Boy would I love to be one of those home cooks who always has a fresh batch of homemade chicken stock in the fridge. I’ve made it before and it’s true what they say – homemade is better than anything you can buy in the store. But that doesn’t mean store bought chicken stocks are bad. In a pinch, actually they can be pretty great, as long as you know what to buy. I always have a carton of chicken stock in the pantry on stand by for weeknight soups, sauces, casseroles and even dressings (cuts out some of the oil when you’re trying to be super healthy).
I have two rules for purchasing store bought chicken stock .. #1. Buy only stock, not broth. What is the difference? Well I’m glad you asked because honestly I didn’t know the difference either. Chicken stock is made mostly from bones and scraps, basically your leftovers from a roasted chicken. It has a high gelatin content and that’s what gives it the meaty texture that I personally love. Chicken broth uses actual pieces of meat giving it a low gelatin count, so it will look less cloudy when finished. I could go on and on with the strengths and weaknesses of both, but I’ll spare you. (you’re welcome)
Rule #2. Always buy unsalted or low sodium. Not too long ago this wasn’t even an option in grocery stores but someone caught on and realized the cook should be in charge of the salt. I find that many of the cheaper brands of chicken broths use salt as an easy, cheap way to add flavor. But in reality it doesn’t add flavor to your dish, it just leaves it tasting like a soft pretzel. You don’t want this. You want to be in charge of your dish’s destiny – choose unsalted.
Now let’s talk brands.. which stock is best?
Best Overall: Kitchen Basics Unsalted Chicken Stock. Why? Best Flavor. It’s honestly hard to pick up on distinct flavors in a chicken stock but I can actually taste the chicken, the herbs and the vegetables in this stock. Perfect for sauces because it also reduces nicely (since it’s completely unsalted).
Best Value: Swanson’s Unsalted Cooking Stock. Why? Easy to find, great price and good flavor. Plus, since its a major national brand you will frequently come across sales and coupons for this brand (great for stocking up your panty!)
Best Organic: Imagine Organic Chicken Stock. Why? I really admire those who stick to a completely organic diet. Luckily, these day it isn’t too hard to find these ingredients — except chicken stock. Organic chicken broth – easy to find. Stock – not so much. But I do see this Imagine Organic Low Sodium Stock in many grocery stores and I am very happy with it!