Food & Drink

Ten Ways to Use Leftover Pickle Juice

When the cukes, okra, or jalapeños are gone, the culinary creativity is just getting started

Photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

Big dill news from the fast-food world: Sonic Drive-In will debut a pickle slushie in June. Regardless of whether you’re gleeful or gagging in anticipation, it does beg the question: What else can Southerners do with their leftover pickle juice? From cocktails to brines, granitas to cleaning solutions, here are ten chef-approved reasons to savor every last briny drop in the jar.

Seriously, though, make an adult slushie…

“I wouldn’t break out my special-occasion bourbon for this, but pickle juice granita in the bottom of a glass will chill out your shooting bourbon nicely. Freeze your pickle juice and use a little spoonful of pickle-juice ice in the bottom of a rocks glass or a shot glass with a healthy glug of bourbon on top. It’s a funky take on the traditional pickle back…good for when you’re grilling meat in the backyard on a warm day. Try not to make any plans for afterward though.”

—Annie Pettry, chef and owner of Decca in Louisville, Kentucky

… or a dirty martini

“I like to use pickle brine in place of olive brine in a dirty martini. Take two ounces of gin or vodka and mix with half an ounce of dry Vermouth and a splash of pickle brine, about three-fourths of an ounce. The pickle brine brings an acidity and tartness as well as a savory quality to the cocktail, which helps balance out the strong spirits.”

—Micah LeMon, author of The Imbible and bar manager of The Alley Light in Charlottesville, Virginia

Use it as a brine or marinade

“We just added a fried chicken sandwich to our brunch menu, and marinate the chicken thighs in leftover juice from our bread and butter pickles before breading and frying, tossing in chili oil and a house spice mix, and topping with house-made mayo, bread & butter pickles, and a carrot slaw.

—Daniel Gorman, executive chef of Henley in Nashville, Tennessee


“Forty-eight hours before we fry our umami wings, we brine them in a combination of hot sauce and pickle juice. The acids break down the chicken, as well as flavor the meat. When we run our whole fried chicken, we sous vide the bird in pickle juice and shishito peppers.”

—Mark Traugutt, chef of Restaurant Fifty-Nine at Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green, Florida

Margaret Houston

Add it to the mayo in a summer potato salad

“When I make my smoked potato salad, I like adding not only the bread and butter pickles we make in house, but also a bit of the juice to thin the mayonnaise. It gives it a nice sweet acidity to cut the smoky and rich flavors.”

—Cory Chaney, chef of Julep’s New Southern Cuisine in Richmond, Virginia

…or use it in your homemade mayo mix

“I love using pickle juice in the kitchen, specifically to create pickle-juice mayo. For a long time, I made traditional mayo, but found that in addition to having to squeeze a lot of lemons, the mayo had a tendency to come out too thick. Then, one time, I drained some pickled green tomatoes and realized that the leftover pickle juice contained a nice balance of vinegar and sweetness, and when I incorporated it into a mayo, the final product was wonderful and its consistency was thinner and much easier to spread. It’s been my go-to mayo ever since.”

—Josh Stockton, executive chef of Geist in Nashville, Tennessee

Make it the secret ingredient in pimento cheese

“I use pickled jalapeños and a little of their pickling juice in my pimento cheese. I start with the standard shredded cheddar cheese and mayo, but skip the cream cheese and add the jalapeños. Add a little Worcestershire and Tabasco and you’ve got a tangy combination that cuts through the richness of the cheese and mayo. My favorite way to serve it is alongside fried green tomatoes.”

—Clayton Rollison, chef/owner of Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Substitute for vinegar in dressings

“Pickle juice is a great ingredient for salad dressings as a substitute for vinegar. The flavor will be a little less sugary, but will still have a great salty/sweet bite.“

—Imani Greer, chef de cuisine of Public School 404 in Atlanta

Feeling achy? Do a shot

“When the weather is hot and we’ve had a busy day in the kitchen or heavy lifting in stewarding, the team will do a shot of pickle juice to alleviate muscle cramps. Not sure why, but it works exceptionally well.”

—Pete Page executive chef of NOPSI Hotel in New Orleans

Clean your cooktop

“After service while the cooktop is still warm, we pour the leftover pickle juice on it and rub the surface with a grill brick, rinse it with water, and wipe it down with a clean cloth. We thought this was better than using harmful chemicals.”

—Tanya Le, co-owner and chef of Mushi Ni and the forthcoming Braise in Pinewood Forest in Atlanta