Red-Eye Gravy


A two ingredient sauce that's ready in minutes.

Red-Eye Gravy with Ham
Photo: Alison Miksch; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Erin Merhar
Total Time:
30 mins

Red-eye gravy is nothing more than fried county ham drippings and strong black coffee, which doesn't sound all that good if we only read about it. We learn to appreciate red-eye gravy through tasting, preferably drizzled onto a hot biscuit or bowl of well-made grits for breakfast.

Nearly all written and handed-down recipes for red-eye gravy call for only two ingredients, but given Southern cooks' propensity for tweaking common recipes to make them their own, there are variations, of course. For example, some cooks replace the coffee with water, iced tea, espresso, or cola. Although the lack of roux means that red-eye gravy is ready in minutes with minimal stirring and no risk of lumping, some cooks cannot resist thickening their gravy with pinches of flour or cornmeal. And while most people agree that red-eye gravy needs no seasoning beyond the country ham's saltiness, some cooks add pinches of sugar and/or cayenne.

The point of red-eye gravy is to enjoy every last speck of the rust-colored, salty, sticky, meaty glaze left in our skillets after we fry slices of Southern country ham for breakfast. We don't know who first made this gravy, but it was likely a resourceful cook who realized that all we needed to do was pour in a little liquid to deglaze the skillet, to make a simple pan sauce. What's within arm's reach most mornings? The coffee pot. Smart.


  • 4 large slices country ham (about 8 ounces)

  • ¾ cup strong black coffee


  1. Trim most of the fat from the outer edges of the ham slices.

  2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the trimmings and cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until they render about 2 teaspoons of fat.

  3. Add the ham slices to the skillet and cook about 10 minutes or until browned on both sides, flipping them several times. Remove the ham to a plate and cover to keep warm.

  4. Pour the coffee into the skillet. Bring to a boil and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the skillet. Reduce the heat and simmer 5 to 10 minutes or until the liquid reduces to about ½ cup. Discard the rendered fat pieces. Serve the gravy piping hot.

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