So You Want to Make a Gallon of Yogurt

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Think of the economy — buying one gallon of milk (about $4.50) versus one gallon of yogurt (easily $20, particularly if you wander into the fancier varieties). In this economy, who can afford to not make their own yogurt? Oh, what’s that? You don’t need a gallon of yogurt? Well, this is not how they would have viewed it during the Great Depression.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Homemade yogurt tastes great, is extremely easy to make, and requires no specialized tools. The premise is simple — yogurt contains bacteria (think about all those ads for live cultures and their wonderful health benefits). Bacteria like warm places where they can eat, and yogurt bacteria likes to eat milk. If you put a little yogurt into warm milk and give it enough time, the bacteria will multiply and create more yogurt. If you are looking for more detail, Harold McGee describes it in the New York Times better than we dare try.

Basic Homemade Yogurt
adapted from a recipe by Harold McGee

1 gallon of milk (whole milk will produce the creamiest results)
¼ c yogurt with live, active cultures

Heat the milk to 180° F. Remove from heat, and allow to cool until the temperature drops to 110-120° (this is the temperature bacteria loves). Add yogurt and stir. Cover loosely and then wrap in a large dry towel for insulation. Because you want the temperature to stay around 100° overnight, you can place the bowl and towel into an unheated oven, a microwave, or a small insulated cooler to maintain heat.

Twelve hours later, you will have yogurt. Store in the fridge; jam jars from the hardware store are one neat solution to the problem.

Once you’ve made your massive pile of thrifty and delicious yogurt, you are, of course, faced with the problem of how best to consume it. Stirring in a spoonful of homemade jam is a great solution — and if you want to get all locavore on it, make a jam using rhubarb from your backyard, or the backyard of a neighbor unsure how to otherwise dispose of the 10 pounds a week of the stuff that his or her rhubarb patch generates.

Homemade yogurt also works wonderfully in this extremely reliable and delicious chicken tikka masala recipe that can be adapted for outdoor summertime grilling if you’re so inclined.


  1. Nate Solas

    I’ve been making yogurt in one-gallon batches for at least a year, and it’s great. A few tips that have helped us out, but I know everyone has a different setup and different goals:

    – Heat the milk to almost 200 – I shoot for 195. My understanding is this changes some of the proteins in the milk which allows it to become a thicker yogurt. (Obviously you need to stir the pot to prevent scorching) Batches I’ve done to just 180 don’t seem to thicken as well…
    – Cool the pot in the sink with some ice cubes in a water bath. I have to change the water once, but it’s a small sink. Stir the milk and the water to get a faster heat exchange.
    – Add the starter culture to the pot when it’s about 115, stir gently, then divide the milk into 5 (steamed and sanitized) quart jars. (I know it should fit into 4 quarts, but somehow it never seems to so I always just do 5)
    – Put the jars in a cooler with hot water from the tap up to the same height as the yogurt in the jars. Our hot tap water seems to be about 115 most days, which is perfect.
    – I only leave it for about 4 hours before it’s done! Don’t check too often, the culture works best when undisturbed. Just pick a jar up after about 4 hours and tip it gently to see how thick things are.
    – Enjoy!

    We end up making a new batch every 3 weeks or so, but we have help eating it since we give our dog a few spoonfuls every day to help his digestion. The jars are key, because you only have to work on a quart at a time instead of a whole gallon. We also use skim milk and it’s just fine, although whole milk would be amazing!

  2. artsy

    Thanks Becca- this article flashed me back to my hippie restaurant days in the 70’s in Philly. I was in charge of making many gallons of homemade yogurt at a time, and we sold it both plain and fruit-sweetened. We used dry milk powder as well that made it thicker. One memorable time we had a lot of ripe persimmons that no one had used up yet so I made persimmon yogurt- unfortunately put just a bit too much nutmeg in, that made it rather inedible. We used the boiler room of the restaurant as a perfect warm spot to make the yogurt (covered of course to block dust from getting in).

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