Appalachian Food

Making Red Eye Gravy

red eye gravy

About this time last year I shared a question with you that I received from a reader who wanted to know how to make red eye gravy.

I shared the question with you, because I had never made red eye gravy nor even eaten it more than a couple of times.

A lot can change in a year—I’ve been making red eye gravy almost every weekend.

I found some pretty good salt cured ham at a local grocery store. Sometimes we eat a slice of ham for supper, but mostly we’ve been eating it for breakfast on Saturday mornings.

It’s so quick to fry up and making the gravy is a simple as pouring hot coffee into the hot grease and letting it simmer a few minutes while scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure all that ham goodness ends up in the liquid too.

The Deer Hunter just loves the red eye gravy and I must admit I like that it’s so much faster than making traditional flour gravy with meat drippings like I usually do.

Here’s a bit about red eye gravy from Joseph E. Dabney’s book “Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread & Scuppernong Wine.”

“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”


Tipper

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    July 19, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    The way you make red eye gravy is exactly the way my Aunt Alma made it. I have not had any in a long time. I will have to make some myself. Thanks for the memory.

  • Reply
    Jenny De Armond
    July 19, 2021 at 6:48 pm

    Makes me miss my dad. Our two favorite breakfasts – country ham with red eye gravy, or fried bluefish. Grits went well with either one.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 19, 2021 at 3:41 pm

    My Mom only occasionally made red-eye gravy. I do not recall having had any as a boy. That may have been because of the coffee. We were not allowed to have coffee until we were probably teenage. We had some good makings though with our home-grown fried pork tenderloin. As best I recall, we never did any smoked or salt-cured meats at home so we didn’t have those kinds of makings.

    Sure would like to have one of Mom’s pork tenderloin biscuits.

  • Reply
    Sandra Henderson
    July 19, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you…

    I always assumed that it was called Re͏d eye gravy because of the coffee. It would wake you up lol

    I remmeber it from Louisiana days , it I’ve never made it. I’ll have to give it a try.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 19, 2021 at 2:07 pm

    I watched my parents make and eat red-eye gravy whenever they cooked ham but I was turned off by the coffee taste. I despised the taste of coffee then. Maybe it didn’t even taste like coffee, I don’t know but I thought if it was in there I would taste it.
    We ate fresh ham and salt cured ham then. We never bought ham. We killed and butchered our on hogs. The hams, shoulders, jowls and side meat were packed in salt. Nothing but salt. The rest was made into sausage or rendered into lard. We only ate what we raised so I never tried store bought ham until I was older. Now I can’t find that kind of meat or fresh pork to make my own. There are packages that proclaim their contents to be “old time country ham” but if I read the list of ingredients it still has stuff I don’t know what is.
    But, all that being said, I think I’ll try to find some sliced ham that looks right and make me some pan fried ham with scrambled eggs, grits, biscuits and red-eye gravy.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      July 19, 2021 at 5:54 pm

      I neglected to say I outgrew my disdain for coffee and now I can’t live without it.

  • Reply
    Jessica
    July 19, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    We love red eye gravy around here. It’s been a while since I made any. Always made it with coffee.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    July 19, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    I love red eye gravy but no one else here does–so I get it all!!!

  • Reply
    Thomas Gulledge
    July 19, 2021 at 10:42 am

    My Grandmonther always used the same recipe – Coffee and rendered grease. I love red-eye gravy, but my Grandpa always blamed Herbert Hoover for not having “real” gravy.

  • Reply
    Ramona
    July 19, 2021 at 10:38 am

    My mother called it “ freckled face gravy”.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 19, 2021 at 10:11 am

    Tipper–I don’t like coffee so when I make red-eye gravy it is with water. One attribute it has that isn’t found in other gravies is that it soaks right through a biscuit. I like that.

    In a recent video you placed a second cast-iron skillet atop the one in which you were frying country ham. Was that to keep it from curling, which it is wont to do, or for some other reason? I noticed the end product sure did brown up mighty nice.

    Jim Casada

    • Reply
      Tipper
      July 19, 2021 at 2:46 pm

      Jim-it was to keep it from curling. I also do that with side meat if it doesn’t cooperate 🙂

    • Reply
      Mary Lou McKillip
      July 21, 2021 at 3:29 pm

      Tipper my mother made it often but to sop sweet potatoes in it . They loved to sop as they called it and I loved cream gravy made with flour and milk in meat grease. As a child d I loved to sop a biscuit in cream gravy but I can just see the frowns of doctors today. When Miss Julia stopped using pure lard in her. Biscuits good tasting foods went South as the old saying.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    July 19, 2021 at 10:04 am

    I have gotten away from it largely due to rarely having ham anymore. It was a common dish in the deep south where I lived for a time. If you do not care for grits, you are almost sure to learn to love them if they are covered with red eye gravy. This was just another way everybody learned to not waste a bit of anything.

    Growing up, I ate gravy made out of everything imaginable. If you could not make gravy then you kept the broth which was sometimes called “soppy” by my paternal relatives. They are the only ones I ever heard use that term for the broth from something such as mustard greens. Possibly this may have been because of the tendency to “sop up” every last smidgeon of food. Just recently for the first time in years I decided to make gravy with the drippings from pork chops. It had an amazing taste. It was so good, in fact, I may just have to leave that recipe alone for a few more decades.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    July 19, 2021 at 8:57 am

    Mama taught me that it’s called “red-eyed” because the little circles of
    fat in it look like eyes, and when you make the gravy with coffee it is sort of red.

  • Reply
    Tommy Kennedy
    July 19, 2021 at 8:56 am

    Grew up going to old smokehouse and slicing piece of cured ham or middling meat–mothe making red eye and lardcan lid rolled out biscuits– Gooood

  • Reply
    dee
    July 19, 2021 at 8:48 am

    My Daddy loved, loved, loved “Red Eye Gravy” and it was made with ham and coffee poured into that sizzling pan. My Grandmother made it and my Mother made it. We loved to eat it poured over our biscuits. Delicious!

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    July 19, 2021 at 8:39 am

    Red rye gravy is really good spooned over hot biscuits and grits. Mighty fine eats.

  • Reply
    Colleen Holmes
    July 19, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Here in the north we make red-eye out of any meat drippings. Always use coffee as the base. Good day to y’all.

  • Reply
    Buz Salmon
    July 19, 2021 at 7:41 am

    I’ve always enjoyed red eye gravy but I never knew it was cooked different ways and called by different names. It was a staple at our house when I was growing up and it has been ever since. I really like it!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 19, 2021 at 7:39 am

    My dad loved Red Eye Gravy! He had grow up with it, it’s one of the country foods that was just part of life for them. I consider this a part of the country ways of using everything and wasting nothing if at all possible. This red eye gravy was just a by product of frying the ham and not to be wasted!

  • Reply
    Janis M. Zeglen
    July 19, 2021 at 7:22 am

    My Daddy, Hub McCoy, loved red-eye gravy and biscuits! Mother refused to make it so he did!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    July 19, 2021 at 6:40 am

    mmmmm…love it!~!

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