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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
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.
"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: Kerazo 5-Liter German Fermenting Crock
This traditional water-seal ceramic crock from German producer Kerazo features an unusual and graceful rounded shape and broad handles on each side, making it easier to lift and move, even when filled. With a capacity of 5 liters (1.3 gallons), it features a deep channel around the mouth that can hold more water, requiring fewer and less frequent top-ups to maintain the seal. The stoneware pot has a lead- and cadmium-free glaze in a warm speckled-brown finish and it’s dishwasher safe.
Best Open Set: Ohio Stoneware 1-Gallon Preserving Crock Starter Kit
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.
Best Budget: Kenley 2-Liter Fermentation Crock
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.
Best Glass: LabStock 1.3-Gallon Glass Fermenting Jar with Airlock Lid
An unusual hybrid of styles, this 1.3-gallon (5-liter) glass fermentation container takes its curved shape from traditional Chinese porcelain pickling jars. The lid sits in a channel that can be filled with water to form an airtight seal, just like a traditional German water-seal crock, but the lead-free glass is transparent, so you can easily monitor the progress of your pickles without having to lift the lid and break the seal. It doesn’t come with weights but is lightweight and easy to wash by hand.
Most Stylish: Boleslawiec 3-Liter Polish Decorated Fermenting Crock
These pretty little crocks from a venerable Polish producer are hand-painted in two different traditional blue-and-white designs and finished with a lead- and cadmium-free glaze. With a 3-liter (0.8-gallon) capacity, this crock won’t hold large batches, but it’s stylish enough to display on a kitchen counter as part of your decor. It has a water-seal lid and comes with two clear glass weights that, unlike ceramic weights, are easy to clean and won’t absorb stains or odors.
Best for Large Batches: Nik Schmitt Fermentation Crock Pot
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.
Best for Sauerkraut: Humble House Sauerkrock with Cabbage Tamper
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), and 10-liter (2.6-gallon) sizes, 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.
"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
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.
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.