Lemon Chess Pie: A Southern Family Tradition

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Lemon chess pie is a deliciously thick custard pie bursting with zesty lemon flavor that’s long been associated with Southern cuisine. You are going to love it!

Slice of old-fashioned lemon chess pie, with full pie in background.

I’m so excited to share this lemon pie recipe with y’all today. There are many, many pie recipes on Southern Plate, but lemon chess pie is my personal favorite. There’s just something about the light, sweet, and tangy lemon curd-like filling paired with the flaky pie crust that I can’t resist. This is a classic Southern dessert that you need to try for yourself.

Fortunately, this is a super quick and easy lemon chess pie recipe. Let’s hear it for simplicity! All you need to make this pie is butter, eggs, lemons, and sugar. I have used lemon juice on occasion when I didn’t want to fuss with fresh lemons or didn’t have them on hand and it was still wonderful. I like to make it with my homemade pie crust for a totally old-fashioned, simple but good experience. But it works beautifully in a standard store-bought pie shell, as you’ll see in this tutorial.

To make my chess pie, we’re going to cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg yolks, fresh lemon juice, and grated lemon zest. Now here is my secret weapon. You see, most chess pie recipes use cornmeal or flour as a stabilizer to thicken the filling. But in this recipe, the egg whites have the same effect. So beat them separately until stiff peaks form, fold them into the pie filling, and then pour this into your pie crust.

In 30 minutes, your lemon chess pie is ready to serve. Serve your pie slice with a dusting of powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream if you like. 

Recipe Ingredients

  • Pie crust
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Granulated sugar
  • Lemons (we use both the lemon juice and lemon zest).

How to Make Lemon Chess Pie

Cream together butter and sugar, then beat in egg yolks.

Begin by separating your egg yolks from the whites.

Make sure there is no yolk at all in your white because we are going to beat those and they won’t do what we want them to do if they have yolk in them. 

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Beat in egg yolks. 

Add lemon zest and juice to mixing bowl and mix.

Lightly grate the rinds of your lemon to get some lemon zest.

Add grated lemon rind and fresh lemon juice to the mixing bowl and beat the ingredients together.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.

In a separate bowl, with clean beaters (important), beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Then lightly fold them into your batter by hand using a spatula or large spoon (this means just stir them by hand until they are mixed in).

The above photo shows stiff egg whites.

Add pie filling to pie shell and bake.

After you fold egg whites into your batter, pour the filling into the pie pan or pie shell.

Bake the pie at 350 until set and golden (about 25 to 30 minutes).

Old-fashioned lemon chess pie

It will have a perfectly golden crust on top and smell like heavenly sunshine. 

For pretty sake, you can sprinkle a little confectioner’s sugar on top, if you like. 

Allow to completely cool before cutting. Even better if you make a day ahead of time and refrigerate until serving.


  • Store leftover lemon chess pie in an airtight container or covered in plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 2 days.
  • However, you can also freeze lemon cheese pie for up to three months. After slicing the pie into individual servings, place the slices into an airtight container or wrap them individually in both plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Once you’re ready to eat, simply thaw the slices overnight in the fridge.

Recipe Notes

  • As mentioned, you can definitely use a homemade pie crust. Here’s my easy recipe where you mix the pie dough directly in the pan!
  • For gluten-free lemon chess pie, use a gluten-free pie crust instead. All of the other ingredients are naturally gluten-free.
  • For best results, ensure both the butter and eggs are at room temperature before mixing.
  • As mentioned, you can use bottled lemon juice and skip the lemon zest if you like.

Recipe FAQs

Why is it called chess pie?

Chess pie has been a Southern tradition since the 1700s, so there are several rumors about where the name came from. Some people believe it has to do with enjoying a slice while playing chess. Others believe it was kept in the kitchen chest in the olden days and later referred to as chess pie. And some believe that the term chess pie came from the fact a Southerner once said “just pie,” which can sound like “jes’ pie” in the Southern dialect and that somehow transformed into chess pie. Choose the story you like the most!

What’s the difference between chess pie and regular pie?

The main difference between a Southern chess pie and a regular pie is that it has a custard filling made with butter, sugar, and eggs. Regular pie fillings can be made with a variety of ingredients. Take fan favorite, pecan pie for example, which is made with eggs, butter, sugar, corn syrup, and chopped pecans. 

Why is my lemon chess pie runny?

Sometimes, lemon chess pie will unfortunately still be runny after the recommended cooking time. If this happens, you can leave the pie in the turned-off oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. If that doesn’t work, place the pie in the fridge for a few hours to help it set.

What does chess pie taste like?

The chess pie filling is similar to that of a custard pie, so think a light and sweet custard filling. In this instance, the filling is a similar taste and texture to lemon curd.

How do you serve chess pie?

I love to serve my lemon chess pie with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and a dollop of whipped cream (here’s my homemade recipe).

You may also like these Southern pie recipes:

Water Pie: Recipe from the Great Depression

Perfect Pecan Pie Recipe

Sawdust Pie

Chocolate Chess Pie

Southern Sweet Potato Pie

Buttermilk Pie Recipe

Lemon Chess Pie

Lemon chess pie is a deliciously thick custard pie bursting with zesty lemon flavor that's long been associated with Southern cuisine.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: lemon, pie
Servings: 4
Calories: 482kcal


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 lemons (for lemon juice and lemon zest)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 pie crust


  • Cream sugar with butter until light and fluffy.
    1 cup sugar, 4 tablespoons butter
  • Beat in egg yolks.
    4 eggs, separated
  • Beat in grated lemon rind and juice.
    2-3 lemons (for lemon juice and lemon zest)
  • Beat egg whites in a separate bowl (with clean beaters) until stiff peak forms, then lightly fold this into the pie mixture.
    4 eggs, separated
  • Pour into the pie shell and bake at 350 until set and golden brown on top (about 25 to 30 minutes).
    1 pie crust



Calories: 482kcal
Tried this recipe?Mention @southernplate or tag #southernplate!
This post was featured on Meal Plan Monday.
Lemon chess pie Pinterest image

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  1. Your recipe under ingredients has 1 pie crust baked, but your instructions show unbaked pie crust. Which should it be?

  2. 5 stars
    I have been making this pie since I 1st came across the recipe in Gourmet Magazine in the early ’70s. It is so easy and so a family favorite. An easy add on for a busy holiday as it stores well and can be done a day or 2 ahead.

  3. I love chess pie. I first had it at the old Bishop’s cafeteria sadly they are long since closed. You can’t find it much in Iowa and so many here have never heard of it.

  4. 5 stars
    Reading your recipes bring back memories of when my mom made these same recipes when I was a little girl. Wonderful memories. My mom is no longer with us ,she passed back in ,09 but her recipes live on in her 7 children , her grandchildren great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. That’s right great great grand children. We where in the Greensboro NC news paper for having 5 generation of girls. How’s that for a family? Sorry got off why I texted you. I want to let you know I appreciate all the recipes you put up for all of us and the walk down memory lane.
    Reading about you and your daughter just brought all the good times my and I had together. Even with 7 kids mom always seemed to have time for all of us.
    Thank you and God bless

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