Every dish on your Thanksgiving table should complement the other delicious options you’ve prepared. But even when everything is made to perfection, one key element must take center stage to bring your meal together: the turkey gravy.

With a sauce as quintessential as gravy, it can feel like everyone should know how to make it—but this doesn’t mean everyone knows how to do it right. If you want to create a velvety, rich turkey gravy with layers of flavor, there are just a few key steps towards whipping up the gravy of your dreams. 

If you play your cards right, this Thanksgiving dinner will be full of compliments to your top-notch cooking abilities. 

Plate of turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and green beans. A ladle is pouring gravy over the turkey.
Photo by cislander on iStock.
A piping-hot ladle of rich, velvety gravy can elevate any Thanksgiving meal.

Unleash Your Inner Chef with Homemade Turkey Gravy

Ask any experienced cook and they’ll tell you endless ways to make a great gravy. It doesn’t matter what kind of meat you’re cooking—all basic gravy recipes start the same way and can be adapted for your own twist on a classic.

Originating in French cuisine, gravy uses meat juices collected in the pan during roasting or baking, with flour or cornstarch added to create a thick sauce. Seasoning choices are down to personal preference, but salt and pepper are the most common for a simple brown gravy.

Flour is mixed into turkey pan drippings to thicken your gravy into a pourable sauce.
All good gravy uses a roux, or a flour and fat mix, to create a silky sauce. Still from Skillshare class Creative Cooking: Simple Sauces to Elevate Every Meal by Kelis

The flour route is more traditional. This method means you’ll start with making a roux first (where you combine flour and fat to make a smooth paste), to stop your gravy tasting of raw flour. It’s similar to a velouté, one of the five mother sauces of French cooking, but instead of using clear stock, you add flavorful pan drippings.

Alternatively, you’ll find plenty of American chefs choose to use cornstarch. It thickens sauces faster than flour, but will gradually lose some of its density if you cook a sauce for too long. To avoid lumps in your gravy, dissolve your cornstarch in a little cold water before gradually mixing with your pan drippings.

How to Make Gravy from Turkey Drippings

It’s hard to believe turkey gravy can be so easy and only needs a handful of ingredients when it tastes so good. Drippings really are the secret to making this sauce, because the melted fat and small pieces of meat in the bottom of the pan are where all the flavor is.

Pull your turkey out of the oven, set it on a cutting board, and carefully pour the drippings into a measuring cup. Add a tablespoon of your liquid into a saucepan with around half a cup of flour and a teaspoon of butter until you have a browned paste or roux. 

Gradually add your pan drippings and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmering heat. Whisk constantly and season as you go, until your sauce is thickened and ready to eat.

Classic Turkey Giblet Gravy

For thousands of years, cultures around the world cooked in a way where no part of the animal was wasted. This meant using chicken feet to make collagen-rich broths and turkey organs to make gamy, vitamin A-filled gravies.

Don’t let the idea of rolling up your sleeves and getting acquainted with the insides of your bird turn you away from trying. These days, turkey giblets—the edible organs including heart, liver, neck and gizzards—are often removed on your behalf and packed separately inside. They can boost the flavor and the nutritional value of your gravy. Nothing’s going to be wasted in your kitchen!

Leftover broth or drippings are poured into a jar to make gravy ahead of time.
Using turkey giblets to make a broth means you can add flavor when you make your gravy later. Still from Skillshare class Creative Cooking: Simple Sauces to Elevate Every Meal by Kelis

You’ll start by making a broth using the giblets, which is easy to prep several days ahead of Thanksgiving. Boil the giblets in around four cups of water, reducing the heat and simmering until you’re left with one cup of broth in your pan. This usually takes about an hour.

Remove the giblets from the pan and set them aside if you’d like to chop them up later and include them in your finished gravy. Once you’re ready to make your gravy, pour any drippings from the pan you’ve roasted your turkey in into the giblet broth. You’ll see the fat from the drippings will start to separate from the rest of the liquid, so ladle this off the top before heating your sauce. 

The key to a flavorful turkey gravy is remembering the importance of layers. A basic gravy with turkey drippings and flour only has two layers. You can create more layers by adding herbs and vegetables throughout the cooking process. 

A classic gravy might just include salt, thyme and bay leaf, or add your creative juices to the pot by getting inspired from your own dishes. A few herbs and spices you can experiment with include: 

  • One bunch fresh thyme
  • Two tablespoons of fresh rosemary
  • One teaspoon of paprika
  • One teaspoon of cinnamon
  • Half teaspoon of cumin
  • Quarter teaspoon of nutmeg

Make Ahead Turkey Gravy for a More Relaxed Thanksgiving

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be a little stressful when you have several different dishes to prepare for your group. Doing prep work can save you so much time on the day, leaving you more hours to spend with your loved ones instead of in the kitchen.

Gravy can be made and frozen for up to 3 months, so if you’ve made a turkey on another occasion before Thanksgiving, stash away some extra gravy and bring it out for reheating on the big day. You can also keep gravy refrigerated for around 5 days, if you’d like to use something fresher.

Vegetarian “Turkey” Gravy

Onions and mushrooms are fried in a pan to make vegetarian gravy.
Vegetarian gravy is just as delicious as one with turkey. Still from Skillshare class Vegan Holiday Meals – Cooking for Family and Friends by Almond Tree Kitchen.

Turkey may be front-and-center of the dinner table, but it’s absolutely possible to host an equally as delightful vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. If your day will include meat-free friends, you can still make a yummy gravy without actually including any drippings. This is also an excellent make-ahead solution if you want to do most of the legwork upfront.

Start with butter, minced garlic, onions and mushrooms in a pan. Cook down until the vegetables are soft, then add to a blender with a cup of vegetable broth until smooth. Set aside and make a roux with butter and flour in a pan. 

Once you’ve formed a paste, gradually add the blended vegetables and continue stirring on a medium heat until the mixture thickens. Use cornstarch instead of flour for a gluten free option and non-dairy butter to make it vegan.

If you’re using a vegetarian turkey gravy only to prep ahead of time, you can add the drippings from your cooked bird on the day as you reheat the sauce.

Sprucing Up Your Turkey Gravy

You could cook a turkey and make a beautifully silky, classic sauce. Or you could liven things up with some extra ingredients for a truly memorable turkey gravy. You’ll know you’ve cracked it when your friends and family will be texting you for the recipe on the way home from Thanksgiving dinner.

Special Ingredients To Try

Lemon juice being squeezed into a red and white bowl on a wooden kitchen counter.
Looking to jazz up your gravy? Try unexpected ingredients to bring out the natural meat flavors. Still from Skillshare YouTube Kelis on Her #1 Cooking Tip: Why Every Chef Needs a Great Sauce.

Branch out from the classic seasonings and try a splash of lemon juice or a sprinkle of sugar to bring out the flavors of your turkey meat even more. 

Or forgo seasonings altogether by adding bacon fat to your pan drippings to replace the salt and enhance with a familiar smokey flavor. This works even better if you layer bacon strips on top of your bird before roasting so the bacon juices drip down into the bottom of the pan too.

Red wine, balsamic vinegar or a small spoonful of grainy mustard can also sharpen many of the natural flavors within your turkey gravy, and transform it from a slightly bland accompaniment to a remarkable addition to your meal.

Get a Little Saucy This Thanksgiving

Turkey gravy can often be an afterthought with so many other side dishes, appetizers and desserts to make over the holidays. But with only a few pantry ingredients and extras from what you’re already cooking, you can easily make a rich and smooth sauce to highlight every flavor on your dining table.

Written by:

Holly Landis and Calli Zarpas