It’s Thanksgiving Dinner, your turkey is roasted to perfection and you’ve got a house full of guests. Maybe it’s a nice weekend meal and everyone is sitting down for a tasty meatloaf dinner together for once. Or it’s a busy weeknight and you’ve got to quickly reinvent last night’s leftover chicken into something tasty and new. What do all these scenarios have in common? Gravy makes it better!
Now I know that there is a certain mystique around making gravy. TV Shows and books make jokes about awful lumpy gravy. It seems a skill reserved for grandmothers with “the knack” and talented foodies. I am here to tell you–that is not the case. You, yes you, can make gravy!
To start off, you really need to understand what it is you are doing when you are making gravy. It’s simple really–you are just thickening a flavored liquid, usually with the help of some fat.
That’s it. All gravy are just variations of that. Brown Gravy, chicken gravy, “country” milk gravy, Breakfast style biscuits and gravy. . . just different liquids and spices giving different flavors. For thickener you might use wheat flour or cornstarch. . . but you always wind up with gravy!
There is one more important thing, a very important thing to realize when you are making gravy:
Thickeners must be dissolved in cold liquid before being added to anything hot or heated up in any way.
This is where the dreaded lumps come from–adding flour or cornstarch to hot liquid! Usually it’s an accident–you thought it was all already dissolved in your cold liquid, but when you pour it in to your heated broth. . . BAM. Lumps.
So now it’s time to talk GRAVY. Here are three methods for making gravy:
1) Use a packet.
Yeah, this is pretty much cheating. That’s ok though! Sometimes we all need to get things done fast, and gravy from a packet is fast and tastes pretty good. You are basically purchasing bullion, spices and thickener all put together in a convenient package.
I like to buy McCormick or Great Value brand gravy packets at my local Walmart. They run less than a dollar each and I always have at least a couple chicken/turkey and brown gravy packs on hand. It’s a go to meal on super busy nights–just make up a packet of gravy, take some previously cooked meat (home canned, cooked & frozen or leftovers from earlier in the week), mix together and serve over toast, rice, biscuits, noodles or whatever else you can dream up.
2) Make homemade gravy from pan drippings.
Before I get into my method for making gravy, I want to put in a disclaimer. There are multiple methods for making gravy, and it can be quite hotly contended between cooks. Any good cookbook–like my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook–will have directions on how to make gravy, and they may be different from the way I am going to teach you. Most of the “modern” methods I’ve seen combine cooled broth, the thickener (ie flour) & fat and then heat everything up. That seems like an extra step to me–but by all means feel free to try a couple of methods and see what works best for you.
So to make gravy from drippings you need only two things. Your meat (in this case a lovely Jenni O prime young turkey from Walmart–but chicken, roast beef, meatloaf, even sausage could work) and your thickener (flour). Oh–and water. But I’m assuming you all have water readily available.
Now turkey is a bit of a special case. When you purchase a turkey it comes with the giblets and neck. That’s right–there is usually a neck pushed down the neck of the bird, and in the body cavity there is a package (frequently paper) with the giblets (ie gizzard, heart and liver) inside. I like to make a modified giblet gravy.
I cook the neck and giblets (minus the liver) in water to make a flavorful and more nutritious broth utilize making my gravy. Some folks like to add the liver for the last 20 minutes of boiling, and then finely dice the liver, heart and gizzard and add them back into the gravy. Then again other folks just skip the giblets all together and just use water–it’s your choice.
While your giblets are simmering away on the stovetop, your turkey (or chicken or meatloaf or whatever) should be cooking. I like to use a roasting pan with a rack to keep the bird up out of the drippings a bit. It also helps me to transfer the bird out of the pan when it’s time to make the gravy. Here are the steps for making your gravy from pan drippings:
1. Roast your bird according to your favorite recipe.
2. Remove the bird from the pan. Don’t worry about all that stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan–even the little bits that look a bit burned. Those are THE GOOD STUFF that give your gravy flavor. They actually have a special name–in the culinary world those caramelized brown bits are called “fond”. Many recipes I’ve seen tell you to remove all but 2 TBS of the fat from the drippings. Honestly I never bother unless it looks like there is a TON of fat. I don’t want greasy gravy, but I do want it to have flavor and taste rich.
3. Add a bit of water to the pan–just enough to cover the bottom by an 1/8 of an inch or so. Place the roasting pan over two burners and turn them on to medium or medium low.
4. As the water heats take your favorite whisk and start scraping and stirring. You are trying to get every little bit of everything off the bottom of the pan, broken up and dissolved into the water.
5. Let the water start coming to a boil. Since your pan is stretched across two burners you will have two hot spots that show some bubbling.
6. Remove the giblets from their water. At this point you may dice them up finely if you want to add them to the gravy. I just gave them to my dog who thought I was the BEST owner ever!
7. Pour your broth into your drippings and stir together. At this point I take the roasting pan off the burner for a few minutes.
8. Mix together very well about 1/4 C flour and 3/4 C cold water. You could use cold broth or even wine/beer if you wanted (of course that will change the flavor).
9. Pour the flour/water mixture into the dripping/broth. Whisk together well and then return to the heat.
10. Heat the gravy up to boiling, stirring so it doesn’t stick as it thickens up. The boiling is important–thickeners won’t reach their full potential until they are heated to a boil.
That’s it! You have your dripping gravy. There are really only three things that can go wrong–and I’ve got a fix for each of those!
First–you could wind up with lumps.
That’s ok, because you have a secret weapon–your strainer. If you don’t have a little hand held strainer, you really should run right out to Walmart and buy one. It’s useful for all kinds of things like sifting powdered sugar, straining tea leaves, or straining your gravy. That’s right, just pour your gravy through a strainer on it’s way to the gravy boat and no one will ever know that there were lumps in the pan.
Second–your gravy could be thin.
Well, you need to thicken it up a bit more. Dissolve some more flour in at least twice as much water (try a couple of tablespoons in a 1/4 C), add it in, stir well, bring back up to boiling and see how thick it gets.
Third–your gravy could lack flavor
It happens. Sometimes you’ve added too much water, or you didn’t have much in the way of drippings. Whatever the cause, bullion cubes are your friend. They are a great way to amp up the flavor of your gravy. Since you’ve already gone through the trouble of thickening it up nicely, you don’t want to add more water if you don’t have to–so don’t dissolve the bullion cube. Just powder it (using a mortar and pestle, mini food processor, or just gently smashing it with the back of a spoon) and add it directly to your gravy. Mix it in and TADA –amped up flavor!
You know what one of the best things about making gravy from pan drippings is? With all the scraping and boiling, it cleans the pan for you!
Now I’ve shown you the easy/cheater way to make gravy (using a packet) and what I consider the gold standard of gravy–using pan drippings. Here’s the third way:
3) Making Gravy from Broth
This is the same technique you would use for making milk gravy–except you’d substitute milk for the broth and you would not bring it to a full boil–milk does funny things when you boil it.
To make this gravy you will need your flavorful liquid (broth, stock or milk), your thickener (flour) and because you aren’t using drippings you need to add your own fat in the form of butter.
1. In a measuring cup mix 1/4 C flour and 3/4 C water and mix very well. Remember–any flour that isn’t dissolved in may form lumps. Pour the broth, the butter and a bullion cube into a pot but do not heat yet. (you could use just the broth but I only had one can and wanted to make a larger amount of gravy)
2. Pour the dissolved flour into the cold broth & butter. Stir together well. Turn on the heat and bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring to dissolve the bullion cube and mix in the butter as it melts.
3. Check for seasoning–add in additional bullion, salt, pepper, and spices (in the case of chicken add sage).
4. Enjoy your gravy.
Now this gravy will never have the depth of flavor that gravy made from drippings has, but it’s a respectable gravy that is easy to make and should be enjoyed by your whole family.
So what do you think–are you ready to tackle gravy now?
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Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
For smaller amounts of gravy I shake the flour/water together in an old baby food jar instead of trying to stir it. It’s easier for me to avoid lumps this way. Even for larger amounts I often use a mason jar rather than whisking it together.
You can also fix lumpy gravy with a quick whiz of an immersion blender.
I’ve never tried making country sausage gravy before, but I really should give it a try. I love biscuits and gravy in American restaurants, but don’t get there very often, and Canadian ones just don’t do it well or at all. Although it might be better for my waistline if I didn’t.
Thank you for this great tutorial! It gave me the courage to try Thanksgiving gravy again, nine years after spilling all the drippings from a 25-lb. turkey on the kitchen floor on Thanksgiving, due to a too-complicated gravy recipe. I used method #2 and it was delicious! I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving!