Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

My personal yogurt consumption goes up and down. I’ll go for weeks eating it every day and then suddenly, I’ll stop and a month will go by before I have it again. I have no good explanation for this. It’s just the way things happen in my edible world.

I’m currently is a very pro-yogurt phase. I’ve been eating more than a quart a week and started feeling guilt about consuming so many plastic containers. It was time to restart my homemade yogurt habit.

thermometer in milk

Truly, making yogurt at home couldn’t be easier. I stop doing it out of laziness, but once I force myself back into the routine of it, I’m always glad (sounds like so many things in life, doesn’t it?).

The first step is to heat the milk to 190-200 degrees F. You can use any milk you’d like. I made this batch using six cups of whole, un-homogenized milk (because it’s not homogenized, the cream will rise to the top, leaving me with a gorgeous, rich upper layer).

cooling milk

Once it reaches that temperature (take care not to let it boil), you want to cool the milk down to 120 degrees F. I do this by filling my sink with cold water and placing the pot in. The water helps reduce the temperature quite rapidly, so don’t walk away during this step.

pouring milk

Once it has cooled to 120 degrees F, whisk two tablespoons of yogurt into the milk. Over the years, I’ve tried using various amounts of yogurt to start my batches and I’ve actually found that the smaller amounts work better than larger amounts. A tablespoon for every 3-4 cups of milk just seems to work perfectly.

There was also a time during which I stirred some dry milk into each batch of yogurt I made. I’d heard it made for a thicker yogurt. In the end, I decided it had no discernable positive impact on the finished product and, if anything, left me with lumpy yogurt.

ready to incubate

Once you’ve stirred the yogurt in, pour the inoculated milk into your jars. You’ll see that my jars aren’t entirely full. There’s no reason why you can’t fill them up to the top. I just didn’t have enough milk in the fridge to make a full batch. However, I filled the jars evenly because I wanted to ensure that they’d process at the same rate.

A note about the starter yogurt you use: Make sure to use a yogurt that you like. There are a number of different yogurt bacterias out there and they all turn out slightly different yogurts. Splurge on the starter in order to make something you’re happy with.

cooler for yogurt

There are a number of ways you can keep your yogurt warm during it’s process. Some people have little machines. Others pop the jars in the oven with the light on. I’ve even heard that you can use a slow cooker or hot pads.

After trying all those methods, I’ve come to prefer using a cooler for this step (hat tip to the Frugal Girl for introducing me to this method). This Little Playmate holds two quart jars perfectly. I got it at a thrift store several years ago for a couple dollars, which has always pleased me.

jars of milk in cooler

Place your filled jars into the cooler and add hot tap water until they’re submerged, but not floating. You want the water to be around 120-125 degrees F. I’ve found that this is exactly how hot my hottest tap water is, so I use that. Makes life easy, too.

homemade yogurt

Once the jars are in the cooler and it’s filled with water, close it and tuck it out of the way for 6-7 hours. You can go as long as 8-9 hours, but keep in mind that the longer it sits, the more pronounced its tang will be. When I was working, I’d often start a batch of yogurt just before I left the house in the morning and let it process all day. It made for a tart yogurt, but I loved the simplicity of it.

When the time is up, remove the jars from the cooler and place them in the fridge. Use your homemade yogurt like you would any other kind of yogurt. If you’re interested in transforming your yogurt into a thicker product (along the lines of greek yogurt), all you do is strain it. Well Preserved has a good post on that, as well as suggestions for using up the resulting whey.

For those of you who regularly make yogurt, do you have any tips to share?

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177 Responses to Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

  1. 101

    [...] If you don’t have a crock pot, you can accomplish the same thing with this recipe that uses mason jars and a beverage cooler (think 4th of [...]

  2. 102

    Thanks for this great tutorial! Have you ever tried making yogurt in a crock pot? I just discovered this method recently and I love it. Here’s some more info about how I did it: http://www.creativesimplelife.com/homemade-yogurt-in-a-crock-pot/
    I mentioned your method in the article. Thanks again!

  3. 103
    Heidi says:

    How long is the yogurt good for?

  4. 104
    Carole says:

    Thanks for this recipe. I was about to buy a yogourt maker but decided to try myself using mini mason jars. It is difficult to find yogourt that is plain with no additives, no pectin, and made with whole milk for my baby. Anything flavoured has too much sugar :(
    Will let you know how it turns out.

  5. 105
    teri says:

    what size playmate cooler.?
    …there seem to be several sizes now

    • 105.1
      Marisa says:

      You can use any size you have. I have a little lunch-sized one that I got at a thrift store that I use.

  6. 106
    melanie says:

    Fantastic tutorial but you left out a crucial step, you have to be sure to sterilize any utensils and jars you are using because otherwise you will be growing harmful bacteria as well as the good kind.

    • 106.1
      Jay says:

      It’s really not that big of a concern. If you consume your yogurt in 2 weeks and you culture it at the right temperature then the yogurt cultures will crowd out any other bacteria.

      Don’t think to use dirty containers or anything like that, but there’s no need to sterilize containers for yogurt so long as they are cleaned and dried properly before using.

  7. 107
    vikki says:

    Do you need to sterilize the jars?

  8. 108
    Jess says:

    I couldn’t find my cooler today, so I am trying the oven method. I will let you know if it turns out okay.

  9. 109
    Mara says:

    I am new to your site and am in love already!! Do you think if you put the crockpot in a large cooler that would help keep the temp consistent?

    • 109.1
      Marisa says:

      If you’re going to use a crock pot, there’s no need to use a cooler. A crock pot maintains its own temperature.

  10. 110
    Howard says:

    I like draining out the whey through a cheese cloth wrap for between 24 and 48 hours to make a thick unripened cheese. Better known as Lebneh in the Arab world. You can salt it by mixing in the salt with a fork before storing it containers. Serve it in a small bowl with 1 or 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on top and pinch it out of the bowl with pieces of fresh pita bread. Enjoy it with a cup of tea for a traditional Arab breakfast.

  11. 111

    […] a dehydrator with a thermostat (like my Excalibur which can be set to specific temperatures), in a plastic picnic cooler (set your jars inside and pour boiling water around them then close the lid), in an oven with a […]

  12. 112

    […] Don’t have a slow cooker or a heating pad?  Marisa at Food In Jars cultures hers in a small insulated […]

  13. 113
    Harriet says:

    Where in the world can you get un-homogenized milk? I assume you mean pasturized, but un-homogenized, just what I’ve been wishing for.

    I’ve just started making yogurt, and tried my slow cooker, which is a little different from most, in that it is rectangular, and does hold more jars on a rack. But it’s too short for quart jars. The lowest setting holds well at ~110 degrees. But the cooler sounds a lot easier.

    Also, I thought that 120 degrees would kill off the bacteria. Most say to cool to 110 to 112 before inoculating. Are you sure your milk is really that hot?

    I tried the dry milk, too, and I’m also unhappy with the consistency. I’ll try without, and maybe add some agar agar to make it thicker.
    Thanks for posting!

    • 113.1
      Marisa says:

      Most raw milk is sold in its un-homogenized state. And in my area of Pennsylvania, often we can get pasteurized milk that isn’t homogenized. And I always shoot for 120 degrees and haven’t had any issues. But you can go a little lower if it worries you.

      • Harriet says:

        Thanks for the quick response!
        I’m in the Southern Tier of NY, close to the PA border, though it’s probably not the area you are. Still, can you give me a store name? Or is it via a CSA, or local farm? I always thought small farmers were missing a great opportunity to provide a unique product if they could find a way to pasteurize, but not homogenize their milk. Glad to hear someone’s doing it.

        I drank raw milk when I was a kid…a looong time ago. In the winter, instead of driving the car, we would take the pony and sleigh to the neighbor’s farm for fresh milk. I’m afraid I wouldn’t trust raw milk from an unknown source, but I loved the thick head of cream on that milk.

        We had a little device that I wish I could find now; just a jar with a lid attachment with a shaft and blades which, if you pushed on the knob at the top of the shaft would spin the blades and make whipped cream, or, if you did it a little too long, butter. Maybe it could be done with a blender, but I’ll bet it’s just too fast.

        If 120 works for you, then I won’t worry so much about getting such a precise temp as 110 to112 degrees. That’s a bit of a pain.

        • Marisa says:

          I buy my raw and pasteurized but not homogenized milk through the Fair Food Farmstand at Reading Terminal Market. It would be a haul for you, but you could call them and find out who their suppliers are.

  14. 114
    nella says:

    hello. I have been using this method for a few months, and while it gets thick, it never seems to get that tartness. what am i doing wrong? I heat up to 180, cool down to 120, add the yogurt while in the pot. i fill the jars, and then settle them in a large stockpot filled with hot tap water. i try to keep it at the 120 temp for a few hours by tuning on the heat very low for a minute. then i just let it cool. yesterday, i kept it in the water bath overnight since i started in the late afternoon, and still no tartness. i also add some vanilla and a bit of splenda before jarring – could that be the problem? thanks for any suggestions.

  15. 115

    […] it all on a plate with a dollop of homemade, whole-milk yogurt on top and you got yourself a healthy, yummy breakfast full of fiber, vitamins, calcium and […]

  16. 116
    ML Olson says:

    So is the first step just to pasteurize the milk? Is that necessary if it’s already pasteurized?

    • 116.1
      Marisa says:

      It’s more that you’re creating a blank slate for the yogurt bacteria to work. For best results, you should heat the milk before making yogurt, even if it’s already been pasteurized.

  17. 117
    chris says:

    have you ever used a thermometer to make sure the temp stays constant in the cooler? i’m new to all of this and I just started trying out different ways of making yogurt. I’ve been using a thermometer to monitor the temp and maybe I’m being too cautious. ? prepping milk now to try out this cooler method.

    • 117.1
      Marisa says:

      I actually never use a thermometer. I just get the water to the right temperature and trust the cooler to keep it relatively warm.

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