Yogurt – when milk goes bad, it’s good!

Yogurt is a strange food if you really think about it. It’s milk that sat somewhere much too warm for much too long and got … funky. Personally, I’m not into it. I don’t like the flavor, the consistency, or the smell. It’s a real bummer, because I love making it! And I’m going to show you how to make it, too. It’s easier than you probably think.

Ingredients and Supplies:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Thermometer
  • Pot with lid
  • Whisk
  • Towel
  • Incubation station

Yes, I recognize that it’s weird that you need yogurt to make yogurt, but the bacteria have to come from somewhere! If your grocery store carries yogurt starters (AKA powdered yogurt bacteria), go for it. Mine does, but I still always go for the single-size plain yogurt. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and I’m all about that.

The ratio of milk to yogurt isn’t SUPER important. I usually do 4-5 cups of milk with one container of Chobani, but feel free to go with a larger or smaller batch and adjust the yogurt amount accordingly. It doesn’t matter what brand you use so long as it’s got LIVE bacteria (check the label) and it doesn’t contain any “extras” (fruit, flavors, etc). Plain is best, but vanilla will do in a pinch.

What kind of milk? I prefer whole milk, because it makes a thicker yogurt. Other kinds of milk work too, but they’re going to be thinner. If you’re cool with that, then go for it. (You can add a couple of spoonfuls of powdered milk to your milk before you start this process to thicken up the end product if that’s something you keep in your pantry – and if you don’t, you should).

What’s an incubation station? It’s a warm place. Ideally, you want a location that can keep your milk around 100℉ for the entire duration of your incubation. Wrap your yogurt container (I keep mine in the pot I cooked it in, but you can also pour it into jars or something) in a towel to keep it safe from sudden accidental temperature changes. I use my oven with the light on (it stays at a perfect 100℉ until you turn off the light), but you can also use a warm room or a cooler. Before I discovered the oven trick, I used a big cooler with a tea kettle of really hot water on one side, yogurt on the other side, and towels wrapped around both for added insulation.


  • Heat milk to 180℉
  • Cool milk to 115℉
  • Whisk in yogurt
  • Hold at 100℉ for 6-12 hours

That’s it! Couldn’t be any easier.

We heat milk until it’s really hot (but not boiling) to make sure that all the bad bacteria (from your milk, your whisk or your pot) are definitely dead. We’re going to be growing bacteria, but we want to make sure it’s just the good kind. I’ve heard that heating the milk also does something to the proteins in the milk, which makes them better for the yogurt’s final consistency, but there’s conflicting information on that. Also, make sure you STIR your milk during this process to stop it from burning on the bottom of the pan. That would be no bueno.

Make sure your milk is sufficiently cooled after the heating process so that it doesn’t kill your yogurt bacteria. Anywhere from 110-120℉ is good. We want to make sure it’s warm enough that adding the yogurt won’t drop it below 100℉.

Make sure your yogurt is at room temperature before you add it to your warm milk. Remember – we want to keep it at 100℉, and adding cold yogurt will drop the milk’s temperature too much.

How do you know how long to incubate your yogurt? I don’t have a good answer for you. I always let mine go overnight (except this last time – I set it up in the morning, and took it out and popped it in the fridge before bed). The longer it sits, the thicker and tangier it will be. It’s not really something you can check on during the process, though – each time you open it up, you drop the temperature. Stirring it disrupts the bacteria and makes them stop working for a bit, so doing that will majorly affect your incubation time. So basically, you just go until you feel good about it, and if it’s not to your liking then you do it differently next time. I usually aim for 8-9 hours. Also good to note, after it’s done incubating it’ll seem really thick – when you stir it, it thins out a lot.

Stir, stir, stir! Don’t let your milk burn, and keep an eye on your thermometer!
Incubation station! Check out that perfect temp! Please ignore my dirty oven. It’s fine.

Like Greek yogurt? Easy peasy. Snag a bowl, a colander, and a couple of coffee filters (or a few layers of cheesecloth). Line the colander with the coffee filters or cheesecloth (I like to use 2 coffee filters just in case one rips when I’m transferring the yogurt at the end), add the yogurt, and let it sit over a bowl in the fridge. If you made a lot of yogurt, you might not be able to fit it all in the colander at once – I did mine in batches. Check it every couple of hours until it’s the consistency you like. It can take anywhere from 4-12 hours depending on your preference. I like mine around the 6-8 hour mark, so I let it go overnight. Don’t worry if it goes too long and is more cream cheese than yogurt (fun fact – when it strains for a long time – 24-48 hours – it’s called yogurt cheese and is a lot like cream cheese). You can always add some of the liquid back in to thin it out if you need to. Make sure that your bowl is big enough. From my most recent batch, I used 5 cups of milk and a container of yogurt, and I strained out almost 2 cups of liquid.

The liquid strained out of the yogurt is called whey, and you should keep that if you like making stuff from other stuff (or toss it – your loss). It looks kind of like lemonade, but it’s got a slightly thicker, almost syrupy consistency. It’s full of protein, vitamins, and other good stuff, so I recommend keeping it. More about how to use whey in a future post!

And finally, unless you like eating plain yogurt (what’s wrong with you?!) you’re going to want to flavor it. I wouldn’t add regular sugar (it stays grainy and weird), but honey, ultrafine sugar (also called bakers sugar), and jam work really well. So get out there and give it a shot! You can do this!

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