Farmer Chrissie's 16 Best Tips for Great Homemade Stock
Updated: Mar 12, 2022
By popular demand here it is again: everything I know about making great homemade stock. How to make beef stock. How to make chicken stock. How to make turkey stock. How to make broth in general. It's been more than 16 years since the last time I bought a package of pre-made broth at the grocery store, and you don't have to buy it again either. Homemade stock is literally THE easiest thing in the world to make, and it's better tasting, more nutritionally dense, and far less expensive compared to storebought. Sixteen years into farming, and I've compiled 16 of my best tips for making great homemade stock.
First: like all homebrew projects, the best advice (paraphrased from Charlie Papazian) is to just relax and don't worry. All homemade stock is good, and all homemade stock is WAY better than store-bought. There are really only a few unrepairable ways to ruin it: one is to let it burn, one is to add too much salt, and the third way is to let it spoil, unused, in the refrigerator. But keep reading, and you're not going to let any of those three things happen.
Homemade stock is really not a fixed recipe. It's a general process, which can be used for any species of broth, and every home cook has his or her own spin on it. Some swear by their personal spin, insisting for example that the stock must be made from bones that have first been roasted (or even: that the bones must first be blanched before they're roasted before they're simmered for broth, give me a break), or that vinegar must be added. I consider these "nice to do" or advanced techniques. In my view there are very few “musts,” don't let them scare you away from making your own.
So back to my pots on the stove in the photo above. (And yes, that's a container of tile mortar on the counter - we always have DIY projects happening in our 1905 farmhouse.)
Here's how I did it: for the beef stock on the left, I filled the pan half full of water, dropped in two of our frozen beef bone kits, frozen, right out of the package. I added a large carrot - unpeeled and uncleaned - roughly chopped into four pieces, a few stalks of celery roughly cut to fit in the pot, and a couple of small onions roughly cut in half, plus a handful of fresh parsley. I brought it to a boil, then turned it down to a slow simmer, where it simmers now. Sometime tonight, or maybe tomorrow, I'll get around to straining it and skimming the fat off the top. And then I'll continue to simmer it until the reduced stock fits in a one-quarter canning jar. I'll write "beef stock, 11/15/21" on the lid (that was the date back when I first wrote this email!) and put it in the refrigerator, where it will set up solid like Jell-O.
For the chicken stock on the right, I filled the pan half full of water. I used a knife to cut open the plastic on one of our frozen chicken stock kits, which contains heads, feet, necks, and backs, and dropped the frozen block into the water. I added a large carrot roughly chopped into four pieces, a few stalks of celery roughly cut to fit in the pot, and a couple of small onions roughly cut in half, plus a handful of fresh parsley. I brought it to a boil, then turned it down to a slow simmer, where it simmers now. Sometime tonight, or maybe tomorrow, I'll get around to straining it and skimming the fat off the top. And then I'll continue to simmer it until the reduced stock fits in a one-quarter canning jar. I'll write "chicken stock, 11/15/21" on the lid and put it in the refrigerator, where it will set up solid like Jello-O.
Basic stock is really that easy. Make two pots, or read the process twice (as you just did!), and you pretty much have it down pat. So why do people think it's so complicated? Maybe because there are many tips and refinements. My best 15 follow below; you can do any or all of them, or just stick to the basics above, and all will give you great stock.
FARMER CHRISSIE'S 15 BEST TIPS FOR MAKING HOMEMADE STOCK:
TIP #1: The one-quart jar of condensed stock that you make via the process above is the flavor and nutrition equivalent of about a case of canned stock. What is that now, $4/can or something? So say $50. You just spent all day making your lovely jar of stock. So this is a precious thing that should not be allowed to go bad in the refrigerator. That's why it's important to write the date on the lid. To prevent it from EVER going bad, just re-boil it once a month and write the new date on the lid. Many, many times I have kept a jar of stock in excess of six months by simply re-boiling it every 3-4 weeks. You can even do this without using any additional energy. When you are roasting meat in the oven, for example, simply take the lid off your canning jar and place it in the oven alongside your roast (taking care to ensure it is stable not to tip over and spill). If the stock completely liquefies and is above 140 °F for more than 30 minutes, it will be pasteurized and good for another 3-4 weeks.
TIP #2: Never buy fresh, new, first-quality vegetables for making stock. It's a complete waste of your food budget. Instead, use a permanent marker to write "stock" on a gallon Ziplock™ freezer bag, and keep the bag in your freezer. Tonight when you're chopping onions for dinner, put the top, bottom, skin, and first couple of layers that you peel into the bag. In a few days when you strip the leaves off the parsley, do not throw away the stems: put them in your freezer bag. Making carrot sticks for the kids' lunches? Put the carrot top, bottom, and peelings into your freezer bag. Sliced mushrooms for your breakfast omelette? Put the stems and trimmings in the freezer bag. Cleaning up after dinner? Put the bones from your roasts and steaks, or the bones from your chicken carcass, and frankly why not: any leftovers from your family's dinner plates—into the freezer bag. Celery sticks? Put the tops, bottoms, leaves and strings into the freezer bag. When you're ready to make your next pot of stock, pull out your freezer bag and put the vegetables in with the bones. Is your freezer bag full? Perfect, time to make stock. Shake everything into the pot, and add water. Put your empty ziplock bag back in the freezer to re-use.
TIP #3: Homemade stock costs basically nothing to make. Did you notice? You just replaced a $50 case of canned stock with homemade stock that cost you almost nothing. The bones are free when you save them from your roasts and steaks and roast chicken carcass, and the vegetable scraps were free because you were going to throw them away.
TIP #4: increased depth of flavor comes from pre-roasting the bones. While this is true, please do not let this fussy extra step be the reason you're not making homemade stock. It is not necessary. But caramelizing the bones in the oven does give a deeper, richer flavor. It's not hard, and is great to do on a cold day when the house needs the extra heat anyway. The house will smell divine. Turn on your oven to, say, 350 °F (the exact temperature really doesn't matter). Put new or leftover, fresh or frozen, bones on a cookie sheet. Put them in the oven and roast until well browned, maybe an hour. Then follow the process above. You can brown and caramelize your vegetables too. Did I mention you should always save your leftover roasted vegetables in your freezer bag for making stock? (Go back to tip #2)
Variation on tip #4: note that this can also be done without spending any extra energy. Just put the bones into the oven while you're roasting something else anyway. Give yourself permission not to have to do everything on the same day. You can roast the bones on one day, keep them in the refrigerator for a day or two, or store them longer in the freezer, and then make stock on a different day. Or you can start the stock with the roasted bones, and then add the leftover items from your roast on the following day -- you're going to simmer the stock for one to a few days anyhow.
TIP #5: increased mineral content. In homemade stock, the minerals come primarily from the bones (as opposed to the muscle meat, the connective tissue, or the vegetables.) Those minerals are locked in there pretty good, which is what gives you or the animal such nice strong bones. You can help release the minerals by adding an acid, such as apple cider vinegar, mead vinegar, kombucha vinegar, malt vinegar, a beer, or a glass of red or white wine, or mead. Which one you use is really just a matter of taste preference. The longer you simmer the bones (up to three days), the more minerals will leach out of the bones and into your stock.
TIP #6 IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: While I often simmer stock for three days, usually because I'm too lazy or too busy to finish it up on day #1 or day #2, I ALWAYS shut off the stove when I leave the house, or when we go to bed for the night. Put the lid on the pot, turn off the heat, and walk away. It will be fine for up to 24 hours. Really. You just turned off the boil: it's sterilized. You just put the lid on and it cooled: it has formed a vacuum sealing the lid. When you get home, or get up in the morning, turn the heat on high to return it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and continue.
Tip #6A: another important safety step, especially if you have young children in the house, it's better to have your pot at the BACK of the stove, not the front. Using the front burner would make it much more likely that a young child (or anyone else) will somehow manage to spill several gallons of boiling broth onto their body.
TIP #7: massively increased mineral content: if you are ardently working to correct a mineral deficiency in someone you love (that list should include yourself, by the way), you can smash the bone with a hammer before simmering, and again after simmering for 24 hours, to enable extracting even more nutrition from the bones. Frankly this is a pain in the ass and I don't think it's worth it, but if you're really after minerals this is the way to release them into solution.
TIP #8: gelatin and collagen. Many people swear by taking gelatin tablets for their hair and nails. (a) those are expensive, and (b) you totally do not want to know where those come from. Or if you do, just check out "gelatin production" on wikipedia. Collagen comes from the connective tissue (as opposed to the bones or flesh meat or vegetables). These connective tissues include tendons, ligaments, spinal discs, combs and wattles, which is why heads, feet, hooves, backs, wings, knucklebones and drumsticks all make great stock. (Sorry for mixing species in my list there.) These items improve the texture and mouthfeel of stock so much that I would not even bother to make homemade stock without them. Silky-viscous broth that sets up in the refrigerator like Jell-O™? This is how you get that. Farmer Chrissie's fingernails are so strong that I daily use them in lieu of a screwdriver. No kidding.
TIP #9: rich, meaty flavor. The flavor of stock come from the flesh meats: the muscle. The bits of meat left on the carcass or the bones after you're done with dinner. (As opposed to the bone, the connective tissue, the marrow, or the vegetables). Don't be tempted to make a stock just from naked bones, or just from chicken feet. While the resulting broth will have lots of mineral content, it won't taste like, well, like stock. This is why saving those little bits of uneaten scraps from your family's plates after dinner is a good idea. Or add a few chicken wings or a drumstick to chicken stock. Or even add a half pound of ground beef to a beef stock since ground meat is generally the least expensive option and also the form with the most surface area. This is why Kookoolan Farms chicken stock kits are not just made from feet. Our stock kits include feet, necks, backs, heads, and wings - giving you a great combination of bones, muscle meat, and connective tissue for a well-flavored stock.
TIP #10: vitamin content. Vitamins come from vegetables. The more vegetables you use in your stock, the richer the vitamin content. Have kids who won't eat their vegetables? Sneak the vitamins into their chicken noodle soup by making a vitamin-rich broth with extra vegetables. There was nothing sacred about the quantity of vegetables, or even which vegetables, I suggested at the top of this page. Use your favorites, and use lots more if that's consistent with your goals for making your own stock. In fact, November 1st is National Vegan Day: you can make just plain vegetable stock with no meat at all, using essentially the same process.
TIP #11: layered flavor and more vitamins. The longer you cook vegetables, the more you lose the vitamins. You do not have to add the vegetables at the same time as the bones. You can wait until the second day to add vegetables. And then to boost the vitamin content, you can simmer for two hours and remove the vegetables, then add more vegetables. Again, simmer for two hours, remove the vegetable solids, and add more vegetables. And yet a third time. Yowza, you have just built a Vitamin Bomb.
TIP #12: stock "ice" cubes. I talked about how to put your reduced stock in a mason jar in the fridge and reboil it once a month. If you don't think that will work for you, another great method is to pour the strained stock into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Then turn the finished "ice cubes" out into a Ziplock™ freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. Write "chicken stock, 11/5/21" on the bag, and you can easily use the cubes one at a time. They will keep for at least a year in the freezer.
Tip 12A: A variation on this is to pour the cooled broth into Ziplock™ freezer bags and freeze them flat. Then it becomes very easy to break off pieces of this "sheet" of stock to use in your sauces and recipes.
TIP #13: Use your finished broth to add flavor and nutrition to grains. Regardless of whether you're cooking rice, quinoa, or millet, don't cook grains in plain old water. Add a few spoonfuls or an ice cube of your homemade stock to the pot for a major flavor and nutrition boost.
TIP #14: Using your finished broth to make a pan sauce. Go from boring to special this easily: pan-fry a sirloin steak in some butter or olive oil. When the steak is done, remove it to a plate, and add a stock “ice cube” or large spoonful of broth from your mason jar. Reduce to a glaze, picking up any browned bits and other juices that may already be in the pan from cooking the meat. Pour over the steak.
TIP #15: Did I mention that you needn't have only ONE best recipe for making stock? Add ginger, garlic and soy sauce to make an Asian-inspired broth. Add chorizo and peppers to make a Mexican-inspired broth. Add oregano and garlic and rosemary to make an Italian-inspired broth. No one of these is somehow “better” than the others, and each will find use in your everyday recipes! Just remember to write on the lid of the jar with a sharpie marker! (So now you'd be writing not just the species and the date, but also the flavor profile, on your label. For example your label might say “Asian Beef Broth, 11/4/21”.)
TIP #16: If you've got a beloved pet you like to spoil and you have a high-powered blender such as a VitaMix, after you've finished making your stock, you can take the leftover well-boiled solids (except for the very largest and hardest bones) and put them in the VitaMix to make pet food!