There are three, and only three, reasons why broth doesn’t gel.
BUT FIRST, SOME CLARIFICATIONS.
To make bone broth, you really only need a couple things: bones and water. Everything else is helpful (like adding something acidic to help leach the minerals out of the bones), or tasty (like adding onions and other aromatics to the concoction). But at it’s heart, bones and water are the foundation of a good broth.
There are two types of bones you can use when making homemade bone broth: jointy bonesand meaty bones. And before you say anything else, YES. Those are their scientific names!
Jointy bones are cartilage-rich bones and connective tissues that contain joints — chicken feet, wings, and necks, cow knuckles and ox tails.
Meaty bones have a bit of meat on them (like ribs) or marrow in them (like soup or marrow bones).
And finally, to get the most nutrients out of your broth, you’ll want to source good bones from healthy, pasture-raised or wild animals.
REASON 1: NOT ENOUGH JOINTY BONES IN PROPORTION TO MEATY BONES.
As a good rule of thumb, you want at least half the bones to be jointy bones, if not more. If your goal is a broth that gels, you can’t simply throw in one or two joints (or none at all). If using a whole chicken carcass, try cutting up the wings and neck and/or throwing in extra feet or necks to make sure you’ve got enough jointy bones to cause the broth to gel. (HINT: I buy extra feet and necks from my farmer for $1 per pound. They’re cheap because nobody else wants them. GO FIGURE.)
YOU NEED JOINTS. They’re full of the connective tissue that breaks down into gelatin.
REASON 2: TOO MUCH WATER IN PROPORTION TO BONES.
It’s a volume thing. You want to look into your stock pot and see it FULL of bones, barely covered by the filtered water you added. For chicken bone broth, this comes to about 3-4 pounds of bones (about 2 whole carcasses) per gallon of water. For beef bone broth, this comes to about 7 pounds of bones per gallon of water.
Don’t go stingy on the bones, not if you want that broth to gel.
REASON 3: YOU BOILED THE BONE BROTH TOO VIGOROUSLY.
What you want is a beautiful, rolling simmer that barely moves the surface of the water in the stock pot.
If it boils too forcefully, it will break down the proteins in the gelatin into their constituent amino acids. While that’s not bad, per se, it will certainly prevent your broth from gelling.
1. Your bone broth didn’t gel because you used too much water.
This is the most common mistake of making bone broth. The ratio of bones to water is very important. Use only use enough water to completely cover the bones.
2. Your bone broth didn’t gel because you used low-quality bones.
Conventional factory farmed animal bones don’t produce much gelatin. Use pasture raised animal bones for best results. Feet, oxtail and knuckle bones are the best for producing a gelatin rich bone broth.
3. Your bone broth didn’t gel because your stock was not cooked long enough.
It takes a long time to extract the minerals, nutrients and gelatin out of bones! Follow these cooking times:
- Chicken and Turkey Bones: 8 to 24 hours
- Beef, Lamb and Pork Bones: 12 to 72 hours
- Fish Heads and Bones: 4 to 24 hours
4. Your bone broth didn’t gel because your simmering temperature was too high.
Simmering bone broth at higher heats can actually destroy the collagen and form MSG. It’s very important to turn the heat way down to the lowest possible setting when making bone broth.
5. Your bone broth didn’t gel because you didn’t use enough bones.
Try adding more bones or include bones like knuckle bones, feet, heads, and oxtails. Remember, the ratio of bones to water is very important. Only add enough water to completely cover the bones.
Save the Fat?
Should you save or toss the fat on top of the broth? Ask any of your paleo friends and they’ll probably have a strong opinion about this. Some save the fat and use it for cooking. Some throw it away citing possible toxins (if you’re making a chicken bone broth – the fat on top could be high in polyunsaturated fatty acids so you may want to toss that). Our paleolithic ancestors probably ate the fat. Really, it’s up to you.
Here’s what I do – I leave the fat on top of the broth until I’m ready to use it or ready to store it in the freezer. Then, I toss the fat. The fat is what keeps bacteria from entering the beef jello. My thought is that if it’s acting as a barrier between bacteria and broth… then I don’t want to eat it. That said, I’m not sure I won’t change my mind about this one day. It does pain me to waste what looks like delicious fat.