Southern Red-Eye Gravy

Country ham with red-eye gravy and biscuits

The Spruce / Nyssa Tanner

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 15 mins
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
203 Calories
7g Fat
2g Carbs
32g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Amount per serving
Calories 203
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 10%
Saturated Fat 1g 7%
Cholesterol 93mg 31%
Sodium 1419mg 62%
Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 32g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 8mg 1%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 558mg 12%
*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, and it's comprised of just two ingredients. It's made from the drippings of pan-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. Red-eye gravy is most often served over ham and is sopped up with biscuits. Many people also enjoy it on top of grits, cornbread, or fried potatoes. 

The curious name "red-eye gravy" can be easily explained. It's believed to reference the fact that a slightly reddish circle of liquid fat forms on the surface of the gravy when it is reduced. (Red-eye gravy is also known as poor man's gravy, red ham gravy, bird-eye gravy, cedar gravy, and bottom sop.) Some people add butter or lard to help develop the sauce, but it's not necessary. The ham should render enough fat to develop what's basically a thin sauce. If you find the gravy a bit too bitter and acidic (from the coffee) for your taste, you can add a little chicken broth or water, as well as a pinch of sugar to mellow out the flavors.

Of course, you need a good ham to begin this recipe. If you are so inclined, you can cure your own country ham from scratch or purchase a quality country ham.

Ingredients

  • 1 slice country ham

  • 1/2 cup black coffee (boiling)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for red-eye gravy
    The Spruce / Nyssa Tanner
  2. In a skillet, fry the ham slice in its own fat over medium heat until nicely browned on both sides. Once it is cooked, transfer the ham to a warm platter, keeping the drippings in the skillet.

    Fried ham with a spatula and measuring cup of coffee
    The Spruce / Nyssa Tanner 
  3. Add the boiling black coffee to the skillet. Deglaze, scraping the bottom and sides of the skillet to dissolve any particles that developed when you cooked the ham.

    Add coffee to the skillet for red-eye gravy
    The Spruce / Nyssa Tanner
  4. What is left in the skillet is red-eye gravy, which you can then pour over the ham and serve.

    Red-eye gravy in a skillet with a slotted wooden spatula
    The Spruce / Nyssa Tanner

Tips

  • 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.
  • You also want to be sure the coffee is nice and strong and tastes good to you; although it is cooked down, it does contribute a significant amount of flavor to the recipe.
  • When making a Southern ham biscuit, it is common for a diner to dip the cut sides of the biscuit into the red-eye gravy before assembling the sandwich. The gravy is also mixed with mustard or ketchup and then sopped up with a biscuit.

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