The Make-ahead Secret to Perfect Turkey Gravy for Thanksgiving

Make-ahead homemade turkey stock saves time on Thanksgiving Day and gives you plenty of flavorful gravy.
Make-ahead homemade turkey stock saves time on Thanksgiving Day and gives you plenty of flavorful gravy.

By Clifford A. Wright

The most overlooked food at Thanksgiving is the gravy. Cooks are working so hard on all the cranberry specialties and other dishes, and wrangling room in the fridge for the turkey, the sweet potatoes, the pies, and everything else that they forget how important the gravy is. In our kitchen, the turkey gravy starts with turkey stock some weeks before Thanksgiving - and we make a lot of it.

RELATED: Turkey tips for first-timers

The stock for the gravy is very important and should be given as much attention as anything else you make for Thanksgiving. It is the basis to not only the gravy but to the flavoring of the non-stuffed stuffing you might make.

RELATED: The secret ingredient to irresistible turkey stuffing? Corn flakes

This recipe makes a rich stock that can be turned into excellent gravy. The stock can be refrigerated overnight. Then you skim the surface of the congealed fat and it is ready to use or you can freeze it.

Do not salt the stock or gravy until the last moment. It is best to make the stock for the gravy days before Thanksgiving. I usually make the turkey stock about a week before Thanksgiving by buying some cheap turkey wings or backbones to use for the broth.

Turkey Stock

Makes 8 or 9 cups


4 pounds turkey (preferably), goose, or duck parts (such as carcasses, wings, legs and necks)

3 carrots, sliced

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 medium onions, quartered and separated

2 leeks, split lengthwise, washed very well under running water and chopped (Be sure to separate the leeks under the water to wash thoroughly.)

Bouquet garni consisting of: 6 sprigs fresh parsley, 6 sprigs fresh thyme, 3 sprigs fresh sage, 1 bay leaf

10 peppercorns

6 quarts cold water


1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

2. Place all the collected meat parts in a roasting pan, then brown, about 40 minutes. Transfer all the meat and any juices to a large stock pot with all the other ingredients. Deglaze the pan with a little water and turn it into the stock pot too. Add the remaining water.

3. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low and simmer, partially covered, skimming the surface of foam, for 6 hours.

4. Pour the broth through a chinoise (cone-shaped strainer) or colander and discard all the bones and vegetables. Strain again through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and return to a smaller stock pot.

5. Place the pot over a burner on high heat and boil until a third of the liquid has evaporated.

6. Let cool in the pot and then refrigerate overnight to let the fat congeal. Remove the fat by skimming off with a skimmer or ladle.

7. Place the stock pot with the turkey stock over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil until reduced to about 10 cups. The stock is now ready to use in making gravy. It can be frozen at this point for up to 6 months.

Turkey Gravy

Makes 6 cups

This gravy can be made relatively quickly once the roasting turkey has emitted enough fat. It can be made Thanksgiving morning, before the turkey is put in the oven, by using another fat, such as butter, goose, or duck fat, but it is best with turkey fat. I usually let the gravy sit on a very low burner for hours so that the turkey neck I add becomes very tender and gives the gravy even more flavor.


½ cup melted turkey fat from the roasting turkey (or butter, goose, or duck fat)

Turkey giblets and/or neck (and any other collected duck or goose giblets), chopped

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

8 cups Turkey Stock (see above)

¼ cup cognac or brandy

½ cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Place the fat in a large saucepan and heat over high heat and add the giblets. Add the flour to the melted fat and cook until sizzling and a very light brown roux has formed, about 3 minutes.

2. Whisk in all of the turkey stock slowly, reduce the heat to medium-low, add the turkey neck, if using, and cook until a consistency of your liking for gravy. Taste the gravy, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until blended. Add the cognac and cream and continue cooking until reduce to about 6 cups, then keep warm until needed, not boiling nor bubbling. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: If the gravy is not thick enough, stir in 2 tablespoons corn starch with ¼ cup water into the gravy and cook 15 minutes at a gentle boil and until thickened (you shouldn't have to do this).

Variation: Remove the turkey neck and pull off any soft pieces and return the pieces to the gravy.


Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard / KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for "A Mediterranean Feast." His latest book is "Hot & Cheesy" (Wiley) about cooking with cheese.


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