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The Difference between Sauce and Gravy

Updated on June 23, 2011

So the story goes that a buddy of mine who happens to be an accomplished chef with the sarcasm and attitude of Anthony Bourdain was visiting down at the coast. He was having a drink at a local watering hole when two chefs from the local country club came in after a shift. They knew of my friend and started to talk about him just loud enough for my buddy to hear them. Patiently my friend finishes his drink, gets up to leave and quietly says to the two chefs "that's right, I'm the guy who makes the sauces and you're the guys that make the gravies". That's a bit of a food industry cut but basically he said the two chefs lacked the skill to make a sauce or even be considered a "Chef" at all.

Sauces were first defined in what is referred to as "classical French cooking" by Chef Antoine Careme around the early part of the 19th century. About a hundred years later the list of sauces were reclassified by the famous French chef Augusta Escoffier and are called the "five Mother sauces" or base sauces. These sauces are used as a starting point by which all other sauces are created from. The Mother sauces are rarely used on their own but combined with other ingredients and flavoring they yield what is called "small sauces" which is what most of us know today.

Sauces start with a liquid base and use a roux (butter and flour mixture) as a thickening agent. Most of the time the liquid base will be a stock made by reducing a mixture of bones, vegetables and seasonings. Reducing is a process by which the water is evaporated out of the stock. Through cooking and reducing the water content you are left with a liquid of intense flavor. Technique in making sauces in generally more refined than a gravy.

Gravy is a quick sauce, usually associated with peasant cooking, made from pan drippings or juices that a cooking meat item yields, mixed with flour or cornstarch to thicken. Although basically the same components (fat or butter, flavorings from stock and thickening agent...flour or cornstarch) the ingredients of a gravy come together differently yielding a different texture and flavors than a sauce. Gravy should be served hot. To confuse matters further Italian's will sometimes refer to tomato sauce as "gravy". The thickness of gravy depends on how much liquid remains in the mixture.

So sauces can be complex requiring skilled techniques to be able to form a final product such as with a hollandaise and the preparation of an emulsion. Sauces start with stocks that have been clarified correctly and have little to no fat content in them. Gravies are easier to make and are made from a stock that comes from the meat cooking and not prepared beforehand.

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By y6y6y6 [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By y6y6y6 [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons | Source


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    • datahound profile image

      datahound 5 years ago from USA


      Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • LaThing profile image

      LaThing 5 years ago from From a World Within, USA

      Very nice article. I new there was a difference between gravy and sauce, but didn't know what those differences were. You put it into prospective very nicely. Thanks, and awesome!

    • datahound profile image

      datahound 5 years ago from USA


      Thanks for reading. I have heard that as well and wonder if it is just a slang name for tomato sauce within the Italian American community or if it really has the bases of a gravy, mainly pan drippings. Must look into that.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      This is a great explanation. I've also heard tomato sauce called gravy in Italian cooking. Mashed potatoes with gravy is one of my very favorite comfort foods.