Red Eye Gravy and Fried Ham Steak

Let’s take a historical trip shall we? This red eye gravy came about from some hard times. Back when cream or milk wasn’t available, folks came up with this gravy recipe that actually uses coffee as the base. There are a couple stories behind the name. One is that Colonel Andrew Jackson came into camp one day and saw his cook drunk. The cook asked the Colonel what he wanted to eat and Jackson replied, “Make me something as red as your eyes!”

Another reason also may be that when the coffee is added to the roux, it makes a red circle in the middle.

The Hog

I use a cured ham steak for this recipe. If you happen to be using fresh ham, you’ll need to give your gravy a little salt seasoning to taste after you make it up. But the cured already has a lot of salt in it, so you shouldn’t need to add more to your gravy.

Before frying the ham, give it a cut on the side which will help it from curling up as it fries.

Remove the steak and set on a plate to cool slightly. This will create more grease drippings which you will use later.



According to legend, the term Red Eye came from General Jackson when he came into camp one day and saw that his cook’s eyes were bloodshot from drinking. When the cook asked what the General wanted to eat, he answered, “Make me something as red as your eyes!”

Another reason could also be that when adding the coffee in with the grease, it swirls to form what looks like a red eye in the middle.

Be sure to use hot brewed coffee when adding it to your roux.


The Gravy 

The fat base we are using is butter and bacon grease. Traditionally, the base would be from the ham. But when not using fresh ham you’ll have less drippings.

However, after you fry up the ham, remove it from the skillet and let it rest on a plate. As it sets it will create some good drippings that you will add to the gravy.




This may be the most critical step! Now, I like to pour that gravy over the ham, but then you’ll need to sop it up with some homemade biscuits! The flavor will surprise you.

I’ve had many a cowboy on ranches ask for red eye gravy and I wouldn’t do it, because the flavor just didn’t sound right. But folks, I was wrong there is a great flavor that is created with the ham dripping, butter and coffee. Those people during hard times may not have had much, but they knew had to make a meal, and make it taste good and stick to your ribs!

Watch the Video…

Red Eye Gravy and Ham Steak

Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 2 to 4


  • 1 12 to 14 ounce ham steak
  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups brewed coffee
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper


  • Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ham and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, each side. Place the ham on a large plate and set aside.
  • Remove the skillet from heat and let it cool for about 5 minutes.
  • Place the same skillet over medium low heat. Add the bacon grease and butter and cook until melted. Sift in the four and stir until smooth with a flat spatula.
  • Stir in the coffee, a little at a time. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle in the pepper and continue to cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency.
  • Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Pour over ham and serve immediately.
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