Learn how to make delicious Vietnamese pho soup from scratch with a light and aromatic beef broth infused with ginger, star anise, coriander, and cinnamon. Making pho at home is not hard, all you need is a straightforward recipe, a few secrets, and a nice big stockpot.
Watch the video
3 Secrets for making the best homemade pho
- Use high-quality beef bones for rich and flavorful homemade broth (no boxed broth here!)
- Charring onion and ginger under the broiler adds a more complex, aromatic flavor.
- Toasting pho spices guarantees the best flavored broth.
We both love pho and take every opportunity to enjoy it at local Vietnamese restaurants. Years ago, we decided to learn how to make pho at home, and we are so happy that we did. Since sharing our as close to an authentic recipe for pho as we can get, many of you have made it at home for yourselves. Read the reviews below!
We make this recipe at least once a month. Making pho takes a bit of time, but most of that time is the broth simmering away on the stove, so it is hands-off. Let’s do this!
What is pho?
Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup made with clear, outrageously aromatic, delicious broth, flat rice noodles, and thinly sliced meat, often beef or chicken. It’s nothing short of soup perfection.
Pho is usually served with fresh herbs like Thai basil and mint, bean sprouts, and condiments. It’s encouraged that you add what you love to make the soup your own. Beef pho, also known as phở bò in Vietnamese, is the most popular variation of pho. It’s also what we are sharing today.
What are the best bones for pho?
You can’t make great pho broth without great beef bones. Look for knuckle and leg bones that contain marrow. The best bones for pho are beef bones that are rich in collagen and marrow since these guarantee rich flavor. We buy beef knuckles from a local Asian market and find them to be pretty inexpensive. Here’s a list of our favorite bones for pho soup:
- Knuckle bones have a high concentration of collagen, which will break down as the broth simmers and gives it a silky, rich texture.
- Leg or shin bones also have collagen and add a deep, savory flavor to the broth.
- Neck bones usually have a bit more meat attached to them, which adds more flavor.
- Marrow bones are highly regarded and add a rich, silky texture to the broth.
⭐️ For a deeper, more interesting flavor, consider using a variety of beef bones when making pho.
Can I use store-bought beef broth?
If you are looking to make pho as good as what you’d find at the most authentic restaurants, substituting store-bought beef broth for this recipe won’t cut it. We know our process takes longer than some, but trust me, this custom homemade broth, with specific ingredients, has so much more flavor. You won’t regret it.
For the best, clear broth, parboil and rinse the bones
Great pho is known for its clear broth. When beef bones simmer, they can release impurities or “scum,” which can leave our broth cloudy. To avoid a cloudy broth, we take an extra step to ensure the clarity of the soup.
- Add your beef bones to a large stockpot, cover with cold water, then bring to a boil.
- Boil for a few minutes, then pour the water and bones into a strainer.
- Rinse the bones to remove all the impurities. I also give the stockpot a rinse to remove any scum stuck to the sides.
Now, your bones are “clean” and ready to make pho!
For traditional beef pho, char the onion and ginger
For that distinctive, almost smoky, deep flavor of traditional beef pho, char fresh onion and ginger before simmering with the beef bones. You can char them over a gas stovetop, but my preferred method is to use my oven’s broiler. You can see us do this in the video.
Don’t forget to toast the spices
Toasting spices for pho is essential for the flavor of our broth. If you are like me, your spices have been dormant for at least a few months.
To toast spices, throw them into a dry pan over medium heat, stay close, and shake the pan a couple of times. You’ll know when they’re ready when you start to smell them. It only takes two to three minutes.
Toasting spices wakes them up and brings out their distinctive flavors. Here’s a list of spices we use for aromatic and flavorful pho broth:
- Cinnamon sticks
- Coriander seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Star anise
- Black cardamom pod (explained below)
⭐️ Black cardamom is a member of the ginger family. It is quite strong and smells smoky. I have found black cardamom pods sold in Korean and International markets. If you have difficulty finding it, try online or leave it out of the recipe.
2 more secret ingredients for the best broth
⭐️ For the best pho, invest in yellow rock sugar and quality fish sauce!
Beef pho broth has a little sugar added. It’s there to balance the savoriness of the beef bones and spices. For the most traditional pho broth, try yellow rock sugar. I buy ours at a local Korean market. It is also sold online. Here’s a photo of what it looks like:
Plain, white sugar produces a sweet, flat-tasting broth, whereas rock sugar rounds things out and brings everything together. It does make a difference! You can use leftover rock sugar in your tea or save it for your next batch of pho (once you try making this at home, you’ll be hooked).
You can’t make pho soup without fish sauce. A bottle of fish sauce sits within arm’s reach of our stove. We use it in everything and absolutely will not make pho without it.
Andrea Nguyen of Viet World Kitchen suggests that when shopping for fish sauce, look for glass bottles, not plastic, and allow price to guide you. Go for the mid to high-priced fish sauce (which will run you $8 to $15).
Since initially sharing our pho recipe, Red Boat Fish Sauce has entered most US grocery stores. We love its accessibility and use it a lot in our kitchen. We like the clean fish flavor it has over other brands. We also enjoy the Three Crabs brand.
Choosing the best noodles for pho
Use flat rice noodles for pho, also known as bánh phở in Vietnamese. Rice noodles are delicate and are a little chewy. They are made from rice flour and water. I use the noodles that are around 1/4-inch wide. You can buy fresh noodles at Asian markets (pictured below), which is a nice treat, but dried rice noodles work nicely.
Never cook the noodles in the broth. It makes the broth cloudy. To prepare noodles for pho, cook them in another pot (they only take a few minutes) and then add the cooked noodles to your bowl just before adding hot broth.
What to serve with pho?
We serve bowls of pho soup next to a plate of Thai basil, fresh mint, thinly sliced onion, crispy bean sprouts, and lime. Fresh chilies are also nice!
Keep fish sauce, Asian chili sauce, and hoisin sauce nearby, here’s our homemade hoisin if you are interested.
How to serve pho
Serving pho is my favorite part because we get to bring everything together. Here’s how we do it:
- Heat your homemade broth and cook the beef, or slice thinly for raw beef.
- Cook and rinse the noodles. Divide them among large bowls.
- Place cooked beef and raw beef on top of the noodles (see notes about raw beef below)
- Set out toppings on a separate plate (sliced onion, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime, hot sauce, hoisin sauce).
- Ladle the very hot broth over the beef and noodles in each bowl.
- Serve immediately and enjoy!
⭐️ Raw beef and pho: In traditional Vietnamese pho, thinly sliced raw beef is added to the bowl before pouring over hot broth. The heat of the hot broth cooks the beef (depending on how hot the broth is, it will be medium or medium-rare). Use cooked beef instead if you do not wish to add raw beef.
Homemade Vietnamese Pho
Making your own fabulous bowl of Vietnamese pho at home is not hard, all you need is a straightforward recipe, a few secrets and a nice big stockpot. We realize our recipe may look daunting, but this is quite simple to do and there is a lot of inactive time while you wait for the broth (we’ve just been extra tedious to share everything we know).
Watch Us Make the Recipe
You Will NeedBroth
5 to 6 pounds of beef knuckles or leg bones
6 quarts cold water
2 medium onions, quartered
4-inch piece of fresh ginger, halved lengthwise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
6 star anise
6 whole cloves
1 black cardamom pod (see note below)
1 ½ tablespoons salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
1-inch piece yellow rock sugar (see note below)Assembly
1 pound small (1/8-inch wide) dried or fresh “banh pho” noodles (see note)
1/2 pound raw eye of round, sirloin or tri-tip steak, thinly sliced across the grain (see note)
1/4 cup thinly sliced onions (see note)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leavesFor the Table
Sprigs of fresh mint and/or Asian/Thai basil
Thinly sliced red chilies (such as Thai bird)
- Make Broth
1Add beef bones to a large pot that will hold at least 10 quarts. Then, cover bones with cold water. Place pot onto high heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 to 5 minutes. During this time, impurities and foam (or scum) will be released and rise to the top. Drain bones, discarding the water. Then, rinse bones with warm water and scrub stockpot to remove any residue that has stuck to the sides. Add the bones back to the stockpot and cover with 6 quarts of cold water.
2Meanwhile, move an oven rack to a high position then turn broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place quartered onions and halved ginger onto baking sheet then broil for 10 to 15 minutes, turning onions and ginger occasionally so that they become charred or browned on all sides.
3Add cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, cloves and the black cardamom pod to a dry frying pan. Place onto low heat and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant. About 5 minutes. Place toasted spices into a cotton muslin bag/herb sachet or cheesecloth then tie with butchers twine to seal.
4Bring stockpot with parboiled bones and water to a boil then lower to a gentle simmer. Add charred onion and ginger as well as the bag or sachet of toasted spices. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of salt, a 1/4 cup of fish sauce and the rock sugar. Continue to simmer broth, uncovered, for 3 hours. If at any time foam or scum rises to the surface, use a spoon to remove it.
5Use tongs or a wide mesh spoon to remove bones, onion and ginger from broth then strain broth through a fine mesh strainer. The broth will have a layer of fat at the the top. There are two ways to remove this. First, if you plan to enjoy the broth now, skim the fat from the top of the broth using a spoon. If you do not mind waiting, you can also pour broth into containers then refrigerate overnight. As the broth cools, the fat will solidify, making it very easy to remove.
1Bring the broth to a gentle simmer over medium heat.
2If you are using dried noodles, add noodles to a bowl then cover with hot water and soak for 15 to 20 minutes until soft and opaque. If you are using fresh, add to a colander then rinse with cold water.
3To cook the noodles, bring a medium saucepan filled with water to a boil. Place noodles into boiling water and cook for about 10 seconds or until they collapse. Drain noodles then divide between bowls. (We like to fill each bowl by 1/3 with noodles).
4Arrange slices of raw meat into bowls, and then top with the hot broth. Finish broth with onion slices and cilantro. Serve bowls with a plate of optional garnishes listed above.
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- Black cardamom pod: Optional, but adds a smoky aroma. Find in International and Asian markets or online.
- Yellow rock sugar: Also known as “lump sugar” sold in boxes at Asian markets. Break into smaller chunks – use a hammer or rolling pin.
- Noodles: Use either fresh or dried “banh pho” noodles. For fresh noodles, immerse them in boiling water for a few seconds until they soften. For dried noodles, soak them in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are soft and opaque.
- Raw beef: Either ask your butcher to thinly slice or place beef into the freezer for 15 minutes to harden a little. Carefully slice the beef across the grain into 1/16-inch thick slices.
- Onions: Submerge in water for 15-20 minutes to remove raw flavor. This will tone down the “raw” flavor of the onion.
- Recipe adapted and inspired by Andrea Nguyen of Viet World Kitchen and Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen.
- Nutrition facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA database to calculate approximate values.