The Best Lemon Pie in Your Life (Not Exaggerating)

A while ago I heard about a lemon pie, a North Carolina lemon pie, that changed my life.

Well not really but I wanted to get your attention. It is that good.

“A North Carolina Pie That Elicits an ‘Oh My God’ Response” ran on NPR’s All Things Considered‘s Found Recipes series courtesy of Katie Workman, who is fab.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie is based on a recipe for lemon pie, a staple of the North Carolina coast. Courtesy of Katie Workman, via

Katie is the author of The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket. She says the Atlantic Beach Pie from Crook’s Corner restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., is the best pie she’s ever had. Crook’s Corner Chef Bill Smith calls it the easiest recipe in the world.

You do not have to tell me this  twice. Even Rancho La Zaca Chef Stephanie Valentine loves it, which is saying something.

You may recall I mentioned this lemon pie earlier as a suggestion following the recently posted Perfect One-dish Summer Supper (link here). And I got to thinking it seemed churlish of me not to include the recipe, so here it is, via and Katie Workman.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie
Yields 1
This is a newer version of a pie that is commonly served at seafood restaurants on the North Carolina coast. Chef Bill Smith serves it at Crook's Corner and at special events. Makes one pie.
For the crust
  1. 1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers
  2. 1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
  3. 3 tablespoons sugar
For the filling
  1. 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  2. 4 egg yolks
  3. 1/2 cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
  4. Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8 inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.
  3. While the crust is cooling (it doesn't need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced.
  4. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.
Frances Schultz
Here is the link to Katie Workman’s excellent blog, and you most certainly do not need to be a mom to want to make just about every single one of her recipes or buy her book.

But here’s what I can’t get over. My sister and I practically lived at Atlantic Beach in the summers growing up, and I do not remember this pie. Are we the only children who did not have this pie? Was there a conspiracy? Should I call somebody?  Would the NSA be keeping tabs on this? Does anyone have Edward Snowden’s email?


  1. Girl, did you never go to Sanitary or Capt. Bill’s???? The real secret is in the saltines; you will never use graham crackers again! I use Ritz as they are buttery & I never pass up a chance for more butter along with I do not use the sugar in the crust & while I am editing a little more lemon juice helps plus some zest….just saying. A summer fav for sure!

    1. Yes we did! But we seemed to frequent more Mrs. Willis’s, whose Cherry Pie was to die. In retrospect that may have been because it was dark at Mrs. Willis’s you could “brown bag” there, whereas Tony’s (Sanitary) and Capt. Bill’s were lit like operating rooms and vodka-less(?), but at age 10 I was less attuned to these important nuances… And thanks for the suggestions! You are totally right about the saltine crust, I’m with you on the sugar, more lemon and zest (yes!) are always a good idea, and hmm, the Ritz could be a hitz as well. Thank you as always Miss Paige!

      1. Frances and Paige, weren’t and aren’t we lucky to have experienced the pies of Morehead City! Paige is exactly right in that Ritz crackers are the key. Sanitary still has the best lemon pie and hushpuppies that I’ve eaten. Just sayin! And Frances, you’re so right about Mrs. Willis’s. Miss that place! Had to LOL about “Tony’s” — used to have big signs posted all over about no alcholic beverages. Now they have a full bar! My, have times changed!

      2. Ha! Hi Sally! And right I remember now about the NO ALCOHOL signs. Totally agree about the hushpuppies – meant to say that earlier – thanks for the shout-out! xo F

  2. Well I’ve had this filling but never with a saltine crust??!! cant imagine the flavor; i’ll have to try it! Do you have a fab recipe for peaches? i’m putting up fabulous Chilton Co. Alabama clearseed peaches right now; they are beautiful!!

    1. peach season!
      Often do peach pie without bottom crust …wash a and cut peaches with or without peal, mix 1/2 cup flour with one cup sugar , 1 teasp. cinnamon,1/8 teasp. nutmeg, zest of a lemon, juice of 1 lemon. Cover pie dish with pie crust with knife slits. Bake 15 min. @450′. Bake 40 min. @350″.
      Also bake peaches halved, pitted with peel and add the above seasonings plus 1/2 cup bourbon. bake 45 min. @350′. Option: Add unsweetened whipped heavy cream to both at serving time.

      1. Oh Lynn – these both sound delicious!! Reckon I need to get a peach post out there soon… xo F

  3. It is 7:36am. Here I am craving this lemon pie for breakfast. I guess the purpose of my walk was so I could indulge myself all day.

  4. Frances,
    Perfect timing! I just received a bag of fresh organic lemons from Savannah, Georgia. I will be adding more lemon juice and a little zest-thanks Paige.
    xo, Lissy

  5. Recipe from Eagle Brand Condensed Milk can dates to 1901. At that time pie was not cooked..then came raw egg caution.
    Julie Capel Williams does the Ritz cracker crust. Her rendition of filling I like:
    2 cans Eagle Brand condensed milk
    6 egg yolks
    lemon zest
    1 cup fresh lemon juice
    Bake @350′ only 8 min.
    cool then chill
    Am going to try saltine crust..also Ginger Snap crust can be an option
    love lemon recipes, Lynn

  6. Well here is what I love. I’ve already had TWO friends forward your blog post and recipe to me saying I must try saltine crackers. I LOVE lemon pie. I’ve never had a crust with saltines before but if you say it is good, I’m willing to give it a try. I meant to write earlier that I loved your Frogmore Stew post as well. xoxo Maili

  7. You are just darling. Your blog is so enjoyable and your writing excellent. And, I am definitely going to make this pie! I love lemon anything–but have never made a saltine cracker crust.

  8. Made this afternoon..Saltine crust, delicious! Made in a quiche dish..larger than pie plate.
    Thanks so for lead on this crust. Am going to Amazon on web and order some Katie cookbooks.

  9. I remember the filling from Maida Heatter’s New Book of Great Desserts (uncooked, however).

    The saltines/Ritz crackers sound interesting.

    I’ll give ’em a go.


  10. How funny! I don’t cook anymore…….but today on the same exact program…..somebodyroruthers “summer sandwich” won another thing there… I am going to make both of these things! The sandwich involved cucumbers, tomatoes, crunchy peanut butter……and was described as completely delicious!!

    YIKES!! I will be trying both!

    and will report!



    1. YIKES is right, Penelope! Do keep us posted on that tomato and peanut butter thing – I caught that as well and you are braver than I…

  11. HI Frances,
    While staying here in MIchigan for the summer, I happened upon a wonderful Gazpacho had chunks of watermelon mixed in. It was simply “to die” as you would say! I have never tasted such a summery rendition of Gazpacho. The watermelon really brightened up the flavors! Perhaps a fun twist on an old favorite, for Chef Valentine to try! Sandy P

    1. Hello Sandy, and WOW I bet that is good! I don’t normally like sweet things in savory dishes, but watermelon and tomato are a great combination. I sometimes put shrimp in gazpacho, too. Do you ever try that? Hope you and Bill are having a great summer. xo F

  12. Oh, YUM!!! Sharing this post with my Talley friends, there’s always someone baking pie in Talley! My thanks to Lynn Ziglar for her most excellent suggestions and recipes, again YUM!!! Maili’s watermelon and feta sounds deeeelish. My gosh, I do love this blog. Rainy day here, have veggie soup simmering and a peach pie baking as I type this, come on over!

  13. In regards to lemon pie, the Atlantic Beach Seafood family run store includes what we always had-a lemon pie made from frozen lemon or lime ade-mixed with cool whip and put in graham cracker crust pie shell. Pick up your fresh caught shrimp, scallops or tuna and frozen desert.

    Desert at Atlantic Beach was always a cake from the “Cake Ladies”, usually caramel.

    1. Well dang, Anna Ball, your version sounds good too. Now I am certain I was deprived. We didn’t have that either, but going to give it a try. We definitely had “cake lady” cakes though, and caramel was our fave. xox F

  14. Too funny, I am getting ready to take my bridge group to Morehead (really Atlantic Beach) and have all the ingredients to make THE best lemon pie to wow everyone. We always get our shrimp and seafood from Atlantic Beach seafood, pies too.No cake lady any more but I still think the little swirls of icing on top were so distinctive! Glad somebody else remembers the way it used to, going forward. LLL

    1. You and your bridge group have a slammin’ time Linda (hee hee). You are right about those swirls! Distinctive indeed, and I always hoped my piece included the middle part of the swirl. I thought big in those days. xo Frances

  15. I made the lemon pie its delicious but the crust does not hold together. Too crumbly any suggestions thanks

    1. Dear Sherry, To be honest I haven’t tried freezing the lemon pie, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t freeze well. Give it a try, and let me know! Thanks for writing, and good luck, Frances

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