Fat, flour, and liquid is all you really need for a gravy recipe.

By Margaret Eby
October 14, 2020
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Gravy is the secret star of the Thanksgiving table. It can save too-dry turkey and under-seasoned mashed potatoes, as well as marry together all the diverse flavors on the plate. A good turkey gravy is like a secret bonus of cooking a turkey—just those caramelized drippings rendered from the turkey’s long roast in the oven are enough to bring deep turkey flavor to the whole gravy. Of course, even if you don’t eat turkey, or don’t have those precious drippings, you can also make gravy. Here are our best tips on how to make perfect gravy every time.  

Victor Protasio

What Is Gravy Anyway

At the most basic level, gravy is a simple pan sauce that requires liquid and a thickener. Traditional turkey gravy usually has fat, flour, and stock. You can make an excellent turkey gravy with just those ingredients, plus salt and pepper for seasoning. The flour and fat make a roux, which thickens the stock to spoon-coating consistency. A traditional roux goes for a roughly equal amount of flour and fat, but gravies often call for a bit more flour than that, to thicken the gravy more. (The classic ratio for gravy is three-two-one—three tablespoons flour, two tablespoons fat, and one cup of hot stock.) You can add other flavors to the mixture, or swap out the stock for other liquids, or use cornstarch rather than flour. But the backbone of the sauce is a flavorful liquid plus a thickener to up the liquid’s viscosity.

Fat Goes First

To build a gravy, the first thing that goes in the pan is fat. If you have drippings from your turkey at the bottom of the roasting pan, you can use that. For a gravy that serves about 16 people, our Associate Food Editor Kelsey Youngman recommends a quarter cup of drippings for the gravy. If you don’t have that much, or any at all, you can supplement or substitute other fats for the drippings. Bacon grease is a great choice, like in this bacon-shallot gravy, or you can use melted butter or oil. Warm the fat in the saucepan you’ll be using for the gravy over a medium-low heat. 

Think About Aromatics

If you want to add an extra element to your gravy, like sweet onions and garlic or mushrooms and herbs, now is the time. Cook the vegetables in the hot fat until they’ve softened, and onions have just started to brown around the edges. You don’t have to add anything extra to your gravy if you don’t want to, but this is the window to add extra herbaceous or onion-y notes.

Choose Your Thickener

If you’re using flour as your thickener, this is the step to add it. To avoid lumpy gravy [link when lump gravy story is live], use a fine-mesh sieve to sprinkle the flour over the fat or drippings and the cooked vegetables, if you’re using them. Youngman’s recipe calls for 7 tablespoons of flour to 1/4cup of fat, just shy of a 2-to-1 flour-to-fat ratio. If you’re working with less gravy, or worried about it getting too thick, cut down on the amount of flour. You can always thicken the gravy more later. Whisk the flour into the fat slowly over the heat until it's well incorporated. 

If you’re using cornstarch for your thickener, you’ll want to wait until you have the stock in the pan to add it. Cornstarch has twice the thickening power of flour, so it’s best to go slowly and add a little at a time to the gravy until it gets to your desired consistency. The best way to do that is to make a slurry of 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 1 cup of cool stock, whisked together. Add the stock and cornstarch slowly once the liquid in the pan has gotten up to a simmer, whisking the whole time. 

Deglaze with Liquid

Now is the point where you add liquid to the situation. Turkey stock is the traditional gravy ingredient, but you can also use whatever stock you have on hand. In Youngman’s Best Ever Turkey Gravy, she adds 4 cups of stock to the pan, but you can adjust that up or down in proportion to the amount of fat and flour you’re using. Add a little bit of the stock at first, roughly half a cup, and scrape up the drippings and browned bits of meat or vegetable from the bottom of the pan. Then gradually whisk  the rest of the liquid into the mixture slowly, stirring to make sure the broth, thickener, and aromatics are well incorporated.

Let It Come Together

Bring the gravy up to a simmer, continuing to whisk, and itshould start to thicken up. The ideal consistency for gravy is memorably described by the French as nappant, or thick enough to coat a spoon. If you dip a spoon in the gravy, you should be able to run your finger along the back of the spoon and leave a trail. If you’ve simmered the gravy for 10 minutes and it’s still not thick enough, don’t fret—you’ve got options. You can always make a quick paste of equal amounts (say, a tablespoon each) softened butter and flour called a beurre manie. Crumble the paste into the simmering liquid, a little at a time, whisking all the while and allowing the gravy to thicken for a minute or two before deciding to add more. 

Season to Taste

Once the gravy is lusciously nappant, now is the time to adjust seasoning. It’s always a good policy to wait until the sauce is reduced and thickened to your liking before adding salt–adding it in the beginning can result in an overly salty sauce. Taste the gravy and add salt and pepper to your liking. You can add other spices as well, depending on what flavor profile you’re going for. Smoked paprika or an chopped up chipotle in adobo add a smokey, spicy hit, for example. Feel free to experiment a bit. 

Too Thick?

Gravy tends to thicken as it sits, particularly in the fridge overnight. Don’t fret—stir in more hot stock or hot water, a tablespoon at a time, until the sauce gets to the consistency you’re looking for. It’s all gravy.