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Cooking Tips

Turn Water and Chicken Scraps into Kitchen Gold 

A practical guide for how to make chicken stock.
By Published Oct. 11, 2022

Making stock is simple—especially when you keep a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag in your freezer labeled “parts for stock.” The next time you bring home a rotisserie chicken, pick it clean and stash away the bones. When you cut a whole raw bird into serving parts, instead of trashing the back, wingtips, neck, and choice giblets (skip the liver), reach for that bag and toss them in. Same thing with the carcass if you’ve carved the meat off it. 

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Then when the bag is full and you’ve got a need for chicken stock, add the bones, water, and aromatics to a pot; bring it to a simmer; and let it all bubble away for 2 hours. With that minimal amount of effort and forethought, what you get in return is an ingredient that’s pure culinary gold. 

That’s the spirit of our All-Purpose Chicken Stock recipe: transforming what you might otherwise throw away into the bedrock of excellent home cooking. The method is simple, and the results are infinitely adaptable. Leaving the stock minimally seasoned (with only onion, garlic, and bay leaf) means it’s equally at home in a Mexican tortilla soup and a Vietnamese pho. Plus, since there’s no added salt, you can reduce and fortify the stock for an intensely chicken-y sauce or gravy or add it to any dish without worrying about excess salt. 

Of course, there’s still a place and time for store-bought broth, but if there are a few quarts of homemade stock in your freezer and you’re preparing a recipe where it’s a key ingredient, which will you reach for first? 

Here are the three big questions home cooks have about making stock.

What’s the Difference Between a White and a Brown Chicken Stock?

You can make our chicken stock recipe with all the chicken scraps you’re likely to run into in your day-to-day kitchen routine. Depending on whether you’re starting with raw bones, roasted bones, or bones from a roasted bird, each will have distinct characteristics.

Starting with raw bones: In classic terminology, simmering raw bones results in a “white stock,” which is light both in color and flavor. A white stock is clearer and more subtle than a brown stock (see “Starting with roasted bones” below), perfect for when you want chicken flavor to shine through without distraction. 

Starting with roasted bones: If you have raw parts on hand, but you prefer a heartier, darker stock with roasty notes of caramelization (known as a brown stock), you can toss the bones with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and roast them in a 500-degree oven on a rimmed baking sheet until they’re browned, about 35 minutes, before simmering them.

Starting with bones from roasted birds: Bones from roasted birds—such as store-bought rotisserie chickens or home-roasted chickens—will yield a stock similar to a classic brown stock. Note that the stock will be lightly seasoned with the salt and spices used on the chicken. Remove as much skin from roasted chicken parts as possible if you want to avoid seasoning your stock.

What Should and Shouldn’t Go in the Pot?

Poultry Parts: What to Use and What Not to Use 

Use: Necks, backs, wings, wingtips, and feet are all high in connective tissue and therefore make excellent stock. Some sources say that the heart and gizzards can be included with no ill effect. 

Avoid: Scraps from fried chicken or turkey will lend the stock a greasiness and the taste of frying oil. Livers will impart an intense, distinct flavor not suitable for most applications. 

Other Welcome Aromatics and Herbs 

In addition to the onion, garlic, and bay leaf that we call for, leeks, carrots, celery, parsley, thyme, and black peppercorns are all classic additions. Scallion and ginger also pair exceptionally well with poultry.

Is It Stock or Broth?

According to the classic French definitions taught in many culinary schools, stock is made by simmering bones and is therefore richer in gelatin and has a more neutral flavor, while broth is made by simmering meat (and a much smaller proportion of bones) and is typically lighter bodied and has a more pronounced meat or poultry flavor. 

However, take a glance at the products in the soup aisle of your local supermarket and you’ll see that these definitions are not widely agreed upon, with most treating the two words as synonyms. We here at Cook’s Country tend to treat them as interchangeable as well, as exemplified by the fact that we call for “broth” in our recipes and our winning store-bought “broth” is Swanson Chicken Stock. 

The recent rise in popularity of so-called “bone broths” only serves to muddy the distinction between the two terms. 

Strictly speaking, the recipe here is for a stock, but you can use it anywhere we call for broth.