Southern Cornbread

BakingBudgetSouthernBread

This savory cornbread recipe, or "Southern Cornbread," will teach you how to make cornbread with bacon drippings and then bake in a hot iron skillet.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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 homemade cornbread, and every way is different.

What Makes a Southern Cornbread

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. It also tends to be rather crumbly.

A Cornbread Experiment

With this cornbread recipe, we experimented both with all cornmeal, and with just three-quarters cornmeal and one-quarter flour. We also experimented with including or leaving out an egg.

Result: 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 Recipe baked in cast iron skillet

About this Cornbread Recipe

If you are new to making southern cornbread, take note of the following:

Sugar is Optional

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.)

Why Bacon Drippings and Butter

You’ll notice there are both bacon drippings and butter in this cornbread 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.

Make Cornbread with a Cast Iron Skillet

Finally, the method that works best with using a well-seasoned 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.

Need to season your cast iron pan? Check out this guide to seasoning cast iron at Serious Eats.

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

Updated December 17, 2018 : Some readers were noticing a metallic flavor in the cornbread, so we tinkered with the amount of baking soda to make sure this recipe was perfect. Updated ingredient amounts are reflected in the recipe.

Southern Cornbread Recipe

  • 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.

The egg is optional, though without it the cornbread will be very crumbly.

Ingredients

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

Method

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

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.

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 to 30 minutes in the skillet before cutting it into wedges and serving.

To store, let the cornbread cool, then remove from pan and wrap in plastic wrap or transfer to an airtight container. Store at room temp for 2 to 3 days

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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Products We Love

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Links:

Yankee Cornbread here on Simply Recipes

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

Homemade Cornbread made from southern cornbread recipe

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

301 Comments / Reviews

No ImageSouthern Cornbread

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Ed Tatsch

    A bit dry. But I’ll add an extra egg next time.
    I just wanna know how some of these folks make biscuits and gravy.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Lisa

    Delicious and my go-to recipe! Southern is a state of mind in my opinion and as a Georgia girl I give this a thumbs up!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Concerned

    You cannot call cornbread “southern” and at the same moment add flour, butter, or even worse, SUGAR! Sugar and flour were completely unknown in the southern states until relatively recently. Wheat can’t grow here. Smut, rust, are funguses that kill wheat. It wasn’t until the advent of the winter wheat hybrid that wheat could grow at all. Refined white sugar was also unknown. Honey and sorghum molasses were available but they were on the table, not in the cornbread. Lard was, and still is, much cheaper than butter. No cook would put expensive butter in the cornbread when lard was available. If you want to put those items in your cornbread then go ahead but don’t call it Southern!

    Show Replies (2)
  4. Louise

    This sounds like the cornbread my mama used to make. She didn’t use bacon grease, just plain old lard( this was before she started using Crisco). I don’t remember her using flour, in the cornmeal. And No, she did not use sugar( my dad would have thrown it out, if she did). She did use an egg, and she also used powered milk and water. She would stir it with her hand(you have to feel the consistency of the batter, so you could tell if it feels right. She always used Martha White. Yes, you’re right, we always crumbled our cornbread in our milk, the next day. Delicious!!!!
    My mom learned to cook, from my dad. They both were from NC, cause my mom always said she couldn’t boil water, without burning it, when her and dad got married. So, they were both very good cooks, didn’t need any recipe. What happen to me? I need one to start me off.

  5. Concerned

    Real Southern cornbread has NO sugar and NO flour! Reason is that refined sugar and wheat flour were unknown in the South until fairly recently. Wheat doesn’t grow in the heat common to southern states. It develops “rust” and therefore spoils. The only sweeteners common in Southern states were honey and sorghum molasses. Corn grown in southern states has enough sugar content to rival some fruits! No need for extra sweetness. If you want authentic Southern cornbread leave out the flour and sugar.

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