The Difference Between Stocks and Broths

The Difference Between Stocks and Broths


What is the difference between stocks and broths? Let’s lay out the facts right up front:

A stock is made from bones and whatever connective tissue and joint material is connected to them at the time they go in the pot.

A broth is a liquid in which meat has been cooked. A broth may be flavorful, but without bones there will never be substantial body.

In the home kitchen producing a pure “stock” is difficult because getting bones spotless is a tough proposition. And so we usually make chicken or turkey stocks, which, since they usually have a fair amount of meat still clinging to them, are really hybrids with characteristics of broths and stocks, which is fine but not quite as flavor-neutral as what restaurants generally use.

Four important components of stock:

1. Whenever I cook any form of birdage, I save the neck, wings, backs, ribs and any other part I can salvage and freeze them until I have enough to fill my big stockpot. If you need to make a quick stock, however, buy a big pack of chicken wings. They’re loaded with collagen.

2. The second ingredient is water. Without it there is no solvent, and no solutes will be extracted.

3. Next you’ll need a mirepoix: carrots, celery, onions (and leeks if you’ve got ’em) in good shape. The stock pot is not a garbage can.

4. Finally, herbs and spices. Although they’re strictly optional, I generally throw in peppercorns and a bundle of fresh parsley stems and thyme.

Now go make some.

Recipe: Chicken Stock

87 Comments

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  1. 2
    Melissa

    Bone broth seems to be all the rage for nutritional benefits, recently. But wouldn’t bone broth and stock actually be the same thing?

  2. 3
    Agnes Thorne

    With the increase of bone broth diets, is stock or broth more nutritionally substantial? It sounds from the above description that stock would have more nutrition but the promotions are pushing broth. I often cook down a whole chicken in the slow cooker (with added water and seasonings) then strain the solids from the liquids. Would that be a broth or a stock and does it really matter when it comes to a healthy beverage choice? I’m confused….. 🙂

    • 4
      Jenn

      The term “bone broth”, as you can see by AB’s definitions above, is a misnomer. Those of us who are into bone “broth” definitely use bones. It’s just that the average person doesn’t know culinary definitions, and the alliteration makes it catchy.

    • 7
      Noah

      A base is a preseasoned combination of stocks and broths that has had most or all of the water removed so it can be sold commercially in the grocery store/food service suppliers. Most have a yellow die added for color. Because although the broths that I have made have a hint of yellow to them, they don’t have that deep dark yellow color.

  3. 8
    Mary

    I usually make a big pot of bone broth, both chicken and beef for my cats and dog.
    For chicken, I just throw in a organic whole chicken into the pressure cooker with 2 teaspoons apple cider vinager and filtered water,and cook it down for a 99 minutes. Then remove the bones and meat into separate bowls, and strain the broth. Then, add the bones back into the pressure cooker, add 2 more teaspoons of apple cider vinager, water and a couple ladles of broth, and cook again for 99 minutes.
    It’s wonderful to feed to a animal who’s not feeling well, and gets them back on their feet in no time!

    • 11
      Jeff

      From what I have seen from some Dashi recipes, it sounds like it is a stock when vegetable seaweed Dashi is made, But is a broth when fish, chicken, or meat is used.

    • 12
      Dustbinny

      Dashi is a broth, uses dried fish. How ever some people do not remove the fish bones and guts from the anchovies which would make it a stock. Bonito is always used in a dried shaved form, its like jerky of the sea.

  4. 13
    Candi Emerson

    What a coincidence: I just looked this up in my “Good Eats” bible earlier today! If you’d posted a few hours earlier… Ah well, at least I’m getting good use out of your books!

    • 15
      Matthias

      Suzanne, you can definitely make a good stock from mushrooms and seaweed. Well, at least good to me. While it won’t be as flavorful as a bone-based stock, the mirepoix plus the umami from the dried mushrooms and seaweed would still pack a decent amount of flavor.

    • 16
      Gere

      No. Without bones or connective tissue, plants cannot be made into stock. That is not to say that there are not delicious vegan broths that you can make and use. Bones and connective tissue of animals is what changes the character of the liquid and makes the difference between a broth and a stock. When stores sell “vegetable stock” you’re getting a broth OR you need to check the ingredients because what is in your hand is not vegan. Making different vegetable broths at home is easy, follows the same principles as the stock (just without the animal bits) and are very tasty.

    • 17
      Frank Barajas

      Suzanne, you can definitely make a rich vegetable or mushroom broth but it will never have the body a bone stock will have. I have occasionally put a couple sheets of gelatin in a veggie broth to give it the body it would have extracted from the bones.

  5. 19
    Clarissa

    I love straight up front and to the point. Mix with honesty and you’ve got yourself a pretty recipe for anything, including life. I will DEFINITELY BE using your site more often. Thank you.

  6. 21
    eebest8

    Wow! This blog looks just like my old one! It as on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Superb choice of colors!

  7. 22
    Tasha

    I make my bones broth/stock in a pressure cooker and get a richer end product in and hour and a half than from two days in the slow cooker.

    • 24
      The Digital Sorceress

      Kelly, by definition, plants have no bones (lignin in woody plants notwithstanding), so you can’t actually make a vegetable stock – only a vegetable broth. Anyone selling something called vegetable stock is either selling something non-vegetarian or is misapplying the term.

  8. 25
    kbsalazar

    Roasting the bones a bit prior to making the stock increases flavor, especially for beef and veal bones. Also, I like to use chicken feet in my poultry stock. The giant local Korean grocery store sells inexpensive bags of them. Chicken feet make stock with far more oomph to it than stock made with just backs, wingtips, necks, or other accumulated carcass oddments.

    • 26
      Jef

      Roasting the bones is also one of the differences between a white and a brown stock. If you roast the bones, you’re not going to get a white stock. Roasting the bones with some tomato paste and the mirepoix, will give the stock some color, as well as adding an onion brûlée.

      • 27
        Matt

        That explains why the stock I make from my weekly roasted chicken is always so much darker than the stuff I see used by restaurants… Thanks!

  9. 28
    MamaG

    I love to make stock in the slow cooker overnight… If it gels when cooked I’m a happy girl. I use all the leftover bits and pieces except the livers which my lucky dogs get as a treat.

  10. 29
    Hal

    A plain broth won’t gel up in the fridge. A good rich stock that’s got gelatin from lots of joints and connective tissue can turn almost when you chill it. That gelatin content is the “body” to which I think Alton is referring. It’s critical to a good bowl of Pho noodle soup too. The Vietnamese like to char the bones and the veggies (onions, ginger root and spices) first before boiling. It makes for an awesome tasting soup,

  11. 30
    Alex

    The two things that vastly improved my stock: onion skins and a Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker. I save chicken bones in a ziplock bag I keep in the freezer, and in addition to bones, I save all parts of an onion that would otherwise have been tossed in the compost bin; the skins pack a LOT of flavor. My stock never gelled as much as when I started making it in the pressure cooker.

  12. 32
    amy

    The only part I disagree with is saying that it is not a garbage pot, it seems like you’re implying the only vegetables to make a broth with are onion, carrots and celery. While I agree that is the base for pretty much any stock, there are lots of places for many other vegetables and such to flavor, like mushrooms.

    • 33
      Matt

      Alton means, don’t use the wilted brown celery or an onion that is ready to be replanted, or the carrots that have been languishing in your fridge for the past 6 months. Use good fresh vegetables.

    • 34
      Ann G.

      What he means by “not a garbage pot,” is not to use old vegetables, with bruises, dark spots, and such. Use veggies at their peak, not on the way to the compost heap.

  13. 35
    Michael Ryan

    I tend to prefer the hybrid bone broths for a soup base… I don’t thoroughly clean a carcass and get flavor and body from both… I also like to make a mushroom broth too.

    For storage, after cooking, I’ll put a pint into a one quart freezer bag, sealing with as little air as possible. This way they can freeze flat, and can stack for storage.

    For the most part you can make a great stock/broth as a bad for soups or gravy (sauce supreme) pretty easily. I’ve been making a few gallons of soup a week for about a month now… Always something new you can try.

    • 37
      Cory

      I wouldn’t recommend using previously fried (or any sort of bone that has been cooked already). The bones lose their collagen and therefore they lose their thickening ability (this is why a brown stock might not have as much body as a white stock). Certainly you could add friend chicken bones in and it would lend to the flavor considerably but I wouldn’t expect it to be very thick.

  14. 38
    Dakota

    I’m not much of a cook myself due to disability, but I do love to make chicken soup with the carcass and meat leftover from a rotisserie chicken. So much built in flavor! BUT I have a huuge problem with actual chunks of meat in soups, so I generally boil everything about half way, then very carefully get all the meat out and continue cooking with bones and veggies, removing bones just before serving. I get the best of all things without having to pick out meat. (I also can’t stand meat in pasta. It’s just a texture thing, as I can eat the meat separately on the side of the pasta, but never, ever do I eat meat that has been boiled first.)

  15. 41
    Seth

    I have read that you should roast the bones off in the oven for 20-30 minutes prior to making stock. Alton, you mentioned that you save the bones from the bird, but not whether or not you cook them prior to freezing/making stock?

  16. 46
    Sean

    I crack the leg bones when I make chicken stock. It makes for a much richer stock with the marrow although it can feel “sticky”. It also tends to makes the stock cloudier , which unless you want to make consoummee isn’t a problem.

  17. 47
    Mark

    Why is store-bought stock so salty? How does one boil bones and end up with salt? I cannot use store-bought beef stock as a starting point for pepper cream sauce. When you reduce store-bought stock, even the reduced sodium stock, you end up with something so salty as to be inedible. I have to start with demi-glace and hydrate it, rather than stock and reduce it. The problem is, demi-glace is hard to find. Demi-Glace Gold is great, but the only place in metro Atlanta that carries it is Harry’s Market, and we are now down to only one of those in the metro.

    • 48
      Chris

      Mark, I suspect the reason commercial stocks are so salty might be because they’re made from e.g. the bones of chickens that were cooked for the meat first, at which time they were salted. The maker isn’t certainly going to try to maximize the use of whatever basic ingredients they are working with, so that would make sense.

      It’s also possible that they add salt as a preservative, I suppose.

      I agree wholeheartedly that the results are awful. The *low sodium* version of Better Than Bouillon chicken base has something like 350 mg of sodium per teaspoon of base. That means that it’s about one-sixth salt!

      • 49
        Nina

        Better than Bouillon is absolutely salty for preservation purposes… if you open a carton of (non concentrated) stock it would go bad in a few days, the concentrate paste lasts much longer than that, due to its high salt concentration.

  18. 50
    Leroy

    You forgot Time ,with an I not Y. A long enough cook time to extract all the flavor and to break down the collagen and connective tissue.

  19. 51
    Jo

    This is the exact method I have used for making stock for years. I make a huge batch, and then can it. I use so much stock, it’s ridiculous. I also will sip on a mug of stock when I have a cold. Works like magic!

  20. 52
    Paul

    Add to Sheryl’s comments, I know you are an inconvertible carnivore Alton but veggie stock by definition doesn’t have bones. Jet Tila made a great mushroom stock on Chasing the Yum. So I view your post as a false choice. Vegan forever. Paul

    • 53
      Derrick N

      Technically, there is no such thing as a vegetable stock. Bones are required for the collagen needed in order for it to be a stock. Even though many people call it vegetable stock, it is still a broth. There are, however, some excellent ways to create a great flavored veggie broth that has a very nice stock feel.

  21. 54
    Sue

    Katrina – I prefer the slow cooker method also. It’s much easier to control the heat and I’m much more comfortable letting it go overnight than I would be if it were on the stove. However, I read somewhere (or maybe saw on Good Eats) that you get better extraction you start the bones in cold water. Maybe AB can clarify that for us.

  22. 56
    Jackie Randle

    I started making stocks with leftover bird parts about a year ago and it is a huge money saver. Anybody looking to penny pinch, should give it a try.

  23. 57
    RiRaLi

    I love to use the pressure cooker to make stock. Same ingredients, just does a THOROUGH cook job on the collagen, bones, and vege’s, with just about 20 minutes at pressure. Cool, strain, freeze. Love to freeze in 16 oz deli containers purchased by the case from restaurant supply websites.

  24. 59
    Katrina

    I like to crank up the slow cooker with water and vegetables at the same time the poultry goes in the oven. All bones and scraps (and some of the frozen carcasses from past dinners) go into the cooker. Then, I let it cook for up to 20 hours. It gets pretty collagen-rich, and it makes keeping stock/broth on hand that much easier.

    I can usually get about 3 pints of stock per batch.

  25. 62
    Davo

    I remember my first American Thanksgiving when I stopped my father in law from throwing away the dark meat & carcass !
    I returned to their house the next day with an amazing Pie made from boiling the carcass & making a gravy from the stock & folding in the dark meat & veggies,… They didn’t know that their garbage could taste so good 😉

    • 66
      Erik Icenhour

      Vegetables have no bones, ergo, there can be no vegetable “stock” no matter what the can says. That is a quote from one of the Good Eats books. 🙂

  26. 67
    Chris Hill

    What do you mean by “not quite as flavor-neutral” and would that matter if you’re using it strictly when you want as much of the [insert animal-stock-type here] flavor coming through?

  27. 68
    Bryan

    Thanks for this. I saw some nonsense the other day where someone was saying that stocks don’t have herbs and broths do. I knew they were wrong, but wasn’t quite sure what was right.

    • 69
      Sue

      The traditional stock that Alton is describing has no flavor, so herbs would not be included. It’s all body, no flavor. It gets added to other flavorful dishes to boost the body.

  28. 70
    Siri

    What about vegetable stock? Is that a ‘real’ stock or broth? My child has decided to be a vegetarian and I am trying to figure it out!

  29. 71
    Tim

    I also freeze the neck, etc., from birds, but often they sit for a while before I accumulate enough to justify making a pot of birdy liquid. As a result, they’re a bit freezer burned at times. I should think this wouldn’t matter much for the purpose at hand, however. Your thoughts?

  30. 73
    Thaddaeus Vick

    I’ve seen a number of articles touting the benefits of “bone broth”, which is apparently the trendy new thing. I typically dismiss them out of hand on the grounds that I’m not taking culinary advice, much less medical advice, from a person who doesn’t even know the difference between broth and stock.

    • 76
      Sue

      Also, if you read the recipes for ‘bone broth’, you’ll see that it really is a hybrid between a traditional stock (meatless bones) and a broth (meat only). Bone broth is made from meaty bones. The goal is to extract the nutrition from the bones and the flavor of the meat. To be honest, this is the way my mother always made it and the way she taught me to make it. We always called it chicken stock. I laughed the first time I saw it called “bone broth”, but now I realize that we were using the wrong term for it all along.

  31. 77
    HanleyK1

    …and also, since this is made with bones, meat, fat and connective tissue all together, is it stock or broth? Does the meat make it broth, or does the presence of the thickening agents from the bones and connective tissue make it a stock?

  32. 78
    HanleyK1

    Actually I have a question/comment. I make a lot of soups and the other day determined I would use the leftover from a bone-in spiral cut ham to make a ham and white bean soup. While I was soaking the beans, I put the ham and bone in a separate pot and set it to boil, pulling it apart after about a half hour to expose the cartilage and connective tissue. My wife disagreed with my method, telling me that in order to impart the flavor to the beans I must render my stock in the beans to “drive the flavor” from the bone into the bean. I disagreed saying that I would prefer to render the stock first so I could remove all the bits of cartilage and gristle (returning the meat) before adding the beans and other ingredients. Although I agreed that leaving the bone in the pot afterwards was fine and might add some additional flavor, I felt that the basic transfer of flavor, fat, collagen and protein to the stock had occurred after an hour on the stove and that my method was as good as cooking the ham down in the pot while the beans cooked, or better since it allowed me to remove the disagreeable bits that most folks don’t like in their soup. (Note: I’m actually fine with finding some bits of gristle in my soup, but I find that a cleaner product is more pleasing to most people.) So, where in this narrative does the truth lie?

      • 81
        HanleyK1

        Yeah, that still leaves the argument unresolved, although I’m beginning to feel that I’m doing stock wrong since I’m not cooking the bone for 12 hours. It seems like I’m really just making broth and using the boiling process to help me separate the meat from the bone. I typically boil my bone with meat attached for about an hour, pulling everything apart in the process to facilitate rendering, then remove the bone and separate the meat, then return the meat to the broth and add other ingredients (beans, vegetables, etc.) My wife’s position was that I was doing it wrong because the bone wasn’t cooking with the beans.. In her words, cooking the bone with the beans, “drives the flavor” into the beans. I say this is not correct, that the flavor elements are in the stock or broth and that the presence of the bone in direct contact with the beans during the cooking process only matters to the extent that further cooking of the bone renders more minerals and nutrients, but that this is more a factor of how long you cook the bone and not whether or not it is in the same pot with the beans while they cook.

    • 82
      Sue

      I had the same difference of opinion with my mother. She would put the beans, water, and ham hock all in the same pot to cook together. Many recipes tell you to do this. I prefer to make a stock from the ham hock an then use that in place of (or in addition to) the water in the soup recipe. This would also give me better control of the fat in the recipe as I could chill the stock and skim off the fat before putting it in the soup.

    • 85
      Sue

      I’ve read that in the Sally Fallon book, but I’d like to see some evidence that it works any better than simply cooking for a sufficient amount of time. I’ve never added an acid to mine and it always stands up like Jello.

      • 86
        Chris

        The Jello consistency isn’t related to mineral content, which is what Celine was talking about. That thickness comes from the gelatin proteins that are extracted from the bones by long slow simmering. Some acidity in the liquid does help promote the breakdown of the proteins, though, and historically a lot of stocks were made with the addition of some acids like wine or tomato.

        • 87
          Susan

          The acid does work to pull calcium etc., I’ve noticed etching on bones after making a bone broth with an acid added… again not related to collagen and gelatin… A good way to increase the nutritional content of your stock/broth/bone broth whatever you care to call it.

          When I have done clean beef bones in a bone broth I found it entirely too neutral for my taste so if that’s what restaurants use for professionally made “stock”, I really don’t see how they use it to build flavor. I think that’s just hooey to be honest.

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