Tomato And Bacon Grease Make For A Deliciously Simple Southern Gravy

Throughout the South, gravy is an institution. From Sawmill gravy to red-eye, cornmeal, and more, the list goes on — and it includes a gravy you might not have heard of before unless you grew up in the region. Southern-style tomato gravy is a treat that for the most part has remained in the kitchens of home cooks. (Call it a well-kept secret.) Per the lore, this humble gravy started in the Appalachians as a thrifty way to make use of the ingredients folks had on hand: no milk, but gardens full of overripe tomatoes.

Southern tomato gravy is a roux-based sauce flavored with tomato juice and bacon grease. The tomatoes are stewed down with flavorful bacon drippings for a tangy gravy with a rich body and a savory, tangy, slightly sweet profile. This minimal gravy is a great way to use up a surplus of tomatoes from your home garden or make use of store-bought tomatoes that might be close to spoiling. It's also a killer use for any homemade canned tomatoes you might have stored in the basement or pantry from the summer harvest. In fact, for this gravy it's better to use canned tomatoes than a fresh tomato that isn't yet bursting and overripe.

Perhaps the best part of this tomato-based gravy is that it only requires four simple ingredients — tomatoes, bacon grease, flour, and water — slow-simmered in a saucepan on the stove until thick and creamy.

Stew your way to surprisingly big flavor

Gravies from the South typically have a common denominator: They're made with bacon grease. To achieve the ideal Southern-style bacon grease, opt for pork bacon that isn't lean or maple-flavored. No bacon grease? Sausage grease or shortening work, too. Alternatively, this tomato gravy can be made vegetarian by swapping the bacon grease for vegetable oil or butter. As long as it's fat, it'll get the job done. For another kick of flavor, you could also swap the water for chicken or vegetable stock.

Feel free to customize your gravy to suit your taste. You could season with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, red chili flakes, garlic powder, or Old Bay. You could also add a splash of heavy cream, full-fat oat milk, or a spoonful of tomato paste to bulk up the thickness. To diversify the flavor profile, try tossing a rosemary sprig in there, a yellow onion, or even a teaspoon of sugar.

A ladle of Southern tomato gravy will instantly turn any dish into a comfort food. Spoon it over fluffy biscuits, on top of fried eggs, potato wedges, pork chops, meatloaf, rice and beans, shrimp and grits, garlic mashed potatoes, couscous, or anywhere else you might think to enjoy gravy. For an elevated brunch, ladle some tomato gravy over a batch of warm cheddar and scallion scones straight out of the oven. This savory gravy would also be delicious in place of hollandaise sauce on eggs Benedict with avocado.