How-To & Diy

How to Make Gravy Without a Recipe

November 18, 2013

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Gravy is spectacularly easy, and -- spoiler alert! -- even make-ahead friendly. Here's how to make it happen. 

How to Make Gravy by Food52

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By this point in November, you're likely eyeball-deep in recipes: The one for the perfect bird, the most genius cranberry sauce, the root vegetable pie you'll carry proudly to the table, turkey or no. You've printed out this pie dough recipe (or this one, or both), and it's only a matter of time before these pies are added to the mix. You're tired. Your printer is equally so. 

You deserve a Thanksgiving classic you can make without a recipe (and we're talking more than mash) -- one you can make with your eyes closed and with one hand tied behind your back. Listen up, people: This year we're winging gravy.  

(The best part of all of this? Contrary to what Thanksgiving legend says, your gravy can be made ahead of time -- up to 4 or 5 days. Just make good on your turkey drippings by whisking them in right before you serve.) 

How to Make Gravy Without a Recipe 

1. If you're making your gravy ahead of time, skip to step 2 -- you'll do step 1 on Thanksgiving day, immediately before serving. If you're doing this whole thing last minute like a ninja, place your roasting vessel on the stove, and deglaze with a healthy splash of wine, or stock, or -- in a pinch -- water. Add aromatics like rosemary for fun. Remove from the heat and strain. 

How to Make Gravy from Food52 

2. Make a roux. As you have previously learned, this will be the magic that thickens your gravy. Here's how it works: Melt butter, whisk in flour, cook until it's a nice, golden brown. If you're doing this on the day of while the bird rests, feel free to use some of the fat from the drippings as a base for your roux. All in all, for ten to twelve people, go with 1 stick of butter (or a half cup of fat) and a half cup of flour to 4 or 5 cups stock. If you have a cozier Thanksgiving planned, halve that. 

How to Make Gravy from Food52

3. When your roux is where you want it to be, whisk in the deliciousness you made in step 1. (If you're doing this in advance, just use that amazing homemade turkey stock we know you have on hand.) You want your heat around medium-low here, and adjust as necessary. 

More: Can't get on board with the whole turkey thing? Make this vegan, gluten-free gravy instead.

How to Make Gravy from Food52

4. Keep adding your warm, remaining liquid, and keep whisking -- hard. Remember your Aunt's lumpy gravy? Yeah, you don't want that. 

How to Make Gravy from Food52

5. Simmer your gravy over medium heat until it's thickened to your liking. At this point, it's very forgiving: Just add more liquid at will if you over-thicken. When it's right where you want it, season. We like to keep it simple with salt and pepper, but have also been known to whisk in a bit of soy sauce. You do you. 

How to Make Gravy from Food52

If you're making this ahead, let it cool before storing in the fridge, with plastic wrap snuggled against its surface, just like it'd be for pesto. 

How to Make Gravy from Food52

Have any gravy secrets we missed? Let us know in the comments!

We're looking for contributors! Email [email protected] and tell us the dish you make in your sleep, without a recipe.

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • glenn
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    Mary Kay
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    Eric Carlson
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Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


glenn February 8, 2015
Am I the only one who uses bacon fat to make my roux? I'm just a country cook i guess. I'll try some of your methods.
Tina M. November 21, 2015
I'm thinking that using bacon fat for a roux is a great idea. I'm going to have to try it. This city cook is thanking the country cook!
Mary K. November 24, 2014
my mother always saved the water that the potatoes were boiled in - she used this liquid plus some stock for the gravy - the starchy potato water adds flavor and helps the gravy to thicken.
AntoniaJames November 24, 2014
My gravy secrets are not so secret (see my suggestions below) but here's another one, realized this year when I made turkey stock a few weeks ago for a risotto with a Thanksgiving flavor profile on the menu later this week: Lots and lots of fresh herbs in your stock. You can't put too many in. If by chance you are using a stock that's already been made, take 30 minutes or more to infuse it with fresh herbs before using. The herbs will make such a difference in your gravy, pan sauces, dressing, etc. ;o) P.S. One non-negotiable ingredient: cognac. Seriously.
Lori November 2, 2015
Please tell me how you add the cognac to your gravy. That sounds decadently divine!
Eric C. November 28, 2013
Seems unusual to use butter in a pan gravy. I just put 2-3 tablespoons of flour and make the roux right in the roasting pan.
soupcon November 26, 2013
Forgot to say, DON'T POUR OFF THE FAT. Fat = flavour. It's Thanksgiving or Christmas or some celebration. Diets be damned. Besides you can never have enough gravy like you can never have enough bacon.
soupcon November 26, 2013
Forget deglazing with anything. Add flour to make roux, cook roux over very low heat for at least 10 minutes to cook but not burn the flour, add liquid (wine, turkey/chicken stock, beer, water, whatever) slowly until desired thickness whisking to bedevil the lumps. Continue to cook over very low heat. Season to taste. Serve.
foodluver November 25, 2013
So glad that a few people commented about using fat saved from the turkey stock for making the gravy. I made the stock last week and froze it, freezing and reserving the fat separately. It seemed to sense to use fat from the stock, rather than butter, but am happy to know that others have done it successfully.
AntoniaJames November 25, 2013
I recommend using a bit of butter in your roux, even when using the turkey fat. The butter lends a nice flavor -- you don't taste "butter," but it does make a difference -- plus, a roux made just with the poultry fat seems rather heavy. Also, you can use that wonderful turkey fat for drizzling over your pan-baked stuffing before putting it in the oven. It's a great way to add some rich turkey flavor to the crispy topping of your stuffing. ;o)
Michael L. November 25, 2013
If it is not a recipe what is it called. The last time I read anything with ingredients and instruction it was called a RECIPE.
Now look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.
BillH November 24, 2013
I take the organ meat with the cartilage cut out,(except, not the liver) and meat from the neck and blend in into a slurry. I add this back into the gravy. Makes a very rich full bodied without using flour.
Trifin November 24, 2013
Always add an onion, sliced in half, to the pan when roasting a bird or beef. The caramalization will add great flavour to the gravy. Leave the skin on the onion to help colour the gravy.
kim November 24, 2013
never heard this- going to try it.
abbyarnold November 24, 2013
Brown the flour! My friend Kate taught me that 20 years ago, and I have been able to make perfect, tasty gravy ever since.
Jrdinmo November 24, 2013
I just use the broth from roasting the turkey, poured from a fat separator. Then simmer with milk as needed, add cornstarch mixed with water, stirring constantly until thick. Add salt & pepper if needed. My entire family lives for this gravy. Easy and not so unhealthy.
Bianca4s November 24, 2013
Oops and I forgot I deglaze with brandy!
Bianca4s November 24, 2013
mrslarkin yes I too dream of dining with Antonia James she is quickly becoming my foodie hero as I scroll the comments of each recipe in search of her nuggets - can't wait to try that brining for brussels sprout recipe, they are my husband's favorite and even the kids love them! Ms. James we are in the E. Bay and avid mushroom hunters, my husband dives for abalone and we keep bees and have the most glorious honey - renowned E. Bay chefs vie for it - we barter our surplus ... so we might have to take you up on that invite to hike and dine and we'll bring you the most delicious honey - you cannot imagine how it changes throughout the year from pale gold to deep amber - yum!
AntoniaJames December 2, 2013
Bianca4s, you are so kind! I'd love to get together. I'll send you an email message privately. Thanks so much for this enthusiastic and friendly post. ;o)
Lori November 2, 2015
Brining for Brussels sprouts? Yum! Someone please share the link!
kim November 18, 2013
Gravy made ahead…. my grandmother's ghost would be knocking on my kitchen door , kind of like Marley's ghost in A Christmas Carol. Thanksgiving turkey gravy , in our family , is a trust of hallowed culinary simplicity that involves a mason jar, flour and cold water , vigorously shaken and then poured into a molten pan of delicious drippings to be watched and stirred until it becomes a golden brown. It's the ultimate , the crowning culmination to what my grandmother called "a noble bird "
Soozll November 18, 2013
The past few years of buying smaller turkey, I just haven't gotten as much juice as I need to make enough gravy. So I've started making stock a few days before using turkey wings. I roast them (400F about 45 mins) with mirepoix until brown, add them to a stock pot, deglaze the pan into the stock pot and add water. Simmer for 3-4 hours and strain (discard solids) into 2 quart measuring bowl, chill and scrap off the fat. Some fat saved to be used as roux if necessary. I then have stock to augment my turkey drippings but also for use in the dressing and for whatever else I need stock. Can add any seasonings you like to the stock pot, I try to keep it simple with salt and pepper.
aargersi November 18, 2013
Ohhh I made my stock yesterday but I didn't think about saving the fat for the roux - now I will do just that!!!
AntoniaJames November 18, 2013
Deglaze with a couple tablespoons of Cognac + double that amount of dry white wine. Add a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce per quart of stock. (I don't measure, though. I just give the bottle a couple of good shakes.) Finally, put a thumb-sized chunk of salty smoked ham in your stock pot. (If using pre-made stock, put the same-sized piece of ham in your roasting pan with the turkey, to flavor the drippings.) ;o)
mrslarkin November 18, 2013
Does anyone else dream about having Thanksgiving at AJ'S house?
AntoniaJames November 18, 2013
mrslarkin, you're invited! Bring your hiking boots for a great view of the Pacific, the Golden Gate Bridge and the hills of San Francisco, beforehand. You'll work up a pretty good appetite, too. ;o)
mrslarkin November 18, 2013
Try deglazing the pan with apple juice (in step 1), a trick I learned from Cuisine magazine a bajillion years ago.
Kenzi W. November 18, 2013
Ohh, I like.