If you are new to bone broth, and are accustomed to snagging boxed and canned broth for cooking, something amazing awaits you – whether you consider bone broth to be a delicious food or true medicine. I won’t judge you either way.
When I started out two decades ago cooking broths and stocks, I only cooked them for an hour or two. Over time, I added more hours, thinking myself a daredevil. It was just something I did because I liked the homemade flavors. I made large amounts and stored it, giving it on occasion to sick friends. With the advent of bone broth – an entity entirely separate from traditional broth or stock – I began to pay attention to and thoroughly researched how to get the most nutrition possible out of the meats and bones I was using. A farmer friend introduced me to my not-so-secret weapon (stewing chickens), and I’ve never looked back.
Fitting bone broth into a busy lifestyle takes some adjusting. Some choose to make large amounts periodically, storing the proceeds for the week or month ahead. Others go the route of perpetual broth, a crockpot or stockpot full of bone broth that gently simmers all week long. While I can understand the allure of having broth ready in an instant, the flavor suffers and the quality is uneven. Perpetual broth is really a gateway drug to more bone broth. Even the solitary bone broth drinker often finds demand grows so quickly that it far outstrips the supply. The desire to avoid the fuss of storing and freezing gives way to rush orders for glass jars by the dozen. It really isn’t so difficult to make a modest-sized batch and store it. I promise to lead you through it.
I generally keep my stockpot going continuously for 48 hours. I often do this over a weekend when I can fully enjoy the lovely scent of broth throughout the house. The short-cooked broths seemed nice enough at the time, but now I know I was throwing away a lot of nutrition. After cooking beef bones for 8 hours, for example, 80% of the collagen remains in the bones. When I started cooking for 24 to 48 hours at a time, I discovered entirely new realms of texture and umami flavors – that hard to describe roasted taste present in foods such as meats, soy sauce, coffee, Parmesan cheese, and mushrooms.
You don’t have to commit to a 48 hour cooktime, though. For cooks who are shorter on time and don’t want to fuss with putting away big batches of broth at a time, start with the Stockpot- or Crockpot-based recipes. Pay close attention to the temperature of your broth – this is where the most problems occur.
Some cooks are content to cook bone broth for shorter periods of time, and some nutritional regimens limit the number of hours that broth can be cooked. Adjust the recipes as you wish. Unless you let the pot get too hot, or don’t monitor the water level, it’s hard to mess things up. And many broth whoopsies can be corrected. You wouldn’t believe the different characteristics in flavor that emerge in bone broth over a longer cooking time. I was shocked as I experimented with longer and longer cook times. It’s the difference between drinking tea that has been steeped for ten seconds versus a few minutes. There is but a hint of the flavors waiting for you in an 8 hour broth, but until you have a bone broth cooked longer, it is difficult to fathom what you are missing. A really good bone broth will have many different layers of flavor: first the meat, then the veggies, perhaps a hint of mineral, the herbs, the savory flavor known as umami, and then finally the salt. The final product should be delicious enough on its own with a touch of salt and pepper to taste, and the smell will have you drooling well in advance of the end of cooking. No one will know if you choose to exercise the cook’s right to early taste testing!
You can make bone broth in either a large stockpot, a crock pot, a pressure cooker, a turkey roaster, or even your oven. In my personal experience, the low and slow cooking in a stockpot delivers the best flavor every time – but the crockpot and pressure cooker will make you very happy, too.
So how do you manage a 48 hour cook time? Do you ever sleep?
For me personally, using a crockpot actually requires more attention and stress than working with a stockpot. Crockpots can easily boil dry over an extended period of time, requiring the cook to add water periodically. Using a large stockpot over low heat with six to seven quarts of water gives me a very wide margin of error. I never need to add water, and I don’t need to stir the stockpot very often, either. The ingredients tend to move around in the pot very little, and there is enough water in the pot that ingredients sticking to the bottom isn’t a concern. I don’t have to worry about the stockpot ever boiling dry because there is around seven quarts of water. In fact, after stabilizing the temperature right where I want it to be and keeping an occasional eye on the stockpot for the first hour, I then freely go to bed or leave the house to run short errands. I have been doing this for more than twelve years without incident.
Are you insane? You can’t leave a pot on the stove overnight!
I realize this is a radical idea at first. Yet is it really so weird to let cooking go on overnight? Some people will also leave ovens on overnight for cleaning, or leave a roasting turkey unattended in the oven for a few hours whilst fighting with the in-laws at Thanksgiving. Of course, I am not speaking from personal experience. A friend told me the thing about in-laws. Anyway, I realize you might not be comfortable doing this and you don’t have to; the results will just be a bit different.
Most home cooks would use a crockpot for cooking projects that require so many hours to cook. Here’s a surprise: would you believe that the instruction book for my relatively new and fancy crock pot clearly states that crock pots should never be left on without someone watching it all the time. Seriously? I wanted to fling the user guide in the trash. I thought the whole point of a crockpot is to cook while you are not watching it, and ideally, not even at home! Depending on your specific crock pot, you may already have gone rogue in the kitchen. Check your crockpot user guide. I’ll wait.
The recipes at Broth Whisperer use a low heat setting (the lowest setting on my stove, to be precise). My 12 quart stockpot has 6 quarts of liquid at the end of cooking, much more than needed to keep the solid ingredients from any danger of scorching. You’ll find the scent of the cooking bone broth is hard to ignore or forget, eliminating some of the worries of longer cooking times. Waking up to the happy scent of bone broth certainly isn’t a hardship – unless you are sensitive to the scent of beef bones. Truly, once the base temperature in the stockpot is achieved, this approach is stunningly low maintenance. At the ideal temperature, the surface of the bone broth will barely move. You may see a few small bubbles, but otherwise there is not a lot of visible action during the bone broth process.
What if I forget I am cooking something?
You could set a timer or an alarm on your phone to check the stockpot periodically as you become accustomed to the longer cooking times. The thermometer you use in summer while you grill – the one that lets you drink beer and ignore the food? That sort of gadget will serve you well when cooking broth. Yes, I went there. Your secret is out.
Think of the stockpot (or crockpot) as a child who is learning to stay home alone. You start low and go slow in increasing the time as your comfort level increases. Use timers and thermometers with alarms to give you extra courage. However, in the end, how you make your bone broth is a very personal choice. It should be joyful. I find making bone broth to be a meditative, happy ritual. The longer cooking time yields results that are well worth a little extra juggling, particularly given the resulting bone broth’s nutrition, volume, strength, and depth of flavor. I am always surprised by how the flavors develop and condense over the extended cooking time.
Another option: turn off the burner when you step out or go to sleep, and restart it when you return. If you bring the temperature up to boiling for ten minutes, you do not need to refrigerate the bone broth between cooking periods. Be aware of safe storage and cooking temperatures if you do this.
Options: you have them. Time to get started.