwing them in and bringing the water back to a rolling boil for 5-10 minutes, then set aside for later use.

You need at a minimum about ½ a bushel of pickles.  Scrub them well, and dry thoroughly so they do not develop soft spots or discolor. The best tip is to pick your pickles on the small side.  If they over-develop, you get a ton of seeds and all of your hard work turns into soft, mushy pickles when you’re done.  If you get a week of heavy rain and get cucumbers that turn into large spheres, don’t use them.  They tend to have a tough skin, and do not taste as good.  Same holds true with those huge pickles you somehow missed picking a week earlier.  They are loaded with seeds and a tough skin.  Learn from my mistake and set those aside for salads.

My secret to crisper pickles - load a cooler with a layer of ice, then pickles and top off with more ice.  Let sit for 6 hours to overnight if possible. When the cold pickles are processed, they do not cook all the way through and remain very crisp. 

In each quart jar add the following:
-Dill is very important, the fresher the better.  Cut the dill heads into flowerettes with a little stem to hold them together.  When packing the jars, put a head into the bottom of each jar.  If you really like the flavor of dill, more can be added to the top of a packed jar to fill any remaining room.
-Two – Four peppercorns depending on personal taste.
-1 to 2 cloves of Garlic per jar. 
-Load the jar with as many cucumbers as you can without forcing them.  It is ok to slice larger ones into wedges, if you use the cooler trick, they will remain crisp, and retain their crunch after processing.
-Keep a pile of the smallest cucumbers to the side to put towards the top of the jar to ensure you are getting as many pickles as possible per jar.

I also make a batch of Hot Pickles every year.  They are great to eat plain, on a dare or to spice up a Bloody Mary.  Take a hot pepper, I prefer Cayenne, and poke holes in the pepper.  Do not cut the pepper or you can have a seriously hot batch.  I always place the pepper to the outside of the jar so I know which ones need to have a warning label.  I have also used Jalapeño and Habaneras, but prefer the heat and flavor of Cayenne.  

Don’t forget the garlic.  It imparts a subtle flavor in the pickle, but in my house the chunks of garlic are often gone before the jar is empty.  They are a delicious tidbit, that barely tastes like garlic, they are perfect on a toothpick in a martini, or sliced with pickles and added to recipes.

What ever vinegar brine solution you use, mix thoroughly and bring to a boil slowly, I never have the stove on high it will boil at a slightly lower setting eventually. When you pour the brine over your packed jars, leave a small amount of air (¼” for pints, ½” for quarts) at the top of the jar.  Be sure to wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel to ensure the rim is clean and then place on cap and canning ring. 

Read the instructions that come with your water bath canning pots for more information and time.   After removing the jars, I recommend placing the jars on a towel on the counter, and covering them with another towel.  This prevents a cool breeze from causing a rapid temperature change, and helps the jars to cool slowly.  When you start hearing loud pops as the lids suck inward toward the jar, do not be alarmed, that means that you processed everything correctly..

Chef Jeff's Pickle Mix


4 pounds of cucumbers
6 tablespoons of salt
3 Cups of Vinegar
3 cups of water
Fresh dill heads or Fern leaf dill
2-3 heads of Garlic peeled and separated into cloves
Mixed pickling spices
Black peppercorns

Wash cucumbers thoroughly.

Combine Salt, vinegar and water and heat to a boil

Sterilize quart or pint sized jars and add 1 head of dill, a clove or two of garlic, a few peppercorns, and 1½ teaspoons of pickling spices. 

Pack Cucumbers into jars, if you have larger cucumbers it is ok to cut them in ½ or ¼ slice to get as many as possible in the jar. 

Add the boiled brine solution to the jars leaving room at the top of the jar for air.  Usually ¼” for pints, ½” for quarts is recommended.

Bring water in water bath to a boil and follow the directions to your canning system as to how long to cook.  Typically 10-15 minutes for pints and 15-20 minutes for quarts is recommended.