Don't Let Another Summer Go by Without Making Atlantic Beach Pie

July 12, 2017

With Genius Recipes correspondent Kristen off in a dark, cookie-filled cave somewhere finishing up the Genius Desserts cookbook manuscript, we're re-running our best ever Genius summer desserts. Wish her luck! And make this pie.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

If lemon meringue is the poodle of pies, this one is the scraggly mutt that you didn't plan on getting. It might look rough around the edges, but that's half the charm.

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Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

The crust is saltine crackers you mash with your hands; its tart custard belly is only three ingredients (sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon or lime juice). Just before serving it in cold slices, you'll blob on some unsweetened whipped cream and scatter it with sea salt.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie  Bill Smith Atlantic Beach Pie

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie  Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

This isn't just a lazy path to pie; it's a good one. The pale comfort of saltines turns into a flaky, toasted shell (that holds together much better than you'd think), once you crunch it all up with butter and sugar and par-bake it. Unlike graham crackers, which seem designed to crumble into fine-grained crust, saltines stay true to themselves, jagged and crisp.

More: Tote all your pies safely with our bigger, better PieBox in the Food52 Shop.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Each bite of pie has the sweet rush of a lemon bar, cooled with thick cream and flanked by salt and crunch. Every flavor and texture is dialed up to eleven, which somehow keeps them all in check. It tastes of summer and the beach—like salt-rimmed margaritas and ice cream cones, sea and sun.

More: Wondering what to do with those extra sleeves of saltines? Serve them with Edna Lewis' sherried fresh shrimp paste.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Bill Smith, chef at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C., came up with this recipe after he was asked to host a Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium in his native Eastern North Carolina. He remembered the lemon pies with cracker crusts (Saltines, Ritz, or Captain's Wafers) he grew up eating at seafood restaurants along the coast, then R&Ded his own, switching out the meringue top for whipped cream and salt. Smith's version was a hit. "That pie has taken on a life of its own," he wrote to me.

"The next spring the piece ran on All Things Considered. Then things went crazy," Smith said. "Atlanta Food and Wine moved us from the pork tent to the pie tent as a result. They had a kitchen for us to use but no storage, so we took them down to our hotel room and turned the AC down to 60 so they would set up."

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

We might be in the season of perfecting our lattices and pitting sour cherries by the quart (and of poodle-like meringues), but it might be an even better time to pull out a couple sleeves of saltines.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Adapted slightly from Bill Smith of Crook's Corner

Makes 1 pie

For the crust:

1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers (about 6 ounces or 60 crackers)
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
Fresh whipped cream, for garnish
Coarse sea salt, for garnish

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jackie
  • Claire Houston
    Claire Houston
  • Jajajules
  • girlwithaknife
  • Maribones
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Jackie August 7, 2021
Super yum!!!! Double the recipe for a 9 x 13 pan as mentioned below, because people like a lot of this!
Claire H. September 9, 2018
I made this for a charity event (sold at the Pie Table) and it was a yuuuuge hit. Sold out. It's the balance of savory and sweet that make this so good. I added a touch of lemon zest to the filling, but otherwise, followed the recipe exactly. DELICIOUS.
Jajajules May 5, 2018
Made this pie twice last year - once to try it for the first time, second because I thought I somehow screwed up such a simple recipe. Not impressed with it myself, but I see how some would enjoy it. I’ll stick to my own versions of key lime and lemon meringue pie.
Kristen M. June 18, 2018
Hey Mike—please be respectful and constructive. I'm going to remove this comment because it's neither. Check out our Code of Conduct:
girlwithaknife August 20, 2017
It's all in the crust! The salt contrasts so well against the sweet and tart lemon filling. I made this while my kid was an infant so couldn't have been too hard! ^_^
Maribones July 20, 2017
I made this tonight for family dinner. (The lemon version). It was a huge hit! Absolutely delicious, right down to the sea salt sprinkle. It's looking like it might make the rotation for my restaurant. Thanks Food52 for another winner.
Beth July 20, 2017
Except for the crust, it's exactly the same as a key lime pie. We love Keebler's shortbread readymade crust but I can't find it anymore, they must have stopped making it. Pity, it was vastly preferable to graham cracker crust. I guess I could crush shortbread cookies with butter.
Steven W. August 19, 2017
I like to use ginger snaps...
Bridgette N. June 8, 2019
It’s sold on Amazon!
Keebler Ready Crust,Pie Crust, Shortbread, No-Bake, Ready to Use, Bulk Size, 72 oz (Pack of 12, 6 oz crusts)
Lin July 18, 2017
I finally got around to making this pie that I've been reading about for 2 years! I know, I know, I'm a little bit late to the dance. I am pre diabetic and need to watch carbs so I asked about a sugar free alternative to the sweetened condensed milk and Renee (RJ Flamingo) kindly posted a recipe for sugar free condensed milk. I used that and the pie came out very good. I could taste the difference but not in a bad way, just different. I didn't eat all of the crust but just a sample and was pleased with it. It might be a bit too salty for some but I liked it. I would, however, sweeten the whipped cream just a tad. It was a little too bland, maybe a little lime zest in the cream would have helped. I'm glad to have this recipe in my collection and can enjoy it without too much guilt.
Anonymous July 20, 2017
Me, too, Lin, about the pre-diabetic. I scrolled down for the sugar free condensed milk - and thank you, Renee, for that recipe!
William W. July 18, 2017
Isn't that filling just like the standard Key lime filling?
sharon July 17, 2017
Made this on Sunday and it was an instant hit! The family loved it. We tweaked the crust and used Nila Waffers. Yummy! A new staple at family dinners.
WX C. July 16, 2017
I've generally used Ritz Crackers instead of the saltines. They just work better, and taste better; at least within my group. Worth a try, as they tend to set up a bit better. Either way, this pie is a home run!
Weezie F. July 15, 2017
I made this a few weeks ago - major fail on the crust! I've made exceptional Key Lime & Lemon Icebox pies for years, always using a graham cracker crust. I used Saltines as instructed, followed directions, and it was terrible. Too bad, as I love this guy's Shrimp & Grits.
WX C. July 16, 2017
Give Ritz Crackers a try....
petalpusher July 21, 2017
Or ginger snaps or wafers...
Kate's K. July 2, 2016
Perhaps - however with the whipped cream on top you might want to eat it with a fork vs finger food
Ab July 2, 2016
Could this somehow be made into bars?
Kate's K. May 29, 2016
Everyone at my table was happy with this one. Used lime juice and added 2 extra T. Butter to the crust based on previous comments - it held together beautifully. The sea salt is is a must - make it and enjoy!
Winslow D. August 10, 2015
Sounds like a spinoff of Key Lime Pie. Being a FL girl, I think I prefer the Key Lime Pie with the graham cracker crust myself.
gerry J. July 17, 2015
Excellent! Thank you.
Jessica H. August 10, 2015
Tuc would work fine, probably the plain are best. =] Ritz are also fine.
gerry J. July 16, 2015
Has anyone tried any European equivalents to Saltines? Tuc? Ritz?
CHeeb July 16, 2015
There is an unflavored cracker called "water crackers" that would probably work. They are round and lightly salted. I also think crushed graham crackers are an excellent substitute .
The O. March 24, 2015
Exelent recipe!
Manhattan T. March 11, 2015
Has anyone attempted this using UNSALTED Saltines? I've got a few saltless sleeves of them from making the (Food52) Maple Walnut Cream Pie and would love to put them to good use. How much kosher salt should I use if using my sad, bland Saltines; maybe 1/2 tsp.? Many thanks.
supershirl May 16, 2015
I would use less, a few sprinkles of sea salt should work.
Emily February 17, 2015
I made this for my boyfriend’s family a couple months ago and we LOVED it! The only problem was that everyone wanted to go for seconds, but couldn't!
So I’m going to bring this to his mom’s house this weekend for her birthday and I wanted feedback — do you think one could stretch the recipe out into a rectangular baking dish? That way we can all have two (or more!) “bar” slices. Maybe I should try a 1.5 recipe?
CHeeb July 16, 2015
Emily,I 've doubled this recipe and it fills a 9x13 Pyrex perfectly and solves the second helping problem. It really does disappear ,especially if you freeze it...I prefer it frozen !!!