Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

The Gravy-Sauce Confusion

There is hardly a pair of words that confuse English-speakers more than gravy and sauce. What are we supposed to call the liquid poured over or under the meat that we eat. The difference between the meanings of these two words is easy to remember.

  • If the liquid is poured over the meat (or certainly if over potatoes), it is gravy;
  • If it is under the meat, it is sauce.

Which reminds me of chopped liver and pâte. Chopped liver is served with meals costing $25 or less; if it comes with a meal that costs over $25, it is pâte (pah-tay). Simple, right? Now we can avoid embarrassing ourselves at high- and low-end restaurants.

4 Responses to “The Gravy-Sauce Confusion”

  1. Stargzer Says:

    “If the liquid is poured over the meat (or the potatoes), it is gravy;
    If it is under the meat, it is sauce.”

    Well, the AHD says of sauce:

    “A flavorful seasoning or relish served as an accompaniment to food, especially a liquid dressing or topping for food.”

    and of gravy:

    “The juices that drip from cooking meat. b. A sauce made by thickening and seasoning these juices.”

    I would think by its very nature that a “topping” would not be “under” a food, and the definition of “sauce” says nothing of meat juices.

    I believe sauces came to England with the Norman Invasion, so a working definition of gravy vs. sauce would be that gravy is what an Englishman puts on meat, and sauce is what a Frenchman uses to hide the taste of bad meat.

  2. Nelson Fincher Says:

    Not completely as simple as “over” and “under” the meat: In Eggs Benedict, the Hollandaise Sauce (not Hollandaise Gravy)is served _over_ the eggs, Canadian Bacon and muffin.

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  4. Betsy Riley Says:

    Technically gravy is a subset of sauce. Gravy is usually served hot, sauces may be cold or hot (hot sauce can be both LOL). Gravy is made from meat juices–sausage gravy, giblet gravy, etc. I’ve made gravy from hamburger grease, bacon grease, pork chop grease. Though there are recipes for chocolate gravy and vegetarian gravy.
    Sauces are usually fruit/vegetable in origin–cranberry sauce, applesauce, chocolate sauce, BBQ sauce, tomato sauce, cheese sauce, marshmallow sauce, tartar sauce, hollandaise (made from egg yolks and butter)

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