Classic Vinegar-Brined Pickle Recipe

Once you taste the flavorful results of simple brine and mix-and-match spices, this will become the only pickle spear recipe you ever use.

| July/August

Photo by Adobe Stock/Michelle

This tangy white-vinegar-brined pickle is a versatile template for all your cucumber pickle fantasies. It can be left plain, or seasoned the way you like it, and it’s the only pickle spear recipe you’ll ever need. Try different brine combinations, and add less dill or more hot peppers and garlic, or even horseradish.


  • Basic Brine recipe (below), doubled
  • 4 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 2-1/2 to 3 pounds fresh, small or medium pickling cucumbers
  • 2 to 4 small fresh grape leaves, or 6 to 8 raspberry or blackberry leaves

Optional seasonings; use them all or just one:

  • 4 to 8 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • 8 fresh dill fronds or 4 teaspoons dried dill
  • 4 to 6 teaspoons dried dill seeds
  • 2 teaspoons celery seed
  • 2 to 4 small hot peppers or 2 teaspoons chili flakes
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar


  1. Combine the brine, peppercorns, and mustard seeds in a medium-sized stainless steel pot, and bring to a simmer.
  2. Lightly wash the cucumbers to remove any dirt, and trim a sliver off the blossom end. Halve small cucumbers lengthwise, and quarter medium-sized cucumbers if needed to make uniform pickle sizes.
  3. Evenly divide the grape leaves and any additional seasonings into hot, clean jars. Pack the cucumbers tightly into the jars, standing them on end, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. (They’ll loosen once they’re pickled, as the moisture is pulled from the cucumbers.)
  4. Pour hot brine over the cucumbers using a canning funnel and staying mindful of the headspace. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims, and apply the lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner or steam canner for 15 minutes. Cool and check jars for lid seal.

Yields 2 quarts.

Basic Brine Recipe

Brines have an optimal balance of acids to keep preserved pickles safe while also preventing the sourness from overpowering the fresh produce and seasonings. Use a vinegar of at least 5 percent acidity. If you like a stronger tang, replace up to 1/2 cup of the water with more vinegar. If you prefer less of a bite to your pickle, you can safely add a sweetener; start with 1 to 2 tablespoons to take the edge off. To prepare this brine, simply bring the ingredients to a simmer before use. It makes enough brine for one quart jar or two pint jars.

You can substitute apple cider vinegar for the white vinegar here, if preferred. You can also replace up to 1/2 cup of water with brewed tea, apple cider, hard cider, beer, rum, tequila, whiskey, or bourbon; or even try substituting a few tablespoons of the water with mezcal or another strongly flavored liquor.

  • 1-1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Basic pickling spice, black pepper, chili flakes, curry spice, fresh ginger, fresh herbs of choice, fresh turmeric, garlic, hot peppers, masala spice, mustard seeds, and/or onion, to taste

For more unique pickling recipes, see:

Tamika Adjemian is a recipe developer and Master Food Preserver. Find her on Instagram @TamikaAdjemian. This is an excerpt from her new book, Pickled to Please.

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