How to Make Soup: The Ultimate Guide 

Last Update: October 18, 2023

It may seem intimidating at first, but making soup at home is one of the easiest ways to incorporate lots of flavorful, nutritious ingredients into one satisfying meal. If you’ve got a few hearty vegetables, a package of meat or legumes, and some fragrant aromatics lying around, you’ve got just about everything you need to make soup from scratch — all you need are some simple, tried-and-true instructions to know where to begin. 

We’ve assembled this guide to making soup (and stew!) to teach you everything you need to know about making a steaming, simmering pot of chicken noodle or a vegan lentil soup for dinner tonight. From the broth that starts it all to smart tips that may come in handy for fixing common soup-making mistakes, here’s your complete guide to all things soup. 

Broth vs. Stock 

Wondering what the difference is between broths and stocks? While they both provide the base for any soup, stew, or chili, there are some key differences. 

  • A broth is typically made from the meat of proteins like chicken or beef, while a stock is made of the meat and the bones. While you may find recipes for broth that also contain bones (and, of course, there’s bone broth, which is an outlier altogether) the general idea is that stock always contains bones and broth may not.
  • Stocks also typically have more depth of flavor, because they’re cooked for much longer (often many hours at a time). 
  • Broths are often seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices, while stocks usually don’t include seasonings.
  • Both can also be made vegetarian or vegan by omitting the meat and using only vegetables and aromatics.

How to Make Broth

  1. Choose either a meat or vegetable as a base ingredient. Chicken, beef, and mushrooms all work well. 
  2. For a meat- or seafood-based broth, you may use boneless, cubed pieces of chicken, beef, fish, or another meat (or remove the meat from the bones and separate). If you prefer, you can keep the bones in, though this isn’t necessary in a broth. 
  3. Sauté vegetables and aromatics (mirepoix, a traditional soup base of carrots, onions, and celery, works well here) in a pan for a few minutes to soften and release moisture. 
  4. Add the meat, veggies, and 3-5 quarts of water to a large stock pot. You want enough water to cover all the ingredients with about an inch extra. 
  5. Season the broth with salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs and spices. 
  6. Cover the pot with a lid and allow the broth to simmer untouched for about an hour or two. 
  7. Strain the solids from the liquid and store in an airtight container.

How to Make Stock

  1. Cut your meat of choice into large pieces. While you can certainly place a whole chicken or cut of beef into the pot, cutting the meat will allow the flavor and collagen to release in a shorter amount of time. Be sure to keep the bones in, as this is an important part of making stock. 
  2. Roughly chop any vegetables and aromatics. Things like carrots, onions, potatoes, and celery work well. 
  3. Toss everything into a large stock pot with enough water to cover the meat and veggies with an inch or two to spare (about 3-5 quarts of water).
  4. Allow to simmer with the pot covered for 6-8 hours, stirring occasionally. 
  5. Allow to chill, then skim off the fat layer with a spoon.
  6. Strain the solids from the liquid and store in an airtight container.

Soup vs. Stew

This one is a bit simpler: A soup is thinner and contains more liquid, typically with smaller, diced pieces of vegetables and meat. A stew, on the other hand, is made with less liquid and typically contains larger pieces of meat and veggies. 

Types of Soups 

From creamy bisques and chowders to clear soups like chicken noodle, here are a few of the most common types of soups you should know. 

Clear or broth soups. Broth-based soups, like chicken noodle soup and minestrone, are made with a broth base that isn’t mixed with any creams or milks or pureed with other ingredients. They’re typically fairly thin, but contain tasty bites of meat, veggies, and sometimes pasta or grains. 

Cream soups. Cream soups, like cream of mushroom or creamy tomato, are made with a broth blended with cream or milk, plus any additional veggies and seasonings. 

Chowders. Chowders originate in New England, and are traditionally made with shellfish (à la clam chowder), but can also be made with vegetables (à la corn chowder). These soups are very thick and creamy, often with a deep flavor that comes from clam or other seafood juices.

Bisques. A bisque is similar to a chowder, as it’s a cream-based soup that often contains shellfish. In traditional recipes, the shellfish shells are finely ground and used to thicken the soup, though more modern mushroom bisques and other vegetable bisques do not contain shellfish.

Pureed soups. Pureed soups, such as potato leek or split pea, are made by boiling vegetables in a broth, then pureeing the finished product to create a thick, blended soup.  

Gazpacho. A gazpacho is a cold soup that originates in Spain. It contains a tomato base with chopped cucumbers, onions, and peppers for a bright, zesty flavor. 

Chili. A chili is a thick, spicy, bean-based soup that originated in northern Mexico. Many versions often also contain ground meat.

Common Soup-Making Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) 

How to Thicken Soup

To thicken a too-thin soup, add cream or yogurt. If your soup is vegan, try blending it slightly with an immersion blender. You may also add rice to soak up some of the extra broth. 

How to Thin Soup

If your stew or soup has gotten too thick, add more broth if you have it; if not, water will work, though you may need to add more seasonings to avoid diluting the flavor. 

How to Fix a Soup That’s Too Salty

If your soup isn’t too thin already, you can always add water or cream to dilute the salty broth. If you’re worried about it becoming too thin, try adding rice or potatoes to soak up the salty broth. 

How to Add More Flavor to Soup 

Soup too bland? Add more salt and pepper to taste, or experiment with herbs and spices, making sure to taste-test along the way to avoid over-seasoning. You may also try allowing the soup to simmer for longer, as this will allow the ingredients to release more flavor. 

How to Blend Soup 

In most cases, an immersion blender is key for blending or pureeing soup. If you don’t have one, you can also carefully ladle the soup into a high-speed blender and blend on low. 

When to Add Meat to Soup 

You’ll typically always brown or sear your meat before adding it to your soup, then add it to the soup toward the end of the cooking process, allowing it to warm through. 

How to Brown Vegetables for Soup 

While you can add raw vegetables to your soup, most recipes will call for the vegetables to be “browned” before adding. This just means adding fat (such as oil or butter) to the bottom of a heavy-bottomed soup pot, then heating the vegetables and aromatics for about 5 minutes to soften.

How to Cook Soup 

While your recipe may call for you to bring the soup to a boil initially, you’ll likely never want to boil a soup for the entire cooking process. Instead, allow the soup to reach a gentle simmer, which is just below the boiling point (look for gentle movements in the liquid, not rapid bubbles). 

When to Add Pasta or Rice to Soup 

For pasta, add the noodles according to time on the package (for example, if it says to cook for 7 minutes, add the noodles 7 minutes before the soup is finished). Add white rice about 20 minutes before the end of the cooking process, and add brown rice about 30-35 minutes before the end (keep in mind that rice soaks up extra liquid, so you may need to add more broth). 

Best Soup Recipes

Lemon & Turmeric Lentil Soup 
Bright, budget-friendly, and plant protein-rich, this lentil soup is hearty enough for a whole meal. 

Instant Pot Keto Beef Stew 
This classic beef stew recipe makes an impressive 8 to 10 servings, so you’ll have enough for a crowd (or leftovers for the week). 

Tomato Chickpea Soup 
Chickpeas lend a familiar, creamy texture in this vegan take on cream of tomato soup. 

Pumpkin Reishi Soup 
Adaptogenic reishi mushroom powder makes a unique addition to this curried pumpkin soup. 

Whole30 White Chicken Chili With Sweet Potatoes
Whether you’re in the midst of a Whole30® or not, this coconut cream–based chili is silky, wholesome, and Whole30-compatible. 

Coconut Red Curry Soup 
Toppings like crispy chickpeas and a fresh herb sauce take this vegetarian-friendly soup to a whole new level. 

Roasted Squash With Labneh Soup 
The natural sweetness of the winter squash is balanced by the zesty, tangy flavor of the labneh, a Middle Eastern cheese made from strained yogurt. 

One-Pot Chile-Ginger Chicken and Rice Recipe
This dinner-made-easy recipe involves cooking rice and chicken in one pot with a flavorful stock, which makes it close enough to a stew in our book. 

Easy One-Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
Looking for a nostalgic dinner on a budget? This tortilla soup recipe shows you how to make the restaurant favorite at home (with a whole lot of leftovers). 

Instant Pot Whole30® Chicken Soup
You may not think of chicken noodle soup as something you can eat on a Whole30, but this recipe makes it happen. 

Charred Cabbage & Roasted Vegetable Soup
The smoky taste of charred cabbage adds deep, delicious flavor to this veggie soup. 

Red Lentil Soup 
A classic lentil soup recipe is something everyone should have in their arsenal, and this one is as simple (and filling) as it gets. 

One-Pot Ground Turkey and Pesto Stew with Mushrooms, Sweet Potato, and Wilted Greens
Make this stew your own by adding or omitting certain ingredients for a clean-out-the-fridge s

Paleo Chilli
Since it’s made Mexico or Texas-style without beans, this paleo chili relies on ground beef and lots of seasonings to bring the flavor. 

Camu & Beet Soup 
The bright pink color of this soup comes from beets and camu, an Amazonian berry that’s rich in vitamin C.

This article is related to:

Cooking Tips, Recipe

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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