Make Ahead

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

September 15, 2021
3.7 Stars
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis.
Author Notes

This recipe makes a rich gravy, but it does require you to plan ahead and to spend a bit of time making a deeply flavored stock. Roasting a few turkey parts for the stock also creates pan drippings, which allows you to complete the gravy well in advance of Thanksgiving. You’ll find this particularly useful if you grill or smoke your turkey or are roasting one you’ve brined. If you like more herbs, add them. If you don’t like ham or prosciutto, use a small piece of smoked turkey instead or throw a few mushrooms in when you add the vegetables to roast. If you want to pull out all the stops, add more Cognac (about ¼ cup) to the gravy when you add the wine. However you decide to make it, enjoy! P.S.: Most (about 2 hours) of the cook time noted here is hands-off, while the turkey parts roast and the stock simmers.

Thanksgiving 2020 Update:

I learned firsthand when my boys were young that consistency and predictability can make a person feel more secure. Conversely, not knowing what lies ahead (especially now) makes us feel unglued. With so much anxiety these days, turning to the familiar, especially to comfort foods from an easier past, makes everything seem a little better.

In our house, we play around a lot with our Thanksgiving menus, trying new things, though I’ll gladly make anything that’s requested. My family has asked for melissav’s stuffing so often that it’s become a must-have—as has my make-ahead gravy.

Let’s face it. Gravy’s kind of like Ohio. If you don’t win Ohio, you don’t win the election. The gravy’s got to be good. If the turkey falls a bit short, or your mashed potatoes aren’t perfect, no one really cares—so long as the gravy’s first-rate. And of course, you need great gravy to ladle, piping hot, over slices of homemade bread on Friday, to eat with a knife and fork—the ultimate Thanksgiving comfort food. (We call it “gravy bread.” I highly recommend it.)

I first started making this gravy about 20 years ago when I saw my butcher putting turkey parts out in early November. (We always hike a mountain on Thanksgiving, so I do as much advance prep as possible—you can imagine how tired a hike like that makes you, even before you start cooking your feast. You just don't want to be making gravy during that final push to get everything on the table.) When I saw those turkey parts in the butcher shop, I saw pan drippings, plenty of rich stock, and good, good gravy, all made well in advance. Gravy problem solved!

I may not know, a week before this Thanksgiving, who’ll be at my table. I do know, however, that no matter what, that gravy will be made. My ritual for making it won’t change. Whatever else happens, you’ll find me puttering (calmly) in the kitchen, a few days before Thanksgiving, roasting turkey wings. I’ll be thinking of all the happy Thanksgivings we’ve had over the years. The rhythm of the holidays will settle in, and everything will be okay. —AntoniaJames

Watch This Recipe
Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy
  • Cook time 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Makes Makes 1 quart
  • The Stock
  • Grapeseed or olive oil
  • 2 turkey wings or 1 turkey back and neck
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 ounces Black Forest Ham or 1 ounce prosciutto (substitute smoked turkey if you don’t like pork)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, skin still on after chopping, or 6 whole scallions, each coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, cut into 3 to 4 pieces
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into 3 to 4 pieces
  • 3 sprigs thyme, rosemary, and/or sage
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac or other brandy (optional, but recommended)
  • The Gravy
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or use fat from the cooled stock, or vegan butter for dairy-free)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons Wondra flour or cake flour
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups dry white wine (or ⅓ cup Madeira)
  • 1 splash Cognac (optional, but so, so good)
  • Pan drippings, reserved from the roasted parts used for the stock + (later) from your roasted turkey, if you roasted without brining (see note below)
  • 1/4 to 1 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
In This Recipe
  1. The Stock
  2. Heat the oven to 425°F. Drizzle a tablespoon or so of the oil in a large roasting pan. Rub the turkey parts in the oil, then season lightly with salt. Roast for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the ham into ½-inch squares.
  4. After the wings have been in the oven for 10 minutes, add the ham to the pan, along with a few tablespoons of water. Tilt the pan to moisten the bottom of the pan. (Add more water if the first bit evaporates.) Continue to roast for 20 minutes.
  5. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. (See my note below as to why you shouldn't put everything in at the outset.) Turn over the turkey parts and stir the ham to loosen. If the pan seems dry, add a few more tablespoons of water and tilt again. Continue to roast for 20 minutes more.
  6. Meanwhile, in a large stockpot over medium heat, bring 2½ quarts of cold or room temperature water to a simmer. If you want to use an electric pressure cooker (which I highly recommend!), pour in 1½ quarts of water, set it to the Sauté/High function, and turn it on. Once the water comes to a simmer, turn off the burner or pressure cooker.
  7. Remove the wings with a slotted spoon and transfer to the pot with the water. Remove the vegetables and set aside, or transfer to the electric pressure cooker, if using.
  8. Deglaze the roasting pan with the Cognac and a tablespoon or two of water, scraping the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour the pan drippings and whatever liquid remains into a small container. Cover and refrigerate until you make the gravy.
  9. Pour a cup of hot water into the pan, scrape well, and pour liquid into the pot with the turkey. Add the wine, thyme, and a small pinch of salt.
  10. If you're using an electric pressure cooker, add the roasted vegetables, set to Pressure/High for 45 minutes, lock the lid on, and start it. You can do a manual release or let it release naturally, whichever works best for you.
  11. If cooking the stock on the stove, bring it just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 hour. About 45 minutes before you plan to strain the stock, add the roasted vegetables. Don't add them before that because, according to Michael Ruhlman, vegetables break down while cooking in such a way that causes them to absorb the liquid. I've never tested to confirm this, but Ruhlman seems to be a smart guy who's generally reliable when it comes to cooking technique, so I trust him on this one.
  12. Strain and return the stock to the pot. Bring to a boil and cook until it reduces to about 1 quart. Let cool to room temperature. (I put it in a wide mouth Mason jar, which I place in a pot of ice water, stirring the stock and refreshing the ice water periodically.) Refrigerate the stock for at least 5 hours or preferably up to overnight.
  13. Scrape off any fat that's risen to the top. Save the fat for another use, such as substituting it for butter to make the gravy dairy-free, or drizzling it, warmed, over the top of your Thanksgiving stuffing before baking it.
  14. Cooks' Note: Please resist the temptation to include the vegetables with the turkey parts when you first put the pan in the oven. If you add the vegetables at the beginning with the meat, the moisture in them creates steam and releases liquid into the pan. That steam and liquid prevent the meat from browning properly and from creating thick, flavorful pan juices and the brown bits that make gravy taste so good.
  1. The Gravy
  2. Remove and reserve or discard the fat from the cooled stock, then heat the stock. (I heat it in the Mason jar used to store the stock.) Keep the stock warm and close by.
  3. In a small pot over medium heat, melt the butter. While whisking, sprinkle in the flour and continue to cook until a thick paste forms.
  4. As soon as the paste is thick and golden, slowly pour in the warmed stock, no more than a cup at a time and whisking vigorously, and cook for at least 30 seconds in between additions. It may look lumpy and thick, but it will smooth out as you add the rest of the stock, provided that the stock is warm, you stream it in slowly, and you whisk without stopping. Add the wine and Cognac, if using, and cook, whisking, for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the reserved pan drippings and whatever liquid has accumulated. You can also add some of the fat, if you like your gravy quite rich. Add the Worcestershire sauce, ¼ teaspoon at a time, tasting before adding more. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring, for about 1 minute. See the note below about using the drippings from your roast turkey, which is optional. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cooks' Note: If you have brined your turkey, consider using just a few small spoonsful of drippings, adding one at a time and testing after each addition, before you add more salt. I add salt quite sparingly under these circumstances. Frankly, though, with the rich stock made from roasted wings, backs, and/or necks, the pan drippings on Turkey Day really shouldn't be necessary. (See the next note, please.) I save them to use for seasoning soups and stews I'll make with the leftover turkey and carcass following Thanksgiving.
  7. If, on the day you roast the turkey, you (a) have pan drippings you can use, and (b) are inclined to use them in the gravy, do the following: Pour off all of the pan drippings from your turkey into a metal bowl, scraping all of the hard bits from the pan. Put in the freezer to allow the fat to separate. Pour or scrape off as much fat as you wish and add the drippings to the gravy while heating.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sauertea
  • Kara Weber
    Kara Weber
  • AntoniaJames
  • Cynthia Lawson Harding
    Cynthia Lawson Harding
  • Kevin Duellman
    Kevin Duellman

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in Boulder County, CO, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)

51 Reviews

Sauertea November 25, 2020
Quick question, I just finished making. It is a little thinner than I remember. The roux and the gravy did not get lumpy. The flavor is amazing. If I want it a little thicker, not too much, what do you suggest?
dpatel1ca November 24, 2020
Hi question regarding the prosciutto after roasting... I assume you include it all in the reserved drippings? Just wasn’t sure as it seems it will make gravy a little chunky.
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 24, 2020
Often, they cook down quite a bit. If not, you can chop the larger pieces and add them, but frankly, at that point, they've already provided most of their flavor, so that isn't necessary. I've been known to pop the larger ones into my mouth . . . . ;o)
Sauertea November 21, 2020
Hi, quick question about making the stock in the pressure cooker. Do you need to reduce it further after the pressure cooking is complete? Those instructions seem to apply to the stove top method, but I just want to be sure. This is the first time I am making this with a pressure cooker. One of my go to holiday recipes!
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 23, 2020
Sorry for the delay in responding. I don't reduce it. The vegetables and turkey parts tend to throw off a lot of liquid, so you end up with about 2 quarts, if you start with 1.5 quarts of water. It's so tasty and so full of flavor that I don't bother reducing. I just save the extra for the soup we'll enjoy with turkey leftovers. ;o)
Sauertea November 23, 2020
Antonia, thanks! I made on Saturday. I ended up with a lovely gelatinous stock. I have made both ways and the instant pot really produces a great stock.
lynnk November 21, 2020
I making this recipe today and it seems like its going to be amazing but the steps are so convoluted and complicated that I wish I had read them through a couple of times, rewritten them, and then just proceeded on my own
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 23, 2020
lynnk, you're right. This can be done much more simply. It's much fussier than necessary. A lot of people have been using this recipe for years, so I'm not going to edit it now, but you've inspired me to post a more streamlined version that's just as good! I'll let you know via this comment thread once I do. Happy Thanksgiving! ;o)
lynnk November 23, 2020
Thanks Antonia,
My gravy turned out to be worth all the work. I’ll look forward to the streamlined version. Happy Thanksgiving!
Jan November 18, 2020
I've made the stock and am planning to freeze it and make the actual gravy on Thanksgiving - will that work?
Jan November 18, 2020
Oops just found the answer in reviews farther down! So yes I can freeze the stock!
Marty November 13, 2020
Late to the party here, but what are your thoughts on making gravy this weekend and freezing it for transport for Thanksgiving?
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 13, 2020
Yes, that will work. The flavors may need a bit of brightening -- freezing tends to do that -- so be sure to check the seasoning, and perhaps add a touch of cider vinegar or more Worcestershire, right before serving. Give it a good whisking too, while warming it, to even out the consistency. Happy Thanksgiving! ;o)
MannyButt November 28, 2019
Hello AJ, I am having my Thanksgiving on Saturday. So I’m making my gravy now. I have a couple of ? 1. I am assuming the wings are trash now. 2. Under 10 day you roast your turkey put dripping in metal bowl. Remove harden fat add to gravy while heating. Am I adding the fat??! You have been careful about separating fat. Am I using this? If so why bother with the freezer? FYI: cognac lived on with cork removal. Thank you. Nancy
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 29, 2019
Hi, Nancy. To answer your questions:

I am assuming the wings are trash now.
***Yes, they are pretty much spent after doing their service in the stock.

2. Under 10 day you roast your turkey put dripping in metal bowl. Remove harden fat add to gravy while heating. Am I adding the fat??! You have been careful about separating fat. Am I using this? If so why bother with the freezer?

*** Goodness, that needs editing. You scrape the fat off and pour the drippings into the gravy - or if you like a rich gravy, you throw them into the gravy and don't worry about removing the fat. That's what I did this year. There is so much flavor in the fat, and the gravy isn't particularly greasy without it, so I just went for it and frankly, it was one of my best gravies ever.

Here's another tip: Store your made-ahead gravy in a wide-mouthed Mason jar and heat it up in the microwave right before putting it into the boat and out on the table. No pan to clean up! Less traffic on the stove and counter. So convenient. (If freezing the gravy, use a wide-mouth jar and make sure you don't fill it past the "shoulder", to avoid the jar breaking from over-expansion when frozen.

Thanks for the heads up on that ambiguity. I'll go into the recipe and edit it when time permits later. ;o)
Kara W. November 25, 2019
How "make ahead" can this be? I'm ready to roll today (Monday of Thanksgiving week) but can't imagine 3 days out is a great idea. Would love any feedback!
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 29, 2019
Kara, so sorry I missed this . . . . you can certainly make it on Monday to serve on Thursday. Sunday, probably not.
bellaluna November 24, 2019
We're having our Tday dinner on Tuesday. I'm making gravy tonite. Still into it, but the drippings I've put aside from step #8 are as good or better as any that I've taken from my conventionally roasted turkey drippings which have always served as an awesome base for acclaimed (at my house) gravy. I didn't use cognac, (If I ever had cognac in my house, I must have drunk it before it ever made its way into my recipes) just white wine, as I've always done. I've been doing Tday dinners for 50 years, so I know what a good gravy base tastes like. I'm pretty sure this is going to work out very well. Doing the Judy bird recipe, (best ever!) so it's nice to have a really good recipe that allows for excess gravy to send home with folks.
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 29, 2019
Thank you, bellaluna. This year, I bought 4 wings and a thigh, which I roasted with the turkey back (we spatchcock ours) and neck. I broke off the tips of two of the roasted wings and put those in the stock pot, but wrapped and froze the rest of those 2 wings and the thigh, for a nice turkey stew come January (no doubt, this. ). I'll use the bones from those pieces to make a bit more stock then as well.
The 2 wings plus back and neck made a perfectly delicious, deeply flavored stock. ;o)
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 20, 2019
Here's an update, as I am ticking through my must-do's the week before Thanksgiving and 4 days before the first out-of-towner arrives . . .

It's okay not to roast the vegetables.

You can make the stock in the Instant Pot. I heat the water and the vegetables in the Instant Pot on saute - high during the last quarter hour or so of roasting, throw the roasted back, wings, etc. in, and pressure cook on high for an hour and 15 minutes and then let the pressure release naturally for at least 30 minutes. If I'm busy, I just select the "keep warm" function and proceed as is convenient.

Then I remove as many of the bones, etc., as I can easily grab with my tongs, and chill by putting the Instant Pot into an ice bath in the sink. Actually, when it's in the low 30's or cooler here, as it's been in the evenings lately, I just put the pot out on my patio for an hour or so until the stock is cool enough to refrigerate and/or freeze. I strain to catch all the small bits before putting into containers.

Cheers, everyone. ;o)
Sauertea November 20, 2019
Thanks for the update. I was going to do in the instant pot, but realized after I doubled the recipe that I had exceeded the capacity of the instant pot. As we speak a double batch is simmering on the stove.
MannyButt October 19, 2019
Hands down this is the best gravy EVER!!! I tried extremely hard to find turkey wings in October. Ha! I am making Canadian Thanksgiving. I did find Turkey drumsticks. So I used what I had. I was already in shock. For a 20 pound turkey I was charged $60. I followed the instructions. Could not find Wondra Flour. I toasted flour. This gravy is so amazing! I will make it for American Thanksgiving. I’ll be able to get turkey wings in November. One issue. My cognac was so old. Part of the cork fell into the liquor. Wonder if that will ruin the cognac? Make this an grab a big spoon. It is all you will want to eat with the Yorkshire popovers. Thank you very much. Delicious!!
Author Comment
AntoniaJames October 30, 2019
Thank you, MB. About that cork . . . only way to know is to taste the cognac. If it tastes okay, go with it. Pour out what's left in the bottle into a pitcher, fish or rinse out the cork piece, rinse the bottle, and pour back to cognac into the bottle. Love the idea of eating this gravy with popovers. I will most certainly be giving that a try. ;o)
MannyButt November 19, 2019
Ladies, thank you for your help. Preparing to make this again. This time with actual turkey wings. Now US Thanksgiving.
Sauertea October 8, 2019
Hi, quick question. I am dry brining my turkey using the Judy Bird Genius recipe. Does a dry brine present the same concerns as a wet brine if you plan to use drippings from the turkey? I
Author Comment
AntoniaJames October 11, 2019
It does somewhat, but not as much. I suppose it depends on how much salt you use, and whether you wipe the turkey down well before roasting. In any event, don't add any salt to the gravy and then stir in the drippings judiciously, a bit at a time, tasting along the way.

I should mention, however, that I use un-brined wings, neck and back, roasting them in advance with just a bit of salt, to get lots of pan juice flavor without worrying about the salt. I've found it easy to get those parts well in advance of buying my bird, because the butcher counters a places like Whole Foods and our independent grocers tend to break down a lot of turkeys, selling parts, starting a week or two before Thanks.

Also, I save the pan juices of my brined turkey to use as a seasoning in post-Thanksgiving dishes like turkey sort of stroganoff over toast.

Hope this helps. ;o)
Sauertea October 11, 2019
Thanks so much. Looking forward to trying this!
Author Comment
AntoniaJames October 11, 2019
You're welcome! You can cut about an hour out altogether (assuming 2 hours of simmering the stock) if you have an electric pressure cooker, by cooking on high pressure for 45 minutes and then releasing either naturally or manually - it doesn't matter much. I've been making extraordinary chicken stocks with practically no effort over the past few weeks in my Instant Pot multi-cooker - using up the dozen or so rotisserie chicken carcasses that I accumulated over the summer, along with the odd onion scraps I'd saved in the freezer for this. (I make my everyday stock with onions and bay leaf only.) ;o)
Sauertea October 11, 2019
Thanks for the follow up. I was going to try chicken stock in the Instant Pot this weekend. I will definitely try the turkey stock using the instant pot
foodynewty November 21, 2018
If i were to double the gravy recipe, would I use twice the amount of flour called for here?
Cynthia L. November 12, 2017
Do you get good results if the gravy is made a full day ahead then reheated before serving?
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 13, 2017
Yes! It may seem very thick when you take it out of the fridge. Heat it thoroughly before deciding whether to thin it; add stock, a tablespoon at a time, until it’s right. Also, be sure to check the salt. It may need a bit more. Thanks for asking. ;o)
Valerie November 1, 2017
What color would the wings be if roasted the recommended time? This is my first time trying this recipe. Also, I am thinking of making the liquid part ahead and canning it until ready for use...this year, of course. Another note of interest...when browning your flour it breaks down...I don't know the rules; however, it will not work as a thickener as well as uncooked flour and you might need more than recipe calls for.
emcsull December 23, 2016
back to this again, Merry Christmas ! Now, why cake flour ? Why not AP flour ?
Author Comment
AntoniaJames December 23, 2016
You can use AP flour if that is more convenient. By all means, don't buy cake flour just for this. Cake flour has a lower protein content and for that reason, is often recommended as the best substitute for Wondra, but frankly, it shouldn't make much difference - if any. Merry Christmas to you, as well! ;o)
emcsull December 24, 2016
Gotcha, thanks so much. Made your St. Clemens cookies again this year with great success, by the way, thanks so much for that terrific recipe. Citrus is so bright alongside all that nut chocolate heavy stuff.
bittersweet November 8, 2015
I'm making the stock right now. Added a leek, a large shallot and a few whole allspice berries. I always freeze it after cooling to room temperature and feel thankful that I've got a jump start on Thanksgiving.
Kevin D. November 8, 2015
thx, thats exactly what I was looking for ;)
Kevin D. November 8, 2015
Is it ok to freeze the stock once its cooled to room temperature and thaw later?
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 8, 2015
Yes, that's what I usually do. In fact, I roasted 2 backs Friday evening, simmered the stock yesterday, and put it in the freezer last night. I bought 2 beautiful backs at Whole Foods; there was enough meat on them for three generous servings of curry - supper last night! ;o)
bittersweet November 25, 2014
I had already made my turkey stock two weeks ago, but am intrigued by your addition of ham or prosciutto. Will try it next time. But I just used my stock and accumulated drippings to make my gravy. I added the Worcestershire sauce and the reduced Madeira. I was hesitant about reducing my 10 year old Blandys, but am most pleased with the results. It's subtle now, instead of the more pronounced Madeira taste it had in the past. The Worcestershire added an interesting complexity. Thanks...
emcsull January 16, 2014
was just roasting some oxtail in the oven to make an oxtail soup and I remembered this great recipe, roasting makes all the difference ! I even sauté vegetables before making a vegetable soup these days.