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Taste Test: Which is the Best Store-Bought Stock Option?

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Obviously, homemade stock is the ideal option for any homemade dish. In a perfect world, you have a freezer stocked with neatly-labeled containers of every type of stock under the sun, just waiting to shine in a soup or to deglaze a pan.

But sometimes the need for stock can present itself at the last minute, when all you have in your freezer is a bag of frozen peas. And so you turn to your pantry. 

Chicken Stock

More: You probably have everything you need to make vegetable stock right nowDo it.

As we enter this time of good cheer and holiday cooking madness, it's a good idea to have some stock on hand, just in case you need to stretch a stew for some unexpected guests or moisten a dried-out turkey.

So the question now becomes, which type of stock should you buy? Boxed? Canned? Bouillon cubes? Ramen packets? (Just kidding. Please do not use the last option to make stock.)

We tested all the store-bought stock types in the grocery aisle to find out:

Biscuits and Gravy

The Test:

I wanted to test the stock in a dish that would highlight its flavor, but not rely upon it too heavily. Soup was out, and so was any soup-like substance (stew, chili, etc.). I settled on gravy, which I thought would let the stock's flavor shine through. 

I decided to use chicken stock in my gravy: Not only is it the only stock that I found available in all three forms at my local grocery store, it also seemed like the most popular type of stock, and therefore the best kind to test. To keep things consistent, I got regular sodium chicken stock for all categories, and opted for non-organic varietals (since they don't have organic bouillon).

More: Vegans deserve gravy, too!

As I didn't have a desire to roast an entire chicken, I decided to test the gravy on its ideal breakfast mate: biscuits. I used this recipe for the biscuits and stuck to Kenzi's loose Not Recipe guidelines for the gravy. 

Gravy Not Recipes

The Results:

I am not exaggerating for the sake of this article when I say that I was shocked by the results of this taste test. I thought that the box stock would be a clear winner—it's what I had grown up using in my house, and I think of it as being more wholesome. 

My six testers unanimously rejected the box stock as the worst one, calling it "metallic." They did not even finish the biscuit upon which it was poured, which is a bad sign indeed. I bought the generic, store-brand boxed chicken stock, so perhaps if I had splurged for the organic brand things would have gone differently.

The gravy made from canned stock came in second place. Testers described it as "subtle," with a "classic gravy flavor," but a few also dismissed it as "bland." 

The clear, virtually unanimous favorite (only one tester preferred the gravy made with canned stock) was the gravy made from bouillon cubes. Bouillon cubes! Testers described the winning gravy as "the most flavorful," and "like what your mom would make." One also described it as "a fast food-like biscuit and gravy," which was a positive review.

I was surprised. Not only had I never cooked with bouillon cubes before, I did not even know what exactly they were made of. From the back of the box, it seemed like they contained a lot of questionable ingredients, "chicken skin powder" among them. My only guess as to why the bouillon cube made the most flavorful stock is that they had twice the sodium of both the canned and box stock, and also were the only ones to contain any fat.

Am I saying that you should make your Thanksgiving gravy with bouillon stock? Maybe, maybe not. All I can say is that the results speak for themselves—and maybe we shouldn't reject bouillon cubes quite so quickly in the future.

What is your favorite store-bought stock, be it chicken, beef, or vegetable? And do you have any awesome recipes to use bouillon cubes? Tell us in the comments! 

Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!
Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!

Tags: Soup, Turkey, Thanksgiving, Weeknight Cooking, Winter, Worth It?, Holiday Entertaining