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Welcome to WFAEats — a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and interesting in the Charlotte food scene. We want to share stories, recipes and culinary escapades and hear about yours!

WFAEats: The Secret And Science Of Perfect Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie
Key Lime Pie


When it comes to pie, some people like to make things complicated. They have secret recipes and techniques cloaked in mystery.

Well, today I’m going to show you how to make your next pie the easiest ever. You don’t even need an oven to create your own perfect No-Bake Foolproof Key Lime Pie (or Parfaits.)

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There’s only one rule: Key limes are yellow, not green. So the juice you’re using must be authentic or it’s not a key lime pie. (Sure, you can use regular lime juice, lemon juice, or even grapefruit – but you can’t call it a KLP.)

The simplest shortcut is to get your hands on a bottle of Nellie and Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice, bottled in the Florida Keys since 1968. The only other ingredients you need are sweetened condensed milk and a pie shell to pour the mixture into.

Here’s the science: The acid in the key lime juice reacts with the proteins in the milk to thicken the mixture. That’s why you don’t need to bake it.

To be fair, there are lots of fancier key lime pie recipes out there. Many of them use eggs and require baking, and are often topped with meringue that requires broiling or torching to make it brown. That’s the last thing we want to do on a hot summer day. This pie is so easy you can take it anywhere – heck, you can even make it anywhere you have refrigeration.

In fact, I once toted a bottle of juice and a can of milk across the Atlantic to make a pie for a friend celebrating a birthday abroad. We used crumbled cookies for the crust. (Don’t try this in your carry-on. You’ll need to check your bag.)

So in the interest of simplicity, we’ll suspend our storytelling till another day and get down to the business of “baking” – even if we never turn that oven on all summer.

No-Bake Foolproof Key Lime Pie or Parfaits (serves 6)

  • 2 cups of crushed graham crackers plus 1 stick butter, melted; or 1 prepared graham cracker pie crust
  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
  • 1/2 cup of key lime juice, bottled or fresh
  • Whipped cream
  • Optional toppings: fresh berries, slivered almonds, toasted coconut, dark chocolate shavings

If you are making the crust, combine the cracker crumbs and melted butter then press into the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch pan. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine the condensed milk with the key lime juice until blended. Use a whisk or a spoon; no electric mixer needed. The mixture will begin to thicken. Pour into the pie shell. Chill several hours before serving, then slice and garnish with whipped cream and any toppings you choose.

Variation: If you’re in a hurry or your premade crust crumbles, just place some of the crust in the bottom of a wine glass, top with the pie mixture, refrigerate, then proceed as above with the whipped cream and toppings. Voilà: instant parfaits. 

Amy Rogers writes WFAEats, a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and tackle the meatier side of the food scene in and around Charlotte.

Amy Rogers is the author of Hungry for Home: Stories of Food from Across the Carolinas and Red Pepper Fudge and Blue Ribbon Biscuits. Her writing has also been featured in Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing, the Oxford American, and the Charlotte Observer. She is founding publisher of the award-winning Novello Festival Press. She received a Creative Artist Fellowship from the Arts and Science Council, and was the first person to receive the award for non-fiction writing. Her reporting has also won multiple awards from the N.C. Working Press Association. She has been Writer in Residence at the Wildacres Center, and a program presenter at dozens of events, festivals, arts centers, schools, and other venues. Amy Rogers considers herself “Southern by choice,” and is a food and culture commentator for NPR station WFAE.