Southern Cornbread

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Anytime you put the words “Southern” in front of a dish, it’s likely to stir up controversy, and cornbread is no exception. It seems like every person I’ve ever known from the South has their favorite way of making it, and every way is different.

The thing that distinguishes Southern cornbread from, say Yankee cornbread, or any other cornbread one is likely to eat outside of the southern states, is that it is savory, not sweet, and it is made mostly with cornmeal.

Northern cornbreads tend to be more cake-like, on the sweet side, with a finer crumb due to more flour in the mixture. Southern cornbread is flavored with bacon grease, and cooked in a cast iron skillet, a perfect side for barbecues, or chili.

With this recipe we experimented with all cornmeal or just three quarters cornmeal and one quarter flour. We also experimented with including or leaving out an egg. Either way works, though the version with some of the cornmeal swapped out with flour, and including an egg, holds together better and is a little more tender.

Southern Cornbread

Whether to include sugar or not in a southern cornbread recipe is an issue for debate. We’ve included as an option a tablespoon which just intensifies the flavor of the cornmeal; it doesn’t make the cornbread sweet. The choice is yours as to whether or not to include it. (See this excellent article from Serious Eats on why traditional southern cornbread does not include sugar.)

You’ll notice there are bacon drippings and butter in this recipe. The butter adds needed richness to the bread itself, and the bacon drippings help brown the crust, keep it from sticking to the skillet, and add a lovely bacon flavor to the bread.

Finally, the method that works best with using a cast iron skillet is to preheat the skillet with the fat and then add the batter to the hot skillet. This helps brown the crust and with the pan already hot, the cornbread cooks more quickly.

To my fine readers from our Southern states, how do you like your cornbread? Please let us know in the comments.

Southern Cornbread Recipe

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 8 servings

White cornmeal is used in most Southern cornbreads, but we could not find any here in California, so we used yellow cornmeal. If you can find white cornmeal, by all means use it.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp bacon drippings
  • 2 cups cornmeal OR 1 1/2 cups cornmeal and 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Method

1 Preheat pan with bacon drippings: Put the bacon drippings in a 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet and put the skillet into the oven. Then preheat the oven to 400° with the skillet inside. (If you don't have an iron skillet, you can use an uncovered Dutch oven or a metal cake pan.)

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2 Make the batter: Whisk together all the dry ingredients (cornmeal, baking soda, salt, sugar if using) in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the egg (if using) and buttermilk until combined, then mix that into the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir in the melted butter.

3 Pour batter into hot skillet and bake: When the oven is hot, take out the skillet (carefully, as the handle will be hot!). Add the cornbread batter and make sure it is evenly distributed in the skillet.

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Bake at 400°F for about 20 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.

4 Rest bread in skillet, then serve: Let the bread rest for 10-30 minutes in the skillet before cutting it into wedges and serving.

To avoid burning your hand because you've forgotten the pan is hot, I recommend placing a pot holder on the pan's handle while the cornbread is resting, or cooling the handle down a bit with an ice cube.

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Links:

Texas Cornbread - from Homesick Texan

Cornbread and Beans - from The Pioneer Woman

Yeast-Risen Cornbread - from 101 Cookbooks

The Real Reason Sugar Has No Place in Cornbread from Serious Eats

Southern Cornbread

Showing 4 of 209 Comments

  • Chris Macy

    Thank you for the clarifications on Southern style and applications; they will be useful. I will use sweeter cake-like Yankee recipes for some things, like maybe my Irish/Welsh pork recipes, and the more savory Southern style for things like my beans and rice, or fried chicken. Do you have any fried chicken aarticles? I would live to be able to de good fried chicken, but it has proven to be a challenge for me.

  • Bridgetre

    Thought I’d try a new cornbread recipe other than the one I grew up on. So I tried this recipe & it was disappointing. I’ll stick with what I grew up on!! Like others, the baking soda was over powering, it was dry & flavorful-less.

  • Jacky Van Beukering

    I tried this out exactly as per the recipe. Not familiar with cornbread so I followed the recipe exactly. I also read all the posts and noticed there were comments regarding the sugar and the baking soda. I could not taste the sugar in the final recipe but I was overwhelmed with the taste of the baking soda. So I have to agree with other reviewers that also mentioned the baking soda overwhelmed the corn bread. I could not eat it. The texture was lovely, it had nice crunchy crust, however the high amount of baking soda ruined the dish for me. May try it again with less baking soda.

  • Wendy

    Way too much baking soda. It overpowered the whole taste of the bread. Turned out with a golden brown crust and pretty as a picture, but the baking powder taste ruined it. :(

  • Shane

    Hi Elise. Shane from Australia here. Made your cornbread for the first time and it was fantastic! Thank you. For some reason I have recently become obsessed with food from the south of America. I have made Red Eye Gravy and Grits recently…….. ok simple I guess but hey you’ve gotta start somewhere. Next Brunswick Stew when I have the leftover meats required. Any other classic recipes from the South would be greatly appreciated. Thank’s again.

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