Thursday, August 28, 2014

DIY: Installing Airlocks (Cheap, Easy, Fast!)

Well, I'd say we took the summer off blogging, didn't we!? We've all been off galavanting every which way, enjoying the long summer days, and trying new things to share. :)

I've had several inquiries regarding my previous post on making sauerkraut. I'm happy the love is spreading! I have officially installed nine airlocks this summer, and just must share how easy and worthwhile it is.

The point of the airlock is to allow carbon dioxide to escape (put off by the lactic acid-producing bacteria), without reintroducing any oxygen. Those little critters need an anaerobic environment to thrive.

Here's What You Need:
Some airlocks

Some 3/8" grommets

A drill with a 7/16" bit

Here's What You Do

1) Attach the 7/16" bit to your drill (if you find this too tight to slide the airlock in later, you can also use the 1/2" bit, but try the former first).

2) Drill a hole in the top of a mason jar lid. I found it easier to do this while the lid was secured onto a quart jar. Mason jars really seal well, which is why I like to use them, but you could also use a jar with a lid that has a rubber edge around that inside of the lid (like most salsa jars).

3) Fit the grommet into the drilled hole.

4) Carefully press the end of the airlock into the grommet. It doesn't need to go in terribly far, it just needs to be as tight as possible. (Be careful how you put weight onto these cheap airlocks—they can crack, like the one pictured here. We used some super glue on it and thankfully didn't have any leaks.)

5) Ta-da!

6) After you pack the jar with whatever you want to lacto-ferment, be sure to add a little water to the fill-line on the airlock. This helps keep your veggies airtight.

Right away I started fermenting some garden beets and carrots. I found tricky ways of keeping the veggies submerged below the brine. For the beets, I left the largest slices uncut and lodged them down beneath the shoulders of the jars. For the carrots, I used celery slices (which ended up being delicious) and did the same thing. Be sure to leave at least an inch of headspace between the brine and the top of the jar.

 Feel free to stare for a few minutes.
I did.

I left them at a friend's house for a few weeks while I was out of town, so eager to try them upon our return. Wow. I was not disappointed. Neither were my little boys. We all loved them!

Next I did pickling cucumbers, Bubbies style. I kept the cucumbers submerged with grape leaves, which help keep the pickles crisp. Two of the jars are still going (six weeks later) and some of the brine has sunk below the leaves at the top. I can see no sign of mold. Props to the airlocks!

Here they are after three weeks of fermenting.
The airlock water in the first jar is a little 
off-color because some of the escaping 
CO2 tried to drag my brine up with it!

Lastly, I made 5 gallons of sauerkraut (2.5 pictured here, 2.5 in my Harsch crock). I kept the kraut submerged by anchoring a large, firm cabbage leaf beneath the shoulders. The sauerkraut became really bubbly really quick as the first stage of fermentation began. I had to open the jars and re-press the cabbage beneath the brine. I recommend leaving a little more than one inch of headspace, and plenty of brine above the veggies.

I made these five weeks ago.* We've already gone through two of these jars, with three of them (and the crock) still going strong. The flavor is a little different every time I open a new jar (the older it is, the more I like it). When we're ready to dig in, I swap out the airlock lid for a unpunctured lid, and pop it in the fridge, ready to accompany every meal. :)

Honestly, it's a thrill.

*I must admit, I came out liking the airlock method more than the open-vat method (mentioned in the sauerkraut post) for two reasons: 1) I never had to deal with skimming mold off the top, and 2) I found the flavor slightly more complex for the same amount of time.


  1. Those pickled veggies are beautiful! I've never seen this version of fermenting before. But I haven't researched it much yet. Is this a common way to ferment? Where did you learn this method? Very cool. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Katie, thanks! This is a common way to ferment. The containers that are must popular (and expensive) in the fermenting world these days are Harsch crocks and Pickl-It jars (which are really just glorified airlock jars, probably higher quality in ways I don't know). Of course, traditional cultures probably didn't use them, but they did mimic them in other ways (e.g. burying their kimchi).

      I started hearing about this little by little over the last year maybe. The more I read (especially in some of the pages I linked at the end of my sauerkraut post), the more I wanted to try it. Then I saw a guest post at Gnowfglins by a woman who installed her own and thought the results were better than what she'd tried in the past. I do have a big crock, which is great, but I often want more going at once. The airlocks are so nice because they keep it all airtight without much fuss.

      By the way, one of the links in that last post was an experiment done by a woman who tracked 18 different fermenting vessels for 28 days. Very cool!

  2. Wow, this is amazing, Nonie! I recently put some money toward more fido jars, and have loved the results. Still can't get my boys too eat them much. I love it, though. Surprisingly, my favorite so far has been radishes. So, so yummy!

    1. Oooh, radishes sound great! Got some in my fridge just achin' to be fermented.

      I'd love to have some fidos. The airlocks were just so darn cheap.

    2. Wish I'd known just how easy, and cheap doing this would be!! I'll be using this method from now on!