How To Make the Best Cheese Grits

updated Oct 1, 2022
How to Make the Best Cheese Grits

A step-by-step guide to cooking cheesy stone-ground grits.

Serves4 to 6

Makes2 quarts

Prep15 minutes

Cook45 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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cheese grits in a bowl on wood table with cutlery and other bowl of grits
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Years ago, at an old-school diner, I had the absolute best cheese grits of my life. I remember sitting in that vinyl booth, devouring the bowl of creamy white grits with strands of cheddar cheese clinging to every spoonful, and thinking I had no choice but to replicate those grits at home.

To my surprise, the process was simple, and I was treated to rich and creamy grits in under an hour. Here, I’ll walk you though my process, from what to look for in the grocery store to my favorite ways to serve them.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The Best Grits for Cheese Grits

Both polenta and grits are made from stone-ground cornmeal. While the difference between the two depends on the type of corn and coarseness of the grind, those nuances are not what you’ll see on the label at the grocery store.

In some regions of the country, grocery stores offer full shelves of grits — from instant or quick-cooking to stone-ground, and even an option between yellow and white. Other stores offer more limited options.

Don’t be dissuaded if the name on the package says polenta or cornmeal with no mention of grits — the most important factor is that you’re buying stone-ground cornmeal. Stone-ground grits are also available online from small batch brands like Anson Mills, Palmetto and Geechie Boy.

Be sure to avoid quick-cooking and instant grits, which will turn mushy when used with this slow-simmering technique. You’ll also want to avoid bags or canisters that are mass-produced and machine-milled, as they’ll have a sandy and gritty texture.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The Secret to Quicker-Cooking and Better-Tasting Grits

The single most important step in cooking cheese grits (beyond buying the right kind of grits) is soaking them prior to cooking, which allows them to cook more quickly and evenly. And while you can soak grits overnight as you would a pound of beans, there’s a quicker way that I use far more often.

Instead of leaving the grits to soak for hours, cover the stone-ground cornmeal in salted water and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, remove the pot from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes to soak.

After the grits soak, bring that same pot back to a boil and cook slowly over moderately high heat until creamy. Stirring the grits frequently with a wooden spoon keeps the porridge smooth and lump-free, and prevents the grains from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Expect a few sputters and spatters as the liquid reduces and is absorbed by the grits.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

How to Serve Cheese Grits

Once your grits are thick and creamy, taste them; they should be tender with a textural bite, but not hard or gritty. Stir in unsalted butter and shredded sharp cheddar cheese to finish, mixing until the cheese disappears into the porridge.

At breakfast time, top with even more cheddar cheese before serving with soft scrambled eggs, crumbled sausage, or crispy bacon. At dinnertime, use the grits as an alternative to pasta or rice. You can also swap in Parmesan cheese and make a low country classic like shrimp and grits.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell
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How to make the best cheese grits.

How to Make the Best Cheese Grits

A step-by-step guide to cooking cheesy stone-ground grits.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 45 minutes

Makes 2 quarts

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 5 cups

    water

  • 1 1/2 cups

    stone-ground corn grits, such as Anson Mills

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for serving

  • 2 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1/2 cup), plus more for serving

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Chef's knife and cutting board

  • Large pot or Dutch oven with lid

  • Wooden spoon or spatula

  • Box grater

Instructions

  1. Heat and soak the grits. Place 5 cups water, 1 1/2 cups grits, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a large pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the butter and cheese.

  2. Prepare the butter and cheese. Cut 4 tablespoons unsalted butter into 8 pieces. Grate until you have 1/2 cup cheddar cheese.

  3. Boil the grits. Uncover and bring the grits back to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon and scraping the bottom to prevent clumping, for 20 to 25 minutes.

  4. Finish the grits. The grits are ready when most of the water is absorbed and the grits are al dente (tender with a toothsome bite). Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter and cheese until incorporated. Serve with more butter and cheese.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Thin to desired consistency with more water upon reheating.