How Can I Tell When My Yogurt Is Done?

Sneak Preview: Here is the answer if you are trying to decide if your yogurt is done (set). I’ll also discuss how to avoid sabotaging the incubation process when checking on your yogurt. Don’t miss the video.

tipped yogurt that is set.Pin
Is this yogurt done or set?

Deciding when yogurt is set can be challenging if you are new to homemade yogurt. Once it’s set, you may want to continue the incubation to match your flavor preference for tanginess. However, in this post, we will stick with ways to determine when it is set.

Four Ways To Tell When HomemadeYogurt Is Done or Set

  1. Shake or tap the container of milk ever so gently. If it splashes or ripples, it’s not set yet. Set yogurt will quiver slightly–like Jello. The thicker your yogurt, the less it will move. Don’t confuse an accumulation of whey on top of the yogurt for unset milk.
  2. Tilt the bowl slightly. When set, the yogurt layer will gently jiggle or bulge. (See the video.)
  3. Yogurt will generally stick to the sides when set unless there is excess whey or the bowl is tipped far enough.
  4. Try inserting a thin paring knife into the yogurt an inch or two, like you would a custard pie. If the knife comes out fairly clean, it’s done. If it’s coated with milk, give it more time.

Typically, traditional yogurt is set in 3-8 hours. If it’s not ready, revisit for another peek in 30-60 minutes.

How Do I Avoid Messing Up My Yogurt When Checking?

Careless handling can cause a yogurt fail. Yogurt bodies do not like to be disturbed while they eat.

spoonful of yogurt proves that it is indeed set.Pin
Don’t dip into the yogurt until you are certain the yogurt has set.
  1. Don’t disturb yogurt with a spoon or thermometer until the yogurt is done.
    • If you suspect the temperature may be inconsistent, set a cup of water next to the yogurt so you can check the temperature. See number three below.
    • Wait until you are sure it’s set before tasting.
  2. Resist moving the inoculated milk during incubation, especially after the first 30 minutes.
  3. Measure the temperature of your incubation system using a small cup of water placed next to the milk if you are worried that it’s not consistent.
    • Try pouring the inoculated milk into a Mason Jar. Then, set the jar into a water-filled Instant Pot. This makes it easy to check the temperature without disturbing the milk.
    • If using a yogurt maker with individual cups, fill one of the cups with water so it’s easy to check.
    • If the temperature is under 100˚F, consider another system of incubation.
  4. In desperation, some people try stirring in more starter if they don’t see anything happening. This will stop fermentation, and you’ll have to start over with the timer. Unfortunately, this move won’t work unless you have diagnosed and fixed whatever was wrong the first time.

Why Is There a Skin on Top of My Finished Yogurt?

Set yogurt with a skin.Pin

Reasons why a skin may form during incubation:

  1. Higher incubation temperatures (over 105˚F or 41˚C)
  2. Using milk with a higher fat content
  3. Incubating without a covering on the bowl

The skin isn’t harmful, but I always remove it to avoid small bits of torn-up “skin” in my yogurt. My tongue (a curious animal) can always find them.

What Is the Clear Liquid on Top?

The clear to yellowish liquid is whey, a by-product of the fermentation process. It’s perfectly safe to eat or use in other cooking. You can see it in the picture below at the spout. Once the yogurt has set to your satisfaction, you can strain it off or stir it back in.

Set yogurt with a lot of whey and inconsistent texture.Pin

Why Does My Yogurt Look Curdled When Set?

(Don’t confuse this with yogurt that looks like “curds and whey” or cottage cheese when you dump it out of the original bowl to strain it. That’s normal. Straining the yogurt will reduce the whey. Whisk well for creamy yogurt.)

  1. The milk was poor quality or not very fresh.
  2. The starter was too old.
  3. The incubation temperature was too high.
  4. Too much starter was used.
  5. The yogurt was incubated too long.
  6. The temperature was maintained at the optimal temperature.

It seems the issue with the yogurt in the picture might have been the milk’s proximity to its expiration date. Luckily, straining and whisking salvaged it, resulting in a creamier, though tarter, but still enjoyable yogurt.

Frequently Asked Questions

It has been over ten hours and the milk looks the same as when I started. Now what?

Something has obviously gone wrong. If it still smells OK, you can try again–directions here.

How long can I let completed yogurt sit safely on the counter before I put it into the fridge?

The acid content keeps your yogurt safe for several hours. If you want to strain it to make Greek yogurt or Skyr, do it immediately after pulling it out of incubation and before chilling. Warm yogurt seems to strain faster. The half gallon of milk pictured below was strained to 50% at room temperature in less than an hour. It’s also fine to strain yogurt in the refrigerator or the next day if it’s more convenient.
straining yogurt to make Greek yogurt or Skyr.Pin

Parting thoughts: Knowing when your yogurt is set is easier with experience. Don’t give up.

If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately for a quick answer: Paula at Hope to see you again soon! 

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  1. Caryn Hart says:

    I also want to leave a cautionary tale for making yogurt in the Instant Pot. The very last time I made yogurt, the yogurt had an off taste, that in retrospect, I think was due to using the gasket that is frequently used for savory dishes. I may have learned the hard way to use a different gasket for yogurt and non-savoRy food. The other option is to leave off the gasket for making yogurt. It is not necessary for the yogurt process. I am hoping this will solve this problem.

  2. Caryn Hart says:

    I haven’t commented in a while, and I would like to make a couple of points that may help other readers. I have now been making yogurt for a long time using my instant pot: My method is using the yogurt setting on the instant pot until the pot shows “boil.” (This takes about 35 minutes for the 2 quarts plus 2 cups of 2% milk that I use). I switch to the low slow cook setting for 25 minutes, then remove the pot and cool it down to about 112° F by putting the pot in a Dutch oven with ice and water at the bottom. Then I mix in 32 grams of Fage yogurt or homemade yogurt and set the final yogurt Instant Pot setting to 13 hours.
    Now, I know that it is believed that 13 hours will make the yogurt quite tart, but the result I get is very mild. A while back, I got tart results by re-using the homemade yogurt a number of times. If I stick to using Fage, it is mild every time. I would guess that the yogurt would be set earlier, but I set it for 13 hours out of convenience, allowing me to start making it at 6 PM and have it be be ready by about 8:30 AM.

    1. Hi Caryn,

      Thank you for adding to the discussion. I rarely use an Instant Pot these days so it’s good to have your experience in writing.

  3. I strain my yogurt for about an hour to get a thick consistency. On a good day, I get about 500g of Greek yogurt from a 1 litre milk. On a bad day, when the yogurt doesn’t set well ie. it’s watery, I only get 300g. May I know what would be considered a “well set yogurt” in terms of how much thick Greek yogurt you can get yield in terms of weight.

    1. Hi Iris,

      I’m so glad you reached out. How much whey you get has much to do with the freshness and quality of your milk and starter. There is no standard for “well set yogurt” that I know of. What kind of starter are you using and how old is it when you use it? It’s best to use starter that’s no more than 7-10 days old. After that, there’s not enough live and healthy bacteria to culture the milk.

      When using fresh, high quality milk and starter, and incubating the yogurt at a consistent temperature that’s not too high or too low, how much whey you get usually corresponds with how long you strain it. If you want more Greek yogurt, don’t strain it as long.