Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

If there’s one thing that can really put a damper on your Thanksgiving dinner, it’s when your 20-lb turkey yields only 2 cups of drippings, and you all end up potato-rich and gravy-poor. One tiny gravy boat makes the rounds at the table, and everyone holds their breath, hoping there’s still a molecule or two left by the time it gets to them.

There’s a very easy solution to that problem. Make your gravy ahead of time. It’s a tiny bit of work, but it’s absolutely worth it for peace of mind come Thursday.

I made mine this week. Here’s how I did it:

1. Pick up a couple of packages of turkey legs at the store. I ended up with four gigantic legs. You can also use turkey wings, but I find that those yield a lot of grease.

2. Place the turkey legs on a rimmed baking sheet or a deep baking dish. Bake uncovered for about an hour on 400, turning them every 15 minutes. Pull them out when they’re nice and brown, like this.

What you’re after is all these dark brown bits. This is where all the flavor comes from.

3. Place the browned turkey legs in a large pan and deglaze your roasting pan with a little liquid (I used part of a box of turkey broth I bought at Trader Joe’s, but you can use a little water or white wine if you want). Deglazing is just a fancy way of saying “rescuing all the delicious brown bits.” The liquid helps you scrape up every little morsel. Pour it all in the pan with the turkey legs.

Now cover your turkey with enough water and chicken or turkey broth (I just used the rest of the box I opened to deglaze my pan) to almost cover the turkey, but not quite.

Here’s where people take different paths. Some people like to add a lot of extras to their turkey stock: carrots, onions, celery, garlic, sprigs of rosemary, sage, white wine. Some people, like me, are purists. I figure, if it’s not something I’d put in my regular gravy, I’m not going to put it in make-ahead gravy. About the only seasoning I add, besides salt and pepper, is a little sprinkling of garlic powder just toward the end.  But you’ll have to decide how crazy you want to get.

You’re going to then cook those turkey legs for 1-2 hours–long enough to reduce it all down to a fall-apart mess. During this time, the water will reduce down quite a bit, but that’s okay. We’re condensing flavor here.

4. Once the meat is falling off the bone, strain off the broth into another container and set it aside to cool. When the meat is cool enough to handle, separate all the good pieces out into another container or a baggie and save it for soup or a casserole. (I’ll post my very favorite turkey casserole recipe later this week. That’s what I used my turkey for last night … so yummy! 🙂

Let the broth cool a bit, then cover it and put it in the fridge. I let mine sit overnight, but you really only have to wait long enough for the broth and the fat to separate. And this fat is still pretty soft even after refrigerating, which makes things nice when you go to the next step.

5. Now pour off the fat into a large frying pan. I used my large cast iron pan. What you’re going to make now is a roux (roo). Once you see how easy this is to make, and you start to understand just how many things begin with a roux, you’ll be making them all the time. Cream of anything soup, fettuccine alfredo, biscuits and gravy … all start out with a roux.

So you’ve got your fat in the pan. Now sprinkle about as much flour as you think you have fat (a roux is one part fat, one part flour, and then whatever liquid you want. Easy, huh?). Don’t worry about measuring. It’s best to start out with less, because you can always add more as you go along.

6. Take your time with this part of the roux. If you rush through the process, your roux will have a distinctive “flour” taste. I cooked mine until it was nice and brown, adding a little more flour as I went along until it had a nice velvety texture.

6. With your wisk at the ready, begin pouring your turkey broth into the roux. Stir like crazy, because as that liquid hits the fat/flour combo, it’s going to practically evaporate before your eyes. Keep adding the liquid just as fast as the mixture absorbs it. You’ll use all the liquid, even if it seems like the mixture is too thin. Too thin is much better than too thick at this point, because you can always cook it down to intensify the flavor.

7. Turn your heat down to simmer and keep cooking and stirring the gravy until it tastes the way you want it. Season it with salt and pepper and whatever else you like. I add just a sprinkling of garlic powder.

When the gravy is just the way you want it, let it cook, then pour into a freezer-proof container and freeze for up to three months.

If you’re planning to combine it with the drippings from your Thanksgiving turkey, just separate out the fat beforehand and add the rest of the drippings to your gravy.

I wish you could have had a bite.


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11 Comments on "Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy"

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Pam S

What a great idea! I never have enough gravy, or enough dark meat on Thanksgiving day so to be able to have plenty of both is a wonderful thought. And I love the idea of being able to prepare it before hand goodness with everything else that needs to be prepared, every minute saved it a blessing. Thanks Shannon : )


I used to make brown gravy like this when I was young. My mom taught me, first brown the roux, add the water, then we would add “Kitchen Bouquet” for flavor and a it would have a rich dark brown color. Salt, pepper and garlic. Yummy. I just recently bought a small cast iron skillet so I could make some again. But my first attempt 25 plus years later didn’t turn out so well. Reading this now I see why I ended up with the “flour” taste. Thanks for posting this Shannon.

anita scheftner

Went to the grocery store..their turkey legs come in tomorrow..a great idea..sounds and looks soooo good.

anita scheftner

Alrighty..I did this..soooo worth repeating..really, really good gravy! Looking forward to what recipe you have for the turkery 😀

Arline Stone

Cooked the Turkey today, fat is in the refrigerator separating, will make the gravy tomorrow, Thank you,
Arline Stone


Well I did something wrong, it tastes a bit floury. I think I couldn’t squeeze out enough fat from my 4 little scrawny turkey legs. I’ll cook it some more tomorrow and add the turkey drippings and see how it is and then there’s always Christmas to practice again. Thanks Shannon : )


I’m too embarassed to say on here where the whole wide world will see. : ) For short, I simply didn’t do well at following your wonderful step by step, perfectly illustrated directions. : ) I’ll try again though.

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