The Food Lab's Beef Pho Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • A mix of beef shins, oxtail, chuck, and brisket creates a rich, intensely beefy broth.
  • For a crystal clear, yet deeply colored and flavorful broth, par-boil the beef.
  • Deeply charred onions and ginger adds smokiness and complexity to the broth.

I've always had a thing for pho, but my interest in it took a sharp uptick when I moved to Boston for college, an event that brought with it two pro-pho side effects. Firstly, a close proximity to one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the Northeast: a short ride to Dorchester and you have yourself the pick of some of the finest noodle shops and French-Vietnamese bakeries I've experienced outside of Vietnam. Secondly, and more importantly, a massive increase in the number of hangovers I experienced and the need for hot, brothy, salty, and soothing beef noodle soup to battle them with.

The Food Lab's Beef Pho Recipe (1)

There are few things better for the soul or the body than a tangle of slick rice noodles in a rich, crystal clear, intensely beefy broth; the warm aroma of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise rising up in a cloud of steam. The intensely savory-salty hint of fish sauce balanced by a squeeze of lime juice and a handful of fresh herbs and chiles that you add to your bowl as you eat. Perhaps gelatinous boiled beef parts are not everyone's idea of the best hangover cure (I know for a fact thatLeandrahas trouble with it when she's feeling fragile), and that's ok—the beauty of pho is that once you've got the broth and the noodles, everything else is totally customizable.

It was with a heavy heart that I moved back to New York a few years ago, knowing full well that while the Big Apple may be aramen-mecca, the insipid, overly-sweetened broths that pass for pho around here leave more than a little something to be desired.

The solution?Just make huge batches of broth at home and freeze it for when the desire strikes.

Modern Vietnamese cuisine is an amalgam of Southeast Asian ingredients and French technique imported during the years of the French Protectorate. The etymology of the word pho is up for debate, but most sources seem to agree that the most likely origin is from the French word for fire,feu. The similarities between Vietnamese pho and Frenchpot-au-feuare large. Both are dishes of broth made by simmering various beef parts with aromatics in water. Both are served with the boiled beef used for making the broth along with some vegetables. Both come with powerful, pungent condiments to accompany the broth: In the French case it's mustard and pickles, while in Vietnam it's herbs and chiles.

Though the most traditional Northern Vietnamese versions of the dish are simple affairs with very few accompaniments, when the dish eventually spread to the South, a slew of herbs, aromatics, and sauces for diners to add to their bowls as they see fit were added. These days, hoisin sauce, Sriracha, and lime juice are ubiquitous in both the Southandthe North, and are standard in American Vietnamese communities.

But let's get back to the basics. Like all good French-style broths, pho starts with the right cuts of meat.

The Stars: Beef Parts

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While versions of pho made with chicken or even pork do exist in Vietnam and out, the classic broth is made with and served with beef. But which cuts are best? I boiled my way through a half dozen popular options before mixing-and-matching to create my ideal pho blend. Here are some cuts to consider:


The Food Lab's Beef Pho Recipe (3)

Slices of the cows leg taken below the knee, shin is one of the hardest working parts of the cow, riddled with connective tissue and a huge eye of marrow to boot. These factors are important. Connective tissue is made largely ofcollagen, a protein that breaks down intogelatinas it cooks, and we all know that gelatin is what gives a good broth its rich body and mouth-coating texture.

Bone marrowis made largely of fat, but it's packed with deep beefy flavor. Stocks made with an abundance of marrow ended up with a slick pool of rendered beef fat on the surface that needed to either be strained or chilled and removed, but the depth of flavor a good amount of marrow added was undeniable.

Finally, beef shin has plenty ofmuscle tissue, which not only adds flavor of its own, but can be added back to the soup for serving.

If I was going to pick one single cut that balanced good flavor, fattiness, a nice amount of meat to serve in the soup, and low cost, shin would be it.

But we don't have to limit ourselves to one cut. Let's consider some more.


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Oxtail shares many similar qualities with shin meat, though it has a higher ratio of fat and connective tissue. In my local markets, it's also a little pricier, as it's a more popular cut and each cow has only one tail. If you are a fiend for fat and cartilage and don't mind picking bits of meat out from around the oddly-shaped, oxtail is a good substitute for shin.

Or go wild and use both.

Leg Bone

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This is a classic base for the broth, which is, after all, derived from French techniques designed to utilize all parts of an animal. Believe it or not, pho is a remarkably recent dish. The first pho restaurant was opened in Hanoi in 1920, and the dish itself was developed only decades before that. Until the French Protectorate, beef was rarely consumed in Vietnam—cows were more valuable as pack animals. (You see a similar history of beef consumption in other Asian countries, notably Japan.)

French broths are made with bones not because bones make for the absolute best broth out there, but because there's really not much else you can do with a bone other than boil it and extract as much flavor as possible.

So does it make sense to use leg bones in a modern context where, at least in this country, other cuts of beef are relatively inexpensive to begin with?

It all depends on your priorities. Certainly a cut like shin or oxtail offers better flavor in a more compact package, so when I'm making a small batch of pho, I'll skip the bones. But the fact remains that beef bones are stillverycheap here, which makes them a good choice for large batches of soup which can quickly get costly.


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More readily available than any of the first three cuts, chuck makes for a beefy and intense broth with plenty of fat and connective tissue for body. The problem is the amount of cooked meat you end up with. For some folks, a big bowl of broth packed with large chunks or shreds of beef might be ideal, but I end up getting meat overload. I like to include a small bit of chuck in my mix for the variety it offers, but only a small bit.


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Brisket is packed with flavor, but it has a profile that is brighter and more liver-y than the deeper, richer flavor of chuck. A broth made with brisket alone proved to be watery and thin. Simmered brisket, sliced and served on top of the noodles, however, is a treat. I like to include a piece of brisket in my mix as well.


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Like brisket, flank doesn't add much to the broth itself. Unlike brisket, it's not particularly pleasant to eat when long-simmered. I find it lean, dry, and stringy (though I know some folks who love it). I prefer to leave the flank out of the soup and save it for shaving into thin raw slices to poach gently in the hot broth as the dish is served.

After tasting all of the individual single-malt (as they were) broths, I landed on a mix of three parts (by weight) shin to two parts oxtail for the base flavor of the broth, along with one part each of chuck and brisket, which gives you plenty of meat and gelatinous connective tissue to chop and serve with the dish.

Seeking Clarity: How to Make a Clear Pho Broth

One of the prerequisites for top-notch pho is that, like a French consommé, the broth should be crystal clear when you are finished with it.So what causes a broth to cloud up?Two things: dissolved proteins and minerals extracted from the meat and bones, and emulsified fat.

There are a number of ways to deal with these impurities. I first tried using the traditional French consommé method—straining the finished broth through a fine-mesh strainer, then re-simmering it along with ground meat and vegetables mixed with beaten egg whites. As the broth cooks, the egg whites form a matrix of coagulated proteins that trap the ground meat and vegetables, forming a thick "raft" that floats on the top of the stock. As the stock slowly simmers, it bubbles over the top of that raft and filters down through this network of proteins. Any impurities and dissolved solids get trapped in the fine mesh, leaving a clear soup below.

The method works, but it's also a pain in thecul.

Much easier is to use the par-boil method. You'll notice that when you begin making a stock, all sorts of scum and detritus rise up through the water within the first 15 to 20 minutes of cooking. It's this gunk that's largely responsible for cloudy, murky, dark broths, and to top it off, it's not particularly flavorful. By boiling your meat for 15 minutes, dumping out the water, scrubbing the coagulated proteins from the outside of the parts, and starting a fresh broth, you save yourself 90% of the careful skimming and clarifying work you'd have to do otherwise.

With this method and my beef blend, I had a broth that was crystal clear, yet deeply colored and flavorful. Time to move on.

The Aromatics

The aromatics in pho are relatively straightforward. The major element—the one that gives pho shops their distinctive aroma—is in the spices.

The Spices

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Cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and star anise are common, with cardamom and coriander often making a guest appearance. I personally find the cardamom and coriander a bit too overwhelming, masking the beefy flavor that I've worked hard to achieve, so I leave them out.

The key to good spice aroma is to get yourself some good, fresh spices. Despite the fact that they're dried, spicesdolose flavor and aroma over time. Think of a cinnamon stick as a small bottle of perfume. Every time you open up that jar and get a whiff, it's like spraying a bit of that perfume in the air. Eventually, the bottle runs dry, and you're left with insipid spices.

I know more than one home cook who is guilty of having a jar of 12-year-old paprika in their spice cabinet. Come on guys, raise your hands. We'll help you work through it.

Andneversettle for those pre-packaged pho spice blends. Who knows how old those spices are? It's just as easy to make your own spice blend, which offers the advantage of being able to customize it to suit your own tastes.

In the interest of completeness, I made broths using both whole spices and ground spices. I do not recommend using ground spices, unless you want to be sipping on cloudy, gritty soup.

Onions and Ginger

The only other elements in a pho broth are onions and ginger—deeply charredonions and ginger, that is. They not only add an appealing smokiness and complexity to the broth, but the onions also begin to cook, imparting a sweetness that's essential to a well-balanced soup.

Traditionally, they'd be charred over a grill or directly in the embers of a fire. I don't have that luxury at home*, so an alternative method is necessary.

*though it might be a good idea to char a few onions and ginger knobs next time you light up the grill and save them for your next batch of pho!

Many recipes recommend broiling them until they char. What you end up with is this:

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Onions that are only mildly charred and ginger that is more shriveled and dried than blackened. It doesn't make for terrible soup, and if it's your only option, it'll do you fine, but there's a better way if you have a gas burner. Charring them directly over the flame results in deeply blackened vegetables that still retain all their moisture and flavor. You can use a pair of tongs to hold each one over the flame, but it's a slow process. I just use a wire cooling rack set directly over the burner (I'm not kind to my cooling racks).

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When split, you should be able to see the layer of blackened skin on the exterior, followed by a few layers of sweet, translucent, semi-cooked onion, followed by a raw core. All these various levels of cooking make for a more complex finished broth.

Now all you need is to simmer, simmer, simmer away, making sure to remove the brisket and chuck about an hour and a half into cooking to prevent them from becoming too stringy. I found that for optimum flavor, a boil time of at least five hours produced the best flavor. You can go as long as a day (and some recipes call for it!), but I found very little change after those initial five hours.

The broth traditionally gets finished off with a shot of salty fish sauce, and a hunk of yellow rock sugar (you can find these in most Asian grocers, sometimes sold as rock candy).

Ready to Serve

Like Halloween or a good bondage party, half the fun with pho is in dressing it up. Rather than serving the pre-made bowls of soup you get in restaurants, I like to serve bowls of plain noodles and broth, letting diners pick and choose exactly what to put into it.

If you've done everything according to directions up to now, you should have some or all of the following:

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See all the different textures? Chewy and gelatinous, moist and tender, slick and raw, oozy, beefy, what have you. This is what makes you go back bite after bite. If you're really in the mood to stir up trouble, you can add a handful of ribbon tripe to the simmering broth. Its crunchy, chewy, papillated* texture is not for everyone, but then again neither is being awesome.

*I looked up this word to double check that it was indeed a real word and got this: "From papilla: A small nipplelike projection." Which would make Yuba the most papillated dog I know.

Most Vietnamese restaurants will serve both hoisin and sriracha on the side to squirt into your pho, but I've never been a fan of either—my working theory is that they started out as a way to add a much-needed jolt of flavor to a poorly-constructed broth, which is definitely not what we've got here. Then again, I'm not the kind of guy to stop adulterators from adulterating.

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Moral of the story:put the stuff out, but make sure that your gueststastethe broth that you've worked so damn hard on before they go and mess it up with that rooster sauce.

Put it all together, and boom:

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Pho-king phabulous. (Sorry for that).

September 2012

Recipe Details

The Food Lab's Beef Pho

Prep20 mins

Cook6 hrs 20 mins

Active60 mins

Total6 hrs 40 mins

Serves6to 8 servings


  • 2 large onions, split in half

  • 1 large hand ginger (about 6 inches long), split in half lengthwise

  • 3 pounds beef shin, with meat attached

  • 2 pounds oxtail, cut into 1/2 to 1-inch thick slices

  • 1 pound bonelessbeef chuck

  • 1 pound beef brisket

  • 3 whole star anise pods

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

  • 4 cloves

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

  • 1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste

  • 2 tablespoons sugar (preferably yellow rock sugar)

  • Kosher salt

To Serve:

  • 6 to 8 servings pho noodles

  • 1 pound beef flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain

  • 2 to 3 cups mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, and mint)

  • 2 to 3 cups trimmed bean sprouts

  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions

  • Thinly sliced Thai chiles

  • 2 limes, each cut into 4 wedges

  • Hoisin sauce and Sriracha


  1. Place a wire cooling rack or grill grate directly over the flame of a gas burner set on high. Place onions and ginger on top and cook, turning occasionally, until deeply blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Alternatively, adjust oven rack to 3 to 4 inches from broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place onions and ginger on a foil-lined broiler tray. Broil, turning occasionally, until charred on all surfaces, about 25 minutes total. Set aside.

    The Food Lab's Beef Pho Recipe (15)

  2. Meanwhile, combine beef shins, oxtail, chuck, and brisket in a large stockpot. Cover with cool water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 15 minutes, then dump water and meat into sink. When cool enough to handle, rinse parts under cool running tap water, carefully scrubbing debris off of any bones and out of cracks in the meat, then return them to the pot. Cover with cool water.

    The Food Lab's Beef Pho Recipe (16)

  3. Add charred onions, ginger, anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, coriander, fish sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a bare simmer, and cook, skimming occasionally, until brisket and chuck are tender but not falling apart, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer brisket and chuck to a small bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

  4. Continue simmering broth for a further 4 hours, topping up with water as necessary. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer. If desired, pick meat and connective tissue from oxtails and beef shins. Discard bones and aromatics. You should end up with about 4 quarts broth. Dilute with water or reduce as necessary to reach 4 quarts. Keep hot.

  5. Carefully skim fat off of surface of broth and discard. Season broth to taste with additional fish sauce, salt, and/or sugar. It should be highly seasoned. Slice cooked beef into thin slices or rough chunks.

  6. Prepare pho noodles according to package directions. To serve, place re-hydrated noodles in individual noodle bowls. Pour hot broth over noodles. Serve immediately, allowing guests to top with cooked meat and slices of raw flank steak, herbs, aromatics, lime, and sauce as they wish.

    The Food Lab's Beef Pho Recipe (17)

Special Equipment

Wire cooling rack, stock pot


The onions and ginger can also be charred over a grill.

The Food Lab's Beef Pho Recipe (2024)


What is the secret ingredient in pho broth? ›

Sa sung—dried peanut worms—have been described as the secret ingredient of great pho.

What makes pho broth taste so good? ›

Broth - the soul of Pho. Beef bones play a crucial role in influencing the quality of the broth. Combined with spices such as ginger, charred onions, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and coriander seeds, the broth gains a distinct aroma.

What is beef pho broth made of? ›

True pho broth is a long-simmered affair, combining chicken or beef bones (or both!) with aromatics like onions and ginger to make a deeply rich, deeply savory broth. Making a great broth is a process that takes hours — sometimes days.

Is pho broth anti inflammatory? ›

Pho is very nutritious. From its ingredients, it's been shown to reduce inflammation and improve joint health. If you suffer from something like chronic pain or arthritis, you may want to entertain the idea of enjoying more pho. The broth particularly can be very anti-inflammation.

What are the sea worms in pho? ›

What is Sá Sùng? The secret flavor bomb in that bowl of Phở They're marine (sea) worms that were first described in 1827 by a French zoologist. There are over 140 different kinds of these delicious flavor bombs, and some are teeny tiny (2 millimeters long) while others can be as long as 28 inches.

What's the difference between beef broth and pho broth? ›

One of the key differences is the spices used in the broth. Pho broth typically contains a combination of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, coriander, fennel seeds, and ginger, which give it a warm, aromatic flavor that is unique to this type of broth.

Is pho broth the same as beef broth? ›

If you're wondering what sets pho broth apart from regular beef bone broth, it's all the added spices and aromatics. I know that there's a lot of them, but they're each incredibly important.

Do you put raw steak in pho? ›

Pho is often served with meatballs, sliced cooked brisket (don't be afraid to try it with smoked brisket, though it isn't traditional), and, as mentioned above, raw sliced beef that is added to the bowl to be cooked by the hot broth. The result is a fragrant symphony of unparalleled restorative goodness.

Should you remove the fat from pho broth? ›

Regardless of how "healthy" you want to aim for, do not skim and throw away this layer of fat. You can always stir lightly and exclude the fat as you ladle broth into your bowl as you serve.

Is pho broth good for your gut? ›

I would argue, absolutely. Not only are the benefits of bone broth numerous, including digestive repair, skin and joint health, but adding in healing spices and herbs boosts the benefits even more.

Do you put fish sauce in pho? ›

Vietnamese pho is all about the broth! In this authentic recipe, beef bones, fish sauce, star anise, and ginger simmer for at least 6 hours, creating a complex, aromatic broth that may not be quick, but it's certainly delicious.

How long does pho last in the fridge? ›

Storage: Once the bowls of pho are assembled, they're best enjoyed right away. The broth itself will last up to 5 days in the fridge. If possible, store the pho broth, toppings, and rice noodles separately for best results. Freeze: You can freeze the broth without the meat or toppings for up to three months.

Do you eat all the broth in pho? ›

It is important to finish your soup when eating pho. Leaving broth in your bowl is considered wasteful in Vietnamese culture.

Which noodles to use for pho? ›

Noodles: I use an 8 oz. package of dried rice vermicelli noodles, but you can use any kind of THIN rice noodles. Meat– chicken, pork, steak or raw shrimp. It's important to slice the meat as thinly as possible, against the grain.

How do you make pho broth taste better? ›

For the most interesting flavor, use a variety.
  1. Onion and fresh ginger: I love the onion and ginger in this broth. ...
  2. Pho spices: Our broth simmers with cinnamon sticks, whole coriander seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, cloves, and a black cardamom pod. ...
  3. Rock sugar: Sugar balances the savoriness of our beef broth.

What makes pho broth different? ›

Pho Broth Spices and Other ingredients

The spices are toasted to bring out the flavour before adding into the pot. And the ginger and onion are charred to add a subtle smokey flavour into the broth – a secret little step that adds that extra something-something to make this pho recipe authentic and traditional!

How do you enhance store bought pho broth? ›

Adding whole spices will add an earthiness to stock without overpowering the mixture—just look at the power of anise, cloves, and cinnamon in pho. Cardamom pods, allspice berries, cumin, coriander, yellow mustard, fennel, and peppercorns are all fair game.

How is pho broth so clear? ›

Hi korean recipes soak meat in cold water a half hour to remove blood and impurities before cooking to get a clear broth.

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