Quick and easy refrigerator garlic dill pickles require no processing and can be put up in minutes, staying crisp for up to a year. Much better than canned, you can even make them one jar at a time as your cucumbers ripen!
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First, all that vinegar meant they were super safe, so my newbie-canner self didn't need to worry about that, and second, I love small pickles even though I hate cucumbers (go figure)! Growing my own and picking them as small as I like was the answer.
I started with traditional water-bath canned dill pickles so they could be stored on a shelf, but quickly moved to pickles that are stored in the refrigerator, or "refrigerator pickles."
Why Make Refrigerator Pickles?
Here are a few reasons why me and my family came to prefer the refrigerator pickles:
- They stay crisp.
- They stay crisp.
- They stay crisp.
Yep, it's the main reason why I don't water-bath can them anymore.
Even with classic traditions of grape leaves and/or alum, canned pickles just don't have that sharp snap that we've come to love.
But there are actually five other reasons why you might want to preserve your pickles this way too:
- They take less time. I can finish a quart in less than 20 minutes.
- If you're growing the cucumbers, you can do 1 or 2 quarts at a time as they ripen. This is especially good for small gardens that can only fit a few cucumber plants and would never have enough for a full canner load.
- There's no heating the house with a canner on the stove during the height of summer (it's 104 in the shade at my house today!).
- The recipe can be altered with seasonings and garlic without the risk of food poisoning that comes with playing around with recipes for water-bath canners.
- You can use any glass jars and lids, even recycled mayo and olive jars, unlike when canning.
Okay - but how long do refrigerator pickles last?
Guess what? I've eaten pickles from jars that are 18 months old and they were wonderful!
That said, I'm going to say that in general, 9-12 months is the ideal time to store them.
So plan to make as many quarts as you need to last that long (for us, that's about a jar a month and takes us into the next cucumber season).
Here's an important safety note about homecanned pickles:
I know there are some people that "can" their pickles this way all the time, just letting the heat from the vinegar mixture "seal" the jars (a process known as "open kettle" canning) before storing them on a shelf without any water-bath canning.
The people who have done this - for many years in some cases - say that "nothing has happened" in their experience. I hear and read this all.the.time.
However, the USDA says that this practice is not secure and that there is a danger of food poisoning as well as spoilage. Here's a good article on the subject.
My take on it is this: IF the rare occurrence did in fact happen with one of my home-canned foods, would it be worth it? What about if it might cause intestinal problems?
My answer is NO- it's only food and never worth sickness (or a life, heaven forbid) and I will never even take that chance, especially when it's so easy to take the recommended precautions.
So, off my soapbox and onto our fully refrigerated pickles!
Ingredients & Supplies
- Cucumbers - enough to fill a quart jar, minimum. You can multiply the recipe for however many jars you can make. If all you have are pint jars, you can use two of them.
- Apple cider vinegar - it's a little more mild, which I prefer, but you can use white vinegar
- Canning & pickling salt - you can also use a pure sea salt.
- Fresh dill heads - if you don't have access to fresh dill, you can use dried dill seeds.
- Garlic cloves
- Pickling Spices - or an organic pickling spice.
- Red pepper flakes (optional, but SO good)
- Quart canning jar(s), OR any quart-sized recycled jar, sterilized in boiling water for 10 minutes or run through the dishwasher as a guard against spoilage. (Confession: I never do more than wash well with hot soapy water, but do as I say and not as I do!) PRO TIP: I prefer regular mouth jars for pickles because the shoulders of the jar help hold the small pickles at the top under the brine.
- Plastic canning storage lids (or reused lids or lids and bands) - this is a time it's okay to reuse old canning lids since they are not actually sealed for refrigerator storage (to ensure proper seals in fully canned products always use new lids- this is not the area to scrimp- your time is worth it).
- Metal canning funnel - my recommendation since we're pouring in a hot brine.
Prepare the Cucumbers
1. Scrub the cucumbers well. I use a scrub brush with a handle which I prefer over palm veggie brushes (the one I'm using isn't available, but this one is similar).
My favorite pickles are from the smallest "baby" cucumbers and it's the main reason I grow my own. I used to pay a lot for baby pickles in the store after realizing that I couldn't pick out only the little cucumbers at farms (yeah, for some reason they frowned on that, ha).
2. Find the blossom end of the cucumbers.
That would be the end that doesn't have the stem where it attached to the vine. (You may laugh, but I had to learn these things!)
Apparently, there's a wicked enzyme here in this little end that will turn your pickles to a soft, NOT CRISP, pickle. And since we're making this recipe in order to get a crisp pickle, let's not cut this corner, OK?
3. Just cut a little off.
We do not want pickles with sawed-off ends. This I tell you from experience (hey, if a little's good, then a lot's great, right?).
4. Repeat with all your cucumbers.
PRO TIP: When dealing with a larger amount of cucumbers (for 3 or more jars) I separate the cucumbers into 3 piles by size as I clean them: large, medium, and small. Then it's easy to fill the jars with the larger cucumbers, then medium and ending with the baby size to fill in the cracks.
Make the Pickles
1. Fill each clean jar with:
- Four cloves of garlic, sliced in half to release all the garlicky goodness.
- 1-2 heads of dill, depending on how big the heads are (if you'd like even more dill flavor you can add a teaspoon of dried dill seed as well).
- Red pepper flakes - optional, but really do add to the flavor. You can try everything from a few shakes to 1/2 of a teaspoon for each jar, depending on the spiciness level you'd like to achieve.
2. Pack the cucumbers into the jars, right on top of the other ingredients.
You can pack them as tight as you can, but allow enough room at the top for the brine to cover all the cucumbers.
3. Add vinegar and water to a large saucepan along with pickling spice, pickling salt, and sugar.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Pour the hot brine into the jar(s) using a canning funnel and ladle.
Fill to cover the cucumbers, leaving about 1/4" headspace (the space between where the brine stops and the very top of the jar rim).
Since these will be stored in the fridge, we don't have to be quite so particular about the headspace.
Anything that covers your cucumbers, but doesn't touch the lid is okay.
5. Label the lid with the day as well as the month and year.
You will need to let these "cure" in the refrigerator about 3 to 4 weeks before they've pickled enough to eat, so you will want to have the day that you made them on the label.
6. Store in the refrigerator.
I think they are best after a month, so usually we wait that long at least to eat the first pickles, and they will continue to improve over the months in storage.
Update: I've gotten some questions, so I'll clarify that the waiting period isn't a safety issue, it's to let the brine penetrate all the way to the center of the cucumbers for the best tasting pickle (in my opinion). If you taste them and decide you like them earlier - go for it.
That's it - you've just made the BEST dill pickles you will ever eat!
More Easy Pickling Recipes To Try
- Garlic Spiced Canned Pickled Beans
- Quick & Easy Sliced Pickled Jalapenos
- Easy Pickled Beets for Canning or Refrigerator, Jar-by-Jar
What Others Are Saying About This Recipe
Easy Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles (And Why It's Better Than Canning)
- 1 quart jar canning or reused jar
- 1 storage lid
- 3 quart saucepan
- ladle and funnel
For each quart (increase as needed for each quart added):
- 1 quart pickling cucumbers enough to fill a qt. jar, washed and blossom-ends cut off
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and sliced in half
- 1 to 2 large fresh dill heads add up to 1 tsp. dried dill seed, if desired for more dill flavor*
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
- 1¼ cups cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
- 1¼ cups water
- 2 teaspoons pickling spices
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt, pickling or sea salt
- 1½ teaspoons sugar, or to taste
- Prepare the number of quart jars equal to amount of pickles you have by running through the dishwasher or boiling for 10 minutes in a pot of water to sterilize.
- Place the garlic and dill in the bottom of each jar, along with optional red pepper flakes. Pack the cucumbers on top, leaving about 1/2 of headspace (you want the brine to be able to cover the cucumbers).
- In a large saucepan, combine water, vinegar, spices, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Ladle the brine into the jar leaving 1/4 inch of head space to cover the cucumbers. Attach lids.
- Let cool to room temperature, label the lids with day and year and then store in the refrigerator.
- The pickles can be eaten after 3-4 weeks and continue to improve over the months of storage.**
Note: this article was originally published in 2009 and has been updated with current information, all new photos, clearer formatting and printable recipe.
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