Crunchy dill pickle recipes won't be crisp if you skip these tips. There's nothing worse than putting in all the work of making and canning pickles, waiting for the flavor to develop, and after eight weeks, discovering it's soggy. Ain't no one likes a soggy pickle, amen?!
My aunt always got after me for saying ain't when I was little, so I'm not sure if it's the rebel in me or the seriousness of mushy pickles, but either way, I stand by the above statement.
Having canned over 400+ jars of food every year for over a decade, I've discovered the answer to how to can pickles and still have them be crunchy. And good news, it doesn't require purchasing things like pickle crisp!
I'm sharing my tips to get crunchy pickles no matter what recipe you're using, but you can't beat a crunchy dill pickle recipe in my opinion, especially with a few cloves a garlic.
How to get crunchy pickles
1. Use small fresh pickling cucumbers that are harvested in the early morning.
Make sure you pick your cucumbers before the sun or heat of the day is on them and don't use overripe cucumbers. I go out to the garden by 8 am to harvest cucumbers for pickling.
Most folks agree small cucumbers equal crunchier pickles. Cucumbers are overripe if they no longer have ridges or spines and they're turning yellow or white. Once a cucumber is soft you'll never get it to crunch back up.
My favorite variety of pickling cucumbers is Chicago pickling cucumber. I'm also trying an heirloom Spacemaster cucumber this year, I'll let you know what I think of its pickle capabilities.
Don't throw those larger or slightly overripe cucumbers out, instead make this delicious Mustard Pickles – Great-Grandma’s Recipe
2. Start your recipe as soon as possible.
The longer you wait, the likelier you'll suffer mushy pickles. If you absolutely can't make your pickles the day you harvest, immediately put your cucumbers in the crisper drawer of the fridge. Use them within the next few days. The sooner the better.
3. Remove blossom end of cucumber BEFORE soaking.
Removing a 1/16 to 1/4 inch from the blossom end of the cucumber (the end opposite the stem) removes the enzyme that causes soft pickles. However, most recipes don't tell you to remove it during the soaking phase and that's a mistake.
4. Place cucumbers in an ice water soak.
After you've rinsed and removed the blossom end of your cucumbers, you want to put them into an ice water soak. Get a large bowl and put a single layer of your prepared cucumbers in it. Next, put a single layer of ice cubes over the cucumbers and repeat until all your cucumbers are in the bowl between layers of ice.
5. Use salt in your ice water soak.
This is the biggie. Many will tell you to use an ice water soak but most people don't use salt in their ice water.
Let me tell you, this makes a big difference (and is why we removed the blossom end before we started the soak).
Mix 1/2 cup pickling salt (you want to make sure the salt doesn't contain any additives or anti-caking agents in it) with 4 cups cold water and pour over the ice and cucumbers in your bowl until cucumbers are covered. Use a plate to hold cucumbers under the ice water. Let them soak 8 to 12 hours in the fridge.
This is perfect for harvesting early in the morning and then canning them that afternoon or evening. Especially helpful if you have to leave for work or are busy throughout the day.
6. Use whole cucumbers.
Chips and spears are fun, but truthfully, when using a water bath canner for shelf-stable pickles, the whole cucumbers are the crunchiest. You can slice them into spears or rounds at the time of eating. I still do spears and chips but have noticed they're not as crunchy as whole cucumbers.
7. Add a leaf with tannin to the jar.
Sources of tannins for pickles are grape leaves, oak leaves, or black tea. The grape or oak leaves should be fresh (I wouldn't try to use jarred grape leaves from the store) but the black tea you have sitting on the shelf is fine.
I use one grape leaf per jar.
How much tea per jar in pickling brine you ask?
1 teaspoon of loose-leaf black tea per quart of pickles (or 1 bag of tea per quart). You can either put the loose tea directly in the jar of pickles or let it simmer in the brine and strain out, up to you. I prefer straining as tea leaves are small and can stick to the cucumbers when removing to eat, you can rinse them off, but I find it easier to put the tea in a tea ball or strain it out.
I can't say the reason we grow our own grapes is strictly for the leaves for my homemade pickles, but it's definitely one of the reasons.
Tips for getting crunchy pickles when canning
When I first started canning pickles I wanted to make sure they were super crunchy. At that point in time, I didn't understand canning safety or science, so I foolishly poured the boiling brine over my cucumbers, put on the lid, and let them seal. The jars did seal (a sealed jar doesn't mean it's safe, it just means a vacuum happened with hot liquid and cooler air) so I put them on the shelf.
A few months later I pulled out a jar during a family get together and EVERY single jar had lost its seal during storage. Thankfully, we hadn't eaten any of those jars. I threw them all out (which is what you should do if a seal is compromised).
But I lost all my hard work and food. Knowing how to can pickles means you'll have shelf-stable food ready whenever you get a hankering, even in the dead of winter.
Have the water in your water bath canner heated to 180 degrees Fahrenheit before you begin boiling your pickling brine. Once the water has reached that temperature and is maintaining, prepare your pickling recipe.
Place prepared jars into the heated canner and bring to a boil. Once boiling, process for indicated time per your recipe, jar size, and altitude. You'll find my favorite pickling recipes (and we can pickle a ton of different vegetables) in my Home Canning with Confidence course.
You can safely use low pasteurization canning for pickles (not other canning recipes) but it MUST be followed precisely and requires a longer pickling time and thermometer.
Following the above tips will help ensure you have crunchy pickles, even when canning. Which if you want shelf-stable pickles, you should always follow a tested recipe to ensure proper acidity and processing times.
Frequently asked questions
Do I need alum in pickles?
Alum is short for aluminum and no, you don't need it if you follow the above tips. Plus, I'm not comfortable adding any type of aluminum into my food. Part of the reason I make homemade pickles is to make sure I don't have questionable ingredients in my food.
Do you have to use white vinegar?
No, you can use white or apple cider vinegar BUT you must use 5% acidity vinegar or higher. Never use homemade vinegar when canning.
What about pickle crisp?
Pickle crisp is food-grade calcium chloride, but I've never used it or purchased it and my pickles are still crunchy. I feel the fewer ingredients I have to purchase (that can't be grown or made at home) the better.
Does canning make pickles mushy?
A canned pickle won't be as crisp as a raw or refrigerator pickle, but there's still a good amount of crunch when you bite into them. With the number of pickles we eat in a year and a short growing season, there's no way I could keep us stocked in pickles without canning most of them. I do make a few gallons of fermented pickles (recipe link below) to store in the fridge.
How long to let canned pickles sit before eating?
Ideally, 6 to 8 weeks, but if you can wait 3 months before opening a jar, I find the flavors have developed even more.
What are the best pickling spices?
Personally, I use fresh dill (2 heads of dill per quart or 2 Tablespoons dill weed or seed), cloves of garlic, mustard seed, and make a mix of 2 parts celery seed to 1 part whole black peppercorn and whole allspice. I don't buy packets of pickling spices or seasonings but stock bulk spices and make up my own.
Do I have to can my pickles?
No, you can make the pickles, cool to room temp, and store in the fridge. But if you're not planning on canning your pickles, I recommend doing an old-fashioned salt brine fermented pickle instead.
What type of salt is best for pickles?
Either canning salt or kosher salt. You don't want any additives or anti-caking agents. Additives can create cloudy brines and anti-caking agents aren't safe for canning.
Should I use pickling lime?
You must be very careful when using pickling lime, making sure to rinse it fully from the cucumbers as it changes the pH of a recipe making it unsafe for canning. I have never used it nor do I plan on it. To make sure you're up to date and using safe canning practices, go through my FREE canning safety video series here!
Other Fabulous Pickling Recipes
Fermented Pickle Recipe Old-fashioned Saltwater Brine Pickles these are delicious, crisp, and provide you with gut-healthy probiotics!
Pickled Asparagus Recipe (Canned, Quick, or Refrigerator)