Flavorful stock is an essential component to a showstopper Thanksgiving feast. This make-ahead turkey stock lets you a jump start on prep work in advance of the holiday. You’ll have a rich, aromatic stock for all of your stuffing, gravy, basting, and soup needs!
In this article (click headings to jump)
What You’ll Need to Make Stock without a Leftover Turkey
How to Make Turkey Stock: Step by Step
i. The Prep
ii. Make the Stock
iii. Strain the Stock
iv. Food Safety: Cooling the Stock
Storing and Using Make-Ahead Turkey Stock
Why I Love Homemade Turkey Stock
There’s nothing like homemade stock. It’s all-natural, deeply-flavored, and fills your kitchen with the most wonderful, comforting aromas.
Most of the time, I make stock with the leftover bones from a roasted chicken or turkey, and store it in the freezer for later use. It’s a great way to get the most out of a roasted poultry dinner.
In the days before Thanksgiving, though, I don’t have a picked over turkey in the fridge, and many of my recipes for the feast rely on stock. Instead of going with store bought, here’s how I make a big pot of make-ahead turkey stock for a showstopper holiday dinner.
What You Need to Make Stock Without a Leftover Turkey
Raw turkey parts, such as wings and/or legs. You want to choose parts that have a high proportion of bones to meat for the richest stock.
If you don’t see turkey parts stocked in the case at your grocery store, ask the butcher. Oftentimes, they’ll have them in the back, or they can order them for you.
Should I use giblets if they’re available? You can add giblets with your turkey parts (I like to roast a neck, but it won’t take the full 90 minutes, so keep an eye on it). Be sure to pass on the liver; it will make your stock bitter.
Mirepoix: carrots, celery, onions, cut into a rough chop. No need to peel the carrots or de-string the celery, since the vegetables will be discarded.
Neutral-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola.
Cool water. Starting a stock with hot or boiling water will result in a cloudy appearance. The water should come to a simmer with the other ingredients in the pot.
Seasonings: fresh parsley, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, whole peppercorns. If you’re using fresh bay, make sure it’s bay laurel. Fresh California bay leaves are much more strongly-flavored and can lend a medicinal taste to the stock. If you aren’t sure, use dried (which are almost always Turkish/bay laurel).
FAQ: Why no salt? As a rule, stock should not be salted. It is often added to other well-seasoned recipes and/or used in dishes where it’s reduced. Concentrating a salty flavor would be overpowering. Salt the recipe you’re adding stock to, not the stock itself.
In terms of equipment, you’ll need a large roasting pan, a stock pot, and a mesh strainer.
How to Make Turkey Stock Ahead of Thanksgiving: Step by Step
This turkey stock is an all-day affair, but much of the process after the prep work is hands off. I like to make it on a weekend, when I’m planning to spend a leisurely day at home. Here’s what you’ll need to do.
1. Roast the turkey parts. Fit the legs, wings, and neck into a single layer in a large roasting pan and pop it into a 425 degree F oven for about 90 minutes, until they’re deep golden brown on all sides. For best results, flip them halfway through.
Tip: If you’d like, you can shred some of the turkey off of the meatier pieces, like thighs or drums. The more meat that goes into the pot, the richer the stock will be, but there’s plenty here if the cook wants a treat!
2. When the turkey parts are almost finished roasting, roughly chop the vegetables and sweat them in a large stock pot with a few tablespoons of neutral oil (such as vegetable or canola).
The vegetables should be soft and just beginning to brown, but not caramelized. Remove from heat.
3. Deglaze the roasting pan. The flavorful bits on the bottom of the pan are pure gold for a flavorful stock. Don’t leave them behind!
Remove the turkey parts from the pan and place them in the stock pot with the sweated vegetables. Pour or skim off the fat in the pan. You can either discard this, or refrigerate it for when you make gravy.
Add 2 cups of water to the roasting pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all of those delicious, caramelized bits.
Add this flavorful liquid to the stock pot. Bonus: this process also gives you a jump start on cleaning your roasting pan!
Tip: If needed, you can put your roasting pan on the stove across two burners to heat up the liquid and help the deglazing process. Most of the time, the pan will be so hot from the oven that this isn’t necessary.
Make the Stock
4. Pour the rest of the gallon of water into the stock pot. The water should cover the turkey parts by 1-2 inches. Bring the pot to a bare simmer over medium-low heat.
Tip: For the most beautiful stock, it’s important to not let the pot boil heavily. All you need is a steady, gentle simmer.
5. Skim the surface. As the liquid heats to its initial simmer, a white, foamy substance will collect on the top. Use a spoon to skim this off and discard.
6. Add the seasonings. Once the pot is skimmed, add the parsley, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns to the pot. If your celery stalks had leaves, add them to the pot now.
Tip: I like to add my seasonings after the initial simmer instead of with the turkey parts and water. If the peppercorns are already in the pot when I’m skimming the foam, I have to be cognizant of not skimming them off as well.
7. Maintain a gentle simmer for 3 to 4 hours, until the stock is reduced and your kitchen smells heavenly.
Strain the Stock
I like to strain the meat, bones, and vegetables out of the stock in batches, letting as much liquid drain into the bowl as possible. To keep the stock from clouding, avoid the temptation to press down heavily on the vegetables.
For the most beautiful stock, I almost always double strain. I’ll send the first pour, where I’m separating out the bones, etc., through a standard stainless steel mesh strainer. Then, I’ll pour the liquid through a second, finer mesh strainer.
Alternatively, you can also line your strainer with cheesecloth. Do you have to do extra step? No. I just love a gorgeous, clear stock!
Tip: If you’d like, you can save the bones and use them to make a remouillage (“second stock”). This French technique of making stock from bones that have already been simmered once will yield a weaker stock than the first simmering. The remouillage can be used as a flavor boost in place of water in making your next batch of stock.
Food Safety: Cooling the Stock
Because of the nature of its composition, stock can a prime breeding ground for bacteria. If you aren’t going to use it in a recipe right away, it’s important to cool it down to the “safe zone” (below 40 degrees F) as quickly as you can.
The problem with a big pot of stock, though, is that a) it takes longer to cool naturally, and b.) placing something that hot and large in a home refrigerator can throw off the temperature for other foods you’re storing.
What to do? Treat your strained stock to a trip to an ice water bath. Simply place the container with the stock inside of a larger bowl of ice water to come halfway up the sides (you can also do this in your kitchen sink).
Let it stand, refreshing the ice as needed, for about 30 minutes. Stir the stock occasionally to help the cooling process.
In that time period, the temperature will have dropped enough to safely continue chilling the stock, covered, in the refrigerator.
Tip: Be sure to use a high-sided pot or a steady container to hold the stock in the ice water bath. You don’t want it tipping over, or any water heading over the sides into the stock that you’ve worked so hard to make!
Storing and Using Make-Ahead Turkey Stock
If you’re going to use the hot stock immediately, let it sit for about 10 minutes for the fat to separate to the top. Use a spoon to skim it off.
I always save this flavorful fat to use in the roux for my gravy base. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For later use, store your turkey stock in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. For longer storage, freeze the stock for up to 3 months. I like to freeze it in 1- or 2-cup portions.
As the stock chills in the refrigerator, it will develop a gelatin-like consistency. This is from the collagen that the bones release into the stock during the slow simmer.
A gelatinous stock means you did everything right! It will quickly regain its fluidity as it’s warmed. Before heating, gently scrape the layer of fat from the top of the stock (if you didn’t skim it off when you first made it).
On the big day, use your turkey stock for make-ahead gravy base, to moisten stuffing, and to baste your bird. It also makes a great starter for leftover turkey soup.
Make Ahead Turkey Stock
- 5 to 6 pounds turkey parts (wings, thighs, drumsticks)
- 1 turkey neck (optional)
- 1 gallon cool water , divided
- 3 cups rougly-chopped yellow onion (1 pound, about 2 large onions)
- 1-1/2 cups rougly-chopped carrots (1/2 pound, about 2 large carrots)
- 1-1/2 cups roughly-chopped celery (1/2 pound, about 2 large celery ribs–remove any leaves and reserve)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorn
- 1 small handful fresh parsley (about 8-10 sprigs)
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 large Turkish bay leaf
Roast and Prep
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange turkey parts in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Roast for about 90 minutes, until parts are deep golden brown on all sides, flipping them halfway through.
- When the turkey parts are almost finished roasting, chop your vegetables and heat oil in a large stock pot. Add the vegetables and "sweat" them, cooking over medium-high heat until they're softened and just starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Remove turkey parts from the roasting pan and add them to the stock pot. (If you want to shred some of the meat off of the legs to eat, you can, but you'll want to leave a good proportion for a hearty stock.) Pour off the rendered fat in the roasting pan and either refrigerate it for other uses (like making gravy), or discard.
- Deglaze the roasting pan by pouring in 2 cups of water and using a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits (the "fond"). If the roasting pan isn't hot enough to release the fond and is stove-safe, you can place it across two burners to heat and help the deglazing process along. Pour the deglazing liquid into the stock pot.
Simmer the Stock
- Add the remainder of the water to the stock pot to cover the turkey parts by 1 to 2 inches. Bring to a simmer, skimming off and discarding the white foam that floats to the surface.
- After skimming, add the herbs and peppercorn to the pot, submerging in the water. Continue gently simmering the stock for 3-4 hours.
Strain the Stock
- Strain the bones, meat, and vegetables from the stock. Let the liquid drain well, but for the most beautiful stock, don't press down too hard on the solids. I like to double-strain my stock for the purest final product, using a very fine-mesh sieve the second time around.
- You should have about 8 cups of stock. If you have significantly more, return it to a clean pot and continue simmering to reduce it further.
Skim, Cool, and Store
- If you're using the stock right away, let it stand for about 10 minutes for the fat and stock to separate. Use a spoon to skim the layer of fat from the surface. (As with the fat in the roasting pan, I like to refrigerate this for making gravy.)
- If you're going to store the stock, cool it down quickly by placing it in a high-sided pot or sturdy container in a larger bowl of ice water. The water should come up the sides of the container about halfway. Cool for 30 minutes, refreshing the ice as needed, and stirring the stock every 5-10 minutes.
- Transfer to a lidded container and refrigerate for 3-4 days or freeze for 3 months. Stock will have a jelly-like consistency when chilled and will become fluid again with warming. If you didn't skim the fat off of the top while it was liquid, it will separate into a layer on top of the gelatinous chilled stock that you can easily scrape off and save or discard.
- Use your turkey stock as directed in your favorite Thanksgiving recipes.