Canning 101: Pickling in 7 Easy Steps

Call me Peter Piper because I've been pickling peppers (and cucumbers).

For the first time in my life, I have a full blown garden. It has been great for my eating habits and I am proud to announce that I have reached the next level: pickling. That's right, my friends, I made pickles!

Side note: I hate pickles, my boyfriend forced me to do it.

While pickles are disgusting, making them was quite the experience! This same process applies to pickling peppers, so follow along:

Step one: The equipment

Be sure that you've got:
  • A nice, heavy knife
  • A cutting board
  • Mason jars (I prefer the wide-mouth variety)
  • A large pot for the brine
  • Another large pot called a canner (be sure it has a rack)
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Pickling spices (I used McCormick's)
  • A jar lifter
  • Cucumbers
  • Optional: cayenne peppers

Step two: Cut the veggies

The trick here is to cut your cucumbers to the right length. You want them to be about 1/4 inch shorter than the jar, this is called head space. It helps to make a mark on the cutting board so that you don't have to manually measure each cucumber.

Then you cut down the cucumber so that it is the desired length. Be sure that you're at least cutting about a quarter inch from the end of the cucumber that has all the yellow lines (the blossom end). Leaving that end on the cucumber when you make spears will affect the flavor. Another hint: Cucumbers that are too big don't taste as good.

Quarter the cucumber to make 4 spears. On thicker cucumbers you can sometimes cut them down even more to make 6 or 8 spears.

If you want to add some spice, also cut up some cayenne peppers. It's okay if they're still green.

Step three: Get the brine cooking and the water bath boiling

The McCormick's spice mix made it easy. Just boil up one part water, one part vinegar, and add the spice.

You'll also want to get the water bath going in the canning pot. The idea here is to have enough water that it will cover the top of the jars, but not so much that it spills over when you put the jars in. The amount of water is going to depend on the size of the pot.

Step four: Fill the jars

While the brine is cooking, put the spears and the peppers in the sanitized mason jars, fitting as many spears as you can. It helps to put the peppers in first.

PLEASE NOTE: If you don't want spicy pickles, leave out the peppers.

Step five: Add the brine

Once the brine is sufficiently boiled, add it to the jars to fill them nearly to the top. Be sure to get those spices in there, they tend to sink to the bottom of the pot.

This step sounds easy, but it was probably the most difficult for me. I kept spilling and overfilling the jars. WHOOPS!

Put the lids on the mason jars, be sure they're tight!

Step six: Water bath

Here is the dangerous part...proceed with caution.

When the water in the canner is boiling, put the rack on. On most pots, the rack will hook onto the sides of the pot. Place the jars on the rack and then lower it.

Cover the pot, still boiling, and leave them in for at least 15 minutes. The higher your elevation, the longer you should boil. I am in the mile high city, Denver, so at 5,250 feet above sea level I add on an additional 5 minutes.

Step seven: The final step

Once you've boiled the mason jars for long enough, remove them from the pot using the jar lifter. If you have a rack in your canning pot it helps to lift the rack back up and hook it to the top of the pot. Dry off the jars and then...we wait. They need to pickle for at least a month before you can eat them. I don't know how you pickle eaters have the patience for that!

Let me know about your pickling experience!


  1. Like you - I hate pickles, but it's pretty cool that you can make them. I suspect they'll be a feature at your parties

    1. They may just be! We made 30+ jars and still have to make more.