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How To Make Homemade Yogurt: A Photo Tutorial

01/17/2011

There are many reasons to eat yogurt on a regular basis. Today I am going to show you my method for making yogurt at home. Not only is it relatively easy to make, but by making it at home, it ends up being much cheaper and I personally think it tastes a lot better. (Not as tart as the store bought stuff.)

I have tried a few different methods including the crock pot method and the method over on Kitchen Stewardship. The crock pot method didn’t get my yogurt thick enough and I also realized my crock pot wasn’t getting the temperature of the milk high enough at the beginning.  (This was, however, easier than my method, so it may be worth giving it a try first to see if you like the results.) The method at Kitchen Stewardship didn’t work for me for some reason because the cooler must not have kept the heat in long enough to incubate the yogurt. That, and I don’t have a cooler (I had to borrow one) and I don’t like having a cooler setting out in my house (and I don’t have a garage to put it in.) For the method I will describe below, I have kind of blended the Kitchen Stewardship method with another method and I am getting really consistent and good results.

Basic Tenets to Yogurt Making

That being said, I believe making yogurt is a lot like parenting—there is more than one right way to do it. You just need to keep some basic tenets in mind. I am going to outline those tenets now.

  • Heat the milk to 185F to sterilize the milk. Doesn’t matter how you do it, just get the temperature up there.
  • Then cool the milk to around 100F so you can incubate it. Doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to that temperature or how you get it there.
  • Add starter yogurt. This can be from a previous batch you’ve made or from yogurt you’ve bought at the store (as long as it has active cultures in it.)
  • Keep the yogurt at that 100F temperature for the next  4 – 24 hours so the bacteria get all happy and warm and cozy and then multiply like crazy.

That’s it! It really isn’t hard and it isn’t that time consuming because a lot of it is just waiting for it to reach a correct temperature and then waiting for it to incubate.

How to Make Homemade Yogurt—A Step by Step Photo Tutorial

Here are the things you will need for the way that I prefer to make it.

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  • Milk (I prefer to buy rBGH free milk.) (Here’s a discussion on rBGH, if you are curious about what that is.)
  • Clean glass jars with lids (I usually do 4 at a time, but you could do more or less depending on how much yogurt you want.) These can be any glass jars—I used spaghetti sauce jars, a Ball canning jar, and a coconut oil jar.
  • Starter yogurt – enough for 2 TBSP per jar
  • Washcloth
  • Candy thermometer – You might want to check to make sure that the thermometer will fit in the mouth of at least one of your jars. Not that that has happened to me before. :)
  • Bath towels or blankets
  • Heating pad
  • Spoon
  • Large pot

Now, put the pot on the stove, put the washcloth in the bottom of it and put the jars in there. (The washcloth is so the jars don’t rattle too much and break.)

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Then pour milk into the jars. Leave about an inch of room at the top.

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Then pour room temperature water into the pot to about half way up the jars.

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Now turn the heat to medium-high and wait. At this point I need to mention that I turned the heat up on high the first time I was going to make this and it heated up too quickly and caused one of the jars to break. (That’s why in the rest of these pictures you won’t see the coconut oil jar anymore.) Also notice I put a spoon and the candy thermometer into the pot of water so that way they can be sterilized too.

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I forgot to take a picture of this next step (sorry!), but its pretty self explanatory. After the water has been boiling for a while, you’ll start to notice a skin on the top of the milk. That’s a good sign that you are almost to your temperature. You can start checking the temperature of the milk with the candy thermometer then. (Katie over at Kitchen Stewardship mentions that when the skin forms, its hot enough, but I’ve found that the skin on my milk formed around 165-170F. Just so you know, it took mine another 5 – 10 minutes to get up to the correct temperature.) This entire “milk heating up process” took about 30-45 minutes, with only about 5 minutes of it being actively involved in yogurt making. The rest of the time I cleaned up my kitchen. :)

After it reaches 185F, turn off the burner and take the jars out very carefully. (I had my husband help me with this part so I could take the pictures.) Then put the lids on.

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Now, you need the yogurt to cool to around 100F. It can be a little higher or lower. Be aware that the yogurt cultures will die at around 118-120F, so you definitely want the temp below that. Since its winter, I just put mine on my front porch to cool. It took about 45 minutes. I don’t usually measure the temperature again with the candy thermometer. I just know that when they still feel fairly warm, but not so warm that I can’t carry them all into the house with my bare hands, then the temperature is okay.

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Now that the temperature is right, you just need to add the culture. The culture I am using in this picture has been saved out from the previous batch I made.  My jars are 26 oz size and I add 2 TBSP of starter per jar. (I read that the ratio is 2 TBSP per quart. I have a little under a quart, but it works fine.) I do want to point out that more starter is not better—they need room to get cozy and reproduce. You want to make it hospitable for your yogurt bacteria. :) Too much starter and you won’t have good yogurt.

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Stir gently. You don’t want to hurt or kill the bacteria, so just a few gentle stirs with the spoon will be enough.

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I think I need a longer spoon. I promise there is a spoon in my hand.

Then put the lids back on and put them back in the pot that you used for boiling them. (Note that there is no water in it now and I put a dry washcloth in it.)

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Next you need to find a place out of the way to incubate your yogurt. I like to put mine on a chair in the dining room. First I put a towel folded in half down on the chair. Then I put the pot with the yogurt on top of that. Then I put the heating pad set on medium on top of that. Then I put another towel folded in half, and then a blanket folded in half on top of that. If you’ll notice, I tucked it down all around the sides so the warm air stays in and cooler air stays out. Really, it just took me longer to write that than it will take you to make your own yogurt a little bacteria love nest. :)  Note: You might want to check to make sure your heating pad doesn’t turn off after a set amount of time. Some of them turn off after a few hours as a precautionary thing.

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Yogurt bacteria love nest :)

Leave the yogurt completely alone so it can incubate. I usually leave mine for 8 to 10 hours since I leave it overnight. You can play around with how long you like it to incubate and see if it affects the flavor much. The picture below is okf the yogurt the next morning. You’ll notice there is a little whey on top. That is good—it means your yogurt cultures got along very well overnight.

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Good morning yogurt!

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See the whey on top? My yogurt had fun last night!

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You might need a little helper to point to the yogurt and say "Hot!" That part is optional, though, but it does make this part more fun.

Finally, put them in the refrigerator for a while. This will not only cool the yogurt down (because who wants to eat hot yogurt?!) but will allow the yogurt to sort of “set up.”

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I totally wiped the shelf off before I took this picture. Just so you know. :)

That’s it! You are done! Wonderful, fresh yogurt! Yum! You can now add whatever you would like to it or just eat it plain. (That’s how my son likes it.) On Friday I am going to share the granola recipe that I make to go in our morning yogurt.

Cost of Homemade versus Store Brand

Since this is already the Longest Blog Post Ever, I’ll go ahead and do a little cost comparison.

One gallon of whole milk from Wal-mart—$3.13 a gallon  (I only use a little over half the gallon, which would be about $1.65.)

1 quart of plain Dannon yogurt—$1.60 (I think. I forgot to check at my store the last time I went. They might be cost more.)

So, 4 quarts of plain Dannon would equal $6.40 (I’m not comparing the Stoneyfield or the Greek yogurt because they cost much more and I’m not using organic milk.)

My family goes through 4 quarts a week between using yogurt to make green smoothies and just eating it for breakfast. By me making it myself, I am saving my family about $250 per year! That’s a lot of money considering the small amount of time I have invested in it.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll at least try to point you in the right direction.

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21 Comments
  1. grace permalink
    01/17/2011 8:55 am

    kate, this is GREAT! thank you for the posting… you are awesome!

  2. Karie permalink
    01/17/2011 9:16 am

    I grew up on homemade yogurt but my mom had the incubator thingy I haven’t wanted to try without that-now I kinda think I do! Thanks. :-)

  3. 01/17/2011 3:55 pm

    You are wonderfully nuts. That seems very time-consuming, but I’ll trust you. ;) I’m not sure anyone would eat plain yogurt in my house and after spoiling my kids rotten on sweetened things, not sure I can make that progress. Sigh. I love this idea tho and will be pondering it in the back of my mind, as I usually do with your crazy projects. I also LOVED Callum’s addition, as well as the yogurt love nest…kind of grossed me out {the latter}, but still made me crack up.

    love you as always-

    Em

    • Kate permalink*
      01/17/2011 4:16 pm

      I was hoping the yogurt love nest would make someone laugh. :) My poor kiddos don’t know about sweetened yogurt. Lily’s had it a few times and I don’t think Callum’s ever had it. They’ll probably need therapy when they realize one day that Mommy never told them that yogurt could have sugar in it and that smoothies don’t have to be green. Good thing I’m saving all this money by making my own yogurt so I can afford the double therapy sessions!

    • matt permalink
      02/11/2011 8:25 pm

      My kids grew up on store bought sweetened yogurt. When I started making my own I just put some fresh fruit and some sugar in it. I figured the amount I put in it is definitely less than what Dannon puts in it. Then just gradually add less and less. Now if the fruit is really sweet and tasty I don’t have to add any sugar at all. :^)

      • Kate permalink*
        02/11/2011 8:30 pm

        Hi Matt! I grew up on store bought sweetened yogurt too. :) I agree, though. Even if you add some sugar, its still going to be way less than what is in the stuff at the store. I don’t add sugar, but I do add granola, which is sweetened. I also think that the homemade yogurt has a more mellow flavor–especially a day or two after its made. I like it better when it isn’t so tart.

  4. 02/20/2011 11:05 am

    Why do you use so much starter for your yogurt. I have a bank of various yogurts in my freezer and only use a couple of tablespoons full to culture our yogurt and it turns out great? If you have a very cold freezer (ours is measured at -20F) you can take a couple of tablespoons full of the yogurt you just made and put it in a baggy. I usually make up several baggies at once and put them in our freezer for culturing a batch in the future. To make sure it is activated properly, I put the frozen contents of a baggy (or some powdered yogurt culture or even some yogurt bought in a store) into a hefty blender with some of the warm tempered milk and blend for 10 or so seconds.

    You can also mix cultures in the blender…

    • Kate permalink*
      02/20/2011 7:37 pm

      Bill,
      I will defer to you as to the amount of starter to use, seeing as you are Mr. Yogurt. :) I got that info about the amount of starter from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship. (I included a link to her tutorial in the first paragraph of this post.) How much would you suggest?
      I’ve also heard of freezing the starter in ice cubes trays in the freezer so you already have the correct amount. I think its similar to the baggy idea.
      Thanks for the comment and the helpful info!

  5. 02/21/2011 9:23 am

    Kate,

    Thanks for the plug on mryogurt.info – we have over 40 folks registered and are getting almost 900 hits a month on the website. The only reason I feel I can speak to yogurt making is that I have been making it for almost a year and will be approaching 100 gallons made – all without failure.

    It makes sense if you are going to be making yogurt as part of your life’s routine that you get a yogurt maker. And here is why – between using the crockpot to heat (temper) the milk initially to making the yogurt itself in our Waring Pro yogurt maker, it really only takes a little over 15 minutes of my time to turn out 1 gallon of fantastic yogurt. And without failure! The yogurt maker keeps the milk at the right temperature (115F) and you can set the amount of time for the heat to stay on. The default is 8 hours but I always check to see if it is firm before then – usually at 2 hours it is ready. So I cut it off and cool it down and then put it outisde or in the fridge.

    If you don’t mind, I have a few comments about your instructions at the top – Basic Tenets to Yogurt Making:

    “Heat the milk to 185F to sterilize the milk. Doesn’t matter how you do it, just get the temperature up there.”

    – Comment: You don’t have to be picky as to the temperature but you do have to keep it there a while. Since I use my crockpot – I heat it on low overnight and it is around 190F in the morning – I know it has spent a while at that temperature… so I don’t worry about it.

    “Then cool the milk to around 100F so you can incubate it. Doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to that temperature or how you get it there.”

    – Comment: Actually the termperature range is 110 – 120F with 115F being a good temperature to maintain. The reason? One of the bacillus thingies in the culture, Streptococcus thermophilus, needs a higher temperature (120F or even 125F – but that is pushing it) than 100F to efficiently convert things to what the Lactobacillus bulgaricus (LB) can use. And it operates best at around 100F. The 115F is a good compromise and it is one of the reasons our yogurt firms up in 2 – 3 hours. We will find the other reason next…

    “Add starter yogurt. This can be from a previous batch you’ve made or from yogurt you’ve bought at the store (as long as it has active cultures in it.)”

    – Comment: Believe it or not, this step is a really critical step for several reasons: (1) The temperature of the tempered milk really needs to be around 120F… and the reason for this is that if you are using powdered starter, dry yogurt starter or a frozen yogurt starter, it needs to come to culturing temperature to activate it. Since I use a “cocktail” of starter ingredients, this is a really important point for me. (2) Think about it. Your starter contains literally BILLIONS of bacteria in it. If you just try to stir it into the tempered milk, you will end up with a poorly mixed culture. That would be like putting gobs of seeds around a field and expecting them to grow and reproduce well. However, put that culture with the tempered milk into a blender and blend it for 10 seconds or more and the culture is evenly distributed throughout the tempered milk. Then, and only then, can you whisk the cultured, tempered milk into the rest of the tempered milk to get it distributed throughout all the milk. This point causes probably the most problems folks have with their yogurt either taking a long time to firm up or even not set for 12 or more hours. And if the yogurt is not distributed well, it can cause grainy, lumpy and even curdy results. By blending, you can use a couple of tablespoons of the starter and make literally gallons of yogurt. And I strain the mixed, tempered milk into the jars for culturing)

    “Keep the yogurt at that 100F temperature for the next 4 – 24 hours so the bacteria get all happy and warm and cozy and then multiply like crazy.”

    – Comment: Keep the yogurt between 110 and 120F – preferably 115F and it will firm up in as little as 2 – 3 hours. And the longer you go, the more tart it will get.

    Now I am going to see if my yogurt is starting to firm up – it has been culturing now for 2 hours…

    …yep. I just went and refilled my coffee mug and checked the yogurt – it is firm with 6 hours to go on the yogurt maker (it starts out with 8 hours to go) – so I turned it off and will let it cool before putting it in the fridge. Why don’t I toss it in the fridge? Actually, I will put it outside in a while where it is as cold as the fridge first and then move jars into the fridge as there is room. But there is no rush to get it there as the LBs are still multiplying and it will get more tart… it is still kind of sweet from the cup of 50-50% plain white sugar/Splenda (and a pinch of salt) I added when I cultured it. The sugar is to feed the bacteria… and the Splenda is for taste.

    I only make plain yogurt as I have found it is easy to flavor it later… strawberry jam is my favorite and my wife likes blueberry jam. And I usually add a handful of home-made granola (don’t get me started)…

    Bill

  6. Carol permalink
    04/09/2011 7:25 pm

    I am so glad to find this info. I had a Salton yogurt maker many years ago. I have no idea what happened to it. My sister in law used to make hers in the oven. It was an old gas stove with a pilot light and I guess it was the perfect temperature. She just used a glazed crockery bowl and left it in over night. I had heard rumors that a regular oven would work the same way if you left the light on. Does anyone know about this? Maybe I should buy an oven thermometer to check. My crock pot just bit the dust and my water bath canner is also missing, which would have worked really well with regular canning jars. My heating pad shuts off automatically after 20 minutes. Yogurt has become so expensive at the store and unless you buy the really expensive stuff, it doesn’t have a very good taste. I really like the Brown Cow cream top, it reminds me of what we got years ago, not so commercialized(sp). Any suggestions are welcome?!

    • Kate permalink*
      04/09/2011 8:01 pm

      Hi Carol!! I would try it in your oven with the light on. I have a friend who makes all of her family’s yogurt this way (the way you described above). (She makes a gallon at a time because she has such a large family!) I have an oven thermometer, so I checked mine to see if it would work with just leaving the light on, and it never got hot enough. However, my oven is super old and some of the seals have pulled away from where they are supposed to be, so I am guessing that if you have a little bit nicer oven then it might work. Another option would be to try turning the oven on for a few minutes and then turning it off to warm it up. Just be careful not to get the yogurt too hot so you don’t kill the culture. You’d just have to check it with an oven thermometer and experiment. You should try it! It really isn’t hard and I think it tastes much better.
      Thanks for stopping by! Let me know how it goes!

    • 04/09/2011 9:52 pm

      If you plan on making yogurt for the rest of your life, then do yourself a favor, take the guesswork out of it and buy a yogurt maker.

      Mine is temperature controlled and has a digital timer on it. Truly, it is one you can set and forget.

      And we make at least a gallon of yogurt a week. I have noticed the cost of a quart of commercial yogurt at the supermarket is around $5 which is more than a gallon of milk. So we save at least $16 a week by making it ourselves.

      And here is my contribution to wikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Yogurt-By-Machine

      Cheers,

      Bill

  7. lela permalink
    07/16/2011 11:09 am

    there is no need for all this hassle to make yogurt.
    I just pour raw milk in a glass bowl, cover it with a cheesecloth and leeave it at room temperature.
    After 3/4 days it automatically turns into yogurt. You can drain the whey if you want and for the next batch you can use the same bowl without cleaning it and the leftover yogurt that’s in it will help the raw milk ferment quicker and help make it thicker

  8. 07/16/2011 12:50 pm

    How fortunate you are to have access to raw milk. In Maryland, it is illegal so the only way to get it is through special distributors who, unfortunately, are not in our area.

    Now I have tried making yogurt many different ways but the best, IMHO, is to heat the milk to 180F first and then cool and culture it. Since I make a gallon at a time, spending a half hour total of my time is a small price to pay when you can save $20 or more over commercial brands, have the best yogurt you ever tasted, conform to safety needs by killing any other bacteria present and control what goes into the yogurt so you only get the best of the best. My last gallon made yesterday had 2 packets of plain gelatine in it as an experiment and it turned out firmer than normal. Next I will use 4 packets to see how that works.

    So thanks for sharing even though many of us cannot get raw milk!

    Take care,

    Bill

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