I’ve gotten this question a lot recently.  What are the three things or techniques that separate the professional cook’s food from the home cook’s food?

I want to talk about Number 2: the second most important difference is the fact that professional kitchens make their own stock.

I cannot say this strongly or loudly enough: DO NOT use canned stock/broth.  Use WATER instead.  I repeat.  You DO NOT NEED to buy that crappy can of Swanson’s low sodium chicken broth!  It will HURT your food.  Use water instead.  When that recipe says 1 cup of fresh chicken stock (or good quality canned broth), please know that your food, 90 percent of the time, will taste better if you use tap water instead of that "good quality" canned broth.  Water is a miracle.

Last time I was doing a recipe for a book with one of the most lauded chefs in the country—he said to the recipe developer/writer, yes, ok to use canned if you don’t have fresh.  I said, “Really?”  He said, “yes.”  I said, “When was the last time you used canned stock?”  When he didn’t respond, I said, “Have you tasted canned stock?”  He said he hadn’t that he could recall.

I repeat: your food will taste better and fresher if you use that wonderful and inexpensive fluid at the end of your tap rather than anything that you can buy in a can or a box.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I have to say, by the end of Thursday, tens of millions of households will have the most miraculous ingredients for stock right at hand–turkey bones that have been lovingly roasted.  And most of these households will have three more days of holiday to put them to use. That roasted turkey carcass, will make an extraordinary rich delicious poultry broth.  Far superior to chicken stock.  Infinitely versatile.  Health-giving!  Yea, verily, I say unto you!

Chop up that carcass or pull it apart so that it fits into your biggest pot.  Cover it with water, enough so it’s covered by an inch or so of water.  Bring it to a simmer.  Skim off anything that rises to the top that you wouldn’t want to eat if you saw it floating in a bowl of soup.  Then, this is important, stick the pot in your oven at about 180 degrees F (or as close to that as possible).  And forget about it for fours.  Or five.  Or six.  As long as it’s not bubbling you’re good. It should not be bubbling, but it should be too hot for you to hold your hand against for more than an instant.

An hour before you want to take it out of the oven, add a couple carrots and a couple big Spanish onions, cut up, and continue cooking in the oven for another hour (if you have celery, parsely, thyme, garlic, bay, peppercorns, these are good to add as well, esp the thyme).  Strain through a colander.  Then, and this is important in my opinion, strain it through a kitchen cloth, cheese cloth if you have it, or any kind of cloth (I use ones that i can wash and reuse because I’m a cheapskate and hate to keep buying cheese cloth).  Straining through cloth makes a huge difference (chinois won’t do it in my opinon).  Now it’s ready to use or chill it and take the fat that congeals off the top.  Great to try a consomme with.  Make a risotto.  Soup, bien sur.  And it freezes great.

Don’t toss those wonderful bones!

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136 Wonderful responses to “Thanksgiving: THE best time to make stock”

  • Stock Newbie

    When do you add salt to the stock? Mine (second batch I’ve ever made) is chilling in the fridge, and it tastes kind of bland. Was I supposed to salt it long ago? Can it be saved? Any guidelines on how to add salt, such as 1/2 tsp. at a time? Thanks.

  • Goomba

    Today I made turkey stock using the oven for the first time ever. I gotta “testify!” to the amazingly clear stock I’ve now got compared to the delicious but often cloudy stocks I’ve made in the past. And it couldn’t have been easier! Neat method and one I’ll use again.
    Do you use the oven for all your stocks, Michael?

  • kayenne

    all this talk of oven stocks and long hours reminded me of the rising cost of gas/electricity. cheaper alternative here in manila, we use the inexpensive charcoal. a 3-lb bag costs roughly $.75 here in manila.

    what we usually do here is simmer the bones over hot coals – fire up a charcoal grill and set the covered pot on top. we usually do this for beef bones with marrow. after a few hours, we get a milky, velvety broth for dinner. the charcoal cooking lends a smoky, rich flavor. YUMMY!

    plus, any residual heat left is used for grilling veggies.

  • Shannon

    I’m making turkey stock in the oven as I write this. I used to boil chicken/turkey carcasses to death on the stove for a few hours.

    I never knew about the oven technique. I’m excited to taste how it turns out. It seems it would make for a richer stock, right?

    BTW, I just returned from France a week ago and had foie gras for the first time in Paris. I thought it was pretty tasty.

  • kanani

    kayenne, that sounds really good!

    I can’t figure out how the “stock” mystery started. I’ve explained to more than one person how to make a good chicken stock. It’s so easy, and if you’re watching your salt intake, it’s crucial to get rid of as many processed foods in your diet.

    I usually make stock whenever I have left over chicken. I toss it & some vegetables into the pot of water and let it simmer for a few hours. Anyway, after it’s strained and cooled, I freeze it in small batches to use in cooking. I have even used the carcass of a Costco chicken to make stock with, when I my old cat when through a phase when that’s all she’d eat ….long story. (Look for it in my blog).

  • Gregorio

    Greetings Ruhlman,

    I just pulled the best stock I have EVER made out of the oven. Thank you so much for this tip. It’s the freshest, cleanest, best tasting stock I think I’ve ever made.

    *sigh* So many choices to go from here… so little time.

    Even better? A friend of mine just dropped off a bagged and frozen turkey carcass from her Thanksgiving. Guess someone was listening to me when I brought this article up?! SWEET!

    ~ G

    PS -> did I say Thanks? yeah…

  • Michelle

    I just had one more question for Ruhlman, exactly what kind of pot does he use for making this stock inside the oven? My tall stock pot won’t fit inside my oven. I was thinking about buying a big Le Crueset for this, a good excuse to spend some big bucks on a fancy French pan, but I don’t know. Hope Rulhamn can answer before I go shopping.

  • ltpinto

    So I was able to acquire 3 carcasses. The stock of all three birds has been simmering (190 degrees) in the oven for five, maybe six hours. Fine recipe and thanks for a great way to spend the Saturday after Thanksgiving!

  • Goomba

    Cooks Illustrated rated the All Clad Stainless 2 qt stock pot “highly recommended” but pricy. The next “recommended” and much more reasonably priced Cuisinart Chefs Classic Stainless was a fraction of the cost.

    Did you put your oven rack down to the lowest level? Don’t forget that the oven stock recipe calls for the pot to be lidless so it gives you more room for the pot alone.

  • ModernMaven

    I ended up doing mine on the stove because 180 in the oven just wasnt cutting it. I got quite a bit of stock out of my carcass, and it tastes fabulous. My huband and I were amazed how lean it was…not much fat came up when we fridged it. We ended up getting four almost full quart bags out of it. They are in the freezer now.

    As far as this being a snobby foodie thing to do, um, my grandparents and great grandparents used to do this. You wasted no part of any meat and everything was eaten when people were poor and had huge families to feed. To call this snobby, is, well, laughable. It’s a modern, wasteful thing for people to buy stock at the grocery store. Most people used to make their own. To me, this is a return to that time where you dont waste things and try to spend less.

  • JR Prospal

    Michael, I followed your advice and just finished reducing a turkey stock that I made yesterday. Six hours at a low simmer, skimming about every half hour and then straining twice through a tea towel yielded a beautiful aromatic stock in which I can see all the way through. Today I reduced it by a third and off to the freezer it’s going. Thanks much.

    BTW: After seeing you last Saturday in Cleveland Heights I flew out to San Fran for work and had the fortunate opportunity to eat at Incanto and meet Chef Cosentino. Wonderful guy.

  • tinarina

    Regarding stock with a smoked bird–good friends who are good cooks did this a few years ago and it was AWFUL–like a pot of watery liquid smoke. No harm in trying it as it costs virtually nothing, but it will be interesting to hear if you end up with something useful.

  • Wilmita

    Well… thanks to you Michael Ruhlman, I now have enough stock in my freezer and refrigerator I could float a schooner if need be.

    THAT was one BIG carcass!!.

    I am certain to get many uses from it and I thank you. (I think)

    Red Beans and Ricely Yours,

    Wilmita

  • Leland

    I wish I had read this before I made my turkey stock on Friday, but I think it turned out ok. I chopped up the bones, added some vegetables and herbs, and simmered it all on the stove, adding water when it got too thin, for about five hours. I strained it, passed it through coffee filters, and froze it in pint containers. On Saturday I used some stock and shredded leftover turkey to make turkey risotto. It was delicious, although I’ve had enough of the taste and smell of turkey!

  • Maura

    I’ve been using canned chicken broth, when I need some liquid in small amounts,and have always been happy with it. But nothing beats homemade stock, whether it’s chicken, turkey, vegetable or shrimp stock.

    RE: Lousy tap water. We have horrible tap water (sometimes you can smell the chlorine). I regularly fill four half gallon glass bottles with tap water and let it aerate for 8 hours. I do this at night and usually have enough water for the day. I use this for almost everything I make.

    I was going to make stock anyway, so I used this technique. It’s in the refrigerator now. I’ll skim the fat off this afternoon. Stock for months!

  • Gina

    I ended up putting mine on the burner too instead of the oven. I’m lucky enough that one burner is so low it is (supposed to be) a “true melt” – i.e. one could melt chocolate without the benefit of a double boiler. I doubt it but it does get pretty darn low.

    I left it on said burner all night and then strained it in the morning, ice bath, and then into the fridge until the next AM. What I arrived to was basically turkey stock jell-0. So I know my stock has major body and had great clarity – but did I take it too far? It turns into liquid when heated.

  • cybercita

    canned stock tastes poisonous to me. it reminds me of the smell of cafeteria in the basement of my grammar school. nuff said.

  • jaye joseph

    The smoked turkey stock turned out wonderful! I was concerned that it would be just like water with smoke, but it was nice and rich with just a hint of smokiness to it. I got about 5 qts of stock out of it, so I think that it would have been a little better had I reduced what I’d strained, but I was impatient.

    I made an awesome turkey gumbo from some of it, and now have a nice “stock” pile in the freezer.

    Now I have to go hit myself for that pun.

  • chris neill

    Michael,

    I can’t agree more. Ever since reading “Making of…” in 2000, I have become a fanatical stock maker. Needless to say, I left my mom with many quarts of 36+ hour super reduced turkey “consomme”.. I didn’t do the dime test, but after three passes through cheese-cloth, I think I nailed it. Anyway, thank you (and Chef Pardus) for the tips, and my mom thanks you too.

  • Chris

    Gina: I left it on said burner all night and then strained it in the morning, ice bath, and then into the fridge until the next AM. What I arrived to was basically turkey stock jell-0.

    Gina, sounds like you did it right. That’s what you want.

    I tried the oven technique with the turkey carcass, and it turned out great. I found it easier than on the burner.

  • ErikaK

    I just want to say how much I appreciated this “method” to make stock. It was my first time making stock, we had a huge turkey and I now have more than a gallon of stock. Straining the 2nd time through the cloth made it wonderfully clear, I never would have thought of that. There was barely any fat on it after it cooled, I popped all but one quart in the freezer. Now I don’t have to buy “better than bullion” any more!

  • Gina

    Well, I made turkey risotto with some of it and it was darn tasty. I had done a veal stock the week before and didn’t get the gelatinized (? is that a real word) version so the turkey jello was a bit of a shock! Thanks for the words of encouragement…

  • carri

    Ok, I just had a great stock/soup moment that I must share…My kids are performing in a local production of the Nutcracker (this is the 19th year our little town has done this!) which involves many nights at the local high school audtitorium rehearsing with 100 people or more…there are 70 kids in the show! I am the organizer of the food served backstage (in a hallway) to keep these folks all going strong and today it was my turn to contribute a hot dish to the food table. I roasted a couple of chickens which I cut up and served, carcasses and all, in a large electric roaster pan. When the majority of the meat was gone I added water to the pan and set the temp for 250. By the second act I was cutting up leftover carrots and celery from yesterdays snack trays and by the end of the show the tech people were enjoying chiken soup…made right there in the hallway on a folding table!

  • guy

    Michael…thanks from me too. I’ve always made my own stock, amateurishly perhaps, and this method was quite easy to do. Half of the end result went into a nice cream of turkey soup that used other Thanksgiving leftovers quite nicely.

    My sons, ages 9 and 11, really like soup (and will even eat greens like kale and spinach that way), and I take part of the credit because I make stock. The difference over canned broth, or even canned soup, is amazing.

    The only real trouble I’ve ever had making stock has been with roasting bones (chicken bones, for example, to make a rich chicken stock) that have bits of meat and fat leftover. I’m finding they tend to burn, or at least smoke heavily, on me…I’m suspecting a problem in technique. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to avoid it? Thanks…

  • guy

    Michael…thanks from me too. I’ve always made my own stock, amateurishly perhaps, and this method was quite easy to do. Half of the end result went into a nice cream of turkey soup that used other Thanksgiving leftovers quite nicely.

    My sons, ages 9 and 11, really like soup (and will even eat greens like kale and spinach that way), and I take part of the credit because I make stock. The difference over canned broth, or even canned soup, is amazing.

    The only real trouble I’ve ever had making stock has been with roasting bones (chicken bones, for example, to make a rich chicken stock) that have bits of meat and fat leftover. I’m finding they tend to burn, or at least smoke heavily, on me…I’m suspecting a problem in technique. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to avoid it? Thanks…

  • Scott

    Thanksgiving is the best time to make stock and then use the stock to make Leftover Turkey Gumbo.

  • Jim

    Ruhlman wrote: “DO NOT use canned stock/broth. Use WATER instead. I repeat. You DO NOT NEED to buy that crappy can of Swanson’s low sodium chicken broth! It will HURT your food.”

    This reminds me of what Anthony Bordain had to say about garlic presses in his book _Kitchen Confidential_. I quote: “The crap that comes out of the end of a garlic press? That’s not garlic.”

    Of course it’s garlic. Specifically, it’s crushed and well-pulverized which lead it to be hotter than minced garlic. In fact, many people prefer a stronger flavor in many dishes so, for those tasters, a garlic press is a much more effective use of a cook’s time than producing the same results with a chef’s knife. So why do I think Bourdain was so dismissive of garlic presses? Simple. Mincing garlic takes fine, precise knife work which necessitates lots of practice. It must annoy experienced chefs for a novice and clumsy home cook to spit some macerated garlic out of a garlic press and produce results as good as what his years of hard-earned experience and subtle finesse can produce. In other words, it’s just plain old chef snobbery.

    And I think that’s what’s driving Ruhlman to claim that using water is superior to *any* canned or boxed chicken broth. I think that’s a retarded statement to make. If you make two identical batches of vichyssoise, the only difference being that one was made with water and the other made with a good quality chicken broth, does anyone here honestly think that the one made with water will have more flavor?

    The only way that using boxed chicken broth could “hurt” the food is if you were comparing the final product made with boxed chicken broth with a final product made with real chicken stock. There is clearly no comparison between boxed chicken broth and homemade chicken stock, particularly since the latter has all that wonderful, unctuous gelatin. But it certainly must chafe a seasoned and experienced chef to see a clumsy home cook pop open a box of Swanson’s and say, “This tastes fine”, particularly after said chef has spend hundreds if not thousands of hours making untold gallons of real chicken stock. It just diminishes the quality and importance of all that hard labor, doesn’t it? I’m sure said chef would much rather sentence a home cook to flavorless water than watch them actually enjoy something so common and so cheap.

    An itchy pox on all snobbery, chef or otherwise.

    And yes, I’ve made my own chicken and beef stock for years. I also use boxed broth when I don’t have the real stuff, but I vastly prefer to have the real stuff because it’s so much better. Thank you for the charge, Michael, we all should make more stock. But as for the snobbery — ditch that BS!

  • Roger Cowles

    Hi Michael,

    Many thanks for the “Water better than store bought stock/broth” blog article. My wife has allergies to Onion/Garlic/Pepper, all of which I include when making my own stock so I was about to use Whole Foods “Organic Beefy-like Broth” in a Beef/barley stew thing I was making, even though one of its ingredients is garlic powder.

    Upon reading your article I instead went with 4 cups of plain old tap water, using some to deglaze the cast iron skillet I’d browned my chuck steak chunks and the rest going into the dutch oven and was rewarded with a fantastically tasty stew, plenty of beefy flavour from the fond (??? Computer programmer by trade so the terminology may be off) and lots of gelatin from the slow cooking of the chewy chuck steak. The missus loved it and I haven’t had to deal with any “Your trying to poison me!” comments when she finds out I’ve used an ingredient from the “banned list” :)

    Cheap too as the only ingredients were

    3lb Chuck Steak at some really low price/lb from supermarket, cubed, defatted (mostly) and then heavily browned
    3 Red bliss potatoes, cubed
    hand full of small carrots, chopped
    couple of sticks of celery, chopped
    Bay Leaf
    1/2 cup pearl barley
    4 cups (or so) of water
    3 or so hours in a low, 250/275, oven.

    Again, thanks for the impassioned plea to give water a chance, I did and was very happy with the result !


    Roj

  • Mrs. U

    Hi Mr. Ruhlman!
    I just discovered your blog and LOVE all that I am reading. I really appreciate you sharing this about using water instead of the canned broth. I am definitely going to incorporate that into some recipes and see the difference.

    We were at my in-laws this year for Thanksgiving, so I had no turkey bones. But I did recently make fresh chicken stock. YUM!

    I can’t wait to learn more!

    His,
    Mrs. U

  • Choosy Beggar Tina

    I am so excited to make your stock tonight. I’ve been waiting until I had turkey bones, and with Canadian Thanksgiving done I can finally get to it. Your method is so different from what I normally do (which, I’m sure, is a REALLY GOOD THING) that I can’t wait to try! Thank you.

  • Choosy Beggar Tina

    I am so excited to make your stock tonight. I’ve been waiting until I had turkey bones, and with Canadian Thanksgiving done I can finally get to it. Your method is so different from what I normally do (which, I’m sure, is a REALLY GOOD THING) that I can’t wait to try! Thank you.

  • Allie

    I’m making turkey stock right now. Last weekend I made chicken stock and froze some of it in the ice cube tray like JD. It’s my favorite kitchen trick.

  • jharp

    Thank you for the post. I’ve been experimenting making chicken stock as I’ve always suspected the canned stuff is garbage.

    I am taking your post as confirmation that I have been right all along.

    And I like to know the recipe for the turkey stock and lentil soup.