The Salt Step You Shouldn't Skip For Crisp Homemade Pickles

The height of summer means you're probably preparing to harvest the garden-fresh fruits — and vegetables — of your labor. If you have a surplus of cucumbers, you might be searching for ways to use them or ensure you can enjoy the taste of summer during the colder months. Homemade refrigerator pickles are one perfect way to accomplish this, but sometimes they are water-logged, bland, and lack that satisfying crunch. Salt, the kitchen workhorse, can help.

After prepping your cucumbers by giving them a quick wash and slicing them into chips or spears, whichever you prefer, you should salt them before pickling. Cucumbers are around 96% water. Salt will draw out much of that water and firm the pectins, resulting in crispy, crunchy homemade pickles. However, use pickling salt, as it doesn't contain iodine, which can cause pickles to be darker than desired.

For quick pickles, sprinkle a few tablespoons of pickling salt over your cucumbers, let them sit for a few hours, then rinse them in cold water and proceed with the pickling process. However, if you want to all but guarantee crisp pickles, toss your cucumbers in salt, cover, and let them hang out in the fridge overnight. This step helps them stay crunchy by allowing more of the cucumbers' natural moisture to leach out before pickling. After their overnight rest, rinse the cukes under cold water, and carry on as usual. 

The best types of cucumbers for pickling

If you're ready to jump into the world of homemade pickles, start by picking the right pickling and slicing cucumber. Kirby cucumbers are a great choice due to their slightly thicker, bumpy skin, which helps them stay crunchy even when soaked in pickling liquid. If you like smaller pickles, Persian cucumbers can make a great choice. However, avoid cucumbers with thinner skins, such as English hothouse cucumbers. 

Many varieties can work well for pickling, but look for firm ones. The fresher, the better. Your local farmer's market should be able to tell you when they were picked; avoid buying cucumbers at your local grocery store, as these are usually waxed. Try to pickle fresh cucumbers as soon as possible; if you can't, keep them cold in an ice bath until you can, or refrigerate them to keep them firm. 

One more thing you can do to ensure a satisfying pickle is to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber. Due to the enzymes in the blossom end, your pickles could soften faster than desired. Therefore, cutting the bottom ⅛-inch off is recommended. If you can't tell or there's no stem attached, the stem end has a large, round indentation when you run your finger over it. Conversely, the blossom end will be smaller and poke out.