Atlantic Beach Pie

5 from 43 votes

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Atlantic Beach Pie is one of the most deservedly famous pies of all time: a crunchy saltine crust filled with creamy sweet-tart lemon custard filling, topped with billows of whipped cream.

Atlantic Beach Pie / Carrie Crow

Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie changed my life. How often does anyone get to say that? The crunchy, salty saltine crust filled with creamy sweet-tart lemon filling, topped with billows of whipped cream, is magical. The combo of flavors and textures makes this pie one of the best desserts I have ever eaten in my life, and I promise you you’ll feel the same.

Atlantic Beach Pie on blue table.

Atlantic Beach Pie: One of the best pies in the world, crunchy saltine crust filled with creamy, silky lemony filling and topped with whipped cream.The OH-MY-GOD pie, as heard/seen on NPR and The New York Times!

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Ingredients

For the Crust:

  • Saltine crackers – You can crush these for the crust using a food processor or your hands.
  • Unsalted butter – Make sure your butter is softened so you can blend it with the cracker crumbs.
  • Sugar – A little bit adds sweetness, making this the perfect crunchy, sweet, and salty crust.
Woman slicing Atlantic Beach Pie in pie plate next to empty plate.

For the Filling:

  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Egg yolks – Use large eggs.
  • Fresh lemon juice – You can also use lime juice or a mix of the two —PLEASE USE FRESH! You only need half a cup, which is about 4 or 5 lemons, or 10 limes, and you won’t be sorry!

For the Sweetened Whipped Cream:

  • Heavy or whipping cream
  • Confectioners’ sugar

FAQs

What is Atlantic Beach Pie?

Atlantic Beach pie is a pie with a lemon curd-like filling. It is baked in a crunchy crust made from crushed saltine crackers and topped with piles of sweetened whipped cream. The contrast of flavors and colors is magical.

Where does Atlantic Beach Pie originate from?

This 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.

This pie came about because, as Bill explained, back in the day, there was a commonly held belief (which his mother still holds to this day) that if you eat 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. 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.

The Best Atlantic Beach Pie Recipe/ Katie Workman/ themom100.com/ Carrie Crow

Found Recipe: Atlantic Beach Pie

When I first tried this pie, Bill Smith had just put it on the menu, not even as a permanent offering, just as a special. When I first tasted the 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.

“Found Recipes” 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 a food or recipe that is delicious/amazing/surprising — that they 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.

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.

When Crook’s Corner celebrated its 50th anniversary, and they created a timeline of milestones for the restaurant, the NPR piece about the pie made the chart! I was very proud.

Slice of Atlantic Beach Pie on plate with full pie in background.

Atlantic Beach Pie in the NYT

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

Says Margaux: “It was a 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.”

IS THAT EXCITING OR WHAT???? The pie has since been featured — oh everywhere. Southern Living (where it was the cover recipe for their July 2021 issue), billed it as “the easiest pie in the world!”

How to Make Atlantic Beach Pie

  1. Make the crust: Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust, and place them in a medium bowl. 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.
  2. Make the filling: While the crust is cooling slightly, beat the egg yolks into the milk, then completely beat in the citrus juice. 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 completely.
Pouring pie filling from a bowl into a baked pie crust.
  1. Whip the cream: Beat the cream and confectioners’ sugar just until slightly firm peaks are formed.
Making whipped cream with electric mixer.
  1. Finish the pie: Pile the whipped cream over the entire filling. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced. This will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Atlantic Beach Pie baked with saltine crust in pie plate, topping with whipped cream.

Cooking Tips and Variations

  • Use fresh lime juice instead of lemon.
  • You can use a food processor to crush the saltines, but it’s just as easy to use your hands.
  • Chilling the crust briefly before baking the pie enables it to hold its structure better.
  • Make sure to combine the filling ingredients very well and pour them into the crust just after blending, then bake immediately.
  • Allow the pie to cool on a rack to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours to chill completely before topping with the whipped cream.
  • Keep the pie chilled until serving.

Serving and Storage

Serve Atlantic Beach pie cut into wedges, making sure to slide the serving spatula completely underneath the thick crust. If you want to make the pie ahead of time, you can fill and bake the pie up to 2 days ahead of time, and then cover the pie and refrigerate. You can also make the whipped cream up to 8 hours before serving and keep it chilled.

Woman slicing Atlantic Beach Pie in pie plate on blue table.

Or, top the pie with whipped cream up to several hours before serving, and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to serve it.

Leftovers will last for another few days. The crust may soften slightly, but it will still be delicious.

Like lemon? Try these citrusy desserts!

Atlantic Beach Pie topped with fresh whipped cream in pie plate on blue table.

More Pie Recipes to Try

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5 from 43 votes

Atlantic Beach Pie

Atlantic Beach Pie is one of the most deservedly famous pies of all time: a crunchy saltine crust filled with creamy sweet-tart lemon custard filling, topped with billows of whipped cream.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 10 Servings
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Ingredients 

For the Crust

  • 1 ½ sleeves of saltine crackers
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (softened)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

For the Filling

  • 1 (14-ounce can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup 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

Instructions 

  • 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.

Video

Notes

  • Use fresh lime juice instead of lemon.
  • You can use a food processor to crush the saltines, but it’s just as easy to use your hands.
  • Chilling the crust briefly before baking the pie enables it to hold its structure better.
  • Make sure to combine the filling ingredients very well and pour them into the crust just after blending, then bake immediately.
  • Allow the pie to cool on a rack to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours to chill completely before topping with the whipped cream.
  • Keep the pie chilled until serving.
  • Serve Atlantic Beach Pie, cut into wedges, making sure to slide the serving spatula completely underneath the thick crust. If you want to make the pie ahead of time, you can fill and bake the pie up to 2 days ahead of time, and then cover the pie and refrigerate. You can also make the whipped cream up to 8 hours before serving, and keep it chilled.
  • Or, top the pie with whipped cream up to several hours before serving, and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to serve it.
  • Leftovers will last for another few days. The crust may soften slightly, but it will still be delicious.

Nutrition

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
Like this recipe? Rate and comment below!

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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61 Comments

  1. Jeff says:

    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!

    1. Katie Workman says:

      I would have loved to see that lemon! I haven’t made that pie in way too long….it’s time.

  2. 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!

  3. 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

      2. Katie Workman says:

        Love that!

  4. 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….

  5. 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:

      smart!

  6. 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. Katie Workman says:

      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?

  7. 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. Katie Workman says:

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

  8. 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. Katie Workman says:

      Oh, I love the idea of blueberries! Smart.

  9. 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. Katie Workman says:

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

  10. Niccole says:

    Could I make this gluten free?

    1. Katie Workman says:

      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!

      2. Toni says:

        Just to clarify, Glutino crackers are gluten free!

      3. Katie Workman says:

        Love to hear that you found a gluten free version!