My husband recoils at the notion of jarred gravy. In his defense, it does glop out of its container all viscous and jiggly, which can be off-putting. But it was nevertheless a staple in my home when I was growing up, a fine accompaniment to a store-bought roasted chicken. Sometimes my mom would chop up leftover poultry, combine with jarred gravy, and then serve the mixture over toast. Even if you enjoy the from-scratch stuff (which I do), there are many reasons a premade, store-bought gravy might be a logical addition to your Thanksgiving table this year.
Perhaps you’re cooking for one. Perhaps you’re trying to de-stress the whole scene by building a heat-and-eat menu. Perhaps you just don’t like making gravy in particular. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of jarred gravy options at the grocery store to choose from, and we’ve tasted five major brands to determine which ones are worth your money:
- Great Value (Walmart’s in-house brand)
- Trader Joe’s
Each gravy was tested atop freshly made mashed potatoes, because mashed potatoes are the vehicle for gravy, neutral yet excellent. I had some predictions heading into this taste test about which brands I’d love the most (and least), but you know what they say about assumptions...
I won’t say I hated this gravy. Having recently built an entire Trader Joe’s heat-and-eat Thanksgiving feast, I already found this house brand to be lacking. Not repulsive, just bland. In a side-by-side taste test with other jarred turkey gravies, though, I realized what makes the Trader Joe’s stuff weird. It has an earthy quality you’re probably not expecting in a gravy, and it really doesn’t taste like any of the other options—singular, but not in a good way.
The possible culprit could be its main ingredient. While turkey stock was used as a base in all the other gravies, Trader Joe’s heat-and-eat product lists “turkey flavor base” as its most turkey-forward ingredient, defined as “natural flavor, salt, turkey fat, sugar, caramel color, onion powder, garlic powder, spices, and turmeric extract for color.”
I mean, they’re all salty—it’s store-bought premade turkey gravy. But salt was at the forefront of each bite here. Despite this downside, however, the Heinz product featured a more turkey-forward flavor than Trader Joe’s.
I found Campbell’s and Bell’s to be pretty similar bites, superior to both Heinz and Trader Joe’s, If there’s a difference between the two, I’d say Bell’s turns up the volume slightly on herbs.
It seemed important to include Great Value gravy in these rankings, because it’s so widely accessible throughout the country. However, I couldn’t find any in store, and when I searched for the stores within a 50-mile radius of me that have gravy available, it was out of stock in a lot of them. I asked Walmart whether there was a shortage afoot, but reps for the company said no.
“There are no supply chain concerns for our Great Value Turkey Gravy and we’ve prepared months in advance to ensure strong supply of all the Thanksgiving essentials this season,” a representative for the company told me via email. “Availability of items can vary by store, but if an item is out of stock now, it will be restocked soon!” Because I had such difficulty sourcing the gravy, Walmart mailed me two cans on the house.
I didn’t have exceedingly high expectations for Great Value; in general, I think most jarred gravies function best as a base, rather than something to adorn the Thanksgiving meal. But shockingly, the Great Value gravy was the most layered flavor experience of any leading brand I tasted. Like the others (save for Trader Joe’s), it uses turkey stock as its base. There aren’t any specific ingredients listed that might indicate what contributes to its relative complexity, other than onion powder and “natural flavor.” But something about it tasted a step up from the others.
As far as packaging is concerned, Campbell’s and Great Value were in cans; Heinz and Bells’ were in jars; and Trader Joe’s was in a Tetra Pak. I note this mostly to say packaging didn’t matter much with end results—the container doesn’t impart flavor, as far as I could tell.
Price is also a factor to consider. Going from most to least expensive, Bell’s was $2.50; Heinz was $1.99; Campbell’s was $1.69; Trader Joe’s was $1.49; and Great Value was $0.98. In other words, there wasn’t a correlation between higher price and better flavor.
You might, like my husband, continue to be put off by this gelatinous convenience product. But heat-and-eat gravy has its place on your stovetop, and you can find some surprisingly flavorful options that will afford you more time with your loved ones—or the turkey.