Grandma’s Beef Pho (Pho Bo)

There is nothing like a warm bowl of pho! Hot broth, chewy rice noodles, succulent meat, and fresh herbs…what’s not to like? The process may take a while, but the results are worth it!

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Pho is a noodle soup that comes from Vietnam. There has been much debate about whether pho soup was inspired by Chinese or French influences, but the overall opinion is that pho is delicious. It is a dish that consists of broth, meat, and rice noodles. Pho is usually served with bean sprouts, fresh herbs, lime wedges, and fresh chilies. Many people enjoy having a bit of hoisin sauce or sriracha sauce to add to their pho for even more flavor.

Beef pho always brings back happy warm memories for me. Every Christmas lunch we would have traditional American foods like ham, roast beef, and mashed potatoes. These foods would keep us stuffed for hours. Thus when Christmas dinner time came along my grandmother and aunts would make beef pho. The soup would be easy to eat and digest. The rich broth and meat perfectly combined with with acidity of the lime and the freshness of the herbs. My cousins and I would slurp up all the delicious goodness year after year. I was always curious about the recipe, but there was never a good time to ask.

When my mother-in-law was planning my bridal shower she told me that it was tradition for the attendees to share their favorite recipes on recipe cards with the bride. When my mother asked me what recipes her sisters could provide I thought it was the perfect opportunity to ask for my grandmother’s beef pho recipe! At the bridal shower my aunt gave me a festive bag instead of a recipe card. In it was a container of beef pho spices. It turned out no one had written down the recipe! My grandmother never measured anything out. She just placed ingredients in a large pot and adjusted as necessary. My aunts learned to make pho by watching her and they did not measure out ingredients either. What was I to do?

Over the years I observed my family members as they prepared the pho. I took note of the types of bones they used and the cuts of meat they cooked. I made sure to write down the measurements during my trial and error days. After a few years of experimenting I finally created a pho recipe that tastes a lot like my grandmother’s. When I smell the broth simmering on the stove, I can picture her in the kitchen over a large stock pot about to ladle broth into bowls of pho noodles and chopped up herbs. Even though she’s gone, I’m so happy that I can still connect with her through food. I hope this recipe brings you as much warmth and joy as it has brought me. Please enjoy!

Grandma Hue’s Beef Pho (Pho Bo) Recipe

Yields 4 servings

Prep Time 20 minutes

Cook Time 3 hours 50 min

Specialty Tools: Spice bag, cheese cloth, or spice ball.

Beer Pairing Suggestion: Lager



6 whole star anise

6 whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

2 cinnamon sticks

2.5 pound beef bones

1.5 pounds raw beef brisket

14 cups of water

1 piece of ginger (3 inches), peeled

1 yellow onion, peeled and cut in half

3 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Optional: 4 ounces raw beef tenderloin*, very thinly sliced


8 ounces pho noodles, cooked to package directions

4 scallions, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

Garnishes: bean sprouts, Asian basil, chilies, lime wedges


Char onion and ginger. If using a gas stove carefully char over flame. If using an electric stove char them in a pan for a few minutes.

In a dry skillet, toast the spices over medium heat for 3 minutes.

Put the star anise, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, and charred onion and ginger into a cheese cloth bundle or spice bag. Set aside.

Place beef bones and brisket in a large stock pot. Pour in enough water to cover the bones and the brisket. Bring to a boil.

Boil for 5 minutes.

Drain the bones and brisket and rinse under cold water. This will help get rid of some of the impurities.

Wipe pot clean.

Return bones and brisket to the stock pot. Pour 14 cups of water over the bones and brisket. Add bundle of spices and charred onion and ginger. Stir in fish sauce, sugar, and salt.

Simmer for 3 hours. Make sure to occasionally skim the surface for fats and impurities.

Remove the brisket and let cool on a plate or cutting board.

Simmer remaining soup for 40 minutes.

Discard bones and spice bundle.

Adjust broth to taste with fish sauce and sugar if needed. If too rich then add a little bit more water, 1/2 cup at a time.

The broth should taste savory and smell fragrant with spices.

Slice the beef brisket against the grain into thin slices.

Divide noodles equally into four preheated soup bowls. Top noodles with slices of brisket, raw beef tenderloin*, green onions, thinly sliced onions, and cilantro.

Reheat noodles in the microwave if they are not warm.

Bring the broth back to a boil and divide evenly among the bowls.

Serve hot. Garnish with bean sprouts, Asian basil, chilies, and lime wedges

Want other Vietnamese soup recipes? Try my recipes for Chicken Pho and Bun Bo Hue!

*The hot broth will help cook the raw tenderloin to medium rare. Omit if you are uncomfortable consuming beef that is not well done.


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