After we’ve eaten our roasted chicken and all that remains is the bird’s carcass, I begin snapping bones for chicken stock. That sounds medieval, and I suppose in some ways it is, but it’s also resourceful and logical.
How to Make Chicken Stock in the Slow Cooker
I prefer to make chicken stock in the slow cooker on weeknights when we’ve eaten roasted chicken for dinner. I toss the newly disassembled carcass into the pot then add vegetables, herbs, and water.
Next, I set my slow cooker to low and let it simmer all night.
I typically strain it in the morning, but if I’m too busy, I continue to let it simmer away until my work day is done. Twelve to 24 hours is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for chicken stock to simmer.
I wouldn’t go any longer than 24 hours, however. All of the flavor and nutrients have been extracted from the bones and vegetables at that point.
Chicken Stock in the Slow Cooker vs. Stovetop
I’ve made as many batches of chicken stock on the stovetop as I have in the slow cooker. The method I choose depends entirely on the amount of time I have.
The greatest benefits to slow cooker stock are flexibility and temperature control.
Broths and stocks shouldn’t boil because the high temperatures can release flavor profiles that can impart a flat, dirty flavor to the stock. It also breaks down proteins that emulsify with the liquid, giving the stock an off-putting flavor and texture.
A slow cooker set to low provides a nice, even heating method and a low, long simmer. I always use the low setting when making chicken stock in the slow cooker. This keeps the sediment minimal and prevents the fat from emulsifying.
What Size Slow Cooker to Use?
Any slow cooker at least 6-quarts or larger should work fine for this method.
I have a pretty basic Hamilton Beach 8-Quart Slow Cooker. It’s not digital and it has three settings: warm, low, and high. It’s just the right size to fit the carcass of a 4-pound bird, the vegetables, and herbs in this recipe, along with six cups of water.
What Ingredients Do I Need to Make Stock?
Bones and water are all you need to make stock. Most people, myself included, prefer to enhance the flavor of stock by adding various vegetables, herbs, and spices. For this recipe, I use carrot, onion, celery, parsley stems, thyme, garlic, bay leaf, and peppercorns.
In the past, I’ve made stock with uncooked chicken (like wingtips and necks), but most of the time, I use bones that have already been roasted and are left over from dinner. Roasted bones add another layer of flavor, and it’s a good way for me to make the most out of our food dollars.
Chicken Stock vs. Broth
To keep it simple: Stock is made with bones. Broth is made with meat. Stock is usually richer and thicker because gelatin is released from the cartilage, tendons, skin, and bones. When stock cools, it should be gelatinous and jiggle like cold gravy. When it’s heated it will be thinner, but still have body to it.
Broth is what remains after poaching meat sans bones—either in a slow cooker or on the stovetop. It’s typically thinner than stock and not as rich, but still flavorful. When it cools it will keep the same viscosity it has when warm.
Ultimately, stock and broth serve the same purpose in your kitchen. You will pour them into soups, stews, and sauces to add body and volume to the final dish.
Wondering about "bone broth"? Further confusion results from a product you've probably seen—and maybe consumed—called bone broth. This product is really nothing more than stock, because only stock is made with bones. But bone broth has a better ring to it when it comes to marketing!
- For more on this topic see What's the Difference Between Stock and Broth.
Snapping the Bones
I prefer a voluptuous stock rich with gelatin, collagen, and marrow, so I snap as many chicken bones into it as I can when preparing my stock. Snapping the bones helps to release marrow stored in the chicken bones, and opens avenues to expose more ligaments allowing them to release collagen.
I usually snap the spine in half, separate the wing tips from the wing and the drumette, and split the rib bones. I separate the thigh bones from the leg bones and call it a day. There is no need to break out hammers or cleavers to smash or cut through femurs. Break what can be easily broken. That will release enough of the good stuff to give you a rich, velvety stock.
Where’s the salt?
I don’t salt my stock because I use it in different recipes. If I add salt at this stage and use the stock in a recipe where I reduce the liquid, the dish could end up too salty.
I usually wait and just season the dish for which I’m using the stock.
What's That Layer on Top of My Cooled Stock?
When homemade chicken stock cools, you will have a layer of yellow fat on top. You can skim it off and discard it, or use it within 24 hours to spread on toast with salt. To keep chicken fat longer you need to heat it to remove the moisture from it.
Help! My Stock Turned to Jell-O!
You haven't done anything wrong! The cooled stock will be thick and jiggle like Jell-O, which is due to the gelatin and collagen from the bones. It will liquify again once you warm it up.
Why Is My Stock Cloudy?
I like my food like I like my friends: imperfect and dynamic. Fussing over clarifying chicken stock should be left to restaurateurs who are charging people $30 for a bowl of consommé. I don’t clarify stock with egg or worry about how cloudy it is or isn’t. All of that is for aesthetics and style.
Cloudy stock is perfectly edible and delicious. If you have lots of sediment, it will likely sink to the bottom. Feel free to pour your stock slowly out of the jar and leave the little bits of sediment in the bottom. Or don’t. It’s up to you.
Can You Freeze the Ingredients for Making Stock?
Not in the mood to make stock right after you finished making dinner? I get it. Put the chicken carcass in a zip-top bag and keep it in the freezer for up to 9 months. You can also freeze scraps from onions, celery, carrots, and herbs.
When you have a free day, toss everything into the slow cooker, cover with water, and set it to low. There is no need to thaw the bones or the scraps.
How to Store and Freeze Stock
Stock will keep in your refrigerator for about 5 days. If you aren’t going to use it in relatively short order, go ahead and freeze it. Just allow room for expansion.
I’ve kept chicken stock frozen for a year and still used it. It’s perfectly safe to eat it. If it has freezer burn, the flavor could be compromised, but it’s still probably better than something from a can. When you’re ready to thaw it just leave it in the fridge for a day or warm it over low heat.
What Are Some Ways to Use Homemade Chicken Stock?
Ahh, chicken stock! How do I use thee? Let me count the ways!
- Freeze some stock in an ice cube tray for weeknight meals. Add one or two cubes to your skillet dinner and make a pan sauce.
- Use a bunch of stock for your soup or a little less for a risotto.
- Use it to cook a batch of grains for the week.
- Drink it cup-of-soup style when you’re not feeling well. Just warm the stock up in a pot on the stove and add a little salt.
Ultimately, you can use homemade chicken stock in any recipe calling for stock or broth.
Slow cooker stock is a great way to start making stock from scratch. Your time commitment is minimal because you don’t have to babysit a pot on a stove all day, and you’re using bones you would’ve thrown away anyway.
You might as well give it a try. Once you do, you’ll wonder what took you so long.
More Ways to Use Your Homemade Chicken Stock
- French Onion Soup
- Egg Drop Soup
- Weeknight Chicken Ramen
- Mushroom Risotto
- Butternut Squash Risotto
- Chicken and Dumplings
Slow Cooker Chicken Stock
- 1 chicken carcass (from a cooked 4-pound chicken)
- 2 stalks celery, cut in half
- 1 carrot, scrubbed clean and ends trimmed, cut in half
- 1 medium onion, quartered
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- Large handful parsley stems, large enough that the stems bundled together are the size of a quarter
- 4 to 5 large sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 6 cups water
Set up your slow cooker:
Plug in your slow cooker and set it to low.
Prepare the chicken carcass:
Pull any meat from the carcass and save it for another meal. Discard the skin.
Then get medieval on those bones. Snap what can be snapped. Take out all of the day’s frustrations on those bones and then toss them in the slow cooker. Ligaments are fine. The weird dark stuff is fine. A few bits of skin are fine. Just throw it in.
Add the remaining ingredients:
Add everything else, including the water, to the slow cooker. You can even keep the skins on the garlic and onions—the stock will just be a darker color as a result of the pigments in the skins.
Cook the stock slow and low:
Put the lid on the slow cooker and leave the slow cooker on low overnight. Cook for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.
Strain the stock:
When you're done cooking, shut off the slow cooker and remove the lid. Set a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth over a bowl. Scoop out the solids and put them in the strainer. When they stop dripping, remove them from the strainer and discard.
Pour the rest of the stock through the strainer. You may see some sediment in the stock. That’s ok. You can strain the liquid again through multiple layers of cheesecloth, or you can leave it. Again, it’s purely aesthetics.
Cool your stock:
Let the stock cool to room temperature, then transfer to storage containers and refrigerate overnight.
Scrape off the chicken fat:
The next day you should see a creamy fat layer on top of the stock. Skim it off and toss it.
The stock will be gelatinous and golden. That means you did a good job and your stock will have a velvety mouth feel.
Use or freeze the stock:
Stock can be stored in the fridge for about 5 days, or frozen for up to a year. When you use the stock, pour slowly and any sediment will stay put in the bottom of your container.