You only need a few pantry staple ingredients to make a fantastic, filling, and flavorful Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy for a good ole southern breakfast!
A CLASSIC SOUTHERN BREAKFAST RECIPE
Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy is a classic Southern breakfast that is guaranteed to wake you up and get you going! This mouthwatering combination of salt-cured ham and coffee gravy has been a favorite for generations. It’s a filling, hearty, easy comfort meal.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ’S):
Country ham is a type of cured ham that is a staple in Southern cuisine. It is made from the hind leg of a pig and undergoes a lengthy curing process that involves rubbing the meat with salt, sugar, and other seasonings. The ham is then hung to dry and age for several months, which allows the flavors to develop and intensify. Country ham is known for its rich, salty, and slightly smoky taste.
Red Eye Gravy (sometimes called Poor Man’s Gravy or Ham Gravy) is a traditional Southern dark, thin gravy that is served with country ham. The gravy is made by deglazing the pan after cooking the ham, using strong black coffee. The coffee adds a unique and bold flavor to the gravy, making it a perfect pairing with the saltiness of the ham. If you don’t like coffee then you won’t like Red Eye Gravy. I suppose you could substitute with a low sodium beef broth but then it’s no longer red eye gravy.
Some say it’s called that to help wake up your tired red eyes in the morning (because of the coffee added), and some say it’s because the ham and gravy look like a red eye. Personally, I think it’s the tired eyes explanation because this will surely get you going in the morning!
The ham slices are usually sold in vacuum sealed packaging so you sometimes won’t find it in the cold section, it may be on a separate stand near the meat section and sometimes it can be located in the refrigerated section with the other meats.
If it is uncooked country ham, it will be in the cold section. Regardless, I always keep mine stored in the refrigerator. Unless you’re from an area where country ham is common like where I live, it will almost always be cooked ham. But either way, this recipe works with both cooked and uncooked.
Country Ham slices can come “cooked” and “uncooked” – they have both been preserved and cured with salt but one has gone through the additional cooking process (usually they are smoked).
Sometimes the packaging will not say “uncooked”, it will just say “ready to cook” and that lets you know it needs to be cooked first. In the case of this recipe, we are frying it up anyway and it doesn’t matter which one you get, they will both taste fantastic and the recipe instructions won’t change.
If you can’t find country ham near you, you can buy it online and there are lots of great options. I usually just get what’s on sale at my grocery store but my preference is the Virginia brand country hams since that’s where I am from and what I grew up with but they can be a bit more pricey than others. Virginia is known for their ham so I think they get a little “high on the hog” – literally. Here are some country ham slices to check out (you can buy whole hams too):
Uncooked ham slices: Edwards Uncooked Virginia Ham Slices
Cooked ham slices: Kites Cooked Virginia Ham Slices or Edwards Cooked Virginia Ham Slices.
The milk soak really does help to get some of the salt out of the ham. You can also use water if desired but I think the milk does a better job and that is how I was taught. I prefer to soak first, otherwise, it’s too salty and who wants a mouthful of super salty ham? But, if you like it pretty salty, the soaking is optional, so do as your taste buds prefer.
Normally, I can be pretty lenient with substitutions, but not with this recipe. I have to stress that it’s just not Country Ham and Red Eye Gravy without the country ham. You could possibly use a ham steak but it’s just not going to give you the same flavor at all. So, if possible, stick to the Country Ham.
I must stress that Red Eye Gravy is not a traditional thick gravy. It is meant to be thin. However, if you like the gravy slightly thickened, you can whisk in 1-2 teaspoons of cornstarch into the water and then turn the heat up as you whisk and you should start to see it thicken.
Keep leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days, freeze for up to 3 months. The gravy texture may change once frozen and thawed.
You can reheat by placing everything back into the pan and simmer until warm again. If you microwave it, it can come out rubbery and tough.
INGREDIENTS NEEDED: (SEE RECIPE CARD BELOW FOR THE FULL RECIPE)
- country ham slices – see the FAQ section above on where to find country ham.
- milk – or lukewarm water. Milk does a better job at drawing out that extra salt.
- bacon grease – if you’re out of bacon grease, butter will work here (just don’t use margarine spread.)
- black coffee – plain black coffee. Don’t use a flavored coffee. No one wants a hazelnut flavored red eye gravy – of course maybe some do but I suppose that’s up to you.
- water – this is just going to be used to dilute the coffee a bit.
- black pepper and salt – I really don’t think you are going to want to add salt to the gravy but everyone has different tastes so I will leave that up to your tastebuds.
HOW TO MAKE COUNTRY HAM WITH RED EYE GRAVY
Cut the ham slices into smaller serving slices. Place them in a baking dish or plastic bag and pour in the milk; make sure the ham is coated. Cover and place in the fridge for 2-4 hours. Take the ham out of the milk and dry well with paper towels.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and sear the ham in batches, 2-3 minutes per side, until browned, do not crowd the pan. Place the seared ham on a plate while you make the gravy.
Pour the coffee into the pan to deglaze it, and scrape off all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Add the water and black pepper and simmer for about 5 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened. Taste the gravy and add salt if needed.
Serve immediately with the ham.
CRAVING MORE RECIPES?
Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy
- Cut 12 ounces country ham slices into smaller serving slices. Place them in a baking dish or plastic bag and pour in 1/2 cup milk; make sure the ham is coated. Cover and place in the fridge for 2-4 hours.
- Take the ham out of the milk and dry well with paper towels.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 2 Tablespoons bacon grease (or unsalted butter) and sear the ham in batches, 2-3 minutes per side, until browned, do not crowd the pan. Place the seared ham on a plate while you make the gravy.
- Pour 1/2 cup black coffee into the pan to deglaze it, and scrape off all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and simmer for about 5 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened.
- Taste the gravy and add salt, to taste (you probably won't want to add salt but everyone has different tastes.)
- Serve immediately with the ham.
- Please refer to my FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) and ingredient list above for other substitutions or for the answers to the most common questions.
“The Country Cook” is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories and other nutritional values can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.