Sneak Peek: Learn how to make Greek yogurt (aka Greek yoghurt) at home with this simple Greek yogurt recipe. No special equipment needed. Check out the step-by-step instructions and pictures. FAQ included for troubleshooting.
Making yogurt is not as complicated as you imagine. Follow my recipe and before you know it, you’ll be turning cartwheels over your first successful batch of Greek yogurt.
You don’t need a yogurt maker, an expensive incubator, or yards of cheesecloth.
The most important tools are persistence, patience, and an appreciation for live cultures. (Beginners will also find a quick-read thermometer indispensable–more about that later.)
What’s the difference between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt?
Greek yogurt is regular yogurt minus part of the whey. Whey is the yellowish liquid you see collecting on top of yogurt. In many parts of the world, Greek yogurt is called “strained yogurt.”
More differences between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt:
- Thicker than regular yogurt
- Higher in protein and lower in sugar than regular yogurt
- Contains more fat (unless you make it with non-fat milk) than regular yogurt
The simplest way to make Greek yogurt is by straining off the whey from regular yogurt. Some companies add gelatin, rennet, or other mystery ingredients to make it thick. The result is often an inferior (and cheaper) product.
Something else to note from Healthline: “Because the straining process reduces the total volume, Greek yogurt takes significantly more milk than regular yogurt to make a batch of the same size.”
How long does it take to make yogurt?
Now that I have my system down, actual hands-on time is less than 15 minutes.
But there is hands-off time.
- Heating and cooling the milk: 1-2 hours
- Incubation period: 5-10+ hours
- Straining yogurt: 1-3 hours
Adding up those hours sounds like an all-day affair. But it’s like doing the laundry. You learn how to weave it into your schedule.
Do I need a yogurt maker to make yogurt?
A yogurt maker is easy and foolproof. Not a bad thing, especially for beginners.
All yogurt makers are not alike.
Yogurt makers set up to incubate individual servings are not practical for Greek yogurt since it needs to be strained. Quart-size and larger yogurt makers are better for Greek yogurt lovers.
In the end, you don’t need a yogurt maker at all. The directions given here will show you how to make large and small batches with no special equipment.
Will these directions work for nut or grain milks?
No. The process is somewhat different and usually requires a special starter.
How to make yogurt at home:
Step 1: Fill a heat-safe container with milk.
For 2 quarts of milk, heating will probably take between 15-19 minutes in the microwave depending on the wattage of your oven. Check the temperature towards the end until you know how long it takes in your microwave.
You can also heat the milk on the stove. Keep the heat turned down to avoid scorching. Stir frequently.
No matter how you heat the milk, avoid boiling. But if your milk does boil, carry on. It will probably be OK.
What about using an Instant Pot?
Some people like to use their Instant Pot to heat and incubate the milk. That’s fine if you don’t mind babysitting the process.
- The size of your pot will limit the amount of yogurt you can make.
- Whenever I’ve tried this, I end up needing my Instant Pot to fix dinner. (Is this is related to Murphy’s law?)
Can I skip the heating step since my milk is pasteurized?
The milk has already been sterilized. The purpose of heating is to unravel the proteins and enable 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.
Step 3: Let the milk cool down.
The temperature of the milk needs to drop back to somewhere between 100-110˚F.
Milk that is too hot when you go to the next step, will kill the little yogurt bodies in the starter. Not good.
Cooling times will vary depending on the volume and type of container holding the heated milk. Use a quick-read thermometer to check the temp.
Hot Tip: If you are in a hurry, fill your sink or a tub with water and set the container of milk down into it. Add some ice once the milk cools down a bit.
If you let the temperature slide down to 80 or 90˚ F, don’t worry. Add your starter and proceed as usual.
The yogurt-making party will be delayed until the temperature returns to 100-110˚F.
Gently heat the milk back to 100˚ F if you don’t want to wait or if your incubation system doesn’t have a steady heat source.
Looks like the temperature of this milk has come back to 105˚F. We are ready for the next step.
Step 4: Add starter to the cooled milk.
More answers to common questions about yogurt starters:
1. What’s a starter?
A starter contains live yogurt microbes. No starter? No yogurt.
2. Can I use a jar of my favorite yogurt from the store?
- Yes, if it’s unflavored, fresh, and contains live cultures (little yogurt bodies).
- Avoid yogurt with additives such as gelatin or other thickeners. They can cause a grainy texture.
- If you can’t find unflavored yogurt, vanilla-flavored will usually work. Not my first choice.
3. What’s the difference between using yogurt from the store and freeze-dried starter?
- Unflavored yogurt from the store:
- Easily available in almost every grocery store.
- It’s generally inexpensive
- Usually good for 3-4 generations or more.
- Freeze-dried yogurt starter (aka “traditional starter”) comes in a foil packet and costs more. It’s available online, in health food stores, or specialty supermarkets like Sprouts.
- A traditional starter is hardier than highly engineered commercial yogurt. It’s easier to ward off “wild yeast” that can mess up your yogurt.
- A traditional starter is more complicated to use for a beginner. Expect the first batch to be thin. (Follow the directions that come with the starter.)
- Subsequent batches will be thicker as the yogurt bodies ramp up to their full potential.
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, 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. Make a fresh batch every 7-10 days for the best results.
5. Do I have to warm up the starter before adding it to my cooled-down milk?
Not really. Little yogurt bodies don’t seem to mind jumping straight off the diving board into warm milk. I’ve made hundreds of batches of yogurt using a refrigerator-cold 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. Greek yogurt starts life as regular yogurt.
Use a generous tablespoon of yogurt starter per quart of milk. Don’t fall for the idea that more is better. Yogurt bodies are big eaters and don’t like to be crowded.
Step 5: Cover milk (loosely) and incubate.
Incubate inoculated milk for 5-10 hours. Whatever system you use must hold the temperature steady at 100-110˚F.
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.
What is the best method to incubate yogurt?
Short answer: Whatever will hold your milk at a steady 100-110˚F.
Long answer: The possibilities are numerous depending on how your kitchen is set up, the equipment you already own, and how much milk you are trying to incubate at once.
See this post about the varied and creative ways my readers incubate their yogurt. Ideas include:
- Set your oven on the “dehydrate” or “bread proof” setting
- Wrapping the warm milk in a blanket and set inside an ice chest
- Run your oven at 350˚F for 1 minute, then turn off. Wrap warm milk in a towel and set it inside the oven.
- For smaller amounts, some people use a thermos.
- Use your instant pot on the yogurt setting (see the manual–instructions vary)
- Wrap your milk in a towel and set it on a heating pad.
- Buy an electric bread-proofing box.
- Find a warm place in your house such as on top of the water heater.
HOT TIP: When trying out a new method, check the temperature periodically to make sure it is neither too cool nor too warm. Set a cup of water next to the milk and check the water, not the milk.
How long does yogurt need to incubate?
It depends…(Don’t you hate that answer?)
- Do you prefer tart or mild yogurt? The longer you incubate, the more tart your yogurt will be. I usually incubate for 4-6 hours because I prefer mild yogurt. Some people incubate as long as 24 hours when they are concerned about lactose.
What is the best temperature for incubation?
- 100-110˚F is optimal. A half-gallon of milk with a fresh and vigorous starter will set in 4-1/2 to 6 hours. The yogurt will taste mild. Incubate longer for a tarter flavor.
- The hotter the temp, the quicker your yogurt will set, and the tarter your yogurt will taste.
- Note that temperatures closer to 115˚F have a downside:
- The higher the incubation temperature, the more chance of “skin” forming across the top.
- You may see excessive whey on top. Strain it off if you don’t want to stir it back in. (See directions below.)
- Go much higher than 115˚F and the little yogurt bodies will die.
Step 6: When yogurt is set, remove it 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 — like jello. If you take a spoonful 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 and yellowish liquid on top called “whey.” That’s normal. 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) by straining it.
How to make Greek yogurt from regular yogurt:
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 want.
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 any whey that drains off.
The time required to make Greek yogurt will vary according to your method of straining and how thick you prefer your yogurt. The longer you strain, the thicker the yogurt.
If the yogurt has not been fermented properly, it will be difficult to strain. When yogurt is too thin, it will immediately run through the cheesecloth or a pouch. When using a coffee filter, it may just sit there. Read this post about yogurt fails for what to do next.
Should I refrigerate Greek yogurt while I’m straining it?
Some people say the yogurt should sit in a refrigerator 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: What should I do with the whey?
Step 4: If desired, whisk Greek yogurt until creamy smooth.
Strained yogurt usually looks curdled like cottage cheese. That’s normal. You can chill and eat as is or whisk it.
When chilled, the texture should feel smooth on your tongue. If it doesn’t, see the troubleshooting guide below.
Beat strained yogurt with a big whisk until the lumps disappear. If you are doing a large amount, try using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Immersion blenders are too harsh and will make the texture almost runny.
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 extra hints.
Check the label for active cultures when buying from the store.
Did it incubate long enough?
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.
Do you feel little bits of “skin” on your tongue when you eat your yogurt?
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 skin from forming in the first place. None work without a lot 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.
See this post for what to do with a failed batch of yogurt. Don’t throw it out yet.
If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me privately: paula at saladinajar.com.
Hope to see you again soon!