The Perfect Pot of Primal Soup

When it comes to choosing our favorite nourishing comfort foods, soup is at the top of our list. It’s a whole meal in one pot, not to mention a great way to use up any leftover meat and vegetables lingering in your refrigerator. Soup always sounds especially good when summer turns to fall, but there are plenty of reasons to stop thinking about soup simply as a cold-weather meal and to start thinking about it as the perfect Primal meal any day of the year.

Let’s begin by clarifying what the ideal Primal soup is not. It is not canned nor is it over-salted to make up for a wimpy, watery broth. It is not weighed down by bland potatoes or pasta or filled with limp, overcooked vegetables and itsy-bitsy pieces of unrecognizable meat. The pot of soup on our stove is filled with hearty chunks of protein simmering in a broth richly flavored by bone marrow, collagen and brightly colored vegetables. With a little planning ahead, the perfect Primal soup can be simmering in your kitchen, too, any day of the week and any time of year.

Stock and Broth: Where the Magic Begins

Loudly slurped or politely sipped, broth is more than just what your soup ingredients are swimming in. The ideal broth is swirling with healthy fat and vital nutrients extracted from meat and animal bones. This is why we use homemade stock as the base for our broth instead of buying cans of stock at the store that often have a thin texture, overly salty flavor and questionable nutritional value.

But wait…aren’t stock and broth the same thing? In the grocery store aisle, yes. For the chef or home cook, however, stock is a base ingredient that does not transform into broth until it is seasoned, combined with other flavor elements (the chunky parts of the soup) and then reduced by simmering to intensify the flavor and texture.

Stock can be made ahead of time and stored for several days in the refrigerator or several months in the freezer. Making an initial investment of time to fill your freezer with batches of homemade stock is something you’ll thank yourself for on hectic weeknights. Stock can be defrosted and quickly turned into a bowl of soup by simmering it with a little salt or other seasonings, some protein and vegetables. But if you just can’t see yourself storing up on stock, don’t despair. If you have several hours on a weekend to devote to soup-making you can make the stock and soup all at one time.

Spare Rib Vegetable Soup is a favorite of ours that uses this technique and we’ll reveal the recipe at the end of this post. But before we do, let’s just say that if you do have the desire and the space to fill up your freezer with stock, you’ll be pleased to find out it’s easier than you might think.

Stock is made by simmering bones, meat and/or vegetables in water to extract flavor. Although the veggies (plus a few bay leaves, parsley stems and peppercorns) do contribute to this end, it’s the animal protein, fat, marrow and collagen that give stock its nutritional value and pure, meaty flavor.

To make Primal stock, you need bones. Why bones and not just meat? We’ve given detailed explanations of the benefits of bones before, but in short, the gelatin derived from bone cartilage contributes flavor, texture and very important nutrients. You can use a variety of different bones to make your stock. Knuckle bones, neck bones, shank bones, ox tails and chicken feet have the most cartilage. Younger animals have more cartilage than older animals, which is why chefs favor veal bones. You’ll know you’ve succeeded at making a gelatin-rich stock if it’s thick and jiggly (like a savory Jello) when refrigerated.

Any type of animal bone can be used to make stock, although cow, chicken and fish are most common. Soup bones are sold in the meat department of grocery stores and can be bought in larger quantities from butchers and farmers’ markets if you order ahead. You can also just save bones at the end of your meals and freeze them until you are ready to make stock. For fish bones, ask the fish counter if they’ll set aside the bones and heads of fish they clean that day.

The second thing you need for stock-making is a blend of chopped onion, carrot and celery known in restaurant kitchens as mirepoix. The ratio for mirepoix should be roughly 50% onion and 25% of both carrot and celery. This blend of vegetables will be strained out at the end so don’t worry about cutting them perfectly, but do try to keep the pieces fairly small and about the same size. Herbs and spices also flavor the stock and can be tied up in cheesecloth or simply thrown in the pot. Lastly, you need cold water. Start with cold water because it helps promote the extraction of protein and collagen from the bones.

We’ve shared our secrets for chicken stock before, so this time we’re going to focus on beef stock. For roughly 2 quarts of stock, you’ll need:

  • 4 pounds of bones
  • 2 onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 4 quarts cold water (as a general rule, use one quart of water for every pound of bones then add more if needed to fully cover bones)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 parsley stems
  • a large pinch of black peppercorns

The secret to a really richly flavored stock is roasting the bones before simmering, although this step is used much less often for chicken stock and fish stock. Some (not professional chefs, however) even say that roasting the bones can be skipped entirely without hugely compromising flavor. If you are making a beef-based stock and choose to roast the bones, make sure they are cut into smallish pieces (3-4 inches) and do not wash the bones since the wet bones will not brown well.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place the bones in a roasting pan, drizzled with a little oil. Stir occasionally, to make sure all sides brown but do not burn. After a half hour, add the mirepoix (some cooks mix a few tablespoons of tomato paste in with the mirepoix to intensify the flavor).

Roast at least another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, and up to another hour or so until bones and vegetables are well browned. When roasting is complete, combine the bones and vegetables in a large pot with water, bay leaves, parsley and peppercorns. Do not add the fat in the roasting pan to the stock pot – reserve it for another use. Once the fat is drained out, add a little water or wine to the roasting pan to loosen all the caramelized bits and scrape them into the stock pot.

If skipping the roasting step, then simply brown the bones and vegetables with a few tablespoons of oil in a stock pot for 5-10 minutes before adding water, herbs and spices.

Simmer over medium heat without a lid for 3-5 hours. If needed, add a little water during this process to keep the bones covered with liquid. If a lot of foam collects on top of the stock, skim it off occasionally.

Strain the stock to remove all solids.

Cool to room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely. You can then freeze the stock in containers or freezer bags for future use. Do not be disappointed if your stock does not have rich, amazing flavor at this point. Remember, it has no salt added and it needs to be reduced even more during the soup-making process to really bring out the flavor.


Now that you’ve got your stock, you need to put something in it. For soup to truly be a one-pot meal, the first thing in the pot should be protein. For beef soups, tougher and therefore less-expensive cuts from the chuck, shank and round are just the thing. Season the beef with salt and pepper and sauté a few minutes in oil to brown the meat before adding stock to the pot. Simmer partially covered with a lid until the beef is tender and pulls apart easily with a fork, usually 1-2 hours. This same method can be used for pork and lamb.

If you’re in a hurry, use a tender cut of beef or pork and simply add thin slices to already simmering stock. Ground meat is another quick addition to soup – either in the form of small meatballs or by quickly sautéing the ground meat before adding stock to make a little something one of our grandmother’s called “hamburger soup.”

If you have chicken stock on hand, you can’t go wrong with simple Chicken Soup or a variation like Chicken Shrimp Soup. If you’re in a hurry, just cut up bite-sized chunks of raw chicken and toss them in with simmering stock. The chicken will cook in ten minutes or less. Seafood of all kinds also cooks quickly in a pot of simmering stock, usually in a matter of minutes.


We’re not saying we wouldn’t be happy with just a bowl full of meat, but for the sake of balance it’s always good to add some veggies. And don’t be shy – this is a great chance to empty out your produce drawer. Chop veggies into chunks that are the same size so they cook uniformly and don’t add all the veggies at once. Start with those that take the longest cooking time – beets, parsnip, rutabagas and squash usually need a half hour to simmer into softness. Next, add vegetables like cabbage, carrots and cauliflower, which need 10-15 minutes. Five to ten minutes before taking soup off the stove, add faster-cooking vegetables like broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, kale and beet greens. In a real hurry? Use frozen vegetables, which cook up in a matter of minutes.

Seasonings and Other Flavors

Broth made from homemade stock has a rich, full flavor that eliminates the need for excessively seasoning the soup. However, you’ll probably want to add just a little salt, since stock doesn’t have any in it, and maybe a bit of pepper. Beyond that, any additional flavors you add depend on what you’re in the mood for. Fresh herbs add a lot of flavor to soup, as do spices like star anise or even a cinnamon stick. Minced ginger gives soup a healthy kick, and pairs especially well with broth that has a little tamari or sesame oil drizzled into it. Any Italians out there will tell you that letting the rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese melt into a pot of soup will increase its flavor, and they’re right.


The easiest way to change the texture of soup is by drizzling in a little something creamy – we love Thai-inspired soups with a coconut broth and have been known to simply pour a can of coconut milk into a batch of chicken soup while it simmers. A little whole cream can also be added right before you serve soup, but don’t bother with half and half (it will curdle in hot liquids). Adding canned tomatoes in their juice or pureed tomatoes can also completely change a soup’s texture. Both cream and tomatoes are added to Artic Char Chowder, for the best of both worlds.

For creamy texture without adding ingredients, throw the soup in a blender (this works best for veggies soups, unless you’re into pureed meat). If you want a super-silky texture, blend the soup then push it through a mesh strainer. If pureed soups make you think of baby food, then blend only half the soup and leave the other half chunky.

So there you have it. For the perfect Primal soup, start with stock that is rich in flavor and nutrients. Add some protein, then some vegetables and any other desired seasonings or flavors. If you have stock stored up in your freezer, you can defrost it and be eating your soup in less than an hour. If you don’t have stock on hand, set aside three to four hours for soup-making but keep in mind that only a fraction of this time involves you actually cooking; mostly, the soup will be simmering unattended on the stove. The great thing about soup is that it tastes even better the next day, so spend some time cooking on a weekend and you’ll have lunch or dinner taken care of for the next day or two.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve tasted the amazing flavor of soup made entirely from scratch, then be prepared to fall in love with this recipe for Spare Rib Vegetable Soup. It doesn’t require making the stock ahead of time, instead, stock-making is incorporated into the process.

Spare Rib Vegetable Soup


  • 3 pounds of beef short ribs
  • Olive oil for browning meat
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and more for flavoring at the end
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks. Cut off the beet greens and save on the side.
  • 1 large turnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 –1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 a head of cabbage, shredded


Lightly salt the short ribs. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a stockpot on high heat, and brown the short ribs in batches on all sides. If the pot begins to smoke, turn the heat down to medium.

Remove the browned ribs from the pot.

Add vinegar and stir it around to loosen up any bits on the bottom of the pot. With the heat on medium, add onions and garlic. Brown the onions and garlic then return the meat to the pot and add 10 cups of water, or just enough to cover the ribs. Partially cover and simmer for 2.5 – 3 hours. If needed, add a little extra water to the pot while simmering to keep ribs covered in liquid.

Remove the meat from the pot and cut it off the bone – the meat should be tender and easily pull apart. If there is excess fat or gristle, return what you want to the pot and discard the rest.

Return the meat to the soup pot and add beets, turnip and canned tomatoes.

Simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, dill and cabbage. Simmer ten minutes more. Chop the beet greens up and add during the last five minutes of cooking.

Adjust the flavor of the soup with salt and pepper if needed. Drizzle a little apple cider vinegar into the broth to heighten the flavor. The soup will have even richer flavor the day after it is made.

Challenge #1: Eat Lots of Plants and Animals

This is the mini-challenge relevant to this post:

Cook at home: If you don’t know how to cook the challenge above really will be a challenge. Over the next 30 days we’ll be covering some essential cooking skills and techniques that anyone looking to go Primal should master. If you’re the type that dines out more often than dining in, and doesn’t know a pot from a pan, make an effort this month to get into the habit of preparing your own food.

(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)

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53 thoughts on “The Perfect Pot of Primal Soup”

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  1. Perfectly timed post. I’ve been making chicken bone and beef bone broth for the last two days. Clearing out all of the carcasses, chicken feet, and beef bones and getting ready for my delivery of chickens and beef for the year. Nothing better than pulling rich stock out of the freezer when you want it.

  2. Another take on roasting the bones:

    Roasting the bones before simmering is usually done to make a darker broth that you’d use for cooking other dishes (curries, stews…). Meanwhile not roasting the bones will make lighter broth that would be used for soup.

  3. I just can’t seem to get a beefy flavor from my stock. Do different bones create different flavors?

    1. The bones don’t create the flavour so much as the meat does. If you want flavourful stock, at least if you want meat flavour, you’ll want to sacrifice some meat.

      1. With respect this advice flies in the face of hundreds of years of culinary practice.

    2. Meat does *not* add any significant flavour to a stock, the bones do. The issue is that you need to reduce the stock to the point where you find the flavour how you like it.

      What’s missing in the instructions is the reduction part of making stock which is essential if you don’t want to end up with watery flavourless stock:

      Make the stock, filter / separate the broth from the bones and ingredients. Put that unreduced stock in a pot and make note of where the level is in the pot when you start. Boil it hard until it’s reduced by half, take a spoonfull, sprinkle a *little* salt in the spoonful and taste.

      Reduce until it tastes delicious.

      Never put salt directly into the pot, save that for the actual meal you cook with the stock.

      Always taste it with a little salt to ensure you know what it will really taste like when used in a meal.

      Putting meat in your stock is a waste of meat.

  4. I have fresh rabbit stew in my fridge for tonight! I had to modify the recipe since I don’t have a slow cooker or Dutch oven, but I think it’s going to taste great!

  5. I make soup often in my pressure cooker. Cuts the prep time quite a bit.

  6. yay! I have been making & saving stocks the past couple weeks. I freeze it in ice cube trays & put the cubes in bags. I have duck, lamb, & pork so far. I used a few cubes of the lamb in the broth I was cooking a bison brisket in.

  7. I made turkey jerky recently and took the left over carcases and made turkey stock then canned it my self. From four carcases I got 6 qts of stock and 3 qts of stock with meat for soup starter. I really like the idea about saving the bones in the freezer till I have enough to make all the canning worth while. Thanks Mark…appreciate ya!

  8. I save shrimp shells in the freezer until I have a few pounds, and do a six hour simmer with them. Makes the best gumbo imaginable. Even better than 20 hour turkey stock. It makes the house smell a little weird…

  9. Thankyou for this post! I was planning on trying to make my own beef and chicken stock tomorrow for a delicious beef soup tomorrow night. That beef shortrib and vegetable soup has me drooling. It will be my weekend pièce de résistance

  10. My go-to soup is whole-chicken soup in the crockpot. Put a whole chicken in the crockpot, halve some carrots and an onion and toss them in also, and cover with water and a small bit of salt. Cook on low for 8 hours, then pour the liquid out of the crockpot, through a strainer/cheesecloth into a big pot. Pull out the veg and dice them and add to the stock, and leave the chicken in the crockpot as you pull the meat off of the bones and place the meat in the stock. Season to taste, add more vegetables if desired (I like cabbage “noodles”), simmer. Eat!

  11. When I spatchcock a whole chicken, I save the backbone and wing tips in the freezer until I have enough to make a good chicken stock.

  12. That last picture looks like it’s full of blood…very primal!

    Seriously though, these soups look wonderful. I’m going to try the spare rib soup!

  13. What a great post! Very inspiring. Firing up the crock pot tonight. I agree about cabbage “noodles” I go to those often.

  14. Wow, this looks amazing. I love the color.

    Oh, and switching from canned/boxed broths to homemade has been the single biggest factor in eliminating my migraine headaches, as far as I can tell. Industrial broths use shortcuts to add flavorings that usually come from simmering knuckle bones and meat for hours, and those flavorings can be migraine or fibromyalgia triggers.

  15. The otherwise excellent article forgot to mention the other half of the job of making stock:

    The initial stock you make will be watery and flavorless and needs to be reduced before freezing for three reasons:

    1) It’s watery and flavorless if you don’t reduce it.

    2) It saves an enormous amount of freezer space when you condense it before freezing.

    3) The texture of reduced stock is creamy and silky on the tongue and is at least half the reason to use homemade stock and avoid the watery grocery store bought in the first place.

    Remove the bones and other stuff, boil it down hard until it’s reduced by at least half, then start tasting it in a spoon with a little salt added to the spoonful to get an idea of the final flavor in a dish.

    Keep reducing and tasting until it’s succulent and perfect but be careful, it reduces faster and faster as the volume decreases.

    You can always add the water back later to your condensed stock if you actually like it watery and flavorless.

  16. I always make stock in the crockpot. I just put the ingredients in the morning, and it’s ready to make soup out of by the time I want to start making dinner! The extra advantage is that I never accidentally boil the stock (which ruins it, in my opinion).

    Also, I’ve heard it’s good to soak the bones in the cold water with a splash of vinegar for half an hour before turning on the heat, as this helps extract the minerals. I always do this, and my stock gels really well!

  17. Oh, and I forgot to mention – sour cream or yogurt are excellent stirred into soup as a thickener! To preserve the probiotics, let the soup cool until it’s not too hot to touch before adding the sour cream.

  18. Oh gawd, this post makes my mouth water… we’re almost into soup-making season. We’re getting our new side of beef next month…

  19. i know the meat soup broth is much tastier but hubbie is a vegetarian. last time i made stock it sucked – tasted just like garlic and nothing else.
    anyone got a good healthy tasty veggie stock recipe? I can add egg to it later in the soup base to up the protein.

  20. This makes me hungry. I have a huge bag of lamb bones left over from the lamb we bought this past spring. Definitely need to make a version of this soup using those bones for stock.

  21. I cook a seasoned 2lb chuck arm roast every couple of weeks in a crockpot with some water.The broth I have left over I use for a base with my soups.

  22. Canned tomatoes? really? I cringe at the thought of tomatoes from a can. The soup looks delicious- just a few substitutions needed.

  23. That rib soup looks amazing. I like to save poultry bones in the freezer and then make a double strength stock for rich holiday cooking, and for helping fend off the common cold through the winter months!

  24. Excellent – coming into a cold British winter, soup has to be a staple belly warmer! All the more better for making it a healthy one.

    It’s far more satisfying and tasty to make your own from scratch than from a tin. We can all do it and you don’t need a blender…

    I like to blend nuts and seeds though to help thicken up my soups sometimes.

  25. Hi – I’m not a big fan of beets – what’s a good substitution for the spare rib soup? I was thinking sweet potatoes but they don’t have the additional greens. Thanks!

    1. I’d like to know a substitute for beet also…tried them multiple times, and just can develop a taste for them:)

  26. I reduce the finished stock down to less than a quarter of the original volume, let it cool into a thick jelly, then open freeze it in spoonfuls on a baking sheet and just keep the lumps in a bag in the freezer. I throw chunks of this frozen goo into all kinds of things – stews, soups, casseroles, curries. Easy and saves space in the freezer.

    Guess you could eat it like jelly/jello too. Primal dessert.

  27. Thank you thank you thank you! My husband, for his birthday, bought himself a giant pot so that we could make like, a LOT of soup–around four gallons. It’s his favorite thing in the world to eat (next to straight up steak) and he thought it’d be cool to have a week’s worth at the ready. But we’re getting tired of the same old soups. This one is the ultimate recipe and I’m so trying it this week! THANKS!

  28. looking forward to lots o soup as the weather cools! i’ve already started my stock collection, let’s see how long it takes me to fill the freezer…not long!

  29. I started putting kelp noodles in my chicken ‘noodle’ soup. Kids call the noodles glow noodles, and enjoy slurping them up as much as any other noodle.

  30. A good idea with chicken stock is to eat any cartlidge or scrap chicken off the bones before you throw them out. This involves letting the stock cool down and then simply sucking all the goodness off each bone before you throw it out. The best form of glucosomine chondroitan known to man. Cured my dodgy knee and NEVER miss doing it. Knee great now and really tasty treat.

  31. I made the spare rib vegi soup last night and it was amazing. The stock was not flavorful enough so I had to add some concentrated beef stock, but I’ll get it right next time. Turnips and beets in a soup were great. I will definitely make this soup again.

    1. Of course not, you have to reduce the stock first until it *is* tasty. They forgot to include that step in the article.

      Raw stock is watery and tasteless for the most part, it’s the reduction that makes it delicious and velvety.

      1. Good point 🙂 Does that mean I should start with more water than the recipe calls for so that I have enough stock after the reduction?

        1. Just enough water to cover the bones in my experience. Too much and you’ll be reducing forever.

  32. idk, I’ve been making soup for 30+ years, never called it primal anything.
    just a tidbit, skip the bay leaf (it doesn’t belong) add turnip and parsnip. Pepper is a person taste thing, go very easy on it. (fresh ground is better or someone may wind up with an unpleasant surprise.)

    Hey what do you want from someone adding canned tomatoes!!! lol amateurs!

  33. I finally made chicken bone broth yesterday and used the broth in soup. Within a couple hours I had a sore throat and was very sick all day! This is not what I expected! Today while I was sick the broth was not at all appealing, but I thought it would help make me feel better. Any ideas of what’s going on?

    1. I was just about to post the same thing! It is borscht but replaces potatoes with turnips. Still, I’ll make this recipe again – very good!

  34. YUM… just got a bag o bones the other day…MAMAS MAKIN BORSCHT!! 😀

  35. My fiancee and I raise grass fed cows, just for tax exemption and because the land has been in our family for a hundred years. We get our meat butchered locally, and when they package the soup bones, they ALWAYS have meat attached. Does anyone know if the weight ratios for making broth should be adjusted? Ours is DELICIOUS, but I often wonder if it has enough of the goof for you stuff. Each slow cooker batch usually has 4-5 large circular bones that are about 3 inches across. Thanks for the help guys!

  36. Really great post – looking forward to trying the short rib soup!
    I’m really surprised to see something missing, though, vinegar! I’m new to paleo and wasn’t sure at first if vinegar was paleo, but noticed apple cider vinegar being added to a soup.
    Vinegar is really important in the initial broth making because during the cooking process the acid is necessary to draw minerals out of the bones such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium.
    I found a time saving trick in freezing broth in ice cube trays. You can even stick fresh herbs in with the broth so you are sure to have ‘fresh’ instead of dried when cooking on the go. If its going to be in your freezer longer then maybe pop out the cubes and put them in a bag to keep longer.

  37. Really great post – looking forward to trying the short rib soup!
    I’m really surprised to see something missing, though, vinegar! I’m new to paleo and wasn’t sure at first if vinegar was paleo, but noticed apple cider vinegar being added to a soup.
    Vinegar is really important in the initial broth making because during the cooking process the acid is necessary to draw minerals out of the bones such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium.
    I found a time saving trick in freezing broth in ice cube trays. You can even stick fresh herbs in with the broth so you are sure to have ‘fresh’ instead of dried when cooking on the go. If its going to be in your freezer longer then maybe pop out the cubes and put them in a bag to keep longer.

    A few sources I use: (but will now add this site to my list!)
    “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon, 1995. Has excellent info about meat and cholesterol being necessary in diet not to mention a ton of stuff that I think helps support paleo) (great info on the nutritional value of making your own broth – anti-inflamitory, getting oxygen into your blood, etc)

    It’s science! 🙂

  38. Tried my first batch of bone stock a couple weeks ago, which I then used to make the best chili I’ve ever had (which says a lot, since the same recipe with boxed stock, and grain fed bovine was already the best chili I had ever had).

    Couple tips:

    First, as mentioned above, vinegar is important (1/2 cup per 4 litres of water) to help extract minerals from the bones.

    Second, people mentioned that you have to let it reduce by half to have any flavour. Most recipes I found recommended letting it simmer for 24-72 hours, as opposed to the 3 hours in this recipe. I simmered for 72 hours, lost only about an inch of water during that time, and there was no need to reduce any further (plus many more nutrients were likely extracted). I wasn’t impressed with the flavour at first, then I added a bit of sea salt, and proceeded to drink about three cups of it!

  39. I finally made chicken bone broth yesterday and used the broth in soup. Within a couple hours I had a sore throat and was very sick all day! This is not what I expected! Today while I was sick the broth was not at all appealing, but I thought it would help make me feel better. Any ideas of what’s going on?