What is the best proportion of water to chicken pounds for a stock?

I want to make and freeze a lot of stock at once, will probably be using 2 pots to do this. Is it simply 2 inches over the total capacity of chicken parts? Or, is there a more scientific approach? And does anyone know what the typical stock yield is for a X-pound bird? I'm trying to compare costs of buying organic chicken vs. buying ready made organic stock.

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17 Comments

Susan W. September 1, 2015
Your calculations will be a bit off because you only use the bones for stock. Even so, the point of making your own is for flavor and/or health benefits, not cost.
 
Sam1148 September 1, 2015
I disagree about cost. It depends on where you live but my local "food depot", which is a costplus 10 percent chain. Sells chicken thighs with bones for 3 dollars for 3 pounds. That in a pressure cooker with a onion, carrot and celery make about 1-2 quarts of stock. Good stock.

A pressure cooker makes the best stock ever for cheep chicken bits.
 
Susan W. September 2, 2015
Sam, the chicken thighs I buy are $2.79 lb. I would never use them for stock. I buy whole chickens for $1.99 lb and set aside wings, necks and backs in zip lock bags until I have enough for stock. My favorite thing to use are wings. They seem to make a more gelatinous stock which is what I shoot for. I drink mugs of the stuff all winter.
 
702551 September 2, 2015
Remember: the original poster was trying to compare homemade ORGANIC chicken stock versus commercial ORGANIC chicken stock.

This is not a race to the bottom of how to make the cheapest chicken stock in your kitchen.

If you are buying ORGANIC chickens (whole or parts) at one or two dollars per pound, I'm sure many of us would like to know where you are sourcing your birds.
 
Susan W. September 2, 2015
Yes cv, I buy organic whole chickens that have been raised in a pasture in the warmer months directly from a farmer a short drive from where I live. They are always $1.99 lb. I get my eggs and organic vegetables from the same farmer.
 
702551 September 2, 2015
Excellent, Susan W, you are fortunate to have a great source of reasonably priced organic chicken from a local source.

That said, based on my earlier back-of-the-envelope calculation, a stock made from your organic chicken would be over $1.22/cup, well over the 50 cents/cup at Trader Joe's. And that's only a chicken ingredient calculation, it doesn't cover other ingredients nor energy.

I'd love to hear from Sam1148 whether or not he is sourcing ORGANIC chicken at a dollar per pound.

Again, the original poster is trying to figure out if she can make homemade ORGANIC chicken stock cheaper than commercial ORGANIC chicken stock.

So far, no one has come remotely close.
 
Susan W. September 3, 2015
I realize the OP was regarding water bone ratio and cost comparison. Conversation wandered off track as conversations do. There is a lot of good information on this thread above and beyond what was originally asked. I wouldn't consider buying already made stock because the health benefits and flavor outweigh the increase in cost, but that's my perspective and not necessarily someone else's perspective or priority. I also consider my stock bones to be freebies since I wouldn't gnaw on the necks, backs and I happily donate the wings. My vegetables are all from scraps. Onion ends, carrot trimmings and thyme stems from my garden.
 
Michelle September 1, 2015
I think 2 inches would be a good idea. I usually start with the bones and scraps of chicken and then, when it is simmering, add the onion, carrot and celery. I don't think you should waste a whole organic chicken though, especially not the breast meat. Often I make stock from legs or wings and, if it is legs, I put them in the bottom of the pot, cover the pot and slow simmer until the meat is cooked. No water. Then I cool and bone the chicken to use in recipes that call for cooked chicken. I throw the bones back in the pot with the broth that has accumulated during cooking, add water and vegs and slow simmer for a few hours. Works great. Legs are often on sale and have lots of water soluble fats and collagen. If I've used wings I pull off what meat I can and use it for dog food. HalfPint is right, the meat is dried out but the dogs don't mind.
 

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702551 September 1, 2015
I've never done the cost calculation myself for reasons that I will explain in a minute, but my guess is that if you do the cost analysis, making your own stock will be more costly than buying it. A soup manufacturer is going to have economies of scale not available to the home cook. The main reason to make your own stock is not to save money, but to make something tastier than what is commercially available.

I've never done the cost analysis myself because I don't buy chicken to make stock. I buy chicken to eat it. For stock I use leftover parts that normally might normally be discarded; this includes bones from cooked chicken. All these bones end up in a gallon ziplock in my freezer.

Same thing with the veggies that go into stock. I don't buy carrots, celery and onion to make stock, but the carrot tops, celery ends/fronds, onion ends, parsley stems, etc. will end up in the same gallon ziplock.

In fact, this is probably what the soup manufacturer is doing. They are putting the prime ingredients in their separately canned chicken vegetable soup and using the discarded parts for their chicken stock.

That said, I just cover the bones/veggies with water and move on with my life. Fresh chicken stock blows door on anything from a store shelf. Sure, I saved money by frugally using the stuff that many would toss into the garbage, but the impetus for me making stock at home is because it results in a superior product.

I've never bothered to research the "optimal" amount of water because the standard practice of just covering the solid ingredients works fine.

Anyhow, good luck with your chicken stock project.
 
Nancy September 1, 2015
This is a really good answer...covering many points.
Just a couple more:
1) Not only is there a variation between cooks' preference for water ratio and stock density (example of Alton Brown 2:1 vs CIA 4:1), but within the same kitchen the same product can be used differently. You may make a broth that can be used as is, or reduced by cooking to make a bouillon or a glaze or an aspic. So your price point may start out at one place and float higher or lower as you use the product.
2) If you're still interested in making stock from organic chickens, maybe input your recipe into spoonacular, a free recipe software package mentioned in the comments on the "13 best cooking apps" article posted yesterday. This software figures both cost and nutrients, for existing recipes and ones you input.
So maybe you could do a virtual cooking, and then decide if it's worth it to you.
 
702551 September 1, 2015
Also, I don't measure my chicken stock ingredients. The day I make it, I dump the contents of the ziplock bag into the stock pot and look at it. If I feel that I'm light on some ingredients, I might toss in a lingering half onion from the fridge, a wilted celery stalk, a scruffy looking carrot, etc. Since I don't assiduously measure my stock ingredients, there's some variation in the final result. Sometimes it's a bit light, other times it's very strong. Typically, I freeze off in pint containers, then deal with it when I defrost and use the actual stock. If I want a lighter stock than what I had frozen, well, I dilute with water. Other times I might want the stronger flavor. This isn't an acceptable operating practice for a commercial chicken stock manufacturer, but it's fine for a home cook like me.

There are enough chicken stock recipes that if you printed them out, they'd sink an aircraft carrier. Here's one from Zuni Cafe:

http://www.sfgate.com/food/recipes/detail/?p=detail&rid=16776&sorig=qs

that calls for a 5.5 lb. chicken and nets 8-10 cups of stock.

Let's do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation for fun since I've never done this.

Let's say we buy an ordinary grocery store chicken ($2/lb.), an organic one ($4/lb.) and a farmers market chicken ($6/lb.) and each batch results in 9 cups of stock. Ignoring all the other ingredients + energy, the respective costs are $1.22/cup, $2.44/cup, and $3.66/cup.

A quick Internet search shows Trader Joe's organic chicken stock at $1.99 per quart (32 oz.) or fifty cents per cup. That makes the homemade organic one at least five times more expensive.

Already, it is evident that the homemade version from premium ingredients is going to be way more expensive. Will it taste better than the one from a store shelf? Your call. Is the quality difference worth the additional cost? Again, your call.

In my mind, I assess a zero dollar cost for my chicken stock (apart from a bit of electricity). After all, I'm using stuff that others would throw away/compost. It's not like I can buy a whole chicken without a backbone or wing tips or carrot tops or celery stalk bottoms.
 
AntoniaJames September 1, 2015
cv, I agree with everything you say here, and pretty much do exactly what you do. I also make sure to create a "remouillage" --after straining the stock, I put the bones, leftover veg, etc. back into the stock pot with water just barely to cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. This captures all the stock that was clinging to the bones, etc. the first time around, and gives you a bonus of more stock. Some cooks blend it back into their first, stronger stock. I put it in containers (quart yogurt containers) separately, which I label as "light stock" for use in fish chowders, light vegetable soups, etc. -- times when I don't want that deep chicken-y flavors from roasted bones. ;o)
 
Susan W. September 1, 2015
AJ what a great idea. I make a very intense, gelatinous stock. I sometimes want something lighter. I'll try this the next time I make stock.
 
HalfPint September 1, 2015
Alton Brown suggests 2:1 (wt/wt) water to chicken bones, though the CIA says 4:1. Alton likes a richer flavor apparently. More bones means more collagen means more flavor and body to the stock. A stock made from more meat than bones is going to be more delicate in flavor. Some say that using more meat means you are making broth, but then there's something called bone broth which is made with a mix of different bones. So l'll leave the semantics out of this. It depends on your recipe. I'm hazarding a guess that you are making a broth if you are using whole chickens. Can't imagine simmering chicken meat for hours just to make stock; the meat would overcook and dry out (yes, even in water). That seems like wasting a good and expensive organic chicken. Can you get access to bones from organic chickens. Bones are always cheap(er).

To your other question about yield, since none of the ingredients in stock is likely to absorb water (e.g. chicken, aromatics, vegetables) I think it's fair to say that if you are using a 2 gallons of water, you'll end up with at least 90% (due to evaporation during the simmer). A brief simmer of 45 mins to 1 hour is going to evaporate less than a stock that simmers (very gently) for 4-6 hours.
 
AntoniaJames September 1, 2015
Actually, Ruhlman says to take out the vegetables after 45 minutes, because at that point they do start absorbing the stock. Not sure if he's right. Just mentioning it. ;o)
 
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