7 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Gravy

published Nov 23, 2015
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(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

A good gravy can cover up an overcooked turkey and dress up gluey mashed potatoes with one swift pour, and yet cooks don’t pay much attention to this masterful finishing touch. The results are heavy gravies — over-seasoned, thin, or worse, lumpy and left to congeal on the dinner table. Good gravy can be the difference between a good and a great Thanksgiving meal, so here are seven mistakes to avoid when making this flavorful sauce.

1. Not starting your gravy with a roux.

A roux is a mixture made from some kind of fat (turkey fat drippings, melted butter, or oil) and flour whisked together and then briefly cooked. It’s the base for most gravies. This is the essential component that works to thicken the gravy. Without it, you’re left with a thin, soupy gravy.

Follow this tip: Start your gravy by making a roux using the fat from the bottom of the roasting pan (you can also use butter or oil), and whisking in an equal amount of flour. This thin paste creates the base for a wonderfully thick, silky sauce.

Read more: How To Make a Roux

2. Not tasting your pan drippings before making gravy.

After brining, basting, and roasting, turkey drippings can be salty or burnt-tasting. Be sure to taste your drippings before making your gravy.

Follow this tip: Use a 50/50 combination of drippings and butter to make your roux and then taste and season the gravy again before serving.

3. Not whisking the gravy enough.

When making gravy, one of the most important kitchen tools is a whisk. Without whisking — and plenty of it — you run the risk of lumpy gravy.

Follow this tip: Whisking thoroughly is especially critical when mixing the flour into the fat to make a roux, and when pouring the stock into the roux. Add the liquid slowly and continue whisking until the roux is completely incorporated and no more lumps remain.

4. Adding too much stock.

Adding too much stock to the roux will put you on the fast track to a thin and runny gravy.

Follow this tip: To avoid a gravy that’s too thin, start by whisking in just 1/2 to 1 cup of stock, depending on how much gravy you’re making. Remember that it’s easy to add more liquid as you need it.

5. Not cooking the gravy long enough.

In order to thicken up, gravy needs to cook for at least a few minutes. When cooking is rushed, the gravy doesn’t have time to thicken to the silky consistency it’s meant to have. You also run the risk of jumping the gun and adding more flour to thicken when all you really needed was time.

Follow this tip: After incorporating the stock (and whisking vigorously to make sure there are no lumps), bring the gravy to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for a few minutes, until the gravy reaches the consistency you prefer.

6. Seasoning the gravy too soon.

Yes, the gravy definitely needs to be seasoned — just don’t do it too soon. As the gravy cooks and reduces, the flavors also concentrate. If you season too early, the salty flavor will intensify and may end up overpowering the gravy.

Follow this tip: To make sure you have a balanced, well-flavored gravy, hold off on seasoning until it has finished reducing and then add salt and pepper to taste. This is an easy way to ensure the gravy is seasoned exactly how you like it.

7. Not keeping your gravy warm.

Gravy begins to thicken as it cools, creating a pudding-like skin and sometimes lumps. Transfer the gravy to a gravy boat or thermos just before serving.

Follow this tip: A thermos will keep gravy hot and pourable longer than a gravy boat.

What are your best tips for making a great gravy?