No Fail Cooler Yogurt

Several members of my family have a slight dairy intolerance to straight milk, but we can eat all we’d like of yogurt and never have a problem. Finding a yogurt that isn’t full of undesirable extras can be difficult, and is usually expensive. I wanted to try my hand at making my own yogurt. I read many tutorials online which lead me to believe that making yogurt at home was difficult and time-consuming. I wanted to save money and have a superior product, but I just couldn’t commit to all the complicated steps that many of the recipes had—heating, checking temperatures, starters, special appliances, and watching the clock for the finished product. There had to be an easier way!

After chatting with a neighbor, she told me I didn’t need anything more than a few mason jars and a cooler to make the best yogurt I’d ever eaten. After some sparse suggestions, and hardly believing it could be that easy, I began experimenting–what I’ve come up with is No Fail Cooler Yogurt.

The key to making yogurt in less than 5 minutes is starting with Ultra-Pasteurized Milk. I use Horizon Organic or a store-brand Organic milk and prefer whole milk, but you can use skim or reduced fat with equal success. You can even use half-n-half if you have someone who needs that extra fat in their diet.

Some people sterilize their jars and equipment, but I’ve never found this step necessary. Just wash your hands and get started. This recipe can be double or tripled easily. Just don’t make more yogurt than you’ll eat in about a week. It’s so easy, you can make fresh yogurt whenever you’d like more. If you like Greek yogurt, follow this recipe, and then scroll down for how to make strained (Greek) yogurt.


No Fail Cooler Yogurt

½ gallon Ultra-Pasteurized Whole Milk
6-8 oz plain yogurt with active cultures
Large pot for boiling water
Large mixing bowl
Pint Mason Jars with lids 

Start a large pot of water boiling on the stove.

Pour your milk into your mixing bowl. Add your yogurt. Whisk until mixed. Transfer into Mason jars. Add lids. Put in cooler. Pour very hot, but not boiling water into cooler. Close. Wait 8ish hours. You have yogurt!

Makes 6 – 8 pints depending how full you fill them. I usually fill 6 to the rim, with a 7th just a little less than that. 

Okay, that seems too simple, right? Really, that’s it! But, I will elaborate some more, and also explain how to make Greek yogurt from your cooler yogurt.

Remember, you MUST use an ultra-pasteurized milk. If you do not do this, it will not turn out without heating. It will be runny. Ultra-pasteurized milk has been subjected to high heat as a part of the bottling process, so it’s essentially been ‘pre-heated’ for the purposes of this recipe. I personally like the ultra-pasteurized milk, because for those who are lactose intolerant, it can usually be tolerated somewhat. And, best of all for those of us that live in the country and grocery shop once a month, it has a very long ‘use by’ date–usually 6-8 weeks from your date of purchase.

For your plain yogurt, you can use any brand you’d like as long as it has active cultures. I suggest using something that you already like flavor wise. My favorite brand to use is “Greek Gods Traditional Plain Yogurt” (Artemis/green container), because I find its flavor to be mild, and it contains multiple strains of active cultures to make a nice end product. Experiment and see what plain yogurt brand produces a flavor you like. Once you get started, you can just save back one pint of your homemade yogurt to make the next batch. I do recommend using a new starter every few batches otherwise the end result can get too tangy in my opinion. Again, experiment and see what works for you and your family’s taste preferences.

When you stir/whisk the yogurt into the milk. Just make sure you’ve broken up any big chunks of yogurt. I usually mix briskly, but not whipping it by any means.  I use a 1 cup measuring cup to transfer the milk/yogurt mixture to my Mason jars. I scoop from the bottom of the bowl at least once for each jar to be sure to get a little of any yogurt that may have settled into each jar somewhat evenly. If you’re using regular mouth jars, you may want to use a canning funnel to be sure you don’t spill. You can actually get by with using less yogurt–even a few tablespoons is enough. However, you may have inconsistent results if you don’t get enough culture into each mason jar. If you want to use less, I’d recommend filling your Mason jars, adding a teaspoon or so to each jar and stirring so you’re sure each jar has some culture.  That just seems like more work to me, so I use a little more and the big bowl.

I like to use wide-mouth jars for ease of filling and use, but you can use just about anything–even a collection of glass jars so long as the lids close securely. I actually have some plastic ‘after-market’ lids that go on my wide-mouth Mason jars. I prefer these to the metal as over time they can rust since you’re immersing the jars in water. The plastic lids can be picked up inexpensively at any store that sells canning supplies, or of course ordered online.

Your cooler doesn’t really matter so long as it will hold water and keep it warm for at least 8 hours. It’s also nice to have it be roughly just big enough for your selected jars, so you don’t have to add so much boiling water that it ends up too hot.  I have just a basic camping cooler that I can stack two layers of jars in and fill with water. It’s umpteen years old and still works just fine. Before your first use, just wash with soap and water. Your jars are sealed, so it’s not a huge deal, but I just prefer a nice clean cooler. I actually use mine exclusively for making yogurt, but we make it frequently (usually every 2-3 days) so it’s in use a lot.

I stack my jars inside the cooler and then CAREFULLY pour the almost boiling water over them until they are covered at least to the rims. BUT, you can completely submerge them as well. I usually do two layers of jars, so the bottom layer is completely submerged and then some. Just be sure that you have it at least to the rims of the jars on the top layer.

If you’re worried that the boiling water will kill your active cultures in your yogurt, it won’t! The milk/yogurt isn’t heated and therefore the combination of the cold milk and boiling water brings the temperature to just the right level for making yogurt. I haven’t sat and calculated it out, but I promise it just works!

Once you’ve put your jars in the cooler, and added the water. Close the lid. It’s that simple. Just close the lid, set aside, and walk away.  You can check it in 6 or so hours and it may be done. I usually go 8-12 hours. I start it in the morning, put it away before bed, and don’t pay much attention to the clock. I’ve also let it go more than 24 hours and it was fine too. The flavor can get tangier the longer you leave it, so you may want to check some containers at 6, 8, and 10 hours and see if it is done to your liking earlier. Then, make sure to pull yours at that time in the future. Personally, I don’t notice much difference in flavor with more time unless it’s over 24 hours.

How do you know it’s ‘done’?  It will look thick and “yogurty”.  There can be some separating of the whey (clear slightly yellow liquid) though if you’re pulling before 24 hours, you won’t see much of this. This yogurt may not be AS thick as commercial plain yogurt, depending what brand you’re used to eating. But, it also doesn’t have any thickeners, sweeteners, or anything else funky in it either!

Simply put containers in the fridge at this point and they are ready to use. If any separating occurs, either pour off the whey, or stir back into the yogurt.

We love to put a pint of yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, handful of spinach or baby kale, and a little honey into the blender and make a yummy, easy smoothie.

If you like a thicker yogurt, you can strain this yogurt you’ve made. Depending how long you strain and how much whey you remove, you can vary the consistency to your liking. Including straining for a longer time and making a yogurt ‘cheese’ (use like cream cheese).


Strained “Greek” Yogurt

2 pints (or more) plain yogurt
cheesecloth or clean flour sack type towel

Nest the colander over the bowl. Lay your cheesecloth over the colander. Pour your yogurt into the center of the cheese cloth. You can just let it sit and put a plate over the top of it of the whole thing to keep it from drying out. But, I prefer gathering it up and tying a string (or rubber band) around the top. Now, you just wait for the whey to come out the bottom into the bowl. How long you wait depends on how much whey drains. You can wiggle and move the cloth around a bit to ensure you don’t have a still very liquidy center in the middle of the bundle.


The maximum I’d suggest doing in one ‘bundle’ at a time is 4 pints. Anything more and there isn’t enough surface area on the outside for the whey to make its way out. (har-har!) If you’re using a reusable towel, be sure that you wash it without any fabric softeners or you’ll have an icky surprise in the flavor of the Greek yogurt!

I find that the warm, fresh out of the cooler yogurt will strain very quickly—usually 30-45 mins and it’s a nice thick consistency. You can strain from the fridge too, but it will take a little longer. You can always put a weight on top of the bundle in the colander, but I find when you do this, you tend to lose some of the actual yogurt rather than just the whey.

You can save the whey and there are a variety of uses for it. No one in my family seems to care for it, so we pour it over the dog’s food and he really likes it. But, you may want to use for lacto-fermenting or other creative cooking endeavors.

Once your yogurt is as thick as you’d like, open the bundle and scoop/scrape it into a clean container. “Whip” it a little to ensure a smooth, even consistency. You can add any flavorings or sweeteners you’d like at this point or use in recipes. We like honey and a bit of vanilla and Bountiful Baskets granola sprinkled on top!

Many people who don’t like traditional yogurt, do like Greek strained yogurt as the flavor is much milder with the whey removed.


If your yogurt does happen to ‘fail’, you can still use the end product in another way. It’s not bad. You can either try to fix it, or you can keep it for smoothies or maybe make some soup. Or, if all else fails, maybe your dog might like some yogurt milk.

Possible Failures and how to fix

Nothing happened. It looks like milk. 1)       Your plain yogurt didn’t have any active cultures in it– (check the label!). Try another brand.

2)      Your cooler had too much extra space so your hot water heated the yogurt/milk mixture too high and killed your cultures. Try a smaller cooler, or slightly cool the water before adding.

3)      The cooler didn’t keep it warm enough (remove some water and add more boiling water and wait again, you may be able to rescue it!)

It is really thin and/or very separated.
It sort of looks like yogurt, but not really.
You likely didn’t use the ultra-pasteurized milk–REQUIRED for the no-heat method of this recipe. Or see above for other possible problems.


  1. I love the no heat idea of this yogurt and can’t wait to try it.. I’m living in the Bronx and can’t for the life of me find any Organic milk sold anywhere near me that is not Ultra Pasteurized and homogenized this is terrible! I would like to find an organic choice that is not UHT???
    Our family loves yogurt and it pains me to think of all those single use plastic yogurt containers out there… if only more folks would spend a few minutes to set a few jars of yogurt into their cooler!

  2. We eat lots of yogurt so I’d like to make larger batches. Can larger than pint jars be used such as quart jars?

  3. Can this recipe be used with Soy milk or Almond milk

  4. Kristine mcallister

    Can one make yogurt without using yogurt? Can you add fruit/flavoring like it has in the stores? If so, before or after you let it sit for the 8 hours? We eat yogurt everyday and it is SO expensive to buy those little cups but we like a lot of variety….. Thanks for the help and posting this to begin with!

  5. Chris Katzl

    I have found coconut milk to be much cheaper when I go to an Asian store to buy it.

  6. Dorothy, you can! I’ve not used soy milk, but I do know that you can. It won’t turn out quite as thick, and straining should really help that! If you can tolerate a little dairy, you can use just a few tablespoons of a dairy yogurt. If you cannot, then find a plain soy yogurt with active cultures and use it. Or, find a non-dairy starter.

    If it is too thin, you can also use a thickener like a few tablespoons of tapioca starch or few teaspoons of unflavored gelatin. You’d add this after your starter. Just be sure to whisk well to combine! You might look up soy milk yogurt recipes, but use the cooler portion of these instructions.

    I have made coconut milk yogurt though. It was tasty, but expensive considering the price of the coconut milk, and then straining it reduces the volume yet again. BUT, I know that coconut milk yogurt commercially is quite expensive compared to dairy yogurt. I would definitely recommend a bit of thickener with the coconut milk to not waste anything. You’ll also need at least 10-12 hrs for coconut milk yogurt if not more like 14-16.

    If you make one of the non-dairy varieties, you can make smaller batches and keep using some from your current batch for starter to keep it going and keep your costs down too.

    Good luck! Would love to hear a report of how soy milk turns out.

  7. Do you have a recipe for making yogurt with soy or rice milk? Lactose intolerance is too severe to use even pasturized milk.

  8. Some would argue that any pasteurization destroys those beneficial bacteria. Since we don’t all have access to cows of our own for raw milk, we use what we have. I’m comfy with the UHT milk and we tolerate it better than any other milk out there save for raw. Some say that the UHT won’t make yogurt since it’s all stripped, but it works just fine.

    You can certainly still use this method and follow heating/cooling instructions. Or, don’t heat and strain the resulting thinner yogurt if you don’t want to use the ultra-pasteurized milk.

    I just can’t do the whey in smoothies yet….I can’t get over the flavor….yet!

  9. Lacey Wilcox

    The only caution I would offer is that ultra-pasteurized milk is that it has been stripped of the incredibly beneficial bacteria that are actually very good for us. Like you said, the resulting product will not be as thick or creamy, but it will contain more of these amazing bacteria! I think you can strain the final result just like you said in this helpful post and it will thicken up some!

    Don’t throw away the whey–it’s a natural superfood, a great addition to smoothies!

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