While you can buy chicken stock in convenient cartons at the grocery store, there’s no substitute for homemade. Slowly simmering chicken scraps and bones with aromatics on the stove produces unparalleled flavor. Chicken stock is a wonderfully versatile ingredient too; consider how many recipes call for it, beyond chicken soup.
Making homemade chicken stock shouldn’t be intimidating either. We’ve gathered the best advice we could find to help you whip up a batch of stock in your own kitchen. We hope these tips work as well for you as they did for us.
Chicken Stock or Chicken Broth?
Let’s start by clarifying the difference between stock and broth: Stock is made from chicken parts with bones, and broth is made from meat. But what’s the difference between a liquid made with meat only, versus one with bones?
The short answer is that simmering chicken bones releases collagen, which breaks down into gelatin and gives stock a richer texture than broth. Cartilage is especially rich in collagen, so chicken parts that have a lot of cartilage —like the neck and wings and feet (yes, feet) — are particularly good for making stock.
Simmering chicken meat can also yield tasty results (more on that in a bit), but the meat itself is wasted. That’s not to say you shouldn’t add meat to your stock, but it won’t be worth eating afterward.
Homemade Chicken Stock: The Good Parts
One of the best reasons to make chicken stock (aside from how delicious it is) is the economy of it. After you roast a chicken (or pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery deli), don’t toss those bones. The carcass and scraps are exactly what you need to make stock.
Serious Eats conducted a test in which they made broth and stock from various chicken parts and compared the results. It was surprising to see how well chicken breast fared, and how neither chicken thighs nor a whole chicken produced a standout stock. They concluded a mix of white meat scraps, bones, and cartilage-rich parts would be an ideal combination.
In terms of cartilage content and chicken flavor, nothing beats chicken feet. We mentioned them in our post on matzo ball soup. While we understand the initial distaste, we encourage you to give them a try. It's okay to keep them a secret from your family though, especially the younger members.
Homemade Chicken Stock: Aromatics
There’s more to chicken stock than chicken parts. Aromatics add depth and complexity to your stock and complement the chicken flavor. Most recipes call for a combination of carrots, celery, and onions, along with thyme, parsley, and salt.
Serious Eats also conducted a test with aromatics in three batches of chicken stock. The first batch used whole aromatics — entire carrots and celery stalks, onion halves, and full sprigs of thyme and parsley. The second batch included diced aromatics, and all the aromatics were sautéed before adding them to the third batch of stock. The clear winner was the second batch with diced aromatics. More surface area imparted more flavor to the stock.
Homemade Chicken Stock: Tools and Techniques
Beyond using the best ingredients, it helps to have the right tools at hand. One of the easiest ways to strain chicken parts and aromatics from stock is to simmer using a pasta strainer and stockpot. Simply lift the pasta strainer from the pot and dispose of the largest items easily. Then pour the remaining stock through a fine mesh strainer to remove any stray bits.
One of the other concerns with making stock is the cooking process itself. Serious Eats reassures stock novices that you don’t have to stand over the pot, skimming it constantly. However, multiple sources caution against high heat and stirring. Keep your stock at a gentle simmer, not a rolling boil, and resist the urge to mix up the ingredients.
Homemade Chicken Stock: Recipes
While you don’t actually need a recipe other than the chicken parts and aromatics noted above, we understand if you prefer to have instructions to follow.
Alton Brown’s chicken stock recipe on Food Network yields five quarts of stock. Based on what we learned from the trials and errors on Serious Eats, we’re skeptical about the skimming, the large chunks of aromatics, and the extended simmering time. But we trust that Alton Brown knows what he’s doing.
This recipe from Bon Appetit makes a smaller amount of stock — two quarts — and takes much less time to simmer. Thyme is conspicuously absent from the list of ingredients, so we’d be tempted to throw in a few sprigs. Our thrifty side also prefers to use bones rather than meaty chicken wings that could be doused in Buffalo sauce.
Finally, if you’ve mustered the courage to try making stock with chicken feet, this guidance on Lifehacker is invaluable. It’s not a recipe — you’ll have to wing it with your chicken feet — but the photos will help you stay on the right track. We know it sounds strange, but if this many people swear by the magic of chicken feet, we think it’s worth a shot.