The slow cooker is what brought homemade chicken stock into my everyday life. It's just so easy! Throw everything — chicken bones, some vegetables, maybe a bay leaf if you have one — into the slow cooker and let it do its thing. Hours later, you have beautiful, golden stock that's guaranteed to be better than anything you can buy at the store. Here's what to do.
Making a Good Stock
The key to making a truly fantastic stock is letting it bubble away for hours over very low heat. That's how you extract every last speck of goodness from those bones.
The slow cooker is perfect for this kind of work — it will hold your stock at a steady, slow simmer much better and more easily than you can on the stovetop. Plus you don't have to babysit a stockpot! If you like, skim the scum from the top of the liquid every so often, but even that isn't necessary unless a very clear stock is your aim.
How Long to Cook Your Stock
Cook your chicken stock for at least eight hours in the slow cooker, but the stock only gets more rich and intense the longer you let it go. I usually cook my stock for about 12 hours, but you can also take a cue from bone broth, and let it go for up to 24 hours, if you like! Personally, I feel that after 24 hours, you've extracted pretty much everything you're going to get from the bones and vegetables.
Glistening beads of fat are a sign of good homemade stock
What to Do with Your Stock
For the longest time, I thought of my homemade stock as "precious" and hoarded it jealously. It's easier now that I make stock in the slow cooker — the days when I'd tenderly fuss over a stovetop stock, I always felt like I had to use it in a way that justified all that effort!
But homemade stock is meant to be used. Make some soup, or use it to cook a pot of grains or dried beans. If you want to really highlight a particularly good batch, go for a risotto or make a batch of Vietnamese pho with chicken. If you don't have a plan for using it in the next week, stash it in the freezer for later. Your future self with thank you!
To make stock, you need one (or more!) chicken carcass, celery, carrots, onions, and a bay leaf.
How To Make Chicken Stock in the Slow Cooker
Makes about 2 1/2 quarts
What You Need
Bones from 1 or more roasted chickens
2 medium yellow onions
4 stalks celery
2 medium carrots
2 bay leaves
Any of the following: fresh sprigs of thyme, parsley stems, garlic cloves, fennel fronds, leek tops, whole pepper corns, tomato skins
6-quart or larger slow cooker (see Recipe Note for smaller slow cookers)
Coffee filter or cheesecloth, optional
Small containers for storing the stock
Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker: Place the chicken carcass in the middle of the slow cooker (if you have more than one chicken, break the carcass into pieces so it all fits). Loose bones, like drumsticks, can be tucked inside the chicken carcass to save space. Roughly chop the vegetables and scatter them around the chicken. Add the bay leaf and any other herbs.
Cover with water: Add enough water to cover the chicken bones. It's fine to fill to within an inch of the top of the slow cooker.
Cook for at least 8 hours: Set the slow cooker to "low" and cook for at least 8 hours, or longer (even up to 24 hours!). If your slow cooker has a timer, you may need to reset it once or twice during cooking.
Strain the stock: Set a strainer over a large bowl. Use tongs to transfer the big bones and vegetables from the slow cooker to the strainer. When only small bits remain, pour the stock through the strainer and into the bowl. If you'd like a cleaner, clearer stock, clean out your strainer, line it with a coffee filter or cheesecloth, and strain the stock again.
Store the stock: Divide the stock between several small jars or storage containers. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Stock in smaller slow cookers: You can certainly make stock in smaller, 3-quart slow cookers! Just break down the chicken carcass into a few pieces using kitchen shears to save space. You may also want to reduce the amount of vegetables to make more room. This will make a very intense stock — you may want to thin it with some water before using.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)