Fermenting is an ancient food preservation technique that has recently experienced a widespread resurgence in popularity, in part due to the many health benefits of fermented foods. It’s easy to ferment your own sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, olives, hot sauce, and more at home. Lacto-fermentation requires nothing more than fresh produce, salt, and water because it relies on sugars and bacteria naturally present in these foods. While the process is simple, it helps to have the right tools. You’ll need a large, wide-mouthed container and something to weigh down your ingredients to make sure they stay submerged in their brine as they ferment and pickle.
The most traditional type of container used for fermenting is a ceramic crock, and there are two main types available: water-sealed or open. The lid of water-sealed crocks sits in a shallow “moat” around the mouth of the crock. Straight-walled open crocks are sold with or without a lid and weights. Each type has its pluses and minuses, and there are many options available. Here are our top picks to help you narrow down the choices and find the best setup for your fermenting needs.
Best Overall, Open: Ohio Stoneware 02436 Small Bristol Crock, 2 Gallon
Easy to clean
Made in Ohio
Does not come with cover or weights
This simple open crock from respected American manufacturer Ohio Stoneware is sturdy and durable, with a streamlined, elegant look. A lid can be bought for it separately, or it can be covered with a cloth for old-fashioned fermenting. It’s available in a 2-gallon size, is hand-finished with a food-safe, lead-free glaze, and is safe to use in a microwave, oven, or dishwasher. When not in use for fermenting, it can double as a rustic-chic container for kitchen utensils or dry goods.
Price at time of publish: $40
Dimensions: 9.75 x 9.75 x 9.75 inches | Weight: 12 pounds | Capacity: 2 gallons
"Modern fermentation crocks come in so many styles and sizes. My grandparents kept a giant open crock on the back porch and fermented sauerkraut for the whole family. That's still an option, but I like crocks small enough that they can rest on the countertop or table in my kitchen." — Julie Laing, Canning and Fermenting Expert, Author of "The Complete Guide to Pickling"
Best Overall, Water-Sealed: Kenley Fermentation Crock 5 Liter and Pounder
Comes with cover and weights
Attractive enough to sit on counter
Capacity may be too large for most
Ceramic weights more difficult to clean than glass
This fermentation crock comes with a burp lid which allows gasses to escape. The weights keep vegetables submerged beneath the brine during the process, and the moat also helps seal in odors. But because crocks should be packed about 75 percent full, this crock is best for making large batches for parties or big families.
Price at time of publish: $79
Dimensions: 11.5 x 11.5 x 16 inches | Weight: 11 pounds | Capacity: 1.3 gallons
Best Open Set: Ohio Stoneware 1-Gallon Preserving Crock Starter Kit
Includes cover and weights
Easy to clean
Made in Ohio
Heavy for its size
Another classic and elegant stoneware open crock from Zanesville-based Ohio Stoneware, this time sold as a set with two half-circle weights and a lid included. It’s sold in a smaller 1-gallon size (great for those just venturing into the world of fermentation) or a larger 2-gallon version.
Price at time of publish: $69
Dimensions: 11 x 11.75 x 11.5 inches | Weight: 14 pounds | Capacity: 1 gallon
Best Budget: Kenley 2-Liter Fermentation Crock
Ideally sized for 1 to 2 people
Includes cover, weights, and pounder
Attractive enough to stay on counter
Makes small batches only
This compact, 2-liter (0.5-gallon) crock is pleasantly affordable and great for those just venturing into the world of home fermentation. It has a traditional water-lock lid that sits in a deep groove to hold water for the seal. It can hold about two pounds of vegetables, has a lead-free glaze, and comes with a pair of weights. It requires hand washing and is less attractive-looking than some of the other options, but is perfect for beginners.
Price at time of publish: $43
Dimensions: 7 x 7 x 12 inches | Weight: 4.4 pounds | Capacity: 0.5 gallon
Best Glass: FastRack One-Gallon Wide Mouth Fermenting Jar
Good for first-time fermenting projects
Easy to clean
Lid fails if screwed on too tightly
This budget-friendly set is ideal for trying your hand at fermenting without having to make a huge investment. The glass jar comes with a lid and airlock, which makes it super easy to use. Plus, you can observe your progress without having to open the jar repeatedly. The wide mouth makes it easy to clean.
Price at time of publish: $13
Dimensions: 10 x 6.1 x 6.1 inches | Weight: 2.6 Pounds | Capacity: 1 gallon
Most Stylish: Zaklady Ceramiczne Polish Pottery Fermenting Crock
Handmade and hand-painted in Poland
Not suitable for large batches
This stylish hand-painted ceramic crock, produced by a small manufacturer in Poland, is pretty enough to sit out on your kitchen counter and comes in several different blue and white patterns. Polish pottery is fired at super-hot temperatures (more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) so it’s durable, dishwasher safe, and produced in small batches. It’s also lead- and cadmium-free. The sturdy crock comes with a lid and two glass weights, which are easy to clean. It’s the ideal size for single or two-person households.
Dimensions: 6.5 x 6.5 x 8 inches | Weight: 3 pounds | Capacity: 0.5 gallon
Best for Large Batches: Nik Schmitt Fermentation Crock Pot
Comes with two weights
Wide mouth for easy cleaning
Made in Germany
Stones are ceramic, not glass
Nik Schmitt is a well-known German-based producer of traditional fermentation crocks. These simple stoneware crocks come with a water-seal lid and two ceramic weights and are available in a wide range of sizes, from 5 liters (1.3 gallons) all the way up to a whopping 40 liters (10.6 gallons), for those who are looking to produce vast quantities of kraut.
Price at time of publish: $160
Dimensions: 12 x 16 x 20 inches | Weight: 19 pounds | Capacity: 2.6 gallons
Best for Sauerkraut: Humble House Sauerkrock with Cabbage Tamper
Includes lid and vegetable tamper
Various sizes and glaze colors
Made in Wisconsin
Small opening makes it difficult to clean
The reasonably priced Sauerkrock, from a family-owned business in Wisconsin, features a German-style design with a water-seal lid and comes in fresh, vibrant colors like bright red, navy blue, and glossy white in addition to the traditional brown. Available in 2-liter (0.5-gallon), 5-liter (1.3-gallon), each comes with two glazed ceramic weights and a wooden vegetable tamper, perfect for packing cabbage (and other vegetables) down into the pot and beneath the brine.
Price at time of publish: $60
Dimensions: 6.25 x 6.25 x 8.25 inches | Weight: 4 pounds | Capacity: 0.5 gallon
"I like crocks that hold 2 to 5 liters, letting me make small batches in various flavors and larger batches of favorite recipes. It's worth investing in crocks with water-lock rims and in weights that fit snugly; I get far less yeast buildup and far crisper pickles than with open ferments." — Julie Laing, Canning and Fermenting Expert, Author of "The Complete Guide to Pickling"
Best for Kimchi: eKitchenary Traditional Korean Onggi Fermentation Pot
Traditional brown glaze
More porous for best results with kimchi
Can ferment other foods
Unglazed interior difficult to clean
While you can use any fermentation crock to make kimchi, traditionally it’s made in handcrafted earthenware pots called onggi with a dark-brown glaze fired at extremely high temperatures. Earthenware ceramics (made from fired clay) are more porous than stoneware or porcelain, so allegedly an onggi allows foods to “breathe” properly while fermenting for the best results. These clay pots are available in a variety of sizes and are used not just for making kimchi, but also fermented bean and chili pastes, soy sauce, and rice wine.
Price at time of publish: $40
Dimensions: 5 x 6.75 inches | Capacity: 0.8 gallon
Types of Fermentation Crocks
Open crocks are simple, straight-walled vessels sold with or without a lid and weights. In the most basic setup, an open crock can simply be covered with a cloth, with ordinary items like plates or stones used as weights, or you can purchase weights and a lid separately. Open crocks are generally less expensive, more readily available, easier to clean, and can fit large items through the wide opening, such as a whole head of cabbage. The drawbacks to an open crock are that they require close and regular attention to prevent mold infestations and brine overflow, and they can let strong odors escape.
German-style water-seal crocks come with a lid that’s designed to sit in a shallow “moat” around the mouth of the crock. The moat is filled with water to form an airtight seal, which creates an optimal anaerobic environment for fermentation while keeping out mold, yeast, insects, and dust, and sealing in funky fermentation smells. Water-seal crocks are more difficult to find and pricier, and the narrower mouth makes them harder to fit large ingredients into and trickier to clean. On the plus side, they’re more hygienic, failure proof, and hands off, and many experts swear that water-sealed crocks are the best way to get a deep, fully developed flavor in your fermented foods. You just need to occasionally check the water level in the moat and top it off, as necessary, to maintain the seal. Water-seal crocks usually come with two crescent-shaped weights in addition to the lid.
What to Look for When Buying a Fermentation Crock?
Fermentation crocks come in many different sizes, ranging from a gallon up to over 10 gallons. Before buying one, decide what food or drink you want to ferment, the amount you want to do at a time, how often, for how many people, and where you will store it when not in use. You might decide to start with a smaller-sized crock if you are just learning how to ferment foods.
Fermentation crocks are manufactured in various types of materials, including ceramic, stoneware, porcelain, glass, and clay. What foods or drinks you want to ferment in the crock should factor into your decision on which one to purchase, and the weight of the crock might be an issue for you, too.
If you have limited space in your kitchen, then storing a fermentation crock is a concern. Some crocks are stylish with beautiful hand-painted decorations or glass designs, so you might enjoy displaying one of those on the counter when not in use. A small crock can also hold cooking utensils or other dry items and can fit nicely on a counter. Before purchasing a large crock, make sure you have room for it in a cupboard or out in the open.
What's the difference between using a fermentation crock and a glass jar?
A ceramic crock is the more traditional fermentation method, and many home fermentation experts say that it is the best (or even only) way to get a deep, fully developed flavor. But another option is using a wide-mouthed glass jar, such as a Mason jar, which has the advantages of being easier to find, inexpensive, and easy to clean since they don’t absorb odors or stains. The transparent glass lets you monitor progress, but they could be considered less attractive than an opaque crock, and the UV light they let in could negatively affect your fermented foods. They also generally hold smaller batches and allow more air in and out than a water-sealed crock. A jar with a traditional lid, it can’t be tightened completely and needs occasional “burping” to allow built-up pressure to escape. These days many airlock fermentation lids are available for glass jars; they feature one-way valves that allow gas to escape but prevent air, mold, dust, and yeast from entering and keep strong odors sealed inside. On the downside, these extra lids take up more storage space in your kitchen and are an added expense. In the end, whether you use a crock or a jar comes down to personal choice, as each has its advantages and drawbacks.
What size crock do I need?
For a small household of one or two people or those just starting out, a half-gallon (2-liter) crock should be sufficient; they are relatively light and won’t take up much counter space. For two to four people or larger batches, a 1- to 3-gallon crock might be more suitable and is still not overwhelmingly large or heavy. For larger households or those who have caught "fermentation fever" and plan to make multiple batches at a time, bigger crocks are available in sizes ranging from 3 gallons all the way up to more than 10 gallons. However, they start to get quite costly (and heavy) as the size increases.
Are containers in any type of material safe to use for fermenting?
When looking for a crock that will be used for fermenting food or drinks, it’s important to make sure that it’s made with food-safe materials. Ceramic, porcelain, and glass are all nonreactive and will not corrode or leach chemicals into food, unlike some plastics and metals, but it’s important to make sure that any ceramics or porcelains you use with food have been made with a lead-free glaze.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This article was written by Danette St. Onge, a food writer and former features editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine (part of America’s Test Kitchen). Long a proponent of from-scratch everything, she’s also an avid kitchen appliance and utensil junkie who spends hours combing the internet, comparing options, reading reviews, and testing to find the best tool for every job.
This roundup was updated by Arricca SanSone, who has both glass and Polish pottery fermenters that she uses to make her favorite sauerkraut, the traditional caraway-flavored version. She is a health and lifestyle writer for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, House Beautiful, PureWow, and many others