How to Make Bone Broth from Game Bones
As a hunter and the spouse of a hunter, I feel so incredibly lucky to have access to high quality game meat. Not only is game meat more humane than “conventionally farmed” meat, it is also more sustainable, and provides an excellent source of nutrients. When an animal lives and eats in the wilderness, it is exposed to fewer pollutants and eats exactly what it is supposed to naturally eat. The wild plants it eats tend to have more nutrients than farmed plants or feed, and those nutrients are stored in the tissues of the animal that eats them, and get passed on to you when you eat the meat. Wilds game and grass-fed meats also have higher amounts of Omega-3 fats, vitamins, and minerals than grain-fed meat.
This season I didn’t get the chance to go hunting, but I did help some friends butcher two caribou they harvested. As is customary in hunting culture, they offered to reward me for my assistance, and I chose my payment in bones. My husband also harvested two Black-tail deer this season, which added to our supply of bones. Side note – If you have never seen a Black-tail deer, Google them right now. They are hilariously small. I could fit the bones of more than one leg in a gallon size Ziploc bag!
I have been making bone broth from grass-fed beef bones from my local butcher for a while, but this season was the first time I made it from game bones. Typically, I have found that grass-fed beef bones yield about two batches of broth. After my second batch of caribou bone broth, the bones still had plenty left to give! So, I made another batch…and another! I was amazed. The caribou bones produced two times the broth as the beef. I’m no scientist, but this can only mean one thing – game bones are kick-ass!
Why consume bone broth?
Simply put, bone broth is delicious and an amazing source for a ton of nutrients, that are super bioavailable! Bone broth is great for your gut, bones, joints, skin…the list goes on and on. Among other things, it contains collagen, amino acids, and minitrial. Here is a great article by Chris Kesser that highlights the benefits if you want to know more.
Sourcing your bones
If you yourself are not a hunter or could simply not bring yourself to pack out the bones (trust me I’ve been there), bone broth is still worth making. It’s just important to source your bones thoughtfully. Bones are a tissue that bioaccumulates. This means if the animal is exposed to pesticides, heavy metals, or pollutants, you will find it in the bones. This is bad news if you don’t source bones from a quality source.
Honestly, I did not pack out any bones from my caribou. I shot him 7 miles off the Haul Road in the Arctic Circle on a DIY hunt. It took my hunting partner and I 2 trips (2 hard days) to get both of our caribou to the truck. Anyone who has ever walked on tundra understands, if you want to do that hunt be sure that you are prepared.
If you don’t have access to wild game bones, buy bones that are organic/grass-fed/ pasture-raised. Good places to look are your local farmer’s market or butcher shop, or from organic/grass-fed/pasture-raised cuts of meat purchased still on the bone. Not only is bone-in meat typically cheaper, but meat cooked on the bone also offers more flavor and nutrition. For example, after you roast a whole chicken, you can save the bones for bone broth and really get your money’s worth
Any bones will work, but bones that include joints result in a broth that is higher in collagen and other healthy-joint compounds. Chicken feet are also great to add if you have them. Consider asking your butcher to cut the bones you buy down the middle through the joint to increase the surface area. Increasing surface area and exposing the insides of the bones will help the water extract all the wonderful nutrients locked inside. It can be intimidating to ask the butcher to do this, but it’s their job and they should be more than happy to do it for you. I have found butchers to be a great source of information and very helpful when asked.
Consuming your broth
I use bone broth any time a savory recipe I’m making calls for water. Broth is a must for soups and stews, but I also use it whenever I cook rice to add some nutrition and flavor to a simple bland food. I also use it in my slow-cooker meals. Chilis and curry are my favorites, so that is how my family consumes most of our bone broth. You can also sip broth like a tea. Sipping a cup before bed is a great way to unwind after a long day butchering caribou, and the magnesium and glycine found in bone broth will help you fall asleep!
Making your broth
While you may just recently be learning about bone broth and its benefits, bone “broth” is nothing new. Traditional cultures all over the world have been making it for many, many years. Chefs call it stock (and don’t cook it long enough, in my opinion) and use it as a crucial ingredient to add flavor and viscosity to soups, stews, and sauces. Here’s how I make my broth.
- Roast at least 1 lb. of frozen bones in a glass baking dish, at 425 F for about 20 minutes, until browned. The more bones the better, but don’t stress over it or put so many bones in that you can’t cover them with at least an inch of water when you move them to your slow cooker in the next step. You can generally make more than one batch of broth if you are using bigger bones. I was amazed how many batches I got out of the caribou bones. Typically, I make one batch for my family, then a second for my dog.
- Roasting the bones is purely for flavor. Make sure your bones are nice and browned, but not burnt. After baking, liquid may have accumulated in the bottom of your baking dish. If you would like, you can pour this liquid into a heat-proof glass container and let set. Once the fat has risen to the top, discard this and add the remaining liquid to your slow-cooker.
- Put bones in a slow- cooker and then cover them with water. Make sure if you are using tap water to run it through a filter first. I used this filter before I moved to a house with a well. Cooking with and drinking filtered water or well water is important because the water you use greatly impacts the flavor of whatever your cooking. Unfiltered tap water may also contain things that you don’t necessarily want to consume, like excess chlorine which can be hard on the good bacteria found in your gut.
- Add a splash of vinegar, preferably organic apple cider vinegar, or you can substitute with lemon juice. Adding acidity allows more nutrients like calcium and magnesium to be released from the bones into your water. Here is a PubMed study to prove it 😉 The study also looked at heavy metals in bone broth. While the study found bone broth to contain safe levels of heavy metals, less is always better. Animals that are fattened up in feed lots, can be exposed to more heavy metals. If you source your bone from the right place this is even less of a concern.
- Cook the bones, water, and vinegar or lemon juice on LOW. If you’re using chicken bones, you will want to cook them for 12-24 hours, and for larger bones like beef bones, you will want to cook for at least 24-36 hours. As the bones cook, skim the fat and scum off the top. Do it more often in the beginning, and aim for every few hours throughout the cooking process (don’t worry about it overnight though). If you skip the skimming, I have found that your broth will taste funky. Trust me on this one.
- Flavoring the broth is optional, but I like to add herbs and spices as well as organic veggie scraps, skins, stems that I have saved from cooking other dishes throughout the week and stored in my freezer. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but organic is important. Things that are good in broth include, but are not limited to: carrot, celery, mushrooms, onions (and the skins), herbs, ginger, peppercorns, bay leaves, allspice berries, lemon peel, garlic, etc. Don’t be afraid to get creative with the flavorings! If you add the veggies and spices to your broth at the beginning, the long cooking time will overcook them and the resulting broth will be less flavorful, so be patient and wait to add flavorings until the last couple of hours of cook time. You can also leave it plain, which is a fine option if you are going to simply be cooking with it (vs. sipping it alone).
- You can tell your bones have given you all they can when you can cut them with a butter knife. To store your broth, you will want to strain out the solids. These are the strainers I wish I had. I recommend storing it in glass mason jars (I typically use quart or half gallon). Your broth will keep in the fridge about five days, but adding a teaspoon of salt per quart of broth will help it stay fresh longer.
If you aren’t going to consume the broth in the next week, it freezes really well. You can freeze it in freezer jars. I like to simmer broth on the stove if I am going to freeze it because it reduces the volume by about half, so it takes up less room in the freezer (freezer space is at a premium in our house after hunting and fishing season). After it has reduced I pour it into silicon molds. I like these molds because they are a great individual serving size and they are the same ones I bake personal frittatas in, but that is for another post. Once the broth is frozen I move it to Zip-Lock freezer bags for longer-term storage. When you defrost your broth, just add water to restore your original quantity.
Gina Ciolkosz is a Personal Cook and Health Coach living in Anchorage, Alaska. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Physiology and is an American Council on Exercise certified Health Coach. For the past six years, she has lived in Alaska, where she can’t get enough of the active Alaskan lifestyle that for her includes hunting, fishing, hiking, and the occasional weekend race. She loves to cook for people and enjoys the challenge of making healthy food taste delicious.
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