I love telling this story.

Gravy is an afterthought. When people talk about Thanksgiving, the gravy is simply assumed. It’s brown, it’s fatty and you drown your plate in it.

After all, it’s a simple recipe. But my Grandma had a secret ingredient that was the root of a years-long family argument.

My brother and I were oblivious to most things cooking. But in our wildly rebellious teenage years, we picked up on something: Grandma’s gravy tasted better than Mom’s gravy. In fact, it wasn’t even close.

“I make it just like she taught me,” my mom would insist, both amused and annoyed by our claim that her gravy wasn’t up to Grandma’s level.

At age 19, I demanded to watch Grandma make the Thanksgiving gravy. For the first 20 minutes, it was classic. Take the turkey drippings and get the skin and gross stuff out. Put the turkey pan on the oven and heat it. Add some cornstarch until it thickens up.

Grandma always loved a conspiracy. She had heard my brother and me insisting her gravy was different. As the gravy thickened, she elbowed me in the chops. “Get the hot sauce out of the cupboard,” she said quietly.

I was stunned. “Seriously?”

She just looked at me. She was serious. Just two or three shakes ought to be enough. Three dabs of Tabasco sauce went into the gravy. I stirred and tasted. Perfect, just like always. Mom is still in disbelief.

I’ve lived in six states and moved 16 times since that Thanksgiving 20 years ago, but I’ve made that gravy every year. A little dab of a simple ingredient can make all the difference.



Turkey drippings/fat

2 cans cream of chicken soup


Tabasco sauce

After the bird is pulled out of the roasting pan, pour the drippings into a pot and heat on medium-low.

When the drippings are simmering, add a can of cream of chicken soup and stir thoroughly.

Turn the heat off.

If the gravy is not thick enough, add more cream of chicken soup or cornstarch.

Add three shakes of Tabasco. Stir and serve.