Carolina Kitchen

Classic cornbread (and some non-traditional combinations)

sardis@thestate.comFebruary 27, 2013 

Cornbread made from scratch in an iron skillet. The South Carolina Cornbread Festival is Saturday in North Columbia.


  • If you go South Carolina Cornbread Festival

    When: 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday

    Where: Main and Newman streets (near Earlewood Park)

    Admission: Free

    What else: Cornbread Cook-off, Little Miss Muffin pageant, cornbread eating contest, arts and crafts, children’s play area, free health screenings

    Performances: J. Anthony Brown, Chairmen of the Board, The Mobros, Fantastic Shakers, The Finesse Band

    More information:, @sccornbreadfest

There’s nothing more classic than cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet...preferably made with a layer of bacon grease on the bottom of the skillet so that the bread doesn’t stick. Some rules for the perfect cornbread

Cornbread is one of the first things you might have learned to cook if you grew up in the South. It also takes center stage this weekend at the South Carolina Cornbread Festival in north Columbia.

There’s nothing more classic than cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet...preferably made with a layer of bacon grease on the bottom of the skillet so that the bread doesn’t stick.

When that cornbread comes out of the oven, that aroma hits you and you can’t cut a slice fast enough. Cold butter melts on top and slides off the sides, and you have to be fast (but not too fast) in order to savor each buttery bite.

When it comes to classic Southern cornbread (at least the one I grew up with), there are some rules:

1. There’s no such thing as a sugary cornbread. Sure, you can drizzle cornbread with all the honey or syrup or sorghum you like ... after it’s out of oven. This pre-mixed, sugary sweet stuff that you find some places is just not the classic recipe. Grandma would roll her eyes at you and shake her head if you had tried to serve it to her.

2. There’s no such thing as leftover cornbread. My father, who learned this from his parents, will take a handful of day- or two day-old cornbread (should it last that long) and crumble it up in a glass of cold milk. Mix it a bit with a spoon for a single-serve crunchy corn pudding/soup. Refreshing for breakfast or evening snack.

3. Cornbread is a year-round treat. Pair it with rich tomato soup or chili in winter. Make a salad with fresh tomatoes, bacon, bell peppers, a bit of onion and cheddar cheese with cubes of cornbread and finish with Ranch dressing. Mix it with some herbs and carrots and celery and onion (maybe even some oysters!) to make a stuffing for chicken, duck or turkey. Rather than bake it, drop spoonfuls of cornbread batter in to hot oil for hushpuppies or spread spoonfuls on a hot griddle for pancakes.

4. There’s nothing wrong with variations on a theme. Everything evolves. If you master the basic cornbread recipe, you open yourself up to any possible flavor combination. Add some jalapenos and cheese for a Southwestern kick; add cranberries and orange zest for Thanksgiving or mashed sweet potatoes or mushrooms or...whatever you like. Some suggestions are listed below.

Classic cornbread

Serves 10-12

2 cups cornmeal or 1 1/2 cups cornmeal and 1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk or whole milk

2 eggs

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon bacon drippings

Put bacon fat in a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet (or uncovered Dutch oven or metal cake pan) and put the skillet in the oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg until combined. Add to dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add melted butter.

When oven is to temperature, carefully remove skillet. Add cornbread batter to skillet, make sure that batter is evenly distributed in pan. Bake 20 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

Remove cornbread from pan and let it rest 10-30 minutes before cutting.

Some suggested additions to classic cornbread mix, try one or make up your own:

One medium onion that has been sliced thin and caramelized in butter; three slices of fried bacon, chopped

• 4 jalapeno peppers, diced; 8 ounces mild cheddar cheese

• 1 overripe banana, mashed; 1/4 cup honey; 1 cup frozen corn kernels

• 2 cups frozen blueberries, defrosted and drained; one teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 cup sugar

• 1 cup fresh corn kernels; 2 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled; 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped

Bacon Beer Cornbread

Serves 8-10

1 1/2 cups cornmeal

1 1/2 cups wheat flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 cup beer

1/3 cup sour cream

6 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Fry the bacon until crispy in a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet. Remove bacon and drain on paper towel, keep bacon fat.

In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, wheat flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Add milk and egg mix to dry ingredients and combine. Add sour cream and beer and mix to combine. Mix in butter and bacon fat until batter is somewhat smooth and just combined. Fold in bacon bits.

Pour batter into skillet and bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden. Let cool before slicing.

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