Great turkey broth and flavorful drippings can be transformed into rich Thanksgiving gravy in a matter of minutes. It's the simplest of kitchen tasks, akin to boiling water.
But what if you don't have good broth? A brined turkey can result in broth that tastes like liquid salt. A smoked turkey renders the broth bitter. And sometimes the best laid plans go awry when the gravy boat runs dry, leaving plates of leftovers in need of saucing.
That's when you need a non-homemade stand-in, so I started in deli departments, hoping for fresh, authentic alternatives. My search turned up precious few.
Disappointed, I headed to the grocery store to pull jars, boxes, cans and even packets from the shelf. With five pounds of gravy in hand, I made a beeline for the kitchen. Before I share my results, I should note that the calorie- and fat-counts on these vary only slightly, ranging from 15 to 40 calories per ¼ cup, with just a touch of fat. The only real nutritional issue is sodium content, which ranges from 210 to 390 milligrams per serving.
After tasting, one thing is quite clear: Fresh is so much better that it's worth seeking out. That said, for those times when you can't have fresh, I've also included details on the best turkey gravies available year-round:
A.G. Ferrari Turkey Gravy: While I love simple, broth-based gravies, this herby, vegetable-forward pureed gravy had me eating it by the spoonful. It has perfect balance and enough bold, full
Whole Foods Turkey Gravy: As long as you like garlic, this is a really great choice for traditional gravy. It's buttery and creamy, with great roasted onion and garlic flavors. A quart is $8.99. Find it in the deli department. * * * ½
Whole Foods Vegan Mushroom Gravy: Made with fresh mushrooms and a deep brown vegetable broth, this thin-style gravy is perfect not just for vegans, but for mushroom lovers as well. A quart is $8.99. * * * ½
Knorr Roasted Turkey Flavored Gravy Mix: Convinced that any "gravy" made from a powder packet must be inferior, I tasted this with considerable skepticism. Surprisingly, it delivers better turkey flavor than many of its boxed and jarred competitors, plus it has a tasty roasted onion flavor. A 1.2-ounce package that makes 1¼ cups gravy is $1.79 at Raley's. * *
Trader Joe's Turkey Gravy: Even though this gravy is a touch too herby, it has a nice, light viscosity, an appealing brown color and a richness you don't find in most gravy options. A 17.6-ounce box is $1.49. * *
Heinz Homestyle Roasted Turkey Gravy: Those who prefer plain gravy without added flavors will enjoy this slightly thick, light-colored gravy. It's a bit boring, but it delivers true turkey flavor. A 12-ounce jar is 2.99 at Raley's; $1.19 on sale at Safeway. * *
Campbell's Slow-Roast Turkey Gravy: The name on the jar makes my mouth water, but the gravy is just so-so. The texture is slightly too thick and the flavor too thin -- and the less expensive, canned version is noticeably less tasty, with a tinny aftertaste. A 12-ounce jar is $2.59 at Raley's. *
McCormick Turkey Gravy: I was surprised to find that this powder packet stirs up into a perfectly fine turkey-flavored sauce. It's not a standout, but it's a bargain-priced option worth stocking in the pantry. A .87-ounce packet that makes 2 cups is $1.25 at Raley's. ½ a star
Safeway Homestyle Savory Turkey Gravy: This gravy looks exactly like the top-rated Heinz gravy, so I expected it to taste similar. Not so. It has an odd, cardboard flavor. A 12-ounce jar is $1.69. ½ a star
Mayacamas Turkey-Flavored Vegetarian Gravy Mix: This peppery gravy isn't a top pick, but it beats out a number of turkey gravies, despite the absence of actual turkey. A .7-ounce packet that makes 1 cup is $1.29 at Sprouts. ½ a star
Pacific Organic Turkey Gravy: This gravy, made from ingredients you would use if you made it from scratch -- broth, turkey and a dash of creme fraiche -- is gloppy and bitter. A 13.9-ounce box is $2.49 at Sprouts Market. No stars.
Hain Celestial's Imagine Natural Organic Roasted Turkey Gravy: The packaging looks promising, but the product tastes like chemicals. A 16-ounce box is $2.79 at Sprouts Market. No stars.