How (and Why) to Make Good Pan Gravy


My Grandma makes the best brown gravy. I’m not talking the dark, uniformly-colored gravy that they serve on mashed potatoes at most national chain buffets. This is the lighter, creamier stuff, with flecks of meat, cracked black pepper, and that can be whipped up in a matter of minutes from any meat (even meatballs!). Here’s a quick tutorial on how to master the art of good brown gravy (sometimes called “pan gravy”) — and why you’ll want to add it to a few meals here and there.

First, the why:

Gravy has always gotten a bad rap for being greasy, fatty, and full of sodium. If taken from a can, I’ll agree that it isn’t the best. When procured from light pan drippings and made from fresh milk and just a dab of flour, however, it’s really nothing more than meat juice with substance. Think of it as a way to use up the meat’s own liquids in a way that is more appealing than just letting your meat “sweat” on a platter until served.

Not only is it not that bad for you, it’s a super way to stretch a meal. When paired with your choice of Soppin’ Bread, it’s guaranteed to fill up a few hungry working men or some growing kids without the need for seconds on the meat — which may or may not be in your budget. I also have a few kids who hate mashed potatoes. When topped with a little good brown gravy, however, it’s gone in minutes. (And since our potatoes are still in the cellar from last fall’s harvest, it’s essentially free food!)

Then there is the fact that it can dress up an otherwise drab meat presentation. A typical pork chop doesn’t look that appealing (to me, anyway) until you pour on a fine line of some kind of sauce or add a touch of garnish to it. The gravy is the perfect, frugal, and delicious solution.

Now the how:

1. Whether you bake, broil, or pan brown, the concept is the same. Drain off the juices and bits of meat from the bottom of the pan or skillet. (You may also want to lightly scrape some of the stuck-on stuff with a spatula.) Do this when the pan is hot, and it’ll be easier. Save back the juice and solid pieces (also called "drippings") for your gravy. Note: Sometimes you just won't have enough drippings to make much gravy. Some people will add commercial broth to supplement, but I find that it changes the flavor of the gravy too much (and can add too much sodium). If you don't want to add broth, just make as much gravy as you can, and use it sparingly with your meal.

2. In a separate sauce pan (you can also choose to use the same fry pan, if it’s suitable), add the drippings and enough milk to make a few servings of gravy. Heat it over medium heat so that it gets frothy, but doesn’t scald.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 part flour to 2 parts water, and slowly pour it into your milk/meat juice mixture.

4. Stir, stir, stir! Add in salt and pepper to taste.

5. If it gets too thick, add more milk or drippings. If it’s still too runny, add a bit more flour/water mixture. Remove it from heat as soon as it’s perfect, or immediately pour it over your cooked meat.

Note: The large lump to the left of my spatula is a whole garlic clove. I sometimes brown the meat with cloves and then remove them from the gravy just before serving.

(If you chose to cook your meat by pan browning it after it is lightly dusted with flour, you may already have enough flour in the drippings to not have to add in a separate flour and water mixture. You’ll just need to thin it down with milk and season to taste.)

Do you have any super gravy tips to share?

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Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, man, I love biscuits and gravy. One of the best meals EVER. I've never tried it myself, though, as I have generally been terrified of attempting gravy. Thanks for this!

Guest's picture

Being from the South, a good pan gravy is a must. What's mashed potatoes without gravy???

Guest's picture

Yay pan gravy! I like to do it all in the same pan, so I can capture the most flavor. I like to add a minced shallot to the sucs, saute that until it's fragrant, then deglaze the pan with a splash of wine. Sometimes I'll add some milk, cream or stock, but usually the wine sauce does the trick.

Guest's picture

A chef taught me his secret to no-lump gravy: Strain it.

I simmer the giblets, neck, etc. in water with a bit of celery as a gravy extender. Also use this to baste the bird.

Guest's picture

Immersion (stick) blenders are your friend when making gravies, soups - anything that can be lumpy if not beaten into submission.