Appalachian Food

How do You Make Red Eye Gravy?

red eye gravy text

A few month’s back I received the following email:

Mrs. Tipper,

Hello my name is Christa. I’m 30 years old and I too grew up very southern. For half of my life I grew up in the Crisp Springs community in Warren County, Tennessee where my daddy’s people were from. The other half in Grundy County, Tennessee where my mammas people were from. Unlike the other family members of my generation I enjoy my heritage. At 16 I started to document recipes from the older generation of my family before they passed. I lucked up and got recipes like my grandfathers fried wild morel mushroom recipe ( we always called them dry land fish). We would harvest them in the woods on the side of the mountain certain times of the year. I have very fond memories attached to certain foods like that. All that being said I was hoping you could help me find one that for some reason I did not think to get before everyone passed. I am trying to find out how to make red eye gravy. If you could help me I would greatly appreciate it.


Well I wasn’t much help to Christa. I’ve never made red eye gravy and I don’t even think I’ve eaten it more than once or twice. But I told her I bet some of the Blind Pig readers would be able to help.

Please share your favorite red eye gravy with Christa and me!

I did look in one of my cookbooks and found this about the name.

“The name, for instance, was said to have been coined by that great Scotch-Irish frontiersman, Tennessee’s (Carolina-born) Andrew Jackson. Presumably the future president named it thus when he observed the eye winking in a bowl of gravy fresh out of the pan. But where did the color red get into the act? Mark Sohn theorizes the red eye is represented by the bone one cuts in slicking a large piece of ham. Another story credits a red-eyed drunkard who made a respectable ham sopping gravy under the watchful eye of Old Hickory himself.

But wait: This ham gravy has other names. Bird-eye gravy is what people on Sand Mountain, Alabama, call it. In upstate South Carolina, my father always bragged on “Miss Wincey’s muddy gravy.” So take your pick.

Whatever the name, red-eye is a simple yet classic gravy that depends only on the leftover drippings of fried ham, plus water, and /or perhaps coffee. Some mountain cooks prefer to use only coffee as the liquid. Olene Garland told the Foxfire students that she poured coffee over the ham while it was cooking. After it reached boiling, it was time for the gravy to be poured up (and the ham taken out) for serving.

—Joseph E. Dabney “Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread & Scuppernong Wine”

The only thing we put up this week was a run of salsa. I think its the best salsa I’ve ever canned. I used this recipe.


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Susan Hicks
    August 1, 2021 at 10:58 am

    ME TOO!!!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    Christa I grew up not far from you over on Greenhill Rd and am probably your parent’s age and may know them If they’re from the area. Ham grease and strong black coffee are the simple ingredients for red eye gravy.
    I have a lot of my family recipes as well but I need to write them down to document them. I’m not too far from there these days, I drove through Crisp Springs last week! We might can swap some recipes.
    [email protected]

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    September 1, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    Topper mother made red eye gravy from frying cured ham and from the grease she would pour fresh coffee and she would bake some sweet potatoes They would sop those sweet potatoes in the gravy until it was gone. I didn’t like it but I still love cream gravy .

  • Reply
    August 31, 2020 at 11:00 pm

    My mother made what you all call red-eye gravy with meat drippings, usually fresh pork or ham. But she always called it “”squall gravy” because of the sound it made when the coffee hit the hot pan. Loved it.

  • Reply
    Gaye Blaine
    August 31, 2020 at 8:40 pm

    Authentic red eye gravy is made from cured ham fried in an ” arn ” skillet. Remove ham to a warm vessel, pour in about a cup or two of strong perked coffee-depending on your ham drippings-and fetch to a boil scraping up any ham bits from skillet. ( use your good judgment on amount of coffee, this is not set in stone). Pour into a warm vessel and serve. Hot biscuits are a given as well as grits and ” aigs ” . Don’t fret over this gravy. Just make it and enjoy.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 31, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    As I get older, the Coffee makes Red-eyed-Gravy makes everything taste better, Especially Eggs. We had lots of Ham too, if you wanted it, matter of fact we had 58 sows and 6 Registered Bores. It kept Daddy busy building sheds to put all them hogs in. At one time the Sows had over 300 pigs, they were everywhere. One time a big Bear got into a Stall or hog house and ate about 10 or 12 little Pigs. This happened after Dark.

    On the back for Eichenbaulm’s office today, I couldn’t think of anything but the Blind Pig and what I was going to say on it. Only trouble is I forgot what I was going to say, anyway, I was there at a quarter till 9 until after 1 PM, then I had to wash and fold Clothes for two hours. Jennifer, My youngest daughter was up from Pine Ridge, Ga. and was going to wash clothes for me, but I told her that I had an appointment with Dr. Eichenbaum and it’s on my way.

    As I was going to say, Mama made the Best Red-eyed-gravy with it poured over Eggs I ever had. As I get older, I like it made with Bits of Ham or bacon greece and Strong Coffee, the way Mama made it. …Ken

  • Reply
    August 31, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    Red eye gravy. Fry your ham until browned. Remove ham and set aside. Pour as much coffee as needed to use in the drippings, depending on how much drippings. Let this come to a boil, and you have some delicious red eye gravy to spoon over your grits. If you are not a grits fan, you will be! Only ever ate this at my sis’s Mother in Law’s house. She was an amazing old timey cook, and could also play boogie woogie piano wonderfully. She told us about when she used to play the piano when quite young at silent movies. I am trying to get some of her old recipes from my sis.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    August 31, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    My grandmother always made red eye gravy by frying pork chops or country ham in an big black iron skillet and then taking the meat out and pouring in a cup or two of hot black coffee. Sometimes she would call me over to see the big red eye in the middle of the pan. It was eaten poured over biscuits. It has a distinct and delicious flavor.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Like some of the others, red eye gravy was made from the grease and trimmings left in pan with water or coffee and then put on grits or sometimes on a biscuit. My favorite gravy of all is milk and flour gravy made with grease from fried out fatback or streak of lean as we called it in my part of the woods. My mother’s family called this hunky doo gravy. I think I would ask for this gravy, biscuits, and cataloupe for my last meal if I was on death row.

  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    August 31, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Wow, I can smell it now! I make it like Jaz, with country ham grease and strong black coffee (thus the name RED EYE), no flour. Because it is so rich and delicious, I only make it for our Christmas morning breakfast. I am blessed to still be using the same cast iron skillet my Moma used. Hope this inspires someone to try it!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2020 at 10:01 am

    I make my gravy from packets I get at Walmart now. It’s a lot easier. I made a run of fig preserves last week and when I get today’s picking I will probably have enough for another one. I only have one small bush but it produces faster than I can eat them.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2020 at 9:48 am

    Oh, how many times have I watched my mother make this concoction, so similar to the above recipes! My Dad loved it, but I didn’t like it well enough to make it myself. I always thought the base had that reddish-brown tint to be named red-eye- or that the long-ago cook had to get up mighty early to get it on the table with the biscuits and eggs before the men got out to the saw mill or farm.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 31, 2020 at 9:28 am

    I’ve see red eye gravy made by first frying your meat, pouring off the grease and then adding coffee. From my understanding it would be made if the meat was so lean you didn’t have enough grease to make cream gravy. Chefs call it “deglazing the pan” and more often use wine or vinegar. They use the results as a base for sauces and gravies of all kinds.
    The idea is to get the stuff that stuck to the bottom of the pan loose, probably thought up by the dishwasher.

    I have stopped canning for this year. It’s not that I have run out of stuff to can. It is jars and lids. I have plenty of wide mouth lids but no jars. I have plenty of regular mouth jars but no lids. The stores around here have no canning supplies at all and don’t know when they will get them. I still have a dehydrator though.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2020 at 9:10 am

    The only time I make red-eye gravy is when I fry country ham. I usually make white flour gravy in a separate pan with some of the ham drippings, leaving very little grease in the original pan. I pour black coffee over the remaining drippings and bring to a boil. A spoonful of the red-eye gravy is drizzled over the top of the white gravy and crumbled biscuits for a feast fit for a king. I have no idea where the name came from.

  • Reply
    Sallie the Apple Doll Lady
    August 31, 2020 at 9:09 am

    My mother, raised in Sequatchie Valley, north of Chattanooga, TN, made red eye gravy just by frying the country ham slices, then removing them from the skillet and pouring cold water into the cast iron skillet with the grease. Then she let it simmer a little while. I like to leave the ham in the skillet after it is done and pour just enough water over the ham slices to cover and let it simmer a few minutes. It softens the ham and seemed to remove some of the excess salt. But I found out right quick one Christmas years ago that my husband’s aunt, raised in West Tn, insisted that it had to have coffee added. Both are good but for my taste, just water is better. I could just have biscuit and red eye and forget the ham. Like many recipes there are probably as many variations as there are cooks.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2020 at 9:08 am

    My daddy and his brothers loved red-eye gravy. My Grandmother made it and I think Mother made it when I was a little girl. They made it from their own ham and I think they put coffee in it too. They loved it on biscuits and in my mind’s eye I can see it poured over a biscuit. I thought it was pretty good but preferred milk gravy my Mother made.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    August 31, 2020 at 8:58 am

    Colleen Holmes is the method used in Wytheville, VA, Bluefield, WV way to make red eye gravy. My gravy making skills don’t exist. Please keep this hush hush y’all!

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    August 31, 2020 at 8:47 am

    In my neck of the woods, red-eyed gravy was made only when we fried ham. Mama made it with water, and it was delicious! We called it red-eyed because the little circles of ham fat had a reddish color. I loved it on grits especially!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 31, 2020 at 8:31 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever had red-eye gravy because we never put coffee in our gravy and always used milk and flour. Now as my Mamaw called it, after a hog killing, we had (frash) ham gravy. Other gravies were bacon or sausage grease gravies and one of my favorites is corn meal gravy. The corn meal gravy was normally served at dinner or supper.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 31, 2020 at 8:18 am

    I am kinda like some others, remember the name and the dish sorta vaguely but was not very clear on how it was made. It was not common at our house so a I never developed a taste for it.

    The ‘red eye’ part apparently just grew out of the fact that oil and water do not mix. Kinda anticipated the present food fad of mixing opposites.

  • Reply
    Don Tomlinson
    August 31, 2020 at 8:11 am

    My parents and grandparents made red eye gravy but the meat was always fried country ham. We always just poured equal parts of coffee and water into the pan and simmered a bit. My grandpa always just called it granny’s grease gravy. I agree with Miss Cindy, no flour goes into red eye gravy.

  • Reply
    Colleen Holmes
    August 31, 2020 at 7:53 am

    I make red-eye gravy from frying any type of meat in a cast iron pan. Add a little water to the pan. Heat and scrape up any grease or pieces of meat. Add flour, mix into a roux. Add left over coffee and more water. Heat to thicken. This is a poor man’s gravy. Never taste the same as different meats such as chops, burger, ham, or chicken, are used. The coffee addes a nice mellow flavor. Hope this helps.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 31, 2020 at 6:49 am

    I don’t know the details of it but I think it is a gravy that is thin, with no flour added. It is the brown oil from from cooking the fat meat then salt, pepper and water added. The red eye name comes from the fat grease sticking to itself and kind of floating in the water. This is my understanding of it. I will be interested in what the rest of your readers have to say about it.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    August 31, 2020 at 6:08 am

    Made me hungry!! Need some red-eye with biscuits and eggs…

    • Reply
      Susan Hicks
      August 1, 2021 at 10:56 am

      ME TOO!!!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2020 at 6:05 am

    i make red-eyed gravy all the time. i fry up some country ham and pour good strong black coffee over it. let it boil a bit and serve. we all love it.

  • Leave a Reply