This Make Ahead Turkey Gravy is so easy and saves tons of time and stress on Thanksgiving Day! No more running around while the turkey gets cold, trying to skim fat and whisk out lumps while everyone stares at you because you misjudged your time and they are starving. (Oh, is this just me??) Originally published November 18, 2015.
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Sometimes when I’m in public I pretend to be a more concerned mother than I actually am. Like when Truman falls and bumps his head and the ENTIRE populace of Starbucks stops in its tracks to make sure he’s okay. And what I say out loud is, “Aw, yeah, poor guy, he hit his head!” But what I really want to say is, come on people, this happens every day, let’s not get choked up here. Two-year-olds have heads made of STEEL.
It was actually kind of awesome. Truman fell from a barstool and hit the back of his head going down. Before I could maneuver myself to a position where I could pick him up, an Asian man came out of nowhere and swooped Truman up in his arms, then handed him to me. I wish more strangers would do this kind of thing for each other! It was so refreshing.
It reminded me of this video Eric showed me about a Japanese reality TV show that films kids as they complete their first errand. Apparently in Japan, parents start sending their kids on short errands when they are very young, like 3-5 years old. This would be impossible here in the US because 1) there are no stores close enough to walk to and 2) children are taught to mistrust adults they don’t know. It’s the opposite in Japan. Kids there are taught that they can trust adults, even if they are strangers.
I think this is how the world ought to be, personally. Our culture has taken the distrust so far that I can no longer leave my sleeping son in the car for 5 minutes while I pick up some milk without worrying that someone will take a video and turn me in to the police. We were all raised not to trust each other, and so we don’t. A bystander doesn’t trust that I’m not negligent, and I don’t trust a bystander not to turn me in. It’s so sad. I would much rather teach my children that MOST people are kind and well-meaning, with a few who aren’t, instead of the other way around.
So I really just love it when a random stranger (a MAN, no less, not a fellow mother-warrior) has the guts to scoop up my kid when he falls down, even if it goes against the American “mind your own business” culture. It fills me up when I see people taking care of people. Do you have any opinions about this? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.
Best Premade Turkey Gravy Recipe
Who loves making gravy at the last minute on Thanksgiving? I just love pulling that bird out of the oven and frantically pouring off the juices to whisk up my homemade gravy. Said no one ever! I feel like gravy is the most stressful part of the entire meal. You need the turkey juices to make it (pray there is enough!), but you can’t get the juices until the turkey is done, and then your turkey sits getting cold while you whisk like mad over a hot stove. It’s kind of a nightmare.
Enter make-ahead gravy! My mother-in-law Kris has been using this recipe for years and she just told me about it. You use turkey wings and whatever other parts you can find (neck, thighs, whatever), roast them, boil them, and then make a gravy from those drippings.
Make Ahead Turkey Gravy ingredients
Here’s a quick shopping list to help you gather your ingredients. See the recipe card below for the full ingredients and instructions!
- Turkey wings (or other parts, like necks or thighs, 4-5 lbs total)
- Chicken or turkey broth (I always use either Better than Bouillon chicken base, or, even better, Better than Bouillon turkey base)
- Thyme (dried)
- Salt and pepper
Your local grocery store probably carries turkey wings, but if they don’t, turkey necks, drumsticks, or thighs are totally fine. What you want to avoid is buying a smoked turkey product (fresh or frozen). Totally different flavor and not what we need here.
You can find Better than Bouillon chicken base at your local grocery store. Their turkey base is harder to find and you might have to buy it online. Both are great options, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you choose the easy route and do the chicken base (or chicken broth of your choice). If you don’t choose Better than Bouillon that’s ok just do NOT use bouillon cubes. You don’t want low-quality gravy, you want “the Thanksgiving of your dreams” gravy.
Thanksgiving Make Ahead Gravy Substitutions
This recipe is foolproof as is. Sometimes you’ve got to be flexible though! Here’s what to do if you can’t find an ingredient or you’re making this for someone with a special diet.
- Don’t be afraid to use whatever turkey parts you can find. I mean, without reason. Chicken breasts or tenderloins aren’t going to work, because white meat just doesn’t have enough fat (and fat means flavor). Turkey wings, necks, drumsticks, or thighs are all good candidates. Whatever is cheapest is ok! It’s fine to buy frozen ones. You don’t need to worry about the texture or high quality of the meat because you’re not going to eat it, just extract its flavor into your gravy. It is NOT ok to substitute canned turkey…I really hope you already knew that.
- What if I can’t find turkey parts, Karen?? It’s ok, don’t panic. You could make this gravy with chicken parts instead. Is it going to taste like turkey? Only if you use the turkey Better than Bouillon base. Will it still be a delicious gravy either way? Yes, totally. If you like the flavor of chicken (who doesn’t, let’s be real) it’s still worth it.
- If you’re making turkey for a gluten-free meal, you can substitute cornstarch for the flour. You’ll only need ¼ cup. Make sure you thoroughly whisk it into the 2 cups of broth. I’d start with a smaller amount of broth–say, one cup–just to make it easier to break up the little pieces. Lump-free gravy is what we want here!
- I know I’ve been raving about Better than Bouillon and it is my preference, but you can still make this gravy with ordinary chicken or turkey broth. Since a lot of the flavor comes from the broth, pick something high quality. DO NOT buy bouillon cubes. Those dusty little lumps are not going to create magical Thanksgiving memories.
How to make Turkey Gravy
Let’s break it down. Turkey gravy isn’t hard but it does have a few steps. Here’s whatcha do:
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. Place wings (or other turkey parts) on the pan. Scatter the onions over the pan.
- Roast for about an hour. Make sure the parts are browned on top. Then remove the turkey parts to a large stock pot.
Prepare & simmer the Gravy
- Place the baking sheet over two burners on your stove and turn both of them up to medium. Add a cup of water and use a wooden spoon to stir up all the browned bits. When the bottom of the pan is clean, scrape the water into the pot with the turkey.
- Add 6 cups chicken broth (or 6 cups water and 6 teaspoons chicken or turkey base). Add the chopped carrots and the thyme.
- Simmer uncovered for about 1 and 1/2 hours.
- Remove the turkey parts and set aside.
- Pour the remaining onion and carrot mixture through a colander into a bowl.
- Put the bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes so it’s easy to skim the fat from the top.
How to thicken Turkey Gravy
- Pour the broth back into the pot. Bring to a gentle boil.
- Whisk together the flour and 2 cups of broth, making sure to get out all the lumps.
- Slowly whisk the flour mixture into the broth. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring.
- Stir in butter, pepper, and salt.
- Taste it and add more salt, pepper, thyme, or up to 1 teaspoon of turkey base as you prefer.
- Let cool and freeze in ziplock bags. Let the gravy thaw in the fridge overnight, or just stick it in the microwave. If you are making a turkey on the day you plan to serve this gravy, add the fat-skimmed pan drippings to the gravy! YUM.
Add remaining ingredients
Below on the right is the broth after I froze it for 20 minutes. It makes it so easy to skim the fat! (Update Nov 2017: You can also use a Fat Separator Measuring Cup. They work amazingly well and are way faster. My sister sent me one in the mail after she read on this post (in 2015) that I still put my gravy in the freezer. Thanks Laura!!)
Then you stick it in the freezer and forget about it until a couple hours before you want to eat. You could literally make this gravy TODAY and have one less thing to do on the big day. Mine’s already in the freezer ready to go!
How to store Make Ahead Turkey Gravy
We’ve got two great options here: fridge and freezer. The one you choose depends on how far in advance you make it.
How long will make ahead gravy last in fridge?
Only a couple days. If you make it Tuesday or Wednesday, you’re good to just refrigerate it. Otherwise, freeze it. If you freeze your gravy flat, with the ziplock lying down like a piece of paper, it will really take no time at all to defrost, and you can have peace of mind knowing it’s fresh. Nothing worse than Thanksgiving food poisoning for your entire extended family, am I right?? Another bonus of making it in advance is that your grocery store is less likely to run out of turkey parts 3 weeks before Thanksgiving. The day before, you might be out of luck.
Can you freeze Turkey Gravy?
Yes absolutely! This is what I always do. Just let it cool, put it in labeled ziplock bags, and stick it in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. I don’t recommend freezing it, defrosting it, and then refreezing it. This is why smaller ziplock bags, like quart size, are a good plan – just pull out one at a time. You can always get more out if you need it.
Make Ahead Turkey Gravy Recipe FAQs
The best way to add flavor to turkey gravy is with a bouillon base. You’d think I’m working for Better than Bouillon or something the way I won’t stop talking about it, but no, I’m just a huge fan. And always have it on hand, right there in the fridge. Turkey broth has flavor, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as concentrated as the flavor in a bouillon base (turkey and chicken both work here). It’s also more consistent. And on a nostalgic holiday like Thanksgiving, getting those memories juuuust right is important, ok?
Cornstarch and flour are usually pretty interchangeable thickeners. But when you’re planning from the very beginning to freeze and reheat something, flour’s the one to choose. Flour also makes the gravy look more substantial and less translucent–meaning your gravy won’t look thin and watery.
More great make ahead recipes for Turkey Day:
Best Make Ahead Gravy for Turkey
- 4 turkey wings or other parts, 4 to 5 pounds total
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- 1 cup water
- 6 cups chicken broth, *
- 1-2 carrots, chopped
- ½ teaspoon thyme, dried
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken broth, *
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, more to taste
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. (I used foil in the photo above out of habit, but there is no need.)
- Place wings and other turkey parts on the pan. Scatter the onions over the pan.
- Roast at 400 for 1 hour, up to an hour and 15 minutes. Make sure the parts are browned on top.
- Remove the turkey parts to a large stock pot.
- Place the baking sheet over two burners on your stove and turn both of them up to medium. Add 1 cup water and use a wooden spoon to stir up all the browned bits. When the bottom of the pan is clean, scrape the water into the pot with the turkey.
- Add 6 cups chicken broth (or 6 cups water and 6 teaspoons turkey base.) Add the chopped carrots and the thyme.
- Simmer uncovered for about 1 and 1/2 hours.
- Remove the turkey parts and set aside. (You can pull off the meat and save it for something else, but I found that it was pretty tough.)
- Pour the remaining onion and carrot mixture through a colander into a bowl. (You can discard the veggies or snack on them).
- At this point I stuck the bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes so that it was easy to skim the fat from the top.
- Pour the broth back into the pot. Bring to a gentle boil.
- Whisk together the flour and 2 cups broth, making sure to get out all the lumps.
- Slowly whisk the flour mixture into the broth. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring. Stir in butter, pepper, and salt.
- Taste it and see what you think. You can add more salt, pepper, thyme, or up to 1 teaspoon of turkey base.
- Let cool and freeze in ziplock bags. Let the gravy thaw in the fridge overnight, or just stick it in the microwave.
- If you are making a turkey on the day you plan to serve this gravy, add the fat-skimmed pan drippings to the gravy!