When it comes to making homemade beef Pho, I want to feel like I am eating at my favorite authentic vietnamese restaurant. I became obsessed learning how to make pho at home when I was pregnant with my second child. Pho sounded really amazing when nothing else did. Even with morning sickness which is crazy! At $10/bowl I had to learn to make it myself if I wanted to eat it regularly!
So, my pho obsession carried through till I got a steaming bowl exactly how I wanted it. Now we make huge pots of this broth on a regular basis. We freeze any leftover broth and heat it over the stove for another meal.
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How to make authentic tasting beef pho at home (also called pho bo)
If you want to know how to make incredible pho at home, all you need are the right ingredients and about 5 hours to let the broth cook and do it’s thing.
It’s all about the broth
Every Vietnamese street vender or household makes their pho broth (pronounced fuh) a little differently. What is important is that you like it! It took me about 3 pots of this, lots of YouTube, and comparing a ton of authentic pho recipes to get it exactly how I like it.
If you don’t know what it “should” taste like, go to a restaurant and order a bowl. It will help you to remember what one version tastes like and give you a feel for the color, flavor, etc of the broth.
We like our broth nice and salty, which comes from adding fish sauce and salt. I like the flavor of some of the fat too, though most Vietnamese skim off most the fat from the top.
I cook LOTS of meat because I hate getting to the last few bowls and not having that yummy slow boiled meat left.
What type of meat to buy for pho?
If you go to a pho restaurant, you’ll see many meat options based on your preference.
A basic bowl will come with beef brisket. Others will come with brisket (cooked) and raw sirloin (or similar) so thinly sliced that it cooks in the hot broth but keeps a slightly pink color.
Other versions you can include beef balls (found in the Asian food freezer section) or even tripe (cow intestine).
When I shop for meat, I look for a tough, less expensive cut that will cook in the broth. Usually a brisket, beef chuck, or some type of small roast.
We also love to buy high quality meat to thinly slice raw on top like sirloin. But you could skip this and have a great bowl of pho.
How much time does it take to make homemade pho broth?
I cook ours for 5 hours to bring full flavor to the broth. I’ve done longer (around 7 hours) and it tastes even better to me! I like to see the marrow dissolving out of the bone.
Keep your pot on simmer but not at a hard boil for the duration of cooking.
Toppings for Pho
- Cilantro (some restaurants do not add this, some do)
- Thai Basil
- Green onion, sliced
- Bean Sprout
- Lime wedge
- Rice Noodles (fresh from asian food market, or prepare dry noodles according to package)
- Paper thin sliced sirloin or tenter beef cut, raw
- Sriracha (optional…adds spicy chili flavor)
- Hoisin Sauce (optional…adds salty/its own distinct flavor)
Ingredients for beef pho broth in 12qt pot (approximately 10-12 portions):
You can print this recipe at the bottom of this post. You’ll need a 12 qt pot to fit everything in, plus an additional pot for boiling your noodles at the end. I recommend this large size because you get more broth for the same time and effort!
If you don’t have this size, you could use two smaller pots, and aim to divide all your ingredients in half.
5 lbs beef bones, aim for a mix of bones with marrow (like leg bones) and meat (like neck bones)
2 lbs or less beef brisket, or a tough cheap cut that will cook about 2 hours
1 Pho spice packet, found an an Asian Food Market or on Amazon
2 onions, halved
4 inches of whole ginger unpeeled, sliced
3 Tbsp rock sugar chunks
6 Tbsp fish sauce (I use 3 Crabs brand, add more to taste if you prefer it saltier)
1 Tbsp (or more to taste)
Step 1: Boil beef bone scum out
This step is SO important for a more clear broth!
Fill pot with enough water to cover all beef bone & brisket. Boil for 10 min and watch the scum float to the top! Dump everything into the sink and rinse scum off of bones & the sides of the pot.
Don’t worry, you won’t lose flavor by dumping this water. The flavor will come from simmering the beef bones and marrow over the next few hours.
Add brisket & bones back in to the pot, and fill with water.
Step 2: Char the ginger and onion
Don’t skip this step! It’s a big part of the deep flavor in your pho!
Slice ginger & onion and char them till slightly blackened. Then throw into pot. Confession: I have skipped this step before…at the expense of the flavor of my broth.
Every Vietnamese pho pro will first char their ginger and onion for fuller, deeper flavor. Street vendors tend to roast it over open fire, and in a house you can throw them under the broiler on a cookie sheet until browned, flipping so all sides char. This really makes it taste better!
Step 3: Dry roast the spices before adding to broth
Open pho spice packet and place all bigger pieces in a dry pan on low to medium heat. This only takes a couple of minutes. Shake pan or flip bigger spices, till browning begins and you will smell this amazing aroma!
Transfer spices from pan to the included mesh bag in your spice pack, then add the smaller spices to empty pan and cook one or two minutes until fragrant.
Note: If you don’t have a mesh bag (most pho spice packets come with one, you can put the spices right into the pot loose).
Add those to the bag, tie shut, and add to the pot.
I dry roast the big and small pieces separately because my first pho attempt I dumped all spices into the pan and the larger pieces barely blackened while the smaller pieces began to burn.
Will the spices make my broth too dark?
I find that my broth gets a little darker than the broth I see at restaurants. It tastes incredible, but does seem a tad darker. From what I’ve been able to find, it comes from the spices being cooked so long.
The main color burst comes out initially once the spices hit the hot water (similar to a tea bag).
This is an area I’m going to experiment with and will update this if I find taking out the spices early helps with lighter broth without sacrificing flavor.
Step 4: Remove hunk of pho meat so it does not overcook
Let cook on a low boil for about 2 hours or until tender, and then remove hunk of meat. I thinly slice it and put it away till serving hours later. I have mistakenly let the meat cook for 4+ hours and it got so overly dry. Still tasty, but way too crumbly in texture.
Continue cooking broth with bones and spices for minimum of 5 hours total, up to 8. The longer I have cooked the soup, the more bone marrow melts out, and flavors the broth.
If you have less bones, more cooking time will do you well for maximizing beef bone flavor. Once the meat hunk is out you can fill a bit more water into the pan, giving you about 1 bowl full more of broth.
Step 5: Add final salty and sweet flavors
At end of cooking, add fish sauce (a very salty ingredient and huge part of pho flavor), and salt. I have added these in the beginning and didn’t notice a difference. However I think it’s just easier to adjust it all at once at the end.
Don’t smell it, just dump it in. Trust me, it smells gross. And if it splashes on your counter, paper towel it up and toss, don’t touch the nasty stuff! Its magical and gross at the same time.
What type of fish sauce to buy for pho?
I asked the ladies at the Asian food market what fish sauce they use at home ( I assumed they steer away from low quality cheap fish sauce which supposedly tastes fishier).
They pointed me to Three Crabs fish sauce, easy to spot because the sticker has three crabs on it.
I knew it was good because some random guy saw me holding it and said, “Thats the best fish sauce ever! It’s the one my mom uses!”
Can you substitute white sugar for yellow rock sugar?
You can sub white sugar for rock sugar. But it will be a sweet flat flavor, not like the yellow rock sugar. I’ve done it, however, if the Vietnamese street venders don’t traditionally do that, I’m assuming its a step down in overall pho flavor. A huge box is just a couple bucks at an Asian food market.
Step 6: Boil Rice Noodles in Separate Pot
Once your broth is ready, prepare noodles according to package in separate pan of boiling water.
What type of noodles go in pho?
You can buy fresh or dried, and the easiest to find and store are the dried rice noodles. Get the ones that say small or medium on the package (refers to the thickness of the noodle).
Most Asian food stores have fresh noodle packets that you blanch in boiling water for a minute or so. These are the best!
But we use dry rice noodles all the time.
Never cook them in your pho broth! You’ll want to do that in a separate pot. That will leave cloudy thickened broth, yuck. Its okay to have lots of extra cooked up as they store well in the fridge.
Step 7: Lay out toppings on noodles and fill with broth
Now you just need to strain broth into filled noodle bowls. I usually skim off a little fat and extra scum, and then hold a strainer over the bowls and pour spoonfuls of broth right into the bowl. I strain the rest of the pot of broth usually way later after bellies are full 🙂
- 5 lbs beef bones (best to use a mix of bones with marrow and bones with meat)
- 2 lbs beef brisket or a tough cut such as a beef chuck
- 1 Pho spice packet, found at an Asian food market
- 2 onions, halved with peels still on
- 4 inch piece of ginger, unpeeled and sliced in half
- 3 Tbsp yellow rock sugar chunks
- 6 Tbsp fish sauce (more to taste for saltier broth)
- 1 Tbsp salt (or more to taste)
- Cooked rice noodles (fresh from Asian food store or dried and cooked according to package instructions)
- Thai Basil
- Bean Sprout
- Lime Wedge
- Raw sirloin, sliced paper thin
- Sriracha (for spice)
- Hoisin Sauce (adds a salty, distinct flavor)
- De-scum the bones. Place all beef bones and brisket or chuck into a 12 qt stockpot and fill with cold water until bones are just covered. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes.
- Rinse bones and pot. Dump everything into the sink and rinse scum off of bones, meat, and off sides of the pot.
- Refill the pot full with bones, meat, and water. Fill it fairly full, leaving a few inches at the top. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmering with lid on slightly ajar.
- Char ginger and onion with broiler for about 5-10 minutes, flipping so both sides slightly char. This is important for deepening the flavor of the broth. If you have a gas stove, you can do this over the flame as well. Add to broth.
- Add rock sugar chunks into broth.
- Dry roast the spices. To dry roast, turn a pan onto medium heat. Add the larger chunks of spices to pan. Roast for about 2 minutes shaking the pan until you smell a fragrance and see some browning. Remove from pan with tongs and place into the spice bag. Then dry roast all the smaller spices and add to spice bag and tie shut. This avoids burning the smaller spices.
- Add spices to simmering pot.
- Remove hunk of meat from broth once tender, after about 2 hours. Once cooled, thinly slice and then refrigerate for later. Don't overcook or it will come out dry and crumbly.
- Continue cooking broth for a minimum of 3 more hours, making sure the total cook time is at least 5 hours. The longer you cook, the more bone marrow melts out. This flavors your broth and thickens your broth when refrigerated into a slight gelatin.
- Add fish sauce and salt till the flavor is salty enough.
- Skim off excess fat and any scum from pot and toss.
- Prepare rice noodles according to package in a separate pot. Do not overcook or they become mushy! Fresh noodles will always taste the best, but dry noodles prepared are just fine too.
- Thinly slice any raw sirloin (as thin as possible so it will cook in the hot broth). If you slightly freeze it and then slice, you can get the thinnest pieces.
- Arrange noodles and toppings into a bowl.
- Using a strainer, pour broth into each bowl, and add desired hoisin and sriracha sauce. Enjoy!
You can replace the yellow rock sugar with 3 Tbsp of white sugar if needed. Yellow rock sugar has a deeper flavor than white rock sugar or white granulated sugar so it's preferred if you can buy it!
Use high quality fish sauce for a less fishy taste. Three Crabs brand is what I was told to use by a Vietnamese family, and is what we buy.
It's ok to cook your broth longer on low heat, but don't skimp on getting to the 5 hour mark or you'll lose flavor and waste some of the beef bone potential. I love to see some of the marrow from the middle melt into the broth.
Keep the lid on while simmering but slightly ajar. Otherwise you'll lose a lot of water! If that happens, just add a bit back into the broth.
It's ok to have more bones, they'll add flavor! But too little bones will give you a flat pho. Aim for leg bones or bones with marrow, as well as some others with a little bit of meat like neck bone, some knuckle bone, short rib, or oxtail).
The broth and any extra meat freezes beautifully! Just make sure it's completely cooled before placing in the freezer.