Classically Southern red eye gravy combines country ham drippings with bold, black coffee and creamy butter for a rich gravy that perfectly compliments biscuits and grits.
What Makes Red Eye Gravy So Good
- Unlike a thick gravy that starts with a flour roux, red eye gravy uses the fatty drippings from country ham combined with bold black coffee to form a rich, au-jus-like liquid. That makes it naturally gluten free and keto-friendly.
- A classic Southern recipe, it goes really well with biscuits and grits! Serve it on the side and dip your ham and biscuits in the gravy, or spoon it on top over the biscuits or grits. You could also cut the biscuits in half, then dip the cut sides in the gravy to keep the inside of your biscuits and gravy nice and moist.
- Why is it called “red eye gravy”? The name comes from the red, eye-shaped layer of grease that forms when the coffee and chicken broth are added to the ham drippings.
Key Ingredients for Red Eye Gravy
Country Ham – There’s a definite difference between country ham and ham, so be sure to use the right one! Country ham is dry-cured with salt and then smoked. It’s not as juicy as a wet-cured ham, and its flavor is a little stronger. If you’re using really fatty pieces of ham, you may not need a full tablespoon of butter.
Black Coffee – Coffee adds a lot of flavor to the red eye gravy. Use a freshly brewed, unflavored that you enjoy the taste of. Now’s probably not the time for a pumpkin spice or holiday blend.
Chicken Broth – Some recipes only use ham drippings and coffee. I find, though, that the chicken broth helps cut some of the bitterness from the black coffee and makes the gravy a little smoother. This ingredient can be controversial among red eye gravy traditionalists, so feel free to try the recipe without it.
- If the country ham is too salty for your liking, soak it in water for at least an hour prior to cooking it. The water will remove some of the salt, making it a little more palatable. Just dry the ham well before cooking!
- Some versions of red eye gravy use sugar to cut the bitterness of the coffee. That’s totally up to you! White or brown sugar would both work. Make sure to dissolve it completely so the gravy doesn’t have a gritty texture. Honey would also work well!
- Don’t overcook the ham. Country ham is a little dryer to begin with, but you can really tell when you’ve overcooked it. The pieces will be dry and really tough.
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Red Eye Gravy with Country Ham
- Large skillet
- Silicone spatula
- 6 ounces country ham
- 1 tablespoon butter divided
- ½ cup brewed black coffee strong
- ¼ cup chicken broth
- In large skillet, warm ½ tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add country ham and cook until browned, approximately 3 minutes per side.
- Transfer browned ham to plate and set aside. Pour coffee into skillet and use spatula to scrape up any browned bits on bottom of skillet.
- Pour in chicken broth. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until gravy is thickened. Add in remaining ½ tablespoon butter and whisk until melted.
- Serve gravy warm over or on the side of browned ham on biscuits, similar to an au jus.
- Use an unflavored, freshly brewed black coffee for the best flavor and results.
- Make it Lactose Free: Use ghee instead of dairy.
- Make it Dairy Free: Use a dairy-free butter.
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Jasmine Comer is a food photographer and recipe developer from North Carolina. She grew up in the kitchen watching her mom cook all types of delicious meals. In 2016 she established Lively Meals, a food blog where she creates healthy recipes. This led to creating recipes for other blogs as well. In her free time she enjoys exploring new places and spending time in nature. Ultimately she’s grateful to be doing work she loves—cooking good food and sharing it with people.