How to Make Quick Dill Pickles to Top Burgers and Sandwiches

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

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[Photographs and video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I know that making real-deal, lacto-fermented pickles the old-fashioned way, with nothing but vegetables, salt, a few microscopic critters, and time, is all the rage these days, but I feel like the humble quick pickle is unfairly maligned. I've made my share of sauerkraut, kimchi, and naturally fermented cucumber pickles, and they're delicious, but frankly, none of them are a substitute for the crisp, clean, straightforward acidic bite you get from a simple, vinegar-based quick pickle.

Part of the reason I love these simple dill pickle chips for hamburgers and sandwiches is that they're so easy. All you've got to do is cut your vegetables, boil a brine, and pour it on top. Half an hour later, by the time your burgers are cooked, your pickles will be ready to go, with a fresher flavor and heartier crunch than anything you can get at the supermarket.

For my pickles, I use a basic brine of equal parts water and white vinegar, along with some kosher salt. (I like my pickles on the salty side, so I use around 3% salt by weight for the brine. You can use a little less if you'd like.) I flavor it with garlic, black peppercorns, and dill—the three basic flavors of a dill pickle—as well as some yellow mustard seed and red pepper flakes, for just a bit of kick. I boil all the aromatics together with the brine, then pour it over sliced Kirby cucumbers, which have a denser texture and take better to pickling than watery American or English cucumbers. (There's a reason they're referred to as "pickling cucumbers.")

One trick I picked up when I used to make pickles by the five-gallon tub: You have to keep the cucumbers submerged in order for them to pick up flavor evenly. The easiest way to do this at home is to fold over a kitchen towel or paper towel and place it directly on top of the surface of the brine, which will ensure that everything stays submerged. If you happen to really scale this up and make several quarts or gallons at a time, you'll need a heavier weight to keep the cucumbers submerged. For that, you can lay a kitchen towel on top of the surface of the liquid, then place a zipper-lock bag filled with water directly on top of it.

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These pickles are great after just half an hour, but they'll continue to pick up flavor from the brine as they rest. Once they've cooled, you can store them in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a month. (If you want to know the truth, I sometimes keep them way, way longer than that.)