Southerners have long served grits flavored with butter, on the breakfast table and as a side for dinner, and welcome this dish in all its simplicity. They are referring to grits made of hominy, which is corn with the hull and germ removed and ground to fine, medium, or coarse grind. While hominy is American Indian in origin, the word grits is thought to derive from the Old English word grytt, which means course meal. Grits actually can mean any coarsely ground meal, including corn, oats, or rice. You can serve grits soft-cooked, like mush or soft polenta, as a cereal or side dish, or chill the mixture until it sets up, then slice and fry it. Or bake grits into a cheesy casserole.
- Stone-ground grits: While a die-hard grits cook may sing the laurels of this most authentic variety, it takes an hour or more to cook. Some cooks soak stone-ground grits overnight to reduce the cooking time.
- Regular grits: This is the equivalent to old-fashioned oats, the less-processed version of grits. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook.
- Quick-cooking grits: The recipes here mostly use this version of grits, which takes about 5 to 7 minutes to cook.
- Instant: Like instant oatmeal, instant grits are precooked, so just rehydrate the grits with boiling water and let stand.
Hominy grits have a very mild corn flavor and taste best with a little salt. They are often served with milk, cream, and/or butter. If you're not a purist, grits handle other flavor additions quite well.
- Sweet grits: Top them like you would oatmeal, with a little brown sugar, dried fruit, shredded apple, maple syrup, honey, milk, cinnamon, and/or other sweet breakfast stir-ins.
- Cheesy grits: Any kind of cheese will dress up grits. Stir in shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, pepper cheese, provolone, or Swiss, or add goat cheese or feta crumbles.
- Savory grits: Replace some of the cooking water with broth if you like (consider reducing the salt), and stir in a spoonful of pesto or add canned diced chile peppers, minced jalapeño pepper, chopped roasted red pepper, snipped fresh herbs, or snipped dried tomatoes.
How to Cook Grits on the Stovetop
This makes about 4 cups cooked grits, which is four to six servings.
- In a medium heavy saucepan bring 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling.
- Slowly add 1 cup quick-cooking grits, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. It is important to stir well as you add the grits so they don't clump. Cook and stir until the mixture boils. You should see bubbles rise and fall on the surface but not a full rolling boil. Be careful because the hot grits can splatter at this point.
- Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the mixture is thick. If desired, stir in 2 tablespoons butter. Spoon grits into bowls and serve as cereal, or transfer to a serving bowl and serve as a side dish.
How to Cook Grits in a Slow Cooker
Use regular grits instead of quick-cooking grits for this cooking method. This makes about eight servings.
- In a 3-1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker combine two 14.5-ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth or 3-2/3 cups water; 2-1/2 cups water; 1-1/2 cups regular grits; and 1/4 teaspoon salt. If desired, add 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper.
- Cover the slow cooker and cook on low-heat setting for 3 to 3-1/2 hours or on high-heat setting for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours or until a small amount of liquid is visible on top of grits.
- You can serve the grits as is or stir in 3 tablespoons butter. Or stir 1-1/2 cups shredded cheese, such as aged cheddar, into the cooked grits. Stir until the cheese is melted. If grits become too thick, thin the mixture with milk to desired consistency. If you wish, top each serving with additional shredded cheese.
How to Bake Grits
Serve this with eggs and bacon or sausage for breakfast or as a dinner side dish alongside roast chicken, steak, or pork chops. It can also be a meatless entree. For a more basic version, swap water and 1/4 teaspoon salt for the broth and omit the cheese, onion, tomato, and cilantro. The recipe makes four or five side-dish servings.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- In a medium saucepan bring 2 cups broth to boiling. Slowly add 1/2 cup quick-cooking grits, stirring constantly.
- In a small bowl whisk 1 egg with a fork until lightly beaten. Gradually stir about 1/2 cup of the hot grits mixture into the egg. Return the egg mixture to the saucepan and stir to combine.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces); 1 green onion, sliced; and 1 tablespoon butter into the grits until the cheese and butter melt.
- Pour the grits mixture into an ungreased 1-quart casserole. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. If desired, top with 1/2 cup chopped fresh tomato and 1 tablespoon snipped fresh cilantro.