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True Grits: 5 Formulas for the Ultimate Southern Side

Tasting Table

February 11, 2016

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"There are instant grits, but no self-respecting Southerner would eat them, unless they're at a roadside place or something," says four-time James Beard Award–winning cookbook writer Nathalie Dupree. Aside from her comprehensive Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, Dupree literally wrote the book on grits (that would be Shrimp and Grits). Along with bitter greens and corn bread, grits are one of the most iconic Southern sides. Although they're traditionally a breakfast food, simply dressed with butter and eaten with bacon and eggs, grits are a blank canvas that can take on a whole host of sweet and savory flavors.

So what exactly are grits? They're ground corn, though the resulting cornmeal can vary in texture—sometimes you'll get them with the kernel, sometimes without. Dupree prefers coarser stone-ground versions like Anson Mills and Geechie Boy Mill, which maintain more of the corn flavor. Some chefs recommend soaking the grits overnight to reduce their cooking time. When you cook them, it's typically with a simple ratio of four parts liquid to one part grits (add a bit more liquid if you're using milk or cream)—but don't always go by what the package tells you. "Sometimes it'll say that you can cut down on the cooking time, but that's a lie," Dupree laughs. In other words, you're going to need around an hour to get them to the consistency you prefer. "Some like 'em tight; some like 'em loose," Dupree says. "I'm a 'looser.'"

Here are five variations (printable version here), playing around with different add-ins and textures, for grits so good you'll want to kiss them.

The basic method to make 2 servings of stone-ground grits:

Soak 1 cup grits in water for at least 4 hours or overnight. In a small saucepan, combine the grits and soaking liquid with 1 teaspoon kosher salt (some recipes use less salt; see below), and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the grits are creamy and tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Next, get creative! Grab the variations for Southern, Italian, green, cheesy, and sweet grits here.

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This article originally appeared on Tasting Table, the official media partner of JBF Greens