Pickled beets are one of the most requested preserves item at farmers’ markets. Here are directions for how to make your own home-canned pickled beets.
We will be following directions from the USDA and So Easy to Preserve.
Onions are optional; you can omit them.
You can easily cut this recipe in half, or double it.
Plain white distilled vinegar will do, but cider vinegar also makes for a nice change.
You may make this using a sweetener other than sugar, such as Splenda® or stevia, according to So Easy to Preserve.  No-Sugar Added Pickled Beets. In: Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 179.
If you are looking to home can plain beets, they need to be pressure canned.
Quantities of beets needed for pickled beets
As a rough rule of thumb:
- expect to need about 3 medium sized beets per half-litre (US pint) jar;
- about 1 ¾ lbs of beets (before prep) per quart jar;
- about ¾ kg of beets (before prep) per litre jar
Your mileage will of course vary based on the size you cut them down into and how many fibrous parts you find that have to be cut off and discarded — they won’t soften up, get rid of them!
- 1 Quantities of beets needed for pickled beets
- 2 The recipe
- 3 Pickled beets
- 4 Reference information
- 5 Recipe notes
- 6 Recipe source
- 7 Nutrition information
Jar size choices: Half-litre (1 US pint / 500 ml/ 16 oz) OR 1 litre (US quart / 32 oz)
Processing method: Water bath or steam canning
Yield: 8 x half-litre (US pint) jars
Headspace: 2 cm (½ inch)
Processing time: 30 minutes (all jar sizes)
- 3 kg home-canned beets (about 7 lbs)
- 1 spice bag (see NOTES section below)
- 1 litre vinegar (5% acidity or higher. 4 cups / 32 oz )
- 500 ml water (2 cups / 16 oz)
- 400 g sugar (2 cups / 16 oz. Or 2 cups / 50 g of Splenda®)
- 300 g onion (peeled and thinly sliced. Optional. 3 cups / about 3 medium)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon Pickle Crisp (per jar. optional)
- Cut off beet greens if still attached, leaving a small bit (2 to 3 cm / 1 inch), as well as any roots.
- Wash and scrub well.
- Boil the unpeeled beet roots just until they are tender. This should be about 20 to 25 minutes in boiling water (depending on size) or try pressure cooker (see Pressure Cooker section below). Don't overcook. You won't want mushy pickled beets.
- Meanwhile make up and set aside your spice bag. (See NOTES section below.)
- Let beets cool till you can handle them safely, then peel, then cut into slices about 1 cm (¼ inch) thick.
- Mix vinegar, water and sugar in a large pot. Add spice bag. Bring to a boil. Add onion (if using) and beets, bring back to a boil then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove and discard spice bag.
- Use a slotted spoon to divvy the onion (if using) and beet out amongst the jars.
- To each half-litre (1 US pint) jar add: ½ teaspoon salt and optionally, ¼ teaspoon Pickle Crisp. (Double those quantities for litre / US quart jars).
- Top jars up with pickling liquid.
- Leave 2 cm (½ inch) headspace for either size of jar.
- Debubble, top up with more liquid as required to retain headspace.
- Wipe jar rims.
- Put lids on.
- Process either size jar in a water bath or steam canner for 30 minutes; increase time as needed for your altitude.
- Best after at least a month of jar time.
How to water bath process.
How to steam can.
When water-bath canning or steam canning, you must adjust the processing time for your altitude.
Australia and New Zealand vinegar strength special notes.
What is the shelf life of home canned goods?
- You’ll want about 12 to 13 cups of sliced beet (3 litres by volume) after the prep is done. If you have less don’t worry, you might just have a jar or two fewer. If you have a bit more, then top up pickling liquid with ratio of 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water.
- You can use white vinegar or any vinegar you want, as long as it is 5% strength or higher.
- Instead of the salt, you can use a non-bitter, non-clouding salt sub. We have found Herbamare Sodium-Free performs well in that regard.
- You can reduce the sugar, or use granulated Splenda® (the same volume amount or 50 g by weight), or use 2 teaspoons of liquid stevia. (Sugar-free testing of this was done by University of Georgia; see Source below.) For the liquid stevia, we’d recommend Better Stevia liquid stevia.
- Note that the sweetener is not the preservative here. The vinegar, being 50% (or more) of the liquid ratio, is.
- Don’t use beets that have been previously frozen, unless you like very, very soft pickled beets.
- Don’t overcook the beets during the pre-cooking: they are going to get more cooking during the processing.
- If you have beets with a lot of fibrous spots — rock hard black spots — be ruthless in trimming those parts away when peeling. They are inedible, anyway. And, beware of them misleading you about how cooked the beets are or aren’t during pre-cooking, as they will always stay rock hard.
- For the salt sub, use a modern non-clouding, non-bitter salt sub. We used Herbamare Sodium-Free .
While the beets are pre-cooking, make up a spice bag by tying up one of the following flavour combos in it (and yes, you can mix and match or make up your own from dried spices)
- Scandinavian / Sweet style: 6 whole cloves, 6 whole allspice nuts, 1 cinnamon stick
- Traditional English: 2 tablespoons picking spice
- Caraway Beets: 1 tbsp caraway seeds, 1 tsp black peppercorns
About the beets
Yes, you must peel the beets. You want to get the bacterial count down and most of the bacteria with beets is on the skin.
While pre-cooking the beets, you want them just soft enough to start being tender to a fork, but not too much softer. Remember, they will get an additional 5 minute boil in the vinegar mixture, and then a 30 minute processing time after that. How long exactly you need to pre-cook the beets will depend on the size of them. If you are doing a lot, it’s a good idea to separate batches by size for more even cooking.
If while pre-cooking your beets you find that you have parts of your beets that are tender, and parts that are staying rock hard, then the beets are done: the rock hard places are almost certainly tough, fibrous parts that will need trimming away and discarding, anyway.
You can cook the beets the day before, and peel and overnight them in the fridge, to save time on pickling day. Just heat them up all the way through when you add them to the hot pickling liquid so they are piping hot going into the jar for canning. A microwave is ideal for such a reheat, just make sure they get reheated evenly and thoroughly, without cooking them any further!
The USDA emphasizes in bold to drain and discard the cooking liquid from the beets; not to use as the water in the recipe.
Two good varieties for canning that hold their colour are: (a) ‘Detroit Dark Red’ Sturdy, which is round, and (b) Formanova, which are long beets.
Other varieties often lose their colour and go a pale pink. It does not affect their flavour at all.
The reason for the 5 minute boil of the beets in the vinegar is to drive acid into the beets, to help make them safe for canning.
Pressure cooker pre-cooking for the beets
Pre-cooking the beets in a pressure cooker might not always save a lot of time when it comes to preparing beets for this recipe, but it will save resources such as cooking fuel and water, with the bonus of avoiding a steamy kitchen.
Note that when you are boiling beets in an open pot, it is easy to fish out the smaller ones as they are ready and to leave the larger ones in longer. You can’t do that when pressure cooking them, so it can be useful to sort big bags of various-sized beets into sizes, and process in a batch or two based on size, to avoid overcooking the smaller ones.
To be clear, these are NOT processing times for jars, they are pre-cooking suggestions for the beets as you prepare the recipe. And these are just suggestions. Times will vary based on how many beets you load at once into your pressure cooker. And bear this contradiction in mind: the more beets you have in at once, the greater the “come up to speed” and “cooling down” times which means you are getting a longer cooking time overall so the LESS actual cooking time at pressure is needed.
Do not VENT the pressure cooker / canner for 10 minutes first. There is no need to do so (here we are using the pot as a pressure cooker, not canner), and, if you did, you would overcook the beets. And no need to add vinegar to this pressure-cooking water.
- Medium beets (up to around 10 cm / 4 inches, a few larger ones sorted out for a separate load). 4 kg / 10 lbs of beets at once, in a Presto 16 quart pressure canner / cooker. 10 lbs pressure, 1 litre / quart water. 8 to 9 minutes. Afterward, natural release. This should produce tender-to-the-fork beets that are easy to peel and still have solidity to them: not hard, not too soft. 10 minutes for more on the softer side.
Pickled Beets. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Complete guide to home canning. Agriculture information bulletin No. 539. 2015. Page 6-15.
No-Sugar Added Pickled Beets. In: Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 179.
- Added pressure cooker option for the first step of cooking the beets;
- Added spicing choices from Bernardin;
- Add suggestions for salt free
Spice bag options come from: Pickled Beets. In: Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving. Toronto, Canada: Bernardin Ltd. 2013. Page 90.
Based on using onion. Calories lower without.
Regular version with salt and sugar
Serving size: one-fourth of a ½ litre (US pint) jar:
- 71 calories, 92 mg sodium
Sugar and salt-free version
Serving size: one-fourth of a ½ litre (US pint) jar:
- 45 calories, 73 mg sodium
- Weight Watchers PointsPlus®: 1 point.
* Nutrition info provided by https://caloriecount.about.com
* PointsPlus™ calculated by healthycanning.com. Not endorsed by Weight Watchers® International, Inc, which is the owner of the PointsPlus® registered trademark.
* Better Stevia ® is a registered trademark of the NOW Foods Company.
* Herbamare ® is a registered trademark of the A. Vogel Corporation.
* Pickle Crisp ® is a registered trademark of the Jarden Corporation.
|↑1||No-Sugar Added Pickled Beets. In: Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 179.|
Can I just omit the sugar all together?
Yes, you may. The book “So Easy to Preserve” has a recipe called “No-Sugar Added Pickled Beets” which is this recipe, using Splenda instead of sugar, which is essentially omitting the sugar all together.
A friend gave me two jars of pickled beets but the jars were not sealed the lids pop off with no or Ken with my fingers. Are they good?
If the refrigeration chain has not been broken, then they will be fine. If they were not refrigerated — well, without a vacuum seal, they weren’t canned, so..
How important is the salt in the preservation of the beets it does say the vinegar is the preservative. I forgot salt in my first batch just wondering if still going to be ok.
Salt is not involved in the preservation of the beets in this recipe. It is just a seasoning.
Good way of describing, and nice article to take facts regarding my presentation topic, which i am going to convey in university.|
My friend canned some pickled beets. She tasted one jar and discovered that they are hard. All of the jars sealed properly. Can she just reprocess them in her waterbath canner to cook the beets a bit more? Or does she have to remove the lids and reheat the contents and repack in order to reprocess?
Not sure what to advise as quality is at stake here and have not encountered this. Please check with a Master Food Preserver group such as https://www.facebook.com/UCCE-Master-Food-Preservers-of-El-Dorado-County-456649991034665/ as they are likely to have encountered situations such as this in all their dealings with people.
I’ve found lots of information about REMOVING or REDUCING sugar in canning recipes, but nothing about ADDING sugar to a recipe. I love pickled beets, but find your tested recipe to be too acidic (burns my mouth after a few slices). I’m trying to find out if it’s safe to add some extra sugar, in an attempt to make them less caustic for my wimpy tastebuds.
Hi Heidi, yes you can add more sugar to this recipe. Not so much that you are mummifying the beets in a jar of sugar, but for sure it would be okay to double it even; that wouldn’t impact density or pH. You may wish to check with one of these Master Food Preserver help groups.
I pressure can plain beets all the time. Why can’t I pressure can the pickled ones? I prefer pressure canning to water bath even when it isn’t necessary.
There’s no lab-tested recipe for pickled beets that gives a tested pressure canning time that would be required. Why not get a steam canner and use that instead, it’s even faster than a pressure canner in total time overall (counting heat up and cool down.)
Why when I pressure cook my jars of pickled beets does the brine boil out of the jars.
Because you are trying to pressure cook them. Pickled beets need to be water bathed. Where on earth did you get the idea to try to pressure cook them from?
The electric pressure cooker I purchased had a recipe for them.
Ah. I don’t have any advice to offer you on that, as electric pressure cookers are recommended strongly against for home canning, even if some rogue manufacturers are still saying yes. Here’s a page on them from the National Center for Home Food Preservation: https://preservingfoodathome.com/2014/11/25/can-i-can-in-a-multi-cooker/ and another from Hip Pressure Cooking: https://www.hippressurecooking.com/consumer-alert-no-pressure-canning-in-un-tested-multi-cookers/
People are reporting all kinds of problems — from quality to safety — when they attempt to can in those appliances.
The first time I made this, I forgot the water. There was only enough liquid for fewer jars, the rest I refrigerated. Are the canned ones without water and only vinegar and sugar safe?
So you canned them in pure 5% or higher vinegar? Yep, they will be safe, for sure, if a bit puckery to the taste! :} The vinegar and proper processing will make them safe (sugar doesn’t influence the safety of this recipe.)