Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Split Pea Soup

Too many of us only know Split Pea Soup from a can. There’s really no comparison to the real deal! Done right, this homey (and kind of homely) Split Pea Soup will win your heart.

Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Split Pea Soup – I keep trying to get a BETTER pic, not sure I’m going in the right direction!

I gotta tell ya, as I’m writing this post and updating it a bit (it was one of the first posts on my site) that I’ve been making Split Pea Soup now for close to 40 years. And I usually make it after every holiday ham. I’m laughing a bit because I’ve never been able to take what I think is a good photo! Maybe this year? See, I think the very old photo of Split Pea Soup (above in the white bowl) looks the best but it has a lot of shadows and flaws. The funny thing is, my Split Pea Soup always tastes the same, no matter how it looks. And that’s because this is a great recipe.

About Split Pea Soup:

This Split Pea Soup is loaded with ham, fortified with caramelized vegetables, and the flavor goes on forever. I like to serve Split Pea Soup topped with a swirl of balsamic and a bit of red onion to add just the right bite. And of course, you can never forget the plain old saltines on the side. This is the Split Pea Soup that deserves a place in your repertoire of winter recipes! With a little care and a little love, Split Pea Soup can and should be considered a world-class soup.

I’m trying to remember when I first came across what was a game-changer for me as far as my Split Pea Soup, and that was a few hints from Cook’s Illustrated. I’m going to say back in the ’90s. That sounds better than the last century, right? Before that, I always made a good split pea but never really used a recipe. After adopting some of Cook’s Illustrated’s techniques, I make a great one. The only Split Pea Soup I’ve ever had that came close is one from Kramarczuk’s here in the Twin Cities, a Polish Deli and Sausage Company.

Split Pea Soup has had a bad rap for a long time. Admittedly, it is the most unfortunate color of green, but it also contains peas, another black mark, and the canned stuff that many of us grew up on really is a little strange. Remember the Exorcist? Split Pea Soup has been eaten since antiquity, but contributing to that bad rap is something many of us don’t know about. Split Pea Soup was eaten extensively during the Great Depression and during WW2, both overseas and in the United States, in a form that was nothing, really but a gruel of a few peas and water and didn’t do much but fend off starvation. So you can imagine a lot of people weren’t clamoring for Split Pea when the prosperity of the 1950s rolled around.

Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Making Split Pea Soup:

This recipe is a combination of how I make my Split Pea Soup with a leftover holiday Ham Bone along with a few hints from Cook’s Illustrated. The main takeaway is the way Cook’s instructs to very slowly brown and caramelize the carrots, onions, and celery, adding in a touch of sugar at the end. The flavor of those deeply caramelized veggies (take your time; it’s going to take about 30 minutes, but it’s while the soup is simmering away anyway) gives an amazingly deep flavor to the soup.

The other idea I stole off of Cook’s Illustrated was the touch of thyme in the soup. It’s like magic. And they are the geniuses who suggested the bit of balsamic and a touch of red onion for garnish. That bit of balsamic does nothing to add to the looks of the soup but it both brightens the soup and adds a bit of earthiness at the same time.

Shortcut Split Pea Soup:

Depending on the size of the ham bone I’m using (the shank always has the better bone) rather than use all the ham broth and bits of ham clinging to it just for this split pea soup, I usually make a big pot of my favorite ham stock and then use a portion of it and a portion of the ham for this Split Pea Soup.

You can do the same with my recipe for Best Ham Stock, Instant Pot or Stovetop or any other ham stock you have. You’ll need about 10 to 11 cups of stock, give or take, depending on how thick or thin you like your Split Pea Soup. I would start with 10 cups, holding back a cup of the broth and then you can add in at the end if you wish.

When I make a big pot of the Ham Stock, it’s far more economical because I can usually get two soups out of my one ham bone. I also think the stock is even better and the Split Pea Soup even more flavorful when I use my Ham Stock. In my Best Ham Stock Instant Pot or Stovetop recipe, the ham bone simmers longer with more aromatics and makes a “souper” great stock. (I just couldn’t help myself! Sorry!)

Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Saving Money on Split Pea Soup:

Like it’s after Holiday Ham counterpart, Navy Bean Soup, Split Pea is downright cheap to make. I last priced Split Pea Soup with Ham in February 2012, for $1.67 for six servings. I might want to update that pricing but it’s really not that much more today, in 2018.

Think about doubling this soup; Split Pea Soup freezes well, it’s a great soup to divide into portions for lunches or freeze for a meal. It separates when thawed so just stir it back together. And keep in mind if you have leftovers, this soup will thicken up and gel after being refrigerated; you’ll need to add a little water or milk when you reheat. That’s normal, so don’t freak if you haven’t seen that before. Try spreading some cold on crackers…it’s delish!

Split peas, which are actually a “pulse” don’t have the issues that many legumes have as far as needing to be fresh to cook through quickly. Look for them on sale during any holiday where ham is normally served. While they may not always be advertised as on sale, it’s likely you’ll find most of the beans and peas at a discounted price.

Since this soup only uses basic grocery store ingredients, especially the veggies, it really is a pittance to make. Shop well for your holiday ham, though! I like to buy more than one ham while they are at a low; a ham keeps for weeks in the fridge and can be frozen. If you’re looking for more ways to use up any ham, see my post, “12 Days of Ham.” It started out with 12 recipes and now has dozens along with a lot of hints on how to handle that Holiday ham after it’s back in the kitchen.

Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated


Split Pea Soup

  • Author: adapted from Cook's Illustrated
  • Total Time: abt 4 hours
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x


  • 1 meaty ham bone
  • 3 quarts water
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 pound split peas
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch of sugar
  • ¾ cup diced potato, preferably red, but any will do, peeled (1 large if red, medium if russet)
  • salt to taste
  • pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar, optional
  • Minced red onion, optional


Place ham bone, bay leaves and three quarts water in large pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 2 1/2 hours till tender.

Remove bone and when cool enough to handle, shred meat and set aside. Skim as much fat as possible from the top of the broth. (This is a good place to stop if you’re not making it for tonight’s meal – just refrigerate the broth and skim off any fat that accumulates on the top the next day.)

Add split peas and thyme, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes.

While the split peas simmer, heat oil in a large skillet and saute onions, carrots, and celery until liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown on the edges, five to six minutes. Reduce heat and add sugar, garlic, and butter, and cook slowly, stirring now and then till vegetables reach a deep caramelized color, about 30 to 35 minutes.

After the peas have cooked for about 45 minutes, add in the cooked vegetables, the potatoes, and the shredded ham meat. Simmer till consistency of heavy cream, about 20 more minutes. Season with pepper.

Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and minced red onion, if desired.


Split Pea Soup will thicken and gel in the fridge. Add milk or water when reheating to bring to desired consistency.


  • Calories: 394
  • Sodium: 364mg
  • Fat: 10g
  • Carbohydrates: 55g
  • Fiber: 21g
  • Protein: 25g


Helpful Links:

If you came to this recipe looking for a way to use ham, be sure to check out the link below for 12 Days of Ham. 

This Split Pea Soup, adapted from Cook's Illustrated coaxes out so much flavor - if you haven't had homemade, you haven't had Split Pea. #SplitPeaSoup #Cook'sIllustratedSplitPeaSoup


9 thoughts on “Split Pea Soup

    • Thanks Rebecca, and I’m so happy you let me know you liked it! I wish I were there, now for a bowl because I am now the only person in the household that likes Split Pea! Happy New Year’s to you both!

  1. Pingback: Slow Cooked Pea and Ham Soup « Rhianna's Guide to Ethical Eating

    • Thanks,Lolly – I’m really on a difficult learning curve with my new photography application! Hopefully, I’ll get better…The soup is better than it looks here! How do you like the new layout?

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