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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 good luck pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day.

good luck pork and sauerkraut for New Year's
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

good luck pork and sauerkraut for New Year's
Photo: Casey Barber

The formerly green cabbage of the sauerkraut and the abundant fat of the pig symbolize riches and prosperity for the coming year.

The pig does double duty on the luckiness front, also representing 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 pork and sauerkraut for New Year's
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

Watch the video and get the recipe below for good luck pork and sauerkraut!

good luck pork and sauerkraut for new year's
good luck pork and sauerkraut for New Year's, via goodfoodstories.com

Good Luck Pork and Sauerkraut

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
or Slow Cooker Cook Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 12 hours 15 minutes

Good luck pork and sauerkraut is usually served on New Year's Day. Find out why this German and Eastern European tradition persists (hint: it's delicious!).

Ingredients

  • olive oil (optional)
  • 3-4 pounds pork: pork butt roast, pork shoulder, bone-in loin roast, kielbasa, or any combination
  • 4 pounds sauerkraut in brine
  • 1 sweet, white, or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and diced; Macintosh, Honeycrisp, or any firm variety are excellent
  • mashed potatoes on the side

Instructions

  1. If using a whole cut of pork such as a roast, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a Dutch oven or large saute pan over medium-high heat and brown the meat on all sides.
  2. If using kielbasa, you can skip this step and instead cut the sausages lengthwise and then crosswise into half-moon shapes about 1 inch thick.
  3. In a large Dutch oven or slow cooker, stir the sauerkraut and its brine together with the apple and onion.
  4. Nestle the roast and/or stir the kielbasa into the sauerkraut and assess how much liquid is in the pan. You may need to add up to 2 cups water if your kraut is fairly dry.
  5. If using a Dutch oven, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, cooking low and slow for 3-4 hours. If using a slow cooker, cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8 hours.
  6. When the pork is done, it will be fork-tender and falling off the bone or separating from the fat. If using kielbasa, it will have darkened significantly (and require less cooking time).
  7. Shred the pork into bite-sized pieces and discard any large chunks of fat.
  8. Serve with mashed potatoes, if desired.

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42 Comments

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

  2. 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. 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. 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. 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?

    1. 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. 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.

    1. 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. 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.

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

  8. 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

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

  9. 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. 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. 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. 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!

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

  13. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

    1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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

  27. 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.

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