Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Magic of Bone Broth (3/3): How to Make it in Your Crockpot




And...here we are back for the third and final post in the bone broth series!  If you haven't seen parts one and two, you can find them here and here.

There are two ways to make bone broth-- in a stockpot on the stove, or in a crockpot. (Three ways if you're familiar with pressure cooking.)  I use a crockpot every time, because I started a grease fire the first time I attempted this, and my husband very kindly insisted that that not happen again.  As such, I tracked down a large crockpot- which is officially referred to as a roaster- and have never dealt with grease fires again.  :-)   Here is a link to the roaster I have-- I don't think the price is half bad, but I even managed to beat that by finding mine on craigslist for twenty bucks.  It's earned its keep!

Chicken bones are fairly easy to come buy-- just buy a chicken.  But if you want to make beef broth, bones are a little harder to track down, although still not difficult.  I buy bulk beef from local producers, so it's not hard to get the bones that come with that, but I understand that folks have good luck with asking for bones from the butcher at a meat shop or a grocery store, too.  If you buy bulk meat and you pay by the packaged weight, then you might have to pay for the bones (usually $1-2/lb.) but if you pay by hanging weight, then you're paying for that bone and should be able to get it without too much argument, although they might think you're nuts.  :-)  Ask for the organs, while you're at it...it's hard to convince ourselves to add those to our diet, but you can easily throw them in the stockpot with the bones and still get nutrients in the broth from them.

The following tutorial is done with chicken, but it's just as easy to do it with beef bones.  I start with whole chickens and then pull the meat out, but if your kitchen doesn't function in quite the same way then skip ahead a few steps to the actual bone broth portion.  Making broth isn't a big deal, but I've always felt it's easier to make a big batch than several small ones, and to that end I do three chickens at a time.  If you aren't doing whole chickens, you can keep a container of bones in the freezer and just add to it as you cook, over a few weeks.  If you're super smart (so far, I'm not)-- you'll save leftover veggies or trimmings from them and throw those in too.  Much cheaper than specifically buying veggies for a broth.

The one difference in chicken and beef bones, is that chicken bones tend to be cooked in one form or another by the time they get to the stockpot, and beef bones don't.  For this reason, and to really improve flavor, it's best to roast beef bones for a short time before turning them into stock-- 30 minutes @350 should suffice.


Step one: whole chickens in a pot!  Cover them about halfway with water and turn it on high to get it boiling, then reduce to low.  I usually cook them overnight (12 hours) but I've been known to let them sit longer if I didn't have time to debone them right away.  Be aware that the longer they cook, the more the meat will fall apart, and this can be good if you prefer that, or bad if you're wanting to debone quickly and in big chunks.

I turn the chickens over whenever I think of it, because the half sticking out of the water tends to "roast" and it won't shred easily later if it gets too well done.  Alternately, you can cover the chickens completely with water, but make your choice now: if you use more water, you won't want to throw any away and waste that flavor, so your stock will be more diluted and will take more storage space.  Less water = stronger broth= less storage.  (You can always water it down as you use it; that's what I do.)


When the chicken is done (or you have time do deal with it), you a big slotted spoon to pull the carcasses out and into a bowl.  These will be morbidly hot, so you'll want to let them cool for awhile before deboning.  If you put them in the fridge, just make sure you don't forget them, because they'll stiffen up and be much harder to debone.  You can debone quickly by just pulling off the obvious chunks everywhere, tossing bones, skin, and scraps back in the crockpot as you go.  It took me 20 minutes to debone three cihckens this way.  You can also carefully go through and pick off every bit of meat, so you don't waste any, but there's two reasons not to: 1) it will take you an hour and most of us don't have that to waste and 2) the meat bits make the broth taste better.  If you have kids complaining they're bored, then by all means set them to work picking off all the little stuff too.  :-)




Here's a big bowl of deboned chicken!  I ended up with about 7 1/2 cups for three chickens (the breast meat was fileted off and not part of this project).







Put the bones back in your broth, and add celery, garlic, onions, and carrots, and whatever else you like. Don't measure, it's not a science, just do a hand full of each thing. Feel free to leave anything out you don't prefer, but do know that broth made with veggies is much more appetizing.  I've done both, and the broth made without veggies is really only palatable in things-- it's got a very strong flavor.  Lastly, add a glug or two of apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice-- this is important, because the acidity is crucial for pulling out the minerals.  Cook this for about 24 hours, again starting high to bring it to a boil, then on low to simmer.  If you're using a stockpot, leave a good headspace-- if it spills on a stove during the night, the grease will ignite.  (Ask me how I know...)  




Here's what it looks like when it's all done...yuck!  Use your slotted spoon again, to pull out all the solids.  





This usually ends up in my compost, but if you have chickens, let them pick through it first.  They might find something of interest.  Yes, meat can go in the compost-- the main concern is that it might draw rodents (or other wildlife) but our compost is contained and doesn't seem to be a problem.  The compost has to cook a little longer and/or a little hotter to accommodate the meat, but I'd rather do that then throw it away.


Pour what's left through a sieve to get the little schmutz out.  If you prefer it even more filtered, you can use a cheesecloth over the sieve.  See the jars on the right?  They're from three different batches of broth, so they're all different strengths. If you look close you can see some residue in the bottom; this is what you can avoid by using cheesecloth.  It doesn't particularly bother me, but it might bother you.




After you've made the broth...then what?  Well, there's several options.
  • Can it.  This is what I've been doing lately, because it's easy to store anywhere and instantly ready. The pressure canning (not water bath canning) seems to break down the gelatin, so for awhile I was feeling guilty about minimizing the nutrients...but here's two ways of looking at it: 1) this is still healthier than store bought, and sometimes that's enough and 2) if I understand this article correctly, it should apply to the extra heat from pressure canning as well, making this gelatin no longer gelatinous, but still offering the benefits of it to our body.
  • Freeze it.  This is a popular one for folks worried about the side affects of canning, and it's also the quickest option.  This is definitely a good option and I don't want to dissuade you from it, but the reasons why I switched to canning are 1) freezer space, 2) jars often broke, even when I was careful, and 3) I got tired of throwing plastic alternatives away (ziplocs).
  • Condense it.  Put it on the stove and boil it down until you have a very syrupy glaze.  This can be stored in much smaller amounts and reconstituted with water.  I would guess that the best way to do this would be ice cube trays, since one ice cube would dilute to a good amount of broth.  
  • Dehydrate it.  This is one I've played with but so far had debatable luck with, although I have some solutions to try for fixing it next time.  Basically you boil it down to syrup, spread it on your solid dehydrator trays, and when it's dry, run it through the food processor until it's powdered. Shelf stable and space efficient!  Be careful not to boil it down too thick, or you will have problems getting it to entirely dry-- that was my problem.  A light syrup is a better consistency.
  • Turn it into bouillon cubes.  I haven't had any luck with this, but it's another shelf stable, space efficient idea.  Check out the how-to here.
  • Make smaller batches more often and use it up.  This is more work since you make it more often, but less work if you don't have to worry about storage.  Choose what works best for your kitchen, and whatever's less intimidating to you, personally.
If you have any questions about things I forgot to cover, let me know in comments and I'll answer. Next week I'm putting out some recipes that call for it, so start now if you're interested.  :-D  Happy broth making!

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15 comments :

  1. I enjoyed these 3 posts a lot, Kirstyn. Thank you! I definitely hope to make some bone broth soon. My mom used to make it too. I had no idea of all the health benefits until I read your posts.

    Betty Figarelle

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    1. Delighted to be of help...makes all the writing worthwhile. :-D

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  2. When I make my broth I totally cover the chickens with water and I have always put the veggies in about the same time. I wonder if it matters when they are added? Then after simmering for about 24 hours or so I take off lid and boil it down so it will take less room in the freezer. I have not boiled it down to the syrupy stage, tho, just very concentrated. Although I would like to try that or the dehydrating. That sounds interesting to try. When I freeze it, I put it in non stick Demarle pans. After they freeze I just pop then out and put in a zip-lock bag.

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    1. I would think the veggies would make the meat more flavorful, yes? Sort of like how a pot roast doesn't taste as good without the potatoes, carrots and onion. Or maybe not.

      And I love your idea of freezing the broth in flat shapes before bagging it. Can I come visit you? I don't know when, but someday? :-)

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    2. Ha, to be honest I never even had the idea of adding veggies while the chicken was cooking...concept. :-) When you look up "recipes" for making broth, they're obviously calling for bones, so it just never even crossed my mind to add the flavorings before the bone stage!

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  3. Kirstyn, you've mentioned that gelatin is uber-good for you several times but you haven't said why. Yes, I could look it up, but it's so much more faster to let you write about it. (faster for me, anyway) :-)

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    1. Um...I did a whole post on it called 7 Reasons to Make Jello...and I linked to it in the first part of the broth series under the broth benefits list.

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  4. I have two whole chickens sitting in my fridge just waiting for me to plunk them in a pot of boiling water for the next day or so :)

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    1. I finally got around to (read: remembered) getting the chickens going. I got 11 cups of meat off 2 whole chickens, so that was great. Now the veggies and carcass are simmering away. I'll likely freeze the broth tomorrow. I wonder how the Ball freezer containers work? They're plastic, so not excellent in that regard, but I think they're BPA free, plus they're reusable. I think I'll try them.

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  5. 11, that's awesome! The only thing you might want to do in regards to freezing in plastic is to let the broth cool entirely before putting it in them...bpa free is a good step in commercial containers but the dirty trick is that it's usually replaced with something else that's just as bad. There's only so much we can freak out over and prevent, so my plan of attack for using plastic is just to not put hot food in it; the heat leeches out the bad stuff into the food.

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    1. I ended up with 6 cups of broth. It's really dark, with an orange tinge. Too many carrots? I either put 2 or three in. Can't remember for sure. There's also more fat on the top than I saw in your pictures. Did you skim any fat off?

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    2. Six cups for two chickens...I'm guessing you just did an awesome job boiling it down, which also accounts for the orange color-- mine is pretty dark on some batches. Carrots sound fine. I have fat on some jars and not on other, but I didn't boil it down as far as you seem to have, so then what fat there is would distribute to more jars. You can put the broth in the fridge until the fat rises and skim it if you like, but I don't have a problem with it, so I leave it. You know me and saturated fats. :-D

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  6. Awesome job, or I just didn't have all my ducks in a row and left the stuff simmering a really long time :) I put the chickens in Saturday evening, and just poured the broth into the plastic jars an hour ago. I was planning on leaving the fat. :) Thanks for the tutorial!

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    1. Eh, ducks are over-rated...that's the beauty of bone broth making, it's pretty flexible. :-)

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