Once you get on the homemade bone broth bandwagon, you’ll be like me and other broth aficionados who can no longer imagine throwing out a carcass – especially one as rich with possibility as the one from your giant Thanksgiving turkey! Of course, bones from chicken pieces, a rotisserie chicken or any other poultry will also work for a homemade chicken “bone broth.” To clarify, a bone broth differs from regular broth or stock in that it is simmered for many hours, even days. This long cooking time not only gets you the nourishing gelatin from the collagen in the carcass (read more about the amazing benefits of gelatin in this post), but also releases the minerals from the bones, making the resulting broth quite the impressive health and immune-boosting elixir. And guess what? There is evidence that the old home remedy of chicken soup for the cold and flu is totally legit! One study concluded that a number of anti-inflammatory properties of chicken soup may be responsible for decreasing the side effects of respiratory tract infections, and another showed that chicken soup loosens nasal mucus at a significantly higher rate than cold or even hot water. This loosening effect is so important when you are trying to clear out your lungs and nasal passages – you will find that you breathe better and recover more quickly. When my kids are sick, I give them bone broth by the cupful – happy that I can do something to make them more comfortable and help them recover more quickly.

Cooking with bones may make you squirm, as it did me at one time, and no wonder! Much of the food we consume arrives to us clean and packaged, with its former identity hidden. I remember my mom and I being grossed out at finding some small feathers still attached to a chicken we were roasting. Argh! Evidence that this used to be a bird! And of course, avoiding bone-in meats all together offers even more protection from the reality. Ha! Maybe this is just me, but I’m sure some of you can relate. But when I think about the wonder that so much nutrition can be reaped from the whole animal – the properties of the animal’s bones literally strengthening our bones, and the properties of the joints, strengthening our joints – I feel that I more deeply appreciate the way food works, and is meant to work. And for the frugal among us (which is also me), making bone broth is so much less wasteful than throwing all that nutrition in the trash!

Beyond all this, homemade bone broth is so savory and delicious – it makes the best soups, stews and sauces. It’s amazing for making risotto or just as a replacement for water when making rice or quinoa. You will be surprised how many uses you find for it when you know you have it on hand as an option.

So, let’s get on to the how-to. This is what I like to do:

Collect bones and veggie scraps. Whenever I have bones or veggie scraps such as carrot ends and peels, celery leaves and onion peels, I add them to a large ziplock bag in my freezer. I do not include the skin from the carcasses, which add a lot of grease. Once I have at least a gallon of scraps saved, I’m ready to make broth.

Cover with water, add vinegar and soak. Place all the scraps in a large stock pot or crock pot, cover with water and add salt, peppercorns and a bay leaf. Also important at this point is to add a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water. The acidic quality of the vinegar releases the calcium, thus bolstering the calcium content of your broth. This is simple science – if you want to have a little fun with it, drop an egg into a bowl of vinegar and watch what happens. All the calcium will dissolve and you will be left with just the egg, still contained in its inner membrane. I have read a few places that you should let the bones soak in the water with vinegar for 30 minutes to an hour before beginning to heat it, as heating apparently closes the pores of the bones, making it more difficult for the vinegar to do its work. There are also a lot of recipes that don’t mention this step at all. If anyone has some science to offer here, let me know!

Simmer for at least four hours, even days. After about four hours of simmering on the stove, or 24 hours in the crock pot, a tasty broth will be ready for use, but the bones will still have a lot of untapped potential. Usually if I’m cooking on the stove, I time it so that I can draw off some broth at the four-hour mark to make dinner that night, then replenish the water and simmer the broth on low overnight and into the next day. If you don’t want to leave your stove unattended, you can make your broth in a crock pot on low and continue to draw off broth and replenish with water over the course of several days. The flavor will weaken as time goes on, but the broth will still carry nutrition and be useful for things like cooking rice.

Strain and store. I find that simply straining the broth through a wire mesh sieve is sufficient for me. Others might want to use cheese cloth for a clearer broth. The broth will keep for five days in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen or pressure-canned for long-term storage. For freezing, you can use freezer bags, plastic storage containers or even mason jars. Especially if using mason jars, only fill them 2/3-3/4 full, and make sure the broth is chilled in the fridge before moving to the freezer (this will prevent the jar from cracking). To pressure-can the broth, process pint jars for 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure, and quart jars for 25 minutes. If you’re interested in getting into canning, I say go for it – broth alone is enough reason to do it. I love having the jars in the pantry ready to go at any time without thawing.

Please comment below if there are any questions I can answer! I’d love to help you add bone broth into your routine. I believe you will feel good about the extra nutrition you and your family will gain and the bonus defense during cold and flu season! Happy Thanksgiving!