How to Make Good Grits

When made right, grits need little more than salt and butter to finish them off.

10/24/2021 3:00:00 PM

When made right, grits need little more than salt and butter to finish them off.

A properly cooked pot of grits should be smooth, creamy, and deeply flavorful. When made right, you won't need anything more than a little salt and butter to finish them off.

. (They also added lye to the safke as it cooked, effectively nixtamalizing it like hominy, which removed the bran and improved the corn's digestibility and nutritional value; this is likely how the word"hominy" got attached to grits, even if most grits today are not made from nixtamalized corn.)

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When colonizers arrived in the 1600s, they were introduced to native corn and its many preparations, including grits. Grits would become a staple in the Southern colonies, forming what’s now known as the “grits belt,” running from Texas to Washington, DC, where most of the country’s grits are sold.

How to Cook Perfect, Grandma-Approved GritsLike making a pot of perfectly cooked white rice, cooking grits that are grandmother-approved can seem like a daunting task. Common issues usually run the gamut, from the grits being too runny and under-seasoned to the grits becoming too dry, thick, and/or full of undercooked clumps. Too often, poorly made grits are hidden behind copious amounts of cream and cheese, and then smothered under sauces, spices, and other intensely flavorful toppings. To truly appreciate grits, all you really need are a few staple ingredients (salt, butter, water, and quality grits) and some good technique.

Choosing the Best GritsSouthern Queen. While we used stone-ground grits in some of our recipe testing, this recipe will work with the grits from most other mills and brands. The main exceptions are instant and quick grits, which are quick-cooking convenience products that require less water; those products should be made using the package directions.

Stone-ground grits are made from whole kernel corn that’s been pulverized in a stone mill to produce a more complex texture ranging from larger bits down to a fine powder. They also have a shorter shelf life due to the inclusion of the corn's bran, which contains oils that will go rancid over time. The shelf life of these grits can be extended by storing them in a cool, dry place, preferably the fridge or, for longer storage of more than a month, the freezer.

Proper Grits Techniquecooking polenta. You want to use a high enough volume of water relative to the quantity of grits to guarantee that even the largest bits of dried corn will fully hydrate and soften. At home, I'll often start with a 4:1 ratio by volume of water to grits, and if the grits aren't fully cooked through by the time they've thickened, I'll add more water, bumping the ratio up to 5:1. In the following recipe, I've set the ratio from the start at 5:1, since there's no harm in starting with a little more water (worst case, you have to cook it for a few more minutes to thicken up). This will guarantee—even for a total grits novice—a pot that cooks up silky and creamy.

I also like to cook my grits covered, lifting the lid every few minutes to thoroughly whisk and stir and scrape to prevent lumps from forming and the bottom from scorching. The lid traps steam, which reduces the chances a lump-causing skin will form on top, and it will also contain any pops of scalding grits from flying out of the pot, which can happen as the porridge grows thicker.

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Deciding when your grits are done is a personal choice, and will determine your total cooking time. Some people like their grits more on the runny side with a little gritty texture still remaining, others want them creamy and thick but flowing, while some want them so stiff they're able to hold their shape when dolloped. Feel free to cook your grits to whichever point you want (though note that once your grits are fully hydrated, you'll be able to thicken them up more quickly if you take the lid off to let steam escape).

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