Canning dill pickles is a process that may take much practice before achieving the best results, but there are several things a canner can do to ensure that the pickles are preserved as well as possible. It is always important to use the correct type of cucumbers, jars, pickling salts, and lids when canning pickles at home. The pickles must also be stored for a certain amount of time before eating to provide the best flavor. The brine used with the cucumbers will also have an impact on the flavor of the canned pickles.
When canning dill pickles, only firm and bumpy cucumbers should be used. Mature cucumbers are better for bread-and-butter pickles and will not yield the best-tasting dill pickles, so they should be avoided. Gherkin cucumbers are commonly used for canning dill pickles, and are best used when they are about 1 inch (2.54 cm) in size. Bigger cucumbers can be used, but should not exceed 4 inches (10.16 cm) in length. Smooth cucumbers that do not have bumps should never be used when canning pickles.
Only canning jars with self-sealing lids should be used for preserving foods. Jars, lids, and cans should be sterilized before use to avoid contamination. This can be done by boiling the jars and lids in water, or washing them with hot water and soap. All soap residue needs to be completely rinsed away before canning the vegetables, as well. After washing and sterilizing, the jars and lids should be wiped dry before use.
Although any salt can be used, a pickling or canning salt will likely give better results. Table salt will not affect flavor, but can discolor the cucumbers during fermentation. It is also best to boil water if it is hard, as the minerals in hard water can affect the flavor and fermentation process. If water is soft, there is no need to boil it as it will not have a negative impact on how the dill pickles cure.
Either white or dark vinegar may be used when canning dill pickles at home, but the vinegar should have the correct amount of acidity. It is best to use a vinegar with at least 5 percent acidity, and to always use enough vinegar. Using less vinegar than recommended can cause spoilage and may negatively influence how the pickles taste. Dill weed sprigs, garlic cloves, and other spices and herbs can be added to the brine and will supply more flavor to homemade dill pickles.
Homemade pickles will yield the best flavor when stored for 4 to 6 weeks. The pickles may be stored longer, but opening the jar too soon will not allow them enough time to ferment and cure. After opening, the jar of pickles should be refrigerated as they will keep much longer this way.