Learn the best secrets and tips for crispy and crunchy pickles. I’ve read about dozens of different theories for how to keep cucumbers crispy when pickling them, and I sorted through them, tried most of them, and gathered up the best of the best tips for crunchy pickles in this post.
Ain’t nobody likes a mushy pickle…
It’s a problem that’s plagued pickle-makers for centuries: how do you find a pickle recipe that results in perfectly crisp cucumbers with that highly sought-after ‘crunch’ when you take a bite?
In the past when I’d go to make my homemade pickles, Prairie Husband would always cautiously raise an eyebrow and say in this questioning tone of voice, “They’re gonna be crunchy pickles, right?”
To which I respond, “Er, sure honey… you bet.” And in my head, all I was thinking was, “Why are my homemade pickles not crunchy?”
Honestly, it took me quite a while to figure out how to get consistently crunchy pickles– I tried all sorts of things, and had mixed results. And like with anything else, if you talk to a dozen different people, you’ll get a dozen different answers.
In my quest for the ultimate crunchy pickle recipe, I’ve collected a number of little tricks, so I decided to compile a list. Keep in mind you don’t have to use ALL of them though- and the first two ideas are the ones that make the most difference… At least in my humble opinion. Those first two tips have helped me get the best crunchy dill pickles.
5 Secrets for Crispy and Crunchy Pickles
1. Use small, firm cucumbers.
This is, hands-down, the most important! If you start with a big ol’ soft cucumber, you’ll end up with big ol’ soft pickles. Always, always select the smallest, most firm cucumbers and leave the big soft ones out of the pickle jar. It’s a natural law of sorts– if you are using ginormous, overgrown cukes for your pickles, nothing will turn them crunchy… No matter how creative you get or how many prayers you say while they are in the water bath canner.
Also, make sure you are using the best varieties of cucumbers. In order to get crisp, crunchy pickles, you need to use the varieties of cucumbers that specifically say ‘pickling cucumbers’ or has some sort of description that uses words like “great for making pickles”. Pickling cucumber varieties are usually shorter and more firm than fresh-eating cucumbers.
2. Jar them immediately after picking, or as soon as possible.
Going straight from the vine to the jar is the best, and I always try to plan room in my schedule to can up a batch right away on pickle-picking day. However, I’ve still had good results using farmer’s market cukes– providing they are firm when I buy them, and I don’t leave them on the counter for days and days.
Additional tip: try to pick your pickling cucumbers before 9am if you can. Vegetables picked early in the morning tend to be sweeter and crisper than those picked later in the day after wilting a bit in the hot sun.
3. Soak cucumbers in an ice water bath for a couple hours.
If I can’t get to work canning my cucumbers immediately after picking them (or when I get home from the farmer’s market), submerging them in an icy bowl of water in the fridge will help them firm up/stay firm. Try soaking them for at least 30 minutes before canning them.
4. Cut off the blossom end of cucumber.
The blossom-end of a cucumber is said to contain enzymes which can cause mushy pickles. Cutting it off is your best bet.
Try cutting off at least 1/16 inch off the blossom end for crisp pickles. The blossom end is the opposite end of the pickle side that was attached to the plant. If you leave a little bit of the stem on that end, then you will be able to tell that the non-stem side is the one that needs to be trimmed.
5. Add tannins to the jar.
This may include oak leaves, grape leaves, or black tea. Honestly? This trick is always recommended, but I’ve had hit-or-miss results with it… If you have oak leaves or grape leaves handy, it definitely can’t hurt to toss one in each jar. Or, add a 1/2 teaspoon of loose black tea to each jar. But again, it won’t turn already-soft cucumbers magically crispy.
Canning Crunchy Pickles: Your Questions Answered
There are some common questions out there about the best tips for getting crunchy pickles, so I’m doing my best to answer them here. Feel free to add more questions in the comments below, and I’ll try to answer them.
Question: What about adding Alum?
Back in the day, it was recommended to add alum or food-grade lime to pickle recipes to help with crispness. It’s not really recommended anymore, due to safety considerations. (I’m not really interested in having aluminum in my pickles, thankyouverymuch.) Therefore, I have no personal data to share if these options are really that effective. However, I’m pretty darn sure if you use the tips above, you won’t even need to consider alum or lime.
Additional tip: You can look into something called Pickle Crisp, which is a food-grade calcium chloride additive that helps prevent pickles from going soft. It was created as a better alternative to alum and food-grade lime. I do not personally use it, but if nothing else works, you could try researching it for more information.
Question: What if I STILL get mushy pickles?
Well, then you might as well just quit this whole homesteading gig and go back to buying everything from the store…. Nah, not really. 😉 Sometimes mushiness still happens, even if you do everything in your power to prevent it. Mushy pickles are still quite edible, and if I get super-duper mushiness going on, I usually use those for chopping up to add to potato salad, making relish, etc. Just keep experimenting– you’ll get into your crispy-pickle groove eventually.
Question: OK… now how do I make the actual pickles? I knew you were going to ask that, so I have my favorite old-fashioned brined pickle recipe all ready for you right here. Or, if you looking for a water-bath canned version, this is a good one.
Some Extra Tips for You on Preserving Food…
Listed to the Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast episode #10 on this crunchy pickle topic HERE.
New to Canning? I’ve got loads of tips for beginner canners (and expert canners, too!) in my ebook and course Learn How to Can. Check it out for more details!
Want to watch me use a water bath canner and pressure canner and get details and expert tips on all things old-fashioned cooking? Check out my Heritage Cooking Crash Course for more details.