Firehouse Holiday Dinner Challenge: Gravy

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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

Homemade gravy is 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.
Active time:  11 minutes
Total time:  22 minutes
Cost per two tablespoon serving:  7 cents 

Jar of Gravy

I’ll be honest. I had imagined the jar of gravy 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

The Result

Homemade Gravy: 7
Gravy from a Jar: 0 

No one particularly objected to the packaged gravy. After all, gravy’s primarily 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 of the packaged gravy. 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 gravy. 

  • “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.

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About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.


  1. Well done, Kathleen!!! Thanksgiving is, hands-down, my favorite meal to cook (and eat) and I do it all from scratch and with a lot of love. Cheers


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