I love grits, and this is my favorite way to eat them. It’s like a cross between baked polenta and macaroni and cheese—but with puff power!
Grits casserole was something my mom made when I was growing up. I’m from Ohio, which is not prime grits territory, but my parents were huge grits fans, and they always brought some back from summer vacations in South Carolina.
If making a soufflé intimidates you, this is the perfect place to start, because it’s not meant to be an impressively fluffy tower. It’s simply a homey casserole, given a little lift with egg whites to make it more interesting. The result gives you a symphony of textures: light, dense, gooey, lacy, crisp, cheesy.
WHAT IS GRITS CASSEROLE?
Grits casseroles have been around for ages. There are three versions from the 1950 community cookbook Charleston Receipts alone! (Yes, the title is really spelled like that.)
They almost always have eggs, and many have cheese, too. In Charleston Receipts, the authors theorize that grits casseroles evolved as a way to use the warm grits left over from the pot after breakfast. A casserole like this is great with ham for dinner, but I also like it with brunch.
I’m probably not the first person to do this, but one day I figured, if you’re going to make grits casserole, you might as well beat those egg whites and make it a soufflé. Now I don’t do it any other way.
HOW TO MAKE THIS GRITS SOUFFLÉ BAKE
First, you cook the grits on the stovetop. I like to use yellow grits in this recipe, because the color lets people at the table know there’s cheese involved before you even take a bite.
As they cook, prepare the remaining ingredients: grate the cheese and separate the eggs. Then, you beat the egg whites until they are pillowy and dramatically increased in volume.
Next is what seems like the hard part: folding the egg whites into the hot grits. Trust me, it’s not a big deal. Push the egg whites to the side of the bowl, pour the hot cheesy grits next to them, and gently incorporate with a spatula. The bigger the spatula, the less folding it takes, and the less the whites deflate.
If the whites deflate some, who cares—it’s just a casserole, right?
WHAT ARE GRITS?
Grits are ground dried corn. Simple, right? If you’re familiar with polenta, grits are the same thing. (These grits from Arrowhead Mills are a good bet.) Grits are a little more coarse than cornmeal, and can be made from white or yellow corn.
Don’t use quick-cooking grits in this recipe, as they won’t work as well. You can use stone-ground grits, but know they can take a lot longer to cook on the stove, and often they need more liquid. Sometimes you’ll see grits labeled “hominy grits.” Those are grits ground from corn that’s been treated with lye (like pozole or masa harina), and they are fine to use in this recipe.
HOW TO MAKE THIS CASSEROLE AHEAD
This casserole puffs as it bakes, but the puff isn’t dramatic. You can make the casserole in advance, let it cool, cover and refrigerate it, and bake it the next day. It won’t be as puffy, but it’ll make timing the rest of your meal a breeze! You’ll need to add a little baking time, about 20 minutes.
My favorite way to eat this is leftover, cold, and straight from the pan. Refrigerate the leftovers for up to four days. I don’t recommend freezing it.
MORE CHEESY CASSEROLES TO FALL IN LOVE WITH!
Cheesy Grits Soufflé Bake Recipe
Use regular grocery store grits, like Arrowhead Mills brand. Do not use quick grits or artisan grits. Quick grits don’t have a good texture, and artisan or heirloom grits can take hours to cook.
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups whole or 2% milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup grits (I prefer yellow, but white grits are fine)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions or chives, optional
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2-quart casserole or 9 x 13-inch baking dish
1 Heat the oven: Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2 Cook the grits: In a medium saucepan, bring the water and milk to a boil. Add the salt, then gradually whisk in the grits (this keeps them from clumping). Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until creamy and thickened, about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat. Add the butter, cheese, cayenne, black pepper, and scallions or chives, if using. Switch to a spatula and stir until the butter and cheese are melted. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
3 Separate the eggs: Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. Put the whites in a large, grease-free bowl.
In a separate, medium bowl, stir the egg yolks and sour cream until combined.
4 Beat the egg whites: With electric beaters or the largest whisk you have, beat the egg whites until they are fluffy and pillowy-soft, like clouds. They should mostly hold their shape but not be completely stiff.
5 Stir the yolks into the grits: Working quickly, stir the sour cream and yolk mixture into the grits with a large spatula.
6 Fold the egg whites into the grits: Push the egg whites to the side of the bowl, and dump the hot grits mixture on the emptier side. Still using the spatula, fold the egg whites into the grits until you see no (or very few) streaks of egg white.
7 Bake the casserole: Scrape the mixture into the baking dish. Bake until the top is puffy and golden-brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Leftovers will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 4 days.
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