How To Make Southern-Style Grits

updated Nov 20, 2023

Made from stone-ground grits and slow cooked to perfection, Southern grits are some of the creamiest, dreamiest grits on the planet.

Serves 4 to 6

Prep15 minutes

Cook35 minutes

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Southern grits are some of the creamiest, dreamiest dishes on the planet. Made from stone-ground grits and slow cooked to perfection, I love them best finished with a generous heap of butter, cheese (mmm, cheesy grits!), and heavy cream. The result is a slightly toothsome porridge that rivals the richest risotto (imho) — and is even easier to make.

While there are many ways to make grits in the South (you can even make grits in the Instant Pot), this is the method I learned during my 12 years living there. It includes tricks I learned from seasoned Southern chefs and my husband’s 89-year-old grandmother, MawMaw Beattie. One of the tips is to soak the grits overnight, cook it with water and finish with dairy. Here’s how I make grits their Southern way.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

What are Southern Grits?

Grits, like polenta, are made from dried corn that has been stone-ground. When cooked slowly in water, grits release their starch and make a creamy porridge that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

To me, Southern grits are defined by their sourcing. Anson Mills is one of the most popular small-batch brands, but you can also find brands like Palmetto Farms and Geechie Boy Mill at some grocery stores across the country.

There is some confusion (and no agreement) about the actual difference between polenta and grits. Some claim that grits are only made with white corn, and that polenta has a finer grind size.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Tips for Cooking Stone-Ground Grits

  • Use quality, stone-ground grits. This is the most important thing: skip quick-cooking or instant grits for this cooking method (and for Instant Pot grits, as well). They simply do not have the depth of flavor of stone-ground grits.
  • Soak your grits overnight before cooking for best results. This is a tip I learned from Nashville-based chef and cookbook writer Sean Brock. When you soak your grits overnight, they cook faster and taste creamier.
  • Use this quick-soak method if you’re in a pinch. Since a grits craving can be swift and without warning, you can also do a quick soak of stone-ground grits by bringing the grits and water to a boil, removing them from the heat, covering the pot, and resting them for anywhere between 20 minutes and one hour. You’ll then finish cooking them slowly on the stovetop.
  • Cook with water; finish with dairy. Some folks say that Southern grits are always cooked with milk, but my husband’s MawMaw Beattie, taught me that it is much better to cook your grits in water and finish them with cream, butter, and milk. She started doing this to make leftovers easier to reheat — she didn’t have to worry about burning the milk-cooked grits, and she could loosen the cold grits with the cream and butter. The taste of grits finished with cream is divine, and you get to avoid the cooked-milk flavor of other methods.
Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Serving Southern Grits

Another controversial topic: Do true Southern-style grits even have cheese? We always add cheese to our grits — either Parmesan or sharp cheddar. But you can certainly skip the cheese altogether; some people prefer theirs without.

We often eat these grits as-is for breakfast (or topped with a fried egg or crumbled sausage). But they also make a delicious bed for stove-cooked beans or sautéed greens, and are a welcome side for weeknight dinners and holidays, too.

Great Grits Recipes

Once you’ve learned the basics, there are so many ways to enjoy grits.

Can I Make Grits Ahead of Time?

Yes! You can cook the grits through step 3, then refrigerate. Warm them over low heat and add the cream and butter just before serving.

How To Make Southern-Style Grits

Made from stone-ground grits and slow cooked to perfection, Southern grits are some of the creamiest, dreamiest grits on the planet.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 4 cups

    water

  • 1 1/2 cups

    stone-ground corn grits, such as Anson Mills

  • 2

    dried bay leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 2 ounces

    Parmesan cheese

  • 1 cup

    heavy cream

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

  • Large pot with lid

  • Kitchen shears

  • Large skillet

  • Paring knife

  • Colander

  • Wooden spoon or spatula

Instructions

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  1. Heat and soak the grits. Place 4 cups water, 1 1/2 cups grits, 2 dried bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon 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 8 tablespoons unsalted butter into 8 pieces and grate until you have 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

  3. Boil the grits. Uncover and return the grits to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring regularly with a whisk and scraping the bottom to prevent clumping or burning, 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. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Stir in the butter, cheese, and 1 cup heavy cream just before serving.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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