Best Overall: Heinz
Of all the Thanksgiving taste-tests we've had recently at headquarters, the gravy one didn't exactly make our tummies grumble for joy.* Bowls of brownish to brownish-gray gloop all lined up. Shudder. Though many of us wouldn't even think to use the packaged stuff on Thanksgiving, especially when the bird naturally acts as a gravy faucet, sometimes it's nice to have around as an emergency back-up. And we were curious, do any of them taste homemade?
We tried the following nationally available brands: Franco-American, Campbells, Heinz (regular and fat-free), Trader Joe's, and Williams-Sonoma.
* It probably didn't help that we had a chocolate tasting that morning..
- Texture: It should be rich and smooth, not gluey and goopy; not thin or broth-like.
- Flavor: We wanted it to taste like real roasted turkey, not just nondescript savory "meat flavoring." Vegetal and herbal notes are nice, but they should complement, not overwhelm the turkey.
Why the Losers Lost
Some of them had no flavor at all, or it was completely off. Curry oil? Top Ramen? Something vaguely Asian-tasting going on? Others were too sweet, or had icky metallic aftertastes. As far as texture goes, they ranged from watery to cement paste. The worst was described as "mucus-like." And we hate to judge by color, but some were shades we have never spotted before in nature.
The Heniz lid says "so close to homemade," which is a bit of a stretch, but of what we tried, it tasted the best. It's kind of a Stovetop situation—the Heinz doesn't taste like the real-deal, but it's a welcome alternative and comforting in a served-on-a-cafeteria-tray kind of way. You could really taste the carrots, herbs, and poultry flavors. Texture-wise, it's thick but flowed nicely; not too gelatinous.
Note: The fat-free version is not recommended.
Honorable Mention: Campbell's
Though a bit cornstarchy, the Campbell's had more or less the right gravy texture. Very smooth. "Clean-flavored, not overly salted," said one taster.
Store-bought not your style? Make it from scratch »