Turkey Gravy 101: Climb Aboard the Gravy Boat!
Rouxs and slurries and giblets, oh my! If you're intimidated, don't fret — there are a lot of folks in the same (gravy) boat. Here's everything you need to know to make perfect gravy this Thanksgiving.
Photo by Olga Ivanova
Gravy is what makes (or breaks) Thanksgiving, for me at least. It’s the first thing we run out of every year. And once the gravy boat is empty, well, the meal is basically over.
I didn’t realize what an ordeal a simple gravy can be until my first time throwing a Friendsgiving. I hardly got any pan drippings. I also was worried it would be a lumpy mess. And sometimes you just want your mom to make it for you.
Since Mom — or Grandma, or whoever your family relies on — can’t always save the day, here’s everything you need to know about not ruining the heart of Thanksgiving dinner.
Jump ahead to:
Turkey gravy tips
Let’s start with the basics, shall we?
How to make turkey gravy from scratch
For a traditional homemade turkey gravy, you start with the pan drippings, make a roux, and whisk until you have what everyone expects from Thanksgiving gravy — a savory, lump-free golden brown gravy to spread on all the things.
For the roux, like all French recipes, it’s about technique. A roux is a mixture of equal parts fat and flour that is cooked on the stove. In a classic turkey gravy, the fat comes from the roast turkey, fortified by butter if you’re a little short. Then, you whisk in an equal amount of all-purpose flour. Some recipes will call for a wooden spoon ... but ignore those. The whisk, preferably a flat whisk, is where it’s at if you don’t want lumps.
Whisk constantly while gently shaking in the flour, paying attention to the bottom of the pan, and you should be A-OK. Whisk again when adding the pan drippings and turkey or chicken stock. And if somehow you still have lumps, despite your best intentions, put the gravy through a fine mesh sieve or a strainer lined with cheesecloth.
Aside from technique, there’s a secret weapon for gravy making — Wondra flour. The packaging is a relic from the 1950s, but do not be fooled — this is thoroughly modern gravy magic. Wondra is an “instant flour,” which, like “instant rice,” has already been cooked, then dried again. It dissolves in an instant, as it were, which means far less chance for lumps to develop. It’s Martha Stewart’s go-to in her exceedingly spare gravy recipe, which you should just bookmark now.
How to make turkey gravy with cornstarch
If a classic roux feels like just too much, or if you’re accommodating a gluten-free dinner guest, find the cornstarch for a slurry. It’s an excellent, if sometimes forgotten, thickener.
To thicken the fat, turkey drippings, and stock, add a cornstarch slurry. A slurry is simply a mixture of starch and water. It's similar in principle to a roux, except that a roux is cooked, whereas a slurry is mixed raw and cooked along with the rest of the liquid afterward. The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, plus a little more, for every cup of fortified stock in the roasting pan. For an easy turkey gravy, like this one from MyRecipes, cornstarch is essential.
How to make gravy from drippings
Any classic turkey gravy is built around the pan drippings. You hope for a few tablespoons of turkey drippings from the roasting pan, then add all-purpose flour and stir over low heat until smooth and golden. Add stock — and perhaps sherry — then voilà! A few more minutes of whisking and you’ve got perfection.
Pro tip: At the end, add any extra juice from the plate where your Thanksgiving turkey has been resting for an additional flavor infusion.
Making turkey gravy from stock
Let’s say you don’t want to fuss with a last-minute roux-and-drippings situation. There are make-ahead gravy recipes, which, by definition, don’t include turkey fat. You can whip them up on the stovetop before that turkey has even been defrosted.
In the simplest recipes, you melt butter to make a roux and add turkey or chicken stock. That’s it. If you judge your gravy by its color (and I do) this style can feel a little meh. For richer color — and richer flavor — you can add meaty, flavorful things like porcini mushrooms and Madeira wine. It's OK to substitute the turkey broth with chicken broth if that's what you have on hand, or use vegetable broth for a vegetarian option.
How to make vegetarian gravy
Say you have mixed company at your Thanksgiving table — including some vegetarians, possibly some vegans. A flavorful gravy that works for all might seem like a challenge, but it’s really not.
Turkey gravy isn't the only game in town. Skip the drippings and giblets, obviously. The stock should be vegetarian. For vegans, choose a fat other than butter for your roux, or go with a cornstarch slurry instead. Then layer in flavor with your favorite savory ingredients, such as mushrooms, onions and garlic, herbs, soy sauce, and/or wine.
Remember, the goal for all gravies — vegetarian, vegan, or otherwise — is the same: a silky-smooth, umami-rich sauce that brings everything at the table together.
Going all vegan for Thanksgiving? Read through our 37 Ridiculously Good Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes for a slew of recipe ideas.
Whichever way you prefer your gravy, Happy Thanksgiving!
Ready to get cooking? Feeling good about gravy now? Check out the wide variety of excellent gravy recipes below. You've got this.
Make-ahead turkey gravy recipes
Sure, you miss out on the pan drippings, but make-ahead turkey gravy is one less thing to do day-of.
A David Bonom original for Yummly — and this one speaks to the highly organized Thanksgiving host, in that you can make it up to three days ahead of time (or three months when frozen, if that’s how you roll).
This make-ahead recipe, from Add A Pinch, is slightly less complex. In the words of one reviewer, “Quick, easy, and good.” As is, this recipe makes three cups of gravy, which you can double — or triple — depending on the nature of your company.
You had me at rich and silky. This recipe, straight from the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen, calls for porcini mushrooms, porcini mushroom powder and Madeira, as well as the very best turkey stock you can get your hands on (if not homemade, splurge). You’ll put it on every side dish you can, promise.
“The gravy base can be simmered up to a week ahead with onions, sage and Cognac and whisked into the pan after the turkey is done,” says Williams-Sonoma, of this recipe from Ina Garten. OK — deal.
Gluten-free turkey gravy recipes
Gluten-free gravy, thanks to the wonders of cornstarch (and friends!).
This quick and simple turkey gravy recipe, from MyRecipes, will absolutely work for your gluten-free friends. Thanks, cornstarch!
When they call it creamy, pay attention. This cornstarch-thickened gravy starts with pan drippings and gets an extra dash of milk for texture. Taste of Home calls for chicken stock, but turkey stock would make it taste all the better.
Oof, look at that color. If you prefer your gravy deep and dark, but you don’t want to make a traditional all-purpose flour roux, try this deceptively simple mushroom-based recipe from Food52.
Cornstarch is not the only gluten-free game in town. This recipe, from Glutenfree Club, flexes brown rice flour.
Keto turkey gravy recipes
Keto and other low-carb folks might feel challenged by Thanksgiving — but they don’t have to.
Grass-fed butter and coconut flours are what make this keto recipe from Recipes by Mercola so different. Reviewers suggest using xantham gum to help thicken, though.
Dr. Josh Axe is a clinical nutritionist and author of Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones, and Reverse Disease. This straightforward and delicious gravy recipe leans on gluten-free flour.
This low carb turkey gravy recipe has 0 grams carbs, thanks to the thickening power of gelatin powder. There's an option to make Whole30 paleo gravy, too.
This Cast Iron Keto recipe relies on xanthan gum for its texture.
Vegan turkey gravy recipes
Vegan Thanksgiving isn’t just for vegans anymore — as these vegan turkey gravy recipes prove.
It’s got thyme. It’s got cabernet sauvignon. It’s dairy-free. It’s oil-free. And it’s vegan. What?! This recipe, from The Vegan 8, checks all the boxes if you’re having a mixed-diet meal this Thanksgiving but still want the best gravy possible.
More, for our plant-based friends. This gravy recipe from Plant-Based Cooking features umami-rich ingredients like tomato paste, nutritional yeast, and tamari. One reviewer had the ultimate endorsement: “It was rich and tasted like it was made from the turkey.”
In this vegan gravy recipe, caramelizing the onions is everything. Add a little red wine and flour and this vegan gravy can top almost anything on the table — aside from maybe pie.
Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it has to be complicated or fussy. This recipe, from Nora Cooks, takes but 5 minutes and has only six ingredients, including the magical nutritional yeast.
Turkey gravy with giblets recipes
Turkey giblets can feel like a throwback to another era — but they are very Thanksgiving.
Diana Rattray, a Southern-cuisine expert and cookbook author, knows a thing or two about gravy. This old-school recipe calls for boiled giblets, which are then chopped and added back into the gravy, along with two hard-boiled eggs.
A little mustard gives this otherwise straightforward giblet gravy recipe an added layer of flavor. Recipe author Elise Bauer calls it the “queen of gravies.”
The Pioneer Woman rarely disappoints.
The secret to this ultra-creamy family recipe from Add a Pinch? Cream of chicken soup!
More easy turkey gravy recipes
The key to Thanksgiving gravy? Don’t overthink it. Sometimes simple is simply better.
Martha Stewart’s exceedingly spare and easy recipe proves that all you really need are some drippings, Wondra flour, and giblet stock to make Thanksgiving fantastic.
This delectable gravy, from our friends at Saveur, gets another layer of flavor from the dry sherry.
As easy as it gets, really — just three ingredients, not including salt and black pepper. It’s so easy, in fact, that you don’t really have to wait until Thanksgiving. Just add mashed potatoes.
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