Crock Pot Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

Crockpot Pho Recipe   

It’s no secret that good Pho broth requires a gazillion hours of simmering time. Time that I just don’t have. Tony, a boyfriend from a lifetime ago, told me his Dad used to simmer giant vats of pho broth overnight for his little pho restaurant in Houston. So, one day, I thought it would be really genius to do the same. Dump a bunch of beefy, tendony, knuckley, marrowey bones into the largest stockpot that I have and let it simmer away while I slept.

Crockpot Pho Recipe

It didn’t quite work out as I had intended:

11:30pm Initial hard boil of the bones to get all the yuck, guck and scum off. Char ginger and onion.

11:38pm Dumped out water, added clean water, the clean bones, spices, ginger and onion. Let the dance begin.

11:45pm Nighty-night

12:35am Is the flame low enough? Maybe I need to check to see.

1:23am Hmmm…I smell something funny. Go check.

2:41am What if it boiled over? Go check.

3:24am What if there’s a gas bubble in the pipe and the the stove spontaneously bursts out in big flames? Maybe I should sleep on the couch closer to the kitchen.

4:45am Gosh I’m hungry. Sneak a big spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Ice Cream.

4:51am Did I forget to put ice cream back in freezer? What if the gas bubble really does happen and stove spontaneously bursts out in flames? Then sleeping on couch is a dumbass idea. Crawl back to bed.

6:00am Kids wake up. Jumps up and down on my belly trying to wake me up.

6:15am PHO-KING TIRED

Enter the Slow Cooker

A few weeks later, I was contacted by the peeps at Crock-Pot® The Original Slow Cooker <- yes, they are insanely paranoid about me using their correct trademarked name, so much that they’ve given me very specific instructions 4 separate times on how to properly spell/mark their product names.) They sent me their new eLume Crock-Pot® Programmable Slow Cooker with Touch Screen Technology to test.

crock-pot-elume <- shiny, pretty and fancy. Oh crap, I forgot the ™ after eLume™.

It’s the perfect size (6.5 quarts) for a big mean mama pot of PHO!!!

Oh yeah, baby! It solves my problem of paranoia when leaving stove on all night.

What I love about the eLume™ Crock Pot® is© its™ lighted™© touchscreen®™©. Just a light tap is all that you need and it’s totally programmable from 30 minutes to 20 hours of cooking time. You can also set it to start cooking at a certain time, but when making my Crock Pot Pho Recipe, I don’t recommend a delayed start time since we are working with raw meat bones.

Crockpot Pho Recipe

How to make Crock Pot Pho

Whether you use the Crock Pot Pho method or the traditional stove top method, there are a couple of steps that you’ll need to do before throwing it all in the Crock Pot or slow cooker. Namely, toasting the spices, grilling the onion/ginger and pre-boiling the bones. These aren’t absolutely necessary steps…you’ll still make great pho…BUT these extra steps will make the difference between good pho and pho-bulous pho.

Toasting the Vietnamese Pho Spices

Toasting spices for Crock pot Vietnamese pho

You can buy Pho spices at most Asian supermarkets – you can buy the spices separately (coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel and cardamom pod) or purchase them already mixed up in a package (which also includes a small mesh bag). The quality of these pre-mixed spices are just okay – but sometimes it’s just convenient to pick up a bag, not to mention much cheaper if you don’t already have many of these spices. A Pho spice pack will typically sell for $1-$3.

This day that I made the Crock Pot Pho, I used individual spices. I didn’t have cardamom pod. So yes, if you are missing one of couple of the spices, it’s okay. To get the best flavor from these spices, you’ll toast them in a dry skillet.

Grilling Ginger and Onion

This is a totally optional step, but it really gives the ginger and the onion a deep, sweet, mellow flavor. When I’m making Pho the traditional stovetop way, I’ll char them in the broiler. But with the crock pot method, I didn’t want to use the oven at all. After toasting the spices (above) in a frying pan, I add a bit of oil and grilled the onion half and thick ginger slices.

crockpot-pho-beef_090418__004_onion-web

Pre-Boiling the Bones

Knuckles, leg bones with lots of marrow are the best for making soup. The marrow will also make the soup rich and thick. The bones are pre-boiled for a few minutes on high heat to clean the bones and get rid of the nasty scum.

You’ll bring a big stockpot of water to a boil on high heat. Add the bones and boil hard for 10 minutes. You’ll see brownish scum rise to the surface. If you hadn’t taken the time to pre-boil the bones, all that scummy stuff ends up in your soup.

crockpot-pho-beef_090418__003_scum-web <– nasty pho-reaky scum

Drain, discard the scummy water and briefly rinse the bones.

Now you’ll add the spices, ginger, onion and bones to the slow cooker.

crockpot-pho-beef_090418__008_pot-web

Fill with fresh, clean, cool water about 1-1/2 inches below the surface. Set your slow cooker on low for 8 hours. I haven’t tried this method on high, but I’m sure it would be just fine.

So let this cook during all day while you’re at work or at night while you sleep and you’ll be rewarded with the cleanest, best tasting pho soups ever. Because the slow cooker doesn’t let the stock boil hard, it’s safe, easy and convenient.

Here’s what the stock looks like when it’s been cooking for 8 hours on low. Notice that the level of the liquid is still pretty high. The low, even setting doesn’t evaporate the precious liquid as much as a stove top can. The stock is strained before serving.

Crock Pot Pho Soup

Other Pho Ingredients

I used different ingredients than my previous version of traditional Vietnamese Pho and I wanted to highlight them. Instead of using dried rice noodles, I used fresh rice noodles found at Asian markets, in the refrigerated section because all these need is a quick dip in boiling water. Very fast!

Crock Pot Pho Noodles

I also bought a package of Vietnamese Beef Balls (called Bo Vien Dan). There are all sorts of balls – beef, pork, chicken, fish, crab, and my favorite – beef tendon. They come frozen in a package and they are pre-cooked, so all you need to do is throw the frozen balls into the same pot of boiling water as you cooked your noodles in. Just boil for a couple of minutes until the beef balls are heated through. I like cutting these beef balls in half, so make them easier to eat. It’s not so pretty trying to stick an entire beef ball in your mouth. Unless…you’re like really into that.

Crock Pot Pho Beef Balls

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Crockpot Pho Recipe

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Crock Pot Pho Recipe

Servings: 4 Prep Time: Cook Time:
crockpot vietnamese pho

This is a recipe for a 6.5 quart (or larger) Crock Pot. Any smaller really isn't that great - you won't get enough stock out of it...because the beef bones are really chunky and big. The thinly sliced meat for the bowls may be easier to slice if you freeze the chunk of meat for 15 minutes prior to slicing. You really want them as thin a possible. You can also do what I do - palm your butcher a $5 bill and he'll slice the meat for you on his fancy slicing machine

Ingredients:

For the Pho Stock:
4 pounds beef bones
1/2 onion
4 inch section of ginger, sliced
1 package Vietnamese Pho Spices (or as many of these spices as you have: 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 teaspoons whole coriander, 1 teaspooon fennel, 3 whole star anise, 3 whole cloves, 1 cardamom pod)
9 cups water
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce or to taste
1 teaspoon sugarFor the Pho Bowls
16 ounces fresh or dried rice noodles
1/2 pound flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round steak, sliced as thinly as possible.
11 ounces Vietnamese beef balls, cut into halfFor the table
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
fresh herbs: cilantro, Thai basil, mint
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha hot chili sauce

Directions:

1. Bring a large stockpot with water to boil over high heat. When it comes to a rolling boil, add the beef bones and boil vigourously for 10 minutes.

2. In the meantime, heat a frying pan on medium-low heat. Add the Vietnamese Pho Spices and toast until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Dump the spices to the empty Crock Pot or slow cooker immediately. Return frying pan to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger slices and the onion half. Cook until the ginger is browned on both sides and the onion half is nicely browned and softened. Add the ginger and the onion to the Crock Pot or slow cooker.

3. When the bones have been pre-boiled, drain, discard water and rinse bones briefly to clean them. Add the bones to the Crock Pot or slow cooker. Fill the Crock Pot with fresh, clean, cool water to just 1-1/2 inches below surface, add the fish sauce and sugar. Cover and set the Crock Pot or slow cooker to cook on low for 8 hours. Taste and season with additional fish sauce if needed.

4. When you are just about ready to eat, you'll prep the rest of the ingredients for the Pho bowls. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the beef balls and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove the balls, keeping the water boiling and now cook the noodles according to package instructions. If you are using fresh noodles, all they need is a couple of minutes. Drain immediately.

5. Strain the stock with a fine meshed sieve. Discard the solids.

6. Line up 4 large bowls on counter. Distribute the noodles, beef balls and thin steak slices evenly amongst the bowls. Ladle the hot Pho stock into each bowl. The hot stock should cook the thin steak slices. Serve with lime wedges, fresh herbs, chili peppers, Hoisin sauce and Sriracha hot chili sauce at the table.

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vietnamese-pho-beef-noodle-soup-recipe Vietnamese Pho Recipe (cooked the traditional, long, slow, stovetop method)

vietnamese-chicken-pho-recipe Vietnamese Chicken Pho Recipe (Pho Ga)

Comments 195

  1. Violet

    Sorry babe, we followed this recipe to a “T” and even got all our ingredients at Whole Foods, and what came out was not Pho whatsoever. Plus it was suuupper greasy, like Hells-kitchen Goodfellas greasy.

    1. Adam

      In response to the greasy comment, this is likely due to not parboiling the bones long enough. The first time I made it, I only boiled them for 10 minutes. The next time, I boiled them for 25 minutes and scrubbed them while rinsing afterwards. This eliminated the greasy aspect, as all of the proteins and connective tissues were boiled away.

  2. Robert

    Well you didn’t do it well enough then I guess because I followed this recipe as well and it came out just fine. If I were to cange something I would boil those bones and then dry the crap out of them and then throw them in the oven to get them brown.

  3. Annie

    @jaden, as an alternative to charring the onion and ginger in the pan with the oil, you could char them on your gas burner. This was how my Viet Mama charred the onion & ginger for her stovetop pho, before Dad found her a little toaster oven.

  4. FoodJunkie

    Slow© cookers© are great for stock.Throw the stuff in and let it go for hours. If you want it richer and have time I will sometimes strain the stock and simmer it down on the stove for a couple of hours but I usually don’t bother. i will have to try this. Most of the time I don’t plan ahead for pho and have to a use a good quality ready made stock simmered for half an hour or so with the spices. It may not measure up to the best but for pho in a hurry it is still pretty good.

  5. Phil

    Re: greasy.

    If by ‘greasy’ you mean there was a lot of fat, you have two choices. Skim it off, or enjoy the healthiest fat on the planet. This is not the kind of fat that you want to reduce in your diet. Heat the broth up and it will disappear. Enjoy!

  6. Steve

    Definitely going to give this a try! We have a Japanese market nearby that sells beef pre-sliced for shabu shabu, perfect for pho!

  7. Bradley Hayman

    Tried it, not impressed at all. Beef broth has no flavor and is very greasy despite extra pre boil time. Also, pho should be served much hotter than what the low setting on a crock pot gives you. A day wasted for nothing but disappointment.

    1. Linda

      The trick to a good pho is to heat it to a boil before being served. I use raw Beef tenderloin (sliced paper thin) with my Pho that I pre boil in ladle with the broth then spoon it over the noodles. The hot broth will continue to cook the tenderloin to a nice juicy consistancy. If you cook the beef before adding it to the broth it becomes tough and chewy. If you use dry rice noodles pre boil them until they are not all the way cooked through because once you add the hot broth it will continue to cook the noodles this way you dont get super soggy noodles while youre eating it. AND if you get a super greasy broth as many of you have said another trick my momma told me was to let the broth cool until the fat has solidified on top and just scrape it off, heat it back up and youre good to go. This broth is also great for the freezer. You can store it in freezer for months and have pho whenever you want.

  8. Peter

    To those who find this recipe too greasy:
    You can:
    1. Skim the fat or use a fat seperator to degrease.
    2. After straining and removing the bones, chill the broth overnight, the fat will rise to the surface in a hard disc and you just remove it, easy as pie. This method is what I do and it works great!

    To those who find this lacking in flavor, did you toast your spices? Did you sear your onion and ginger? Makes a huge difference.

    And to the guy who said it wasn’t hot enough: WARM IT UP ON THE STOVE!

  9. MegsFitness

    I thought this recipe was well thought out! I came here through BuzzFeed looking for recipes to pin to my boards on pinterest. I was entertained at your tongue-in-cheek comments about Crock Pot and enjoyed the way you walked readers through the recipe. I think the best part, though, is where you included what to put on the table–if I made this for my husband (which I plan to do sometime soon) he will enjoy the extra touches included here.

  10. Mia

    My brother owns a pho restaurant and I waitress there at times. The pho broth should be a bit greasy and there are true pho-bies who ask for extra fat. Every recipe requires a certain amount of tweaking…I added extra salt and sugar to mine… Over all, I’m very happy with this first outcome, especially using the slow cooker! Excellent hands off idea!

  11. Patrice

    A good friend of mine is Vietnamese and she does not add her spices until the last hour and she uses the stove top. Her Pho is awesome. Maybe the same should be done with the crockpot. I’m trying it tonight and will add the spice pack towards the end. I always go to the Asian grocery store to buy the ingredients. Cheaper than American stores. (Violet – Whole Foods).

  12. Natalie

    Yeah my broth came out pretty greasy, the bones I used had lots of marrow and I only parboiled for 15 minutes, but it was still pho-king delicious. I was a little on the low side for pounds of bones too, so I added a bit of better than bouillon beef base which helped enhance the flavor. I also strained it then boiled it on the stove, which was perfect for making the beef slices just barely cooked. I have it in the fridge now and will skim off some of the fat once it has solidified, but I am definitely saving it. Getting hungry again thinking about it, might be time for another bowl :)

  13. Jennifer

    I’m not sure what you mean by below surface when you say “Fill the Crock Pot with fresh, clean, cool water to just 1-1/2 inches below surface” are you referring to the below the stuff in the crockpot? I guess all the vegetables will cook down a bit? Do you think this would work with pork bones? I accidentally bought a pork roast and I cooked it last night. I was thinking that maybe I could use the bones the same way you have described here for this recipe. What do you think?

  14. Jennifer

    Also another thing. I just realized that this calls for 4 pounds of bones. We are a small family and wouldn’t generate that much bones in one meal. How do you feel about collecting the bones and then freezing them for use later?

    1. SteamyKitchen

      Hi Jennifer,

      Fill water below the surface edge of the pot.

      Sure, you can use pork bones, but it won’t be Pho. But I’m sure it will be tasty – a lighter taste.

      Beef bones are heavy, much heavier than pork bones, so that’s why the recipe calls for 4 pounds of bones.

      Use whatever bones you have, as long as you have about 2 pounds, that should be fine. You’ll adjust seasoning at the end with fish sauce – you’ll probably use more fish sauce since you have fewer bones. But just add tablespoon by tablespoon until the broth tastes good. :-)

  15. Teresa

    I’m going to try your recipe! However, I have one great tip for making “liquid gold” bone broth: instead of pre-boiling the bones, ROAST the bones in the oven. Roast them at 400deg for at least an hour. Remove the rendered fat. When they are done roasting and you add the bones to water to make your broth, just skim off the foam. Do not throw out the water like you have been doing with your first boiling, you are losing precious nutrition and taste! Simmer bones for 8-12 hours.

  16. Montessori Mama

    I live in Saigon and love a good bowl of pho. Sadly, the best ever pho I’ve had was back in Australia at my Vietnamese mother-in-law’s house. I’ve tried hundreds of bowls in Vietnam and none are as good. I’ve tried to recreate her pho at home but it’s so time consuming. I’d thought about doing it in the crockpot but wasn’t sure it would work well. I’ll be trying your crockpot method out ASAP. Thanks for the great idea.

  17. Xi Yu

    Hi, Love the site! Great resource.

    The recipe is one of the best on the western internet. It’s got it’s pitfalls and falls prey to the same problems all other pho recipes in English I can find. It refuses to acknowledge that every pho restaurant you’ve ever eaten at or want to eat at uses huge, huge doses of msg or bouillon to enhance their stock. One of Quoc Viet’s (the pho soup base manufacturer) largest N.A. customers is Pho Saigon – a very large pho and Vietnamese cuisine chain.

    So the distinction must be made between MSG-free homemade pho, and restaurant pho. Once you come to terms and make peace with that distinction, you’ll either start ladling teaspoons of MSG into into your bowl before you pour in your broth, or you’ll add one of the reputable restaurant pho bouillon packs right in your stock. To be clear: THAT IS THE ONLY WAY TO ACHIEVE RESTAURANT-STYLE PHO.

    If you decide on the more vigilant path, that’s commendable. But it’s also an endeavor that will leave your dinner guests and family questioning if you missed a step, or forgot an ingredient (btw, it’s MSG). I know. Sacrifices. I’m not going to get whether MSG is good or bad for you. I’m just leaving my thoughts on pho broth here.

    Greasy Stock?:

    Stop using so many femur bones chocked full of marrow. Many say marrow is where the “flavor” comes from. False. It’s got plenty of flavor, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also so ridiculously fatty and so chocked full of tallow that any flavor you’d reap from it is overshadowed by a thick layer of beef fat. Have you ever been to one of those fancy restaurants and they serve you roasted leg bones and you scoop out the marrow and spread it on bread with salt and capers? That’s what marrow tastes like. Is that taste profile an essential part of a delicate bowl of pho? Absolutely not, imo. To an entire pot, I usually limit femur (leg) bone to 1 x 4-5 inch section…that comes in the form of one small beef shank, cut into 1 inch cross sections. Then it’s neck and chuck roast which has the shoulder bone intact, and oxtail for gelatin and mouth feel. Brisket and Cheek for more beefy flavor without the fat.

    -Skim fat at the very end of the stock making session, or at the very beginning. Whoever tells you fat can be reconstituted into water does not know about fluid density. Unless you’re planning on adding an emulsifier, the fat will eventually ALWAYS separate…no matter how much you stir it (and we don’t stir pho stock). So there’s no point in skimming during your cook time. Do it at the end. Hell, do it a day later.

    Parboiling:

    10 minutes is way, way too short. My grandmother par boils her stocks (albeit for Chinese hotpot) for at least 30 minutes if not longer, AFTER she soaks her bones in cold water in the fridge for at least 12 hours. We can debate the merits of the soak, but here is the lowdown on parboiling:

    -It has to be a very aggressive boil. Like..water threatening to geyser out of the pot. The agitation loosens the proteins deeper in the tissues.
    -Stir every few minutes so that bone fragments don’t settle at the bottom of the pot and burn (since it’s assumed you’ll be on very high heat)
    -Before you stir, skim the foam that collects at the top (be careful not to stir the foam back into the stock)
    -Here’s what you’re looking for: Grey, nasty scum in the first 10-15 minutes will give way to greyish, lighter colored scum by the halfway marker, and at 30 minutes you’ll have white-ish scum only. Reduce the flame and allow for the white scum to collect (this scum is more delicate, so you should not boil it hard, otherwise it’ll reincorporate into the stock). By minute 45, assuming you have done everything right, you will not see too much scum anymore, but instead, layers of fat start pooling on top of your stock. This is the stop point. 45 minutes. You standing next to the pot, stirring every 5-10 minutes, skimming every 3-5. This is where you live.

    If you’re unwilling to do this, then the question of how “good” pho can be made at home should not enter your mind. You should be blissfully happy knowing the cooks at your local pho eatery are doing things like this for you all at the bargain price of under 10 dollars per bowl.

    Clarity:

    -After pre boiling and washing bones, and adding toasted or charred spices, the pot should never EVER come back to a rolling boil again. If you’ve accidentally boiled it, you risk muddy stock. Slow cooker works for this pretty well.
    -On stove top, you just have to pay attention. Never stir it either. Just leave it alone. The only reason a pair of tongs should enter the pot is to get the meat out (which will finish faster than the stock). So it would stand to reason that you’d layer the edible portion (cheek, flank, brisket, tendon, etc) on top of the inedible portions (femur, neck, chuck shoulder, oxtails). At the 2 hour mark, check edibles for doneness, and take them out, without disturbing the bones on the bottom.
    -At the four hour mark, your spices and onions and ginger and such have given it their all. Trust me. You’re not going to get any more mileage out of them, that you can’t re-infuse with a fresh dose before serving, using freshly toasted spices and ginger to “wake the stock up”.
    -Run through cheese cloth at the end. Then run it through again.

    Seasoning:

    Two camps on this. Some restaurants add all the salt, msg, fish sauce into dry bowls before they put in hot noodles, and then pour the broth over the entire thing. This ensures you have some control over salt in each service unit. Bigger bowl, more salt, etc. Why risk oversalting a broth and having to dilute it or under seasoning a broth to have to play trial and error at the end anyways? Seasoning a dry bowl ensures your mistakes are confined to a single bowl. Your broth is unsullied, your embarrassment confined.

    Very experienced pho cooks have very experienced pho palates. They can probably do it the old fashioned way. Seasoning, and tasting in the last few minutes or hours in an entire pot. Not to mention most pho cooks in the USA know inherently that their patrons will indiscriminately just dump a bunch of hoisin sauce into the broth. So they err on the bland side for good reason.

    Jennifer, I’m sorry for this extremely long post about a seemingly good recipe. I just feel there is so much misdirection and smoke and mirrors about this food out there..that someone needed to at least say something.

    As for credibility, I have none. I’ve been a Chinese cook my whole life (the fundamentals of Chinese and Vietnamese broth making are all basically similar)…but the first time I tried to make pho..it tasted like restaurant pho…The more pho recipes I read on the internet, the more confused I got. My second bowl of pho was much worse than my first. For what it’s worth.

    Thanks!

    1. Jason

      Great comments Xi Yu. I was wondering why I couldn’t get that “restaurant flavor” in my soup. Great pointers, much appreciated.

  18. Trisha

    I use a knife to scrape the marrow out of the beef bone before pre-boiling them to eliminate lots of the greasiness. I double the bone portion and cook them in the large 20 quart electric turkey oven roaster to stock up extra broth for the freezer.

    1. Post
      Author
  19. Monique

    Re: the grease

    My mom taught me a cool trick. Once your stock has cooled, put it in a large bowl in the fridge over night and in the morning it will all be hard and yellowish on top. Grab a spoon and scrap it off. Everything under should be a brown jelly and that will be your stock.

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