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Why Your Bone Broth Doesn’t Gel

Why Your Bone Broth Doesn't Gel

I get a little giddy when I see gelled bone broth. According to some, gelatin is the tell tale sign of a nutrient-rich broth.

The truth is, even if your broth doesn’t gel, a traditionally slow-cooked broth will still be full of the important minerals and amino acids (like calcium, magnesium, collagen, chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine) necessary to prevent wrinkles, eliminate cellulite, ease digestion, and heal arthritis.

Yet despite knowing this, I’m only satisfied with my homemade bone broth when it gels. If you’re like me and want that perfectly gelled broth every time, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret I learned at Monica Corrado’s cooking school.

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 bones and 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.

With this basic foundation, let’s unravel the mysteries behind why bone broth doesn’t gel.

Why Your Bone Broth Doesn't Gel

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.

Want a fail-proof recipe for broth?

This amazing Pressure-Cooker Bone Broth from Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo works flawlessly for me every time.

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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59 Responses to Why Your Bone Broth Doesn’t Gel
  1. Everett
    April 30, 2014 | 6:53 pm

    I also used to think the length of time simmering affected it but recently I changed the water at 18 hours, then went for the remainder of the nourishing traditions recommended 72 hours and the second batch gelled too. Still can’t get chicken stock to gel as solidly as beef. I’m glad google now keeps telling me about posts from this site. Thanks!

  2. Joyce
    April 30, 2014 | 8:25 pm

    I always enjoy and much appreciate your posts. Thanks for sharing Nom Nom Paleo’s technique. I’ve been pressure cooking bone broth for over a year and the results are always a rich, gelled broth. My favorite is beef broth and I always use cut knuckles, marrow bones and oxtail. I keep all my onion, carrot and celery scrapes in the freezer just to add to the pot. Throw in a few bay leaves, peppercorns, fish sauce (Red Boat) and a good glug of vinegar.
    I use a large pressure canner so have lots of broth…lasts about 2 weeks. Yum!

  3. LittleOwlCrunchyMomma
    April 30, 2014 | 8:58 pm

    This is great, thanks Kristen! I never have a problem getting beef or lamb bones to gel… only chicken.

    Do you have that issue with chicken bones at all?

    • Kristen Michaelis
      April 30, 2014 | 9:12 pm

      Good question! If you’re using a whole carcass, try cutting up the wings and neck. And reduce the water to about 2 quarts per carcass. I just edited the post to share these tips! Thanks for asking. :)

    • Linda
      May 1, 2014 | 1:00 pm

      Adding chicken feet to my broth gives me a gel every time!

  4. Holly
    April 30, 2014 | 11:33 pm

    I might be misunderstanding, but why do you want it to gel if there is not a nutritional benefit?

    • Kristen Michaelis
      April 30, 2014 | 11:39 pm

      Because it’s the universally accepted culinary sign of a good broth.

      • Holly
        May 1, 2014 | 6:17 am

        Oh, I get it now. Accomplishment :)

    • Joli Hart
      May 2, 2014 | 11:49 am

      The broth gelling shows that it has a lot of gelatin in it. While the broth may be good for you without the gelatin (gelling) it is better for you with it.

      • Kristen Michaelis
        May 2, 2014 | 12:55 pm

        While it is true that gelling means there’s gelatin in the broth, when you digest the gelatin, your body breaks it down into its constituent amino acids before it can use it. If your broth fails to gel, that’s because something in your cooking process already broke the gelatin down into its constituent amino acids. This is why I said that the un-gelled broth is just as nutritious for you as the gelled.

  5. Janet
    May 1, 2014 | 7:35 am

    I have made bone broth several times–some with regular beef and chicken and some with mostly grassfed beef or local chicken bones. None of these batches ever gelled. I bought a 3 lb pack of large bones at the local Mexican store butcher, filled my 5 qt. slow cooker and simmered for about 30 hours, my normal timing. I ended up with beautiful gel. Could the bones be from a better animal source? I will have to check further as the bones just caught my eye when I was in the grocery buying lemons and limes. In any case–this is my best batch ever. In fact, I cooked the bones again for about 24 hours and still got some gel.

    • Kristen Michaelis
      May 1, 2014 | 8:26 am

      Yes, it is important to source well. Pasture-raised animals have healthier bones and connective tissue, so tend to produce more gelatin and “cleaner” (less scummy) broth.

      Also, it sounds like the reason your broth may not have gelled at all in the past is too much water. For 3-4 lbs of chicken bones, you’ll want 4 quarts of water. For 3-4 lbs of beef bones, it drops to about 2 quarts.

  6. Christi
    May 1, 2014 | 10:38 am

    What are your thoughts on pork bones for broth? I have some pastured pig bones in my freezer.

    • Kristen Michaelis
      May 1, 2014 | 2:22 pm

      Pork bones make great broth. For what it’s worth, I recently learned from Sally Fallon Morell that the only reason pork isn’t a feature in Nourishing Traditions is because co-author Mary Enig is Jewish.

  7. Kelly
    May 1, 2014 | 10:43 am

    So what about the thick layer of fat that hardens after cooling? Do I need to discard that and consume the gelled broth part?

    • Kristen Michaelis
      May 1, 2014 | 2:24 pm

      Pop off the hardened fat, save it and use it later! That’s schmaltz (poultry fat) and it’s a delicious and healthy part of traditional cooking, particularly if it comes from pasture raised birds.

  8. Michael
    May 1, 2014 | 10:44 am

    My experience with making all kinds of broth, fish, chicken, duck, etc, is that it’s the proteins that make the gel. The meatier the broth, the more likely it is to gel. I’m surprised others haven’t chimed in about this.

  9. anne knoll
    May 1, 2014 | 11:05 am

    So difficult to find those grass fed bones. My local Luckey’s Market said what they found would sell for 8.99 a pound.Any suggestions?

  10. Liz
    May 1, 2014 | 11:26 am

    Wow, I’ve been making broth for years and thought I did something wrong because mine did gel. Thanks for your posts.

  11. Aliyanna
    May 1, 2014 | 11:45 am

    I don’t have a pressure cooker nor will my family allow one anymore. Is there a help for those of us who don’t?
    My pressure cooker with bones in it blew up on me….and covered me in 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 30% of my body.

  12. Holly
    May 1, 2014 | 11:56 am

    I’ve been making bone broth for a while now and it always gels. My problem though is that it reduces so much I have to add water after every few hours to keep the bones covered and so that I have enough broth at the end to make the process worth it. Is that normal or am I doing something wrong?

  13. Sally Inman via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 12:24 pm

    Mine does. I was just admiring my jar that is In my fridge from cooking lamb roast & ribs. Oh yum !!

  14. Julie Parks Hale via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 12:28 pm

    Always!

  15. Patricia Crozier Bennett via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 12:35 pm

    Ooh I got so excited just today when I got mine out of the fridge!

  16. Michelle Kruger
    May 1, 2014 | 12:49 pm

    I am new to this subject, would the carcass of chicken that has been baked still be good for bone broth? I like to bake a whole chicken for supper for the family.

  17. Michelle Kruger via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 12:50 pm

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing!

  18. Sara Moussa Loring via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 1:03 pm

    I just came here to say that pic is making me drool! I love bone marrow!!

  19. Danny AndBeki via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 1:03 pm

    Timely tips for me! I’m a novice at brewing my broth and have had trouble finding substantial (even measurable!) gel in my last several batches… I suspect the “low” setting on my crockpot is perhaps too hot, as it makes my broth contents actually bubble like boiling… I think I’m going to look into a different model or brand of crockpot. Thanks for posting! ~B

  20. Food Renegade via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 1:19 pm

    Danny AndBeki, so glad you found this post helpful!

  21. No Fakin' Bacon via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 1:34 pm

    Thanks for this post! Mine rarely gels and now I realize I don’t use enough jointy bones :)

  22. Tonya Cardwell via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 1:45 pm

    So what’ the difference between bone broth and stock?

  23. Tina Malone via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 1:49 pm

    Gelling is good, but the broth is still healthy for you even if it doesn’t gel.

  24. Food Renegade via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 2:35 pm

    Tonya Cardwell — Meat stock is cooked for shorter lengths of time and includes a lot more meat. Broth is made primarily from bones and has longer cook times (8-24 hrs for chicken; 24-72 hrs for beef).

  25. Food Renegade via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 2:36 pm

    Tina Malone — YEP. I make that point a couple of times in the article itself.

  26. Shana Hackworth via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 2:58 pm

    So funny to see this post. I just pulled my bone broth from the fridge yesterday and it was giggly like jello. I thought something was wrong with it, but divided it up and put it in the freezer anyway. So glad I did not toss it!

  27. Jenny Smith via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 3:02 pm

    Ashley :)

  28. Amy Vaughn Harder via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 3:08 pm

    Makes me do a happy dance to see the gel!

  29. Amy Underwood via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 3:22 pm

    And to think that for all those years I used to toss out as much gel as i could! Food illiterate no more!

  30. K.
    May 1, 2014 | 3:33 pm

    Always roast the bones first.

  31. L Gonzales
    May 1, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    I’ve taken Monica’s class, and I highly recommend it! There are a hundred other little things that nobody told you about basic cooking methods that she will instruct you on. It is worth every penny!

  32. Kristin Lindsey via Facebook
    May 1, 2014 | 5:30 pm

    I have turned completely to making my bone broths in a pressure cooker; amazing every time and takes less than two hrs.

  33. Rita
    May 1, 2014 | 6:19 pm

    I only ever make mine on the stove top and so happy to hear that looking like gelatin is not only normal but an AWESOME thing (good thing I never tossed it)! Farmers market chickens always make the best here, and I have found they usually include the necks and feet for free!

  34. Riversana
    May 1, 2014 | 10:14 pm

    I rarely get my broth to gel, but now I know why– I usually run it through a hard boil for 10+ hours. Guess I need to turn the slow cooker on low, not high! Thanks!

  35. Jennifer
    May 1, 2014 | 10:16 pm

    I have made bone broth from leftover chicken frames. Added chicken feet too, but no gel. I’m going to try reducing the water, but I’m wondering about how much meat is acceptable to be leftover on the bones when I cook them in the broth? The skin too? Is that ok to throw in? I’ve browsed different threads, but have seen anything about this. I would love to have a broth that gels!

    • Kristen Michaelis
      May 1, 2014 | 10:19 pm

      Definitely reduce the water if you only have one carcass. One carcass plus feet only needs about 2 quarts (8 cups) of water. Leftover meat is acceptable, particularly if you want to immediately turn your broth into a soup. Then you can just fish out the bones, leave the meat in, and add whatever else you want to add to make it a soup. Leaving the skin on is fine, but it will make your broth more fatty.

  36. Johanna
    May 2, 2014 | 12:06 am

    My family and I started making our own bone broth this year Thanks to You :)) Never heard about it before we found your site! We also have quit using any products with added Fluoride, but I still count all the natural sources we get it from (ie; well water, tea, veggies, fruits, etc,.).You’d be surprised how much folks actually consume on a regular basis. Anyway, I read this article-

    http://fluoridealert.org/content/top_ten/

    - and at #9 it lists bones as being the “main site of fluoride accumulation in the body”. My question is how much fluoride are we possibly getting from our broth making process? I’ve never seen this issue addressed before and immediately thought of you as the ‘go to’ person for the answer :) Thanks for your help!

  37. Honora
    May 2, 2014 | 3:23 am

    Lead in bones can be an issue too. But that doesn’t stop me making bone broth.

  38. Betsy Finn via Facebook
    May 2, 2014 | 7:58 am

    Food Renegade is there a trade-off in nutrients etc when you pressure cook vs. long slow crockpot cook?

  39. Anna
    May 2, 2014 | 4:40 pm

    Getting high quality bones is important cause you don’t want to leach yuk from industrial meat into your broth. Not everyone has access to a farmer – at the moment. So I would like to share that I found http://www.homegrowncow.com which is an on-line farmers market for meat only. You can get chicken, beef, bison, goat, everything and anything from anywhere in the USA. My local farmers market is mostly produce, so homegrown cow really comes in handy. And, since we live in the city, I really like how many farmers ship the meat frozen right to my door. I have yet to have a problem using the site.

  40. Food Renegade via Facebook
    May 2, 2014 | 7:21 pm

    Betsy Finn — I don’t think there is one. Arguably, because the cooktime on pressure cooking is shorter, the heat-sensitive nutrients should be better preserved. But because the cook time for broth in a pressure cooker is still an hour or more, those would all be destroyed anyway. For more on what pressure cooking does to nutrients, please read: http://www.foodrenegade.com/pressure-cooking-healthy/

  41. Betsy Finn via Facebook
    May 2, 2014 | 7:24 pm

    Thanks Food Renegade!

  42. Brenda
    May 3, 2014 | 3:22 pm

    I was taught to roast beef bones first, including the vegetables I would normally incorporate in my soup: onions (with skins), carrots, garlic, etc., to give a greater depth of flavor. Then add water to the roaster and simmer on the stovetop, and finally strain through cheesecloth. Is there any value here, or is roasting an unnecessary step?

    • Kristen Michaelis
      May 3, 2014 | 6:25 pm

      I highly recommend roasting the bones. Roasting bones has nothing whatsoever to do with how well the broth gels, though. (Which is why it’s not mentioned in the post.) But you’re right. Roasting bones creates excellent flavor for the broth and gives it more visual appeal, too.

  43. Donna
    May 7, 2014 | 5:25 pm

    I put onion, celery, etc in bottom of my crockpot and fill to the top with bones then put in water. Set on low for 24 hrs. Always gels.

  44. Saule
    May 17, 2014 | 6:44 pm

    Like Donna, I use some veggies, whole peppercorns, bay leaf, and then throw in the turkey carcass or chicken carcass into the crockpot and leave on overnight. Always gels.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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