Appalachian Food

Sawmill Gravy

Sawmill Gravy

Every time Granny made sawmill gravy, also called cornmeal gravy, when I was growing up I moaned and groaned. I much preferred the taste of sausage or bacon gravy or my all time favorite chocolate gravy.

As we age our tastes often change and when it comes to sawmill gravy mine sure did! I love the stuff now.

Since I use a White Lily mix for my cornbread that’s typically what I use to make sawmill gravy. The mix has a slight amount of flour in it.

A comment Ed Ammons left got me to wondering if I’d still like sawmill gravy if I used straight cornmeal so I gave it a try. I liked it too!

Cornmeal Gravy

  • about 3 or 4 tablespoons of bacon, fat-back, or hog jowl grease
  • about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cornmeal
  • milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Brown cornmeal in hot fat; add other ingredients and stir till thickened. 

You probably noticed the ‘abouts’ in the recipe. I’ve found making gravy to be one of those things you have to do over and over till you figure out the method that works best for you.

I add cornmeal or flour by the spoonful until I get enough in the pan to mostly soak up all the grease as it browns. Then I add milk to my thickness preference. I like my gravy thin so I use more milk than most folks.

As gravy cooks you can add additional milk or water to thin it out if it gets too thick on you.

The name sawmill gravy is said to come from logging camps where the men were served sawmill gravy on a regular if not daily basis. The grittiness of the cornmeal caused them to accuse the cook of adding sawdust to the gravy 🙂

Are you a fan of sawmill gravy?


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  • Reply
    Sherry Reece
    December 13, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    I love sawmill gravy!!! Especially with fried taters,cornbread, fried cabbage and a pork chop!! Yummy!!! I’ve loved it my whole life.

  • Reply
    Douglas Mosier
    October 2, 2021 at 3:44 pm

    I’ve never even heard of sawmill gravy but it sounds kinda cool, so I’m gonna give it a try. I’ve always been on the lookout for new ways to use cornmeal

  • Reply
    joseph vickery
    August 31, 2021 at 11:14 pm

    If you didn’t grow up “stirring the gravy” you missed out. lol

  • Reply
    JoEllen G
    June 22, 2021 at 12:16 am

    My Daddy cooked cornmeal gravy with Irish potatoes rolled in cornmeal and fried. It was my favorite meal my Daddy made, while Mama was working. I never heard him call it sawmill gravy though.

  • Reply
    Brenda Melahn
    March 18, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    My Mother loved to fix saw mill gravy with sweet potatoes and squirrel — I loved the gravy but couldn’t eat those little squirrels. She’d serve biscuits or cornmeal whatever my Daddy wanted.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2021 at 8:53 am

    My dad and husband love this gravy… Can’t say that I do, but will make for them.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2021 at 7:26 pm

    I’ve eaten cornmeal cooked many ways but never as gravy. I’m going to try this so so I can say I’ve eaten sawmeal gravy.

    • Reply
      joseph vickery
      August 31, 2021 at 11:12 pm

      So, did you try it? If so, how was it?

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    February 9, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    I fry sausage, pour off the grease leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan, add flour and brown it. Add milk and simmer till thicken, them crumble the sausage party’s into it. Pour over biscuits. It’s great.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever eaten sawmill gravy just white gravy. It sounds interesting. It sounds like you cook like I do, with lots of ‘abouts’ never duplicated the same way again but it usually comes out better.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Well I have never eaten cornmeal gravy….. ours has always been bacon grease made, or lard …… I make mine about like you do Tipper…. but I do brown that flour in the grease pretty dark (not burnt) because I love the flavor it gives it…and I like lots of pepper…..yummy ,doesn’t it smell so good cooking of a morning….many times we eat breakfast for supper when we wish to. I would most likely like cornmeal gravy since I sure like cornbread….. we make cornmeal pancakes sometimes too.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 9, 2021 at 10:47 am

    I’m thinking about the people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. What if you used plain cornmeal (if you can find it) and thickened it with cornstarch? Corn has no gluten and since cornstarch is made from corn neither does it. Neither does potato starch. People shouldn’t have to do without one of the best things for lack of a thickener.

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    February 9, 2021 at 10:11 am

    Never had gravy containing corn meal, so ours wasn’t “sawmill”. My family made gravy with oil or bacon grease, milk, flour and salt and pepper. To fill a husband and three growing boys, Mom would sometimes fortify her “milk gravy” with one or two eggs, lightly beaten. That gravy, over toast or biscuits, was a welcome dish at our table. Army cooks serve something similar–gravy and chipped beef over toast. GIs have an alliterative name for it but eat it anyway.

  • Reply
    Yvette H Ridenour
    February 9, 2021 at 10:07 am

    My Granny always made bacon gravy–just like this, only flour instead of cornmeal. I make it now and then, just as she did, and love it.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    February 9, 2021 at 9:54 am

    It’s new to me, but anything with bacon flavor is bound to be tasty!

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    February 9, 2021 at 9:29 am

    Gravy made the way you described, with either flour or corn meal ladled over hot homemade biscuits makes a mighty fine breakfast. I like lots of black pepper on mine.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2021 at 9:04 am

    It’s good to know where the name came from. Mom made sawmill gravy many times and I liked it but never made it after I left home. I remember her making it when money was tighter during the times when Dad was off work at the coal mines. It sure goes good with a big slice of fresh tomato.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    February 9, 2021 at 8:44 am

    You almost certainly didn’t realize it, but your Appalachian was showing in your writing; or at least I think it is Appalachian.

    You wrote “you can add additional milk or water to thin it out if it gets too thick on you.” I think that both “thin it out” and “too thick on you” betray that you’re the real deal, especially the latter. Think about it – what does the “on you” add other than some mountain flavoring?

    It’s just the way we talk, and it sure makes a body feel at home.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2021 at 8:35 am

    Sawmill gravy made with grease from fried fatback and good biscuits is my favorite breakfast. Add a piece of good cantaloupe and I am happy as a pig in slop. I have never ate any made from cornmeal. My mother’s family did not call this sawmill gravy, they called it hunky do gravy. I have often said if I was on death row I would ask for this as my last meal.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 9, 2021 at 8:20 am

    All I remember about sawmill gravy is hearing my Mom talk about it. I’m reasonably sure we had it but I have no memory of it. Must have been ocassional. Mom’s “bean gravy” made with leftover pinto beans and cornmeal was probably a variation of it. My brother really liked it. To me it was just OK.

    Btw, I still get confused about sawmill gravy and red eye gravy. Red eye is the one with bacon grease and coffee but no flour or meal, right?

    PS: After mentioning the Lock-Stitch Awl yesterday I went looking. Turns out there are plenty of versions around, ranging in price from $10-35 dollars. Even Walmart has a version. That must be why I dreamed last night that Chitter wanted me to embroider names on a blanket she had made. As my Dad would say, “That’s driving ducks to a dry pond.”

    • Reply
      February 10, 2021 at 12:09 am

      Your mother-in-law made saw mill gravy sometimes for dinner I can remember having it there with fried potatoes and her wonderful biscuits, wonderful lady and best times ever, sure miss those days.

  • Reply
    Alvin Meeks
    February 9, 2021 at 7:36 am

    Yep like saw mill gravy, especially with biscuits and molasses.

    • Reply
      Ann Applegarth
      February 9, 2021 at 11:11 am

      In my experience, red-eye gravy is made only with ham drippings and black coffee.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 9, 2021 at 7:35 am

    Tipper, I have never eaten cornmeal gravy till I tasted it at your house. I liked it! I have heard of it I just never had an opportunity to try it before. I wonder if cornmeal’s use in gravy came about when no flour was available. I think that cornmeal was much more available then.

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