Skip to main content

10 Tips to Make Every Pot of Homemade Soup a Success


My grandmother was an excellent cook. Fortunately, many of her recipes and techniques were handed down through the generations.

This hot and hearty vegetable beef barley soup looks delicious!

This hot and hearty vegetable beef barley soup looks delicious!

I've met a few rare people from time to time who were born with the gift of what I call "food chemistry." These talented folks can prowl through any pantry, refrigerator, or freezer, scavenging some of this and some of that, and prepare a dish fit for a king. None of these folks are professionally trained, and most of them didn’t have food mentors to show them what to do. Yet, they manage to create manna out of the most mundane ingredients.

I must tell you right up front that I am not one of them. However, after years of experimenting with soups, I have learned how to make a delicious and hearty soup out of just about anything. I don’t have that elusive "food chemistry" gift, but I have something called "soup mechanics," and you can have it, too.

I make hot and hearty soups from whatever happens to be in my pantry or refrigerator and in my local farmers’ markets. I often start with one of the Manischewitz cello soup mixes, simply because they are so flavorful and nutritious, but you don’t have to. Let your imagination be your guide, and let your willingness to experiment overcome your fear of failure. Believe me, with these soup mechanics tips, you’ll be able to overcome almost any accident or mistake.

1. Start With the Right Pot

Just as a durable house can’t be built on a faulty foundation, a pot of hot and hearty soup can’t be created in a flimsy pot. The long cooking time and low heat required to create a successful soup demand a heavy-bottomed soup pot large enough to hold at least four quarts. Also, make sure your pot has a tightly fitting lid so you can thicken (uncovered) or steam (covered) your soup.

2. When a Soup Recipe Calls for a Stock Base, Make Your Own

Not all soups require a stock base. Onion and tomato soups, for example, do not. But when a soup recipe calls for stock, it's a good idea to make your own. The liquid stocks you buy in cans or paper containers and the soup bases that are powders or pastes are all convenient, but they are also expensive, laden with preservatives and salt, and too predictable in the tastes they lend to a soup.

Stock is easy and cheap to make, and it’s fun. Plus, while you make it, your kitchen will smell heavenly. Here are some of the best stock-making methods I’ve found to meet almost any soup need.

While these methods are tried and true, experiment with whatever you have on hand. Keep in mind that early cooks used whatever was available to them, whether the ingredients came from the wild, a seasonal garden, or from scraps of previous meals.

3. Use Lots of Garlic and Ginger

Although garlic and ginger have distinctive and powerful tastes, they are also flavor enhancers, bringing out the essences of other flavors they join. We can use garlic and ginger to create their own signature tastes and aromas, but we can also use them to help blend other tastes and aromas into a unique soup signature.

Garlic, in moderation, complements almost anything, bringing out the best flavors of the other ingredients. Even if a soup recipe doesn’t call for garlic, you can be confident about mincing two or three cloves into the soup without worrying about a garlic taste. The garlic will just amplify the other tastes and aromas.

Ginger is a slightly different story. I use ginger as a flavor enhancer mostly in vegetable and chicken soups. Like garlic, it can deliver a bite, but also it can also provide a certain sweetness. When using ginger as a flavor enhancer (as opposed to a dominant taste), just ask yourself if you want a slightly sweet and aromatic note in your soup.

4. Cook It Low and Long

Don’t hurry. Slow cooking will give your soup a unique blend of flavors. The longer meats, vegetables, herbs, and spices co-mingle in hot liquid, the more complete their combined flavor will be. Once you get the ingredients up to a boil, lower the heat to the lowest possible temperature just to keep a gentle simmer going throughout the cooking process.

5. Decide Whether or Not to Cover the Pot

You may cook your soup covered or uncovered depending on the outcome you want. Leaving the lid off will make liquid evaporate faster, potentially creating a thicker and more flavorful soup. Leaving the lid on reduces the rate of evaporation, and it's good when the soup ingredients are done cooking but the broth isn't quite rich (co-mingled) enough for your liking. I always cook my soups uncovered, keep an eye on them, and adjust ingredients as needed through a low and long cooking process.

6. Use Fresh or Frozen Ingredients Instead of Canned

Although the concept of soup precludes the idea that almost anything goes, there are some prepared foods that should remain crossed off your list of soup ingredients. Let’s define fresh and frozen. Both terms refer to foods you buy or use that have not been enhanced with preservatives or flavor and color enhancers and have not been already cooked and processed. Fresh and frozen foods may come from either your garden or your grocer.

Canned foods have already been cooked through and through and lend little flavor or nutrition to the wonderful co-mingling of flavors in the soup-making process. There are some exceptions, such as canned tomatoes, which I use from time to time to add texture and taste. But I’m also mindful of what went into the can along with the tomatoes. As far as canned green beans, green peas, corn, carrots, and potatoes go, choose fresh or frozen preparations over these already over-cooked canned versions. The fresh taste you will achieve is well-worth the effort.

7. Give Soup Time to "Mature" in the Refrigerator

Like great stews, curries, and lasagnas, hearty soups taste even better after they've been in the refrigerator for a half a day or so and are then reheated.

8. Fix Watery Soup

I did not inherit the food chemistry gene, and I didn't inherit the one for masterful soup either. As soup was not a staple in our family, I had no early soup mentor. Mostly, I learned from trial and error, making plenty of watery soups along the way. When I say watery, I don’t mean a light, thin, tasty broth, as in a consommé, but broth that looks alright but has no flavor. Rather than throw away a pot of hot nourishment, I experimented with adding ingredients late in the cooking to turn bland and watery into tasty and rich.

Here's what I learned: If you have a lifeless broth, try adding drained canned tomatoes, a cup of finely shredded cabbage, a package of fresh-frozen mixed vegetables or corn, or a cup of cooked kidney or white beans. Or all of the above!

9. Fix Soup That Is Too Salty

I need to say here that I don’t cook with salt, ever. There are so many great herbs and spices, plus natural falvors in foods, that I don’t feel I need to add salt. However, sometimes you may make a mistake, like adding the salt a recipe calls for and then using a homemade stock that you salted. It does happen. Here are three ideas for fixing soup that is just too darned salty.

  • Wash and cut up a big potato into about six pieces. They will absorb and pull out some of the salt if you boil the pieces in the soup for about a half an hour, pick them out, and discard them, or eat them if you like salted boiled potatoes.
  • As you would do for fixing watery soup, add finely shredded cabbage, cooked beans, rice, or pasta. All of these will dilute and absorb salt in a pleasing way.
  • If the soup is still too salty, serve it as a sauce over unsalted rice or pasta.

10. Decant Your Soup If the Pot Gets Burnt

I hate this one! While I was learning to make soup, I would scrape the burned stuff off the bottom of the pot, hoping for something good to happen. Any cook can leave the heat on too high or not attend the pot, and vegetable and meat matter will burn to the bottom. If this happens, don’t stir the pot! Just decant what’s left on top, like you would a good wine to leave the sediment behind, and start again in a fresh pot. If you scrape the burned food into the rest of the soup, everything will taste of burn.


Fred on October 08, 2017:

Don't use salt? Ever? Remind me to never come to a dinner party at YOUR house ;)

Tony Mead from Yorkshire on July 04, 2017:

Interesting and well written hub. I like to make as many meals as I can from scratch and I like your advise on the use of herbs and seasoning.

Jen on January 09, 2017:

Great tips! Also, I always have some good parmesan on hand to sprinkle over the finished product. And a nice loaf of bread with good butter because if you mess up the soup at least you have good bread to eat.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on December 27, 2015:

Sherri, great tips. I hope to make my own soup next year--something my father wants me to try to do at home and save some money. I'll take your tips in mind when I do experiment with them. Nice hub!

Geri McClymont on December 22, 2015:

I appreciated finding your article as I have recently started experimenting with making hearty soups in my kitchen. Thank you for laying things out so clearly, which makes me realize it is easier than I realized to make a hearty and delicious soup. Also, I did not know that garlic and ginger enhance the flavors of the other ingredients in the pot (besides adding their own distinct flavors). Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 11, 2015:

Great hub, Sally. My father wants me to learn how to make soup instead of buying it, when it's less salty. Maybe I'll keep this in mind for this fall, when it's soup season again. Voted up for useful!

Tamara14 on September 21, 2014:

Excellent hub! As simple as that :)

Johne280 on June 30, 2014:

I appreciate, cause I discovered just what I used to be looking for. You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye bbggeceeckda

Susan McLeish from Rindge, NH on November 13, 2013:

Great tips for superb soup. I am one of those people with no formal culinary training but I can pull a soup out of the pot! Love the suggestion on banning canned veggies. I fully agree.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 29, 2012:

Thanks, Linda!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 29, 2012:

This is an excellent resource hub to come back to when a pot of soup needs additional assistance!:)

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on July 29, 2012:

I love cabbage so I will be sure to add it. I am also just discovering butternut squash and made butternut squash soup last week from my own recipe and it was gorgeous so I am going to experiment but this hub is like a template for soup success so I will be visiting often :o)

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 29, 2012:

Jools99, what a great comment! You are going to be eating soup for the next 6 weeks, and you're electing to make your own rather than buying them already prepared? I don't know what plan you are following, but I'd like to suggest you make use of finely grated cabbage. Not only is it good for you, it adds taste, richness, nutrition, and texture without adding hardly any calories. Hope you will be documenting your progress and recipes for all to enjoy!

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on July 29, 2012:

Fab hub. I am just starting a diet (pre-holiday diet) and it's goig to b soup all of the way for the next 6 weeks. Some great advice here. I had never ever thought about using a soup mix to start the soup and I can't believe I didn't! Voted up and shared.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 11, 2012:

DeborahNeyens, here's looking forward to cooler weather. On the other hand, something I never thought about until now...what about doing a soup using an outdoor grill? (I must be crazy.) Glad you like the tips!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 11, 2012:

Docmo, I'm glad this hub is inspiring you to take the leap into homemade soups. You have company...I never learned how to make a reliably good soup until I was well into my adult years. But once I did, nothing stopped me (except the summer heat). Just expect to make mistakes at the's a learning process like any other. Practice makes perfect.

I never heard of Tom Yum Goong, so I looked it up. I think I would love this soup! Too bad we're not next door neighbors...I'd eagerly trade you a pot of my hearty ginger and mint yellow pea soup for a pot of your Tom Yum Goong.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on July 11, 2012:

Great tips! I make homemade soup (and stock) at least twice a week during the colder months.

Mohan Kumar from UK on July 10, 2012:

While I love cooking, I have not dabbled much is making soup, I am ashamed to say ( I do make a good Tom Yum Goong) . Your hub has given me the confidence and inspiration to make some - especially a nice and rich, hearty soup for winter months. Excellent tips, nice video and easy to follow steps. This is truly useful. voted up/of course.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on February 21, 2012:

Alecia, TY so much for sharing. Practical and handy they are, and thanks for commenting and pointing that out. I'm guessing you're going to be trying something new with these soup starters and tips. Go for it!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on February 21, 2012:

kittyjj, a woman after my own heart! Garlic and ginger are not only flavors in and of themselves, but they are flavor enhancers, bringing out the subtleties of many other foods. Plus, there's some evidence that both of these are good for your body, overall. Thank you for commenting!

Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on February 20, 2012:

I love all of your suggestions! They are very practical and handy! I will definitely be sharing this as well as making some soup!

Ann Leung from San Jose, California on February 20, 2012:

I love using fresh garlic and ginger. I use them everyday.

A very informative hub! Thanks for sharing! :)

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on February 07, 2012:

You are welcome, robotmonster. :)

robotmonster from San Francisco on February 07, 2012:

Hello I'm new to hubpages, this is a great great useful piece. Thank you for that.

mandymoreno81 on February 04, 2012:

For soups, I like using thick pots with fresh ingredients. I think frozen vegetables or meats just don't have enough in quality or flavor. I do the same for a stew too.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on February 04, 2012:

Marntzu, so glad you find this info about the potato pulling the salt out of the liquid helpful!

Marntzu on February 03, 2012:

never would of thought of using the potato to pull the salt out of the dish, that is a brilliant idea I will be trying myself.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 26, 2012:

Go for it, GmaGoldie! Hearty soups are so very easy to make. And thanks for the good words. :)

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on January 25, 2012:

Sally's Trove,

Once again I learned allot. Ginger is my favorite but in soup - hmmm, I now have a new appreciation of making soup. Thank you! Will give it a try. As a new wife, I really must get out of my career girl lifestyle and actually cook - this will get me motivated. Thank you!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 24, 2012:

Sharyn, TY for the good words. When you write that hub, let me know...I'll link to it from here. :)

Sharon Smith from Northeast Ohio USA on January 24, 2012:

Hi Sherri,

Wow, I love this article. It is very well written, professional with lots of great tips. I'm craving soup now. And it also gave me an idea for a new hub - so thank you very much!


Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 15, 2012:

Trish, I just love your rich comment. Thank you my friend for sharing your thoughts and memories. And I must ask...has your beautiful granddaughter made that soup for you and her mom? :) Love always. ~Sherri

trish1048 on January 15, 2012:

With the colder temps of winter settling in, this hub reminds me of these warm, comforting meals, many of which I've had the pleasure of sharing with you.

When I think of ginger, ginger snaps come to mind. I never would have guessed it is used for actual meals :) I so love the soup you taught my granddaughter to make with ginger.

As far as burnt offerings, I once made a meal where I burned the meat. I salvaged the meat that didn't burn, but alas, the burnt taste permeated even that. Nothing I did saved it.

Looking forward to breaking bread and enjoying your soups again!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 13, 2012:

@Steph, thanks so much for your awesome comment! I was pretty sure I'd find some interest out there about what I've learned in my own kitchen when it comes to making good soups and rescuing accidents. As we know, and I like the way you put it, flavors "deepen in the fridge," but until I found that article from the Reluctant Gourmet I had no idea about the chemistry or physics underlying this tried and true practice. And thanks for the up!

@Dolores, I'm so glad you mentioned the wine. Sherry is nice, too, or a splash or two of balsamic vinegar added toward the end of the cooking time. LOL about slapping yourself upside the head about ginger...I do that when I find out the obvious has eluded me, so you've got company! I buy ginger by the two-pound bag, keep it in plastic in the fridge's vegetable bin, and always manage to use it up before it goes bad. I put ginger in almost everything! Thanks for your lovely comment. :)

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 13, 2012:

I'm with you, Lady_E. In the winter I make at least one pot of soup a week, usually more. Soup is a wonderful main course for any lunch or dinner, but it's also a great snack and much better for you than a piece of apple pie. *sigh*

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on January 13, 2012:

Hate to admit to not making my own stock. But I have improved my soup with a splash of wine. It just makes it all taste so rich. For some reason, though I am a ginger nut, I have not added it to any of my soups! (Slaps self in forehead) Next chicken soup will have ginger for sure. Voted up for yummy!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on January 12, 2012:

So many great tips, Sherri! Love the ones about how to make soup less salty or less watery. The tip about fixing soup that has a burnt bottom is the best, though! I love making soup and have to agree that long, slow simmering and allowing the flavors to deepen in the fridge are right on. Rated up! Best, Steph

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 12, 2012:

Thank you for reading and commenting, sabrani44.

sabrani44 on January 12, 2012:

Yumm, great tips! Thanks for sharing.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 12, 2012:

@Feline Prophet, I love your comment. You are so the kitty. Such patience for some things, but little patience for others. You are not pouncing on a mouse here. When you're faced with the need for long and slow soup cooking, curl up with a good book, purr, and knead a pillow until the soup is done. :)

@hazelwood4, YUCK about the gravy. That is horrible! I think you are right about this soup-making aspect of life: learn or burn. :)

Elena from London, UK on January 12, 2012:

Thanks for these useful tips. I like soup, particularly over the winter months.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 12, 2012:

@Wayne Brown, yes, yes, yes to everything you said! Especially the part about there's no buying good soup...certainly not commercial soups, anyway. However, I found a super website the other day where you can buy homemade chicken soup from Grandma! I haven't tried it yet, since it's rather pricey, but I love the concept.

Thanks for adding your suggestions and for leaving the good words!

@homesteadpatch, you are so right. The worse thing you can do is add canned veggies to a hot and hearty soup. Thanks for the up vote!

@annemaeve, thank YOU my wonderful daughter for the inspiration that led to this Hub. (I still have Ghost of Chicken and Miracle Soups to write about.)

@Stump Parrish, I love the idea of the gallon bag in the freezer and then V-8 as the liquid. What a smart idea in terms of taste and no-waste.

@L.L. Woodard, sounds like you like to experiment, too. We never know what a new ingredient or method might bring to the table. So glad your enthusiasm is renewed!

@Avamum, thanks for sharing your ice cream tub approach! So, you're not making a soup, but something more like a casserole or one-dish meal? Love it!

@mpoche4, your grandpa had the right idea, for sure. Using only what's in the pantry can be a hugely creative process. There's a radio cooking show I enjoy where the host asks a listener for five ingredients existing in the listener's refrigerator and then concocts an on-the-spot recipe for using those five. It's really amazing what can be done by combining ingredients "on the fly." Thanks so much to you and your grandpa. :)

hazelwood4 from Owensboro, Kentucky on January 11, 2012:

Thank for sharing these excellent tips for making great soup. A couple of weeks ago I had the very last point happen to me when making gravy! YUCK! I guess you either learn or you burn.:) HE HE

Feline Prophet on January 11, 2012:

I love this hub! I'm a great fan of soups, but don't usually have the patience to cook them long and slow. I have to learn to overcome my quick-fix leanings! :)

Michal from Miami, Florida on January 11, 2012:

Great tips for soup making!! My grandpa called the pantry dishes "make-em-eat-it"! I have made some of my best soups by throwing in what I have at the house!

Sarita Harbour from Yellowknife, Canada on January 11, 2012:

What a great hub! We love soups and stews, especially when the weather gets cold. I keep an ice cream tub in my fridge freezer, and add leftover rice, pasta, and vegetables until it is full, then I season to taste with our favorite herbs and voila - a meal for "free!" Lots of good tips here - thank you.

L.L. Woodard from Oklahoma City on January 11, 2012:

You've renewed my enthusiasm for soup-making with this hub. I've found some wonderful flavor combinations by using what I have on hand and throwing it together.

Stump Parrish from Don't have a clue, I'm lost. on January 11, 2012:

I like to keep a gallon freezer bag in my freezer for left over vegetables. Once the bag is full I add it to a jug of V8 juice, throw in some cooked meat and simmer for an hour or so. I do use soup bases but only at the end and add a little at a time until I get the flavor I want. I think most people use too much of this product and over power the flavor of the vegetables. My favorite soup is called Hunter's Soup and the idea originated from what ever the hunter bagged being thrown into a pot with what ever the wife had on hand. I like to use a combination of beef, pork and chicken in this vegetable laden soup.

annemaeve from Philly Burbs on January 11, 2012:

That was the most delicious Hub I've read in a long time. Hot soups are one of the few things that make winter tolerable! Thanks for sharing your brilliant, hard-earned ideas. :)

homesteadpatch from Michigan on January 11, 2012:

Excellent tips. Soups are a great use of leftover produce, and leftover meat. A chicken carcass makes a great base for broth. It's also very important not to use canned veggies, because the flavor won't be right, and you'll end up with mush. Voted up!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 11, 2012:

@annart, TY so much. Having a soup master in your life who finds worth here is awesome.

@MsLizzy, thanks so much for sharing! It's so interesting how relationships can influence soup. :) I'm a great lover of vegetarian yellow split pea soup. Maybe you will share your recipe? Or maybe you have and I missed it?

@Just Ask Susan, TY for sharing how you make soup and what you think of fresh/frozen vs canned. And TY for the good words!

@Arlene, I live for being able to add value to someone's life. No more scraping up the burned soup at the bottom of the pot for you! TY so much for your comment and votes.

Wayne Brown from Texas on January 11, 2012:

There's no buying good soup has to make it or plan on eating lots of carrots boiled in water. God help us if the price of carrots goes up. I love to make soups in the winter as well using as many fresh ingredients as possible and working with either a beef, vegetable or chicken stock broth as a base. I have also found that sweet Italian and hot Italian saugage brown in the same fashion as hamburger adds a lot of flavor on the meat ingredient side of the equation. The slow simmering is absolutely essential to attaing the flavor you desire as is a generous use of the garlic and ginger. Bay leaf can also be quite effective in some of the recipes. Thanks for sharing...very well done just like the soup! WB

Arlene V. Poma on January 11, 2012:

You're so cute, Victoria Lynn. I'm telling you. I've got quit a few bookmarks on recipes and cooking techniques from HubPages. Who needs the ancient Betty Crocker Cookbook and the pricey magazines? I'm collecting like crazy, and it's all in one convenient place.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on January 11, 2012:

I've done the same thing, Arlene. And it totally ruined the flavor. Double DUH! :-)

Arlene V. Poma on January 11, 2012:

Nothing like soup on a cold day. I like #10. All this time, I suffered with the burned stuff at the bottom of my pot by scraping it while I cooked, then fishing it out. I never thought of moving the soup to another pot. DUH! Voted up and everything else. Bookmarked, too!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on January 11, 2012:

I love making soups and usually make at least one huge pot of it once a week during the winter months. Using fresh or frozen vegetables is a healthier choice too as there is so much sodium in the canned vegetables. Excellent tips!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on January 11, 2012:

Great tips!

Watery soup? Toss in some instant rice. ;-)

I used to make soup more often in the past. I love the potato trick to rescue too-salty soup. I learned that one years back: my ex used to "help" by adding salt when I wasn't looking....

Back in the days before microwave ovens, when we had to cook our frozen vegetables in a saucepan with water, I used to pour off and freeze that water to use as a soup base, or stock. Since I no longer boil veggies, but nuke them instead, that option has gone bye-bye.

But, I think I just got hungry for some of my home made vegetarian yellow split pea soup.

Oh, and prevent that stuck-to-the-bottom burned accident by using a slow-cooker. ;-)

Bon apetit!

Voted up, interesting and useful...shared as well.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 11, 2012:

Great hub. My partner is a soup master but we can all benefit from your useful suggestions above. Voted up and useful

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 11, 2012:

Victoria, I love that video, too. I'm not sure how "real" it is, although all of it makes excellent sense, and I'm totally entranced with the girl at the end.:)

Thanks for reading and leaving your awesome comment.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on January 11, 2012:

Great hub! I love the video. Makes it look easy. I've gotten pretty good over the years at throwing things together to create a dish;I think watching my mom all my life helped a lot. She's amazing at it. I love soups, and you've given some great tips here. I've never thought of thickening with grated potatoes. Good to know about a potato soaking up too much salt. Excellent article!

Related Articles