You may think I’ve gone completely crazy with my Anova Precision Cooker (ie my sous-vide immersion circulator). Sous-vide pickles? Really? I assure you, I haven’t gone nuts, and sous-vide pickles are really a thing. A good thing! They’re crisper.
I learned why my pickles weren’t quite as crispy as I like: the pectin within cucumbers will start to break down at 185˚F. That’s bad, because it’s the pectin that keeps the cucumbers crisp. If I canned pickles in a boiling water bath, at 212˚ for 10 minutes, of course temperatures have gone way past 185˚.
So how to can pickles safely but keep the temperature below the temperature at which pickles definitely soften? It has to do with time. Killing bacteria is a matter of temperature AND time. If I use a lower temperature, I need to use more time. This is classical pasteurization: treat a substance with mild heat to eliminate pathogens and extend shelf life.
To pasteurize and seal at a lower temperature, I would need to bring my jars of pickles up to this lower temperature and keep them there for 30 minutes instead of 10. Clearly I would need to be able to control water temperature really well. And what thing do I have in my kitchen that does just exactly that?
Yes, you guessed it, a sous-vide immersion circulator is designed to do exactly that: bring water to a certain temperature and keep it there. How would I easily perform low-temperature pasteurization in my home kitchen? (Low temperature in this case means below boiling.)
Use a pot or a tub big enough to hold the jars, put water in it to cover the jars completely. Bring the water to temp, submerge the jars, and start the timer. Easy!
I love this method. It’s much easier, because the immersion circulator does most of the work for me. I never have to monitor the temperature in the tub, nor check if the water is boiling yet. It’s also cooler: I don’t have a honking big kettle of boiling water adding steam to my kitchen on a hot summer day. Instead, I have a Lexan tub with a lid; no steam at all. I can make a small batch, or a big one: I’m only limited by the size of a pot to hold the jars.
I have canned both dill and bread & butter pickles this way, and both have turned out well. I’m definitely hooked on sous-vide pickles!
Low-Temperature Pasteurization for Pickles
- immersion circulator (such as Anova Precision Cooker)
- large pot or lexan tub
- jars pickles, hot brine pack, lids and bands applied
- Place jars in a suitably sized pot or tub filled half way with warm (120º to 140º F) water. Then, add hot water as required to a level 1 inch above jars.
- Start the immersion circulator set to 180˚F. When that temperature is reached, start a timer for 30 minutes. Maintain 180º water temperature for that time.
- After 30 minutes, remove jars and let stand undisturbed overnight.
- When jars are completely cool, remove rings and check seals. The jars of pickles may be stored for up to a year.
- “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, USDA (Revised 2009) https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html
- an excerpt from the above, specifically about low-temperature pasteurization: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/low_temp_pasteur.html