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Claussen Pickles Deconstructed – Part One

May 6, 2011


Sometimes all you need is an uninterrupted hour.

I am a huge claussen pickle fan. Huge. All my life.

So I guess this moment was somewhat inevitable.  It generally bothers me when there is a commercial or restaurant food based on “real food” that I can’t replicate to a satisfying degree (i.e. Arrogantly expect to make better than the original. Moving on…) In other words I don’t buy food because it is better than what I can cook but because it is quicker.
So Claussen pickles have certainly been bothering me for some time. I have made several real efforts to replicate their pickles since 2003 or 2004. I have scoured the web for copycat recipes (don’t bother. They’re all wrong.) I have certainly made some decent enough pickles and learned a good bit along the way, but so what?

I want to make my own Claussen pickles!!

So back to my spare hour. A couple of nights ago I went a late night grocery run and among other things picked up a pint of pickle spears.

And I binged.

And the next night I killed off the jar.

Sitting there the second night I was again marveling at the wonder of the flavor of claussen pickles looking at the jar, and it suddenly occurred to me that the answer was sitting in my hand. All the spices that flavor the pickles are just floating around the jar. It was about 8 and the kids were all asleep and there were no pressing tasks at hand (except dishes…) so I strained all of the seasonings out and separated them out by type. The results were fascinating.

First of all, no way I would have guessed that there were 9 different spices floating around in there. I would have guessed 4-6, tops.  And then what was in there beyond garlic and dill seed is totally unexpected, to me:

Cinnamon!!   Bay leaf!!   Fennel seed!!

I confirmed the identity of each spice by pulling some out of my spice drawer and matching them up.  The cinnamon was a total mystery until I took a nibble and then its flavor was unmistakable.

so the list that I have is:

1 tsp chopped garlic

bay leaf
mustard seed
dill seed
fennel seed
chili flakes

You will correctly notice that the light brown spice on the left is unmatched.  It remains unidentified, and I am not sure how to go about it at this point.  The taste test was interesting though.  It was tasteless and had the texture of an almond shell, really hard, really tasteless, strange.  I blew it up so you can look more closely and figure it out for me.  It’s right below the dark brown cinnamon

That just leaves the matter of how much salt, vinegar and calcium chloride to put into the brine and what temperatures to cure this.   But my uninterrupted hour is up and we will tackle that in the next post!

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21 Responses to Claussen Pickles Deconstructed – Part One

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  3. Sarah on July 24, 2011 at 18:54

    I love Claussen pickles and am really excited to try and make my own. I have my cucumbers in an ice bath right now and am going to make the pickles first thing tomorrow. I may have over thought things but this is how I went about figuring out how much of the ingredients I needed.

    I filled my jars with my cucs and added water to fill the jars. I then dumped out the water and measured it so I know how much of my basic brine I need. Then I eyeballed the amount of spices it looks like you have in your picture and am going to add that amount of spices to each of my sterilized jars, pour in the brine, and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    • admin on July 24, 2011 at 19:52

      That is fantastic! I am dying that I haven’t finished my part 2 post but let me give you a couple thoughts about how I will be proceeding. I boiled off all liquid “quantitatively” and know that the brine is 5% by weight. However some of the brine is calcium chloride, presumably for crispiness. I am guessing, but hope to actually quantify, thy this is about 1/10 the amount of salt by weight. Lastly part of the liquid is white vinegar though again I don’t know how much. Recently I just found a copycat recipe closer than an I have seen spice-wise and they claim 1:1 water to white vinegar. Again, I hope to measure this later. Give it a go. I did the picture with spices next to the measuring spoon in order to help estimates. I have checke a couple jars of claussen to confirm that the spice amounts do vary so no worry on estimates. PLEASE report back!!

      • Sarah on July 25, 2011 at 10:00

        The pickles are done and I cannot wait to be able to taste them in a week or so. They smelled delightful (really close to what is in the Claussen pickle jar) and I have really high hopes that the results are going to be amazing!!

        I washed and then soaked the cucs in an ice bath overnight.

        For the brine I used the following ratio.
        4c. water, 4c. white vinegar, 1/4c. pickling salt, 2T. sugar. I added my spices to the brine once it was almost to a boil. I used 4t. crushed fresh garlic (about 6 small cloves of garlic), 1t. mustard seed, 1t. dill seed, 1/2t. fennel seed, 1/2t. chopped bay leaf, 1/2t. whole black peppercorns, 1/2t. crushed red pepper flake, 1/2t. chopped cinnamon stick.

        I will let you know how they turned out once I taste them!

        • Sarah on August 17, 2011 at 12:49

          They turned out GREAT! I think the 2T of sugar was a tad too much so next year I plan to cut it back to 1T. Thank you so much for posting your findings. My family (and the neighbors) are loving these pickles!

      • Dale on August 25, 2011 at 16:56

        Thanks for the great detective work. Have you seen the Food Network TV special on Claussen Pickles? I pretty sure they don’t hot process the jars. They do double brine the pickles, first brine is a four to five day brine and then they make a fresh brine for final cold packing. That’s why they are sold refrigerated. I’ve tryed this method and noticed that the first brine draws out the cucumber flavor as you can actually taste it in the brine. The 2nd brine that the jars are sold in never has that cucumber flavor. Just some additional input from a Claussen lover. I’ve made these and come very close to the flavor. Your spice list will definitely be tried on my next batch.

    • Chris K. on April 26, 2014 at 19:31

      I will tell you this much – the big things that these recipes get wrong is the ratio between vinegar and water. It is NOT 50/50. Not even close. Far more water (distilled), and very little vinegar. You will find, upon opening a jar of Claussen, the very LAST thing you smell is vinegar.

  4. MATT on August 3, 2011 at 12:25

    Hey! I just did what you did today! 8/3/11!!! I successfully copied Trader Joe’s bread and butter pickles and moved onto my other favorite Clausen’s! You are right… the copy-cats are all WRONG! Red herrings to deceive, presumably planted by Clausen’s! I couldn’t taste the cinnamon because my mouth was filled with garlic taste! …. There are actually 10, yes 10 spices per jar! The tenth is allspice berry! the large black sphere, slightly larger than the peppercorn. Bite into it and you can instantly tell the flavor….
    heres info on it:
    Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of a tree indigenous to the Caribbean and Central America. As its name implies it tastes of a mixture of Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Clove. Dried Allspice berries resemble large brown peppercorns, unripe berries are harvested and sun dried until the seeds in them rattle, the outer case contains two dark, hard kidney-shaped seeds, sometimes the whole berry will be called pimento. Copied from :

    Still cant figure out what the hard amber bit that stumped you is.. Im headed to the penzy’s spice
    shop in my area to try to crack it.


  5. chris brandow on August 3, 2011 at 17:01

    hilariously, I just got some old pickling spices from my mother in law and look at this ingredient list!! so Dan take a look at mace and cardamom (which I looked at once and it is pretty clearly not correct). that is a great catch on the allspice (also listed in the pickling spice mix!!) To me the next big key is quantifying salt, Calcium chloride and white vinegar.

  6. Dan on August 3, 2011 at 19:16

    Wow!! I checked McCormick’s website and the recipe is still the same with the addition of “sulfiting agents” (who knows what those are lol) and the new plastic bottle. So I found out what the hard bit is… non other than cracked ginger pieces (also in McCormicks!). Lastly, you missed caraway seed… looks a lot like dill seed but it’s smaller and darker. So that makes 11 spices! I’m guessing the brine must be 2 parts water to 1 part 5% acid vinegar… as water is listed before vinegar on the ingredients list. As far as the calcium chloride, its sold as “pickle crisp” by Ball and they recommend 1/4 tsp per quart and 1/8th tsp per pint. I sure wish i had an elusive 1/8 tsp!!! I’m making mine tonight and I’ll let you know how they turn out!

  7. Dan on August 4, 2011 at 08:13

    Stayed up till midnight getting the pickles done…. what’s interesting is the minute you combine the spices the jar smells just like Clausen’s, even with no cukes or liquid! To fill 12 quart size jars I made a brine of 1 gallon water, 1/2 gallon white 5% acidity vinegar and 1 cup Morton’s pickling salt. I heated the brine till boiling and then ladled the mixture into sterilized jars. I only process 5 minutes in a water bath canner. most recommend 10 minutes, but the longer they cook the less crisp the pickles turn out. Older recipes usually called for no processing at all. I’m wondering if using a crock and brining that way would produce better results? We have a hardware store here that sells new 1-10 gallon stoneware crocks… next thing left is a taste test in about 3 weeks.

    • Kris on July 16, 2012 at 07:24

      I have been trying to find a Claussen pickle recipe for two years now, I have held off making any because I knew the recipe’s were wrong, clearly there is peppercorn in themk but the recipe’s I have found don’t include them on the ingredients list. Dan, do you have a full recipe for these pickles that you would share, I am dying to make some? Please

    • Marco Luxe on August 7, 2012 at 23:33

      IMHO: I think crock pickles are different because they ferment in the unsealed crock before jarring. I’m pretty sure Claussen’s are so crisp and not acidic [from lactic acid fermentation] because they are “refrigerator pickles” that are only brined for flavor and don’t go through a preservative fermentation.

  8. mike on July 8, 2012 at 08:17

    how long in the frig untill u can eat them

  9. Rylan on July 24, 2012 at 22:43

    First thanks for all the spice information, I am going to try this blend on my next batch (making it right now actually!)

    Secondly I want to point out that the Claussen method claims to be “NEVER HEATED”!!! So any sort of hot brine or anything like this is not correct.

    I have been quite close lately with a mixture of these two recipes here:

    But I think the spice blend is wrong so I am going to combine this into my research as well… I feel I am getting VERY close to the elusive “PERFECT CLAUSSEN CLONE”

    Thanks for sharing your research!

  10. Rylan on July 24, 2012 at 22:59

    PS I am also going to make a jar with a so called “special spices” from a Mexican market. It is very close to the ingredients here but missing a few things, quite curious to find out how these come out.. I made some Mediterranean tasting pickles recently as well, quite by accident as it was using chipotle peppers and garam masala. Fun stuff.

  11. Rylan on July 25, 2012 at 22:49

    Oh and @ the person who asked how long, well I am not the author of this recipe but in my experience lately, they’ve been bland after a day, vinegary after 2, 3-4 getting there but 5 days seems to be when things mellow out enough that they are more enjoyable. YMMV depending on recipe and other factors such as refrigerated or not. I won’t mention cooking since this is a thread about FRESH pickles!!

  12. Russ on August 13, 2012 at 18:09

    I’ve made something SIMILAR to Claussen, from a different recipe. A few things: 1) the pickles are NOT cooked. The brine is. To some degree the brine needs to be heated, but only to help dissolve the salt and marry some flavors. Afterwards, cool the brine before adding to the jars. After the jars are sealed you’ll keep them on the counter for about a week, turning the jars over every 12 hours or so. Then move to a refrigerator and enjoy within the next 6 months or so…if they last that long. 2) the recipe I’ve used in the past and cannot currently find uses turmeric. 3) I usually do a nice, long julienne of red onion in place of the onion flakes to flavor the pickles, but they are also very tasty additions to sandwiches and salads. 4) “Pickle Crisp” is not necessary since the pickles are not cooked. Do a google search for Refrigerator Pickles for some other recipe ideas. I like to add half a dried scotch bonnet or habanero pepper to each jar for a little extra zip.

  13. rosie on September 8, 2012 at 18:30

    love all the research. we are going to try to make a batch tomorrow. I do agree, no hot brind to the cukes. Not gonna add Caraway but going to add all the rest. Will let you know our opinion once we dive into them. thanks again.

  14. Daryl Bish on April 27, 2014 at 14:20

    I believe it might be ginger but not totally certain

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