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
Serving: 1 serving
Yield: 1/2 cup
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
203 Calories
7g Fat
2g Carbs
32g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
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. It requires just two ingredients: the drippings of pan-fried country ham and black coffee. It may sound unusual, but it's quite tasty, with a bitter coffee flavor contrasting the ham fat's sweet-saltiness. Easy to cook and a fun way to spruce up an old-fashioned Southern meal, red-eye gravy is often served over ham and sopped up with buttermilk biscuits. Many people also enjoy it on top of grits, cornbread, or fried potatoes. 

Also known as poor man's gravy, red ham gravy, bird-eye gravy, cedar gravy, and bottom sop, the curious name "red-eye gravy" can easily be explained. It's believed to reference the slightly reddish circle of liquid fat that forms on the gravy's surface when it's reduced.

Some people add butter or lard to help develop the sauce, but it's generally not necessary. A quality ham that has a good amount of fat should render enough drippings to develop what's basically a thin sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 slice country ham

  • 1/2 cup boiling strong black coffee

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 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. Enjoy.

    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. If you are so inclined, you can cure your own country ham.
  • Choose the slice of uncooked ham that has the most fat so you can maximize its delicious drippings.
  • You also want to be sure the coffee is nice and strong and tastes good to you. Even though it is cooked down, it does contribute a significant amount of flavor to the recipe.

Recipe Variations

  • When you have a leaner ham, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter or lard to the pan.
  • If you find the gravy a bit too bitter and acidic (from the coffee), add a little chicken broth or water, as well as a pinch of sugar to mellow out the flavors.
  • When making a Southern ham biscuit, it's common for a diner to dip the biscuit's cut sides into red-eye gravy before assembling the sandwich.
  • Some people enjoy mixing the gravy with mustard or ketchup, then sopping it up with a biscuit.

What Is Country Ham?

Country ham is a ham that has been dry-cured with salt and preservatives over a long period of time. The curing process and appearance are similar to prosciutto. You can find shelf-stable country ham in the southeastern U.S. or online. Uncooked cut country ham may be refrigerated for two to three months or frozen for one month. After it is cooked, refrigerate it for up to seven days.

How Can Excess Salt Be Removed From Country Ham?

To remove the salty flavor from a country ham, soak slices in water overnight in the refrigerator.

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