The only reason I grow cucumbers is to make this Garlic Dill Pickles recipe. Oh, sure, we eat cucumbers in Panzanella and other tossed salads, and I make a German-style cucumber salad that the whole family loves.
But as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing like a good garlic dill pickle. The crunch. The bite. That vinegary goodness. Swoon!
If you have never made pickles before, the method below is a great place to start. You can make them the traditional way using a canner and jars, or follow the refrigerator method for a quick pickle that’s equally good.
How to Make Garlic Dill Pickles
Should You Can or Quick Pickle?
If you’re new to canning, pickles are an excellent way to start. Or skip the canning process altogether, and use the refrigerator pickle method I’ve provided.
Quick Pickles Must Be Refrigerated
Also known as “refrigerator pickles,” the quick pickling method doesn’t rely on canning or heat to preserve foods. Since processing does not involve heating the vegetables, the result is not shelf-stable and must be kept chilled for food safety.
In other words, you stash quick pickles in the refrigerator — hence the name. They’ll stay fresh in the fridge for up to two months, even after opening.
Canning Makes Pickles Shelf-Stable
Home-canned pickles processed using proper methods are shelf-stable. This means they can be stored at room temperature for several years. Once opened, they need to be refrigerated just like any jar of pickles you’d buy at the store.
Tips on Canning Pickles
Canning food is an excellent way to preserve it for long-term use without taking up space in your refrigerator or freezer. Not everything should be canned, however, and the method you should use depends on the type of food you are using.
Use the Proper Canning Equipment
There are two types of canners for home use: pressure canners and water bath canners.
Not All Pressure Cookers are Suitable for Canning
Pressure cookers intended for use in home canning feature locking lids with vents and a gauge that allows you to monitor the amount of pressure within the pot continually.
It must have a pressure gauge. Reaching a proper level of pressure and maintaining it for a specific amount of time is essential to killing botulism and other potentially lethal spores in low-acid foods.
It must be specifically designed for canning. So, although your Instant Pot may produce wonderful meals, it is not intended for use in home canning. Look instead for one specifically designated as a home pressure canner. (I use this one.)
Use a pressure canning method for low-acid foods. This Garlic Dill Pickles Recipe relies on the water bath canning method since the vinegar-based brine and temperature targets eliminate pathogens. Since not all foods can be processed using the water bath method, if you plan to can other things, you should review the USDA home canning guidelines for safety. Some vegetables and all meats require pressure canning methods. (See How to Can Chicken.)
Water Bath Canning
Water bath canning uses a regular pot large enough to hold the filled canning jars plus at least one inch of water above the lids. Like the one I use, most are made of enamel-covered steel or aluminum. They all have a few features in common.
- A lid helps the water reach boiling faster and maintain the proper temperature throughout processing.
- The pot bottom is flat, so it heats evenly.
- A rack, usually with handles for easy jar lifting, to hold the jars in the pot.
In a pinch, you can use a large, flat-bottomed stockpot if you also have a rack that fits inside to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pot.
Cleanliness is Essential
You should wash all produce with a homemade fruit and vegetable wash before canning, of course, and use fresh items with no signs of mold or rot.
Your equipment needs to be extremely clean, too.
Clean the jars. Before you begin preparing the canning ingredients, wash your jars in hot, soapy water or run them through the dishwasher as a regular load with a heated drying cycle. Rinse them well either way, since lingering detergent residues can change the taste of the food.
Clean the lids. Wash the lids and canning rings in hot, soapy water and rinse them well. Put them in a small saucepan filled with hot water to keep them ready for use.
Keep the jars hot. If you’ve run the jars through the dishwasher, leave the door closed and let the jars stay in it until you’re ready to fill them. For hand-washed jars, fill a large stockpot or the water bath canner with water and bring it to a simmer (180°F / 82°C) then add the jars directly after washing.
Fill jars one at a time. Let the jars remain in the simmering water until you’re ready to fill them. Then, one jar at a time, empty the water back into the canner and fill the jar with the prepared cucumbers and brine. Put a lid on and place the jar in the canner, then repeat with the remaining jars.
Follow Steps Exactly
It can be lots of fun tinkering with recipes to make them your own, but home canning is not the time to play around with ingredients.
- Do not substitute fresh herbs for dried.
- Do not add thickeners or sugars if they’re not called for in a recipe.
- Do not add more water or use less vinegar than indicated.
- Do not omit or reduce salt, since it’s a preservative, and do not use flavored salts when plain, pickling or Kosher salt is called for.
Obtaining the proper acidity and using storage-safe ingredients is crucial for food safety. You should always check with your local county extension office to ask about any proposed changes to a canning recipe.
Adjust for Altitude If Needed
Most water bath canning recipes are based on an altitude at or below 1,000 feet above sea level. Such recipes, including this Garlic Dill Pickles Recipe, rely on boiling water temperatures to eliminate bacteria.
At higher altitudes, water boils at a lower temperature. So, at sea level, water will boil at 212°F, but at 1,000 feet above sea level (the standard used in most recipes), it boils at 210°F. The higher the altitude, the lower the boiling point — at 2,000 feet above sea level, for instance, water boils at 208°F.
So, it’s important to know your location’s altitude before you begin water bath canning. You can easily find this information online. If your altitude is more than 1,001 feet above sea level, you will need to add 5 minutes to the processing time.
Inspect Home-Canned Foods for Safety
While the “sniff test” may be reliable when deciding if milk is safe to consume, it’s not a reliable method for canned foods.
Wait 24 hours after processing. This allows your jars to continue cooling to room temperature. During this time, the lids are forming their seal.
Test the lids before storing the jars. The day after canning, press down gently each lid. Properly sealed lids will not move. If there’s any wobble, the jar is not suitably sealed for shelf-storage. The food is fine, though, so pop it into the fridge and eat it within the next two months.
Remove the canning rings before storage. When you’ve canned food properly, you can remove the screw band (ring), since the lid has been vacuum-sealed onto the container. Leaving the ring in place can trap moisture and food particles, which can attract pests. So, once the rings are off, it’s a good idea to wash and towel-dry the jars, too.
Inspect again before use. When you take a can of food off the shelf (whether you canned it at home or it was commercially canned), inspect the lid and jar. If the lid is bulging or the container is damaged, discard the food. Don’t taste it “just to see” — even a taste of improperly canned food can make you sick.
If in doubt, throw it out!
Garlic Dill Pickles: Canning or Refrigerator Method
Now, don’t let the information above scare you away from canning food at home. Home food preservation has been practiced for thousands of years, and we very rarely hear of someone encountering problems.
As long as you keep your equipment clean and follow directions to a tee, you can safely home-can a variety of foods. It’s a fun hobby and a great way to stretch your food budget.
So, once you’ve mastered a basic pickle recipe like the one below, pick up a book on home canning — you’ll be amazed at how many things you can make yourself!
Garlic Dill Pickles Recipe
- Water bath canner with rack and lid
- Mason jars
- Canning lids and rings
- Thick towel
- 3 lbs pickling (Kirby) cucumbers
- 1 1/2 cups white vinegar 5% acidity (plus more for wiping jar rims)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 tbsp. pickling or Kosher salt NOT table salt
- 8-12 cloves garlic
- 4 tsp. dry dill seeds
- 2 tsp. black peppercorns whole
- Wash jars in warm, soapy water and rinse them well, or run them through the dishwasher. If you will be canning these, get your water bath canner simmering and add the freshly-washed jars to keep them warm. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring a few inches of water to a low simmer and add the canning lids.
- Wash and dry the cucumbers. Slice a sliver off from each end, and cut into chunks or spears.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, and salt to a rolling boil.
- Divide the garlic cloves, dill seeds, and peppercorns equally between the hot jars. Pack the cucumbers into the jars tightly, leaving one-half of inch space between the cucumbers and the top of the jar. Pour the hot vinegar brine over the cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace at the top.
- NOTE: If making quick pickles stop now and put the lids on, then let them reach room temperature before transferring the jars to the refrigerator. Wait 48 hours before eating. If water bath canning, proceed with the next step.
- Run a chopstick or small plastic spatula around the interior of the jar between the cucumbers and the glass to remove any air bubbles. Using a clean towel dipped in room temperature vinegar, wipe the rim of the jar to make sure there's no brine on it that could prevent proper sealing.
- Remove a lid from the saucepan but do not dry it. Put the lid onto the jar, then add a screw-on ring. Tighten the ring only until you feel resistance. (This is called "fingertip tight.")
- Put the filled jar into the water bath canner and continue filling jars one at a time. Once all the jars are full, raise the heat and watch the water carefully. When the water begins boiling, set a timer for 10 minutes.
- After the jars have processed at a full boil for 10 minutes (or 15 if you're at high altitude), remove them one at a time to a folded towel on the counter and leave them there for 24 hours. Do not move them! It is normal for the jars to make popping sounds as they cool.
- The next day, check the seal by pressing down on the lid. If it does not move, the jar is sealed correctly. Jars with wobbly lids are not sealed correctly, so they are not shelf-stable and must be stored in the refrigerator.