The Right Way to Make Bone Broth, According to Experts

It's not difficult, but making bone broth does require lots of (hands-off) cooking time.

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bone broth in blue/white soup bowl

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Bone broth has been a social media darling for years—and while it isn't a complete meal (or a substitute for your favorite hearty soup), you shouldn't ignore it. It has its merits as an enriching food, filled with nutrients and flavor. The best way to reap its benefits is to prepare it yourself at home—you'll save money by making your own and control the quality to boot. Plus, bone broth isn't complicated to make, though it does take time. Still, it's worth the effort: There is nothing quite as soothing as enjoying a rich mug of hot broth—or you can use it as a starting point for numerous soups and stews. 

Stock vs. Broth

First things first: What actually is bone broth? It is regularly confused with stock—but these warming bases are not the same.

What Is Stock?

Stock starts with a pot of water and bones, vegetables, and aromatics (usually black peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and parsley). Leave out the animal bones and suddenly your stock is vegetarian—and no less delicious. "The purpose of stock is to be used as a base for soup or sauces," says Joshua Resnick, chef-instructor of Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. "That means that there should be no salt in stock. This is because it is going to be reduced further and since salt stays behind during reduction, the finished product can become over seasoned easily."

After conducting multiple tests for The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt concluded that the best chicken stock is made from chicken carcasses, containing a mix of bone and meat. "This stock became a solid, rubber-like mass when chilled, due to the high amount of gelatin extracted in simmering," he says. "When sipped as a hot broth, it coated the mouth pleasantly, leaving the thin, sticky film on the lips characteristic of a good, rich broth." 

For the best balance between flavor and body, carcasses and bones with trace amounts of meat are the best choice. Conveniently, this also happens to be the most inexpensive method; Lopez-Alt calls it a rare case of reverse economics. "You can accumulate carcasses by breaking down your own chickens (keep them in the freezer until you have enough to make a large batch of stock), or find them in most supermarkets at a bargain rate," he says.

What Is Broth (and Bone Broth)?

Broth is traditionally made only with meat and vegetables—no bones or connective tissue. "It can be flavorful, but without collagen from connective tissue, it's about as thin as water," says Lopez-Alt.

Traditionally, broth has a more concentrated flavor when aromatics and seasonings, such as whole spices or more pungent vegetables, are added. Like stock, broths can be used as the base for a soup, such as chicken noodle, explains Resnick—but broths have a more pronounced flavor and "stand out as a finished product," he says.

The revelation and takeaway here? Bone broth is a bit of a misnomer—its alliteration is undoubtedly part of what helped spread its popularity. So though the bone broth you make might really be a stock, we'll go with the flow and call it bone broth, too.

How to Make Bone Broth

As we mentioned above, time is an important ingredient in making good bone broth; in addition, you'll need bones (such as chicken carcasses or short ribs and oxtail), aromatics (carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and bay leaves), salt, and water. There are a few simple steps you need to take before you cook it low and slow.

Roast the Bones

The first and most important step when making bone broth? Roast the bones, which produces a deep, dark color. "The browning of the bones, called the Maillard reaction, gives the stock richness and flavor," says Resnick. "Start high and then lower the oven temperature to ensure they don't burn. Also, if you need to, flip the bones so everything browns evenly."

Skim the Impurities

After adding the bones and aromatics to a large pot of water, bring the bone broth to a boil, skimming impurities that rise to the surface of the liquid. "They normally show up as the stock is initially warming up and contain things like fat and blood," says Resnick. "It's important to remove them when the show up—otherwise they will fall back into the broth, making it cloudy and negatively affecting the flavor."

Use a fine mesh strainer for this task—or a large spoon wrapped with cheesecloth for more precise filtration. Keep a close eye on your broth at this stage to ensure a clear and beautiful finished product.

Be Patient

Typically, bone broth simmers for a surprisingly long period of time. Cooking it for 12 hours produces a deeply flavorful and excellent result, but it's not uncommon to let bone broth cook for 24 or even 36 hours—at which point the bones begin to crumble, and their nutrients and proteins seep into the broth. "Home cooks tend to be less patient than professionals," says Resnick. "Don't try to rush it. If you only cook your bones for two to four hours, the flavor will be lighter and the broth will be less filling."

Season and Strain

Because your broth will concentrate over the course of its simmering time, wait to season with salt only toward the end. "If you season early, by the time the broth is done cooking, it could very easily come out over-salted," says Resnick. 

When it's time to strain, a few passes might be necessary: first with a colander to collect any large pieces of bone and vegetables, then again with cheesecloth set in a fine mesh strainer. (Be sure to rinse and wring out your cheesecloth if it hasn't been used before to prevent your broth from taking on any flavors from the fabric.) 

Instant Pot Bone Broth

The stovetop method is the classic, but bone broth can also be made in an Instant Pot. This method speeds up the process—but you still need to roast the bones in the oven first. Another reason to make bone broth in the Instant Pot? The multi-cooker keeps the smell of broth contained, unlike stovetop cooking.

Storing Bone Broth

After you've put in all that work, it would be a shame if any broth were to spoil in the fridge before you have a chance to use or drink it. Luckily, broth freezes well. Lopez-Alt shares the two best ways to do just that:

  • Freeze in Ice-Cube Trays: Pour the stock into an ice-cube tray and let it freeze completely. Once it is frozen, he suggests transferring the cubes to a zip-top freezer bag. "You can pull out as much or as little as you need, and the cubes melt nice and fast. This is ideal for pan sauces where you don't need too much stock at a time," he says.
  • Freeze in Quart-Size Freezer Bags: A quart-sized bag is the ideal way to store stock if you have a vacuum sealer. "The bone broth freezes flat, so it takes up very little space in the freezer, and, better yet, defrosts under hot tap water in just a matter of minutes," Alt says. You can still use this method even without a vacuum sealer, so long as you make sure to squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing the bags. 
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