The best soups and sauces are made from intensely flavored liquids. The question of stock vs broth must be considered when making either of these kitchen staples. What is the difference between the two? Why are they different? What effect will either have on my cooking?

A stock is a flavorful liquid used to make a wide variety of other items in the kitchen. A well made stock is the key to a great sauce, soup or braised dish. It’s so important that the French term it “fond”, meaning foundation or base. A good stock is the foundation upon which so many things in the culinary world are built.

When you start to think about creating the most flavorful liquid for your cooking, you have to consider one item, BONES. The single biggest difference between a stock vs broth is bones, or more importantly, the marrow in the bones.

Animal bones contain connective tissue, cartilage, and marrow. These three items are high in collagen. Collagen is a protein that dissolves when cooked in moisture and turns into gelatin and water.

Gelatin is a tasteless and odorless, jelly-like substance used as a thickener in the stock. It is the gelatin that adds richness and body to the finished product. The best bones for stock are from younger animals because they contain a higher percentage of cartilage and connective tissue, yielding a greater percentage of gelatin and thus better body to the resulting stock. The best bones for chicken stock come from the back and neck for the same reason.

All stocks use the same 4 ingredients. They all use bones to give body, texture, and richness as well as vegetables and seasonings to add flavor. Water is the medium by which all these flavors come together, almost like making a bone and vegetable tea.

While they all use similar ingredients, it’s the procedure that makes the differences between the flavor and appearance of different types of stocks. White stocks are made from chicken, fish, veal or game, and brown stocks made from beef, veal, lamb or game bones. How you treat these ingredients determines the color and flavor of the resulting liquid.

Here is the first major difference between stock vs broth. When cooled a stock is not pourable, it acts more like jello because of the collagen in the bones that were used. A broth that you buy in the grocery store is pourable from the can; there is no evidence of gelatin. Broths are thin, stocks are thick.

A white stock is very simple to make because very little preparation is needed. The necks, backs, legs, thighs or wings of a whole fresh chicken are combined with carrot, onion, celery and basic seasonings to create a gelatinous full-bodied chicken stock.

However, a beef stock is treated differently. To achieve a deep brown color, the bones and vegetables are first browned in the oven. At 320F (160C), sugars start to caramelize, getting sweeter and more brown. This flavor and color is what makes a beef stock or brown stock so unique. Chicken bones are rarely roasted before making stock; it’s better done with beef, lamb or game.

In seasoning, whether a white chicken stock or brown beef stock, herbs and spices are applied very generally. It’s important not to season a basic stock too heavily because it is an ingredient that will eventually be used in another preparation. Stock is not meant to be served on its own; it is there as the foundation to make myriad sauces and soups. Season softly and generally with salt, pepper and mild spices.

Stock vs Broth Principles:

1) Always start in cold water – cold water dissolves blood and other impurities that are undesirable.
As the water heats, these impurities coagulate and float to the surface where they are skimmed off. If hot water is used, they coagulate more quickly and remain suspended in liquid.

2) Simmer the stock gently NEVER boil!
Boiling is too violent for making a clear stock. The violent agitation of a boiling liquid causes a cloudy stock with impurities suspended in the liquid that will affect flavor and texture of the stock.

3) Skim the stock frequently -
As impurities and bits of coagulated proteins rise to the top of the stock pot, skim them off with a slotted spoon and discard them. Any unwanted material will eventually sink back into the stock, making it cloudy and affecting the appearance.

4) Strain carefully –
After 3-5 hours for chicken and 5-8 hours for beef, your flavorful liquid will be ready to be removed from the stock pot. It is critical not to disturb the ingredients when separating the liquid from the bones and vegetables.

It’s best to ladle the stock from the pot and pour through a fine strainer. The best stock pots have a valve on the bottom to separate the liquid. Do not ever pour the stock from the pot, this will further cloud the end result.

5) Cool quickly –
The stock must be cooled to 70F (21C) within 2 hours and then to below 40F (4C) in 4 hours to prevent it from clouding and to keep it safe from potential bacterial growth.

Stocks can be cooled quickly by setting the strained container into a sink of cold water. This is called “venting” the stock.

6) Store properly –
The stock must be stored properly in a sanitary container with a tight fitting lid and kept below 40F in your refrigerator. Here’s where the gelatin will cool and residual fats will rise to the top of the stock as it cools.

7) Degrease the stock
After your flavorful liquid has fully cooled, the chicken or beef fat will congeal and can be easily scraped from the top of the container. What is left is a white or brown jiggly liquid that is densely flavored with the type of bones you made it from.

Stock vs Broth? There’s no contest. Broth is bought in a can in the grocery store. It’s a thin liquid that has little flavor and texture when compared to stock. Broth can also be quite expensive when you purchase it in small cans or cartons. Canned broth is a lazy shortcut to the professional chef.

Stock is made by a skilled cook. You can’t buy stock. It’s a gelatinous semi-liquid that has an extremely dense and powerful flavor. The texture is rich and smooth, adding an instantly identifiable flavor to soups and sauces. Best of all, stock can be cost-free. It’s made with ingredients that you might otherwise throw away, like a chicken carcass, some beef bones, and the ends of onions, carrot and celery that are normally garbage.

If you’re still not sure, stock vs broth, here’s what to do. Follow this tutorial to make a great stock. Then, add some flavorless water to the stock. Viola! You’ve got broth. Which would you want in your cooking? Stock wins every time!

See Chef Todd’s live culinary class on Stock vs Broth.

Author's Bio: 

Chef Todd Mohr has a passion for helping people improve their cooking with simple cooking techniques that work! His online cooking classes, transform home cooks into confident home chefs. “Burn Your Recipes” and your cooking will be transformed!