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The Best Yogurt Is Homemade

By Lan Lam and Paul Adams Published

DIY yogurt has an incomparably fresh, milky taste—and it’s entirely customizable. Whether you like it mild or tart, creamy or lean, our foolproof method has you covered.

The genesis of yogurt was likely accidental: Historians envision a serendipitous union of raw goat’s, sheep’s, or cow’s milk and wild bacteria, left by happenstance to sour in the hot sun. The tart and creamy living food tasted great, kept longer without refrigeration than fresh milk, and could be consumed in many ways. 

That yogurt was a far cry from today’s commercial offerings. If you want full control over the finished product—pure, undoctored cultured dairy of the highest quality (no stabilizers, sweeteners, or additives)—as well as the ability to control the fat content, sourness level, and consistency, consider making yogurt at home.

Our streamlined process demands little effort, just time, and our ingredient recommendations and oven incubation setup (as well as our sous vide variation) guarantee a milky, silky delight. Along the way, you’ll be rewarded with the satisfaction (and fun!) of witnessing natural fermentation.   

What You’ll Need

  • Ultra-pasteurized milk

    Ultra-pasteurized milk leads to yogurt with a thick, uniform texture; it also saves time and effort. To understand, look at the usual first step in yogurt making: heating milk to 160 degrees or above. Along with killing unwanted microbes, this changes the milk’s protein structure and gives the yogurt body. The scalding temperature affects the consistency of the final product. Lower temperatures produce a runnier gel, while higher ones make a thicker gel but can lead to separate curds and lots of whey if some of the proteins overcook. The ideal creamy, homogeneous texture is achieved when the milk is given only a very short, uniform exposure to high heat—which, as it happens, is how ultra-pasteurized milk is treated: It’s heated to 275 degrees for less than 5 seconds and then rapidly chilled. 

  • Store-bought Plain Yogurt

    Use any commercial yogurt made with live, active cultures to initiate fermentation. Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus are the two (symbiotic) species of lactic acid bacteria mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because they “characterize yogurt”; almost all yogurts also contain other species and strains. 

  • Equipment

    You’ll need two 1-quart glass Mason jars with metal lids to contain the yogurt while it incubates in hot water; one large saucepan; and two large pots (one with a lid) that will fit in your oven at the same time. A funnel is helpful for transferring the yogurt to the jars.

The Journey from Milk to Yogurt

1. HEAT: Warm milk on the stovetop until it reaches 115 degrees, an ideal temperature for bacterial proliferation.
2. INOCULATE: Thoroughly whisk store-bought yogurt into the warm milk to begin the process of fermentation. Transfer the mixture to Mason jars.

3. INCUBATE: Hold the milk mixture at a warm temperature to allow microbes in the starter to digest lactose (milk sugar) in the milk and produce lactic acid, creating tartness and causing the protein to gradually coagulate and form a gel. Do this by submerging the jars in a large pot of 120-degree water. Place the pot in a turned-off oven (with the light on) along with a second, lidded pot of boiling water. The second pot will emit heat so that it takes several hours for the oven temperature to fall from 115 to 100 degrees (the range where fermentation takes place).

How to Customize 

Making yogurt that you’ll love begins with choosing a starter yogurt that you enjoy. Any variety (whole milk, Greek, Icelandic, etc.) will do the job, but keep in mind that different brands use different combinations of bacteria, and this accounts for variability in flavors ranging from buttery to cheesy to tangy to mild; textures can be firm, thin, gelatinous, ropy, or custardy. These qualities will transfer to your finished yogurt. 

Then there’s the milk. Any type (whole, low-fat, or skim) will work, but the more fat your milk contains, the richer your yogurt will be and the more structure it will have. 

And yet, the starter and milk are only the beginning. Here are more ways to create a truly artisanal yogurt to suit your personal tastes.  

Tweak the Consistency

Add Flavorings

EXTRACT

Stir ¼ teaspoon extract (we like vanilla or almond) into milk along with starter. 

SWEETENER

Garnish individual servings with white or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, or fruit jam. 

Control Sourness and Thickness

Adjust the incubation time to produce the effect you desire: The longer yogurt ferments, the more lactic acid is produced, and the more sour and thick it becomes. Chilling stops fermentation and allows the gel to set fully (it will loosen when stirred or served).

 

Extra-tart yogurt is great for making frozen yogurt.  

Recipe Homemade Yogurt

DIY yogurt has an incomparably fresh, milky taste—and it’s entirely customizable. Whether you like it mild or tart, creamy or lean, our foolproof method has you covered.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.