As a cook, there are few things more frustrating than working your way halfway through a recipe only to suddenly find that you don’t have one of the ingredients needed to complete the dish. Or maybe you realize your omission before you even start cooking, but you don’t have time to make a run to the store before you need to get started.
While running out of an ingredient is always frustrating, there is good news – you can usually make a suitable substitution to keep your meal on track. In this article, we are going to discuss substitute options for one specific ingredient commonly found in many recipes – beef broth. If you are in the middle of making dinner and you opened the fridge to find an empty container that used to hold beef broth, this article is for you. I’ll explore what beef broth is, the difference between beef broth and beef stock, and some of the best beef broth substitutes to help you concoct your next dish. Let’s get started!
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What is Beef Broth?
Even if you have used beef broth frequently in your cooking endeavors, you may not have ever stopped to think carefully about what it is and where it comes from. This is particularly true if you have always acquired your beef broth from the store in a can or box, rather than trying to make your own.
You might be surprised to learn that making beef broth is a relatively simple and straightforward process. In general, this type of broth is made by heating water with beef, vegetables, and some seasonings. The details vary greatly from broth to broth, but that is the general formula. The meat used in the broth may also contain bones, and everything is sifted out at the end so only the liquid remains in the finished product. While buying your broth is a perfectly reasonable option, many home cooks make their own using leftover scraps from other meals.
When the broth is finished, you are left with a flavorful, aromatic liquid that can be used in many different applications. It can serve as the starting point for a soup, for example, or you can add it in small amounts to other dishes instead of water to up the flavor profile. It’s common for recipes to call for either beef, chicken, or vegetable broth, so having some on hand is part of a well-stocked kitchen. And, since broth tends to be rather salty, it has a long shelf life.
Because the broth is somewhat simple, there are plenty of beef broth substitutes you can use that we’ll outline below.
Beef Broth vs Beef Stock – What’s the Difference?
You have probably heard two different terms used to describe beef-flavored liquid – broth and stock. What’s the difference between these two? Or is there any difference at all? As with many things in the cooking realm, the answer is a little bit complicated.
To get started, there isn’t a formal definition for either of these terms, and different cooks will use them in different ways. Some people use broth and stock interchangeably. With that said, there is a difference that we can point to which is observed in at least some circles.
For some people, and some brands, beef stock is made with bones that may contain some meat. On the other hand, broth is made with meat that may contain some bones. That difference might seem subtle, but it can have a notable impact on the finished product. A beef stock that has been made with bones will typically include a significant amount of gelatin, and it will solidify when cooled. You may find that this kind of stock has a deeper flavor and provides unique advantages when cooking. Where a simple beef broth may be best as the starting point for a soup, a small amount of stock could add powerful flavor to other dishes.
Best Beef Broth Substitutes
There are two keys to an effective food substitute. First, of course, is that you need to have the substitute ingredient on hand. If you don’t have any of the other ingredients available either, it won’t do you any good at all. So, good substitutes are things that you may already have on hand because they are useful in other dishes, or because they have a long shelf life.
The other key here is that the new ingredient needs to work in the context of the recipe as a whole. The taste will never be exactly the same as the original ingredient – in this case, beef broth – but you want to get as close as possible. In addition to taste, the composition of the replacement needs to make sense so the texture and consistencies of the finished product stays on track.
With those two qualifications in mind, here is my list of top beef broth substitutes.
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Water & Soy Sauce
As the first stop on our list, we are going to take a look at soy sauce. Not just an ingredient used in Asian dishes, soy sauce is a staple in many kitchens thanks to its versatility and delicious flavor. This is an attractive option as a substitute for beef broth for a couple of reasons. First, of course, is that so many people have it available at all times, so it is often on hand when you need it. Also, the liquid consistency matches up perfectly with the beef broth you are replacing, so the texture and consistency of your finished dish should be spot on.
The key to using soy sauce successfully as a replacement is to avoid using too much. You absolutely do not want to replace beef broth with soy sauce on a 1:1 basis. Doing so would result in an inedible dish that is far too salty to consume (beyond the salt, the flavor of the soy sauce would be overpowering). So, before any soy sauce goes into your dish, you need to thin it with water.
As a starting point, place about a tablespoon of soy sauce in a measuring cup and then add water to bring the total combined up to one cup. At this point, you can taste the soy sauce/water solution and either add more soy sauce or thin it down further. The right mixture for your tastes might be different in some dishes than others, so feel free to experiment each time you need to make this substitution.
One useful thing to keep in mind is that soy sauce has a very long shelf long. So, even if you don’t find that you use it as a featured ingredient very often in your cooking, it’s worth having on hand for situations like this when it can be used as a substitute. A bottle of soy sauce is an affordable form of insurance when other ingredients might go missing.
Bouillon & Vegetable Broth
This substitution option calls for the use of two different ingredients that you can bring together to create a replacement for beef broth. Beef bouillon cubes are a great supply to keep on hand, largely because they are another pantry staple with a long shelf life. These are dried cubes that pack a ton of flavor into a small package. If you would like, you can simply dissolve your bouillon cube in some hot water and use that mixture as a replacement for beef broth.
To take this option up a notch, however, use vegetable broth to dissolve your cube of bouillon. That approach is going to up the flavor of the finished product significantly, since the vegetable broth will come with plenty of flavors that water alone will not deliver. If you happen to have vegetable broth on hand, be sure to give this method a try.
One theme that will keep coming up in this article is stocking up on products in your kitchen that will last a long time. We’ve already mentioned how things like soy sauce and bouillon cubes last a long time, and the same can be said for vegetable broth. Given the low cost of these items, they are great things to toss into your shopping cart – even on a day when you don’t need them. If you cook regularly, the day will likely come around when they are called for, either as a recipe ingredient or as a substitution.
We admit that this is not an ingredient that many people will have on hand in their kitchen. Mushroom broth, while tasty, is not nearly as popular as beef, chicken, or vegetable broth. With that said, if you do happen to have mushroom broth available, it would make an excellent substitute for the beef broth that you are missing. In fact, you should be able to substitute it in without making any other adjustments to your recipe. Of course, if you are worried about the mushroom flavor being too forward, depending on the dish that you are making, you could combine the broth with some water to tame the flavor a bit.
Mushroom broth works well as a substitutes to beef broth because of the meaty types of flavors that mushrooms normally deliver. It will be best if you have a quality brand of mushroom broth on hand that actually brings plenty of that mushroom taste to the party. Alternatively, you could also have a mushroom bouillon product on hand, as that could be used in much the same way as the beef bouillon we mentioned above.
It’s no secret that red wine is a popular cooking liquid. Apart from being used as a great beef broth substitute, red wine is frequently used on its own in a variety of applications. Even those who don’t drink wine regularly will often keep some red wine on hand for various cooking tasks. If you do have some available in your house, and you run out of beef broth at the wrong time, you can turn to the wine for a solution.
There are some things to think about before you tip over the bottle and start pouring it right into your dish. First, you probably won’t want to use the wine at full strength, as that could lead to an overpowering flavor that may ruin the whole dish. If a recipe calls for a cup of beef broth, don’t pour a full cup of wine into the pot. Instead, use some wine and some water to reach the one cup mark. Roughly half wine and half water may be a good starting point, but you are free to customize that approach to suit your tastes.
The other thing to consider here is the alcohol in the wine. Alcohol does not completely cook out when you use something like wine in your cooking, so keep that in mind. If the consumption of alcohol is going to be a problem for anyone who will be eating the dish, you’ll need to skip the wine and find another solution.
Speaking of alcohol, you should also remember that alcohol is flammable, so you need to pay attention to how you are using it while cooking. Depending on what your recipe asks you to do with the beef broth, you might need to adjust the procedure to keep your wine from catching fire. This is an issue you can usually work around with some careful thinking, but it’s a point to keep in mind while making your substitution.
Like wine, this is another liquid that many people will have on hand in their home at all times. If you have beer in your fridge and you need a quick solution for your lack of beef broth, this may be the solution. You’ll be adding a different kind of flavor to the dish than you would have gotten with the broth, but that might be a welcome change. After all, if you have the beer in your house, you probably like the flavor already – so using some in your cooking is a natural fit.
Many of the points we mentioned in the wine section apply to beer as well. Specifically, the considerations regarding alcohol and how you need to deal with it when cooking. You don’t want to start the alcohol on fire, so be careful with how it is used, and make sure that everyone eating the dish is okay with consuming at least some alcohol.
As with ideas like wine and soy sauce, this is another one that you will likely want to dilute before you put it into the pot or pan. Using beer alone without any water will work for some tasks, but it will be too powerful in other cases. Be conservative at first to make sure the taste comes together as you would like. It’s easy enough to mix your beer with some water to strike a nice balance that will make your dish just as tasty as if you’d followed the recipe to the letter.
Beef Base Substitute
Let’s take a quick moment before wrapping up this article to talk about beef base. This product is a powder or paste that packs an intense beef flavor. You can typically use beef bases just like you would use bouillon. These are a great way to up the flavor of many different meals, and you will find them called for in various recipes.
Of course, just like with beef broth, you might not always have beef base on hand when you find it called for in a recipe. So, will the same substitutes from our list for beef broth work for beef base substitutes? Well, that depends. The flavors will likely be on the right track, but the consistency issue is one to consider. What did the recipe have you doing with the beef base? If you were going to dilute it significantly in a liquid like vegetable broth or just water, then our list of subs should work just fine. So, the key here is to look at the finer details of your recipe and then come up with a plan that will mimic the original recipe as close as possible.
Final Thoughts on Beef Broth Substitutes
As you can see, there are plenty of options that can serve as fill-ins for beef broth. It’s a good idea to test one or two of these out for yourself, to see which one you like the taste of best. Then, you can be sure to always have that on hand as a backup in case your beef broth runs out at the wrong time. Maybe you will find that the mix of soy sauce and water is perfect for the dishes you like to make, or perhaps you’ll prefer what red wine brings to the plate. Whatever the case, we hope this list of ideas helps keep you on track in the kitchen.
When using a recipe that calls for beef broth, the best-case scenario is that you will have enough broth on hand, and you won’t have to improvise with any of the ideas listed above. Things rarely work out that easily when cooking, however, so you need to think on your feet and react to the situation that you are facing. Fortunately, these replacements will work well in most dishes, so it’s not too late to save your recipe from doom.
Have you tried these beef broth substitutes?
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