In this shrimp and grits recipe, lightly breaded shrimp and meaty bacon pieces top rich, creamy grits and a smoky Southern tomato bacon gravy. The whole dish is punctuated with bursts of juicy flavor from blistered grape tomatoes. Perfect for a weeknight dinner or your next Sunday brunch!
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I can’t believe I’ve been a Charlestonian food blogging for five and a half years and am only just now publishing my first shrimp and grits recipe. Who AM I, even?!
Like benne wafers and Charleston red rice, shrimp and grits are an iconic Lowcountry food, but unlike (in my opinion) those two recipes, there’s not a single “right” way shrimp and grits should taste. If you go to five different restaurants in Charleston, you’ll get five different versions of shrimp and grits. And you know what? That’s awesome. There’s room for them all!
While each iteration may vary, the basic dish always includes thick, creamy grits (with or without cheese), topped with plump, juicy shrimp and some kind of sauce or gravy.
Some versions include a second meat like bacon or sausage, some include vegetables like onions and peppers, and some are just the shrimp, grits, and gravy. You’ll find many with tasso ham gravy and andouille sausage, some with various cream sauces, and even variations topped with barbecue sauce. And all are valid interpretations of the classic combo. So while shrimp and grits with tomatoes is my first variation on the blog, it probably won’t be my last.
This version is inspired by the shrimp and grits with tomatoes I had at Early Bird Diner, a casual and delicious restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, which I am lucky to have about ten minutes from my house. While the TV show featured their chicken and waffles and fried pork chops, I’ve also had some amazing blackened catfish there (no longer on their menu) and their shrimp and grits are some of my favorite I’ve ever had. Their recipe includes bacon, scallions, and a smoky tomato gravy.
About the Recipe
This recipe for shrimp and grits with tomato gravy starts with the creamiest grits ever: that means, as much as I like the texture and grittiness of stone-ground grits, we are just using regular old Quaker old-fashioned grits here. They’re cooked in a mixture of water, milk, cream, and butter to provide the ultimate rich creaminess.
Next up is a smoky Southern tomato bacon gravy. This gravy starts with a roux of bacon grease and flour that serves both as a flavoring and a thickener. The bulk of the gravy is made of chicken broth and tomato juice, which is smoother and sweeter than a tomato puree. It’s seasoned with salt, pepper, and a good helping of smoked paprika to infuse a luscious and savory smoky flavor into the gravy.
The dish is topped with thick, meaty pieces of smoked bacon and fat, juicy shrimp, lightly breaded in a seasoned flour (again with some smoked paprika) and pan-fried in butter to give them a crispy, crunchy coating.
And the whole thing is punctuated with juicy bursts of flavor from blistered grape tomatoes. The tomatoes are simply prepared by sautéeing them in a pan with a little olive oil until they burst and char on the outside.
It’s a feast for the taste buds, that’s for sure!
Making Shrimp and Grits with Tomato Gravy
A few points about this recipe before you make it.
- This makes two restaurant-sized servings. That means, while it’s not totally unreasonable, it will fill. you. up.
If you want a lighter portion (okay, who are we kidding, if you were concerned about lightness right now you wouldn’t be making shrimp and grits with cream, butter, and bacon) you could make about 2/3 the amount of grits called for in the recipe, but keep the same amount of shrimp, tomatoes, and gravy.
- Make the shrimp last, and don’t cover them. I tried making them earlier and covering them with foil to keep them warm, but the breading got soggy and they were lackluster. Ew. Make the shrimp right before serving and put them on top of the gravy (not under the gravy) so you can enjoy that crispy, crunchy coating and a snappy, juicy shrimp.
- Yes, it uses three pieces of cookware. It’s simply unavoidable. You need a pot to simmer the grits, a pan to make the gravy in, and another pan to sauté the tomatoes and cook the shrimp. I tried using only one pan for the shrimp, tomatoes, and gravy, and it was just sad. I blistered the tomatoes in the bacon grease and then finished the gravy and the tomatoes got soggy and overcooked. I tried cooking the shrimp first and then setting them aside to make the gravy, but they are really best right out of the pan. So three pans it is. And yes, it’s worth it.
When should I eat shrimp and grits?
Shrimp and grits are super popular as a brunch dish but also totally acceptable as a lunch or dinner food too! Basically, you can eat them any time you want. Ohhhyeaaahhh.
What goes well with shrimp and grits?
You can’t go wrong serving pimento cheese or fried green tomatoes as an appetizer for your smoky Southern shrimp and grits. And while it’s a complete meal in itself, I’d never turn down a side of fried okra.
Drink-wise, if you’re serving this for brunch have it with a mimosa, Bellini, or bloody Mary (although for this particular version of shrimp and grits, a bloody Mary would be like, a LOT of tomato). For lunch or dinner, definitely serve it with a nice, tall glass of sweet tea.
More Southern dinner recipes
Creamy Southern Shrimp and Grits with Tomatoes and Tomato Gravy
For the shrimp
- 1/2 lb shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tbsp butter
For the grits
- 1 cup grits Quaker old-fashioned, or another non-instant non-stone-ground kind
- 1.5 cups water
- 1.5 cups milk
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream divided
For the smoky tomato bacon gravy
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon smoked, if possible
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups tomato juice or two 5.5-oz cans
- 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the blistered grape tomatoes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 pint grape tomatoes
Make the grits
- Bring water, milk, butter, and 1/4 cup of heavy cream to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and add grits. Simmer over medium low heat for about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and grits are very thick. Grits should pull away from the side of the pot when you stir it. If grits get too thick, add a little milk or water and stir to combine.
- Stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of cream until fully incorporated. Remove from heat.
Make the smoky tomato-bacon gravy
- While waiting for the liquid for the grits to boil, get started on the gravy.
- Cut bacon into half-inch pieces with kitchen scissors and add to a cold pan. Heat the pan to medium heat and cook bacon, stirring frequently, until bacon is crisp and fat is rendered. Remove bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate and leave the grease in the pan.
- Add flour to the pan with the bacon grease and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for several minutes to create a roux. Scrape up any bits of bacon that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Whisk in chicken broth and tomato juice, stirring constantly until fully incorporated. Stir in smoked paprika and simmer until thickened.
Blister the tomatoes
- Preheat a medium skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add olive oil and heat until thin and shimmering.
- Add grape tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, shaking pan frequently, until skins burst and tomatoes have nice blackened charred bits on them.
- Set them aside in a bowl and reuse the pan for the shrimp.
Cook the shrimp
- Mix flour, salt, pepper, and paprika and add to a zip top bag.
- Pat shrimp dry with paper towels and add them to the bag with the flour. Zip the top and shake to thoroughly coat the shrimp.
- In the same pan you used for the tomatoes, melt butter over medium to medium-high heat. Arrange breaded shrimp in the pan in a single layer.
- Cook shrimp for about 2-3 minutes per side, flipping carefully with tongs. Shrimp should be golden brown on each side.
Assemble the dish
- Divide grits into two bowls or shallow pasta/soup dishes. Spoon gravy over top. Add on tomatoes, shrimp, and bacon pieces.
- Serve immediately and enjoy tremendously!