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Fermentation is an ancient way to preserve food that fits squarely into the modern prepper world. The process is by far less complicated than canning food, and it provides an easy way to turn excess garden crops into a viable food storage item. Fermented foods go beyond making pickles, and that list includes a ton of options for food preservation.
The Art of Fermentation Starts with the Right Tools.
Fermentation is a lot more pleasant and more straightforward when you have the right tools and containers. The primary tool is a fermentation crock, and they come in a fantastic variety of styles and prices. All those choices make finding the right fermentation crock difficult. However, Backdoor Survival wants you to be able to make an informed decision about what is best for your space and purpose.
What You Need to Know About Choosing the Best Fermentation Crock
The first step involves considering how you will use the crock, what your food preservation goals are, and the amount of space you need for usage and storage. So, let’s go over what you need to look for and consider when buying a crock, and then we will discuss some of the options you have available to you at a reasonable cost.
How Are You Going to Use the Crock?
Some fermented foods you may love, and therefore you want to preserve a lot of them. Others are good, but you don’t them all the time. In short, you have big-batch and small-batch options. It is much easier to make big batches in a larger crock and small quantities in a smaller crock. Your goal is to use the right tool – crock – for the job.
When using a crock, you need headspace – that is the space in the top of the crock. The key to fermenting foods is to keep the food submerged in the brine or liquid. The headspace is where the weighted object sits to keep the food submerged. This space is critical for the safe creation of fermented foods. You have to allow for some headspace and room for liquid as well. Some foods that you ferment also swell, and you will need extra space for that process. If you are using the crock for multiple projects throughout the year, then consider how you plan to use it and the requirements of the foods you plan to ferment.
Examples of Considerations: Preserving eggs, for example, can be done in the same crock you make kraut earlier or later in the year, but fancier crocks with narrower mouths might make it harder to store eggs or do other things. A good tip for choosing the best crock is to think about the mouth of the crock. Can you fit your hand inside? Can you fit larger foods, such as beets inside? Another consideration is whether or not you can safely use the crock for multiple food types, such as eggs and krauts.
Do You Want it Movable?
Some fermentation crocks are quite large and when filled with liquid very heavy. If you don’t have a designated spot for fermenting foods, you may want to consider using many smaller crocks. The reason why smaller crocks can be perfect for your fermenting projects is that several small pots are easier to move and lift than a single large one.
Also, if your garden is active and you use successive gardening, you can ferment foods in smaller batches. If you have to move the crock often, you don’t want to hurt yourself or drop it and lose all that food and the crock! One drawback of using many smaller units is that it is more expensive to buy a few smaller ones than a single large crock. However, if you use them often, and you should, the cost is worth it. Plus the benefits are easier maneuverability, and you can make multiple batches of different fermented foods at once. Also, keep in mind that some fermentation processes can take months to finish.
TIP: Whatever size crock you choose, make sure that the table or counter on which you put it will hold the weight of the crock when full. The fluid is very heavy, and nobody wants to wake up to the crash of a table collapsing and the sound of a crock full of food shattering.
Bigger crocks up to 10-15 gallons are out there, but they are made to stay where you initially put them and never be moved. Ideally, you would not move a crock unless necessary.
Where is it made?
I strongly advise being mindful of which country manufactures your crock. You do not want to risk fermenting in something that might have toxic paint or glazes in it.
A price tag that seems too good is a strong warning sign. Look for brands made in the USA and Europe or at the very least make sure the crock or container is certified to be free of toxins. Another consider for American Made Products is that the rules and regulations in the US are designed to protect the citizens of this nation. Outside of the US, manufacturing laws are much laxer.
Lid or no lid?
Many crocks do not come with a lid or stones to keep food submerged. Lids and stones have a lot of advantages because you have everything you need and don’t have to run around trying to find a rock and plate and cheesecloth and then attempt to keep flies and mold out of your kraut or other fermented foods. Plus, a lid keeps airborne objects out of the crock. For that reason, a crock with a lid that fits is ideal. It is just easier to set up and use if you buy a crock that is a set – crock + lid + weight.
If you get just a crock, then you may be able to buy a lid and stones separately and save some money over some of the more expensive crocks out there. While this is true, keep in mind that the overall cost of your fermentation crock is a mixture of how much you use it and how long you use it. A good tip is to realize that the easier a crock is to use, the more often you will likely use it.
To be honest, the way I learned to use a crock was to use the classic style crocks that we could get at the feed and farm supply stores, and they do not have lids unless you get a churn style one.
What you have to do in this case is:
Get a dinner plate that is close in size to the opening of your crock. The plate and stone act as a weight to keep the food submerged.
Put this down in the crock and use a clean rock wrapped in white cloth or cheesecloth and use this to weigh down the plate and push it down to keep kraut submerged.
Drape the cheesecloth or white cloth around the crock, and then you can cover it again. A lot of women would use the same “krautrock” year after year.
I won’t lie and say this is guaranteed to keep everything out. It is just a traditional way that mountain folk did for years, and it works. You will have to check your kraut though and skim off any growth until you can see it if you choose to.
Storing In Container Or Canning?
While canning is convenient, it is best to store your fermented foods and use them in an uncanned state for maximum health benefits. Cooking and boiling kills the beneficial bacteria and reduces the population of healthy enzymes. It might still taste good, and you can store it in a lot of different places, but it is essential to remember that fermented foods are very much “alive.” That “aliveness” is also why this is such an excellent food for the prepping community. You need very little to ferment foods. For example, they require no heat to make and no refrigeration to store. That means in a survival situation; these are foods that do not compete with your fuel supply. Plus, they can last for months in the brine and be safe to consume.
For years, I have canned my kraut just because of storage considerations ey, but in the future, I think it will be much easier to keep it in a container. This is another good reason to have many smaller crocks over a single large crock. Canning is a lot of work. Plus, there is the expense of lids and jars to deal with on top of all that. Plus, once you can food, it has a limited shelflife. For high acidic foods, the shelflife is 12-18 months.
A Note On Buying Local
Stoneware crocks are heavy and have to be shipped with a lot of care. While we have tried to provide links to crocks that are priced reasonably and are easy to send. It is possible that you may be able to get a better bargain locally if you have a farmers co-op or similar store near you. It is also a good idea to check with your local farming organization, as many may have food preservation classes that are either free or low-cost. They will also have access to food preservation tools, including crocks.
The selection will be limited, but it might be worth keeping an eye out for good deals when you can find them.
Buying a used crock is an excellent thing to do but be sure to check it thoroughly for cracks, chips, or other imperfections. Also, make sure it is marked so that you know if it is food grade or not.
There are some crocks out there that are for decorative purposes rather than food use, and you definitely do not want those. Most used ones are fine if there are no cracks, but it pays to be safe.
Flea markets and yard sales sometimes yield a great deal. However, make sure that the crock is complete and not missing parts, such as its lid.
Some people even find good deals on eBay, but I would use caution when buying any crock that you cannot see in person. A small crack can turn into a big one pretty quickly, and with shipping charges being so high for the typical seller on an item so heavy and bulky, it is not always worth it.
Craigslist and other local ads are worth exploring.
Fermenting Crocks Worthy Of Consideration
There are many different sizes of crocks out there so I will try to include different sizes in this list because I fully realize that space, weight, cost, and other factors are going to make some more realistic for you personally. Remember, your goal is to a crock or five that fit your food preservation objectives and needs. Here are a few crocks from which to choose
Kerazo 10 L (2.6-gallon) Crock Made In Germany
This crock is handmade in Germany and is truly something you could pass down. For your money, you get the weights and the lid included. The handles make it much easier to get a good hold on this crock when you need to move it unlike a lot of the less expensive crocks that are entirely smooth on the sides. A word of caution about crocks with handles: Make sure that the literature states that the crock is safe to move when full by using the handles. Not all crocks with handles can support the weight of a full crock. For that reason, I usually “hug” the crock to move it.
The 2.6-gallon size means you can make about 16 pints of fermented vegetables at once. The size means this is a reasonable crock even for families that like to eat or put back a lot of fermented vegetables. If you had two of these, you could produce a large excess for a family and have some to trade or give to friends. The brown stoneware finish is very high quality and made to not chip.
The crock is certified lead and cadmium free and can even go in the dishwasher. Backdoor Survival recommends hand washing your crock though due to the harshness of detergents used in dishwashers. This is a beautiful example of small/medium crocks that you could use all summer long. Three or four of these would keep you in fermented food all year long.
The deep gully at the top prevents insects, dust, and debris from entering your crock when the lid is on making this crock a lot less gross to use than open-top crocks that utilize a cloth and plate.
2. Ohio Stoneware 3-Gallon Fermentation Crock
Ohio Stoneware makes some beautiful and functional fermentation crocks, and many are lower cost than the imported German crocks of comparable quality. This 3-gallon crock allows you to make up to 18 pints of finished fermented vegetables at a time. True Stoneware is fired at very high temperatures and will stand up to a lot of abuse.
The blue and white design is an old one that will look great anywhere in your kitchen or pantry. The design features the deep gully to keep out all the nasty things that try to invade any foodstuff.
The weights keep food submerged and mold-free. Handles on the sides offer a place to grip and move. The finish is white, but it is certified lead free and made to last for a lifetime of fermenting. These crocks will last indefinitely if protected from freezing or impacts.
Ohio Stoneworks says you can put it in the dishwasher, but as we said before, the finish and glaze of any ceramic dish seem to do best with handwashing over the long term. I have seen too many ceramic dishes that we use often get ruined by being put through the dishwasher too much with harsh detergents.
3. 5-Gallon Stoneware Crock USA Made
For some, this is a crock that will bring back memories. It is really heavy, and you will need to purchase stones and a lid for it or make your own. Still, this is a fantastic crock if you don’t need to move crocks around much and want to make a lot of one type of fermented food at once.
Recommendations for Very Small Fermentation Spaces
If you only have a little space and want to make under 2 gallons of fermented vegetables, then you should consider Mason jars with airlocks. They are easy to move, and you can store them on countertop or fridge. Crocks that are in the 1-gallon range are expensive for the amount of fermentation you can do.
A 1-gallon crock with lid and stones is very close in price to that of a 2-gallon one! Here is one style of jar lid you can use to get started fermenting no matter where you live or how small the space.
4. FermentEm Waterless Airlock For Mason Jars
Best For Those On A Budget
We have talked about the lovely crocks that if you have the money are highly recommended, but what if you are trying to budget and want to ferment?
No need to worry, because there are a lot of budget-friendly options out there that will work wonderfully. Here are a few fermentation vessels that offer a lot for the money.
5. Crazy Korean Fermentation Containers
0.9 gallons – 11.8 gallons
The name of these containers is a bit much, but they are excellent fermentation containers. Some sizes are round and some square. I want to try a square one out because it has a handle so you can carry it like a toolbox!
For those that struggle with space, the square containers can make it easier to fit the most fermentation containers in the smallest space. Here is a peek at the inside.
You can keep your fermented foods stored in these containers until you are ready to consume or just when you want to can it up in Mason jars. It definitely will keep fermented foods fresh and colorful, so you don’t have to rush. These containers are designed to keep fermentation odors where they belong as well.
If you want to take out some food to eat on, just adjust the lid down to meet the food surface after you get what you want. You really don’t have to can fermented foods with this type of vessel since it forms a vacuum seal and protects food so well.
All Crazy Korean Fermentation vessels are made of polypropylene plastic mixed with 7-10% natural clay to keep the porosity of the vessel just right for fermentation and storage. The materials are all FDA approved and certified free of BPA, DEHP, and lead.
6. Ohio Stoneworks 2-Gallon Fermentation Starter Kit
If you are a traditionalist when it comes to fermenting then this is a good compromise because it is the classic, smooth sided crock but it has stones and a lid with it.
If you want the crock with no lid or stones, you can get it, but I recommend just getting the kit because the stones are superior to going out and finding your own rocks like I have done many times before.
7. Big Mouth Bubbler 5 Gallon Glass Fermentation Vessel
If plastic brew buckets are not appealing to you, then the Big Mouth Bubbler offers 5-gallons of fermentation capacity with a wide mouth so you can put vegetables in and take them out a lot more easily. It is glass though so it is not something you are going to want to move around a lot.
An airlock and rubber stopper is required and sold separately. On the plus side, you can see your beautiful fermenting foods the whole time. Five gallons is a lot of capacity, and you can use it for home brewing as well if you soak it well in oxygen cleaner or similar to clean it between uses.
8. 2-Gallon Plastic Fermenter
Add in an airlock, and you have a very inexpensive 2-gallon fermentation vessel and storage container. 2 gallons is a manageable size to move around if needed and fits well in small spaces.
If you are just getting started with fermentation, this is a cheap way to figure out if you like doing it or not.
9. Rubbermaid Drinking Water Container
These are food grade, large, inexpensive, insulated, easy to find, and have a heavy-duty carry handle. Sure you don’t have an airlock, but what you can do is use a cheesecloth and then don’t tighten the lid down all the way.
You can make a lot of kraut in something like this, but it is not suitable for storing for a long time. It is an option though if you want to get started fermenting a lot of food with very little investment.
Multiple Smaller Containers Are Best For Most People
While small fermentation vessels cost more per volume unit, they offer more versatility, are easier to move, and are more realistic if you intend on storing fermented foods in them as you consume them.
A few large containers limit you to making only a couple of types of foods unless you are canning or storing jars in the refrigerator. Getting a crock with a lid and rocks made to fit the crock saves a lot of time and energy and prevents you from fishing out dead bugs or getting dust or dirt in your fermenting foods.
While some may be wary of plastics, there are plenty of reputable places that make food-grade plastics that can get you started fermenting on a tight budget.
What is your favorite way to ferment foods? What are your favorite foods to ferment? Recipes?
The team at Backdoor Survival love to hear reader experiences and tips. Feel free to comment below with your favorite type of crock and any recipes and suggestions you may have that we can all learn by!
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