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Can I make yogurt with common household equipment?

I recently saw that a friend got a second yogurt maker. I hadn’t heard of such a device and I envisioned something like a bread maker where you put in all the ingredients and some time later you have yogurt. After some research I found that yogurt making is a simple process. Heat milk to 185 degrees F, cool it to 110 degrees F, add cultures from starter or live culture yogurt, and keep it between 105 and 112 degrees F for at least 7 hours. The yogurt maker handles that last part, which is the part I’d need to replicate.

My first thought was to check the oven. It goes down as low as 80 degrees F (great for letting dough rise). The oven doesn’t have every 5 degree interval on it, instead having every common temperature. Unfortunately getting yogurt cultures to do their thing didn’t make the cut. The oven jumps from 80 to 100 to 125.

The next idea was to use the induction cooktop. The cooktop can go way below normal settings you would get on a gas cooktop unless it is the really old kind that has the always-on pilot light.

In all of these cases you need the milk and cultures in the container with a lid on. I used a remote bbq thermometer in the pot to measure the temperature. First up was a quart of water in the tall sauce pan on the lowest setting. The remote thermometer showed it climbing well over 115 in no time.

Next I decided to try half a gallon in a large sauce pan. The climbing temperatures were slower but they also passed 115 without too much time passed.

I then decided I needed more surface area to dissipate heat so the big skillet was up next. Luckily I could just dump this water from one vessel to the next for each test. On this one the temperature dropped the most before the heat was once again applied so maybe it would work. Unfortunately this one had the fastest climbing temperature. Yes there was more area to eliminate heat, but there was also a lot more area to absorb heat!

I thought I was out of luck when I remembered the cast-iron wok. It has a small area base and a wide open top, perfect! I put two sheets of foil on top for my lid and after heating in a slow climb the temperature held steady at 114 degrees F. Figuring there must be a way to make it work I reconfigured the foil into a a very crude cone with an opening in the top. After some more tweaking I got it to stay steady at 107 degrees F for 45 minutes!

So, can I make yogurt? Probably. I think that it would have an iron flavor to it by the time the batch was done though. Also there’s a significant setup time needed for that foil cone to see if it is just right. It’s probably better off to get a yogurt maker.

Other things to try:

  • We have a portable induction cooktop that might be able to go lower, but probably not.
  • Using a mason jar in a water bath. An uncovered pot might be able to keep the temperature low enough.

4 Responses to “Can I make yogurt with common household equipment?”

  1. 1
    Eric Says:

    This Harold McGee article may be of interest to you:

  2. 2
    Eric Says:

    Here’s the most relevant bit:

    “Then put the milk in a warm jar or container or an insulated bottle, cover it, and keep the milk still and warm until it sets, usually in about four hours. I simply swaddle my quart jar in several kitchen towels. You can also put the container in an oven with the light bulb on.”

  3. 3
    Shelley Says:

    The answer is yes, Alton Brown did a segment on Letterman a few years back demonstrating it (starts at 3:00):

    Contains spoilers if you are determined to figure it out for yourself 😉

  4. 4
    Douglas Says:

    Eric: That’s a good article. I also found a number of people who put some warm things in a cooler to keep it all warm for 5 hours or so. I could also put it in the oven and stop the pre-heating at an appropriate temperature. That would give me a couple of hours in the right range before I had to pre-heat again but that requires keeping track. I can’t have the oven light on without the oven.

    Shelley: That’s a great video and the heating pad trick he shows is a good one. I don’t think I would have thought of that since I have no heating pad at home.

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