When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, we love the classics—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes. But if we’re being honest, what takes all these dishes from tasty to absolutely irresistible is the gravy. Not just any gravy will do, however, for the biggest—and best—meal of the year. Jars and packets of gravy simply won’t cut it as a partner to our favorite mashed potatoes and perfectly roasted turkey.
To make your dishes really sing, you need homemade gravy. Made from scratch, gravy takes a little extra effort, but our Test Kitchen experts have broken down the process to a few simple steps. With a little extra planning, you’ll have gravy that guests will be talking about—and craving—for years to come.
How to Make Gravy from Scratch
2 tablespoons canola oil
Turkey backbone, neck bone and wing tips, cut into three-inch pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 sprigs fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Step 1: Brown
The secret to any good gravy is a good stock. To create this foundation, you’ll need to brown a few of your ingredients to get maximum flavor. Start by heating your canola oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. Once the oil is hot, add your turkey parts and brown on all sides. This should take 8 to 10 minutes. Once brown, remove from the pan and set aside.
Test Kitchen tip: Don’t skip this step! Browning the bones before preparing the stock helps develop a richer, deeper turkey flavor. Plus, this step also helps give the gravy that perfect color.
Step 2: Brown a little more
Just like the turkey, you want to develop as much flavor as possible from your vegetables and aromatics. In the same Dutch oven, add your carrots, celery and onion. Cook until browned and softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally.
Step 3: Simmer
Add your turkey bones back into your pot along with the chicken broth, parsley, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce the heat. Let this simmer for 30 minutes.
Test Kitchen tip: As the stock cooks, the flavors will concentrate, so keep any additional flavorings to a minimum at this point in the process. You can always add more later.
Step 4: Strain
Pour your broth through a strainer. Discard the bones, vegetables, peppercorns and bay leaves—you’ve extracted all the flavor you’ll need from them. Once strained, pour your broth back into the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. If you have any pan drippings from your turkey that you’d like to use in your gravy, now is the time to add them. However, be cautious if you’re using drippings from a brined or kosher turkey—these drippings tend to be saltier, and you don’t want to overwhelm your broth.
Test Kitchen tip: For a really clear broth, pour it through a large-holed strainer and then through a fine-mesh strainer. To eliminate every tiny bit, try pouring it through a few layers of cheesecloth.
Step 5: Prep (or pause) for thickening
Heads up: If you’re preparing your gravy ahead of time, this is the point where you should press pause. Wait until shortly before dinner to thicken your gravy. If you’re making the gravy right before dinner, move forward with this step.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and cold water, being sure to get rid of any lumps. Stir this mixture into the broth until the broth thickens. Be sure to whisk, whisk, whisk as you add the cornstarch mix.
Test Kitchen tip: Cornstarch is our preferred thickener for gravy. It’s simple to use and is easier to add to hot liquids. The Test Kitchen has found that using flour as a thickener is a bit trickier and can lead to lumpy gravy.
Step 6: Thicken
Bring your mixture back up to a simmer to fully activate the cornstarch—keep at a simmer for one minute. You don’t want to overcook the cornstarch; it will start to lose its thickening power if it’s kept at high temperatures for too long. If you’re using flour as a substitute, simmer for five minutes to activate its thickening power.
Step 7: Season
The final step to making the perfect holiday gravy is to season it well. Before you add any seasonings, give your gravy a taste to see what you’re starting with. Then add your remaining herbs and seasonings—age, thyme, salt and pepper—and give it another taste. Keep in mind that it’s totally acceptable if gravy is a little salty. Gravy is meant to add a little something to plain foods like mashed potatoes.
Finish your gravy by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice. This might seem like a strange addition, but the acidity works to bring out all those delicious flavors in the gravy. If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, a splash of apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar will work just fine. And remember, before you serve, give the mixture one more taste (even though you know it will be delicious).
With this recipe in your roster, you’ll be all set to feast come Thanksgiving. All that’s left is to carve the turkey (don’t worry—we can help with that).