This delicious Vietnamese pho recipe is inspired by the restaurant version we all know and love, yet it’s made with a few time-saving shortcuts and your choice of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp.
Guys, let’s talk about how to make homemade pho! ♡
I’ve been a fan of this famous Vietnamese noodle soup basically all my life. But up until this year, I had always just assumed it was one of those dishes that only restaurants could really make well, and that any attempts at a homemade version would fall flat, especially when it came to pho’s trademark rich savory broth. Turns out, I was wrong, which is great news for all of us pho lovers! After testing and tinkering around with a variety of pho recipes these past few months, I’ve grown to love making this delicious Vietnamese soup at home. And it’s actually considerably easier than I expected too.
So this week, I’m excited to finally share — not just one, but — two favorite homemade pho recipes with you. Tomorrow we will get to the vegan version of this soup that is 100% plant-based (and 100% delicious). But today we begin with classic pho soup, made with your choice of either beef, chicken, pork or shrimp.
For me, a winning pho recipe all boils down (quite literally) to the quality of its broth. In traditional Vietnamese cooking, pho broth is simmered all day long in order to create that rich, traditional, cozy blend of flavors that we all know and love. But while beef pho broth is traditionally made 100% from scratch — which is incomparably delicious, yet requires bringing home lots of beef bones and extra veggies plus an extra 2-3 hours of simmering — I’ve tested out a shortcut using store-bought beef stock as the base for this broth instead. And in side-by-side taste tests, I honestly could hardly notice a difference. So I’ve written this recipe using the store-bought broth shortcut, which means that this pho broth can be ready to go in as little as 45 minutes. And when simmered together with charred onion and ginger, a generous handful of warming spices, a hint of sweetener, plus a heaping pile of fresh herbs as garnish, I’m telling you, this homemade pho broth is absolute magic.
The other great thing about making pho at home is that it’s a really fun interactive meal, especially if you’re entertaining. Just load up everyone’s serving bowls with noodles and their choice of protein, ladle in the steaming hot broth, then encourage everyone go to town piling their bowls high with lots and lots fresh garnishes. I’ve also included tips below for how you can do most of the prep cooking in advance to make entertaining stress-free.
Anyway, if you love pho as much as I do, you’ve gotta give this one a try. It’s the perfect comfort food this time of year. And I’m already certain you’re going to love it!
The Best Pho Recipe! | 1-Minute Video
Vietnamese Pho Ingredients:
Alright, before we get to the actual recipe, let’s chat for a sec about the ingredients. To make this pho soup recipe, you will need:
Steak, chicken, pork or shrimp: If you choose to use steak, chicken or pork, it will need to be super-thinly sliced in order to cook quickly in the broth. To do this, I recommend popping the protein in the freezer for about 45-60 minutes, then slicing it against the grain as thinly as possible. (Alternately, you can ask the butcher to thinly slice your meat for you, or add pre-cooked meat to your soup.) Or if you choose to use shrimp, just be sure that it is peeled with the tails on or off.
Thin rice noodles: Traditional pho is made with thin rice noodles, such as these. In order to prevent the noodles from overcooking in the broth, it’s traditional to cook pho noodles separately on their own. Then the noodles will be added to each individual serving bowl, and the protein, hot broth and toppings will be added on top of the noodles.
Pho broth: To make the most delicious pho broth, you will need the following elements:
Fresh onions and ginger: Which we will briefly cook in a skillet (or you can pop them under the broiler in your oven) until they are charred, to add that classic smoky flavor to the broth.
Beef stock: In order to save us all a few hours of cooking meat stock from scratch, I’ve written this recipe using (good quality!) store-bought stock as a shortcut. Vietnamese pho broth is traditionally made with beef stock, but you are also welcome to mix things up and use chicken or veggie stock instead if you prefer.
Fish sauce: It’s traditional to add just a little splash to the broth.
Sweetener: I used brown sugar to sweeten my broth instead of traditional yellow rock sugar, but really, any sweetener you prefer would work.
Sea salt: As always, to season your broth.
Toppings, toppings, toppings: This is one soup recipe where the toppings are not optional — they’re the stars of the soup! Feel free to pick and choose your favorites, but I recommend at least one from each category:
Fresh herbs: The more the merrier! I recommend a combo of fresh cilantro, fresh mint and fresh Thai basil (or Italian basil, in a pinch).
Bean sprouts: You can find these in the produce section of your grocery store, or they are always available in Asian groceries.
Lime wedges: Essential for brightening up the flavors of the broth.
Chiles (optional): Either sliced Thai bird chiles, jalapeños, or serrano peppers are optional if you would like to add some heat.
Onions (optional): Either sliced green onions or very-thinly-sliced white onions as a garnish.
Sauces (optional): It’s also traditional to serve pho with hoisin sauce and/or sriracha, to use as a garnish if desired.
See the full recipe below for ingredient amounts/instructions.
This is actually a double batch of the broth, which I highly recommend making while you’re at it!
How To Make Pho Soup:
Here is the basic overview for how to make homemade pho bowls! (As always, see the recipe below for the full detailed instructions.)
Prep the protein. In order to slice the beef, chicken or pork as thinly as possible, I recommend popping the meat in the freezer for at least 30-45 minutes to chill. Then use a sharp knife to thinly slice the meat before adding it to the soup.
Make the broth. Meanwhile, as the meat is chilling, char the onion and ginger (either in a skillet or under the broiler). Meanwhile, briefly toast the spices in a large stockpot. Then add in the onion, ginger, and broth. Cover and let everything simmer together for at least 30 minutes so that all of those flavors can meld. Strain out and discard all of the onions, ginger and spices. Then stir in the remaining ingredients and season with salt.
Prep the noodles. Meanwhile, as your broth is simmering, go ahead and cook the noodles al dente according to the package instructions. Drain in a strainer, then toss briefly with cold water to prevent the noodles from continuing to cook, and set aside. (I also recommend tossing the noodles with a drizzle of oil — such as sesame oil — to prevent them from sticking.)
Assemble. Once everything is ready to go, add a handful of noodles to each individual serving bowl, topped with your desired protein. Then ladle the simmering hot broth into the serving bowls, being sure to submerge the meat so that it will get cooked. Top with lots and lots of garnishes.
Serve. And serve warm, encouraging everyone to stir the garnishes into the soup so that they can flavor the broth, also adding in additional extra sauces if desired.
Want to customize your own homemade pho recipe? Feel free to…
Use pre-cooked proteins: If you prefer not cook raw meat in the broth, you are welcome to use pre-cooked meat instead. For example, feel free to shred a rotisserie chicken, or slice up leftover cooked steak, or add in some diced cooked pork to the soup just before serving. Or if you are using raw meat and just want to be sure it is cooked well-done, feel free to stir the meat into the pot of hot broth, then ladle the broth and meat together into the individual serving bowls.
Use ground (instead of whole) spices: I really recommend using whole spices for this recipe if you can. But in a pinch, feel free to substitute their ground equivalents. Those substitutions would roughly be: 2.5 teaspoons ground star anise, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon, pinch of ground cardamom, 2 teaspoons ground coriander.
Instant Pot pho: If you would like to make the broth in the Instant Pot (pressure cooker), first use the “sauté” setting to char the onions and ginger. Then add in the spices and stock. Cover, seal, and cook (manual high pressure) for 10 minutes, followed by a quick release. Add in the remaining ingredients as directed in the recipe.
Crock-Pot pho: If you you would like to make the broth in the Crock-Pot (slow cooker), add the onion, ginger, spices and stock to the bowl of a large slow cooker and stir to combine. (You are welcome to char the onion and ginger beforehand, if you would like, then add them to the Crock-Pot.) Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours*. Add in the remaining ingredients as directed in the recipe. *If it seems that much of the broth has evaporated while cooking, just add in a cup or so of extra water.
Make it vegetarian/vegan: Here’s the link to my new plant-based vegan pho recipe.
Add fennel seeds: If you happen to have fennel seeds in your spice cabinet, add a teaspoon in along with the other spices for extra flavor.
A few final FAQs before we get to the recipe…
What is the proper “pho” pronunciation? The closest way to write the correct pronunciation with English characters is “fuh.” But Vietnamese is a tonal language, so the correct pronunciation requires lifting the pitch, like this.
How do you serve pho? Pho soup is traditionally served in large bowls with chopsticks and a soup spoon. But of course, you are welcome to use whatever dishes you have. ♡
How exactly are you supposed to eat pho? First, use your chopsticks to stir all of those garnishes into the broth to help give it extra flavor. (You can later pick them out, if you don’t want to eat stems, chiles, etc.) Then alternately, use your chopsticks to eat the noodles, protein and veggies, while using your spoon to eat the broth. In Vietnam, it’s also encouraged to lift up your bowl to drink the last of the broth, if you would like.
Is pho healthy? I’d say it’s pretty healthy, especially if you use a leaner meat as your protein. Feel free to also use brown rice noodles (instead of white rice noodles) if you would like to make this recipe a step healthier.
Is pho gluten-free? Yes, this pho soup recipe is naturally gluten-free. (As always though, just be sure to double-check that all of your ingredients are certified GF.)
Is the meat in pho fully cooked? If the meat is very thinly sliced, the broth is boiling hot, and the meat is completely submerged in the broth right away — then yes, the meat should be fully cooked. That said, if you want to be 100% sure that the meat is fully cooked, see instructions below for cooking the meat instead in the hot stockpot of broth and then adding it to the individual serving bowls.
Is pho traditionally made with beef broth? Yes. We start to blur the lines a bit with the traditional definition of Vietnamese pho if you start to sub in chicken broth, or use pork, shrimp, etc. But for different people who prefer different kinds of proteins, I’m presenting some non-traditional options here.
Make ahead instructions? Nearly all of the components of this recipe can be prepped in advance, if you would like. (Which would make this recipe even easier if serving it to a big group.) For example, the noodles and broth can be prepared and then refrigerated (separately) in sealed containers until ready to reheat and serve.
Storage instructions? I recommend refrigerating the broth, protein, noodles and garnishes in separate containers, so that the noodles do not soak up all of the broth. But the cooked soup (with the ingredients stored separately or mixed together) can be refrigerated in sealed containers for up to 3 days.
garnishes: fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, and/or Thai basil), bean sprouts, lime wedges, thinly-sliced chiles (Thai bird chiles or jalapeños), thinly-sliced onions (green onions or white onions), sauces (hoisin and/or sriracha)
Char the onions and ginger*. Turn the oven broiler to high, and place the baking rack about 8 inches away from the heating elements. Place the onion and ginger cut-side-up on a baking sheet, and brush with a bit of oil. Broil for about 7-10 minutes, until the tops of the onion and ginger are slightly charred. Remove and set aside.
Make the broth. Meanwhile, heat the anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and coriander to a large stockpot over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes until fragrant. Add in the charred onion, ginger, stock, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the broth reaches a simmer. Then reduce heat to medium-low, cover with a lid, and continue to simmer for at least 30 minutes. Strain out (and discard) the onions, ginger and spices. Stir in the fish sauce and sweetener into the hot broth. Then finally, taste and season the broth with salt as needed.
Prep the noodles. Meanwhile, as your broth is simmering, cook the noodles separately al dente according to the package instructions. Drain in a strainer, then briefly rinse the noodles with cold water to prevent them from continuing to cook. (I also recommend tossing the noodles with a drizzle of oil — such as sesame oil — to prevent them from sticking.)
Assemble. Now the fun part! Add a handful of noodles to each individual serving bowl. Portion the steak between each serving bowl. Then ladle the still-simmering hot broth into the serving bowls, being sure to submerge the steak completely so that it gets cooked*. Top each bowl with lots and lots of garnishes, and finish with a squeeze of lime juice.
Serve immediately. Encouraging everyone to stir the garnishes into the soup so that they can flavor the broth, also adding in additional extra sauces if desired.
To make beef pho: Use any kind of lean steak, very thinly sliced against the grain. (I recommend freezing the steak for 30-60 minutes beforehand, to make it easier to slice.)
To make chicken pho: Use boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, very thinly sliced against the grain. (I recommend freezing the chicken for 30-60 minutes beforehand, to make it easier to slice.)
To make pork pho: Use boneless pork chops, very thinly sliced against the grain. (I recommend freezing the pork for 30-60 minutes beforehand, to make it easier to slice.)
To make shrimp pho: Use peeled and deveined (tails on or off) large shrimp.
Alternate charring option: Instead of broiling the onion and ginger in the oven, you can also just cook them cut-side-down in a sauté pan over high heat until charred.
Cooking the meat/shrimp: Again, it’s very important that the meat is very thinly sliced, the broth is simmering hot, and that the meat is completely submerged in order for it to cook fully. If you have any doubts or would like to 100% ensure that the meat is fully cooked, see the option below.
Alternate meat/shrimp cooking option: Instead of cooking your protein (steak, chicken, pork or shrimp) in the individual serving bowls, feel free to instead stir the protein directly into the stockpot of simmering broth to ensure that it is fully cooked. Then ladle the broth and protein together into the individual serving bowls.
Double batch: Again, I highly recommend making a double batch of this recipe while you’re at it! To do so, you will need a large stockpot (at least 5 quarts) to handle the quantity of broth.
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