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Beef Bones used for stock

  • j

What are the best bones to use for a beef stock? Can I use marrow bones? I noticed Whole Foods had a bunch of different kind of frozen bones on sale this week - they included rib bones, neck bones, marrow bones and something called soup bones.

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  1. Yes, yes, YES! Use 'em all! Even better if they're sawn up to expose more marrow!

    1. Yep, agree to all of the above. But my absolute favorite are short ribs. Heaven.

      1. Neck bones are often the least expensive. There is more meat on them than marrow bones.


        1. If you are making a demi glace use some veal bones mixed in. Apparently they have more gelatin, which my cooking class instructor says is a good thing.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Mila

            Feet are also a great source for gelatin. A shank or hock with skin still on would also work.

          2. The last time I made demi-glace, the butcher offered me a beef scrag for a giveaway price -- a big chunk of meaty bones that probably comes from somewhere specific but looked like a miscellaneous mess. Also a beef neck. The stock came out great. Adding a foot would probably have made it even better. You need the things with unspeakable names and origins.

            1. Marrow bones add plenty of flavor, but I'm not sure it's the flavor you want. For me, beef stock should taste like one thing... beef. Marrow has a flavor profile that goes beyond that. It has a very earthy, musky quality. The closest analogy to adding marrow bones to beef stock is adding innards to chicken stock (although it's not quite so extreme). Sure, you're adding lots of flavor, but it's somewhat foreign, potentially overpowering flavor that you're bringing to the table.

              I love the taste of marrow in certain dishes, but when I do work with it, I add it later in the process. I don't add it to stock.

              How do I obtain a beefy tasting stock? Harold McGee, in his newly revised booked, contends that the best part of the animal for stockmaking is the flesh. For chicken, I place flesh in second place, after skin. Since skin is less of an option with beef, I follow Harold's advice and, whenever possible, use meat. It's not cheap, but the flavor yield is far greater than using only bones. I look for the cheapest meat possible with lots of connective tissue.

              Beef stock is an expensive enterprise. Much more so than with chicken. Chicken feet and wings make phenomenal stocks and are very reasonably priced. Historically, tougher, flavorful, connective tissue rich cuts of beef were less expensive, but, in recent years, this has all changed. Shank is a perfect example of this trend. Shank makes phenomenal stock, but it's not very cost effective. If your budget allows, go with shank. Oxtails are great for adding body, but again, the yield per dollar is just not high enough for me.

              Occasionally I can get a good price on blade steaks- when that happens I make LOTS of stock and freeze it.

              Ground beef makes surprisingly good stock, and can frequently be found at a very reasonable price. Sometimes I'll use ground beef for flavor and neck bones for added body, but on those occasions when I get a good deal ground beef it's usually not that much more than bones. In those cases, I find a pound of ground beef gives me a LOT more stock yield than a pound of neck bones. And ground beef gives me no waste, as I can simmer the beef for a bit, strain it, and then use it for chili, taco beef, tomato sauce, whatever. You can't simmer it for hours, mind you, or you end up cooking all the flavor out it, but with the right middle ground you can have a great deal of tasty cooked beef AND the beginning of great stock.

              I say 'beginning' because this process yields a fairly weak stock with almost no maillard/roasted flavor. Fortunately, you can get these roasted notes in the stockpot. Reduction and prolonged heat are key. The more you reduce a stock, the more concentrated it gets, the easier it 'browns'/maillard compounds are formed. With a careful prolonged reduction, I can achieve the same flavor as if I had begun with roasted meat/bones.

              As far as my ommission of roasted mire poix/tomato products goes... I'm a firm believer in stock as a 'blank canvas.' This applies to both chicken and beef. If I want mire poix, I'll add it to the final dish, not the stock pot.

              1. I always tended to avoid any upper cattle bone area such as the neck, spine, or ribs. (And this was all before the Mad Cow thing where that disease thrives) Probably I just should say that bones take away from the internal real estate of the stock pot. ;-) (Too much lost room)

                Meat to me makes the stock. I seem to be hung up on the chuck cuts as they provide the flavor with little loss of the stock pot room. Price where I live ranges from $1.50 to $3.00 a pound. I buy and freeze accordingly.

                Chuck is normally well marbled but that does increase the fat content. So I may at least go out with a smile than be tormented what the first 3 letters of what diet spells out.

                4 Replies
                1. re: RShea78

                  Mad Cow isn't an issue with thoroughly cooked meat- and I don't think meat can get any more thoroughly cooked than with stock making.

                  1. re: scott123

                    Cooking anything only reduces the risk of food related sickness. It doesn't eliminate them.

                    1. re: scott123

                      It is still an issue. The prions responsible for BSE, JK, and Mad Cow are not destroyed by heat, or pressure cooking.

                      1. re: jayt90

                        I stand corrected. Those prions are, indeed, very difficult to destroy.

                        So, I guess I'm going to need to re-think using neck bones for stock.

                  2. Why should fat matter? I cook the stock down to a half gallon, refrigerate it overnight, remove the fat the next day and finish the reduction. That way, I can use oxtails, which are still really cheap.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: KRS

                      Oxtails are still cheap where you are? It must be nice. Where I am, they cost an arm and a leg.

                    2. an arm and a leg for some tail? Sounds like NY.

                      1 Reply
                      1. Regarding ox tails, what's cheap and what's not? What are you guys paying?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: UnConundrum

                          It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure oxtails are at least $4 a lb. where I am (NE USA). And, I've never seen them go on sale. Compared to sale ground beef at $1.50, that's a pretty steep difference.

                          Not to mention that oxtails have a huge amount of cartilage. Cartilage is phenomenal for body, but provides minimal flavor. Even if oxtail and ground beef were the same price, I'd still probably reach for the ground beef as the flavor yield is greater.

                        2. ox tails!!!!! I use them to make a great korean ox tail stock that takes forever. They are expensive in american grocery stores but are fairly cheap at the local asian store. I get them for about $4 a pound