Simply stated, quickly pickling is a game-changer. The technique—a version of vinegar pickling that doesn’t require a full canning process—produces briny, crunchy pickled vegetables in just a couple hours. Heat the brine until sugar and salt dissolve, then pour it over the vegetables and let them cool in the jar—voila, pickles.
Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter
Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!
Quick pickling won’t create shelf-stable vegetables—you’ll need to refrigerate them and eat them in a day or two—but the vinegar and sugar add extra flavor to salad vegetables, taco toppings, burger condiments, and more.
Traditional pickles preserve food through anaerobic fermentation, during which lactobacillus bacteria turns sugars into lactic acids. Quick pickling is less about preserving foods than injecting them with extra flavor.
How to Quick-Pickle Anything
1. Prep produce. Trim and cut 1 pound vegetables or fruit into evenly thick pieces for uniform pickling. Depending on porosity of produce and length of pickling, thicker slices might retain a sturdier crunch, while thinner pieces will likely wilt.
2. Mix and boil brine. Combine 1½ cups vinegar; 1½ cups water; 3 tablespoons sugar; 2½ tablespoons kosher salt; and seasonings (e.g. citrus zest, spices, aromatics, herbs), if using, in medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. If using seasonings, cover mixture and let steep off heat for 10 minutes.
3. Temper jars. Rinse jars under hot running water until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes; shake dry. Tempering glass helps prevent it from cracking when hot brine is added. You can use any heatproof container with a tight-fitting lid.
4. Marry brine with prepared produce. Tightly pack produce into jars. Return brine to a brief boil and ladle over produce to cover (a funnel will help containe brine but is not essential), distributing any aromatics and spices evenly among jars.
5. Cool, cover, wait. Let jars cool completely, cover with lids, and refrigerate until pickles are evenly flavorful. Pickling times will depend on thickness and porosity of produce pieces: Thin-sliced onions and radishes are ready when cool; cucumber chips can take 24 hours; root vegetables might take days.
This summer, I decided to put these steps to the test and quick-pickle any produce I could get my hands on. In doing that, two major winners emerged as new stars of my taco-night spread: pineapple and avocado. I love both for different reasons.
Pickled pineapple delivers a sweet-tart alley-oop that begs to be eaten with tacos al pastor. Pickled avocado is a perfect way to soften and inject flavor into not-quite-ready avocados that would otherwise not be ripe enough to use in shredded chicken tacos. Both deliver a tanginess that’s a welcome layer in meaty, savory tacos.
And all quick pickles, pineapple and avocado included, are easy to make, requiring just 10 minutes of hands-on time and a few hours in the refrigerator. (Quick pickled pineapple is ready even faster than most other vegetables or fruits; it seems to soak up the brine like a sponge in about half an hour.) Quick pickles also allow a cook to get creative in terms of adding flavors and ingredients to their liking.
How to Make Quick Pickled Pineapple & Avocado
For my quick pickled pineapple, I used just apple cider vinegar, honey, lime juice, and salt. For my quick pickled avocado, I used distilled white vinegar, sugar, salt, lime zest, and cilantro. You could doctor either one with jalapeños or red pepper flakes, or add garlic and herbs to the avocado jar for a more savory version.
Emboldened by my experiment, I’m feeling more confident in trying to quick-pickle almost any produce I can find at the farmers' market or grocery store. Cherries? Peaches? Beets? The sky—or rather, my available supply of mason jars—is the limit.