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How To Make Homemade Greek Yogurt

Learn how to make Homemade Greek Yogurt (aka yoghurt) 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

Homemade  Greek yogurt with cherries and blueberries

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, you also need to allow for heating and cooling the milk (1-2 hours depending on how you are heating it and the volume of milk), the incubation period (5-10+ hours) and straining (1-3 hours if you want Greek yogurt).

Do I need a yogurt maker to make yogurt?

The yogurt maker is easy and foolproof. 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.

choosing a microwave-safe pyrex pitcher to heat milk

Use a microwave-safe glass pitcher for the microwave or a large pan.

Step 2: Heat milk.

Heat the milk to between 170˚ and 180˚ degrees F. A quick-read thermometer like this one or this smaller and cheaper model (paid links) helps to make sure you don’t mess up this important step

heating milk in a microwave oven

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.

checking temperature with a thermometer

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.

Don’t panic!

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.

checking cool-down temperature with a thermometer

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 cooled milk.

Add a small amount of cooled milk to a spoonful of “starter.” Whisk until smooth.

Stirring yogurt starter into milk

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 not over 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.

incubating yogurt in a conventional oven at 100 degrees 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.

How long does yogurt need to incubate?

It depends…

  • 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.

determining when yogurt is set with a spoon

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

Step 1: Transfer yogurt into a strainer.

Cheesecloth is the traditional way to strain yogurt. In my opinion, there are better options. Check out these posts about using coffee filters, a fine mesh colander, or a yogurt pouch.

straining yogurt with a nut pouch or yogurt bag

Line a colander with a pouch (or cheesecloth or coffee filter).

yogurt at the beginning of straining process

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.

straining yogurt with a yogurt pouch

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.

whey drained from homemade yogurt to make the yogurt thicker

Empty the golden liquid you collected and dispose of it. Or store this whey in the fridge and make good use of it later.

strained yogurt before whippoing

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

whisking yogurt with a whisk

Use a good whisk to beat until smooth. If you are doing a large amount, try using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.

Important Reminder

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

Did the milk cool down below 110˚ F?

Temperatures above 120˚ F will murder the yogurt beasties, and your yogurt experiment will be over.

Did you heat the milk sufficiently?

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.

How did you incubate your yogurt?

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.

Was the yogurt mixture disturbed during incubation?

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.

Was your yogurt starter too old?  Did it have active cultures?

Whether you are using yogurt from the store or homemade yogurt, the fresher the better. Check the label for active cultures.

Did it incubate long enough?

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.

Did you add too much starter to the warm milk? 

Only a generous tablespoon 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 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.


What would you like to read next about homemade yogurt?


Pin the picture below to save for later.

How to Make Healthy Homemade Greek Yogurt

Did you try this recipe and enjoy it? Consider helping other readers (and me) by returning to this post. Leave a rating on the recipe card itself underneath the picture. Although always appreciated, comments aren’t required.

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.

Thank you for visiting!
Paula


How to Make Healthy Homemade Greek Yogurt--three servings of finished yogurt

Healthy Homemade Greek Yogurt

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 20 minutes

A guide to making your own Greek yogurt at home using fat-free, 1%, 2%, or whole milk.

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts dairy milk (fat-free, 2% or whole milk)
  • 1-2 tablespoons yogurt (commercial or your own homemade)

Instructions

  1. Fill Pyrex batter bowl (my preference) or 2-quart glass container with milk.
  2. Heat in microwave until bubbles begin to appear around the edge. Temperature should reach 175-180 degrees after you stir it. (In my microwave, it takes 17 minutes on HIGH).
  3. If a skin forms, remove it.
  4. Allow milk to cool until temperature drops to between 100 and 110 degrees.
  5. Whisk in 1 generous tablespoon of yogurt as a starter. You may use yogurt from a previous batch of your own homemade yogurt.
  6. Cover milk and place in a warm environment where the temperature stays around 100 degrees.
  7. Allow to incubate for 5-12 hours.
  8. At this point you could chill the yogurt and eat as is. It is your choice to pour off the whey or stir it back in. Straining makes the yogurt thicker and less tart, resulting in Greek yogurt.

From regular yogurt to Greek yogurt

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. This is a good time to add any flavorings or sweeteners if desired.
  5. Chill.

Notes

Nutritionals are only an estimate. Numbers will vary according to how much you strain your yogurt.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. But don't worry. This doesn't change the price you pay.

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

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Here is a YouTube video I made a long time ago about making yogurt. I’m including it per reader requests.

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Weg

Monday 27th of January 2020

I'm new to yogurt-making and have a couple questions. I use an Instant Pot Duo. After boiling, I allow my milk to cool, so that it's 105°-115°F. If I accidentally allowed the milk to cool to around 85°F and added my starter (plain yogurt), is that going to be a problem? The Instant Pot should go to and maintain an incubation temp of 110°F after I'm done culturing. Second, have you found any issues with lactose free milk? I use Organic Valley whole milk. Thanks.

Paula

Monday 27th of January 2020

Hi Weg,

No problem with the milk cooling too much. The milk will come back up to the right temperature when you set your Instant Pot on "Yogurt." It will add a little bit of time to the incubation period but that should be no big deal. I've let me milk cool too much MANY, MANY times. No problem.

I have had no issues with lactose-free milk when making yogurt. Thanks for writing.

Tracy

Thursday 16th of January 2020

Thank you for adding that classic video link back to your wonderful site. That video taught us how to make perfect Greek yogurt years ago, and it's great to watch it again. "Tarter" outtake at the end is hilarious! https://youtu.be/2CN7938yu1s

Paula

Thursday 16th of January 2020

You made me laugh. A lot of water under the bridge since that was made. Wow!

Gary

Tuesday 17th of December 2019

Thank you for the recipe. This was the first time I made Greek yogurt and it turned out perfectly!

Paula

Tuesday 17th of December 2019

So glad it worked for you Gary. It's easy to get hooked!

Naomi

Friday 6th of December 2019

Thanks for so many detailed articles on making yogurt at home! I am really enjoying this new hobby and kitchen science. I have a question about whipping the yogurt at the end. I've heard that bacteria are very delicate, and just rubbing your hands together can actually kill bacteria. Do you think it's still safe to whip the bacteria with a powerful blender? I wonder if this will damage the precious bacteria.

Paula

Saturday 7th of December 2019

Naomi, I whip my yogurt by hand with a whisk or with the whisk attachment on an immersion blender. Neither is powerful. I'm afraid to use a powerful blender as I think it might make it too thin. Of course, if you are using the yogurt in a smoothie, that's ok. I have never heard of bacteria in yogurt being so delicate that rubbing your hands together would actually kill it. The most common way yogurt bacteria is killed is with heat (over 115-120 degrees F) or age.

deb

Thursday 4th of April 2019

I looked thru the comments but didn't see the answer and I understand everyone's preference is different but what is a good starting amount of honey or other sweetener and flavoring to a gallon of milk made into yogurt? Thanks for all the work you do to help us...

Paula

Friday 5th of April 2019

Deb, That is a difficult question as you have already stated. I have FINALLY learned to eat my yogurt without added sugar but it took me years so I'm a bit out of practice in that area. I would probably start with a couple of tablespoons and keep tasting. Good luck!