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Homemade Beef Stock

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Homemade beef bone broth. Like my chicken stock recipe, my beef stock recipe is easy, cheap and supremely nourishing — and free of extraneous ingredients and steps. Just like homemade soup stock should be.

Since the dawn of the human race, we’ve been cooking bones to get at their goodness, including the marrow, and the gelatin and minerals we can only access through long, slow boiling.

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You can buy beef broth or stock in a can or a box, but, trust me, you cannot buy anything like what you can produce in your own kitchen. You can’t buy this kind of rich, deep, real flavor. You can’t buy stock (that I know of) that’s so rich with gelatin that it’s solid as Jell-O in the refrigerator and at cooler room temperatures. If you’re looking for a Nourishing Traditions-type, Weston A. Price Foundation-friendly, nutrient-dense bone broth, this is an essential recipe for your kitchen.

I’ve been making stock for years, and I continue to be astonished at what I get from practically no money and very little effort.

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Beef stock recipe
Where to get bones

Every time you come upon a beef bone, like when you have steak, keep it. Collect leftover bones in a gallon bag in the freezer. Eventually, you’ll have enough for a pot of stock. If you like, you can buy some bones as well, or instead.

You can buy soup bones at a butcher store or your supermarket’s butcher counter. They might be labeled soup bones, marrow bones, or even “dog bones,” although people can eat them, too! If you don’t see them on display, ask the nice folks behind the counter, and they’ll set them aside to sell you when they remove them from the meat they process, or even order them for you.

The dog bones at my neighborhood locally owned grocery cost only $1.29 per pound (2008), for instance.

The first time I bought dog bones there, the cashier asked me about them — what was I going to use them for?

“Stock,” I answered. She looked puzzled.

“Beef stock,” I clarified. It didn’t look like this answered her question. I continued:

“Like beef broth or beef bouillon. You just roast them in the oven, and then simmer them in water for a while. It makes the most delicious stock, so much better than anything you could get from a can or a bouillon cube.”

She was looking at me intently, so I kept going. “Then you just use it for starting soups, or whatever. Wherever you would use stock. Like when a recipe calls for stock, or bullion cubes.”

She nodded and continued ringing out my groceries.

Finally she asked the question that must have been on her mind all the while.

“Are they really made of real dogs?”

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Beef stock recipe
Roasting the bones

Beef stock involves one extra step that I don’t include in my chicken stock method: roasting the bones in the oven before boiling them. This browns them and adds more caramelized deliciousness to the stock.

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Beef stock recipe
Inspiration

Don and I worked out our essential recipe for how to make homemade soup stock many years ago. The inspiration was my reading Michael Ruhlman‘s book Making of a Chef, whose leitmotif was finely wrought, lyrical descriptions of stock-making and the author’s near-quixotic quest for the perfect stock.

We came across plenty of variations on the theme. Everything we found was more complicated than the recipe we finally developed, the recipe I’m sharing with you. This is the simplest, quickest, easiest, and I think, the best beef stock recipe possible.

Note that beef stock and beef broth have different, specific culinary meanings, but for the purposes of this article — and for most home cooking purposes — I’m using them interchangeably. A discourse on beef stock versus beef broth is beyond this conversation. However, if I get enough comments asking for one, I’ll write it.

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Beef stock recipe
Developing a simple recipe

Many recipes call for skimming the surface during the long boiling process. We did that a time or two. We even got a special skimming tool. It was a lot of fuss. Eventually we realized, why bother? Anything you want to remove will rise to the top at the end when everything cools off, anyway.

Most beef stock recipes we found involved dicing heaps of mirepoix: carrot, celery and onion. For a home kitchen, you don’t need this. All you need is to roast, and then boil, the bones, to get the goodness out: the richness, minerals and flavor.

Most also included seasoning. Home cooks don’t need to add this either. I want my broths neutral, so that they don’t interfere with whatever dish I’m using them in. For instance, what if I have a freezer full of stock made with the basic European seasonings of bay leaf, peppercorn and salt — but then I want to make Thai food? I’d be stuck with a clashing flavor profile, and I’d be working against it as I added kaffir lime leaf, chile pepper and fish sauce, which you can sort of think of as the counterparts of those three European ingredients.

And anyway, why would I want to add salt, and then be forever having to compensate for the salt amount when I add the stock to recipes?

That’s why I like my stocks neutral. Just a warning, though: because they are so neutral, they don’t taste like much right out of the stock pot. But add a little salt and pepper — or fish sauce and red pepper flake, for that matter — and you’ve got a miracle in a bowl.

Another common beef stock addition we came across was tomato paste, to be painted on the bones before roasting. The idea is that you’ll get better browning. We tried this once, and we say, never again. The tomato paste browned, sure. But it kept the bones themselves from browning. Browned bones was what we were after, but they were too moist, and were coated with stuff, so they never got exposed to the dry heat that would have triggered the Maillard reaction. Not to mention, then we had tomato-beef stock at the finish. Not pure beef stock.

This beef stock recipe calls for bones, water, time and heat. That’s it.

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Beef stock recipe
Quicker cooldown

You can hasten the cooling process by placing the pot in the kitchen sink and filling the sink with ice water. Stirring the ice water, and the stock, will further speed the transfer of heat from the stockpot.

Beef stock recipe
Storing homemade beef stock

  • I use 1-cup yogurt containers with plastic lids to store my stock. You can buy new containers and dedicate them to this task. One gallon of stock requires 16 cup-measure containers. You can use other sizes, also.
  • If you make more than one kind of stock, do yourself a favor and mark the containers accordingly. Mark the containers before you fill them or put them in the freezers, because ink won’t stick to surfaces that have condensation on them.
  • I use plastic cafeteria-syle trays to store several levels of stock, and whatever else fits, in my above-fridge freezer.
  • When freezing, leave about a half inch empty at the top of the container. The water in the stock will swell when it freezes.

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Beef stock recipe
Use in recipes

One cup homemade beef stock can be used in recipes as the flavor equivalent of one to two cans of purchased low-sodium beef stock, or one bouillon cube. Adjust fluid amounts as needed.

Beef stock recipe
Homemade beef stock

Yield

About 1 gallon.

Temperature and time

Oven: 350 F, 45 minutes. Stovetop: Low, 6 to 12 hours

Ingredients

  • Beef bones, about 3 quarts, or 3 pounds
    (can use any mix of leftover bones or soup bones, marrow bones or bones sold for dogs)
  • Water

Equipment that bears mentioning

  • Tall stock pot (ideal), or any big pot
  • Tongs
  • A big bowl or another big pot
  • Several freezer-safe containers

In a nutshell

Roast bones until browning and fragrant. SImmer bones 6 to 12 hours. Cool and strain. Lift off tallow when completely cool.

In detail

Heat water. Fill a stockpot or other large pot with water about halfway and set on the stove on high heat. It takes a while for this to get to the boil, so you might as well get it started while the bones are roasting.

Roast bones. Set oven to 350 F. Spread bones out on a shallow baking sheet or rimmed cookie sheet. Place in oven for 45 minutes, or until browned and sizzling. Don’t allow them to burn or get singed, or the whole batch will taste burnt.

Remove the pan of bones from the oven and set it near the pot. Use kitchen tongs to transfer the bones carefully into the water. The bones will be sizzling hot — up to 350 F (think about it) — so don’t drop them in so that they make a splash that could burn you. Slide or place them carefully.

Simmer bones. Add water, if there’s space in the pot, so that there approximately a gallon plus a quart of water. That’ll give you a gallon of stock, after about a quart of loss to evaporation, absorption into the bones and clinging to the bones. The precise amount of water is not important. If you don’t have a pot big enough for this amount of water and/or bone, just use less.

Bring the water to the boil. Turn the heat to the lowest setting possible that will maintain a gentle simmer. The surface of the water should be waving gently and making many tiny bubbles. It should not be frothing crazily.

Over the course of the next several hours, check the soup every hour or so to see that the simmer level is good.

I have left the house with stock on many times. There’s so much water in the pot that there’s no danger of the water boiling out and the pot burning — unless I decide not to come back for a few days. If you are comfortable leaving the house with a slow cooker working, consider this in the same category.

After six to twelve hours, turn off the heat. The amount of time depends on your convenience. You could cook this overnight, but the strong cooking aroma might disturb your sleep, despite being wonderful.

Cool and strain. Let the stock cool. This will take an hour or two. Pour the stock through a strainer into a big bowl or another big pot.

Skim tallow. If desired, cool it long enough that you can easily lift the tallow (beef fat) that has collected and solidified atop the liquid. Store this separately in the refrigerator. It makes an excellent, stable and tasty cooking fat with a high smoke point.

Store stock. Ladle the stock into individual containers and store in refrigerator or freezer.

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