Charleston Shrimp and Grits with Crab Gravy

Recipe Pin
1 hour 10 minutes
8 servings

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Charleston Shrimp and Grits with Crab Gravy is not only spectacular to taste, but also as true to original as the Gullah method reminds us.

Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy
How Do You Make Shrimp And Grits?

Shrimp and grits are one of the easiest southern dishes to prepare, but you do have to allow yourself time AND gather the freshest ingredients you have access to. Find a genuine southern recipe for shrimp and grits such as the one I am sharing today for an old Charleston Gullah version. Folks, THIS is the shrimp and grits that STARTED shrimp and grits. Methods and ingredients can vary greatly from state to state, city to city, and certainly from chef to chef. This one is true to Gullah history and the sourcing of fresh foods along the Carolina Sea Islands.

This dish is commonly prepared in both the home and in commercial kitchens. It finds depth of flavor from the use of fresh shrimp and crab. You will see that there are many ingredients, however all are likely pantry and spice cabinet staples you may already have. They are what will be used to very slowly layer a rich sauce that will blanket the shrimp. The crab are buttery and sweet and compliment the cheddar cheese grits I will show you how to make.

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two white bowls of Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy

The Sea Islands are a chain of tidal and barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean coast of the Southeastern United States. The largest of these is Johns Island in South Carolina. The Sea Islands, particularly Sapelo Island, are home to the Gullah people.

So here it is, a true to original shrimp and grits method for anybody and everybody to cook up at home. You needn’t worry if you’re not a southerner or if you aren’t Gullah. This comfort food is easy enough for everybody to make.

If you’ve had occasion to visit our fair city of Charleston, South Carolina, then you have likely sampled local fare and maybe even a plate of shrimp and grits. This dish, depending on where it’s ordered and who is preparing it, has many forms and many combinations. This is the method and roughly the same ingredient list taken directly from the Gullah method of preparation.

How did I get it? Would you believe a traffic ticket and some good conversation over a deep cup of coffee led to this recipe being dictated to me? A chef at the once well known Hominy Grill here in Charleston whose descendants are Gullah from Hog Hammock, Georgia, gave this to me.

She’s been cooking this up daily for years. I managed to grab it just before the Hominy Grill closed. She told me I am the only person who ever asked her for the recipe…I think really I might be the only person she ever agreed to share the recipe with…

Do You Have What’s Needed To Make Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy? Check The List!

for the shrimp and crab gravy
unsalted butter
olive oil
garlic
onion
celery
red bell pepper
all-purpose flour
fresh sage leaves
fresh thyme leaves
dry sherry
Worcestershire sauce
nutmeg
cayenne pepper
low or no-sodium chicken stock or fish stock
tomato paste
Kosher salt
black pepper
large shrimp
jumbo lump crab meat

for the cheddar cheese grits
stone ground grits, white or yellow
salt
white cheddar cheese
fresh Parmesan cheese, not shakable parmesan from a can
black pepper
hot sauce

How This Recipe Came About…

This recipe was dictated to me by a former chef at the Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina. I wrote it verbatim over coffee and the discussion of a traffic ticket one morning a decade ago. I’d had it for breakfast at the Hominy Grill and could not leave without asking if it were possible I could get the recipe. I ended up with a recipe and a new friend.

Her ancestors are Gullah Geechee, descendants of Central and West Africans who were enslaved on the Sea Islands and coastal areas of South Carolina. Due to the isolation of their existence, the Gullah Geechee are a community who never abandoned their deep African roots in either their arts or their foods. To taste this dish is to step back over 250+ years into history.

This dish is as true to original as my chef friend recalls her grandmother and mother preparing it. Now she prepares it and is all too happy to teach their history by way of hungry bellies. It’s also a PERFECT introduction to those looking to learn true African American southern cooking.

red building with a mural

How To Make Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy?

In case you missed my saying it, buy fresh. The spend out for this recipe are the shrimp and the crab. My rule of thumb is no more than 3 to 5 shrimp per person. If you use this rule as a gauge when purchasing, you can keep costs down and maybe even splurge for the bigger shrimp.

If you absolutely do not have access to fresh where you are, frozen are fine. Allow the shrimp to thaw in the refrigerator over night. You want large, raw peeled and deveined tail-on shrimp. They will shrink during the cook, so the bigger shrimp are going to be your best bet.

Same goes for the crab. The recipe as it’s written specifies one pound, but if you are feeding fewer, mongers usually offer smaller plastic containers of picked lump Maryland crab. I like a blue crab gravy for this recipe however sometimes even I cannot source fresh blue crab, so canned jumbo lump crab is fine to use if fresh is not an option.

A safe and trusted bet is any canned Maryland lump crab that has been picked. Because I know I will get the question, imitation crab is not crab. I therefore do not suggest or recommend it for this recipe or ANY of my recipes where fresh crab is specified.

Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy

Modifying The Norm To Make It Not Entirely Average…

All over Charleston, restaurants and chefs have their own versions of shrimp and grits. There are a few very delicious optional add-ins that I have used previously that have nicely complimented the main ingredients. Please know that this recipe kinda has it all right from the get-go. Taste. Less is best. If you feel you need to add on, consider the following…

Beginning with the cheese grits, thinly sliced scallion or a dash of hot sauce add a bit of zing to an otherwise mellow and creamy starch. Play around with different herbs to totally change the flavor of grits. If cheddar cheese is not appealing, consider smoked Gouda or pimento cheese grits. Find my recipe for pimento cheese here and indulge.

To the shrimp and crab gravy, go easy. If you add something, taste as you go. Some ingredients I have added and met success with have been tasso ham, andouille sausage, cooked bacon, and frizzled shallots. JUST ONE, not all of them, will make this already outrageously good dish not entirely average.

You will notice I specify low or no sodium with many of the ingredients. There is a reason for this. This dish will go salty on you with no turning it around if you stray and use too much salt or ingredients with salt. The chicken broth is the best example. I give you salt by way of Worcestershire sauce, so it’ll be in there. Taste as you go!

Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy

What To Serve With Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy?

Wanna make this authentic? If visiting Charleston, South Carolina or another coastal hamlet, fried okra or collards would be the typical selections, followed by butter beans, black eye peas, or corn pudding. This, of course, is if you are taking your meal of shrimp and grits as a main for dinner or lunch.

But did you know shrimp and grits is really a breakfast porridge? In this case, a big bowl of shrimp and grits may be served with nothing more than homemade buttermilk bread or cornbread with butter. If I serve it to guests as a Brunch item, I also add scrambled eggs, broiled tomatoes, and fried oysters. Yes, fried oysters are for breakfast, too…

What To Drink With Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy?

A full-bodied white wine such as a chardonnay is good with any dish that incorporates dairy. The cheese grits specified with this shrimp and crab gravy are heavy. They require a wine that has some weight.

If I am choosing a beer to pair with shrimp and grits, I am 10 to 1 always going toward a wheat beer. The most widely known wheat beer is hefeweizen, a refreshing style from Germany that’s popular around the world.

close up of Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy

Can Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy Be Made Ahead?

Parts of this dish may be made ahead, including the crab gravy and the grits. When reheating to serve, the grits must be cut into “cakes” then pan fried. They are just as tasty, but the traditional form – a big warm bowl of shrimp and grits – is changed with a more modern look to the finished dish.

When I choose to make my grits ahead, I try to cut large triangles out of my grit cakes. I use unsalted butter that I have browned in a non-stick skillet to fry my cakes. I fry on both sides until golden brown and just the littlest bit crispy.

The crab gravy is able to be made ahead by two days. Stop BEFORE adding the shrimp. When preparing to serve, bring the gravy to temperature in a large Dutch oven over medium low heat for about 25 minutes.

When the gravy is fragrant and steaming, add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 5 minutes before gently folding in the crab meat. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes before serving to give the flavors a chance to meld.

How To Serve Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy?

I prefer to plate this dish in the kitchen in individual bowls versus larger serving bowls on the table. This ensures I can ‘portion control’ the shrimp to however many I have planned for each person.

I begin by ladling a hefty pile of grits into a shallow bowl. I use the back of the ladle to push down the grits in the center and make a little depression or ‘a nest.’ This is where my shrimp and crab gravy will go.

If serving shrimp and grits on a buffet, you’ll absolutely need chafing dishes to keep both the grits as well as the gravy warm. If the grits cool, they clump and stick and that is no way to serve the dish and do it justice. Offer the grits in a separate chaffer than the gravy with individual ladles for each.

I like to offer lemon wedges, pickled okra, and a bottle or two of hot sauce for those wanting to add to their dish.

Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy

Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy

Jenny DeRemer
Charleston Shrimp And Grits With Crab Gravy is not only spectacular to taste, but also as true to original as the Gullah method reminds us.
4.69 from 16 votes
Servings: 8 servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 55 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Course Breakfast, Main Course
Cuisine African, American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 673 kcal

Equipment

  • non-stick sauté pan
  • large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven

Ingredients
 

for the cheddar cheese grits

  • 4 ½ cups water at a rolling boil
  • 1 cup stone ground grits
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ¾ cup cheddar cheese white or yellow, freshly grated
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • black pepper freshly ground
  • hot sauce I am using Red Clay Hot Sauce

for the shrimp and crab gravy

  • 8 – 12 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into individual tablespoons; *SEE NOTE IN INSTRUCTIONS
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • 1 large sweet onion like Vidalia
  • 2 ribs celery well diced
  • 1 red bell pepper well diced
  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sage leaves fresh, muddled with the back of a wooden spoon
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • cup dry sherry
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg freshly ground
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 ½ to 4 ½ cups low sodium chicken broth may substitute or use in conjunction with clam juice or fish stock if desired; *SEE NOTE IN INSTRUCTIONS
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 3 pounds shrimp large fresh; peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat fresh or a 1-lb can of Maryland lump crab, picked

Instructions
 

for the cheddar cheese grits

  • In a non-stick sauté pan, bring the water to a rolling boil. Whisk in salt and grits in that order and immediately reduce heat to simmer.
  • Cook for 35 to 40 minutes stirring frequently.
  • When the grits are tender, turn off the heat but leave the sauté pan on the hot burner. Stir in both cheeses and the butter. Allow to melt and whisk gently to well incorporate.
  • Season to taste with black pepper and hot sauce if desired and place a lid on the pan. Keep warm while you make the gravy.

for the shrimp and crab gravy

  • In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat, melt 8 tablespoons of the butter with the olive oil. Add garlic, onion, celery and pepper, and sauté until onion is translucent, stirring often, approximately 10 minutes.
  • Adjust heat to high, sprinkle the flour and whisk briskly to make a roux. NOTE: mixture will appear dry and somewhat lumpy. Add additional tablespoons of butter one at a time IF NECESSARY until you are able to smooth out the roux. Continue cooking until the mixture begins to brown and take on a nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, and continue to cook, stirring often, for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until the mixture has turned a deep brown. The deepening of a roux is a slow process, so have your heat adjusted appropriately and be careful not to burn it.
  • Add sage, thyme, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, cayenne pepper. Slowly add 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock to begin (may substitute or use in conjunction with clam juice or fish stock), and stir to combine. NOTE: add additional stock in 1/2-cup increments whisking after each addition until you reach a desired consistency. I try to make mine just a bit runnier as the gravy will thicken significantly as it continues to cook. Return the heat to medium. When the mixture begins to simmer, add tomato paste. TASTE FOR SEASONING. Add salt and pepper if required keeping in mind that the crab and shrimp will lend a degree of salt to the finished dish.
  • Cook for approximately 15 minutes, stirring often. Add shrimp, cook 3 to 4 minutes, then gently fold in the crab meat and simmer an additional 10 minutes to heat through. Serve ladled over creamy cheddar cheese stone-ground grits.

Notes

Make Ahead:
Peel and devein shrimp up to 1 day in advance. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Cook the grits up to 1 day in advance. Butter a 13 x 9 glass baking dish. Once grits are cooked and cheese incorporated, pour the grits into the baking dish and allow to cool. Place plastic film over the baking dish and refrigerate until ready to use. To re-heat, use a sharp knife to cut grits into “cakes.” Melt 1 teaspoon of butter in a non-stick skillet and brown on both sides of the cake. Serve hot in a bowl with shrimp and crab gravy.
Make the gravy up to 2 days in advance. Follow the method in this recipe but stop before adding the shrimp or the crab. Allow mixture to cool completely before transferring to a container with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate until ready to use. To reheat, transfer back to clean Dutch oven and heat on medium low for 20 to 30 minutes and steaming. NOTE: you will likely need to add additional stock to reconstitute; do so in 1/2-cup increments and taste for seasoning keeping in mind that the crab and shrimp will lend a degree of salt to the finished dish. Follow with remainder of recipe where you left off.
Pro Tips:
There are many varieties of grits to include stone ground, quick cooking, and instant. For the purposes of this recipe, I am specifying stone ground grits. There are links to stone ground grits in the post for purchasing.

The nutrition value can vary depending on what product(s) you use. The information below is an estimate. Always use a calorie counter you are familiar with.

Please note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not deviate unless otherwise specified.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 673kcalCarbohydrates: 41gProtein: 56gFat: 29gSaturated Fat: 15gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 511mgSodium: 2403mgPotassium: 618mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 1327IUVitamin C: 35mgCalcium: 441mgIron: 7mg
Did you love this recipe?Leave a comment and Let me know how it was!
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26 Comments

  1. Jenny, I am making this next weekend, can’t wait!
    Do you have a preference when buying grits?
    I love your recipes and have made many many of them always with steller results! Carol

    1. Carol, I’ve been asked this before. In the early days, I’d have said it doesn’t matter, but now that I’ve made this a hundred times, it really does matter. I like Geechie Boy yellow grits. If you are able to source them, they’re like cooking with gold. Another brand I like is Anson Mills. Most of the restaurants here in Charleston SC use Anson or Geechie Boy, so you know there’s a reason. If you cannot find either where you live, I am happy to hook you up if you message me back 🙂 Jenny

    2. Thank you so much for your quick response! I found the GEECHIE BOY MILL Yellow Grits on Amazon & ordered. They will be here Wednesday, plenty of time to try them this weekend. I can’t wait to try this recipe, you’s always turn out perfect! My favorite meatloaf of all time is still your recipe & I have made at leaast 15 different ones ; ) Carol

      1. You, my Dear, are too kind – I sometimes have to search deep for reasons to keep going with this website, and comments and write-ins like yours and so many other followers are the reason my passion for sharing Southern heritage food is still burning inside me. Thank you, Carol. xo Jenny

  2. Oh my word, I am blown away – All this loveliness for breakfast. Amazing, pinned it immediately.
    I visited you via To Grandma’s House we go! Wednesday Link Party #382
    My links: 43+44. We will be honored if you share your links with us at SeniorSalonPitStop. Link under BLOGGING.5 stars

  3. Love the recipe!! It’s a keeper! Might add some jalapeños next time to heat it up a bit more. Found it on Pinterest or TikTok?5 stars

    1. Guuurl! ADD MORE HEAT! I have eaters who don’t do heat, but I at least try to add hot honey to mine for some FEVER! Jessica, it means a whole lot that you popped back here to share this – THANK YOU! x – Jenny

  4. Jenny I made this for my Southern husband and it was a huge hit. So 10 out of 5. Being Canadian I continue trying every southern recipe he chooses and love when his praises include “This is a keeper recipe, delicious and amazing.” Thank you.5 stars

    1. Tina! I am so, so, SO HAPPY to hear he liked the Shrimp ‘n Grits! And for a Canada gal to both embrace and master? Well, kudos to you! WELL DONE! What’s next on the list? 😉 x – Jenny

  5. We sure have enjoyed featuring your awesome post this week on Full Plate Thursday, 650. Thanks so for sharing with us and come back again!
    Miz Helen5 stars

  6. This is my daughter in law favorite dish.. I would like to make adding the sausage. How would I prepare? Thank you !

    1. Sue, I’m excited that you will try this dish with sausage. A word before I get going; however, WATCH THE SALT. Not knowing what type of sausage you plan to add, I will suggest going old school with a combination of both hot and mild (1 link each) Italian sausage OR 1/4 to 1/2 ring smoked beef sausage. Remove the casings and brown/break up in a skillet and drain well on paper towels. Add to the finished gravy right before serving. That said, everything you add to this dish must be salt-conscious, seasoning as you go ONLY after tasting for the need for salt every step of the way.

      This method is fantastic with sausage added! I cannot wait to hear how you and yours enjoy your version of Charleston Shrimp ‘n Grits! Swing back by to let me know, Sue 🙂 Jenny

  7. Hi, Jenny, just a note to let you know that we had this for dinner last night and everything was lovely EXCEPT that flour amount. I moved your scale down to 4 and used .63 cups of flour. It was so thick that I had to add 2 more cups of broth just to get a gravy like mixture and that diluted the seasoning (which is great) . I love the inspiration for the shrimp and crab gravy and will certainly do it again, but think I will work the beginnings of the gravy as though it were a roux – 4 Tbs butter to 1/4 cup of flour.4 stars

    1. Nikki, I’m grateful you tested this method – notice I did not say ‘tasted, rather tested.’ I’m going to place a notation directly into the recipe card based purely on the unconventional order of this recipe and the possible requirement for more than just the 3 1/2 cups of broth. This is largely because cooking the vegetables before adding the flour means ending up with a dry and clumpy mixture rather than a roux. I believe home cooks if they’re like you and I would anticipate a traditional approach in assembling the roux first, then adding in any vegetables. Given my last go with this method, I too, was required to add an additional 1 cup of liquid (I added clam juice and chicken stock) to arrive at the consistency I desired. Thank you for adding this comment so that others considering the method can account for and have enough stock on hand should it be necessary. You’re a gem, Nikki! x – Jenny

    1. Sharon, I sent you an email in addition to responding here, so look to read from me in your inbox 🙂 I replayed video taken during the original assembly of this recipe and we DID use 1 1/2 cups of flour. Now, upon reviewing I agree that 1 1/2-cups still felt like a lot to us at that time, so begin with 1-cup if that unit of measure feels better to you and simply add to it in tablespoon increments until you arrive at the consistency you like IF the gravy is too thin for you. Do this 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking it together in a separate bowl with some of the hot cooking liquid until it’s thick and pasty but without lumps. I have amended the recipe card to read 1 1/4-cups as I personally feel this unit of measure will eliminate the need to incrementally add more flour. But to answer your question, 1 1/2-cups is correct for the recipe dictated to me by my Gullah friend who gave it to me. Let me know how you enjoy this! Jenny

    1. Jhuls, thank you, thank you THANK YOU! I appreciate being able to participate in your party. Thank you as always for hosting! x – Jenny

  8. Your Shrimp and Grits look delicious! Thanks so much for sharing your awesome post with us at Full Plate Thursday,547. Hope you are having a great summer and come back to see us soon!
    Miz Helen5 stars