At its heart, gravy is a sauce. Sauces flummox home cooks. I interviewed a woman at a supermarket who told me, “I’ve burned gravy, I’ve made greasy gravy, I’ve made lumpy gravy, I’ve made bland gravy. So, I add a packet of seasoning to my homemade gravy and it somehow works out.” Her reasons are why many cooks turn to packaged gravy, either in the form of a packet or in a jar.
Homemade gravy is super inexpensive to make if you’re starting with a whole roasted bird. You simply drain off the liquid, add back in a bit of the fat, stir in some flour to make a roux and then add liquid – usually stock. But in fairness to home cooks everywhere, that’s four techniques that not everyone has mastered – roasting a bird, making a roux, making stock and then finishing a sauce.
Process: I removed about three tablespoons of leftover fat from one of the turkeys, stirred in three tablespoons of flour and then added about two cups or so of previously prepared turkey stock. I also added a bit of thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Watch a video on how to make it from Fine Cooking.
Active time: 11 minutes
Total time: 22 minutes
Cost per two tablespoon serving: 7 cents
Ingredients: TURKEY STOCK, TURKEY DRIPPINGS, FLOUR, THYME, SALT, PEPPER
Jar of Gravy
I went back and forth between using a packet or a jar. I chose the latter because it’s the easiest. You just heat up and voila! I’ll be honest. I had imagined the jar holding many more preservatives and artificial ingredients. Aside from an overtly saltiness and paler color, it had the consistency of thick gravy. Each small serving had about 14% daily sodium requirement, though.
Process: Opened jar, poured into pan and heated
Active time: 3 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
Cost per two tablespoon serving: 17 cents
Ingredients: TURKEY BROTH, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, WATER, SALT, SEASONINGS
From a Jar: 0
No one particularly objected to the packaged gravy. After all, it’s primary function – to moisten and flavor other foods – can be performed adequately by the jarred sauce, even if it doesn’t taste exactly like homemade. One of the firemen noted that he was used to the saltier flavor as he eats a lot of processed food. Another said he preferred the thicker consistency over my homemade, which he thought tasted better although it was a bit thinner. But in general, they all preferred the homemade version.
- “I’m used to eating the high-salt store-bought gravy so… I guess this taste more like what I’m used to.”
- “This has a blander, saltier flavor but otherwise it’s OK.”
- “It’s fine although it doesn’t taste quite as good as [the homemade version].”
- “It’s interesting to see that the color is actually different in the two gravies. Side by side, you can tell the difference just by looking at them.
Conclusion: No one will fault you for using a jar of gravy, or if you’ve used a packet in the past that you like, no one will tell you to pack up your knives and go home. I do recommend if you’re using a packet of gravy to incorporate some of the turkey’s juices to add flavor and provide a mouth feel that’s closer to homemade. Many supermarkets offer gravy around the holidays as part of a precooked feast, and if your local store offers this, that may be a good route to go, too. Of all the Thanksgiving elements, finding a gravy shortcut is probably the one your family and guests will notice the least — as long as it tastes good.
Be sure to check out my complete Thanksgiving guide for more tips and recipes.
This is part of a story based on a taste test with seven Florida firefighters in 2013. This page has been updated. This post may contain affiliate links.