How to Pickle Cucumbers & Onions in Vinegar

Start to Finish: 4 hours
Servings: 4 to 6
Difficulty: Intermediate

Pickled cucumber and onions makes a quick topping for sandwiches or a fat- and spice-cutting condiment with chili or grilled barbecue. Pickling can involve the complex process of fermentation and canning -- which can take weeks -- but you can create a satisfying pickle condiment in a vinegar brine in a short time, too. Acidic vinegar mellows the sharp heat of the onions while flavoring the cucumber. The acid from the vinegar changes the chemical structure of the vegetables in a way that's like cooking.


  •  1 English cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar 
  • 1 cup white, granulated sugar
  • 2 to 3 whole mustard seeds 
  • 2 to 3 whole peppercorns 
  • A few sprigs fresh dill 
  • Salt to taste 


Place the cucumbers, red onion and fresh dill in a bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt. In a medium pot, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Bring them to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts -- about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Pour the vinegar mixture over the cucumbers, onion and dill. Cover it with a tight-fitting lid or plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for several hours or up to 10 days.


Most types of vinegar work to create a pickle. Fruity and wine vinegars will infuse their flavors into the cucumbers and onions, though. Balsamic vinegar has a flavor that's too strong for a quick pickle. Experiment with other types of vegetables; carrots, radishes, fennel and garlic can all be prepared the same way. Commercial picking spices or whole allspice work as an alternative to mustard seeds and peppercorns. If you find the pickles too intensely sour, substitute water for one-quarter to one-third of the vinegar.