How to Make the Best Soups

Here's what every good soup-maker needs to know to elevate their soup game to its tastiest level.

filling a bowl with homemade Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
Photo: Brie Passano

Soup is comforting on so many levels, you could call it an all-purpose hug in a bowl. Even the act of making a soothing pot of soup feels cozy and nurturing. But like with anything else that you cook, the quality of your soup depends on ingredients and technique. Here's what you need to know to make the best soups, along with some top-rated recipes to try.

9 Secrets to Making Better Soups

1. Make Stock

A quick shortcut to making great soups is to make stock from leftover roast turkey, chicken, or a ham bone; take advantage of all that cooked-in flavor instead of tossing it away. Strip the meat off first, then use the bones to make stock. Strain the stock and add the meat back in along with a fresh batch of vegetables to finish making your soup. If you can't make stock right away, freeze the bones for later. If you do make stock but can't use it right away, you can freeze it for later, too.

Try this recipe: Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup.

Note: Because this soup uses 6 cups of chicken broth, using homemade broth or other high-quality broth can make a big difference in the flavor.

overhead view of homemade Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup in a bowl garnished with grated Parmesan cheese
Brie Passano

If you don't have leftovers to jumpstart your soup broth or stock, you can still intensify the flavor by searing or roasting bones and vegetables before adding water to simmer. It's perfectly fine to use store-bought stock or broth for your soup, or go with the low-sodium option so you can control the seasoning. Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, stock is made by simmering water with bones, and broth takes stock a step further by adding meat and more seasonings.

Try these recipes for homemade stocks and broths:

Video: How to Make Roasted Chicken Broth

Watch and learn how to make a delicious broth by roasting a whole chicken with vegetables, and cooking it down into a rich broth for Chef John's Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup.

2. Boost Flavors

  • Roasting vegetables before adding them to a soup intensifies the depth of flavor, like with this butternut vegetable soup.
  • Parmesan cheese rinds give amazing flavor to minestrone, bean, or a hearty vegetable soup. Save your rinds in the fridge or freezer and toss one in when you simmer the soup. It adds saltiness, so taste before seasoning at the end. Remove the rind before serving the soup.
  • It matters when you add the salt. For example, sprinkling salt on vegetables before roasting gives the salt time to penetrate and pull out natural flavors. But adjusting salt to your taste should be done at the end. If your soup is too salty, add a squeeze of citrus, dilute with water or, depending on the type of soup, add a little cream or potato.

Try this recipe: French Onion Soup Gratinée.

A bundle of herbs — such as parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf—adds flavor and is easy to remove. To contain small spices or loose herb leaves, use a square of cheesecloth tied with kitchen string. If you're storing this soup, wait to add the toppings and broil.

overhead view of French Onion Soup Gratinee in individual soup bowls topped with bread, toasted cheese, and fresh thyme
Brie Passano

3. Toast the Spices

Brief cooking in a dry pan deepens the flavor of whole spices, and is especially effective for bringing authenticity to Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. To toast spice, choose a heavy pan large enough to hold the spice in a single layer. Heat the pan over medium-low heat, add the spice, and stir constantly to keep the spice from burning. When your senses tell you the spice is warm and toasty, remove the spice from the pan immediately to stop the cooking. Let the spice cool, then grind for use.

Try toasting spices for these soups:

4. Skim It

As soup comes to a simmer, fat and foam may rise to the surface (depending on what kind of soup you're making.) You can remove this with a wide, shallow spoon. It's best to remove the foam before your soup comes to a boil so it doesn't reincorporate into the liquid and cloud the soup.

5. How to Make Soup Thicker

If your soup turns out to have a thinner texture than you'd like, there are several ways you can thicken it up:

  • Blend it: Put all or part of the soup (except for the meat) into a blender or use an immersion blender. (Scroll down to see safety tips for blending soups.) This works best if the soup ingredients you're blending are starchy, like potatoes, rice, or beans.
  • Add cornstarch or flour: Start with a tablespoon of cornstarch or all-purpose flour in a small bowl, and whisk in enough water to make a thin slurry. Add it to the soup and let it come to a simmer. If the soup needs more thickening after it simmers for a few minutes, add a little more slurry.
  • Add beurre manié: That's flour and butter paste to the rest of us. Mash equal parts butter and flour together to make a thick paste (start with a tablespoon of each) and stir it into the soup. As the soup simmers, it will thicken.
  • Add cream or yogurt: Cream gives any soup a slightly thicker and definitely richer texture. Use full-fat cream to get the best results. If you use yogurt to thicken the soup, be sure you don't boil it after adding or else the yogurt could split and curdle the texture. (Scroll down for more tips for adding dairy to soup.)
  • Add bread, potatoes, rice, or pasta: For best results, blitz the bread in a blender and stir in the fine crumbs. Add peeled cubes of russet or Idaho potatoes and let them cook down (or cook them separately, mash them up, and stir them into the soup. Cooked rice or pasta will also thicken the soup if you simmer them together.

6. How to Purée Soup

To blend ingredients for a smooth and silky soup, remove any whole herbs and spices, ladle a cup or two of the liquid into a measuring cup, then put the rest of the solids and liquid into a countertop blender, food processor, or an immersion blender. Blend the ingredients, thinning it out with the reserved liquid as needed. When using a countertop blender or food processor, don't fill it more than halfway before blending. A food mill or potato masher will give you a slightly chunkier result; you should strain the soup to get any large bits that you might have missed.

Try this recipe: Chef John's Butternut Bisque.

For more sweetness and nuttiness, roast the butternut squash before adding it to the soup. An immersion blender gives the finished soup a silky texture.

overhead view of bowls of Chef John's Butternut Bisque garnished with pomegranate seeds, sour cream, and minced chives
Brie Passano

Try these pureed soups:

7. Adding Dairy to Soup

Thickened and enriched soups with dairy can easily curdle unless you follow these three easy tips:

  • Use full-fat milk, yogurt, and cream — so they don't separate and curdle as easily as low-fat dairy products.
  • Add the dairy at the very end.
  • Take the soup off the heat. Stir ½ cup of heated soup liquid into the milk, yogurt, or cream to temper or warm it before adding it back to the soup. Heat the soup until steaming, but do not let it come to a boil.

8. Adding Noodles and Grains

If you're making a big batch of soup that contains noodles, rice, barley, quinoa, etc, the starch will soak up a lot of the soup liquid if you store it all together in one container overnight. The solution is to cook the starchy ingredients separately and ladle the hot soup over it to serve. Then you can store any leftovers separately.

9. Finishing Touches

Soup toppings give any soup extra eye appeal, texture, and flavor. Toppings and garnishes can be as simple as minced herbs, toasted croutons, grated cheese, citrus zest, or toasted nuts.

Try this recipe: Caldo de Res (Mexican Beef Soup).

Beef bones add richness and depth to this caldo de res (Spanish for "beef broth"). Garnishing with fresh herbs and citrus — cilantro and lime juice, in this case—and crunchy veggies adds freshness to slow-cooked soups.

overhead view of homemade Caldo de Res (Mexican Beef Soup) with cilantro and sliced jalapeno garnish
Brie Passano

Related Content

Portions of this article appeared in the October/November 2021 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.

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