Atlantic Beach Pie

Makes 1 pie (serves 8)

This Atlantic Beach Pie recipe comes from Bill Smith, long-time chef of Crook’s Corner restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  It’s his version of a pie that was commonly served at seafood restaurants on the North Carolina coast when he was growing up.

When I first tasted the Atlantic Beach Pie, all I could say was, “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD.”  I went into a pie-induced fugue state of some kind.   I have a very patchy memory of finishing the pie, sharing it with my dinner companion, forks gentile-ly nudging each other for the final bites.

The beauty of this pie lies in the play between the salty, dense crust made from saltines, and the creamy sweet-and-tart filling featuring citrus juice.  The billows of whipped cream don’t hurt.


For the Crust

  • 1 ½ sleeves of saltine crackers
  • 8 to 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

For the Filling

  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ½ cups fresh lemon juice or lime juice, or a mix of the two

For the Sweetened Whipped Cream

  • 1 ½ cups cups heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. For the crust, crush the crackers finely, but not to dust, and place them in a medium bowl. You can use a food processor, but it’s just as easy to use your hands.   Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press the mixture into an 8 or 9- inch pie pan, as you would for a graham cracker crust. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.

3. Remove the crust and while it is cooling slightly, make the Filling.  In another medium bowl beat the egg yolks into the milk , then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Immediately pour into the pie shell and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the filling has set.  Let the pie cool on a pie rack, then refrigerate to chill.

4. In a large mixing bowl using a whisk or a hand mixer whip the cream and confectioners’ sugar just until slightly firm peaks are formed   Pile the whipped cream over the entire filling.   The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced.  This will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Old Wives Tales

Bill explained that back in the day, there was a commonly held belief (which his mother still holds to this day) that if you ate sweets after a seafood meal you would get sick. His aunt even went so far as to test this theory by driving to a Dairy Queen after such a meal, and having a milkshake, and nothing actually happened. Bill’s mom still holds staunchly to this belief however. The exception was apparently this citrus pie, which was the only dessert served at many of these coastal seafood joints. It was often served with meringue on top (no doubt using the white from the yolks that are used in the filling), but Bill prefers it with whipped cream, and I am not about to argue. It’s a good story, but it’s an even better pie.

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49 thoughts on “Atlantic Beach Pie”

  1. Sally says:

    That pie sounds delicious! I think I might have to try lemon, lime and lemon-lime!

    1. It would be foolish to just try one :)

  2. zhakya says:

    I cant wait to try this

  3. Kristie says:

    I hear the snippet on NPR about this pie on my way home from work last night, and immediately looked the recipe up when I got home to make sure I had all the ingredients! I will be making tonight, and CANNOT WAIT!!!

  4. Jeremy says:

    Heard you on NPR… heard your amazing description of the pie and the chef’s interview afterward. Couldn’t resist… my wife normally does the cooking in our house, but I came home and declared, “I am going to make you a pie.” Her jaw dropped.

  5. Suzie says:

    I am thinking of making for a work pot luck….. and was thinking of making mini pies instead one large pie. Any conversions I should consider?

    1. The crust is quite thick, so the ratio of the crust to pie filling will be a bit different from the big pie — lots of crust with not much filling if you are doing little 2 or 3 inch pies….but that may not be a bad thing! I would just watch the baking times – bake the crust first until lightly golden, and bake the filled pies just until the filling is set (give it a jiggle).

  6. whiskeybrothers says:

    I also heard this story on NPR. I now have the pie waiting only for the whipped cream before digging in!

  7. Anna Marie Tomassoni says:

    My husband sent me the link to pie after hearing about it on Friday.
    I made it yesterday (doubled the recipe) and it was a huge hit. Everyone especially loved the crust and said it would be good for all kind of fruit pie recipes. The only thing I would change is the last line of the recipe “this will keep up to four days in the refrigerator”….mine didn’t. Thank you for a new summer recipe!

    1. thanks very much for the feedback, and glad the pie was a hit!

  8. Cindy says:

    When I heard your story about this pie on NPR, I had to pull over and write down the information. I made this wonderful creation last weekend, and it was a big hit! I’ll be sharing it with my blog readers soon (and, of course I’ll link back to you). Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. That’s so great! Thank you. I dream about this pie….

      1. Jaye Girouard says:

        I was a little disappointed. I think I did everything right, but I felt it was like a regular lemon pie. Nothing spectacular….I think Katie went a little overboard with her praise…esp the ‘omg’…’omg”…thing…

        I was good , not saying that ,but not OMG recipe.

        Just my humble opinion!

        1. well, I guess one person’s “OMG” pie is another persons “that’s just a good pie” pie. But glad it was at least a good pie.

          1. Jaye Girouard says:

            ok, I’m humbled….made it yesterday for 8 lady friends, and they loved it!!! one thing….I can’t seem to get the crumbs to stay together? The crust just falls apart…it doesn’t come out ‘like dough’ for sure….what am I doing wrong?

            Thanks again!

  9. Kate Cohen says:

    I only have 9-inch pie plates. Do I need to increase the filling?

    1. Ginger says:

      The filling is the standard recipe you would usually use for a 9 inch lemon ice box pie, and I think you’ll find that the cracker mixture is gracious plenty for a 9 inch pan and did not use all the cracker mixture.

      1. Katie Workman says:

        It does make a thick crust, a very thick crust….but I just love the crust! And the slightly tweaked proportions. You can certainly adjust as you see fit.

  10. Lena says:

    I was wondering if I can substitute 4 egg yolks for 4 egg whites or 2 eggs because 4 egg yolks sounds like a LOT of cholesterol in this cake. Just thinking how to make it a bit healthier without compromising the great taste…

    1. hmmmm. I have not tried that. But now I am curious if it might make for a more whipped/lighter filling. I will try it, but if you try it first, please let me know!

      1. Lena says:

        I did make it today with just 2 eggs. It came out very good, I don’t know how it would be with 4 egg yolks though :) The filling holds pretty good.

        1. This is very good to know! Thanks!

          1. Sally says:

            Unless you’re planning on eating the whole pie yourself, 4 egg yolks isn’t problematic. It’s a half a yolk per serving.

  11. Niccole says:

    Could I make this gluten free?

    1. I’m sure you can, but his is so not my area of expertise. I don’t want to steer you wrong!

      1. Toni says:

        I made this pie last night using Glutino Original crackers for the crust, and it turned out amazing. I used 1-1/2 boxes of the Glutino crackers (each box has 2 bags of crackers, and I used 3 bags total) and made the rest exactly as in the recipe. I highly recommend it!

        1. Toni says:

          Just to clarify, Glutino crackers are gluten free!

        2. Katie Workman says:

          Love to hear that you found a gluten free version!

  12. Beth says:

    I’m making the pie right now! Had the same concern as Jaye about the crust. It wasn’t holding together “like pastry” after using 1 stick of butter so I added a few Tbl of coconut oil until I could squeeze a handful and have it hold together. After baking, the crust seems to be nice and firm/crunchy so I think I’m on the right track. Can’t WAIT to taste this!

    1. Even without the oil, when it bakes up, somehow it all sticks together. I hope you loved it!

  13. Eric says:

    After weeks of waiting since your NPR piece, finally made this for a BBQ Saturday evening and it was a big hit! The crust held together far better than I expected when I pressed it into the pan–just FYI if anyone’s skeptical during prep. Also one of our guests spontaneously offered a terrific complement to the pie–fresh blueberries on top of the whipped cream. I tried them, too, and while the pie certainly doesn’t need them, they were a nice touch.

    A new summer dessert staple for us. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

    1. Oh, I love the idea of blueberries! Smart.

  14. Marguerite says:

    This pie is INCREDIBLE! I had BBQ at a new restaurant. It was awful…the waitress suggested the pie…..made it worth the wait! YUM!

    1. It’s something all right. It makes me feel slightly religious.

  15. lilgreenowl says:

    I was very disappointed by this pie. There’s too much crust, even for a 9″ pie pan and it’s not nearly as delicious as a homemade graham cracker crust. The filling is good but it’s the same recipe that’s on the Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Juice bottle! I did enjoy the story and can certainly relate to the joy of discovering something wonderful to eat.

    1. sorry to hear that! I just loved the crust so much, the thickness of it didn’t bother me, and I like the ratio of crust to filling. But maybe next time you can do less crust?

  16. Margot says:

    Katie-thank you for this recipe. It’s easy and a crowd pleaser. In fact any time I need to ask my office IT department for extra help, I whip one of these up and they are glad to help!

    1. Katie Workman says:


  17. Carrie Young says:

    When I was growing up here on the coast I always heard that same story, that desert after eating seafood would make you sick. I have had that pie at a restaurant here and it is fabulous.

    1. Katie Workman says:

      I have been thinking abut this pie lately….must make….

  18. Blissmamaof3 says:

    This is in my oven right now. I love the crust already, perfectly salty sweet. Cannot wait to try the whole pie, I’m planning on topping it with some fresh raspberries. Thank you!

    1. Katie Workman says:

      hope you loved it!

      1. Blissmamaof3 says:

        We did love it! It’s become tradition to have this while we are at the lake. I’m making it this weekend when we have friends coming up. Been thinking about this pie since we had it lSt year

        1. Katie Workman says:

          Love that!

  19. Laura says:

    I made this pie with a meringue instead of whipped cream (didn’t want to waste the egg whites). It was great! I would probably double the filling if I made it again.

    1. Katie Workman says:

      Meringue is the classic topping, and you certainly can’t go wrong with either whipped cream OR meringue!

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