Southern Red Eye Gravy

Person basting roast ham, using ladle, close-up
Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images
  • Total: 15 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 10 mins
  • Yield: 1/2 cup (1 serving)
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
45 Calories
2g Fat
1g Carbs
5g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1/2 cup (1 serving)
Amount per serving
Calories 45
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 2g 3%
Saturated Fat 1g 3%
Cholesterol 18mg 6%
Sodium 326mg 14%
Total Carbohydrate 1g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Protein 5g
Calcium 7mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Red eye gravy is a Southern favorite comprised of just two ingredients. It's made from the drippings of fried country ham combined with black coffee. It may sound unusual, but it's quite tasty and a fun way to spruce up an old-fashioned Southern meal of ham and biscuits, grits, or potatoes. 

The name "red-eye gravy" derives from the circle of liquid fat that forms with a slightly reddish cast. This "eye" will naturally form on the surface of the gravy when it is reduced. The sauce is also known as poor man's gravy, red ham gravy, bird-eye gravy, cedar gravy, and bottom sop. 

Craig Claiborne (Times Books)


  • 1 slice ham (country)
  • 1/2 cup coffee (black, boiling)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a skillet, fry the ham slice in its own fat over medium heat until nicely browned on both sides.

  3. When it is cooked, transfer the ham to a warm platter and add boiling black coffee to the skillet. Scrape the bottom and sides of the skillet to dissolve the particles that cling it.

  4. What is left in the skillet is red-eye gravy, which you can then pour over the ham and serve.

  5. Enjoy!

Recipe Source: "Southern Cooking" by Craig Claiborne (Times Books). Reprinted with permission.

Kitchen Note

  • The key to red eye gravy is selecting the right ham. A good-quality, well-cured country ham such as a Smithfield or a genuine Virginia ham is ideal. Choose a slice of uncooked ham that has the most fat for frying so you can maximize its delicious drippings.

Serving Suggestions

  • Red eye gravy is most often served over ham and it's sopped up with biscuits. Many people also enjoy it on top of grits, cornbread, or fried potatoes. 
  • When making a "Southern ham biscuit," it is common for a diner to dip the cut sides of the biscuit into red eye gravy before assembling the sandwich. The gravy is also mixed with mustard or ketchup and then sopped up with a biscuit.