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What is Gravy?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 16, 2024
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Gravy is a rich tasting and generally fattening sauce, most commonly made from pan drippings and juices derived from cooking meat, although nearly any thickened sauce can be referred to as gravy. To make gravy, excess grease is removed and the remaining juice is thickened, most frequently by adding flour or corn starch and stirring until smooth.

To avoid making lumpy gravy, mix cornstarch with a bit of water until dissolved, then pour the mixture into boiling liquid and stir rapidly until thick and smooth. Turn down the heat and simmer a few minutes longer. Cornstarch has fewer calories than flour and seems to absorb less of the flavor. Flour may create a bland taste, unless it is first made into a roux by mixing it with butter. Some people also like to add a bit of food coloring or a browning sauce such as Kitchen Bouquet to gravy to give it a richer color and make it look more appetizing.

Gravy can be made from the drippings of various meats, including turkey, chicken, pork, and beef. Breakfast gravy may be made from sausage drippings by thickening and adding milk for a creamy consistency. Bits of sausage may also be mixed in for added flavor. Sausage gravy is generally served over biscuit, as a traditional southern style favorite, although it may also be served with toast. Milk gravy may also be made from other meats and served at other meals besides breakfast. It is often served with biscuits, over potatoes, or ladled directly over meat.

Making gravy most likely began as a way of avoiding waste. Using every bit of available food was often necessary in times past. When one was able to make an entire pan of gravy from leftover meat juices, a bit of flour, and a little water, he or she could expand a meal and make it not only richer and tastier, but also more filling.

There are also various types of ready to use gravies and gravy mixes available at most grocery stores. They come in cans and jars or envelopes of dry mix. Mixes are simple to make and usually only require the addition of water. There are different brands, most of which are very affordable. Look for these products near soups and other sauces or near other envelopes of dry seasoning mix.

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Discussion Comments
By Sara007 — On Jun 23, 2011

It can be really tough to make perfect gravy. I always used to watch my mother and grandmother makes theirs and it seemed very easy. Unfortunately, when I started to try it on my own I ended up burning the pan horribly, or making gravy that was pretty disgustingly bland and lumpy.

After a lot of practice I have found a few tricks that may help you. Using a slated spoon to stir with can really help avoid lumps and making sure you simmer over a low heat can help you get the perfect gravy. Also, never stop stirring, the second you do lumps will form and you'll be stuck with sub par gravy.

By manykitties2 — On Jun 23, 2011

If you are going to serve gravy at a more formal dinner, or one with lots of relatives make sure you go out and buy a gravy boat. I ended up hosting a family dinner and didn't own a gravy boat, as I never really cook much. Unfortunately, not investing a few dollars in one ended up being a huge mistake.

I watched as every person who used the bowl with ladle I set out spill the gravy the entire way across the table. Even if they did pick up the bowl and try to be careful the gravy sloshed everywhere. To save on the cleaning work I suggest you just go a get the gravy boat.

By summing — On Jun 22, 2011

I absolutely love gravy, but when I went vegetarian a couple of years ago I realized to my horror that almost all savory gravies have meat as their base. Even a simple cream gravy relies on sausage for much of its flavor.

I looked up several recipes for vegetarian gravy online but almost all of them were disappointing. They were either disgusting to eat, or so complicated that you would never want to go to the trouble.

Eventually I came across a simple recipe for mushroom gravy that has Worcestershire sauce and some milk and flour, along with spices. It is incredible! It tastes a lot like the beef gravy that I use to love. Now I put in on mashed potatoes, noodles, veggies, almost anything. It is a vegetarian gravy that a carnivore could love.

By wavy58 — On Jun 22, 2011

@shell4life - I have had it with popcorn, and it is great! I like to put the butter and salt on my popcorn first before pouring on the hot gravy. I love the combination of sweet and salty.

I have also tried my chocolate gravy with potato chips. It goes great with both plain and barbecue chips. Try pouring it over some nuts. Pecans are particularly delicious when coated in chocolate gravy.

Also, if you want to add some warmth to your vanilla ice cream, freshly made chocolate gravy on top tastes even better than a hot fudge sundae to me!

By shell4life — On Jun 22, 2011

@wavy58 - Have you ever tried your chocolate gravy over popcorn? I want to follow your recipe and make some, but I am terrible at making biscuits.

By wavy58 — On Jun 22, 2011

In addition to gravy made using meat juice, you can also make delicious chocolate gravy. This gravy is delectable when poured over biscuits.

All you need is four tablespoons of granulated sugar, two cups of milk, four tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, four tablespoons of flour, a heavy saucepan, a bowl, and a whisk.

First, mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl using the whisk. Then, heat the milk until it almost reaches a boil, but do not boil it. Whisk in the dry ingredients when the milk is ready.

Cook the gravy over medium heat. You will need to stir it constantly to avoid lumping or overcooking in certain spots. When the gravy reaches pudding consistency, then it is ready to serve. Pour this delicious gravy over biscuits and enjoy!

By OeKc05 — On Jun 22, 2011

I had no idea you could use cornstarch to make gravy! It makes sense though, since the only things I've ever used cornstarch for needed thickening, such as beef stew, which would be overly fluid without cornstarch.

I am glad that there is a less fattening way to make gravy, even if cornstarch only makes it slightly less fattening because of the presence of meat juice.

I have attempted to make gravy a couple of times in the past with flour, but it never works out very well. It is lumpy and never gets brown. I am going to try cornstarch next time.

By jholcomb — On Jun 22, 2011

@EdRick - First of all, good luck. You're a good guy for offering to host.

I don't know what to tell you about gravy; there's not exactly a trick to it, but it takes a whole lot of stirring and even experienced gravy makers sometimes have trouble. It can come out too thin. One Thanksgiving, we got a turkey breast from a commercial franchise and they said their gravy didn't turn out, so they didn't have any!

If it was me, I would practice ahead of time, maybe with a nice roast chicken and some chicken gravy if you don't want to mess with a turkey (although practicing the turkey is not a bad idea either). And I would buy a jar of gravy to have on hand as a backup in case it didn't turn out. Happy gravy making!

By EdRick — On Jun 22, 2011

I promised to host Thanksgiving dinner for my family this year and I'm already dreading it. The relatives will all bring their signature side dishes--the green bean casserole with those crunchy onions, that sweet potato dish the marshmallows on top--but as the host, I'm responsible for the turkey and the turkey gravy.

It's a lot of pressure. Is gravy hard to make? Anyone have any special tips to share?

By anon87788 — On Jun 01, 2010

This is a very clear and concise article explaining gravy, how it's made and what it's made from. I would recommend this article to anyone.

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