Explained: delicious gravy without drippings (and how to make it ahead)

Purists may scoff, but you CAN make tasty gravy without drippings. And understanding the foundations of good gravy will help you make it exactly how you want it.

To help explain how a gravy comes together, I’ve gone through thirty recipes for gravy to figure out what the different approaches are, which are the most popular, and why. This will help you create a rich, thick gravy without drippings. Plus you’ll see how gravy without drippings is the best kind if you want to make your gravy ahead of time.

Gravy’s made from drippings, right?

Gravy originated hundreds of years ago as a way to make a sauce out of the delicious juices and fats that seep from roast meat as it cooks. And many would argue that’s the only way it should ever be made.

But what if you want to enjoy the delicious savoury sauciness of gravy without drippings? They’re delicious, but they add a lot of calories. And you won’t even have drippings if you’re only making roast vegetables, toad-in-the-hole or poutine. Or if you smoked, deep-fried, or grilled/barbecued your meat. Maybe you just want to avoid the stress of having to wait until the last minute to make your gravy, at the time when EVERYTHING else is coming together at once?

Gravy without drippings

Whatever your reason, the good news is you can make a delicious gravy from scratch without drippings. In fact, sixteen of these thirty recipes are made without drippings. And several others offer substitutes for the use of pan juices if you prefer. So, you have many options here, from quick and easy to more complicated gravies, no drippings required.

And regardless of whether or not you use drippings, the process of making gravy is exactly the same.

How do you make gravy?

The key to understanding the role of drippings in gravy, and therefore how to replace them, is understanding how gravy is made from scratch. I say from scratch because I’m talking about gravy made without granules or gravy powder. Homemade gravy with ingredients you have in the kitchen cupboard.

The fundamental process of making gravy from scratch is fairly straightforward. As a result, almost all of these thirty recipes apply only minor variations to a very consistent method:

  1. Make a roux of fat and flour (more on this in a moment).
  2. Add liquid to build the roux into a sauce.
  3. Simmer to thicken the sauce.
  4. Add final seasonings and serve.

1. The Roux

A roux is a paste made from cooking flour in fat, typically in equal parts. It’s main role is to thicken your gravy, but depending on how you make it, the roux can also create unique flavours.

The most commonly used fat is butter, because it’s easily available and provides its trademark rich creaminess to the gravy. With gravy though, this is one place that drippings can be used.

The fat from drippings can be used in place of butter, which will provide a more savoury meatiness, adding the flavour of your roast meat and all its seasonings directly to the foundation of your gravy.

I have a lot more detail in my post on mac and cheese, including a number of tips for cooking the perfect roux.

Tweaking the roux

If you’re looking to modify the thickness of a favourite gravy recipe, Jessica Gavin offers some guidance on doing this with your roux:

“For a medium-bodied gravy, use 1 tablespoon of fat (drippings, butter, ghee, or olive oil), 1 tablespoon of flour, and 1 cup of liquid (juice from a roast, stock, or broth). Double the fat and flour for a thick gravy.”

And as for flavour, the more you cook your roux, the darker it will become and the more flavour it will impart. In fact, several of these recipes instruct you to prepare a blond or even a dark roux, which has a distinctly nutty flavour, and also adds darker colour to your gravy. Keep in mind though, that the more you cook your roux, the less thickening power it has.

2. Add liquid

Once your roux is the colour you want, the next step is to extend it with the gradual addition of a liquid. The two most commonly used liquids are stock and the drippings from roast meat.

As you can imagine, like using them in your roux, drippings will give a gravy a big savoury flavour boost. So this is something we need to compensate for when we make a gravy without using drippings.

Making gravy without drippings

In its simplest form, gravy can be made from butter and flour (the roux) plus stock. Apart from salt and pepper to taste, that’s enough to make a gravy.

Stock or broth?

One important point of clarification. Sometimes you’ll hear the terms stock and broth used interchangeably. They are very similar, but there is an important difference. Abeer from One Pot Recipes describes it well:

“Stock is usually made from simmering the bones in liquid and therefore can have a more gelatinous texture from the collagen in the bones. This adds flavor and health benefits. Broth is usually made from the meat simmering in the liquid. “

As a result, stock is richer than broth, and will add to the texture of your gravy. Broth adds flavour, but doesn’t add any texture.

What type of stock?

The meat you’re intending to serve your gravy with often determines the flavour of stock you’ll use. Chicken stock is good for chicken, beef stock for beef, and so on. Some of the authors recommend a mix of chicken and beef stock, with the latter giving a more savoury flavour hit to your gravy.

Boosting the flavour

As you can imagine, unless you’re using a darker roux, with a stock-based gravy the taste depends almost entirely on the flavour of your stock.

So you need to make sure you’re using a really flavoursome stock. For this reason, a number of the authors recommend using a really high quality store-bought variety. These will have more flavour than a regular powdered stock.

Your best bet though, is to make your own.

Homemade stock

Five of the authors’ recipes include directions for making turkey stock from scratch. This will obviously be a lot more time-consuming, typically requiring several hours of simmering, but will almost certainly give you a tastier, richer gravy. It will also give you more control over the flavour profile and the salt content (which is often high in commercially-available stocks). I’ve listed these five recipes separately at the end if you’re keen to give one a try.

Additional flavouring options

Apart from making your own stock, there are other ways to enhance a stock-based gravy (and of course, gravy made with drippings too). The authors of these gravies add a variety of different flavours:

  • The most popular addition is some combination of onion, carrot, celery and garlic, with onion being the most common. Most authors add these by sautéing them when they make their roux. This adds a rich flavour base to their gravy. A few others use the dried powder form later in the process.
  • Herbs are the next most popular addition. Every author that adds them uses thyme, either on its own or with one or more other herbs. None of the others are common, but they include sage, rosemary, bay leaves and marjoram.
  • Bouillon powder, stock cubes or similar products appear a few times, with six authors adding one of these concentrates, either chicken, beef or both. They are all dehydrated stock, broth or meat, and add an intense flavour. Be aware they are typically very high in salt, so be sure to adjust salt elsewhere to allow for this.
  • Three authors add some Worcestershire sauce for a savoury umami punch.
  • A couple of authors add an acidic tang to their gravy. Tracy from Baking Mischief uses a small amount of lemon juice, and Wendie from Butter your Biscuit adds a small amount of cider vinegar.
  • Stephanie from The Cozy Cook adds a small amount of soy sauce in one of her recipes and Adam from Inspired Taste uses a little mushroom powder. These are both great sources of umami flavour as well.

Many of the authors recommend using low-sodium stock. Store-bought stock can be quite salty, and it is a significant component of your gravy. You can always add more salt to a reduced-salt stock if you need, but if your finished gravy is too salty, it’s very difficult to correct. For the same reason, a number of authors recommend using unsalted butter for your roux.

3. Thickening your gravy

Once you’ve combined your roux and your stock or drippings, you need to give your gravy some time to thicken by gently simmering it. This time allows the starch in the flour to do its job, and also allows some water to evaporate off, both of which thicken the gravy.

The thickening time varies from recipe to recipe, with some authors only simmering for a few minutes and one for almost half-an-hour. On average though the recommendation is around five to ten minutes.

Ideally you should simmer your gravy for as long as it takes to reach a consistency just a little runnier than you want to serve it. Once it’s off the heat and begins to cool it will thicken a little.

Closeup of golden brown gravy pouring out of a white gravy boat with the words make sure your gravy's not too thick or too thin.

Too thick or too thin

Getting the consistency right is a common challenge with gravy. Your best bet is to use a bit less stock than you think, because it’s easier to thin a thick gravy than it is to thicken a runny one.

Thinning gravy that’s too thick

If your gravy is too thick, you can thin it down by adding more stock, or even water. Bit-by-bit is the best approach here, adding a tablespoon or two at a time, and mixing it through, before adding more.

Thickening runny gravy

If your gravy is too thin, but not by a lot, keep in mind that it will thicken as it sits and begins to cool.

If it’s far too thin, assuming you have the time, the safest method to thicken it is to simmer it longer. If you’re pressed for time you can add more flour, but you run the risk it will clump up as you add it.

Kelly from The Anthony Kitchen recommends combining the flour with a bit of butter before adding it.

You could also add a slurry of cornstarch/cornflour and water, but be aware that cornstarch has much greater thickening capabilities than flour, so add it a little at a time.

4. Finishing your gravy

While it’s technically true to say you can make gravy with just flour, butter and stock, based on these recipes, you really need salt and pepper as well. Almost every author recommends seasoning to taste with these two kitchen essentials.

Although I’ve listed this as the last step, a number of authors season their gravy before they thicken it. If you’re using dried herbs this certainly makes a lot of sense, but you want to be careful doing this with salt or other strong seasonings because the flavour will intensify as the gravy reduces a little while simmering. Salt in particular is best added right at the end. And this is especially true of a gravy made with stock.

While it’s not technically seasoning, if you’re looking for an extra decadent hit for your gravy, seven recipes add a tablespoon or two of either butter or cream, right at the end. Either will add a rich creaminess, and several authors like how the addition of butter gives their gravy a glossy finish as well. Definitely worth a try, and highly recommended for a gravy made without drippings (to replicate some of the fattiness meat juices would provide).

Which gravy for which meat?

If you think of matching gravy with meat a little like matching wine with meat, you’ll be on the right track.

For white meats and lean red meats, a lighter gravy is a good match. Use chicken stock in preference to beef, or the drippings from the meat, and keep your roux nice and light.

Darker gravy is good if you’re eating heartier meats, like lamb, venison or more marbled cuts of beef. Darken your roux more, and use beef stock for more flavour and colour.

Closeup of a pool of gravy around a Yorkshire pudding with the text the secret to lump free gravy.

Help! My gravy is lumpy!

If this has happened to you, you’re not alone! A lot of people struggle with lumpy gravy.

The most common cause of lumpy gravy is introducing stock into the roux too quickly. If you pour it all in at once, you risk the roux forming lumps that are fiddly to remove.

The best approach to a lump-free gravy is to add your stock gradually. Add a half-a-cup and stir it in well. When it’s fully combined, add another half-a-cup, and so on. It takes more time, but you’re much less likely to get lumps of roux with this approach.

Whether you add it gradually or all at once, it’s important to whisk constantly. Allowing it to sit at this stage will also allow lumps to form.

If you do end up with lumps, you have a few options:

  • If they’re not too big, you can sometimes vigorously whisk them out.
  • You can break them up with an immersion blender.
  • You can strain your gravy to remove the lumps.

These techniques will also work well to remove sautéed vegetable pieces if you sautéed onions and garlic with your roux.

Flavour problems

A few readers reach out to the authors with flavour problems:

  • Bitter gravy. The most likely culprit here is overbrowned butter when making your roux. Butter quickly goes from a nice nutty flavour to a bitter burnt flavour, so you need to watch it closely at this stage if you’re aiming for a darker roux. Tanya from My Forking Life suggests adding a little sugar to overcome the bitterness, but this will change the flavour profile of your gravy, masking the bitterness rather than removing it.
  • Too salty. I’ve touched on this earlier, but the things to watch out for here are store-bought stock, bouillon powders and stock cubes. Salted butter can also add to the problem. Not adding any additional salt until the very end is a good way to reduce the risk of an overly salty gravy.
Closeup of a white jug full of creamy brown gravy with the text make your gravy in advance ready for the big day.

Making your gravy in advance

Many of the authors suggest that you can make your gravy up to several days in advance and keep it in the fridge, or even further in advance and freeze it. This flexibility is great if you’re looking to get some of your side dishes sorted well before the big day. The best part is that making it without drippings is the best approach for a make-ahead gravy.

For a gravy made with drippings, the only way to fully make it in advance is to roast some meat or pieces (like necks or wings) to produce drippings specifically for your gravy.

If you’re making your gravy without drippings, you don’t have this problem. If you’re using homemade stock, you have to make this in advance anyway, and if you’re using store-bought you can make your gravy whenever you like.

So using stock instead of drippings if the perfect approach to a make-ahead gravy.

Reheating make-ahead gravy

If you’ve made your gravy in advance, keep in mind that it will thicken considerably over time. As several of the authors recommend, reheat it gently on the stove, stirring regularly, and gradually add more stock as needed.

The essence of gravy without drippings

If you’re planning on making a brown gravy from scratch, and you want to avoid using drippings, the process is very straightforward:

  1. Make a roux of flour and butter.
  2. Add stock, and maybe some herbs or other flavours. Sautéed onions and garlic are a great option.
  3. Simmer your gravy for five to ten minutes until it’s just a little runnier than you’d like.
  4. Season it to taste and serve it up.

If you’re looking to make the most flavoursome gravy you can, use a good homemade stock. And maybe add a decadent touch with a bit of butter or cream right at the end.

So there you have it – the essence of gravy without drippings. Hopefully this has shown you that you can make a great gravy without meat drippings, suitable even for a festive roast like a roast turkey or a big prime rib. It doesn’t have to be a special meal though. Gravy’s delicious on weeknight classics like pork chops or homemade meatballs too.

Gravy FAQ

How do I make gravy without drippings?

Use butter instead of the fat from drippings, and good quality stock instead of the liquid drippings.

Can I make gravy in advance?

Gravy made from stock can be made several days in advance. Reheat it gently on the stove before serving.

Why is my gravy bitter?

The most likely cause is over-cooking your butter when making your roux.

How do I avoid lumps in gravy?

Make sure you add your stock (or drippings) gradually to the roux (flour and butter). Whisk each addition in well before adding more.

How do I get rid of lumps in gravy?

You can whisk small lumps out, otherwise you need to strain or blend your gravy. An immersion blender works well.

How do I thicken runny gravy?

If it’s not too runny, simply simmer it a little longer to let it reduce. If it’s very runny, you’ll need to add a thickener like a slurry of cornstarch and water.

Recipes included in this review

Recipes using homemade turkey stock

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