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More than 6 Ways You Can Incubate Yogurt

Preview: Read about more than 6 ways to incubate yogurt without a yogurt-making machine or unusual equipment.

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!

It reminds me of my daughter-in-law’s first ultrasound. Was there really a baby in there like the test indicated?

As our imaginations were pulsing with prayers, hopes, and dreams, we saw a little flicker that evidenced another miracle. God had done it again.

Thankfully, incubating yogurt is not nearly as complicated or time-consuming as a human baby. But I never make yogurt without being amazed at the process.

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 you anticipate. 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 them in the hopes you would be inspired.

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 yogurt-making world. Great for beginners but limited once you get the basics down.

For me, the amount they make is too small to satisfy my yogurt addiction. It’s too much trouble to make Greek yogurt. Finished 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

yogurt incubation 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 is 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

microwave oven can be good in combination with towels

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)
  • I’ve had several reports of lower-than-indicated temperatures when people actually used a thermometer to check. Be aware of the possibility.

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!

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.

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me privately: Paula at saladinajar.com.

Hope to see you again soon!
Paula


What would you like to read next about making yogurt?

Mandora

Tuesday 27th of July 2021

I make 1 gallon of yogurt every 12 to 14 days in my InstaPot. I cool the heated milk in a sink of cold (not ice) water to not more than 116°. (Stirring speeds up cooling and eliminates temperature differencials.) This takes 4-5 minutes tops. I use a freeze-dried starter which produces very reliable results. I incubate for 9 hours then refrigerate in quart containers. Prior to the InstaPot, I used a water-bath method in well-sealed cooler. It worked fine but the InstaPot is quicker, with very little intervention and produces a very consistent yogurt that gets rave reviews. I have not tried the cold start method as ultra-filtered milk is not available where I live. I am lactose intolerant and use lactose free milk.

Paula

Wednesday 28th of July 2021

I like your system. Glad you wrote. You never know when it will give someone else an idea.

Lynn

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

I live in an old drafty New England farm house. My oven door doesn't seal well enough for the lightbulb trick. In winter I use a heated bed pad to warm my sheets & it seemed like my best chance for consistent warmth for yogurt making. It has 10-hr auto shut-off. The coils are densest at the foot end. On top of fresh bedsheets (!) I put a large pizza stone at the foot end. Then lay a towel on that. Stand two well-sealed 1-quart mason jars of hottest tap water on that. Lay an electronic cooking thermometer with face peaking out so I can check the temp without disturbing anything. I tuck the towel over the jars & cover all with thick quilt layers, making sure I can lift the edge to check the temp without jostling anything. At hottest setting, the temp stabilizes at about 106F. Once stable, I prepare the yogurt, sealing in 1-qt mason jars, quickly tucking among the water jars. The temp stays consistently warm until I unpack it all at 6 hrs (I don't peak before then). The main thing is to set it up early enough so I can dismantle things before bed time!

Paula

Thursday 18th of March 2021

I love how creative you are Lynn. Thanks so much for sharing. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Lynn

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

Hmm. Googling I realize I should have said heated MATTRESS pad. It's fitted like a bottom sheet, and fits between the bare mattress and bottom flannel bed sheet. I have an old temperpedic mattress that becomes rock-like cold in my 60F-ish winter bedroom. The mattress pad warms & normalizes the mattress way better than an electric blanket. 😏😳 TMI?!

Scott H

Thursday 21st of January 2021

Replace the oven light with a 60 watt and leave on. It will maintain the oven at about 105 degrees. Simply set inoculated pot of yogurt in and leave for 4-6 hours, then strain and bottle if you want Greek. Keep the whey to drink, it is delicious.

Niloofer

Tuesday 19th of January 2021

Do we leave the oven on at 100F full night to set the yoghurt???

Scott H

Thursday 21st of January 2021

@Niloofer, Replace the oven light with a 60 watt and leave on. It will maintain the oven at about 105 degrees. Simply set inoculated pot of yogurt in and leave for 4-6 hours, then strain and bottle if you want Greek. Keep the whey to drink, it is delicious.

Paula

Wednesday 20th of January 2021

Yes. If you can set your oven to 100-105˚F, then you have the perfect yoghurt incubator. Leave it on until the yoghurt is done.

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!!