Recipes » Breakfast Recipes » Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy

Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy

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5 from 6 votes
Salty, dry cured country ham and southern red-eye gravy made from pan drippings and coffee.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy - Salty, dry cured country ham with red eye gravy flavored with strong black coffee served with a side of cheese grits. https://www.lanascooking.com/country-ham-with-red-eye-gravy/

Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy – Salty, dry cured country ham with red eye gravy flavored with strong black coffee served with a side of cheese grits.

I’m putting my country roots in full view today. Yes, I’m reaching way back into the past for this post. Back to something that was an ordinary, everyday part of life when I was growing up – Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy.

Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy - Salty, dry cured country ham with red eye gravy flavored with strong black coffee served with a side of cheese grits. https://www.lanascooking.com/country-ham-with-red-eye-gravy/

I would be willing to bet that there’s no one who grew up in a rural area of the southeastern U.S. who doesn’t know what country ham and red eye gravy are. This was one of the most common breakfasts served in southern households for a very long time.

I suppose the best known country hams are the Smithfield brand. They’re definitely good hams. Salty, dry cured hams that take on a deep red color and a chewy texture.

Back before Smithfield became a household word, however, country families cured their own hams. The time for butchering hogs was always the first frost in the fall.

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I have very vague childhood memories of the adults doing the fall butchering. The most persistent of those memories is the smell of my grandparents’ smokehouse.

The smokehouse was a tiny little building set away from the back of their home. I can just barely remember the meats hanging up in there and a steady, very slow smoke filling the whole place. There was always that pungent, smoky smell that got into your clothes and your hair but which made the meats coming from that smokehouse so delicious!

Country ham was one of my daddy’s favorite things. Second only to a good t-bone steak. After he had a major heart attack, however, the t-bones and country ham were on the long list of things that he had to give up.

Even so, mama would always make country ham for him once a year on Christmas morning. I think he looked forward to Christmas breakfast as much as he did any other part of the day!

Why Is It Called That?

Well, like many things, the true origin of the name of this southern comfort food recipe is obscure. You can find lots of stories online, but my favorite is this one. According to legend, Andrew Jackson, who was a general at the time, called his cook in to give him instructions about what to prepare for breakfast. The cook had been drinking liberally the previous evening and his eyes were bright red as a result. The general told the cook to bring him some country ham with gravy as red as his eyes. Some of those nearby heard the order and from then on, ham gravy became “Red Eye Gravy.”

That’s not this recipe’s only name, however. It’s also known as poor-man’s gravy, muddy gravy, bottom sop, and bird-eye gravy depending on which part of the south you come from.

Start by Soaking the Ham Overnight

Slices of country ham in a plastic bag with milk

Now, country ham is salty. Actually, that’s an understatement. Country ham is super salty.

Some people cook it right out of the package, salt and all, but I like to let it soak overnight in a little milk bath. It takes away a lot of the salt making it a bit more mellow and begins breaking down the chewiness of the ham just a bit, I think.

A note about the ham: there is no red eye gravy without cured country ham. Other kinds of ham just don’t have the correct flavor for this recipe. You’ll want a very good quality Smithfield or genuine Virginia ham with a good amount of fat around the edges.

Ham slices after milk soak drying on paper towels

When you’re ready to cook the next morning, remove the ham from its milk bath and dry it with paper towels. Then heat a skillet over medium heat and add a small amount of oil.

To keep the ham from curling when it cooks, slash the edges of the fat in a few places. Cook the ham according to the brand’s package directions or until the surface temperature is about 160 degrees.

I gauge it by appearance. When the fat is just translucent and the ham has a bit of golden color on it, it’s done. Basically, when the fat is cooked through, the ham is done. Remove the ham from the pan and keep it warm.

Skillet after cooking ham with residue in the bottom

Now, admittedly your pan is probably looking pretty dismal at this point. It’s going to have a lot of very dark brown stuff on the bottom, but that’s okay! That’s going to make your gravy just that much better.

Also, be aware that you’ll probably not have much moisture in the pan. Most country hams are too dry to give off much liquid.

A wooden spoon stirring gravy in skillet

Mix together the water, coffee, and cornstarch and add it to the pan. Make sure you have a nice, strong coffee for your gravy. Its flavor is important to the finished product.

Now here’s where some of you are going to disagree with me and that’s on the use of cornstarch. I know, I know…traditionally red eye gravy does not have any thickening agent added. It’s a thin sauce. But I like mine with just a little body so I add a touch of cornstarch. If you want to stay true to the authentic recipe, just leave it out. We’ll still be friends :-)

How Do I Serve It?

Serve the red eye gravy over plain or cheese grits, cut a biscuit open and drizzle it on, or spoon it over the country ham. Or do all three. Some fried eggs alongside make a nearly perfect breakfast or dinner on a cold winter night.

If you want a real, old-fashioned country treat, cut open a biscuit and dip the cut sides quickly into the gravy. Put a piece of country ham and a spoonful of Mayhaw jelly inside. Close your eyes, take a bite, and say “Yummmm…..”

What Do I Do With the Leftovers?

Leftovers? You have leftovers? Just kidding. The leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to three days and reheated in the microwave or on a low heat on the stove.

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Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy - Salty, dry cured country ham with red eye gravy flavored with strong black coffee served with a side of cheese grits. https://www.lanascooking.com/country-ham-with-red-eye-gravy/

Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy

Salty, dry cured country ham and southern red-eye gravy made from pan drippings and coffee.
5 from 6 votes
Print It Rate It
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 309kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cured country ham thinly sliced
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • ¼ cup strong black coffee
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Instructions

  • Place the sliced country ham and the milk in a bag and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Remove the ham and wipe dry with paper towels.
  • Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the ham and cook briefly until the fat is cooked through and the ham has reached a surface temperature of 160 degrees (or follow the package directions for cooking).
  • Remove the ham from the skillet and set aside.
  • Mix the coffee, water and cornstarch together and pour into the pan.
  • Cook while stirring to dislodge any drippings from the bottom of the pan.
  • Serve over plain or cheese grits, split biscuits or over the cooked ham.

Notes

Choose a good quality Smithfield or genuine Virginia ham with a good amount of fat around the edges.
To keep the ham from curling when it cooks, slash the edges of the fat in a few places.
To gauge when the ham is done, check the appearance of the fat. When the fat is cooked through, the ham is done.
Use a good, strong coffee for your gravy. Its flavor is important to the finished product.
To keep true to the authentic recipe, leave out the cornstarch.
Serve over plain or cheese grits, cut a biscuit open and drizzle it on, or spoon it over the country ham. Some fried eggs alongside make a nearly perfect breakfast or dinner on a cold winter night.
For a real, old-fashioned country treat, cut open a biscuit and dip the cut sides quickly into the gravy. Put a piece of country ham and a spoonful of Mayhaw jelly inside.
Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to three days and reheated in the microwave or on a low heat on the stove.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1 | Calories: 309kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 1347mg | Potassium: 324mg | Calcium: 8mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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Recipe Rating




29 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Without the cornstarch or water, this is very close to true red-eye gravy. Your recipe is closer to the real thing than a lot of other crap recipes that is absolutely Not red-eye gravy. Very good.

  2. Thank you so much for the tip about making the country ham more tender. I bought some and it is chewy like you mentioned so I am going to try this milk bath for the first time. I just love red-eyed gravy. I can’t wait to have some on my grits with my ham later today! :)

  3. Country ham is at the top of my list
    of home cooked breakfasts.
    When the Red Eye gravy is right it tops the country ham for flavor and taste.
    My only problem is that I only hit the red eye, bulls eye, about twenty percent of the time.
    My attempts end up eighty percent of the time tasting like motor oil!
    Any help Please!

  4. Mmmmm, memories that make my mouth water. Thanks for reminding me to put this on my to-do list SOON! My kids really need to experience red eye gravy.

  5. I’m not even from the US, much less the south, so I have definitely never heard of this before. Gosh, it looks pretty amazing! My mom always used to say, “I never met a pig I didn’t like.” That’s what I think when I see this recipe! Thanks Lana!

    1. You should! It’s actually a pretty quick breakfast. I think I had it on the table in under 20 minutes – biscuits included.

  6. Country ham is one of my favorite things to eat and I probably only get it about once or twice a year when we go to visit my in-laws. Grandma cooks a whole country ham and it’s out of this world. I would love to find a place that has good sliced country ham like hers. The stuff in our supermarket is not the same thing as we are used to. Your red eye gravy looks great – I would add the cornstarch, too!

  7. How ironic.
    I just happen to have a slice of country ham and some grits that were given to me by a very special lady (big thank you)
    Guess what’s on our menu for breakfast?

  8. I have Red Eye Gravy on my list of things I’ve wanted to try to make. Thanks for pushing it to the top of the list with this recipe!

    Rachel

  9. It’s funny, I thought I might be the only person around who uses milk to soak ham, or liver, or smoked black cod, in milk before cooking. My mother & Grandmother, both now long gone, alway did, so naturally I do the same.
    Its good to see I’m not alone on such a great way of de-salting & tenderizing. I’m sure your ham & gravy recipe will revitalize that!

    I have to admit I’ve never made gravy with ham, our traditional condiment is homemade raisin sauce & hot mustard for the daring eaters, but will definately try your gravy with our next ham dinner. A nice change is always welcome when it comes to serving food, especially if its gravy!

    Thanks again for sharing Lana

    1. Jocelyn, some people soak in water but I do use milk. You just need something to draw out as much of the salt as possible from country ham. For me, it’s really not edible until some of the salt is reduced.

  10. It looks delicious! Thank you for sharing the milk bath tip. I usually do that with liver to make it tender, but didn’t know I could do it with ham. The coffee in the gravy is new to me, I have taste it soon. Thanks :)

  11. have not seen a recipe for red-eye gravy in a long time – sho do look good… my daddy’s folks had a smokehouse that even years after it became a shed, still had the smell of smoked hams…wonderful aroma
    coffee in the gravy, only a few do that…

    1. Yes, and I’ve heard people talk about the spots where smokehouses stood not being able to ever grow anything, even grass, after the smokehouse was torn down. Too much salt in the dirt in that spot :-)

      That little bit of coffee sure does enhance the flavor.

  12. I have never made Red Eye Gravy, I am going to try your recipes. I wish I could do what you have done with your recipes on my blog, the option to print them. I just started with my blogs, so still a lot to learn. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  13. Oooh…now I’m a gravy girl! My mouth is watering and I’m full from supper! This looks delicious…thanks for the tips on red eye gravy!

  14. Move. Really, get out of the way. I am elbow deep in memories. If you really think back, you will remember that Gama liked country ham as much as anyone. And, despite the fact that she could not cook much of anything, she excelled at both country ham and biscuits.

    I always order country ham if we have breakfast out. I dare not cook it at home, or risk consuming the entire package.

    Thanks for the memory.

    Miss P

    1. She did enjoy it, didn’t she? I’m sure it was a breakfast staple in their house. Do you remember the little smokehouse at all? I thought it was the most mysterious place. Meat went in there and came out months later as ham, bacon, etc. Almost wish I had one myself :-)