How long does it take you to pour a gallon of milk into a slow cooker? That’s how much prep time is involved in making this gloriously thick, rich, creamy Easy Homemade Greek Yogurt!
Set aside everything you’ve been taught about the evils of full-fat dairy. It simply isn’t true. In fact, just the opposite is true. Research has been showing that eating full-fat dairy helps maintain a healthy weight and helps prevent chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes. For more info about this decades-long myth, now debunked, read Dr. Killebrew’s article, The Truth About Full-Fat Dairy.
Here is a simple-as-it-gets way of making your own Greek yogurt right at home at a fraction of the cost of store-bought. You’ll end up with almost 2 quarts of Greek yogurt (8 cups) for just the cost of a gallon of milk. With this recipe you can make your choice of either regular or Greek yogurt, the difference is simply dependent on how long you strain it. The longer you strain it, the more whey is removed, the thicker the yogurt becomes. It’s so easy to tailor it to your preferences. And the only items you need are whole milk, some plain yogurt to act as your starter culture (either a little from your previous batch or store-bought), and some cheesecloth. I find this particular cheesecloth is not only about the best deal, but also works very well for making yogurt.
You’ll also need an instant-read thermometer.
The other item you’ll need is a slow cooker. You can also use a heavy pot, but the slow cooker is much more convenient allowing you to step away from the kitchen for a couple of hours at a time rather than having to stand over the pot, constantly stirring. The slow cooker also helps prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom. The milk needs to be heated slowly so the enzymes and proteins aren’t destroyed, and the slow cooker is absolutely perfect for making homemade yogurt. Plus they’re fantastic for making a lot of other things, too. If you don’t already own there’s always an abundance of cheap ones at garage sales or here is the one that I use and love: The Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 7 Quart Slow Cooker. It’s large enough that I can cook anything I want in it and I can use it for smaller batches as well. It’s also conveniently transportable.
In case some of you are wondering the same thing I did when I first started making yogurt, let me address it: Virtually every yogurt-making recipe will tell you to heat the yogurt to 180 degrees F before bringing it back down to 110 degrees F to inoculate it with a starter culture. The question that may arise is, if I’m using pasteurized milk already do I need to heat it to 180 degrees or can I just skip that step? Here’s what I’ve learned: Heating it to 180 degrees isn’t for the purpose of killing any unwanted bacteria as much as it is for creating a thick texture. The heat changes the structure of the proteins in the milk and enables it to thicken into yogurt. I wanted to test that for myself and heated the milk to just a little over 110 degrees, added the starter culture, and proceeded from there. It hardly thickened at all. But when I heat it to 180 degrees first, then let it cool to 110 degrees before adding the starter, it thickens up beautifully every time.
When making homemade yogurt, you’ll always end up with some whey as a by-product. The longer you strain the yogurt, the thicker it will get, the more whey it will yield. If you strain the yogurt to full capacity for an extra thick Greek yogurt, you’ll end up with about 8 cups of whey, but every batch will be different.
What is whey? Whey is milk minus the fats and solids. It’s basically water with lactose and protein. And it’s the protein that’s the valuable ingredient here. Milk contains two types of protein, casein and whey. Most of the casein ends up in the yogurt and the whey is in the liquid by-product.
Is there a use for it? Yes!
Whey is a great source of protein and is used in powdered form in protein shakes and protein bars. You’ll find it listed among many ingredient lists. But how can you practically use it at home in its liquid form after you made your yogurt? Here are a few ideas:
* Use it in place of water when you’re making broth or soup for an extra rich broth.
* Use it in place of water for baking bread or pastries.
* Add it to your smoothies of an extra protein boost.
* If you keep a vegetable garden, use it lower the pH level of your soil if you’re growing things that prefer soil with a higher acidity level like tomatoes.
Also note that whey can be frozen for up to 6 months.
This recipe calls for a gallon of milk. You can certainly half the recipe if you prefer. But this yogurt keeps in the fridge for quite a while (up to 2 weeks) and depending on how much yogurt you eat in that time period, it’s worth it just to make a larger batch to begin with. And once you make a batch, you can reserve enough as the starter culture to make the next batch, and so on.
You’re going to love how rich and creamy this yogurt is. It’s almost like eating dessert!
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COOKING METHOD: You don’t have to use the slow cooker method. For a quicker method simply heat the milk in a large stock pot over low to medium heat. Just be sure to stir it regularly, especially as it gets hotter, to prevent the milk from scorching. Then follow the rest of the instructions as written.
TROUBLESHOOTING TIME: “My yogurt didn’t set and I have yogurt soup!” There may be an occasion or two when your yogurt doesn’t set properly. I’ve made probably close to 20 batches and fortunately it’s only happened to me once but it was nevertheless disappointing. The yogurt-making process involves fragile live bacteria. Many factors can be at play for a failed batch, anything from the first step to the last. The only thing to do is try again with a new batch. But don’t throw out that “yogurt soup”! Throughout Europe in addition to kefir you can get delicious plain and flavored yogurt drinks. You’re still getting the benefit of the good bacteria. Just stir in some flavored syrups (like Torani or anything else that will add a bit of sweetness and flavor) and enjoy!
Another favorite way to enjoy this yogurt is with some high quality vanilla bean paste. It’s thicker than vanilla extra, has vanilla bean flecks in it, and has a much stronger, richer flavor. It’s the preferred choice among professional chefs.
HOW MANY CALORIES AND HOW MUCH PROTEIN IS IN MY YOGURT? This is a question I get frequently so I’ll post my response here: Calorie count and protein content will depend on how much whey was removed in the straining process and there really isn’t a way to measure that. Even calories are hard guess because through the straining process the end product is much more condensed that the original milk. The best we can do is estimate.
Okay, let’s get started!
Pour the milk into the slow cooker and set it to HIGH.
Go about your business, it’ll take at least 2 hours before the temperature’s up to 180 degrees. An instant-read thermometer is the best kind to use to check the temperature.
Once the temperature is up to 180 degrees, turn off the slow cooker and let the milk cool to 110 degrees F. Again, go about your business, this will take at least another 2 hours.
Once the temperature is 110 degrees, mix a little of the warm milk into the room temperature starter yogurt, then gently but thoroughly stir it back into the milk using up and down, left and right motions (not circular). Close the lid.
Wrap a large bath towel around the slow cooker and let it sit undisturbed in a draft-free, room temperature (or warmer) area for 10-12 hours or overnight.
When you remove the lid you’ll find that the milk has thickened and the whey has separated.
Look at that fabulous thick texture! The transformation is almost magical. You’ll be so excited the first time you make this! I still get excited every time I lift the lid.
Line a colander with some cheesecloth.
Pour the yogurt into it. If it doesn’t all fit (depending on the size of your colander), let the yogurt strain until there’s room enough to add the remaining yogurt, then continue to strain.
Depending on how thick you want the yogurt, this will take several hours. For thick Greek yogurt, you’ll end up straining it for at least 4 hours. That will also depend on the gauge of the cheesecloth. Set the colander on top of a large glass bowl. If leaving it to strain for several hours, you can put it in the fridge if you prefer and let it strain there.
See the liquid in the glass bowl? That’s whey. Glorious protein.
And just look at that wonderful, thick yogurt! At this point it’s not even fully strained, it will get even thicker.
And there you have it. Deliciously thick and rich Greek yogurt!
Store the yogurt covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. When you’re ready to make another batch, use some of the previous batch for the starter culture.
If fully strained, you’ll end up with about 2 quarts (8 cups) of whey and 7-8 cups of Greek yogurt.
Cook with it, bake with it, eat it plain or with a variety of mix-ins, whatever your yogurt-loving heart desires! Enjoy!
- What you'll need:
- Slow cooker
- Instant read thermometer
- 1 gallon whole milk (see note about using raw milk)
- 1 cup plain yogurt at room temperature, either from previous batch or store-bought. (**The yogurt must have live cultures in it to work. Check the ingredients to make sure they include l. bulgaricus and s. thermophilus.)
- Pour the milk into a slow cooker set to HIGH and close the lid. It will take 2-3 hours before the temperature of the milk is up to 180 degrees F. Check it with an instant-read thermometer. Once it's at 180 degrees, turn off the slow cooker, close the lid, and let the milk cool to 110 degrees F. This will take another 2-3 hours. Once the temperature is between 110 and 115 degrees F, add some of the warm milk to the plain yogurt, stir to combine, and then gently but thoroughly stir the mixture back into the milk in the slow cooker using up and down, left and right motions (not circular). Close the lid.
- Wrap the slow cooker with a large bath towel and let it sit undisturbed in a non-drafty place at room temperature or warmer for 10-12 hours or overnight. The milk will have thickened and the whey will have started separating from the milk.
- Line a colander with a cheesecloth and pour the yogurt into it. Set the colander over a large glass bowl and let it strain at room temperature for several hours, until you've achieved the desired thickness (length of straining time will also depend on the gauge of the cheesecloth.) For thick Greek yogurt plan on at least 4 hours. You'll end up with about 8 cups of whey and 7-8 cups of Greek yogurt.
- Store the yogurt in the fridge in an airtight container, preferably a glass bowl for up to 2 weeks. When ready to make another batch of yogurt, use a cup of the previous batch as the starter culture.
- The whey can be reserved for a variety of purposes (see recipe post for some ideas).
***You don't have to use the slow cooker method. For a quicker method simply heat the milk in a large stock pot over low to medium heat. Just be sure to stir it regularly, especially as it gets hotter, to prevent the milk from scorching. Then follow the rest of the instructions as written.