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Brown gravy

You're in a 24x7 diner and you order the roast beef dinner. You get a ridiculous bread roll, pad of cold butter, slab of overcooked, dry beef, decent mashed potatoes, a canned veggie side like corn, and the whole thing is drowned in a delicious, thick brown gravy that makes it all worthwhile. Best eaten either after midnight or after a bender, by the way :-)

I'm a pretty accomplished home-chef but I have no idea how they get it so thick and tasty. Cornstarch? Doesn't seem to have that slimy texture. Roux? Maybe, but I don't detect it. Demi glace? Seems like too much work for a diner, especially considering how much they give you.

Any thoughts on how they do that? Should this be considered a guilty pleasure?

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  1. start with a can of beef broth....

    1. What do you mean by not detecting a roux? When I think of gravy it is nearly always thickened with a roux. It may not be the heavily browned one associated with gumbo, but it still starts with flour cooked for a bit with fat of some sort.

      I don't think of a corn starch thickened sauce as slimy, but it is semi transparent and glossy, in contrast to the opaqueness of a flour thickened one.

      I agree that canned beef broth is the likely liquid base. Restaurants also use a commercially made 'beef base', a thick paste alternative to bouillon cubes. Better-than-bouillon is the brand that is sold in regular groceries, though Sams and Costco sell larger containers.


      1. ROFL!!!! ok, sorry, I am recovered now...but the idea that a place that is *so* bad otherwise, and then would do a Demi glace really just made me laugh. I think they use canned gravy, just ask. And anyplace I find that has a gravy I like ...I bypass anyother order but "wets" i.e. french fries with gravy.

        1. I use a roux...I know it is not chowish but one ingredient that gives zing is: ketchup. I also season with Tony Chachere's Cajun spice mix.

          1. flour and pan-drippings or rendered fat, most will do in a pinch (this is why we save our rendered fats! - ok, I'll save that for my guest appearance on Romper Room), cornstarch can give it a ...flat? or even bitter taste.

            mix and can should not be be discounted out of hand if you don't care about the salt content.

            1. Leave a tablespoon or two of fat in the bottom of the roasting pan. Get about a cup and a half of water. Add about two tablespoons of Wondra flour to the water along with a half teaspoon of either Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master. Place the pan on the stove and heat. Stir the flour/water vigorously and then pour it into the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula. Boil for a few minutes to cook the flour. After the gravy thickens, add more water if it’s too thick or water/flour if it’s too thin. Using the water/flour slurry along with Wondra flour prevents lumps. You can adjust the color and flavor by adding more or less of the KB/GM. Add salt and pepper to taste. This method works equally well with fried hamburgers to make a great gravy for the fries.

              1. thanks everyone for the comments

                1. Here's what I do: start with 1 can of Campbell's beef broth, add 1-and-1/2 cans of water. Dissolve 5 Tbs. flour in some of the liquid with a whisk. Add pinches of celery salt, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, sage, more than a pinch of parsley, plus a little Kitchen Bouquet. Salt and pepper to taste. Heat in a thick sided pan, stirring frequently. and let bubble 2-3 minutes to cook the flour.

                  1. Their "gravy" comes in a 5 gallon bucket and has stuff in it you really don't want to know. A guilty pleasure? Sure. And if that's your knock yourself out but reproducing it at home will be near impossible.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: JockY

                      So true. You can certainly make a better gravy at home but dollars to donuts the gravy in the greasy spoon came premade.

                      1. i completely understand where you're coming from...love that diner gravy...haven't been able to replicate it at home without the use of one of those dry gravy mixes...

                        so here are the ingredients off the back of the knorr brown gravy mix that i make when i need a fix:

                        Wheat Flour, Corn Starch, Salt, Sugar, Beef Fat, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Yeast Extract, Monosodium Glutamate, Whey Protein Concentrate (From Milk), Caramel Color, Guar Gum, Onion Powder, Spices, Dextrose, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oils, Natural Flavor, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Garlic Powder.

                        i was sure that 'crack' would be one of the ingredients, but maybe that's included in 'spices' or 'natural flavor'...:o)

                        1. There is no doubt in my mind it's a flour thickened gravy. There are two ways to make brown gravy thick; one is to start with a roux, the other is to make your broth, then thicken it with a slurry of flour and water. Either way, how thick it turns out depends on the flour to liquid ratio.

                          For a satisfying brown gravy when I don't have any beef pan drippings to start with, I make a flour/olive oil roux, just a tad heavy on the olive oil, stir regularly while allowing it to develop a rich tan to medium brown color, then stir in some Tones Beef Base (I get ine at Sam's) until blended, then start adding water and stirring with a whisk until the consistency I'm after is reached. How much roux and how much beef base depends entirely on the end-quantity desired. When it's the right thickness, I usually add a bit of white vermouth, or a dash of cognac, or some red wine, according to what sounds good at the moment. And a few chopped chives or minced fresh parsley are good too.

                          If you have some sliced roast beef to toss on top of a couple of slices of "gummy white bread," and top it with this gravy, it makes a pretty authentic depression era Blue Plate roast beef sandwich. Add a scoop of mashed potatoes and some yucky canned green beans and you've got the classic diner meal. Enjoy!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Caroline1

                            Another variation, which I prefer because it makes the gravy even richer, is to thicken it with beurre manier at the end - which is just a fancy French way of saying butter smooshed together with flour to make a paste. Two tablespoons butter mixed with two tablespoons flour per cup of liquid gives a nice thick (but not so thick you can stand a spoon up in it) consistency. Mix the butter and flour thoroughly (it helps to have the butter at room temperature) and whisk vigorously as soon as you add it and you'll have no problem with lumps.

                            1. re: BobB

                              Beurre manier is simply an uncooked roux. How much it thickens anything depends on the flour to liquid ratio of the finished sauce. You can make things doughy thick if you use enough beurre manier. If you prefer butter flavor to olive oil or beef fat, that's a matter of personal choice, but all three fats will render a rich gravy. Oh, and a roux will deliver as lump free a sauce as buerre manier. :-)

                            2. re: Caroline1

                              I have to agree with Caroline. That is how I make my gravy too. I also add a touch of worchesershire sauce for a little kick...

                            3. I'm guessing Knorr's Demi Glace sauce mix which lots of pub-type places use, it's a step above the usual brown gravy mixes used by diners and fast serve joints. Although it could be that too, there's one brand that is not Knorr and is pretty popular. The Demi Glace and also the Knorrs Hollandaise sauce mix are standard kitchen items for lots of restaurants.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: coll

                                "That and the Knorrs Hollandaise sauce mix are standard kitchen items for lots of restaurants I know."

                                dang, that stuff is just plain nasty.....

                                1. re: dano

                                  I'm not crazy about them myself, but we're talking places that don't have Culinary graduates working in the kitchen! Looks good on the menu anyway.

                                2. re: coll

                                  I don't usually use mixes like this at home, but do use them when camping. The Knorr Demi Glace made a very good accompaniment to lamb chops on one trip.


                                3. try to find Bisto in British stores or section of your market, or online. It's dried gravy granules or powder. It's fab.

                                  1. I think you're responding to the unmistakable taste of long term steam table. Hard to duplicate at home.