Normally, I don’t like to work too hard to enjoy my food. I take boneless wings over bone-in, and I wish most shrimp dishes were served with the tails off. But some of the best things in life don’t come easy, and anyone who is a fan of Grillo’s Pickles knows this to be true.
Unlike many of the leading brands, Grillo’s Pickles come in a plastic container rather than a glass jar. These pickles must be refrigerated at the grocery store, whereas most others are stored in the aisles at room temperature, only requiring refrigeration after opening. (Here’s an explainer on why.) The plastic containers that house Grillo’s spears, chips, and other pickle products are part of what makes the brand stand out, but they certainly require some extra work on the part of the consumer.
Why Grillo’s Pickles come in the plastic tub
Grillo’s got its start as a pickle cart in Boston in 2008, when founder Travis Grillo decided to share his grandfather’s 100-year-old pickle recipe with the public.
“Early on when we were just a pickle cart, we didn’t even really think about putting them in jars,” Eddie Andre, Grillo’s first official employee and now head of branding, told The Takeout. “It was all a family recipe, so we would put it in mason jars back in the day because we weren’t selling them. But when we started actually selling them on the street… we don’t boil or pasteurize anything. So, it’s a fresh product made cold, and packed cold, and then it’s got to stay refrigerated.”
Andre explains that many shelf-stable pickles are boiled, which he compares to the way jarred pasta sauce is handled at the factory level. To expand just a bit on Andre’s explanation, the pickles you buy unrefrigerated at the grocery store spend much more time soaking in brine, with the focus being more on long-term preservation. So these tend to contain much more salt than those made the Grillo’s way.
In addition to Grillo’s desire to sell a fresh, quality product, the plastic tub containers were a smart business move from the beginning.
“Back in the day glass was too expensive… so we were looking at a few different things: cost, weight, and just, like, logistically how we could do it,” he said.. “We made a relationship with a packing store that sold to a lot of Asian restaurants all their supplies, for takeout trays and wonton soup jars. And that’s what we started with, because they actually come pre-sterilized… so we didn’t have to worry about any type of cleaning.”
The Grillo’s team also thought the plastic containers gave the product a farmers market feel, because market vendors use similar packaging for salsas and other fresh items. Overall, the containers made the brand stand out, and that was the point.
The challenge with fresh refrigerated pickles is that the product has a shorter shelf life than the glass jarred competitors. This requires the company to educate the grocery stores that sell Grillo’s, as well as the average pickle consumer.
“Every grocery store buyer who buys refrigerated pickles is different,” Andre said. “Target, we’re in the produce department. Kroger, we’re in the meat section. In Safeway, we’re in dairy.” When someone walks into a grocery store looking for pickles, they’ll look up at the sign over the aisles and wind up where the shelf-stable, glass jars are. As a category, refrigerated pickles are still a bit new, so it will take some time for people to discover the good stuff.
How to open (and close) a container of Grillo’s Pickles
Grillo’s containers are filled to the top with product so that no air gets in (oxygen speeds up fermentation), but for the customer, that’s where the challenges begin. Opening up a tub of these pickles comes with a learning curve, to say the least. If you go about it the wrong way, you’ll have to deal with a geyser of pickle juice spewing out from the top.
Here’s just a small selection of what Grillo’s lovers on Twitter have to say about the packaging:
- “why is a tutorial needed to open a container of Grillo’s pickles?”
- “Sorry I’m late I tried to open a new container of Grillo’s Pickles and had to take a shower because I was covered in dill and brine.”
- “pickle juice splash zone over here”
- “try to open a tub of grillo’s pickles without getting pickle juice everywhere challenge (impossible)”
- “Grillo’s pickles are the best pickles in the game! But there’s got to be a way to open the lid without flooding my kitchen and losing a roll of bounty! #PickleProblems”
- “I can easily lift 235lbs for 3 sets of 6 reps double overhand no straps, but tryna open these fucking Grillo’s Pickles buckets has me feeling like a goddamn scrawny child with zero grip strength”
- “I love Grillo’s Pickles, but that container the first time you open it - oof.”
Grillo’s, for its part, understands this. In fact, the brand is so aware of the finesse it takes to open its tubs without creating a mess that it has a video tutorial on its FAQ page. The video also shows the importance of pressing down firmly to close the jar again.
If you can’t spare 57 seconds to study the video above, Andre also offered some helpful tips:
- Sometimes the break tab won’t break, and that’s a “pain in the ass,” but it’s a rare occurrence. So, be sure to break the tab off completely by either pulling down or to the side, depending on the size of the jar.
- Then, put your fingertips on the top edges, because if you squeeze the sides of the container as you lift the lid, you’re guaranteed to spill.
- Hold the container down on a table rather than trying to hold it aloft while opening.
- Use one hand to stabilize the jar by its top edges and your other hand to pull directly up on the spot where the break tab was removed. Try to have the pressure you apply on top go with the flow of the lid as you pull up and back.
- As long as you don’t push down on the top while opening, the brine shouldn’t burp out at you.
- The lid will snap back into place if you press down on opposite edges with both hands, though this must be done firmly on a stable surface.
Luckily, for those who love Grillo’s but want to get to the goods a little more easily, Grillo’s has something exciting in the works regarding its packaging. Andre said the brand has been exploring this for the past seven years and it hopes to launch in early 2024 (spoiler alert: a glass container is not on the horizon). My fingers are crossed that by this time next year, not a single drop of delicious pickle juice will be wasted while opening my Grillo’s container.