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Creamy, cheesy southern grits are topped with shrimp that are sautéed in bacon fat and covered in a rich, smoky white gravy. This easy shrimp and grits recipe is perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner!
One of Sweet Tea + Thyme's most popular recipes is my Authentic Southern Shrimp and Grits. But over the years since it's gone live, I've been asked several times to bring y'all a shrimp and grits with gravy as well.
And in 2021, your wish has been granted. My mama makes shrimp and grits with white gravy and serves it up with country sausage. But in my house, I remixed it with a smoky bacon cream gravy and serve it up with chopped bacon.
Because you can never have enough bacon (...and finding country sausage outside of 'the country' is damn near impossible.)
What are Shrimp and Grits?
Shrimp and grits is a down-home low-country Southern breakfast dish in the U.S., though it's eaten for brunch and dinner now too, since gaining mainstream popularity. It's made with hominy that is ground into grits, served with sauteed shrimp and usually a gravy.
Its origins come from the Gullah Geechee, the kidnapped Africans who were enslaved on the coastal islands that run from North Carolina to St. John's County, Florida. Grits were created by the native Muskogee tribes who used hominy as currency, and the preparation of grits was taught to the Gullah folks, who would use their local resources and catch fish and shrimp to make a full meal.
For more information on the Gullah Geechee and their culture, click here.
How to Make Shrimp and Grits
Making shrimp and grits with gravy is really easy, and I honestly think my recipe is the best. I mean, shrimp sauteed in bacon fat and a bacon gravy? Do we need to say more?
Jumbo Shrimp. The words 'jumbo shrimp' besides being an oxymoron don't actually mean anything legally in the food world. What's most important in looking for shrimp is the numbers.
Shrimp is counted 'per pound', so the lower the number of shrimp per pound, the bigger they are. For instance, I have a bag of frozen jumbo shrimp from Costco that is 11-15 per pound. They're HUGE, perfect for recipes where shrimp are the star, like in shrimp and grits or coconut shrimp.
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Bacon. A nice thick-cut bacon that has a good fat to meat ratio (meaning it isn't made mostly of fat!) is best. We're rendering down the fat in order to cook the shrimp and make that delicious white gravy.
Don't want to use bacon? Sausage is always a good substitute; chorizo or andouille had great flavor. Or even just go for straight butter to saute the shrimp, it'll be delicious!
Lemon Zest, Minced Garlic, Red Pepper. I love to cook my shrimp with these, maybe even adding some fresh thyme.
All-Purpose Flour. To make our gravy we need to start with a roux, which thickens up the gravy.
Chicken Bouillon Base. Absolutely love this stuff. Get the flavor of chicken broth without diluting anything.
Whole Milk. This is what makes our white gravy! You can use chicken stock (or water with the chicken bouillon base) instead, but it won't be a white gravy (just regular ole delicious gravy!)
Grits. I totally don't judge if you use quick grits or stone ground, just make sure to make your grits creamy and full of flavor.
Cheddar Cheese. I love a sharp white cheddar for my grits because they've got that tangy flavor and don't make the grits stringy like mozzarella. It's great for pizza, not so much for grits, in my opinion.
Making Rich, Creamy Grits
Grits need to be given a ton of flavor; otherwise, they'll be super bland. They need fat, salt, some good seasoning. Here are my favorite ways to make perfect Southern grits:
- Use chicken bouillon base to give superior flavor. Guess what? They had a grits competition on Masterchef. The lady who didn't use chicken stock got booted by Gordon Ramsay. I like bouillon base since it's concentrated broth flavor and I really like using milk in my grits.
- The creamiest grits have milk instead of water. Argue with your mama on that one, honey, because I have found my favorite way of making grits is with whole milk and bouillon base added. Make sure the stir frequently so your grits don't end up clumpy.
- Add in that cheddar cheese, y'all. And don't be stingy. You'll want to add it 'off the heat' and stir the shredded cheese into the grits, melting with residual heat. Too much heat will break the cheese making it oily and separated.
- Adding butter at the end --salted butter specifically-- is just *chef's kiss*.
- Once cooked, keep your grits covered, otherwise, they'll end up like cement once they cool down.
What to Serve with Shrimp and Grits
I love big brunches with multiple dishes, so here's a few things I love serving shrimp and grits with:
Something nice and southern like collards, fried fish, or Fried Chicken and Waffles.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, like sliced cherry tomatoes, a fresh salad, or a fruit salad are also great to cut the richness of this hearty dish.
Love Southern Recipes? Check out:
- Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread
- Spiced Peach Shortcakes
- Classic Southern Sweet Tea
- Southern Bourbon Peach Cobbler
- Authentic Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken
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- 4 cups (946 mL) whole milk or chicken stock
- 2 tsp chicken bouillon base
- 1 cup (197 g) stone-ground grits
- 3 tbsp (42 g) unsalted butter
- 2 cups (226 g) sharp white cheddar, freshly grated
Sauteed Garlic Shrimp
- ½ lb thick-cut bacon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 2 lbs jumbo shrimp (11-15 count), peeled and de-veined
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- Zest of ½ lemon
- Kosher salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
- ¼ cup (68 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 cup (473 mL) whole milk
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Cracked Pepper
- In a medium Dutch Oven or soup pot, whisk together chicken bouillon base and milk, then bring the milk to a boil. Add the grits, 1-2 tsp kosher salt, and 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, whisking well.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook until the liquid is absorbed, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, cheese, and more salt and pepper to taste. Cover until ready to serve.
Sauteed Garlic Shrimp
- In a large cast-iron skillet, fry the bacon over medium-high heat. When crisp, remove the bacon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to remove the excess grease and oil.
- Add the shrimp and red pepper flakes to the bacon grease in the cast iron skillet, turn the heat down to medium, and saute the shrimp, flipping them over after just over a minute, and letting the other side cook, cooking for about 3 minutes, but no more than 3 minutes total.
- Turn off the heat and add the minced garlic, stirring for about 30 seconds; the residual heat will cook the garlic through. The shrimp should be opaque entirely, and gently curl in. Stir in lemon juice and season to taste. Remove the shrimp from the pan onto a plate and set aside.
- In the same pan, add the ¼ cup all-purpose flour over medium heat to the bacon fat and whisk to fully combine the fat and flour.
- Slowly whisk in the milk. Remember hot roux + cold milk = no lumps. Gradually splash in the milk (it will be thick and seize up at first while adding the first half cup or so, that is normal. Keep going.) and add the chicken bouillon base once all the milk is whisked in and smooth.
- Let the gravy simmer and thicken for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Plate the grits hot with shrimp and chopped bacon, then generously pour the bacon white gravy over top.
Freezing Shrimp and Grits
Freeze the shrimp in a container or freezer-safe zip-top bag separately from the grits. Grab a cooking pan, spray a shallow disposable aluminum pan with non-stick cooking spray, and spread the cooked grits into the pan, then top it with more cheese. Cover the dish with foil after you've allowed it to fully cool. Freeze for up to one month.
To thaw the grits, splash in a bit of milk before warming the dish in a 350 degree F (180 degrees C) oven for 7-10 minutes, stirring and adding more liquid as needed. Do not let it dry out.
Warm the frozen shrimp in the oven in an oven-safe dish for 3-5 minutes or until warmed through.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 656Total Fat: 45gSaturated Fat: 21gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCarbohydrates: 42gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 91g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.