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
red bell pepper
all-purpose flour
fresh sage leaves
fresh thyme leaves
dry sherry
Worcestershire sauce
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
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


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


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


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.


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.


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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Recipe Rating


  1. This recipe sounds wonderful. I am going to do it with Papa’s Grits. I grew up in the deep south, and this brand of grits are awesome. I can’t wait to try this recipe, Thanks U so very much.5 stars

    1. Hilda, I have not tried Papas, so will put that on my never-ending grocery list to hunt down! Let me know how you enjoy the shrimp ‘n crab gravy if you make it 🙂 Jenny

  2. Thank you for responding, I looked up Geechie Boy & Amazon has it, I ordered yesterday evening so I will have it by this weekend. I have grits often but every so often I get really good grits so I cant wait to try these. We are hopefully going thru South Carolina in April & I will stock up on these and the Carolina Gold Rice ; )

    1. Carol, if you come through South Carolina and are traveling nearer the coast/Lowcountry, message me. I will get you information regarding mills and working plantations you can visit (if you’re in a position to stop for a day) and the experience will back up your willingness to cook this heritage food. In the meantime, WATCH THE SALT as you assemble the dish; you can add but you cannot take away, so go slow! x – Jenny