Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie changed my life.

Atlantic Beach Pie / Katie Workman / / Carrie Crow

How often does anyone get to say that?

Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie

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.

How to Make Atlantic Beach Pie / Katie Workman / / Carrie Crow

He had just put it in the menu, not even as a permanent offering, I think.  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.

Lemon Pie with Saltine Cracker Crust

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.

The Best Atlantic Beach Pie Recipe/ Katie Workman/ Carrie Crow

Atlantic Beach Pie on NPR

Just after my trip to Chapel Hill, NPR asked me if I wanted to do some segments on a series of shows they were creating called Found Recipes.  In essence the show is about a person (in this case me) coming across kind of food or recipe that delicious/amazing/surprising – that weren’t looking for at all.  A happenstance serendipitous discovery that needs to be shared with a greater world.

Yes, I said.  I would love to be on your show.  And I have the perfect recipe.

Atlantic Beach Pie / Carrie Crow

The segment aired and the response was crazy enthusiastic.  The phone started ringing at Crook’s Corner people making reservations and checking to make sure the pie was on the menu.  It had been, in fact, a sometime special, not a permanent menu item…..but Bill quickly realized that that pie needed to stay on the menu for good.

Crook’s Corner is about to celebrate their 50th anniversary, and the created a timeline of milestones for the restaurant, the NPR piece about the pie made the chart!   I was very proud.

The OH-MY-GOD pie of all time. As heard/seen on NPR and The New York Times! A saltine crust filled with creamy citrus filling and topped with whipped cream.

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Atlantic Beach Pie Recipe New York Times/ Katie Workman/ Carrie Crow

Atlantic Beach Pie in the New York Times

And then just now Margaux Laskey told the whole story in the New York Times!

Says Margaux: “It was huge hit at the Southern Foodways dinner, so he added it to the Crook’s Corner menu. Katie Workman, the author of ‘The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket,’ discovered it while eating there and went on to share the recipe on National Public Radio’s Found Recipes series.

“And that was that. Soon, Crook’s Corner had a line out the door, and the pie was selling out. Magazines and newspapers wrote features about it. Food bloggers sang its praises. (A quick internet search for the pie yields about 458,000 results.) Every cooking website worth their flaky sea salt added it to their recipes. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams even developed an Atlantic Beach Pie flavor.”

Saltine Crust and Lemon Filling Pie/ Katie Workman/ Carrie Crow


This pie came about because, as 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 Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie / Katie Workman / Photo by Carrie Crow /

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. The saltine crust is sheer genius.  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.

If you want to hear the NPR piece, just click here! It has since been featured — oh everywhere. Southern Living (where it is the cover recipe for their July 2021 issue, bulled as “the easiest pie in the world!)

The Best Atlantic Beach Pie Recipe NPR Found Recipes Bill Smith/ Katie Workman/ Carrie Crow

P.S. Like lemon?  Check out lemon squares and Lemon Meringue Pie and Lemon Curd.

More Pie Recipes to Try:

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Atlantic Beach Pie

The OH-MY-GOD pie of all time. As heard/seen on NPR and The New York Times! A saltine crust filled with creamy citrus filling and topped with whipped cream.
Yield: 10 Servings
Diet: Vegetarian


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 heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 378.79kcal | Carbohydrates: 29.22g | Protein: 5.19g | Fat: 27.73g | Saturated Fat: 16.85g | Cholesterol: 164.6mg | Sodium: 73.44mg | Potassium: 194.44mg | Fiber: 0.04g | Sugar: 27.15g | Vitamin A: 1014.47IU | Vitamin C: 5.97mg | Calcium: 147.9mg | Iron: 0.3mg

The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.

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    1. I would say the easiest way would be to make 1 1/2 times the filling, and know that would will have a little extra that you can pour into a small casserole and bake!

  1. I have made this pie three times. I originally found this recipe in a Southern Living magazine. It calls for only 6 T butter and less crackers (1-1/2 C versus 2 sleeves). This recipe calls for different amount of butter. The SL recipe also calls for egg white in the crust. The SL recipe calls for 10 mins in freezer, then bake 15 minutes. This recipe says cool in refrigerator and then bake for 15-18 minutes. I love this pie; however, I would love to have a consistent recipe. Thanks.

  2. Just made two of these pies to take on our beach vacation. I was wondering if the pies could be frozen (without the whipped cream) for a week or two. Do you think that freezing it (to make some in advance) would make the crust soggy? Just wondering. Thanks for sharing this delicious and easy recipe.

    1. That is such a good question — My instinct is yes, without the whipped cream, as you suggest. I am sure the crusts could be frozen quite successfully. I think the custard would be ok, too. I think give it a shot! And please let me know!!

  3. Made two pies last night for the first time and tried a piece. Wonderful! And I don’t think you are going overboard about that crust. The more the better!

    Backstory: A co-worker brought a huge 2.5 pound ponderosa lemon from his new house, asking us to try it. I remembered the NPR segment you did several years ago, and it made quite an impression. So I took the lemon home, and squeezed enough juice to make two pies plus some lemonade.

    I used the recipe still on the NPR site. In retrospect, I used less butter than the recipe on your site. The crust falls apart pretty easily, but is still divine!

  4. 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.

  5. 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. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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?

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

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

      1. 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!

  12. 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. 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.

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

    1. 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. 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.

  13. 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. 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!

      2. 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.

      3. 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!

  14. 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!

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

  16. 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).

  17. 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.

  18. 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!!!

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