Learn how to make Greek Yogurt (aka yoghurt) at home with these simple instructions. The magical process is entirely doable for most cooks in the average home kitchen. I predict you’ll be turning cartwheels after your first successful batch.
Updated March 2020
In addition to eating lettuce vacuum-packed in a jar, Greek yogurt is one of my favorite weapons in the war against extra pounds. It is a filling “dessert” I look forward to eating every evening after dinner.
How long does it take to make yogurt?
Does it seem like a lot of work? Now that I have my system down, actual hands-on time is less than 15 minutes.
HOWEVER, there is hands-off time. Heating and cooling the milk can take 1-2 hours depending on your method and quantity of milk. Then there is the incubation period of 5-10+ hours. If you want Greek yogurt, straining will take from 1-3 hours.
Once you become familiar with the process, you’ll figure it out. It’s like doing the laundry. You weave it into your schedule.
Do I need a yogurt maker to make yogurt?
The yogurt maker is easy and foolproof. Not all, but most of them only make individual servings. They are not practical for making Greek yogurt since yogurt needs to be strained after the yogurt is set.
The directions given here and shown in the video are perfect for making family-sized batches.
Will these directions work for a nut or grain milk?
No. The process is somewhat different and usually requires a special starter.
How To Make Yogurt
Step 1: Fill a heat-safe container with milk.
Use a microwave-safe glass pitcher for the microwave or a large pan if you’re heating the milk on top of the stove.
For 2 quarts of milk, heating will probably take between 15-19 minutes in the microwave depending on the wattage of your oven.
You can also heat the milk on the stove. Keep the heat moderately low to avoid scorching and stir frequently.
What about using an Instant Pot?
Some people like to use their Instant Pot to heat and incubate the milk. It works great if you don’t mind babysitting the process a little and don’t need your pressure cooker to make dinner tonight.
The downside? You are limited by the size of your pot as to how much yogurt you can make at one time.
Why you should not skip the heating step:
Heating is essential to unravel the proteins so they will behave during the incubation process. The result? Thicker yogurt.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you use ULTRA-FILTERED milk (such as Fairlife), you do not need to heat it. Some people call this the “cold-start” method.
A thermometer will ensure you get the temperatures correct.
Step 3: Let the milk cool down.
The temperature of the milk needs to drop back to somewhere between 100-110˚F.
If the milk is too hot when you go to the next step, it will kill the yogurt starter. The result will be milk at the end of the incubation period.
The cooling time will vary depending on the volume and type of milk container. Use a quick-read thermometer to check if you’re not sure. If you are in a hurry, fill your sink or a large bowl with ice water and set the container of milk down into it.
If you let the temperature slide down to 80 or 90˚ F, don’t worry. Add your starter and proceed as normal. It will simply take a bit longer for the yogurt babies to start the party. Or, you can gently heat the milk back to 100˚ F if you’re in a hurry.
Looks like the temperature of this milk has come back to 105˚F. We are ready for the next step.
Step 4: Whisk 1-2 tablespoons of starter into the cooled milk.
Add a small amount of cooled milk to a spoonful of “starter.” Whisk until smooth.
Stir the starter into the cooled milk.
Let’s talk about the yogurt starter.
1. What is a starter?
A starter contains live cultures, whether present in edible yogurt (homemade or commercially-sold) or freeze-dried form. It must be added to heated and cooled milk to make yogurt out of milk.
2. Can I use a jar of my favorite yogurt at the store?
Yes, if it’s unflavored. However, the yogurt should be very fresh and contain live cultures, but no additives such as gelatin or fillers.
If you can’t find unflavored, the vanilla-flavored yogurt will usually work. Not my first choice.
3. What is the difference between using commercially-processed yogurt from the store and a traditional starter, usually sold in a freeze-dried form?
This is a big topic, but let me try to make it easy.
- Freeze-dried yogurt starter (also called “traditional”) comes in a foil packet and will probably be more expensive. It’s available online and sometimes in health food or specialty grocery stores.
- A traditional starter is hardier than highly engineered commercial yogurt. It’s easier to ward off “wild yeast” that can mess up your yogurt.
- This type of yogurt starter is slightly more complicated to use for a beginner. The first batch will probably be thin. (Follow the directions that come with the starter.) Batches that follow will set to a thicker consistency as the yogurt bodies ramp up to their full potential.
- Commercially-made unflavored yogurt is easily available in every grocery store.
4. Can I use yogurt from a previous batch of homemade yogurt?
Yes, as long as it is not more than a week to 10 days old. If you are using commercial yogurt for a starter, I recommend you buy a new “starter” yogurt from the store every 3-4 batches.
“Traditional yogurt starter” can be used over and over (some people say years) if you make a fresh batch every 7-10 days.
5. Do I have to warm up the starter before adding it to my cooled-down milk?
No. I’ve seen many tutorials that tell you to let your starter come to room temperature. However, little yogurt bodies don’t seem to mind jumping straight off the diving board into warm milk as long as it is less than 115˚ F. I’ve made 100’s of batches of successful yogurt using a straight-out-of-the-fridge starter.
6. If I want to make Greek yogurt, do I have to use Greek yogurt as my starter or will regular unflavored yogurt work?
No. It doesn’t matter. The only difference between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt is that the former has been strained to make it thicker.
Step 5: Loosely cover milk and incubate.
Incubate inoculated milk for 5-10 hours at 100-110˚ F. Whatever system you use needs to hold the temperature steady.
WARNING: This step is where many people go off the rails. If your incubation system gets too hot, you’ll kill the little yogurt bodies. If the milk doesn’t stay warm enough, nothing much will happen.
Either way, the result will be milk, not yogurt. If that happens, you can find out what to do with failed yogurt here.
How long does yogurt need to incubate?
- Do you want it to be tart or mild? The longer you incubate, the more tart your yogurt will be. I usually incubate for 5-6 hours. Some people go as long as 24 hours.
- What temperature is your incubation system? The hotter it is, the quicker your yogurt will set and the more tart your yogurt will taste.
- But there’s a trade-off. The higher the incubation temperature, the more chance of “skin” forming across the top.
- You will also see excessive whey. Strain it off if you don’t want to stir it back in. (See directions below.) Go much higher than 112-115˚F and the little yogurt bodies will die.
- I find 100˚F to be optimal. A half-gallon of milk with a fresh and vigorous starter will set in 5-6 hours. The yogurt will taste mild.
Step 6: When yogurt is set, remove from incubation.
How can I tell if the yogurt is set?
Good question and for some, the hardest part of the entire process. You will learn from experience when it “looks right.”
Finished yogurt should look set–as in gelatinous-looking, even though you have added no gelatin to the milk. If you take a spoon full out of the middle, it should stand up on its own.
What is the watery liquid I see on top?
There may be a watery, slightly yellow liquid on top called “whey.” That’s OK. Pour off the whey or stir it back in–your choice.
If you pour it off and want to save it, here are some ideas for what to do with fresh yogurt whey.
Step 7: Chill yogurt or strain it for thicker Greek yogurt.
At this point, you could chill the yogurt for 2-3 hours before eating it. Or, you can make it thicker (Greek yogurt) and strain it.
How to make Greek yogurt from regular yogurt
Line a colander with a pouch (or cheesecloth or coffee filter).
Yogurt will “break” when you spoon it out of the original bowl. Don’t worry if it looks more like cottage cheese.
Step 2: Let the yogurt drain until it is as thick as the way you dream about it.
If using a pouch, you can pull the bag tight and hang it. If using cheesecloth or a coffee filter, set the lined colander back over the original bowl to catch the whey (seen in the bottom of the Pyrex pitcher) that drains off.
Strain yogurt until it is reduced by approximately a third to a half. The time required will vary according to your method and how thick and tart you prefer your yogurt.
Should I refrigerate yogurt while I’m straining it?
Some people feel the yogurt should be refrigerated while it is straining. But who has room in their refrigerator for that? Another 2-3 hours sitting on the counter won’t hurt your yogurt (or you.) The acidic nature of yogurt protects against spoilage.
Step 3: Separate the strained yogurt from the strainer and into the original bowl.
Empty the golden liquid you collected and dispose of it. Or store this whey in the fridge and make good use of it later.
It may look curdled like cottage cheese. That’s normal. You can chill and eat as is or proceed to step 4 and whip it. When chilled the texture should feel smooth on your tongue. If it doesn’t, see the troubleshooting guide below.
Step 4: If desired, process Greek yogurt until creamy smooth.
Use a good whisk to beat until the lumps disappear. If you are doing a large amount, try using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
Before going to step 5 below, remember to save a small portion of unflavored yogurt to use as a starter for your next batch.
Step 5: Add flavoring.
Now is the appropriate time to add any fruit, flavorings, or sweeteners. The yogurt may appear thinner than you hoped at this point. Forge on. It will thicken up when chilled.
Don’t be discouraged if at first, you don’t succeed.
Check out the troubleshooting guide below and try again. If you have time, reading through the comments may give you some additional hints.
Yogurt Troubleshooting Guide
Temperatures above 120˚ F will murder the yogurt beasties, and your yogurt experiment will be over.
Heat above 170˚ F but not over 200˚ F. Try not to allow your milk to boil. It’s not ruined if you do, but it can affect the texture. I recommend you carry on.
Does your “system” maintain an even temperature? Is it too warm or not warm enough? The temperature needs to stay consistently between 100˚ and 105˚ F.
Don’t mess with the little yogurt bodies, or they will quit on you. If and when you stir the yogurt, the fun is over! Be careful not to move the bowl too vigorously.
Whether you are using yogurt from the store or homemade yogurt, the fresher the better. If using homemade yogurt as your starter, try to use it within 7 days.
Check the label for active cultures when buying from the store.
The time required for yogurt to set can vary. I usually incubate yogurt for about 5 hours. 12-14 hours may be necessary if your incubation situation is not optimal. Sidenote: The longer you incubate, the sourer your yogurt will taste.
Only a generous tablespoon or two per 2 quarts of milk is necessary. More is not better. Yogurt bacteria do not like to be overcrowded. Read this post if you’re confused about how much starter you really need.
You may have missed some skin attached to the side of the bowl as the milk was cooling.
I’ve tried several methods to prevent a skin from forming in the first place, but none work without quite a bit of stirring at the right times. The easiest way in my book is to remove it once–right before you are ready to add the starter.
If the possibility of bits of milk-skin bothers you, check out the cold-start method of making yogurt.
If your yogurt failed, and you want to try again with the same milk, see the post below.
Not working out for you? Email me or leave a question in the comments.
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If you have a question or tip to share, please leave it in the regular comments after the recipe so I can answer back. Or, email me privately: paula at saladinajar.com.
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- 2 quarts dairy milk (fat-free, 2% or whole milk)
- 1-2 tablespoons yogurt (commercial or your own homemade)
- Fill a Pyrex 2-qt microwave-safe bowl or pitcher with milk. Alternatively, pour milk into a heavy-duty pot to heat on the stove.
- Heat in microwave until bubbles begin to appear around the edge. The temperature should reach 170-180˚F after you stir it. (In my microwave, it takes 17 minutes on HIGH). Check at 15 minutes.
- If a skin forms, remove it.
- Allow your milk to cool until temperature drops to between 100-110˚F.
- Whisk in 1-2 tablespoons of fresh unflavored yogurt as a starter. You may use yogurt from a previous batch of your own homemade yogurt.
- Cover the milk and place it in a warm environment where the temperature stays around 100-105˚F.
- Allow the inoculated milk to incubate for 4-8+ hours or until set.
- At this point, you could chill the yogurt and eat as is. Or you can decide whether to pour off the whey or stir it back in. Straining yogurt to make it thicker will result in Greek yogurt.
From regular yogurt to Greek yogurt
- Very carefully pour yogurt into a bouillon strainer aka chinois. If the mesh is fine enough, you won't need to use a cheesecloth or paper towel. Or use a Kleynhuis pouch or a commercial size paper coffee filter inside a cheap strainer.
- Let yogurt sit in the strainer until the yogurt is reduced by approximately a third. Time will vary according to the thickness of the yogurt out of the oven and your own preference regarding texture and sourness.
- Empty whey from batter bowl and pour yogurt out of strainer back into the original bowl. Use a good whisk or an immersion blender to beat until smooth. Thin with milk or leftover whey if yogurt is too thick.
- This is a good time to add any flavorings or sweeteners if desired.
Nutritionals are only an estimate. Numbers will vary according to how much you strain your yogurt.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 servings Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 151Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 25mgSodium: 107mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 0gSugar: 13gProtein: 8g
Here is a YouTube video I made a long time ago about making yogurt. I’m including it per reader requests.