The Right Way to Make Gravy From Scratch

Pan drippings are essential, our experts say.

A delicious gravy has a place on every dinner table—not just at Thanksgiving—and fortunately, it requires just a few simple ingredients to make from scratch. Whether you're preparing a classic brown gravy from beef or turkey or the Southern-style white gravy you usually find ladled onto fluffy biscuits, all you need to do is follow a few simple steps.

You'll find that gravy can vary widely in flavor and color, thanks to the many types you can prepare. But when it's prepared well, it's a delicious and vital finishing touch to roasts and other dishes.

What Is Gravy?

Gravy is not dissimilar from a pan sauce: It's made from the remnants of whatever you've cooked (typically meat fat), combined with a thickener (usually flour or cornstarch), and given body and flavor with any number of liquids (usually broth). It doesn't take long to make and what results is a thick, glossy sauce that adds both panache and flavor to anything it's poured over.

brown gravy with steak and mashed potatoes

Pan Drippings

No matter what type of gravy you're making, you need the right ingredients. "The foundation of a good gravy is good drippings," says Nora Singley, food stylist, culinary producer, and author of Noodle: A Recipe Newsletter. "Good drippings are nicely browned, which will impart that savory, rich flavor to a gravy." Drippings are, of course, the seasoned juices left behind in a roasting pan—which is what the French call a fond. Working with a piece of meat or poultry that is high in fat will render more drippings than a lean cut, and contribute more to the final product during the roasting process, says Singley.

Food stylist Barrett Washburne, who has worked on dozens of Thanksgiving photo and video shoots, agrees that the most important ingredient of all is the one you already have on hand. "I can't emphasize enough to use the stuff you already have in the bottom of the pan," he says. "That is the concentrated flavor that you need."

Meat Gravy

For a turkey gravy, the dark meat is key for this reason. For a flavorful beef gravy, a well-marbled chuck roast benefits from a long cook time and will produce great drippings. Red-eye gravy, a gravy of Appalachian origins, depends on ham fat and a bit of coffee for its rich, unique flavor.

Vegetarian Gravy

Yes, we just told you that meat drippings are needed for good gravy—and generally, that is true. But you can make a delicious vegetarian gravy with quality vegetable stock and butter, says Washburne (or go entirely vegan by using plant-based butter).

How to Make Gravy From Scratch in 4 Steps

Making gravy from scratch is a straightforward four-step process.

1. Deglaze the Pan

While meat is being roasted, drippings get stuck to the pan. Deglazing the pan is a critical step to incorporate those precious bits into your gravy. After removing the roast and the roasting rack from the roasting pan, place the pan across one or two burners on the stovetop. Add a small amount of liquid, usually stock or broth, to soften the drippings and release them from the pan; stir to help encourage this process.

Though stock or broth is the liquid typically used for deglazing a pan, feel free to get creative. "I love deglazing with vermouth," says Singley. "It lends an oxidized, nutty flavor to the gravy." Other options include coffee, red wine, vinegar, or even milk.

2. Make the Roux

Add your choice of thickener and stir to combine. Continue to cook until the mixture is bubbling and smooth, about one minute. This mix of fat and flour is an essential step in ensuring a thick and rich gravy. A good roux, though, takes attention and patience—it's an art form that can easily be mishandled, says Singley. "A roux goes from caramelized to burnt in a flash," she says. "Be sure to pull it from the stove just before it gets deeply golden, as it will keep cooking a bit when removed from the heat."

3. Add Stock

Slowly whisk in your stock. Cook, whisking, until the gravy thickens (reduce the heat if it starts to scorch). You need to work fast, and whisk well, Singley says. Otherwise, you'll be left with lumpy gravy, which is just about as popular as dry meat. The best tool for this task? "Get a sturdy metal whisk," she says. "The silicone ones are not the right tool for the job here."

Washburne's favorite trick—one he developed on a photo shoot—is using Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base mixed with water for a flavorful stock, rather than the traditional turkey or beef stock. "Use the drippings to make the roux, then mix in stock made from the BTB Mushroom Base and you're headed straight to umami town," he says.

4. Strain and Serve

Pour the gravy through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps. Season with salt and pepper and thin with water or stock, if needed. Always serve gravy warm; preheat the gravy boat using boiling water if necessary.

How to Take Your Gravy to the Next Level

Now that you've mastered gravy making, you're probably wondering how you can achieve restaurant-quality flavor from your gravy at home. According to our experts, a few ingredients can make all the difference.

Singley swears by the power of fresh herbs. "It's always nice to finish [your gravy] with a great mix—fresh thyme, parsley, chives, even dill," she says. "And a tiny pinch of fresh rosemary, finely chopped, can be fun, too." Washburne, like many other professionals, dispels the outdated myth that MSG is harmful. He suggests adding a sprinkle to your gravy for amped-up flavor.

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