The Art of Gravy: How to Make Gravy

Done right, it's a quick process.

Many people who cook every day, people who are comfortable in their kitchens and produce meals on a regular basis, are confounded when it comes to making gravy.

Of course, in days past, gravy on the table was a given at most any meal. Sawmill Gravy with biscuits in the morning, Pan Gravy with whatever was being served for dinner (remember, in the southern part of the U.S., the noon meal is often called dinner, while the evening meal is supper), and Cream Gravy or Pot Roast Gravy at supper. And then there's your Giblet Gravy, a must when turkey is on the table.

Cooks in years past didn't possess any particular secrets that led to consistently good gravy. The main thing they had going for them is that they made gravy all the time. It was the final step in preparing almost every meal.

Actually, the cook started making the gravy after hollering, "Supper's ready," and by the time everybody got to the table, the gravy was ready. Done right, it's a quick process.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is coming on, and cold weather sharpens appetites that often clamor for sturdy, stick-to-your-ribs meals. And, of course, the holidays are right around the corner. So, get ready all you cooks out there. Brush up on a technique or two and you can be making gravy with the best of them.

First of all, gravy is based upon the drippings of cooked meat, and it stands to reason that the better the meat, the better the gravy. Added to the drippings are additional liquids (water, broth, milk), a thickener (usually flour), and spices. No rocket science here.

Pan gravies are prepared quickly and served hot. They are made after the meat is cooked and removed from the pan. Red-Eye Gravy, Sawmill (or sausage) Gravy, Cream Gravy and Brown Gravy fall into this category of quick-fix gravies. Specific recipes are listed below, but we'll start with the basics.

Gravy Recipes

Basic Pan Gravy

  • 2 tablespoons meat drippings
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup liquid (beef or chicken broth, water, meat juices, or a combination of them)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

After the meat is removed from the pan and put in a warm place, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the pan juices in the skillet. If you're not sure about how much is left in the pan, pour off all the drippings and measure 2 tablespoons back into the skillet. Heat up the drippings over medium-low heat.

Sprinkle the flour over the heated drippings, and stir it constantly with a wooden spoon so that the flour "cooks" for about a minute or two. (If you omit this step, your gravy will probably taste like library paste. Do they still make library paste?) Then gradually add the liquid, stirring constantly and mashing out any lumps with your spoon, until the gravy begins to thicken and bubble. Add the salt and pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat, pour the gravy into your prettiest gravy boat, and you're done.

"But," you moan, "I've tried that before and it was a disaster." Well, you probably tried it once and never tried it again, or you waited too long before your second attempt. I cannot emphasize enough that perfect gravy comes with the knowledge and skill born of frequent practice.

Here are some tips:
  • Have your ingredients ready. Don't get your flour browned (more like beige) in the pan and then have to stop and go find your broth. Have everything at your fingertips.
  • Use a broad-bottomed stirrer. I have an ancient wooden spoon that has a flat spot worn on the bottom from stirring gravy.
  • Stir quickly and vigorously, especially when you start adding the liquid.
  • Add the liquid a little at a time - gradually. If you pour it in all at once, you'll get lumps for sure.
  • Pay attention to the heat. Too hot, and your gravy will thicken too quickly.
  • Gravy tends to keep thickening even after it's removed from the pan. Pour it up just an instant before you think it's thick enough. (This is one place where experience is the best teacher.)
  • If you think your gravy is too thick, just thin it with a little of the warmed liquid (milk, water, whatever) and reheat.
  • If you do end up with some lumps, don't throw yourself off a cliff - just strain it.

Red-Eye Gravy

This flavorful ham gravy contains no flour, so lumps are never a problem.

  • 5 or 6 slices of Country Ham (about ¼ inch thick)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ½ cup strong black coffee
  • Dash of salt

Slash the edges of the ham slices so they won't curl up while they're cooking. Over medium to low heat, sauté the ham in the butter, turning frequently to lightly brown both sides of each slice. Remove the ham from the pan and keep warm.

Over low heat, stir the brown sugar into the pan juices, stirring constantly until it dissolves. Stir in the coffee and simmer for 4 or 5 minutes. Makes 5 or 6 servings.

I've heard good things about Red-Eye Gravy made with Coca-Cola, but I've never tried it, myself. You omit the brown sugar and coffee altogether, and substitute ½ cup of Coke. Anyone trying it is urged to let me know how it turns out.

Sawmill Gravy

A breakfast of sausage, biscuits and Sawmill Gravy is hard to beat.

  • 1 pound pork sausage (can be less, but you need at least enough to make 2 tablespoons of drippings)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • Pepper, to taste (at least ¼ teaspoon)

Crumble the sausage and fry it until it is brown. Remove it from the skillet to drain on paper towels. Reserve 2 tablespoons of drippings in the skillet.

Over low to medium heat, add the flour to the pan drippings, stirring constantly so that the flour "cooks" for about a minute. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly until smooth and thickened. Stir in the pepper and cooked, crumbled sausage, and cook until mixture is hot. Serve over biscuits.

A Texas staple. A must for Chicken-Fried Steak or Fried Chicken. Or anything. A little practice will have you dishing up perfect cream gravy in a few minutes.

  • 2 tablespoons pan drippings
  • 3 tablespoons flour (I like to use the flour left over from the steak- or chicken-coating process)
  • 1-½ cups milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Okay, you've fried your chicken or your steak, removed it to a warm place, and now you're ready to make the gravy.

Return 2 tablespoons of the pan drippings to your skillet, keeping as many as possible of the browned, crusty bits in the pan. Over low to medium heat, add the flour to the pan drippings, stirring constantly so that the flour "cooks" for about a minute.

Gradually add the liquid, stirring constantly until smooth and thickened. Stir in the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Serve hot.

Texans don't always fry their food. Suppose your delectable pot roast is done, and you want to turn its pot liquor into gravy. Or it's Thanksgiving, and you know that means Giblet Gravy. Read on.

(from Grandma's Pot Roast with Vegetables and Gravy

  • Liquid from pot roast
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour (you can use self-rising flour, too)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Measure the liquid from your pot roast. Add enough water or beef broth to make 3 cups of liquid. Pour about half of the liquid back into the Dutch oven. Over medium heat, sprinkle in the flour, and stir constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, adding the rest of the liquid gradually, and smoothing out any lumps. Cook until gravy thickens, stirring constantly. Taste and season accordingly.

This recipe makes perfect Giblet Gravy, a must for any holiday turkey dinner. I know everyone has different tastes, and I'm a Giblet Gravy purist, so you won't find any hard-boiled egg or vegetables in this recipe but, trust me, this is delicious.

  • 1 cup drippings from turkey roasting pan that have been skimmed of fat
  • 1 cup chicken broth (canned or homemade)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons Dry Sherry (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Turkey giblets

Remove the turkey drippings from the roasting pan and degrease.

The Giblets: I use just the liver and pieces off the neck (I give the gizzard to the cat, and my husband eats the heart.) I always cook the neck with the turkey -- tuck it down in a corner of the pan. You can cook the liver the same way: submerge it in the broth about 40 minutes before you expect the turkey to be done, or you can put it in a small saucepan, cover with a cup or so of water and simmer it for 40 minutes. Since burner space is at a premium when preparing a Holiday meal, I usually opt for the cook-it-with-the-turkey method.

Over medium-low heat, melt the butter in a large saucepan until it is bubbly, sprinkle in the flour and stir quickly for a minute or so to cook the flour. Slowly stir in the turkey drippings and chicken stock, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the gravy is smooth and thickened. (Note about lumps: Lumps are nothing to be embarrassed about. They happen. If you've got some lumps and want to get rid of them, strain the gravy now because you won't be able to after you add the giblets.)

Reduce heat to low, and check the seasonings. Add salt and pepper only if you think it is necessary. Some people (me) like to add a tablespoon or two of sherry at this point. It adds a wonderful, mellow flavor. Just use regular, dry sherry -- not sweet sherry, and definitely not cooking sherry. Then, add the giblets and simmer for about 10 minutes.

You can make your gravy early, keep it warm, and heat it back up a bit just before serving, if you like.

I'll admit that the title of this article, "The Art of Gravy," is somewhat misleading. It suggests that the talent for gravy-making is something one is born with and not learned. That's not true. Making consistently good gravy, however, does require a little practice, the ability to make some quick moves, and good taste buds. But don't let me scare you. There's a very good chance you'll get it right the first time.