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)
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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)

What You'll Need

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

How to Make It

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.

  1. In a skillet, fry the ham slice in its own fat over medium heat until nicely browned on both sides.
  2. 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.
  1. What is left in the skillet is red-eye gravy, which you can then pour over the ham and serve.

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

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.

Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
45 Calories
2g Fat
1g Carbs
5g Protein
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)