How to Make Grits for a Flavorful Take on the Southern Food

Get your grits fix! Start with this complete guide to cooking grits, then dress them up with saucy shrimp, poached eggs, bacon, or barbecue chicken.

Southerners have long turned to cooking grits to serve on the breakfast table and as a dinner side, and they welcome this dish in all its simplicity and affordability. How to cook grits to creamy perfection is a tradition passed down from generation to generation in many families. Grits are traditionally made from hominy, which is corn with the hull and germ removed and ground to fine, medium, or coarse grains. While hominy is Native American in origin, the word "grits" is thought to derive from the Old English word "grytt," which means coarse meal. Grits can actually be made with any coarsely ground meal, including corn, oats, or rice. If you're curious how to make grits that will make any soul food chef proud, you actually have several solid options. You can serve grits soft-cooked, as a cereal or side dish, or chill the mixture until it sets up, then slice and fry it. Or bake quick-cooking grits into a cheesy casserole.

Cheesy Grits Bowl
Blaine Moats

Before we dive into how to make grits at home, it's helpful to keep in mind that when cooking grits, they have a very mild corn flavor and taste best with a little salt. They are often served with milk or cream (or butter, of course, because everything's better with it!).

If you're not a purist, stove-top, quick-cooking grits, and slow cooker grits can be customized with a variety of flavor-boosters including:

  • Sweet grits: After cooking grits, feel free to top them like you would oatmeal. A little brown sugar, dried fruit, shredded apple, maple syrup, honey, milk, cinnamon, and/or other sweet breakfast stir-ins work wonderfully.
  • Cheesy grits: Any kind of cheese can dress up grits. Stir in shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, pepper cheese, provolone, or Swiss, or add feta or goat cheese crumbles. For the best texture, shred cheese from a block yourself instead of purchasing it preshredded.
  • Savory grits: Replace some of the cooking water with broth if you like (consider reducing the salt) and stir in a spoonful of herb pesto or add canned diced chile peppers, minced jalapeño pepper, chopped roasted red peppers, snipped fresh herbs, or snipped dried tomatoes.

How to Cook Grits on the Stove

This makes about 4 cups of cooked grits, which is four to six servings. If you're in a hurry, you'll want to pay special attention to this method; it's the quickest option for cooking grits. (And these 15-minute side dish recipe ideas might come in handy too!)

  • 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.

Test Kitchen Tip: To make grits using cornmeal (not quick-cooking grits), use the same amounts of the ingredients above, substituting coarse-ground cornmeal for the quick-cooking, and increase the cooking time to about 20 minutes.

How to Make Slow Cooker Grits

Use regular grits instead of quick-cooking grits for slow cooker grits. This makes about eight servings.

  • In a 3½- to 4-quart slow cooker, combine two 14.5-ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth or 3⅔ cups water; 2½ cups water; 1½ cups regular grits; and ¼ teaspoon salt. If desired, add ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper.
  • Cover the slow cooker and cook on low-heat setting for 3 to 3½ hours or on high-heat setting for 1½ to 1¾ hours or until a small amount of liquid is visible on top of the slow cooker grits.
  • You can serve the grits as is or stir in 3 tablespoons butter. Or stir 1½ 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 (we always do!), top each serving with additional shredded cheese.

How to Bake Grits

Here's another method for how to make grits that we default to all the time because it's so good. Serve baked quick-cooking grits with eggs, bacon, or sausage for breakfast or as a dinner side dish alongside roast chicken, steak, or pork chops. It can also be a meatless entrée. For a more basic version, swap water and ¼ 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°F.
  • In a medium saucepan bring 2 cups of broth to boiling. Slowly add ½ cup quick-cooking grits, stirring constantly.
  • In a small bowl whisk 1 egg with a fork until lightly beaten. Gradually stir about ½ 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; 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 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 ½ cup chopped fresh tomato and 1 tablespoon snipped fresh cilantro.
grits parchment paper
Andy Lyons

How to Choose the Best Cooking Grits

When you're stocking up on ingredients for any of these methods of cooking grits, you'll likely be presented with several options. Here's a debrief on the difference between grits varieties.

  • Stone-ground grits: While a die-hard grits cook may sing the praises of this most traditional variety, it takes an hour or more to cook. Some cooks soak stone-ground grits overnight to reduce the cooking time. These also work well for slow cooker grits.
  • Regular grits: This is the equivalent to old-fashioned oats, the less-processed version of grits. They generally take 15 to 20 minutes to cook.
  • Quick-cooking grits: The above recipes for cooking grits mostly use this version of grits, which takes about 5 to 7 minutes to cook.
  • Instant grits: Like instant oatmeal, instant grits are precooked, so just rehydrate the grits with boiling water and let stand.

All that's left now is choosing a grits recipe to make. Might we suggest this Shrimp and Grits. Heck, just a side of cooked grits with nothing fancy added may be all you need to round out your meal; the choice is yours.

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