Meat stock is one of the most useful and versatile foods you can learn to make in your own kitchen. In this post, which includes a video, and two printable recipes, I will show you how to make a chicken stock and a beef stock. These are the two most popular meat stocks as different cuts of chicken and beef are widely available.
Meat stock has an almost infinite amount of uses as a base for countless soups and stews. It’s also a base for many sauces and gravies and is used to enhance dishes made with pasta, rice, and beans. Best of all, it takes nothing more to make than some bones, vegetables, and water. But first, let’s clear up some confusion about the differences between meat stock, meat broth, and bone broth.
Meat stock is made by simmering collagen-rich bones and aromatic vegetables, typically onions, carrots, and celery (called a mirepoix) in water for many hours. A variety of spices and herbs, like parsley, bay leaves, and thyme, are often added to enhance the flavors. Meaty bones are often roasted first, which creates a more savory flavor and darker color to the stock.
Compared to broths, stocks are simmered for a much longer time period which results in more depth of flavor as well as a more viscous texture. This is because the bones in a meat stock contain not just meat but also lots of connective tissue and cartilage that break down into gelatin during the simmering process. This will be evident when a stock cools in the fridge as it will thicken and gel. Upon reheating, it will return to a liquid state, albeit silkier than a meat broth.
Typical simmering times for chicken stock, as well as other poultry stocks, are a minimum of 4 hours and as much as 6 hours.
The larger, thicker bones of beef and similar game animals require a longer simmer time of at least 6 hours and as much as 12 hours.
Meat stocks are found in almost every native culture all across the globe dating back thousands of years. Most of my Southeast Asian soup recipes include either chicken or beef stock.
They are also a foundational food in the professional culinary world. Any professional kitchen will likely be making a variety of meat stocks on a regular basis.
In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that they were a foundational food in most home kitchens too! There’s a good chance your grandmother made different types of meat stock on a fairly regular basis. A good old-fashioned chicken soup or a homemade beef stew are but two examples of common homemade recipes that use chicken and beef stock.
These words are often used interchangeably to describe the same thing. However, there are some technical differences.
Broth, generally speaking, refers to an infusion of meat, vegetables, and herbs that is cooked for a short time period. There are few, if any bones, included in a meat broth. This shorter cooking time and the lack of collagen-rich bones means broths are thinner and lighter in flavor than meat stocks.
They’re ideal for quick and simple soups like your basic chicken soup.
Personally speaking, I’ve found that beef bones are better suited to stocks. I find their flavor is rather flat and dull in a short-cooked beef broth. Chicken on the other hand is much more suitable for a meat broth.
Bone broth and meat stock are pretty similar. The only difference is that bone broth is cooked for a much longer time to break down the bones and collagen even further into a more nutrient-rich liquid. These nutrients, such as minerals and amino acids, are known to have anti-inflammatory properties in the gut and are excellent for treating a wide variety of issues such as heartburn, bloating, IBS, and even more chronic ailments. Many other bone broth benefits include immune health, skin health, and joint health.
For this reason, bone broth is more associated with the health and wellness world than the professional culinary world. It’s often recommended by holistic practitioners as a tonic to be sipped throughout the day, sort of like tea. But in the culinary world, chefs do not simmer their stocks for ultra-long periods as bone broth does not develop more flavor over the longer simmer period. Nor do I hear many chefs ever touting the health benefits of their stocks (though I think they should).
Fish stock is not really a meat stock. It’s a very different type of stock, and it really should be called fish broth because it requires a very short simmer time. In fact, you never want to simmer fish for more than an hour as their delicate polyunsaturated fats can easily turn rancid.
I have a separate and thorough post about fish broth which includes how to make it and a review of the store-bought brands.
Many years ago I shot the video below for how to make chicken and beef stock. Overall, it’s a good video albeit a bit wordy (brevity is not my strength) that goes into some nice detail. However, I did shoot it back when I was a Nutritional Therapist and was recommending the long simmer times of bone broth. The video was meant for a digestive health program (mentioned in the first few seconds) that I no longer teach.
But the video still applies really well to making meat stock. I think I did a good job of going through all the steps, especially showing the different cuts of chicken and beef.
But there are a few things I’d say differently as it applies to meat stock. Please be sure to read the updated guidelines below the video.
Right at the beginning, around the 20-second mark, I said there were no good store-bought stocks. At the time, it was true. But since I shot the video, there has been an influx of high-quality store-bought broths and stocks that source their bones from animals raised on pasture. Nor do they use cheap, chemical flavorings and/or deceptive labeling.
This is probably a result of the widespread popularity of the Paleo diet, which took off about 15 to 20 ago and includes nourishing broths and stocks as an important component of the diet. Other influences were the Sally Fallon and the Weston Price Foundation as well as the GAPS Diet, both of which emphasize stocks and bone broth as a staple food in native cultures and vital food for gut health and general overall health.
One popular brand you might find in stores is Kettle and Fire. But there are many others as well.
Make sure to read the labels! Cheap, poor-quality, commercial broths, including some organic brands, still outnumber the good-quality ones. There should be no flavorings, natural flavors (a deceptive marketing term), yeast extract, or any chemicals.
High-quality broths and stocks are not nearly as cheap as low-quality ones. You’ll save a lot of money if you make your own homemade stocks!
At around the 6:30 mark I mention that the first step is soaking the bones in apple cider vinegar. Supposedly, vinegar helps facilitate the breaking down of the bones during the long simmer process. It’s a bit controversial whether or not this actually works as only a very small amount of vinegar should be added (otherwise, it will taste too vinegary). Some studies have shown no difference in nutritional content.
But for the purposes of making meat stock, it doesn’t really matter as we’re going more for flavor than for a digestive tonic. So just skip that step. Chefs don’t soak the bones when making their meat stock recipes.
At around the 8:25 mark, I recommended a very gentle but barely perceptible simmer. This may be fine for making bone broth, but for meat stock, it’s perfectly fine to raise the heat to a gentle boil whereby there’s a noticeable bubbling on the surface.
Don’t be too aggressive with it but a nice, rolling simmer is perfect for making stock. It won’t damage the gelatin as I incorrectly stated. I’m not sure where this myth started but I’ve since learned otherwise. I now gently boil all my stocks and they always turn out wonderfully flavorful and gelatinous. Having worked in many restaurants through the years (as a server), I can say that chefs absolutely do the same.
Around the 12:00 mark, I discuss the long simmer times of bone broth. As I’ve already discussed, the simmer time for meat stock is much shorter. Again, for beef stock, you’ll simmer things for about …. and for chicken stock about …
I didn’t mention this in the video but it needs to be emphasized. All professional cooks brown or roast the meaty bones first before making their meat stock. It imparts a much deeper, more umami flavor.
For raw chicken parts, simply brown them in some olive oil first. Heat the oil over medium-high in your stockpot, add the chicken, and turn every few minutes or so until nice and browned (but not charred).
To roast meaty beef bones, simply place them on a roasting pan in an oven set at 400 degrees. Roast until the bones are nice and browned (but not charred!) for about 20 to 30 minutes.
For added flavor in your beef stock, deglaze the drippings from the roasting pan. Add a little water or red wine, about a half cup, set the pan on the stove, and turn the heat to high. Scrape the drippings with a spatula to loosen them from the pan. Add the deglazed drippings to the stockpot for some extra meaty flavors!
Beef stock is a little more time-intensive as the thicker bones, such as marrow bones and knuckle bones, require more exposure to heat to withdraw their nutrients. The bones can also be roasted first as they impart a deeper, richer flavor, especially the bones with more meat on them. It’s not totally necessary but I do recommend it.
Also, if you can’t get a good variety of bones, that’s OK. Any bones will do. Work with what you have and what you can get. The great thing about stocks is that you can always spice them up after the fact.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.