Saving Pennies or Dollars? Making Your Own Cooking Stock

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saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Kate writes in: I love to cook, and one of my favorite things to make from scratch is chicken stock. I know making it yourself saves money, but I would love for you to go over how much it actually saves. If you’d like to factor it in, I also save vegetable scraps (carrot peels, potato skins, vegetables in the fridge that are starting to look a bit mushy) and chicken bones when I cook and freeze them, so it cuts down on the amount of vegetables and chicken I have to buy to make the stock. That might be a tip to pass along to readers, apparently this is something only I do among people I know who like to cook, and it has spread since.

We sometimes make stock ourselves out of leftover vegetables. Before we made the switch to being vegetarian, we also used to make stock out of chicken bones and spare vegetables, much as you describe.

Typically, we make about four quarts of stock at a time. We use our crock pot for this and simply dump in about two or three quarts of various kinds of scraps, fill up the crock pot with water, turn it on low, and let it cook gently for several hours. When it’s complete, we simply strain the liquid and store it in quart-sized containers in the freezer.

Our crock pot runs at about 100 watts, so we use roughly $0.12 of energy when making a batch of stock. This adds about $0.03 per quart for energy. The amount of water used is negligible.

At the store, I can easily find (somewhat) comparable stocks for approximately $3 per quart. This means that my crock pot produces about $12 worth of stock at the store price. There’s also the option of buying broth, which is thinner and a bit less flavorful, at a lower price ($1.50 or so a quart).

The value of the stock really comes down to the cost of the ingredients that you use to make it. If you use nothing but the scraps left behind by other meals and view homemade stock as a “bonus” of sorts, stock is incredibly cheap and an enormous bargain.

The question of value comes into play when you start looking at actually buying things to supplement the stock. It doesn’t take a whole lot of purchases to add up to the value of the stock itself, so you have to be very careful when making purchases.

For example, if you’re making chicken stock and purchase a whole chicken, you’re sinking $6 into the stock (ideally, you can still use the chicken for other purposes here, but not always). If you buy even a few vegetables to go along with it, you’re quickly approaching the cost of just buying stock at the store.

For me, given the extra time invested and the cost of the ingredients, stock is really only worth it when you’re using scraps, such as leftover vegetable pieces and/or bones.

Our method for accumulating these scraps is to simply save the uneaten and unused remnants of meals. For example, if we cook too many green beans, we’ll toss the remainder into our “scrap bag” in the freezer with the intent to use it someday for stock. When we reach a certain amount (usually a few quarts), we use it as the basis for vegetable stock.

Another possible option for making stock occurs if you have a free source for the needed ingredients. For example, if you’re facing an overabundance of garden vegetables, you might want to make some vegetable stock using some of them. If you’ve suddenly acquired a large amount of chicken or beef for free or for a very low price, you may want to use some of the meat for stock.

Stock is simply an effective way of using materials that don’t have a direct food use without these items going to waste. Using items directly for stock isn’t a big money saver, but using items indirectly for stock in the form of scraps can indeed save dollars.

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44 thoughts on “Saving Pennies or Dollars? Making Your Own Cooking Stock

  1. I do this! I get roast chickens from the store (costco/sams/walmart) and use them for dinner one night with salad or veggies and bread then use what meat is left on the chicken for chicken salad (for sandwiches). Then the remaining carcasses (including any drippings in the container, skin, fat, etc) are put in a stock pot on the stove with any veggie scraps we have in the freezer and cheap seasoning – like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and boiled for a few hours. (I have never used my crock pot for this – but wouldnt mind trying it). I let it simmer for hours. For stock I use the water off the ‘first cooking’ that has boiled down – I usually get around 3 quart sized (reused) chinese soup containers full. The stock is strained and poured into containers to cool before freezing. Then I use the same pot and ingredients – I usually add an onion quartered, and a few stalks of celery and more water – filled to the top and let it boil again. After the mixture has boiled for a while I lower it to simmering – this next pot full is my ‘broth’ it is thinner and less robust. I get approx 3 – 4 quart chinese soup containers full of the broth. We enjoy the roast chicken once or twice a month and I enjoy making soup in the fall and winter. I have plenty of stock and broth!

  2. I do what Trish does sometimes. Other times I buy whole (or halved) chicken breasts from my neighborhood butcher shop and take out the bones myself, which I use to make chicken stock.
    But I buy beef stock — it’s too greasy when I make it myself, and every trick I use to skim the fat off of chicken broth doesn’t seem to work with the beef.
    Any tips?

  3. If you cook too many green beans, why not stick them in the fridge and eat them the next day? And cook fewer green beans next time?

    I still don’t understand the attitude that leftovers are “scraps,” and that any value you get out of them is free.

  4. #3 Johanna – I’m guessing Trent is referring to that less-than-one-serving bit of beans (or whatever) that go in the freezer bag instead of being thrown out. He often references eating leftovers for lunch the following day.

  5. It’s worth considering the incredibly high sodium content of store bought stocks. Even if the cost is the same, the home made comes out ahead. Sort of like being able to make your own cheeseburgers at home doesn’t always beat the dollar menu at McDonalds. But it’s SO much tastier and healthier, so it’s worth it!

  6. @valleycat1: Even so, if you have half a serving of beans leftover, and your vegetable the next night is carrots, then somebody can have half a serving of beans and half a serving of carrots. Or whatever.

    The fact that Trent is someone who routinely eats leftovers makes it even more baffling that he would refer to leftovers as “scraps.”

  7. I think green beans are just a bad example (how much flavor can they add anyway?). We save the end of the onions and carrots (the part no one will eat) and the spindly middle stalks of celery, along with celery leaves. Also, bell pepper hats and seeds of we have them. We usually just use those three or four ingredients along with salt and pepper to make our broth. Occasionally, we’ll get beef bones from our friends who buy sides of beef, or leftover turkey carcass from Thanksgiving.

  8. Can you really make stock with vegetable peels and onion ends? Don’t you end up with a lot of dirt in the stock? Just curious. We eat a lot of vegetables in my house, so there are lots of opportunities for collecting scraps like that. (But no opportunities for collecting leftover portions of green beans, which we would just eat!)

  9. I do this with chicken and turkey carcasses, but make up to 7 qts at a time with one chicken worth of bones. It is esp good with all the spices, salt and pepper that come off a rotisserie chicken. And if you add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to the cooking water, it will help leach calcium out of the bones for more nutritious broth.

    If the animal was organic and grass fed, that animal fat is healthy and we keep it, but freezing stock will let the fat solidify on top and can easily be scooped off.

  10. Liz at #2:
    You add what’s called a “raft” of egg whites in a process called “fining” which attracts all the flotsame, jetsam and some fats.

    For the best beef stock roast the bones first in the oven at high heat to get most of the fat off. Then put in stock pot.

    #3 Johanna…I like to cook and plan meals as a hobby and I am not a big fan of leftovers so odds and ends go into the stock pot. I also do not like most foods frozen then thawed, I am a texture person and can often tell the difference. Everyone is different :)

    My hubby is a professional chef as well so I’ve learned a lot of cooking tips that save lots of money and making stock is one of them, less sodium, better tasting and uses up what others might eat as leftovers, I’d rather have in stock.

  11. @cathleen: That’s fine – you’re entitled to your personal preference – but it still doesn’t make the odds and ends “scraps” or “free.” Whether you eat a vegetable as part of a meal, eat it the next day as leftovers, use it to make stock, or throw it in the trash, you paid the same amount for it.

  12. Steve, yes you can make really good vegetable stock from veggie scraps and onion ends. I use celery parts too but like Des, usually only use the leafy parts (at the ends and in the middle and the butt) I chop and use the rest.

    Rebecca I wonder what I am doing to only get 1/2 of the amount you get off of one chicken? (wow!) I do let the stock pot boil down to only 1/2 the initial volume for the first ‘stock’ – its thicker. But – I get at least 3 more quarts from the second boiling of the same first pots ingredients so thats just a one quart difference.

    I use beefy onion mushroom dried soup mix with potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbage wedges when I make a roast. After searing the beef I put it in a large crock pot, arrange veggies around the meat and add water. I use the broth after the roast is gone as beef broth.

  13. Liz #2, get a fat-separator container. You pour the stock or broth into the container and let the fat rise to the top, then pour out the liquid from the bottom. One type has a spout that connects to the bottom and one type actually has a valve that opens and closes. I like the way the second one works best, but they keep breaking on me, so I have the first kind now. Any kitchen supply place should have them and they are inexpensive.

    I make almost all my own stock. With a pressure cooker, it only takes 40 minutes. I’ll use a chicken carcass or two, veggie scraps, and a sliced onion with some bay leaves and peppercorns. You can get the salt level exactly how you want and it tastes much better than store bought.

    FYI, for the inexperienced cooks among you: The strength of the stock can be controlled by how much water you add, of course, but if I’m making stock to use in a few days and I don’t have room to freeze it, I’ll boil it down by half, then store it in a jar with a tightly closed lid in the refrigerator. When I go to use it, I just add the water back.

  14. Johanna: I would say that most people throw bits and pieces, odds and ends in the trash. Using them for stock would put them in the free column for most people.

  15. I don’t like the taste of commercial beef stock so I make my own. We only eat beef once a month so we don’t have any beef scraps. For four or five dollars, I buy a pound of stewing beef from the farmer’s market. It’s locally-grown, all grass-feed beef, and it has so much flavor, I can make a gallon of delicious soup from it.

  16. I actually have a pot of chicken bones and my scrap veggies simmering away right now! I also keep a baggie in the freezer to collect onion, carrot, and celery ends. The bones are from a $5 pre-cooked chicken from the grocery store (because I was feeling WAY too lazy to roast a chicken last weekend, but I really wanted to eat roast chicken). Toss in some peppercorns and a bay leaf and I’m good to go.

    Another trick I’ve done is to check out the discount veggie rack at my supermarket. If I know I want to make stock, but I’m short on say, celery, I’ll pick up a bag off the discount section to keep it cheap and help the store avoid waste. Since the majority of my ingredients are usually things I would have otherwise thrown away, this extra 50 cents doesn’t drive up the cost enough to make me turn to store bought. Actually, no price could make me turn to store bought, it just tastes icky to me now that I have learned to make my own.

  17. I’m with Steve and still haven’t seen an answer – doesn’t using peelings and scraps (not leftovers, scraps) put a certain amount of dirt into the stock? My peelings and vegetable ends currently go into my compost bin and so aren’t wasted. I see how one uses chicken bones and beef bones to make stock, but I’ve never really understood veg peelings used in this way.

  18. If you use a pressure cooker, you can pressure cook the chicken bones for the stock until the bones turn soft and mushy, releasing a lot of calcium and flavor into the stock. Drain the stock through a cheesecloth lined collander to remove the solids which can be fed to the dogs because the bones have literally turned to mush and there is no danger of a hard chicken bone. This is a nutrient dense dog food which costs nothing and saves you having to buy the chemical and color laden store dog food. It also isn’t mainly made of corn meal or fillers, it’s protein.

  19. Shelley & Steve – I have used onion skins, but found that carrot peels left the stock too bitter. I put chicken bones and trimmings into the freezer until we have enough for stock (and the occasional duck bone if we’re splurging). Carrot ends are ok. But I am very sensitive to the taste of carrot peel. I likewise don’t use beans, potato, or peppers in my stock because they make it taste off to me. Anything gritty would fall to the bottom of the pot, and I generally dump out the last bit at the bottom because it has other sediment.

    If you are really concerned, try straining the stock through coffee filters or cheesecloth or a clean towel over a sieve or colander.

  20. I agree with Johanna–anything edible not eaten the night before gets eaten over the next couple of days. If I have an awkward half-serving after dinner, I usually just eat it that night. An extra 10 calories of nutrient-rich vegetables are not going to kill me.

    I don’t really buy meat and and I already use edible bits like celery leaves and broccoli stalks while cooking. I think what I deem unfit to eat upfront probably shouldn’t be saved and then eaten later. I’m with Steve and Shelley.

  21. johanna,

    Has your basket of things to B!tch about gotten so low that you need to critic how someone consumes four green beans and if they are scraps or leftovers

  22. I agree with Steve and Shelley, too. I always kind of assumed that the ends of onions would be bitter and lend a bad flavor to the stock. (Though in all fairness, I’ve never tried them.) We have made chicken stock many times over the years, and it is far superior to store purchased. We’ve never tried with beef, though, and that is mainly because my husband is a HUGE fan of mashed potatoes with his beef, and any drippings from whatever piece of beef we use are made into a homemade pan gravy. We have also done this with chicken. But we could always boil the bones, etc. My husband did make a fish stock once, and while it was good, it wasn’t terribly practical. I rarely find myself in need of fish stock.

  23. I really do not care what Trent or anyone else does with their four leftover green beans. I just don’t think it’s accurate to call them “scraps,” or to say he got them for free.

  24. Trent calculated that stock costs him about 12 cents a gallon, and then said its not really worth it?

    I have to disagree with Johanna. My guess is most people don’t assign a cost to their food waste, even though you pay per lb for most meats and vegetables. I believe Trent’s instructions were to use food waste. His “scrap bag” idea accomplishes the same goal as reusing vegetables another night for dinner (I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes the scrap bag is used for a vegetable medley if it’s all appetizing portions of vegetables).
    Either the scraps are free, or your dinners cost less by amortizing the price of the food over multiple meals. We’re splitting hairs.

  25. SJW – Thanks for your answer! I usually just buy stock cubes, but will try making the chicken stock next time we have a whole chicken. Am dreading winter, but at least having some nice soup will give us something to look forward to! Thanks again.

  26. I’m glad so many people “agree” with me, but it was actually just an honest question. We generate a lot of peels and whatnot in our household, and I would love to turn that into stock (Even if we just drink/”eat” broth as a side-dish with dinner), but I don’t know how to prepare the scraps nor what scraps are good for the purpose and what will end up making bad broth.

  27. Q%- Go to the doctor and get tested for Lyme’s disease if you live near the woods. Fatigue is the first symptom-most peopel never notice a bite or rash. Waiting weeks to try other things first can be the difference between antibiotics, or permanent damage. Someone I know has an antibiotic semi-permanent drip put into her heart because they took too long to find out the problem. She can’t have any more kids, etc. etc. Get tested. If it is interfering with your life, it deserves quick attention. Could be a low-level cold, or depression, or just about anything. But if it is a possibility, get tested for Lyme disease right away.

  28. We freeze carrot and potato peels to add to the stock pot. When we intend to do that, we do an extra-good scrubbing before peeling, so there is no dirt involved. If we’re in more of a hurry, we scrub the veggies more hastily before peeling; those peels, with some ground on them, go in the compost rather than the soup pot.

  29. @Steve – my honest answer is that I’ve never really thought about it. We wash the carrots and celery, and I’ve never noticed much dirt on the onion ends, though I’m sure there is some. We boil and simmer the stock for hours to get all the flavors out of it, so I am not worried about it. I have never been prone to “selective squeamishness” myself, though I’m sure I’m going to get a number of grossed-out faces from other commenters. If it freaks you out don’t do it. My mother is grossed out at the thought of eating eggs from chickens she knows, and my co-worker won’t eat meat from animals that had a name (meaning, she only eats factory farmed meat). Everyone has their thing…

  30. #27 Kristine, I think you posted your comment to the wrong entry.

    Steve and Shelley, I never end up with dirt in the stock. I wash vegetables (except onions) before I use them so they are clean before I start the stock. Even if I peel carrots, I wash them first. I use onion ends and scraps, but not the brown onion skin because I think it makes the stock a bit bitter. I also trim the root end off the onion so there’s no dirt left.

    If I am low on veggie scraps, I will throw in a old carrot, a tough celery stalk (both washed), and an chopped onion (skin and root end removed), to help start the broth. Of course, you wouldn’t want to add anything moldy, but you can also trim the soft spots off old tomatoes and use the rest.

    Since they can get a strong flavor, if I add broccoli stems or outer cabbage leaves (once again, washed), I do it when the stock has cooked about half way.

    Not all veggie scraps are usable this way. I don’t add anything that might add bitterness since my family is sensitive to that. So I wouldn’t add eggplant skins or broccoli raab stems.

    Basically, you are adding vegetables that are not bad, but not good enough to eat as is. If you are just starting, I would try this:

    Put in a pot one or two chicken carcasses with a bit of meat on them, an old carrot chopped up and/or a bunch of carrot peels, a chopped onion, celery ends and an outer celery stalk or two, two bay leaves, and 6 peppercorns. Cover with water, put a lid on the pot and simmer for two or three hours. Strain through a fine sieve. Remove excess fat by using a fat separator (see my comment above), skimming it off, or freezing the stock and scraping off the hardened fat. Taste the stock. If it’s not strong enough, add a bullion cube or simmer it uncovered until it is. Add salt (or soy sauce). To finish off the stock, I usually add a teaspoon of garlic powder and a dash of sherry and simmer another 15 min.

    Hope that helps.

  31. Also, about wrecking the stock… Steve, the only vegetables I find I don’t like added to stock are the brassicas — cabbage, especially, but also broccoli. They seem to make it bitter. Everything else seems good — peels, etc. I sometimes add apple peels too.

  32. Regarding the dirt issue: you should be cleaning any produce before you peel or slice. Otherwise you risk getting dirt & germs on the knife & cutting board & then on the cut produce. For onions, you’d cut off the dirty root part before cutting and then discard rather than saving it for stock.

  33. After a turkey, I also add leftover gravy, cranberry sauce, yams(not candied), green bean casserole…even bits left on the kids plates get scraped into the pot.

  34. Keep in mind that lyme disease tests have an 80% false negative rate. Find someone with real expertise. I agree that waiting to figure out why you are so tired is a bad idea. There are also a lot of autoimmune diseases that cause fatigue, and a wide variety of other infections that are subacute, i.e., don’t cause sharp symptoms. Also, Borellia, which causes Lyme, is everywhere, and you don’t need to be near woods necessarily. Go to chroniclymedisease.com/llmd-referrals to find a lyme literate doctor.

  35. Rockledge #31-thanks for the info! I use a lot of stock/broth in the winter and just came from the grocery store where a carton of chicken stock was $3.59.

  36. I think what this series is missing is a disclaimer or caveat that most people do these things not to save money but because it either tastes better or is more environmentally sound. Not everything is about dollars and cents. I’m sure you know this, but it would nice to have it said more explicitly in these posts.

  37. How does one know what scraps will and will not “work” in a broth? For instance in my house we regularly eat mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, ginger, garlic, spinach, fresh herbs, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, limes, oranges, apples, pears, and bananas. Which scraps (peels, stubs, stalks, skins, etc) would make a good broth, which would ruin it, which wouldn’t make a difference either way?

  38. #40 Steve – At my house we would include most of the above except: broccoli and all the fruit except a bit of citrus. I don’t think potatoes, lettuce or cucumbers would add much taste. Now that I think of it, regular cucumber peels might be bitter.

  39. Steve, don’t add anything you are unsure about to the big pot. Take a small amount of water and boil the item you are uncertain about for two hours and then see how you like the stock–everybody is different. Most people agree on onions, carrots, and celery.

    You can also look up recipes for making different stocks. If something is never included, that’s a good sign to be careful. Stocks tend to concentrate a veggies’ flavor.

    From your list: Potatoes will thicken the sauce but not add much flavor–you definitely would not want to add any green peels or bits as they can make you sick. Sweet potatoes are good.

    Lettuce stems tend towards bitterness, so I wouldn’t add them. Washed mushroom stems are very good. I’d be careful about adding any citrus.

    Carrots, onions, and garlic are good, but a whole lot will make your stock sweet. Herbs are good but usually added towards the middle or end.

    Spinach is good. I haven’t tried cucumbers. Eggplant that wasn’t bitter would be good, but I’d be reluctant to add the skins because they tend to be more bitter.

    If you like the taste of broccoli or cabbage, a little of those can be added halfway. If really over-cooked, members of that family get a sulfur flavor.

    Tomatoes are good. I wouldn’t overdo peppers and don’t use the seeds or inner membrane as these tend to be bitter.

    I’d be careful about any fruit. I think bananas would get nasty. Avocados get nasty when cooked, too.

    Summer squash is good, just be careful the Zucchini isn’t bitter. I love winter squash (acorn, butternut, pumpkin, etc.) bits in a stock, but I wouldn’t put in the stems. I’ve never tried the seeds in a stock.

    Corn is good as are fresh corn cobs.

    I haven’t tried asparagus; it might be bitter.

    Beans and peas are good. I like to use the fresh pea shells from my garden.

    Beets will turn your broth bright red and are strong tasting if overcooked, so I don’t use them.

    Bok choy, collards, kale,and Swiss chard are good. I wouldn’t use mustard greens or radishes. I would go light with turnips and make sure they aren’t bitter before adding. Leek trimmings would be good.

    Basically, if it would get a strong or bitter flavor from cooking a long time, I wouldn’t use it. If it would get a nasty texture, I wouldn’t use it.

    In general, a mix of vegetables is best.

    Ok, this is all over the place–anyone else got a better summary?

  40. Just seen the advice to add a bullion cube. With the price of gold today, would recommend a bouillon cube instead, although I concede that this might render your stock less rich.

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