About Red Eye Gravy
Some mornings aren’t complete without a pick-me-up, and red eye gravy delivers just that.
Because not only is this gravy a delicious addition to any breakfast, but there’s also coffee in the gravy itself. Yes, actual coffee. And it’s the combination of the coffee and ham that gives this gravy its trademark flavor.
What is red eye gravy?
Red eye gravy is a butterscotch-colored gravy made by adding liquid (typically brewed coffee) with the fat cooked from ham.
Why is red eye gravy called that?
This gravy goes by many names, from bird eye gravy to poor man’s gravy to red ham gravy to muddy gravy. But from where I’m from, it’s only known as (yet another) southern tradition.
One might think the “red eye” name comes from the coffee (like a staying-awake reference) but it actually comes from the original way this gravy was prepared. In the first few recipes, the grease and coffee would interact with each other, causing what appeared to be a red human eye to form in the pan.
But if you find the idea of your gravy staring back at you a little unsettling, then I have good news! The recipe featured here has been modernized a bit (to give it a thicker consistency) so you won’t see that reaction if you follow these instructions.
What does red eye gravy taste like?
Thanks to the ham and the brewed coffee, this gravy tends to have a rich, dark, and salty taste. It’s typically served with a freshly cooked country ham, mixed with shredded potatoes, or sopped up by biscuits.
What kind of pork should you use?
When you’re out shopping, be on the lookout for a country ham steak. They’re typically oblong cuts of pork that are about 3/4 inch thick. There will be bone-in and boneless varieties, and the width may vary, too (just as it does for a full ham). Many country ham steaks are also smoked for a little extra flavor.
The exact type and size of steak you buy is totally up to you, but as long as you’ve chosen a “real” slice of pork (nothing pressed or pre-cooked) it will work well for making this gravy.
Can you use a different type of meat?
Country ham is the traditional pairing with this gravy, but in theory, you “could” use a different type of meat… BUT it would have to be a meat that’s known for leaving a greasy, flavorful residue in the pan after cooking.
Which, of course, narrows your options down to just another cut of pork. Lean cuts of chicken can also be used.
All that being said, bacon is the most common substitution I’ve seen, with boneless and skinless chicken thighs coming in as a close second. I’ve never made this recipe with bacon or chicken before, so unfortunately, I don’t have many suggestions on how this recipe would work when substituting with them.
More great breakfast recipes
More fun retro eats
Notes & tips for red eye gravy
- When cooking the ham, make small cuts (about 1/2 inch deep) around the edges to keep the ham from curling up.
Red Eye Gravy
Ultra creamy and with hints of dark coffee flavor, red eye gravy is the perfect pick-me-up to add to your breakfast of freshly pan-fried country ham.
In a large, wide skillet (large enough to fit the ham) over medium-high heat, cook the ham until tender and lightly browned (typically 2-4 minutes per side, until desired doneness). Set ham aside on a covered plate to keep warm.
- Reduce heat to medium, then add butter; allow to melt. Sprinkle in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture turns the color of peanut butter, about 5 minutes.
- Slowly pour a small amount of bone broth in the skillet, continuing to whisk constantly. Once the bone broth has been absorbed, pour in a little more and again whisk until absorbed. Repeat this step until all bone broth has been added.
- Continuing to whisk, slowly pour in coffee until gravy is smooth.
- Season gravy with sugar and salt, then whisk well.
- Allow gravy to cook, whisking occasionally, until it begins to thicken and bubbles start to form. Remove gravy from heat.
- Serve red eye gravy immediately, drizzled on top of the cooked country ham steak.