I’ll be honest. I’ve been trying to make yogurt for over a year. I think I’ve tried it three or four times and it just never worked out for me.
After a weekend of trying, you could walk through my kitchen and think that someone was trying The Gallon Challenge. Milk jugs. Everywhere.
And I could just never get it right.
My problems were twofold. The problem I knew I was having was temperature issues. I tried keeping the yogurt in a warm oven or in an insulated bowl and it just never kept in the right range for long enough. What I didn’t know is that I was also having milk problems. Using the right milk is really important.
Last week though, I nailed it. I was able to produce really good yogurt with the one piece of kitchen equipment that most people have that’s really good at keeping things at a steady temp: A crockpot!
Yield: 1 Quart
1/2 Gallon of pasteurized, non-homogenized milk. Whole milk works best, but you can use any milk.
1/2 Cup yogurt with live cultures.
Optionally: You can stir in a bit of vanilla or fruit after the yogurt is made.
Crockpot (A good one that's well insulated and has a "warm" setting is ideal)
A Thermometer (very important)
Cheesecloth if you want it thicker
1) Clean your crockpot well and add the milk. Heat it on low until it registered 175-185 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Once it's that temperature, turn off the crockpot and let the milk slowly cool until it registers 110-120 degrees. This will take at least an hour. No need to rush it.
3) Once it's at that temperature, take out 1 Cup of warm milk and add 1/2 Cup of yogurt. Stir it well to make sure the yogurt is dissolved. Pour this mixture back into the warm milk and stir to combine.
4) Cover crockpot and place a large towel on top to insulate the crockpot. Keep the crockpot off but make sure the milk is staying in the 110-120 degree range. Maintain this temperature for 6-8 hours.
5) You might need to turn on the crockpot briefly on it's lowest setting for 10 minute bursts to keep the milk in the right range.
6) Once the time is up, you can scoop out any extra liquid and stir the yogurt together or pour it onto some cheesecloth and strain it for an hour to make a thicker yogurt (Greek yogurt).
7) Feel free to add fruit or flavorings to the yogurt once it's done!
There’s really only two ingredients to yogurt: Milk and bacteria. The best way to get the bacteria is just to “borrow” it from a yogurt that you like.
That said, there are some important notes to make when picking out a milk and a yogurt.
For the milk, it’s really important to find a milk that isn’t homogenized and isn’t ultra-pasteurized. Pasteurized is fine, but ultra-pasteurized doesn’t work for some reason (at least in my experience).
I was able to find a great brand of milk at my natural foods store that is non-homogenized and vat-pasteurized. The bacteria just ate this stuff up.
As far as the yogurt goes, you can literally use any yogurt you want as long as it contains live active cultures in it. Most, but not all, brands do. Just be sure to check on the ingredients. You’re looking for the words “LIVE” and “ACTIVE”.
This should go without saying, but plain yogurt will make plain yogurt. Vanilla yogurt will make plain yogurt. Vanilla doesn’t reproduce people. So just use the plain flavor to keep it simple.
The reason why the crockpot is such a perfect tool for yogurt making is because it’s really important to keep the yogurt at a pretty narrow temperature range while it’s doing its thing. I’ve tried a few different ways, but this one definitely produced the best results.
They do make yogurt makers which are very good at temperature control, but unless you’re making it frequently, I’m not sure it’s worth it to invest.
So, to start, make sure your crockpot is really clean and then add all your milk. Set it to low, cover it, and let the milk come up to around 180 degrees F. Anything in the 175-185 range works, but try not to go out of the range. Definitely don’t boil the milk or it will mess up the structure of it.
Bringing up the temp slowly works great. It might take an hour or so, but don’t try to rush it or you’ll run the risk of scalding the milk.
Once the milk reaches that temperature, you need to cool it down to about 115 degrees. Again, I think anything in the 110-120 range should work, but if it’s too hot, it’ll kill the bacteria and if it’s too cold they won’t get busy.
This is why a thermometer is almost essential for this process.
When your milk is the right temperature, take about about a cup of the warm milk and add 1/2 Cup of yogurt to it.
Stir this up really well and then add it back into the crockpot. Stir it all together.
Maintaining the Temperature
This is the tricky part for yogurt. You need to keep this batch of milk in that 110-120 temperature range for around 6 hours, but 8 would be ideal. This is no easy task.
My crockpot is really well insulated which definitely helped, but what I did was layer on a large beach towel, folded over a few times to the top of the crockpot. I figured that’s where most of the heat was escaping.
Once I added my yogurt, I turned off the crockpot and just covered it like this.
This was shockingly effective. I was able to maintain that temperature range for about 7 hours just by this method. TWICE during that time, about every 3 hours, I turned on the crockpot, put it on its lowest setting, and let it heat up for just 10 minutes. Then I’d turn it off again.
Those two little bursts of low heat helped it stay in that perfect range. Honestly, I think my crockpot was so well insulated that I could have just left it overnight and woken up to perfect yogurt.
So the first time you try this, if you try it, I’d keep a close eye on it just to get a feel for how well your crockpot retains heat. If it’s doing a good job, then you can probably leave it unattended for the entire time assuming you do your best to keep the heat in.
The Finished Product
After 7 hours or so, I uncovered my yogurt to find this beautiful stuff.
Now, the fresh yogurt will have some liquid on top. That’s okay. You can try to scoop out any large liquid pools and then stir the yogurt to combine everything well. This is what I did for the yogurt in the first photo in this post.
My yogurt was really tangy which I liked and had great flavor. I had it warm on night one with some honey and almonds. It was an awesome dessert.
The Greek Method
I like my yogurt a bit thicker for everyday use. This is really easy to do once your yogurt is made. Just line a colander with some cheesecloth and pour your yogurt in!
Let this sit for about an hour or so and all that liquid will drain out. You’ll be left with a beautiful thick yogurt.
Not only did my yogurt turn out to be better flavored than the original that I used, but I’m pretty sure it was cheaper also. I didn’t compute the financials exactly, but if you can get good milk for a reasonable price, than you can probably save a buck or two.
The more important thing though is that it was a lot of fun. I think this would be an awesome thing to do with kids to teach them about bacteria. I’m a kid at heart still and I loved checking on the yogurt and seeing how it was thickening up over time.
Once you get the hang of it, you can add all kinds of flavoring to it as well!
If you’ve ever tried to make your own yogurt, failed or succeeded, leave a comment!