Your Complete Guide to Cooking Every Kind of Gravy
Every meal needs a showstopper, and there’s no dinnertime diva that consistently (and deservedly) hogs the limelight quite like gravy. Whether it’s used to top meat and mashed potatoes, or simply served on the side as a delicious dip, there’s few savory offerings that can’t be improved by the addition of rich, hearty sauce. Gravy is also far more multifaceted than it might initially appear, given that its most recognizable role in American culture is its place on a holiday table. Obviously, Southerners know that sawmill gravy is a superior way to enjoy one’s biscuits, but there’s a veritable bounty of gravy styles beyond white or brown.
It’s possible that you might rely on mixes or instant gravy cubes to make sauce at home. If you do, there’s no shame in that. But if you want to explore a new gravy style, or simply perfect your from-scratch sausage gravy, then you’re in the right place. This tutorial will teach you everything you need to know about making your own savory gravy at home. In addition to guiding you through the basics of making a roux and thickening your sauce, we’ll also suggest a few fun variations you can use to spice up your usual gravy routine.
Step One: Choose Your Gravy Style
As much as we absolutely sympathize with the urge to guzzle gravy by itself, it is admittedly a finishing sauce, not a complete meal on its own. Therefore, it’s important to consider what style of gravy you’d like to go for; that means, ultimately, considering what kind of foods the gravy will be topping. It also means considering whether you have the ingredients on hand to make the base flavor behind most gravies. For white gravy, you’ll want butter, milk, ample salt and pepper, and possibly pork fat. For brown gravies, you’ll want some sort of stock, and ideally, fat drippings and browned bits from recently cooked meat. If you or your dinner guests are vegetarian, you can use vegetables that impart a good bit of umami flavor, like mushrooms or onions. Those ingredients can also be used to amplify your meaty gravies.
You’ll also want to think about whether you want a smooth finish to your gravy, or if you're fine with meaty bits in the sauce. If you’d rather a gravy that mimics store bought, you’ll need to use a sieve to strain out any pieces of meat, onion, or mushroom that might be roughing up the gravy’s finish.
Step Two: Make Your Roux
Making roux is the most critical step to making a good gravy. To many home cooks, it’s also the most nerve-wracking; though it’s not nearly as intimidating a process as it might seem at first. Once you master it, you’ll open yourself up to a lot of other culinary possibilities, like bechamel and hearty stews. To make a roux, you’ll need two things: fat and some sort of thickening agent. Usually, that agent is flour, but cornmeal or cornstarch can also be used, as demonstrated in Uncle Ellis’ recipe listed above. You can also use seeds and nuts (like pine nuts) to thicken your roux, as long as you grind them into a paste first. This method may still require some flour, however.
To make a roux, warm a couple of tablespoons of butter, bacon drippings, or some other form of fat into a pan over medium-high heat. Once the fat is warm, add in your thickening agent, one tablespoon at a time. Stir the mixture until it begins to brown. If you’re making a country or white gravy, you’ll want it to just barely change colors; it’ll smell slightly nutty and have the texture of wet sand. If you’re making a brown gravy, let the roux cook for a little longer. Just don’t let it get too brown; the more a roux cooks, the less thickening power it has. Dark brown roux is best used in dishes with thinner sauces, like gumbo.
After you’ve cooked your roux, slowly add in your liquid. For white gravies, this would be milk; for brown, this would usually be a stock of some sort. Make sure to add your liquid slowly—less than a quarter of a cup at a time is fine. Stir constantly while you’re adding it, too; if possible, you might even want someone else to slowly pour while you stir. The goal is to emulsify the liquid with the hot roux for a smooth gravy that has minimal lumps. If the liquid is added too quickly, the gravy won’t thicken properly.
If something is going wrong with your roux or you’re feeling a little nervous about making one, check out this troubleshooting guide. It’ll take you through the most common mistakes. Adding hot liquid to a hot roux (or cold liquid to a cold roux), for example, will result in a lumpy mess, which is why you want to use cold liquids when using the stovetop roux-making method. And if roux-making ends up becoming one of your most-hated kitchen activities, it’s worth mentioning that roux can absolutely be made up ahead of time. Just keep it in a container in the fridge, and make sure only to add it to hot liquids so that you’re spared the lumpy gravy that results from the temperature mistake mentioned above.
How to Make Brown Gravy
Brown gravy is one of the most universally applicable forms of gravy. For this recipe, you’ll want to gather fat drippings; these can be collected (and stored for later use) the next time you make a roast, cook a turkey, or simply fry up some bacon in the morning. If you don’t have enough (or any) animal fat, you can also, of course, just use butter. It won’t be quite as flavorful as drippings, but it will absolutely still do the job.
Once you’ve made your roux, you’ll want to add your liquid to finish your brown gravy. Oftentimes, this will be the stock or any thinner drippings you may have still from your roast, but you can also use canned or boxed stock to finish off your gravy. Add the liquid to your pan slowly, and stir constantly until the sauce coats the back of your spoon. After about three to five minutes, your gravy should be ready to serve.
How to Make Mushroom Gravy
Get the Recipes: Mushroom Gravy
Mushroom gravy follows almost exactly the same process as brown gravy. After adding a chicken (or vegetable) stock and thickening the gravy, however, you will want to add sauteed mushrooms and shallots to the sauce. If you’re looking for even more flavor (and you’re using meat products), consider sauteeing the mushrooms and shallots in your pan drippings before you make your roux. Remove them from the pan, and then proceed to the next step. You’ll come out with an even more full-bodied gravy that’s perfect for your next steak or stroganoff.
How to Make Onion Gravy
As with mushroom gravy, onion gravy is yet another variation on the classic brown finishing sauce. With this variation, however, it’s worth considering whether you’d like a creamier consistency; as noted in the Caramelized Onion Gravy recipe above, milk makes for a great addition to this gravy variant. If you’re looking for an even easier way to incorporate onions into your gravy, sprinkle them with flour after softening them in the pan, and then proceed to make your roux. The flour-covered onions will help you get your gravy to the dinner table even faster.
How to Make Fruit-Infused Gravy
We know—the idea of fruit-flavored gravy might sound bizarre. But when paired with the right entree, it can be the perfect accompaniment. For this variation, you’ll want to cook a fruit base that compliments your final dish; apple cider can be reduced into a great gravy, but tangerines, cherries, and cranberries would also be a delicious accents to a holiday feast. Once you’ve made a fruit juice that suits your taste, combine with stock, if desired, and add to your roux.
How to Use Beer, Wine, or Spirits to Make Gravy
Whiskey, sherry, wine, and beer can all make for fantastic gravy flavors. And if you’re ambitious, they can also do the duel job of serving as a marinade for your meat. To incorporate alcohol into your gravy, decide whether you would like to add it cold to an already finished gravy, or whether you would like to use it as a cooking liquid first. If the former, make roux as described above and slowly whisk in a quarter cup to a 1 ½ cups of your desired brew. If you’d like to use your gravy as a marinade first, however, cook your meat (either in a slow cooker or on the stove) until tender in a mixture of your chosen alcohol and stock. Remove the meat and strain out any bits that may still remain in the sauce; add the alcohol and stock mixture to a pot, heat it up, and stir in flour a tablespoon at a time. Soon, you’ll have a custom gravy that highlights the flavors you initially imparted into your entree.
How to Make Tomato Gravy
If you love tomatoes, then you’ll adore a gravy that incorporates the sweet, acidic fruit. For this gravy, add tomatoes to your drippings and cook them thoroughly. If they’re whole tomatoes, make sure the skin blisters before breaking them open. Then, once your tomatoes are cooked down and seasoned, add in flour to thicken your sauce. Serve over burgers, pork chops, biscuits, or anything else that you’d prefer topped with tomato-y goodness.
How to Make Redeye Gravy
Get the Recipes: Redeye Gravy
Redeye gravy is a Southern delight that doesn’t get its due. The caffeine-infused sauce is great when served over country ham and biscuits, and it’s also a great alternative topper for country-fried steak. To make redeye gravy, cook chopped up bacon and ham in butter, along with some onion and garlic, if desired. Add flour and cook your roux, then slowly mix in milk, broth, and cooled, already brewed coffee. Pepper to taste, and feel free to add in some chopped chives or cayenne if you like.
How to Make Egg Gravy
Get the Recipes: Old-Fashioned Giblet-Egg Gravy
Another Southern staple, giblet gravy is great when dripped over mashed potatoes or bits of turkey. The addition of hard-boiled egg also adds intrigue and flavor to this gravy variation. For this recipe, make gravy using chopped up turkey giblets and turkey neck. Leave these bits in, if desired, once the gravy has thickened. Slice and stir in a hard-boiled egg before serving.
How to Make Country Gravy
Sausage gravy is a comforting treat that every home cook should learn how to make. For great, at-home sawmill gravy, brown some sausage (or use a plant-based meat or textured vegetable protein). If needed or desired, add some butter for extra fat. Then, add some flour to the pan, cooking your roux while adding salt and pepper. Next, slowly stir in milk to finish the gravy off. Cook until thick, and serve over biscuits, mashed potatoes, country-fried steaks, or whatever else you think could use a savry, decadent topping. If you like a little extra spice with your gravy, consider stirring in a can of Ro-Tell tomatoes for an even tastier treat.
How to Make Gravy with Chocolate
Appalachian readers may already be familiar with chocolate gravy—a sweet, thickened sauce that’s sometimes served over biscuits. But if you haven’t had a chance to try it yourself, there’s no time like the present. For this recipe, melt butter in a pan and then whisk in flour, sugar, salt and cocoa powder. Then, slowly add in milk once the roux has cooked. You’ll end up with a thick, chocolatey sauce that’s obviously different from the gravies you may be accustomed to, but no less delicious.
If you’re a fan of Mexican food, then you may prefer a mole inspired version of gravy. For this recipe, you’ll want to make a turkey giblet stock that incorporates toasted chiles (preferably ancho chiles, but use whatever you like best). Once you make a stock using turkey fat, or some other available fat, pour in some of your chile-infused broth, thicken the gravy, and stir in about two ounces of dark chocolate after removing your pan from the heat, along with about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Serve and enjoy.
How to Make Gravy Even Easier
Gravy isn’t exactly time-consuming to make, but if you need to whip up a delicious gravy at the last minute, we have a few hacks for you. For one thing, you can dissolve a bouillon cube in water and use that for stock, if you’re out of the real thing. You can also use poultry seasoning to punch up a gravy made without drippings. And if you’ve got some extra biscuits around, but no time to make a true sawmill gravy, then add some crumbled up biscuits, hot sauce, and seasonings to a blender. Heat up about a cup of milk for each biscuit you use, then add that hot liquid to a blender, cover the top with a towel, throw in some butter, and hit puree. You’ll have an instant gravy that you can immediately serve over your entree.