The really good stuff is simple, smooth, and made from scratch.

Photo: Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Ah, Thanksgiving—our national day of gratitude and gravy. Even when a Southern holiday table is a groaning board, it depends upon more than just the turkey. If the entire meal is stellar, excellent gravy is the crowning glory. And if things go wrong in the kitchen, it's the balm that can soothe (not to mention moisten and camouflage) any shortcomings in the rest of the menu.

Gravy isn't difficult to prepare, but it has a reputation for being intimidating, perhaps because it's often the last thing made and is rushed to the table moments before everyone gathers to eat. When hot pans, hungry guests, and the anticipated dishes are zipping in and out of the kitchen, it's challenging for any cook to focus on getting the gravy just right.

Make Ahead Turkey Gravy

The smartest strategy is to make it ahead in stages, as time allows. Knock out the broth weeks in advance, and then whisk the gravy together a few days before, so the only thing left to do on Thanksgiving is to warm it up and stir in the finishing touches.

Make Your Own Turkey Broth

Great gravy stands on the shoulders of made-from-scratch turkey broth, which can be prepared and stored in the refrigerator up to three days before T-Day or stashed in the freezer for up to three months. One of the easiest culinary luxuries is homemade broth. It has body and soul, and no other ingredient is more essential to the gravy's flavor. Combine turkey wings, onions, carrots, celery stalks, spices, and store-bought stock to a pot for a flavorful broth that will make your gravy stand out. It might seem odd to use store-bought stock in a homemade broth, but it immediately boosts flavor.

Prepare the Turkey Gravy

Once you've made your turkey broth, you can start preparing the gravy. Melt butter and sprinkle flour in a large saucepan until smooth. Instant-blending flour (such as Wondra) dissolves quickly and smoothly for the silkiest results. Add in your pre-made turkey broth (warmed up) whisking constantly. Let this come to a simmer and thicken. If you're making this ahead of time, go ahead and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When you're ready to serve your turkey gravy, reheat and stir in cream, sherry, thyme, pepper, and salt. The splash of spirits (sherry, bourbon, or Madeira) adds a subtle but distinct taste and aroma.

WATCH: How To Carve A Turkey

Relying on a robust broth instead of roasting-pan drippings means that you are free to grill, smoke, or deep-fry the bird. It also means you can double or triple the recipe to make as much as you need, instead of only what you can glean from a small turkey or a lean breast. This ensures plenty for a large crowd or for carefully planned leftovers.

While guests understand that some other components of the Thanksgiving spread might need to be store-bought, good homemade gravy is liquid gold—there's just no substitute.