We must confess: After an informal survey at the office and beyond, we discovered some of us (we’re not naming names)—who love to cook—weren’t 100-percent clear on the difference between chicken stock and broth. We knew one version was somewhat heartier, but which one and why was befuddling (to some of us). Even professional chefs and experienced cooks often spout the broth and stock terms interchangeably, and if we can’t turn to them, then who?! What are the key differences between chicken stock and chicken broth? How are they made? And when should you use one versus the other? Important questions we’ll answer along with the steps for making basic chicken broth and stock, some easy recipes and other useful information.
Let’s start with the basics, and how these two cooking liquids are similar. Both stock and broth refer to the liquid you get after you simmer animal parts and/or vegetables in water for hours and then strain all the solid bits out. You can use both stock and broth as a base for soups, stews, gravies, and sauces. You can also substitute stock or broth for water to add more flavor to your rice, risotto, orzo, or really, any grain or pasta. They’re also a way to reduce food waste at home, because a broth will gladly use up your carrot tops, celery bottoms and outer onion layers that typically end up in the trash. Or compost bin, if you’re cool like that. But what about the key differences between stock and broth?
Chicken stock is what you get when you simmer the carcass of the chicken and most importantly, the bones. It’s really all about the bones. The long simmering process extracts the all-important collagen from those bones and forms a layer of fat on top of the strained liquid when it cools. You keep that. The gelatinous layer blends in again when you heat it and adds a rich and earthy, umami flavor. This is the one we might consider “heartier.” Though it packs a more concentrated flavor punch, a stock generally doesn’t have (much) salt or any spices added to it, keeping the stock neutral enough for a wide variety of uses. Though we always recommend making your own, there are canned and boxed chicken stocks to be found in any supermarket. Popular brands include Kitchen Basics, Pacific and College Inn. College Inn…get it? Collagen.
Chicken broth is the cooking liquid you find yourself with after you simmer the carcass, skin and sometimes, meat of the bird along with vegetables in water, and seasoning it with salt, herbs, and spices. Broth might be lighter, but it has a complex enough flavor to be sipped and enjoyed all on its own. Also, you can make many versions of vegetarian broth. If you don’t have the time or willingness to make it yourself, you can buy ready-made broth in cans or cartons at the grocery store. We suggest opting for a low sodium variety so you can add the amount of salt you desire at will.
If you’re wondering how to tell the difference between chicken stock and chicken broth just by looking at them, a stock will generally be darker and cloudier (from the collagen), while broth is often lighter, clearer and thinner than stock.
There are no strict rules as to when you should use chicken stock or chicken broth as they are indeed similar, but there are a few things to consider to best amplify each one. Since most chicken stock is rich in gelatinous collagen from the long-simmered bones, it may be best suited for hearty soups and stews where a deep rich flavor is desired: coq au vin or a rich marsala sauce, for instance. Add it to a saute of garlic and leafy greens as the base for paella, or make miso soup, which welcomes that unique umami flavor.
Broth has a thinner consistency, more like water, so think of it almost as water, but with savory flavor. In addition to sipping it on its own for fast, warming sustenance, use broth for blanching, boiling, to thin out a sauce or as the base (broth) for a soupthat doesn’t need much added texture or a super rich flavor base. Slowly incorporate chicken broth into a risotto or pasta sauce to add flavor dimension or to make your next batch of rice or quinoa.
Below are a few recipes for easy homemade chicken broth and chicken stock and some recipes that use them. Since both should simmer for at least a few hours, it’s recommended to make either in large quantities ahead of time and store in the freezer where they will last for months or longer. Pro tip: if you freeze your stock in ice cube trays first and then transfer the cubes to a larger freezer bag you can use as much or as little as you need when the time comes. If you’re going to freeze your stock and/or broth in wide-mouthed mason jars, leave a little room at the top for expansion. However you make your stock or broth, we can guarantee your meals will taste so much the better for it than if you just use water or the store-bought stuff. Try these recipes that call for your homemade stock or broth.
Nothing beats a homemade chicken stock and it’s easy as can be (as long as you have the time). Bring the bones and cold water up to a boil and then drop down to a simmer and cover. The longer the simmer the more collagen and gelatin is extracted from the bones creating a viscous cooking liquid with rich umami flavor. This recipe can be made using beef bones, fish bones or any other you have on hand and the uses for chicken stock are virtually endless! Get our Basic Chicken Stock recipe.
A homemade chicken broth generally has a more “finished” and recognizable taste, derived partly from vegetables like celery, onions and carrots and the spices and/or herbs used in making it. Start with cold water and put all those vegetable scraps to good use. Also, feel free to adapt this recipe to your personal taste preferences. Ginger, lemongrass, chili, and other flavoring agents can be added during the broth’s hours-long simmer. Get the Easy Chicken Broth recipe.
With seven ingredients, plus salt, pepper, and butter (which we hope you always have on hand!) this truly is an easy, creamy, dreamy springtime soup. The other ingredients are pretty easy to find too, with the exception of crème fraiche, possibly. And then of course, you need to have your homemade stock or broth to take this soup to the next level. Get our Easy Asparagus Soup recipe.
You need 10 tablespoons of chicken stock or broth for this slow-simmering Italian classic that gets a healthier twist by substituting ground turkey for ground pork and veal. Get our Turkey Bolognese recipe.
If you already have your chicken stock or broth in the freezer, all you gotta do is heat it up, pull some chicken off a rotisserie bird, soften the rice vermicelli, and prep the garnishes. Then enjoy all those lovely flavors of ginger, basil, jalapeno, cilantro, Sriracha, and lime. Get our Quick Chicken Pho recipe.
A soup that combines Italian pasta favorites plus the lovely cannellini bean is the soup for us. Basil pesto, sausage, zucchini, and chicken breasts swim in your homemade chicken broth or stock before they get carried away to your eager mouth. Get our Pesto, Chicken, and White Bean Soup recipe.
7. Bacon Jam
There are plenty of recipes that cry for your homemade chicken broth or stock that don’t have poultry starring as the main ingredient. Take this bacon jam. Really, take it on. Because bacon. Get our Bacon Jam recipe.