Bone broth! Have you heard of it? It's made by simmering meaty bones with a handful of aromatic vegetables for hours — even days! — until you end up with a rich, nutritious, and deeply savory broth. It's the kind of thing that's perfect for sipping from a mug on a cold day, or for dressing up and turning into a hearty soup for dinner.
You might also know bone broth by another name: beef broth. Yup, that's right — bone broth has become quite the trendy beverage recently (thanks, Paleo friends!), but at its heart, bone broth is the same thing that home cooks and chefs have kept simmering on back burners for centuries. Want to try making it yourself? Let's do it!
What Is Bone Broth?
Bone broth truly has been around for centuries — every world cuisine has their own version. Historically, bone broth was sometimes used as a health tonic, a warm breakfast, a handy ingredient for family dinners, or all of the above. It can be made with beef bones, pork bones, chicken bones, or a mix of all of them. It can also be flavored simply, with just a handful of vegetables, or it can be spiffed up with ingredients like fresh ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce, and dried mushrooms.
This slow-simmered bone broth is surprisingly delicate in flavor, with a nice balance of umami savoriness and a pleasing sweetness. It's also full of good-for-you nutrients, amino acids, and minerals that are great for fighting off a cold, as well as maintaining your overall health. You can certainly drink it straight (and you should, because it's tasty!), but you can also save it for making stews or casseroles, simmering grains, or using it in any manner of meals. You can use bone broth in any recipe that calls for chicken or beef stock.
The Best Bones for Bone Broth
The best bone broth uses a mix of different bones: large, nutrient-rich beef or pork bones, as well as some smaller meaty cuts so your broth has some flavor. I like to use a mix of big beef bones (saved from roasts or begged from the butcher), meaty short ribs or oxtails, and knuckle or neck bones. Those knuckle and neck bones have a lot of collagen, which give the broth body and rich flavor.
You can also mix in bones and meaty cuts from other animals. Throw in a ham bone or shank, leftover turkey bones, some chicken feet — use whatever mix of bones you find or that sounds appealing to you.
One final note: I like to roast the bones in the oven before making the soup. This step is optional and you can feel free to skip it, but I think that roasting adds an extra depth of flavor and richness to the soup, plus it makes a beautiful dark-colored broth. Also, a broth made with a lot of bare bones, without much meat, can sometimes have a bit of a metallic or sour flavor, and roasting the bones helps prevent this flavor.
I usually do this in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, so I can do the entire batch at once. If there are a lot of caramelized bits on the pan after roasting, I deglaze it on the stovetop and pour it in with the cooking liquid.
How Long to Cook Bone Broth
My instructors at culinary school would always say, "Cook it until it's done." Never is this maxim more true than with bone broth. Don't go by the clock; go by your nose, your tastebuds, and the color of the broth. When it's done, the broth will be deeply savory and have a rich mahogany color.
In practical terms, cook your broth for at least 12 hours, then start checking it. I'm usually satisfied with my broth at around the 24-hour mark, but you can keep simmering for days. The bones will eventually start to crumble when all their nutrients and proteins have been extracted — once you see this happening with the majority of your bones, you've probably extracted as much goodness as you're going to get.
Cooking your broth for this long might make you raise your eyebrows and worry about fire hazards, but don't worry too much. We're talking about very low heat. You can leave the broth on a back burner or put it in the oven at low temperature and let it go overnight. If you need to leave the house and don't want to leave your oven on, you can also make bone broth in a slow cooker. You can also save yourself both worry and time by making bone broth in the pressure cooker — it only takes about two hours to make a batch with this method.
What to Do with Bone Broth
So you've got yourself a batch of bone broth — now what? It's fantastic on its own, sipped from a favorite mug first thing in the morning, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. You can also use bone broth to make a batch of pho or ramen, braise some beef, or make your favorite soup. A few of my favorite recipes are below.
What about you? Do you drink your bone broth straight, or use it for other recipes? Name your favorites!
Recipes to Use Bone Broth
For bone broth, use 3 to 4 pounds mixed beef bones, short ribs, oxtails, knuckles and neck bones. You can also mix beef, pork, and chicken bones together.
How To Make Bone Broth
Makes 2 to 2 1/2 quarts
What You Need
3 to 4 pounds mixed beef bones, short ribs, oxtails, knuckles, and neck bones (see Recipe Note)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium carrots
3 stalks celery
2 medium yellow onions
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 bay leaf
Extra flavoring ingredients: fresh ginger, fresh or dried mushrooms, fish sauce, garlic, fresh or dried herbs
Large stock pot, 6-quart slow cooker, or 6-quart pressure cooker (or larger)
Roast the bones (optional): Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the bones with the olive oil and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for about 1 hour, turning once, until the meat and bones are evenly browned. This step is optional, but nice for developing a deeper meat flavor. (If there are a lot of glazed bits left on the pan, transfer the bones to the pot then deglaze the pan on the stovetop with a little water.)
Cut the vegetables: Chop the carrots, celery, and onions into large chunks. No need for fancy knife work here — big chunks are perfect. Smaller chunks also tend to disintegrate during cooking and make the broth cloudy.
Combine the bones and vegetables in a pot: Combine the bones and vegetables in a large stock pot, slow cooker, or pressure cooker.
Cover with a few inches of water: Add enough water to cover the ingredients by a few inches (do not fill the pressure cooker more than 2/3 full).
Add the cider vinegar and bay leaf: The cider vinegar helps extract nutrients from the bones. The bay leaf adds flavor. Also, add any extra flavoring ingredients now.
Stock pot/Dutch oven instructions: Bring the water to a rapid simmer over high heat on the stove top, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting possible. (Alternatively, transfer to a 200°F oven.) Cover and keep the broth at a low simmer for at least 12 or up to 24 hours. Check the pot occasionally, skimming off any foam that collects on the surface and adding additional water as needed to keep the ingredients covered.
Slow cooker instructions: Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for at least 12 hours or up to 48 hours. If your slow cooker has time settings, you may need to occasionally reset the slow cooker's cycle. Check the slow cooker occasionally, skimming off any foam that collects on the surface and adding additional water as needed to keep the ingredients covered.
Pressure cooker instructions: Lock the lid of the pressure cooker and heat until it reaches high pressure. Cook on HIGH pressure for 1 to 2 hours, then release the pressure naturally, 10 to 15 minutes.
Skim off any foam from the surface: For stock pot and slow cooker methods, check the pot occasionally and skim off any foam that collects on the top. These are proteins that can make your stock cloudy. Don't worry if you don't see much (or any) foam; some cuts of meat create more foam than others.
The broth is done when dark and flavorful: The broth is done when it's deep brown in color and deeply flavorful — go on, taste it! You should taste a good balance of savory meat flavors and sweet vegetable flavors. The bones will also start to crumble after very long cooking — a sure sign you've extracted all possible nutrients. (It's okay, though, if your bones don't crumble; you should stop cooking when the broth tastes good to you.)
Strain the broth: Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer to remove all the big pieces of bone and vegetable. If you'd like a cleaner, clearer broth, strain a second time through cheesecloth.
Save the meaty bits! You can save the big pieces of meat from making the stock and use them for other recipes, like casseroles, pasta sauces, or even stir-fries. Shred the meat into pieces and keep it refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
Chill the bone broth: Cool the broth to room temperature, and then refrigerate. Depending on the kind and quantity of bones used in your broth, the chilled broth may become solid and jelly-like once chilled. That's fine! The broth will melt and become liquid again once warmed.
Scrape off the fat: As the broth chills, the fat will rise to the top and solidify. Once solid, you can scrape it off and use it for cooking or discard it.
Store the broth: The broth will keep refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
Reheating bone broth: Pour out as much broth as you'd like and reheat it gently on the stove top or in the microwave.
Bones for bone broth: You can use any mix of beef, pork, or chicken bones for making bone broth. Adding some meaty bones, like short ribs or ham bones, will make a richer-tasting broth; you can also use the meat from the bones in other dishes.
Reducing bone broth for storage: To save on freezer space, you can simmer the broth over low heat on the stove top until it's reduced by half. Keep it at a very bare simmer — you should see just a few bubbles as it simmers. Make a note on the freezer container that the broth needs to be thinned with water before using.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen; Dana Velden)