Good Luck Pork and Sauerkraut

Looking for the pork and sauerkraut recipe you remember from your childhood? It’s right here!

Champagne toasts. Caviar and blini. Chinese takeout. All laudable New Year’s rituals. But if you’re smart, you’ll already be stocking up at the meat counter for the most important tradition of all: eating pork and sauerkraut for good luck on New Year’s Day.

good luck kielbasa and sauerkraut for New Year's, via goodfoodstories.com
I remember being dragged to Christmas parties as a child, hiding under fold-out buffet tables pushed against wood-paneled walls and laden with steaming Crock Pots. I’d breathe in the briny, slightly acrid perfume of the bubbling kraut and pork fat, watching the grownups’ feet as they shuffled back for another helping. My parents remember their parents feeding it to them every year for luck and likely the great-grandparents were cooking up vats of the stuff when they arrived in the States too.

Though I grew up assuming that good luck pork and sauerkraut was just another weird western PA food quirk, it appears that this tradition is something we Pittsburghers can’t claim as our own.The good luck meal is a staple across the great state of Pennsylvania, and in Ohio, West Virginia, or anywhere with a historically prominent Eastern European or German (which is what the Pennsylvania Dutch are, remember? Dutch=Deutsch) immigrant population.

The formerly green cabbage of the sauerkraut and the abundant fat of the pig symbolize riches and prosperity for the coming year, the pig doing double duty to stand for progress as a forward-rooting and forward-thinking animal (its four hooves all point toward the front). Slavic superstition also dictates that you should eat the long, skinny threads of sauerkraut to give you a long life—smart thinking when you consider the probiotics and other wonderfully healthy byproducts of the fermented cabbage.

The type of pork used is more a matter of personal taste and specific family traditions. I’ve seen recipes calling for bone-in pork loin, pork shoulder, and country ribs, and I doubt the good-luck gods are frowning on one and blessing another.

good luck kielbasa and sauerkraut for New Year's, via goodfoodstories.com
My mom, of German descent, always nestles a rolled pork roast into the sauerkraut and whips up a batch of mashed potatoes so she can spoon the meat and kraut on top and mush it all together. My dad, the Italian, prefers kielbasa (or kolbassi, as we pronounce it in the Pittsburgh area). He also remembers many instances of hot dogs simmering in the sauerkraut, though that combo seems more appropriate for summer months at Citi Field.

As for me, I split my parents’ preferences right down the middle: kielbasa and sauerkraut atop mashed potatoes.

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Comments

  1. Gburg says

    Can’t wait until New Year’s Day. Keilbasa and kraut – it cures hangovers and goes great with watching football.

  2. Joan says

    Mmmmm. Interesting! As a half-Italian American, we never did this. We DID eat grapes on New Year’s Eve for luck, and the Norwegian line of the family forced us to have a bite of herring or other fish on New Year’s Day. Then I married a Polish-American…and have loved pork (especially kielbasa) and kraut ever since! But the South River, NJ Polish Americans, to my knowledge, didn’t favor New Years for this dish. But it did appear at EVERY family gathering, no matter what holiday!
    Good eating, no matter what tradition!

  3. says

    Not my cup of tea, personally, but I do have a number of friends who will absolutely be all over this recipe. I’ll make sure to pass it on to them! But I did find this interesting, nonetheless…I had no idea this food was considered good luck.

  4. Melanie Haiken says

    Could I learn to love sauerkraut? I’m not sure. But I thought I hated Brussels sprouts and suddenly discover I love them. It’s all in the preparation, I guess!

  5. says

    Question: Had dinner with an Irish friend this week who lamented that the pork here doesn’t live up to what she’s used to eating in her homeland. Do you run across such complaints in your travels?

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Sarah, v. interesting question! I assume she’s been eating good American local farm-raised pork in your area, instead of factory farmed grossness. I’ve never had anyone tell me that our piggies don’t live up to Irish standards, though I also haven’t ever been to Ireland.

  6. Kathy H says

    Hi,
    I know you wrote this 2 years ago, but just saw it today. I am from Western Pa. and have had this on New Years Day since I was a child and I am sure my mom made it years before that. I am now 62 and will be serving it today. I lived in the Caribbean for 20 years and even there I made saurkraut and pork on New Years Day.

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Hi Kathy, so glad to hear you brought the tradition of pork and sauerkraut to the Caribbean – hope it found a few new fans down there! Enjoy your pork and sauerkraut today!

  7. says

    We use Sauerkraut to make stuffed cabbage or Sauerkraut&Meat New Years eve with roasted pork and lentils.
    I love your recipe and will try it soon.

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      wow, sauerkraut AND lentils – you’re definitely going for lots of luck in the new year!

  8. scott zanolli says

    being of german and itilain southwestern pa decent..i must say i loved your article….thank you for keeping the traditions going,,,we tend to move on and loose the history of things…thanks….scott

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Scott, so happy you’re keeping the western PA traditions alive – there are a lot of us around the country, aren’t there?

  9. Alexia McMeekin says

    For 13 plus years since my husband and I left Pittsburgh, we had attempted to convert Marylander’s to our New Year’s tradition of pork and sauerkraut; thank god I’m a good cook, otherwise I think they would stay home. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where it was a way of life to have this german classic for NY Day, I won’t have it any other way. Thank you for your article, it was so fun to stumble on it, as I am preparing for tomorrow’s feast.

  10. Caryl says

    Just got my pork and sauerkraut in the slow cooker. I grew up with this having grandparents of Eastern European descent, but hadn’t had it in quite a few years. Woke up this morning with a hankering for it, and found your article. Thanks.

  11. says

    being from Ohio, we always did have pork and sauerkraut on New years Day. We always heard it made you healthy and wealthy in the new year. Now I live in the south and they have greens and hoppin-john as their traditional meal. But I’ll stick to my Ohio roots anyway, GO BUCKEYES!!!!

  12. says

    My recipe: some pork, it could be a roast, country style ribs or kielbasa, a jar or plastic bag of sauerkraut and i 12 ounce can of beer. Put it all in the crockpot and let it cook on high 6 hours or so. serve with mashed potatoes, college bowl games, and some cold beer. Bon appetit!

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      I love the addition of beer to the braising liquid – maybe we should make it an Iron City? :)

  13. Dr. Neff says

    Scott,
    I agree, always had this growing up. My spin which differs from my folks is to add a bottle of beer and just a touch of brown sugar.
    try it, I think you will like it.

  14. Donnie Medvec says

    Try a can of beer and a can of stewed tomatoes. The beer for my German and Slovak heritage and the tomatoes for my Italian taste buds. Works very well

  15. says

    It’s interesting how Italians do sausage and lentils, and Germans do pork and sauerkraut…it’s all about the fatty meat on New Year’s Day, it seems. Great recipe, thanks!

  16. Elaine says

    We had this all the time and the tradition continues in my home. Our twist on it is to add a bit of caraway, black pepper, brown sugar & white wine. I use either pork shoulder, spare ribs or a loin roast. I’ve also been known to use kielbasa or chunked Taylor’s pork roll.

  17. Millie Breck says

    We grew up having this on my side of the family as well as my husbands. We do add caraway seeds too and beer.

  18. Deborah says

    The German side of my family has lived in Philadelphia for over 200 years. Each New Year we proudly make our pork and sauerkraut with a good dose of beer and bay leaves. As the author states this is not a uniquely German tradition. The German Empire was far more vast than Germany’s modern boundaries.
    Dutch, in this case, does not equal Deutch. Deutch was a derogatory term used for Low Country peoples during the religious persecutions and later anglicized. Ethnic slurs shouldn’t be encountered when one is reading a recipe.

    • Danny says

      I am predominantly German and I have no problem the “ethnic titles” spoke about here. Everyone has thin skin and hurt feelings these days, I would like to think this weakness doesn’t affect the Germanic peoples. Let it stand.

  19. says

    Good Gravy!! I wish people would lighten up. I’m Pennsylvania Dutch and proud of it!! I couldn’t give a hoot or a holler if it used to be a derogatory term! And, yes, my pork roast will be simmering in sauerkraut so that we can all have a bite of it as soon as it is the new year!!!

  20. Mike Grimes says

    Deutsch is certainly not a derogatory word. Take it from someone who lived in the motherland for 6 years. After all, the German spelling for Germany is in fact Deutschland, their language Deutsch and those from Germany referred to as Deutsche.

    Get a clue and lighten up.

    Great recipe. Very similar to my mothers. Just needed a refresher and you gave me just what I needed. Happy new year!

  21. arby says

    I was raised in Western PA with a German mother. Our family tradition was to always have ham on Christmas to symbolize the end of the year (back end of the pig), & then to have pork roast & sauerkraut on New Years Day (front end of pig) to symbolize happy & successful new year ahead.

  22. Cheryl says

    Just putting together my pork roast, and I like to get other recipes and mix it up with my own. I’m not German, I’m 100% Italian. From Pittsburgh, and have always had this New Years Eve as tradition in our family. My family does the Fest of the 7 Fishes Christmas eve, so by the time New Years eve rolls around, I want some comfort food! Bring in the pork roast, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and kielbasa,
    etc…

  23. Susie says

    My family is of Eastern European decent and have traditionally cooked the pork, kielbasa and sauerkraut every New Year’s Day (for luck !). My crock pot is simmering as I write. I grew up in Western PA (and miss it terribly) but have lived in New Jersey for the past 5 years. Many in this area have not heard of the “pork and sauerkraut” New Year’s tradition. I am proud of my heritage and Western PA upbringing and will continue this tradition every year, no matter where I live !
    Happy New Year (and good luck) to all and thank you for the recipe which is very, very similar to my own. The only difference is that I use some chicken stock instead of all water.

    • Deedee says

      I’m also from Pa, the eastern part of the state. I lived near Amish country for many years. Pork and kraut was our New Year’s tradition since as far back as i can remember. I’m now in the SW Arizona desert, and I still make it every year ( and many times in between).

  24. Kathleen says

    I love your site and all the comments I come from German descent and grew up in Ohio. My grandmother and then mom always served us the traditional pork and sauerkraut on New Years day and I have carried on the tradition for 47 years while residing in San Diego California, My family and friends come over every year for some good luck food. Thank God for traditions and family and thank you all for sharing the love. Great recipe Casey all I add is a little brown sugar and lots of love.

  25. Doreen King says

    Lighten up! I am proud of my PA Dutch heritage. (Hultzapple and Enterline families) & we must have pork sauerkraut and mashed potatoes on New Years day.

  26. moom says

    Had my plate of “good luck” kraut, pork, and mashed potatoes today. A festive New Year to all!

  27. heather r says

    Thank you so much for the wonderful story. Sounds like we had the same Pittsburgh upbringing. I look forward to reading more of your beautiful food stories.