In the Kitchen with John- Horseradish Sauerkraut Prep

I picked up some fine cabbages, including some pretty red little things, and since I have done a couple runs of sauerkraut and feel my fermentation game is pretty solid, I decided to experiment a little bit. Earlier in the week, I took a daytrip with my traveling partner Breyana to Zanesville, Ohio, to the Ohio Stoneware factory outlet. While there, I picked up some weights that were missing from the crocks I inherited, as well as some nice lids, and I got them at a steal because I took “imperfect” ones which were only half price. So, I had all the items I needed, and I got to making some sauerkraut.

A couple quick notes- as always, I am not telling you this is the right way to do it, the best way to do it, the fastest way to do it, etc. I am just showing you how I did it. Part of the fun for me is just experimenting and playing around and seeing what happens. Second, as always, before you do anything make sure your knives are sharp and your work space and counters are clean so you can have room to work.

First up, clean and prep all your ingredients. I cleaned up four heads of cabbage, four mini heads of red cabbage, a red onion, and I cleaned and prepped some horseradish root:

knives, a pot of cabbage, a bowl of shredded horseradish, and a red onion

Second, you need to weigh out your cabbage and measure your salt. This is crucial- too much salt and you will kill the fermentation. I always use three tablespoons of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage, and I had about 16 pounds of cabbage and horse radish so I used 9 tablespoons of salt and put it in a container. As you can see, I have my crock in a clean sink ready to go:

canning salt, paper with measurements, dutch crock in a farmer sink

At this point, it’s just time to start shredding. Again, I like to do it by hand, as my knife skills are good enough that I can get a pretty consistent cut with a little intentional variation for texture. If you prefer super fine cabbage, or just don’t want to do it by hand, you could use a food processor. I don’t even have one anymore after mine broke, and I have to say I don’t miss it. By the time you pull it out of storage, re-clean it, assemble it, use it, clean it again, and put it away, it’s just easier to do everything with a knife. But ymmv and you may not feel comfortable with knives or a mandoline.

sliced cabbage on a cutting board next to a knife

I then throw the cabbage in the crock, and each layer I add a little of the measured salt and some of the horseradish:

shredded cabbage in a crock with salt being poured in

Once you get a good bit in, it’s time to tamp it down and start working the cabbage and horseradish. I inherited my dad’s tamper (which was his grandmothers), and I like to tamp it all down, and then reach down with my hand, pull from the bottom, and circulate it it, macerating it and working it:

cabbage in a crock with a wooden tamper

macerating cabbage in a crock by hand

You just keep doing this until you run out of cabbage. As you can see, it will look like you are going to run out of room, but you won’t- as you work it, it shrinks in size:

full crock of cabbage and horseradish

As you are doing this, you should notice the salt doing its magic and pulling the moisture out of the cabbage. Just keep tamping and manually circulating the cabbage for a while until you have enough brine to cover the cabbage:

cabbage macerated until it is covered with brine

As you can see, the cabbage has released enough water that a natural brine has been created. I’ve read about people adding water, but I have never needed to- I use really fresh cabbage from local farms, and they are plenty juicy that I have never needed to this. At this point, it is time to do one final round of tamping, and then to cover it with cheesecloth:

cheesecloth covering brined cabbage

I measure out the cheesecloth, and then I use a butter knife to push it down the sides so that the entire surface is covered. It is also very important that you take a clean, damp rag, and clean out the crock above the water line. You can research it on your own, but this a lactic acid fermentation, so you don’t want any crap or residue above the anaerobic environment you are creating to become a bacterial mess. Finally, place your weights on top of the cheesecloth, and make sure the cabbage is covered with the brine completely. You should have at least an inch of water:

stone weights on top of cheesecloth covered with brine

As you can see, you have now completely covered the cabbage, created the necessary anaerobic environment for the fermentation process to take place. You then simply place a lid on the crock and store it for however long you want it to ferment. The fermentation time can vary- I like to do about two weeks. I’ve found that a 14-15 day ferment leaves you with a crisp kraut which you can then cold pack and put a couple in the fridge to use or give away, with plenty left over to process in the canner. Others like to go longer. It’s really up to you.

Additionally, some people check every couple of days and skim any scum off the top. I don’t. I just make sure it is clean and properly done, and then basically it is fire and forget. I put the crock with the lid in a cool shaded area, put a reminder on my phone, and in two weeks I will check it. I basically act like I do when I am smoking something- “looking ain’t cooking.” If I like what I see, I will can it then. If I think it needs another day or two or even a week, so be it.

As always, YMMV.

50 replies
  1. 1
    debbie says:

    If that is chopped horseradish in the yellow bowl in the first photo, then your knife skills are indeed excellent.

  2. 2
    Emerald says:

    Well . . . if you like sauerkraut. Just sayin’.

    Still, impressive skillz there.

  3. 3
    opiejeanne says:

    @Emerald: I was thinking the same.

  4. 4
    Damned_at_Random says:

    Sauerkraut is great on hot dogs, otherwise meh. (My Mom is spinning in her grave.) I would be impressed , Mr Cole, if you took a shot at kim chi. Yummy, yummy kim chi

  5. 5
    PST says:

    This is entirely off topic, but it just makes me sick and I want to share it. It is from an article in the Post dated yesterday evening that I can’t seem to link to successfully, despite many attempts, called “The ‘Follow-up Appointment’.” We all know in an abstract way the problem of medical debt, and many here know it first hand as well, but this tells the story from a perspective of the dozens of people whose cases are on the docket every day in one small city in rural Missouri. As I read it, I can’t help but think of how many of the people being bankrupted and forgoing care must be die-hard Trump supporters. A summary paragraph follows but the whole thing is worth reading.

    So far this year, Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center has filed more than 1,100 lawsuits for unpaid bills in a rural corner of Southeast Missouri, where emergency medical care has become a standoff between hospitals and patients who are both going broke. Unpaid medical bills are the leading cause of personal debt and bankruptcy in the United States according to credit reports, and what’s happening in rural areas such as Butler County is a main reason why. Patients who visit rural emergency rooms in record numbers are defaulting on their bills at higher rates than ever before. Meanwhile, many of the nation’s 2,000 rural hospitals have begun to buckle under bad debt, with more than 100 closing in the past decade and hundreds more on the brink of insolvency as they fight to squeeze whatever money they’re owed from patients who don’t have it.

  6. 6
    NotMax says:

    Crock tease.


  7. 7
    LuciaMia says:

    Whats the weight you put on top of the cabbage?

  8. 8
    Mark says:

    Horseradish in the kraut? Genius! Must try. I love both things. Mom’s brisket requires about five days of a dry rub marination. Will make an awesome meal, but I will probably wait for autumn to kick in.

  9. 9
    Alain says:

    Looks great, John. I’ve not yet attempted sauerkraut but I should, I really love it. One of my favorite restaurants in Lausanne, Switzerland (father’s hometown) is a sauerkraut-only place, with only the type, amount, and type of cooked pork products (sausage, ham) to go alongside.

    I’ll be posting this and next week on my 🍑 preserves canning; canning jalapeños; roasting, cleaning, and freezing chiles; and “trailside canning” technique useful for campers and in emergencies.

  10. 10
    stinger says:

    If you looked back at yourself in your 20s and even your 30s, would you have imagined yourself making sauerkraut? Would you have further imagined yourself photographing and writing about it for an international audience?

  11. 11
    Just One More Canuck says:

    I read this post in Julia Child’s voice

  12. 12
    MoxieM says:

    Really cool. I love watching these stop-motion video posts, such as. But there must be something about different kinds of Germans or what?. I love sauerkraut, we always ate it, but I can’t for the life of me think that anyone ever made it. Maybe it’s an urban/rural distinction? Having your (große) Oma’s sauerkraut maker is pretty awesome however.

    (For the record, my kid now likes sauerkraut juice in beer from time to time–some kid of ultra-German shandy I guess. Also eats kohlrabi raw in hand. I think she’s gone over the the other side.)

  13. 13
    A Ghost To Most says:

    Sauerkraut and horseradish. Wish I could stick around.

    Your spoon is done. Where do I send it?

  14. 14
    MagdaInBlack says:

    I have to admit I’m fascinated by the horseradish prep, because: my one and only experience processing horseradish was outside, old school meatgrinder clamped on picnic table, while standing upwind….many tears were shed.😏

  15. 15
    feebog says:

    So basically Balloon Juice has transformed into the cooking channel today?

  16. 16
  17. 17
    scav says:

    @MoxieM: I don’t think I’ve ever eaten kolhrabi cooked! Slice it and maybe some salt, maybe. Is that the Bohemian bleeding through? (my lines seem to be more the pickling types, no saurkraut that I’m aware of. Or, maybe it was only the pickes they were competative about.)

  18. 18
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @MagdaInBlack: Sinuses clear – or destroyed.

  19. 19
    daryljfontaine says:

    If you ever jar this stuff up in a way suitable for shipping, let us know…


  20. 20
    MazeDancer says:

    @John Cole:
    Seriously, John, Video and a YT Cooking Channel. “In the Kitchen with John”. Slap some ads on ’em, pay for the blog, endless mason jars, and all your gardening habits.

    (Obviously, someone else with have to shoot the video. You can edit it. Unless your vid skills surpass your still photography. Though, must say, these stills are not bad.)

  21. 21
    zhena gogolia says:

    Russians like to eat the half-fermented cabbage (kvashenaia kapusta), either on its own, or what’s really yummy is to use it as a bed for roast goose.

  22. 22
    zhena gogolia says:

    @Just One More Canuck:

    After I read your comment, I did too, and it was hilarious!

  23. 23
    Alain says:

    @zhena gogolia: now THAT’S what I’m talking about! Far too little goose is eaten in the US. I once had the most wonderful economy-class Lufthansa in-flight meal in late November, goose and red cabbage. It’s been 24 years and I still drool.

  24. 24
    MagdaInBlack says:

    @zhena gogolia:
    I used to stuff the goose with sauerkraut and apples….oh dearlord, THAT was good 😊
    Ive not seen the half-fermented, but I’m betting my neighborhood grocery has it.

  25. 25
    Soprano2 says:

    @PST: This is happening because our legislature would rather these hospitals go bankrupt than even one “wrong” person get help. There is a petition in MO to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot, but if it passes I guarantee those fuckers will water it down to uselessness.

  26. 26
    Gelfling 545 says:

    @Damned_at_Random: Polish sausage baked on a bed of sauerkraut is a tasty, easy meal.

  27. 27
    zhena gogolia says:

    @Alain: @MagdaInBlack:

    Those both sound good! I’m not crazy about goose itself, but its drippings do wonders to other substances.

  28. 28
    weavrmom says:

    Love sauerkraut, love making it, love your blogs about this, John! As you note, it is dead simple to make, with a big payoff. Really convinced the live ferments are good for digestion, as well.

    You or others might enjoy experimenting making a korean version, which can be more and less spicy depending on the amount of hot pepper used. i also never use fish sauce, but ymmv. Here’s a very stripped-down version good to just try, if anyone is interested:

    Fermented veggies are amazing!

  29. 29
    Duane says:

    @PST: Welcome to Missouri, where the voter’s in Eldorado Springs recently said no to a minimal tax increase to save their local hospital. ( About twenty dollars a year.)
    Governor Parson has formed a task force to explore ways to provide more affordable insurance options, completely ignoring that expanding Medicaid would end most of the bankruptcies and hospital closures. The people that voted for Trump and his sociopathic ideologues are getting what they asked for, and couldn’t care less about who gets hurt, even if it’s them.

  30. 30

    @Soprano2: MO Leg has been known to flat-out overrule successful ballot initiatives that they don’t like. How they stay in office after pulling that shit is beyond me.

  31. 31
    Jharp says:

    To see the biggest white oak trees ever on your next trip to Zanesville check out Dysart Woods.

    It’s been 30 years since I’ve been there and they were monsters back then.

    It’s conveniently located fairly close to I 70.

  32. 32

    @Soprano2: Moderation? Lemme try again:
    Jeff City has been known to flat-out overrule successful ballot initiatives that they don’t like. How they stay in office after pulling that shit is beyond me.

  33. 33
    J R in WV says:


    Well, they don’t want vaccinations for their kids, either. I think it’s a death cult, and they want to die soonest, most painful ways, and watch their kids die too.

    Strange, but I’ve known for quite a while that there are people really different from us around, and figured out that you can’t understand nor explain the crazy, nor should you attempt to, lest you catch it. And yes, it is transmissible!!

  34. 34
    oldster says:

    Yeah, I inherited my dad’s temper, too. He was a pretty easy-going guy except when….

    Oh! “Tamper.” What you tamp with. Got it.

    Never mind….

  35. 35
    MomSense says:


    I’m with you. Not a big sauerkraut fan, but kimchee is my jam. One plus side of my new job commute is that I can stop at the Asian market and pick up kimchee on my way home.

    I also love to make spicy Asian slaw. It’s so good for making fish tacos.

  36. 36
    J R in WV says:

    @J R in WV:

    Should also have said:

    John, your cooking skills as far as we out here in innertubes land can tell, are supreme! I cook and work in the kitchen, and I am in awe of all the things you do and educate and inform us about.

    Thanks so much!

    ETA to ask, what are all the woods in that wonderful cutting board you show us with the chopped cabbage on it? It seems all laminated strips of various hardwoods?

  37. 37
    MomSense says:


    And this is why the Fucking Republicans who played politics with Medicaid expansion not only have blood on their hands, but they also fucked over their local hospitals and constituents. Hospitals jack up the prices for everyone to try and recoup their losses from unpaid medical bills. We are already subsidizing health care for the uninsured. We are just not getting good value for our money.

  38. 38
    Baud says:

    If you had asked me how this blog would go out, I would never have predicted horseradish sauerkraut.

  39. 39
    zhena gogolia says:


    You sound like me.

    I think it was Harris who said, when some idiot asked how she was going to pay for it, said, “We’re already paying for it!”

  40. 40
    Duane says:

    @J R in WV: Missouri had a two-term D governor(Jay Nixon) until 2016. Obama’s presidency was just too much, and having never been vaccinated against racism it ate their brains. In this delusional state Eric Greitens (R-Grifterville) was elected and soon resigned in disgrace. Parsons became governor, but may not get elected in 2020 because he’s not crazy enough, or the sane voters left can work to get a Democractic governor elected. That’s my plan.

  41. 41
    Jay Noble says:

    The reminder on the phone is probably the most important part of all this. :-)

  42. 42
    Ruckus says:

    @zhena gogolia:
    Paying and not getting our monies worth.

  43. 43
    Ruckus says:

    @J R in WV:
    We used to call those scrap cutting boards when I was younger, a rather long time ago. Dad did woodworking when I was a kid, had an original Shopsmith, and whenever a big project was done there was always cutoffs that could be glued together to make cutting boards.

  44. 44
    Duane says:

    @Baud: Not only can I kill a thread, I can kill an entire blog, although some credit goes to the guy who puts horseradish in sauerkraut.
    Bet it’s so hot you can’t eat it.

  45. 45
    MomSense says:

    @zhena gogolia:

    Yup. So much stupid so little time.

  46. 46
    J R in WV says:


    We used to call those scrap cutting boards when I was younger, a rather long time ago.

    Yeah, I have one of alternating strips of curly maple, some regular maple, and a few narrow strips of walnut for variation in the color. But it’s thick, like a couple of inches at least, and not as big as the one John was using.

    As it ages and I scour it periodically, I would expect it to begin to dish a little bit, but so far not so much… so I was curious to know the specific woods in John’s big board.

  47. 47
    Just One More Canuck says:

    @zhena gogolia: To be more applicable to Cole it should the Dan Ackroyd SNL sketch of him playing Julia child but continually slicing himself

  48. 48
    TOP123 says:

    @Alain: Despite no having no obvious ethnic ties to the region, I looked at your comment and it made me suspect I am Lausannian (?) I love and adore sauerkraut . My mom used to make choucroute garnie for me as a special treat when I was a little kid. Would love to hear fermeting tips!

  49. 49
    Skepticat says:

    @MagdaInBlack: I shall never forget my family’s one and only attempt to make horseradish, with which you may identify. However, your mention of “outside” and “downwind” makes it clear your family was smarter than mine. Grating the root went well, and we had quite a large bowl full. All was fine until my dad added the vinegar. My parents, sisters, and I simultaneously tried to fit through the kitchen door to the outside to escape the cloud of toxic gas, and our tear ducts probably will never be the same. I believe this method since has been outlawed by the Geneva Convention. Good times.

  50. 50
    MoxieM says:

    @Alain: Rotkohl–red cabbage and apples, kind of sweet & sour = traditional Christmas food with the goose or roast beast. (Again my mom did it weird: on Christmas Eve we had a fancy herring salad, which had been the appetizer to some elaborate lobster diner her mom’s wealth family ate… )

    But we got the beast or goose or whatever the next day since my dad’s since of the family was Anglo-Caadia/USian. Also Pancakes! syrup!! and stollen. Geeze it’s only August…

    Are we going to do a Balloon Juice Christmas Baking Special fundraiser, hh?

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