How to Thicken Gravy (Our Best Advice)

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
Watery gravybhofack2 /123RF

Want to make a better gravy? The simplest cooking technique is also the most effective.

It takes experience to make a thick gravy, and getting the density up to par is almost always a challenge for the beginner cook.

A watery gravy has two issues—lack of thickness and lack of flavor—which can end up ruining an otherwise perfectly-prepared dish.

But fear not: we have expert advice on getting the gravy to the thickness you desire and adding that bursting flavor that you crave.

There are several ways to thicken gravy. Lowering the flame to a simmer, adding cornstarch, whipping up a roux, and adding puréed vegetables are arguably the best. Puréed vegetables are the only option that won’t work for every dish (we’ll get to why in a jiff).

Gravy does several things for your dish. Above all, it keeps everything in the pot full of moisture. Subsequently, it keeps the meat tender.

Keeping the pot full of gravy adds flavor to the meal, keeping the seasonings within the meat, and you can pour the gravy on a plate of mashed potatoes or rice to make your meal go even further. This, to give you the long and the short of it, is why you want a thick sauce for flavor.

How to Cook the Perfect, Thick Gravy

From a technical standpoint, without adding anything to the gravy to thicken it, we can deliver the proper way to cook a gravy by simply lowering the flame and simmering it.

This method works excellent for chicken, beef, and pork, and it only takes a couple of steps to perfect. Listed below are the steps to leave your family in awe and make you feel like a professional chef.

Step 1. Season the meat

Before starting the fire, you want to have all of your meat marinaded or seasoned to perfection. It is the user’s choice of how much to season and which type of seasonings to use.

Almost everyone will use salt and black or red pepper, but others like garlic and onion powder, thyme, rosemary, or any store-bought spices or seasonings.

Step 2: Brown the meat

When cooking the meat, you want to fry it with a bit of cooking oil at the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking. Ensure all the meat is cooked through and through.

Try not to burn the meat, but get a good dark brown to it. Browning is what brings out the aroma and flavor (burning it what ruins them). This will also add a darker color to the gravy, almost like a rusty brown from the cooked seasonings.

Step 3: Add some water

Add a little water to the pot to cover the meat halfway. Stirring occasionally, let it thicken. This will make the base of the gravy.

Step 4: Remove the meat and make the gravy

This step may be argued as an added step to some, but doing this will focus solely on the gravy and makes it well worth the added time in the end result.

Place the meat in a bowl and put it off to the side. Add the onions, garlic, bell peppers, celery, and any other ingredients to the sauce in the pot and sautee them for a few minutes.

Special Note: If you wish to skip step four, you can add all the onions, garlic, bell peppers, etc., together. However, the flame must be lowered so that the meat will not become tough. By removing the meat, it completes the gravy-making process upfront.

Step 5: Add more water and bring to a boil

Once the onions and other ingredients are tender, add 2½ cups of water and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring now and then, until the sauce thickens. Do not wander off and let it burn or stick to the pot; allowing this to happen will ruin your gravy by imparting an acrid, burnt smell and taste to it.

Step 6: Put the Meat Back in the Pot

Put all the cooked meat back in the pot, add water to the mix about ¼ of an inch over the top, and bring everything to a rolling boil.

A “rolling boil,” also known as a full boil, happens when bubbles form and burst hectically and haphazardly in your pot. You want the water to evaporate just over the top of the meat.

Step 7: Add Water and Simmer

Add one to two cups of water to bring the level back to ¼ inch over the top of the meat and bring it back to a boil. Remember to keep stirring to keep everything from sticking. Cover and simmer, occasionally stirring until the gravy is thick.

Other Methods to Thicken a Gravy

There are three other ways to thicken gravy if the density is not to your desire. Most people like to use corn starch, but adding too much can cause issues with the flavor. If the gravy is as thin as water, corn starch may not be the best option, and you may want to try making a roux instead.

Add Corn Starch

By using corn starch, you will make a liquid-based paste on the side. Take one tablespoon of cornstarch to one cup of cold water.

Whisk the mixture until it makes a paste and all the granules are dissolved. Pour in the mix and slow simmer the gravy to the thickness desired.

Cook Up a Roux

Roux is an equivalent mixture of flour to the oil and is a favored choice to thicken the gravy. Unlike corn starch, it adds richness to the flavor and color when cooked for different amounts of time.

The trick is to stir it 100% of the time without letting any part of the mixture stick until you have reached the color you want:

  • White Roux: Cook for 2-5 minutes;
  • Blond Roux: Cook for 5-10 minutes;
  • Medium Brown Roux: Cook for 15-30 minutes;
  • Dark Brown Roux: Cook for 30-45 minutes.

Throw in Puréed Vegetables

This is an item that is tricky and can only be used in specific gravies.

For example, if you are making a tomato gravy, you can only use puréed tomatoes, or if you are making a potato gravy, you can only use puréed potatoes.

By cooking meats and making gravy, adding puréed vegetables like tomatoes will change the flavor drastically, which cannot be fixed.

You want to keep the base the same with each gravy and not mix too many flavors.

To make the mixture take one cup of water or chicken broth with your choice of vegetables and put it in a blender. Add the sauce to the gravy and mix it well, and the texture of the blended vegetables will thicken the sauce.

Some have even said to use boiled eggs instead of puréed vegetables, but that only would work with stews or gumbo. Anything with a roux base chemically goes well with boiled eggs, but it is not the best option for gravies as it would also change the flavor dramatically.

Final Thoughts and Suggestions for the Perfect Gravy

Making the best gravy takes practice and is time-consuming. Anything liquid cooking at a slow simmer and covered will thicken over time. 

Another thing to watch for is that the flame used makes a difference as burners and gas stoves will cook faster and burn faster than electric stoves, which also affects how the gravy turns out.

All a gravy truly is, are the juices from the meat cooked to make a special sauce. How thick you want it is ultimately the cook’s decision, but you can use this guide to help you along the way. Your family and your guest will love the aroma and the flavor when all is said and done.