Outside of old-fashioned Southern cooking and culinary traditions from countries like China, Japan, and Korea, you won’t find a lot of Americans today cooking with neck bones in their home. And that’s a sad thing, because the broths, braises, stews, and rice-based meals you can make with neck bones are fantastic.
From pork bones, to beef bones, to lamb bones, there are a wealth of uses for neck bones — in fact, they’re often the secret behind a rich stew or fatty ramen broth from your favorite restaurant!
Today, we’re going to cover a bit of general information about neck bones and where to use them, and then we’ll go into detail about the best ways to cook them and offer a few of our favorite recipes.
Types of neck bones
Neck bones are, unsurprisingly, from the neck, so all of the mammals we eat have them. Pork is the most touted and eaten, but beef neck bones aren’t far behind.
Outside of that, lamb, turkey, and chicken neck bones are all used to make broths and their own meals, but we’ll be focusing today on pork and beef neck bones since they are most popular.
What do neck bones taste like?
Neck bones are tough and sinewy and must be broken down with slow-cooking methods, but when they are cooked well, neck bones are amazing. If you’ve ever had oxtail or shank, it’s similar to that.
Neck bone meat has a strong meaty flavor due to the use the neck gets during the animal’s life. The more an animal uses a muscle, the tougher the meat will be and the more collagen the meat will have, which means when you cook it down you get more gelatin and delicious flavor.
Common ways neck bones are used
Here are the most popular ways neck bones are used:
- Inside rice dishes
- Ramen broth
- General broths
- Healthy bone broth
- In collard greens
- To give depth to stew
- To add to black-eyed peas or beans
- To give flavor to spaghetti sauce
The more you discover about the world of neck bones, the more you realize how many dishes use them!
How to clean neck bones
All neck bones should be cleaned before you eat them. This isn’t because it’s dangerous to eat neck bones — there’s just a lot of blood, cartilage, and other impurities that make a big difference in taste and appearance when removed.
You don’t have to do all of these steps every time, but if you want to be thorough, this is how you do it.
- Cover the bones in a pot of cold water, turn the heat on high, bring it to a boil, and then immediately dump the murky water out. This is known as “blanching”, and it allows the blood vessels to muscle fibers to tighten up and begin squeezing out any impurities[*].
- Remove the spinal cord if it’s there.
- Remove any tough bits of hard cartilage with a knife.
- Under cold running water, remove anything tinted brown. So blood, hard bits of organ, dark marrow, and anything else that isn’t white, beige, or clearly meat[*].
For context, check out how much of a difference blanching vs. not blanching the neck bones made in this Serious Eats ramen broth test[*]:
Okay! Now we’re ready to cook!
4 ways to cook neck bones
Because neck bones are tough and sinewy, each of these methods is a form of “low and slow” cooking. This is to coax out all that flavor and turn that collagen into a rich, melt-in-your-mouth texture, similar to how we approach brisket.
Method 1: Simmer
For 2-3 pounds of pork or beef neck bones.
- Clean the neck bones.
- Pat dry and season with salt and pepper.
- Place in a big pot and cover with 2-3 inches of water.
- Bring to boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour or until tender.
- Skim off any foam that arises.
- Drop in veggies and whatever else you’d like in the last few minutes. Onions, potatoes, celery, and carrots are also good choices.
Method 2: Bake
For around 4 pounds of pork or beef neck bones.
- Turn on the oven to 375.
- Clean the bones.
- Pat dry and season them with salt, pepper, or any other rub you wish.
- Place the meat in a roasting pan along with a little water, some fresh garlic, and a splash of vinegar.
- Wrap in aluminum foil or a cover of sorts.
- Bake for two hours while occasionally basting the meat to keep it from drying it out.
- Remove the aluminum foil.
- Cook for another 30-45 minutes or until browned.
Method 3: Slow Cook
For around 3 pounds of pork or beef neck bones.
- Clean the bones.
- Season with your favorite blend or just salt and pepper.
- Put in the slow cooker and cover with water.
- Add any aromatics you like along with a little vinegar to help tenderize.
- Cook on low for around 8 hours or high for 5-6.
- Add any veggies in the last hour or so — that way they don’t get mushy.
People usually opt for apple cider vinegar for extra flavor, and sometimes southern chefs add in a layer of corn starch after the seasoning to cook the meat evenly and make the broth a bit thicker.
Method 4: Braise
For around 3 pounds of pork or beef neck bones.
Braised neck bones are incredible. Braising is just a fancy word for giving the meat a light fry and then letting it stew — just like beef bourguignon.
All you have to do is:
- Clean the bones.
- Add some neutral oil to a dutch oven and put it over medium-high heat.
- Brown the meat in batches so you don’t overcrowd it.
- Remove the meat.
- Add in onion, garlic, other aromatics, a bit of tomato paste, and any fresh herbs.
- Wait until strongly aromatic and onions are soft.
- Deglaze with wine, beer, or a liquid of your choice.
- Add the bones back in.
- Cover and cook for two hours.
You can also combine these methods — e.g. boil to cook and then bake to brown! Sort of like a reverse sear.
Are neck bones healthy?
Neck bones, like any other meat, are best eaten in the context of a balanced diet. If eaten in moderation and bought from respectable producers that prioritize health over industrialization, then they have even more nutrients and can be considered a good addition to your diet.
Some important minerals in pork neck bones include[*].
- Calcium: 6.6 milligrams
- Iron: 0.5 milligrams
- Magnesium: 9.4 milligrams
- Phosphorus: 117 milligrams
- Potassium: 158 milligrams
- Zinc: 1.5 milligrams
- B vitamins: including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, and folate
Where to buy neck bones
Because Americans tend to eat “high on the hog”, an expression that means we often eat a few popular cuts off of the animals and ignore the rest, the market for neck bones is smaller.
This means you’ll have to go to a specialty store, order online, go to an international market, or ask your butcher if they carry them.
Our 5 favorite neck bone recipes
If you’re ready to give cooking neck bones a shot, then pick up some 100% pasture-raised pork neck bones, choose your recipe, and then get going! You’re in for a treat, and here are a few of our favorite recipes to get you started.
1. Classic Southern Neckbones and Rice
For a dish that takes you deep into southern roots, then look no further. Like many food traditions, getting amazing flavors out of less-expensive cuts during hard times is where recipes like this one were born. Give this recipe a shot and enjoy the incredible sense of home it brings.
2. Pork Neck and Noodles
This recipe subs rice for macaroni in a sort of faux casserole. With just a handful of ingredients, this dish rests comfortably on the flavor of the neck bones and is a great way to introduce yourself to this cut of meat.
3. Southern-Style Collard Greens
If you’ve ever had collard greens at an authentic Meat and Three restaurant and wondered how in the world they were so rich, well, neck bones were the answer. This is the only way to nail this classic Southern side, and it’s well worth the effort for your next potluck or BBQ.
4. Smoked Pork Neck Bone and Barley Soup
As we’ve said, it’s hard to beat a neck bone broth. All of the rich collagen that seeps out during a long simmer infuses with the water and creates a rich liquid that makes anything taste better. With that in mind, this neck bone and barley soup is a perfect demonstration of that and is great for a chilly evening.
5. Homemade Tonkotsu Ramen Broth
Good ramen broth is an art and a labor of love. It takes hours of prep and monitoring, but the results are always worth it. If you’re in the mood to take neck bone broth to its ultimate form, then give this Tonkotsu ramen broth recipe a shot.
The bottom line on neck bones
Neck bones are an amazing addition to any home chef’s rotation. They’re cheap, delicious, and make the most incredible broths and stews.
Shed the American hesitancy toward neck bones, pick some up, and dig into all of the delicious flavors now available to you. As long as you cook them low and slow and clean them well, you’ll end up with a great dish.
For the best results and nutrients, opt for 100% pasture-raised neck bones.
When animals are happy and living in more natural habitats, the meat they produce is better. It offers more nutrients, tastes more meaty, and is better for our environment.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to what you eat eats, and that’s exactly what we do at US Wellness Meats — you won’t find better neck bones for your dish, we guarantee it.
Get 100% pasture-raised, incredible pork neck bones delivered straight to your door.
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.