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Home » More Than Six Ways To Incubate Yogurt Without a Yogurt Maker

More Than Six Ways To Incubate Yogurt Without a Yogurt Maker

Preview: Making yogurt at home requires an extended period of warming at a temperature between 100 and 110 ˚F. Here you will find a collection of multiple ways to incubate homemade yogurt without a machine at those temperatures.

Our imaginations were pulsing with prayers, hopes, and dreams at my daughter-in-law’s first ultrasound. Was there really a baby in there like the test said?

As the probe began to dance around in search of new life, we spotted something doing the jitterbug. It was a flicker with rhythm. YES! We were witnessing a tiny heartbeat that only a powerful God in heaven could create.

This may sound crazy, but…

I get shades of that same feeling when incubating a batch of yogurt.

The mysterious process that transforms a gallon of milk into a gallon of yogurt by adding a couple of tablespoons of starter (active yogurt) is mind-boggling. It’s a miracle, I tell ya!

More Than Six Ways to Incubate Yogurt Without a Yogurt Maker --a silicone egg that appears to be "hatching" yogurt

In case you haven’t tried making yogurt yet, here’s a quick video to get you started.

What is the best way to incubate yogurt?

Making yogurt is easy, but sometimes it doesn’t happen as hoped. One crucial variable is the incubation technique. Similar to hens sitting on eggs, you must find a way to keep your yogurt babies warm and cozy for an extended period.

Temperatures between 100-110˚ F are ideal and stimulate the bacteria to reproduce faster than mosquitoes in my wooded backyard. Too hot and they die. Too cold and they’ll act like bears and hibernate, leaving you disappointed.

In the last two years since I published my method for making healthy Greek yogurt, my readers have left some great comments regarding their creative ways of incubation. I compiled several here in the hopes you might be inspired by their stories.

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    Do I need an electric yogurt maker?

    They work great because they maintain the perfect environment, holding temperatures steady with a thermostat. Electric yogurt makers are kinda like the AOL of the internet. Great for beginners but limited once you get down the basics.

    For me, the amount they make is much too small to satisfy my yogurt addiction. Furthermore, it would be a pain to make Greek yogurt since the yogurt must be removed from the jars, strained, and presumably, returned to the original jars.


    More than 6 ways to incubate yogurt

    I’ll start with the obvious and easiest way to produce yogurt. My way, of course. 🙂

    #1

    A conventional oven

    Incubating yogurt in a warm oven

    I heat and cool milk in a Pyrex, 2-quart batter bowl. It’s a perfect size and holds heat better than plastic or metal.

    My oven has a bread-proofing cycle. Set it to 100 degrees F and go to bed. No towels or babysitting necessary. This method produces perfect yogurt in 5-6 hours if I don’t make a mistake.

    My previous oven could not be set that low. Consequently, I would turn it on for a minute or two until it reached 100˚ F, then shut it off. I produced numerous successful batches in that old oven by leaving the light on and the covered milk container wrapped in towels as illustrated in my original post.

    N2ition commented about her own oven that also can’t be set on a low temperature. “Robert, I just saw your post and wanted to let you know that I make about 3 gallons a week. My oven is about the same age as yours and has the same problem (only goes to 200). I always preheat the oven about 1 minute and then turn it off and put the yogurt in. Yesterday’s batch took nearly 13 hours to set up…and at hour 11, it still looked like milk. Next time you try it, make it at night and just pop it in the oven overnight. (I have good luck making it about dinner time or right after I put my kids to bed and it’s perfect by the next morning).


    Preheating and then leaving the door closed usually will maintain the temp for 12-15 hours but if I am really impatient and open the oven a lot to check I have had to turn it back on for about 30 seconds to get the temp back up enough to keep the yogurt around 110. Good luck!”

    #2

    A slow cooker

    using a slow cooker to make yogurt

    There’s more than one way to use a slow cooker to incubate yogurt. I prefer using it as a water bath to keep containers full of milk with yogurt starter warm. Of course, the size of your slow cooker will limit the volume of your milk container.

    Heat your slow cooker long enough to bring the temperature of the water to 115 degrees. Unplug it. Place the prepared milk (heated, cooled, then inoculated) into the water. Cover the slow cooker and wrap it with a couple of big bath towels.

    Others with similar experiences:

    Whitney said, “Just tried your recipe today! After a few tries of finding a place where the temp stayed the most consistent my crock-pot won out. On warm with a water bath surrounding a smaller bowl (I only tried a half batch to see if I would like it or not), it stayed a consistent 103ish.”


    Stephanie had beginner’s luck. “Success on the very first try! But I want to try to find a better way of incubating, as the process is long and ties up the oven. Think I will find a crock-pot with a “warm” setting and donate my old one to my parish kitchen (we always seem to need them for nachos, puzzle, etc.).”

    #3

    A heating pad and towels

    use a heating pad to maintain warmth

    This method takes a little experimenting to figure out what works for you in your kitchen.

    Cheryl Sternman in Yogurt Culture recommends you look for the following features in a heating pad:

    • The pad should have a temperature setting that runs at or below 110 to 112˚ F.
    • If it has an auto-shut-off, you need to be able to disable that feature.
    • Look for an XL heating pad.

    Two more excellent suggestions for using a heating pad from Ms. Sternman:

    • Try a test run with 1 quart of milk and 1 tablespoon of yogurt starter.
    • If your heating pad seems a little hot, try using a towel as a buffer between your container of milk and the heating pad.

    People who’ve tried using a heating pad:

    The Errant Cook writes, “Hi! I’ve made yogurt 4 or 5 times now thanks to your instructions, and it’s fantastic. I set the covered bowl on top of a heating pad on low, check it frequently with an infrared thermometer (a lovely gadget from my husband), and after about 11 hours, it’s ready to go.”


    Nancy shared a word of caution. “We used a heating pad on the first round which had an automatic shutoff (something we didn’t realize before starting the process). The yogurt did not get thick overnight! We added more starter (from a small container of nonfat Fage plain Greek yogurt) and found another pad in the house (lucky!) which didn’t shut off at all. Making yogurt was a great experience with this yogurt. We will make it often!”


    Julie likes the heating pad, too, ” I have a glass casserole bowl with a cover that holds about 3/4 of a gal. I heat the milk in the microwave to 160 -180 degrees ( about 20 min in my microwave) then let it cool to 110 -115 degrees. Stir in about 2 tsp of my starter yogurt and put the lid on. I set it on a heating pad (mine is not adjustable it only has off and on) with 2 layers of a bath towel under it and I cover the rest of the bowl with the remaining towel. It keeps it at 105 – 110 degrees. I make it before going to bed, I check on it if I wake up for some reason, but in the morning before work, I have a nice big batch of yogurt”

    #4

    A microwave oven

    incubating in a microwave oven

    From Tamara, a self-professed Greek yogurt addict, “A couple of tips that have worked for me — I’ve put foil over the top of the bowl to help retain heat and then double wrapped in dish towels. I incubate mine in the microwave because it’s smaller than the oven. I also heat up a microwavable hot pad that will stay warm for hours. That provides the right amount of heat in the small space. I usually put it to bed about 11 pm and it’s ready by 7 am.”


    Tony from Australia shared this idea,” ….Next, how to keep warm! Saw another reader’s microwave and pad idea. No pads, so used wheat bags we regularly use for muscle strain/pain. Heated the bags and wrapped around the bowl which was covered in foil. Then covered in two small towels making sure the door side of the microwave was well insulated with toweling. 8.5 hours later the microwave was still nice and warm and lo and behold I had lovely yogurt with no strong tang. Just very yummy.”

    #5

    A Camping Cooler or Ice Chest

     yogurt in an ice chest

    I have not personally tried this one, but several of my readers have. Keep reading…

    Yogurt man wrote, “I set up a regular camping cooler, and I put one plastic container in it which I fill with 2 kettle fulls of boiling water, then seal container/cooler right away. When yogurt is ready I put all the containers inside the cooler (where the boiling water makes it the perfect sauna and maintains the temperature you need) and let it sit for 7-8 hours and then it’s ready. “


    From Lynette, “This was so fun!! It is so easy. My gas oven did not stay hot enough with the pilot light on. I got our cooler out of the garage and put a heating pad in the bottom. I set it at medium heat. Wrapped the bowl in a beach towel, and set it in the cooler with the lid on. Next morning (12 hours) I have the yummiest stuff ever.”


    Deanna said, “LOVE the tips here. I love making yogurt and used a yogurt maker with about 8 oz cups until now. A friend of ours makes his yogurt in quart jars and wraps the warm jar in towels and then puts it in an ice chest. Using commercial starter this method only takes about 4 to 5 hours.”

    #6

    An Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker

    Since this post was originally published in 2011, Instant Pots have become a thing. I see many people writing about making yogurt in an electric pressure cooker on the web.

    making yogurt in an instant pot

    This is my opinion, based on my priorities. Your priorities may be different. So keep that in mind as you read.

    Pros

    • It can be handy, especially in a sparsely furnished kitchen.
    • The large capacity of the inner liner makes it suitable for making Greek yogurt.
    • The correct temperature is automatically maintained throughout the process.

    Cons

    • Can’t use the pot for cooking dinner when making yogurt (This is significant at my house, especially in the winter)
    • The size of the pressure cooker limits how much yogurt you can make. (I regularly make 1-1/2 gallons at a time)

    In general, I’m not a big fan of making yogurt in an Instant Pot because it takes too long to heat the milk initially. Then, it takes a long time for the hot milk to cool back down to 110 degrees F. If you’re not looking for efficiency, this may not matter to you.

    Miscellaneous Ideas

    Lenore uses a dehydrator and reports, ” I’ve got yogurt!! Straining now! Woo hoo! I followed the temperature instructions to a tee but may have put too much yogurt in as a starter. I popped in a dehydrator at 100 degrees overnight and in the morning I had warm milk and a skin. Hmmm…pulled off the skin, added some probiotics and popped it back in the dehydrator again for the day. Got home late and..yes! I have yogurt.”


    Janet wrote, “Hello there! I just want to say that both me and my wallet thank you- I have made two batches- both successful and I incubated the bowl in front of a long burning pellet stove!”

    I have a question for Janet. What is a long-burning pellet stove?

    More ideas…

    Tim got creative. “I use a sous-vide water bath to incubate yogurt at 113 degrees – worked great overnight….. Truth is, this ‘sous vide’ water bath is one I made using a bucket heater from Tractor Supply and an old Igloo water cooler, and sits under the dining room table in our trailer in the hills of Appalachia. Still, I am able to fix wonderful steaks and hamburgers for my wife (from our own farm), and the yogurt I did a couple of days ago came out perfectly.”


    I’m impressed with Brooke’s ingenuity.

    ” I’m so glad I found your website. This yogurt is an instant hit. For the incubation, I put the lid on my Pyrex container and wrapped it in a towel. Then I put it on top of my computer router, put a 40-watt bulb in a desk lamp and put that about 6 inches from the top of the towel-covered Pyrex. I put an oven thermometer on top of the towel so I could monitor the temp. It read just under 100 degrees. I left it overnight–about 12 hours or so, and it was of perfect consistency!”

    Where is the best place in my house to incubate yogurt?

    Think about warm places…

    So, my beloved yogurt makers (sorta feels like a secret society, doesn’t it?), think about the warm places in your house. Is there an old-fashioned radiator? Maybe a small closet housing a water heater where you could set a towel-wrapped bowl of warm milk? Or consider a lamp like Brooke mentioned. You could try aiming it toward your bowl of milk/yogurt.

    In the summertime, consider putting covered yogurt outside if the temps are in the appropriate range. Right now (July in Texas), I cannot leave incubating yogurt in the sun, or it will get too hot. The shade is perfect, though.

    I hope this helps some of you who’ve had trouble with the incubation process. Maybe these suggestions will inspire those of you who haven’t worked up the courage to try it yet.

    Conclusion

    No matter what system you use, the temperature needs to stay constant, preferably on its own. Anything that requires constant attention is going to get old in a hurry. In other words, you are not likely to make yogurt very often.


    If you have a completely different method not mentioned here, please share it in the comments.


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      Hope to see you again soon!
      Paula

      p.s. Questions or suggestions? Email me: paula at saladinajar.com.


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      Gretchen

      Friday 23rd of October 2020

      This 9-year running thread is great!

      I use an instant pot to incubate, but I start cold, with UHT milk. Since UHT milk has been pasteurized at a higher temp, I get to skip the boiling and cooling process entirely. I just add the milk and starter to the pot, hit the yogurt button, and walk away. It takes about 10 hours, at minimum, but I like to go a full 24 for extra tartness.

      I know some people have texture issues using UHT, but our texture started out okay and has improved over several generations making it this way. Now we get smooth, creamy yogurt every time, with what is essentially a one-step process!

      Paula

      Friday 23rd of October 2020

      Thanks for writing Gretchen. Interesting that you are having good luck with UHT milk. I've heard that the extreme pasteurization process kills off so much bacteria that it can be difficult to make yogurt. Maybe your persistence has paid off. If it makes yogurt you like, keep doing it!!

      nev richards

      Thursday 17th of September 2020

      Not all electric yoghurt makers are temp controlled. Some are just slow heaters and can get too hot

      Paula

      Friday 18th of September 2020

      An electric yogurt maker that gets too hot should be returned to the manufacturer. That's definitely counter-productive.

      Shiela

      Monday 14th of September 2020

      I use my vacuum sealed flask (a hydroflask) to incubate my yogurt. I basically heat up milk on the stove, cool it down, add my starter, pour it in my 1Liter hydroflask, screw it tight and 12 hours later, I have yogurt. Easiest thing in the world!

      Paula

      Monday 14th of September 2020

      Hi Shiela,

      I really like the simplicity of your method. And you are using equipment I assume you already had in the house. Thanks for sharing. This might give somebody else an idea.

      catherine neifing

      Sunday 23rd of August 2020

      Hi, I have a bacterial overgrowth in my upper intestine (its called SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) that eating a specially prepared homemade yogurt will help my health. This requires me to culture my yogurt for 24 hours to completely eliminate the lactose that the bacteria thrive upon.

      I have not made yogurt for 20 years and then it was with a little multi cup maker which was ok. This is more of a challenge. So if I make it at 6 pm considering all the pasteurization and filling whatever container is going to be used for culturing, then it won't be ready to refrigerate until about 8 am the next morning.

      I have an instapot but not sure if it will let me time it for 24 hours. I don't have any kind of thermometer. Do I need one for pasteurizing? I can pasteurize the milk in the instapot then wait until it cools down, then inoculate, then choose the yogurt function.

      My dilemma is: no where does it say in the tiny ridiculous recipe book for my instapot does it say if instapot has a readout of what the temperature of the pasteurization process is as it heats and cools, and no where does it say that it can be set for 24 hours. Has anyone tried making this kind of 24 hour yogurt with an instapot or any other method? I really need to make this work as I am quite ill. Thanks for any suggestions... Cathy

      Paula

      Sunday 23rd of August 2020

      Hi Cathy,

      I'm so sorry about the SIBO.

      Just a few comments: If you make yogurt at 6pm and want to incubate it for 24 hours, it won't be ready for refrigeration until 6pm the next day.

      I assume you are using pasteurized milk you have bought at the store. Right? The reason you need to heat the milk to 175˚F is to rearrange the protein molecules so they will form a thicker yogurt (not to pasteurize it). After you let it cool down, you can set the Instant Pot for 12 hours. When you wake up the next morning, reset your Instant Pot for 12 more hours.

      You can make yogurt without a thermometer, but it's very helpful to make sure you've got your temperatures right. You can buy fairly inexpensive ones on Amazon. (less than $20)

      One last thing, if you intend to make more yogurt after the first batch, I would recommend you remove a small portion of yogurt from the pot at the 12 hour point and save it to use as starter for your next batch. After yogurt has incubated for 24 hours, there will most likely not be enough active yogurt bodies left (because they run out of lactose, their food) to inoculate more yogurt.

      Stephen Sinclair

      Thursday 16th of July 2020

      Thanks for this great website! I've been making yogurt with homemade almond or soy milk for awhile now. My Dash yogurt maker broke and I wasn't about to buy a new one. THIS IS WHAT WORKS FOR ME. After heating the milk to 180, cooling to 120, and inoculating, I pour the milk into a 2 cup metal Thermos. I then lay it on a heating pad and place the rest of the heating pad over it. Set on medium it keeps a constant temperature of about 110 degrees. 8 hours later: perfect soy yogurt. What I have found is key to making a successful batch of non-dairy yogurt is to use a double boiler to heat the milk. Scalding the milk ruins it for some reason.

      Paula

      Friday 17th of July 2020

      Hi Stephen,

      I'm not a fan of soy yogurt, so haven't messed with it much. These are great tips for other people who want to make soy yogurt. Thanks for sharing.

      Stephen Sinclair

      Thursday 16th of July 2020

      @Stephen Sinclair, PAULA: I meant to tell you that in the late 1950's in northern Wisconsin, my German mother was given yogurt starter by a another German woman in a neighboring town. No one at that time had really even heard of yogurt. Using the raw milk from our dairy cows, she would make the yogurt and then place the wrapped container in a closet pushed up next to the chimney that vented our big wood burning furnace in the basement.

      Stephen Sinclair

      Thursday 16th of July 2020

      @Stephen Sinclair, I meant cool to 110 degrees, not 120.