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Should I go for grits, or polenta?

I'm cooking a birthday dinner this weekend, and I can't decide on grits or polenta!

I'm doing Suzanne Goin's port-braised short ribs. Normally, I'd do this on a bed of mashed potatoes or cauliflower puree, but the other choice for dinner was something from Frank Stitt's Southern Table so now I have grits on the brain.

So I'm going out to buy the good stone ground stuff, but now I'm wondering--grits or polenta? Which texture do you think would complement the hearty ribs best? Menu so far is:

steamed mussels (they seem especially good, and everyone loves them)
braised ribs on a bed of creamy polenta/grits
steamed baby vegetables
Axalady's Mom Mom's Red Velvet (I can't wait! Thanks again for the recipe)

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  1. I just made virtually the same meal about a week ago. I used yello grits and used the braising liquid supplemented with beef stock as the liquid adding rosemary and scallions near the very end - it was yummy

    1 Reply
    1. re: swarttav

      I would go with the grits, either white or yellow.

    2. could someone explain the difference to me? I wasn't aware that there was one!!

      9 Replies
      1. re: eLizard

        polenta is drier and firmer, grits are nice and mushy. My bias :). I much much prefer grits.

        1. re: DGresh

          i've had nice and mushy "polenta"..... and i could have sworn i saw alton brown do an episode where he said they were both the same thing. thanks for your explanation!

          1. re: eLizard

            maybe it's just that all the places I've had polenta it's been cooked so firm that you can cut it into squares, which I *really* don't like-- too dry

            1. re: DGresh

              Lots of restaurants make polenta, then chill it in a pan, cut it in squares or triangles and saute or grill. I think they do it mainly so they can have a fancy presentation and add a little more fat. The other day my polenta came out crappy (icky texture and weird taste...no idea what I did wrong) so I used the above method. It covered up my sins to a fair degree. So now I think I know another reason restuarants do that.

            2. re: eLizard

              Alton did indeed say they are the same thing - coarse ground cornmeal. Here's the link to that episode's recipes:


            3. re: DGresh

              I prefer grits too, but I think for this application polenta is the way to go. The texture will be smoother and more like mashed potatos. Grits have a much more defined grain and I'm not so sure I would like having grit particles sticking to my short ribs.

              I would cook the polenta loose, so it is NOT dry and firm.

            4. re: eLizard

              i think polenta is from corn and grits is from hominy. which isn't quite the same as corn. but from where i've derived this knowledge i'm not sure so, don't quote me on it's accuracy!

              1. re: epiffani

                You are correct. Grits, at least real grits, are hominy. I would go with the grits, more rustic.

                1. re: phneale

                  At one time I though that was the distinction, but, apparently a lot of what is sold and eaten as grits is not made from hominy, but untreated corn. In other words, check your source. Alber's brand gives no indication of being made from hominy (White Degermed Ground Corn), where as Quaker says 'white hominy grits made from corn'. But even with Quaker it is unclear whether the corn has been treated with slaked lime (Mexican 'nixtamaldado').


            5. I personally prefer the texture of polenta, but that's just me. Grits would be more southern, however.

              1 Reply
              1. re: laurendlewis

                Well, grits are from hominy - which is the dried kernel of corn, after the hull and bran are soaked away and the kernels puff up....polenta is usually made from corn meal. Similar, in the sense it's all, in the end, a ground corn. Because polenta has a higher bran content, it has a more pronounced "corn" taste. Grits are usually made from white corn, and polenta's usually yellow. And depending upon how long it's cooked, with what liquids...well, you could get a loaf of either, and slice it up. In the North, it was simply called "fried mush."

              2. I have had better luck with grits--the ones my mother-in-law calls "popcorn" grits (they're considerably coarser than usual) are expecially delicious.

                2 Replies
                  1. re: mamaciita

                    thanks mamaciita for the link for coarser grits. i like them too!

                1. I prefer grits-for a softer and creamier side dish.I make polenta and then grill it for a heartier food accompaniement

                  1. Wow, thanks, all! I should have known I would start a passionate debate.

                    To clarify, I think of grits as being coarser than polenta. Am I wrong?

                    My question was more "do I want something rustic, or very smooth?"

                    Either way, I'm definitely cooking them soft and runny like cream of wheat, not set in solid pieces and pan fried.

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: danna

                        Or not, depending! I have in my fridge right now two different kinds of grits and one kind of polenta. The Albers grits are finer than the polenta, the Anson Mills grits coarser. The polenta is stone-ground whole-grain stuff from Italy, but I have had another kind that was much finer.

                        The difference to me is simply flavor. Polenta is more "corny" tasting, like the mush my mom used to make from regular cornmeal, while grits (whether really made from hominy or not) somehow manage to have that vaguely soapy but pleasant whang you get from a corn tortilla. As for the OP's question, I'd go with the polenta on this, since the only way I like grits (except for breakfast) is as garlic-and-cheese grits, which is nice with plain braised or roasted meats but which would compete too much with her dish in this case.

                    1. i made the paula wolfert oven polenta recipe (that i got from chowhound) to go with a very similar menu....we had molly stevens's braised porter rosemary glazed short ribs and golden beets and served it with the polenta. creamy goodness and no crazy stirring for 40 minutes!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: eLizard

                        having discovered that wolfert method, i make polenta far more often than i ever did before. and it's perfect every time. just made some last night to serve with a spicy salmon and black bean entree. i added some sugar as well as salt. it was a delicious offset to the heat.

                      2. Polenta is dreamy and creamy, especially when you stir in some butter and grated parmesan at the end. Even more so when made with milk or mascarpone. Because
                        this mixture hardens as it sits, some restaurants spread polenta into sheet pans and cut it
                        into triangles and grill them or serve them with sauce. That's not polenta -- those are polenta cakes or grilled polenta.

                        The complete transcript of Alton Brown's Good Eats show that discusses the polenta/grits
                        question -- "True Grits" -- can be found at http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/GEFP/i...

                        If you scroll to the bottom of the transcript, Alton clarifies the difference between hominy grits and regular grits. The transcript also explains the textural differences and regional variations.

                        1. Grits and polenta are made from different varieties of corn.
                          Polenta is made from flint corn which is grittier and more granular than the dent corn which is used for grits. Dent corn is starchier and softer which is why grits tend to be more mushy and porridge-like. Hominy is corn treated with alkali; it can be dried and ground into grits, but not all grits are hominy grits and most grits sold today aren't hominy grits.
                          Both can be cooked soft or stiff depending on the amount of liquid used and the length of cooking. You can cool both, cut into shapes and fry or bake.
                          Sometimes you can use them interchangeably, sometimes it just ain't right.

                          I'm a good daughter of the South, but I'd put those short ribs on polenta.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: MakingSense

                            This page from Anson mills elaborates on this distinction between dent and flint corns, and their use. It appears that the use depends partly on the cooking characteristics, and partly on historical roots of corn growing in the respective regions (US South v. Italy)

                            An interesting question is whether most of us could tell the difference in the cooked product (assume there are no color clues). In most cases product labels do not distinguish between flint and dent corn.
                            More on the different types of corn here, which identifies flint with 'indian corn', and dent with the most commonly grown corn in the USA (and most cornmeal):

                            Another question is whether the sharp distinction between flint and dent has gotten lost in many areas with the introduction of multiple modern hybrids. Some of these source talk of trying preserve heirloom varieties, whether of dent in the South, or flint in Italy.


                            1. re: paulj

                              I think you're really right when you're talking about low quality grits or polenta. There's a lot of both on the market. The difference is magnified when they're cooked poorly. We won't even discuss precooked polenta or instant grits.
                              There's a lot more variety in both products than I ever thought. Both can be white or yellow, fine or coarse. And there's much more than just a plop of mush on a plate.
                              When I met Glenn Roberts at Anson Mills a few years ago he told me that a lot of the seed used in Italy for polenta is from flint corn from America that was used in the holds of ships to hide the gold from pirates as it was being taken back to Europe by explorers. There were famines in Italy at the time and it was used for food and to plant for crops. His products is from heritage seed from that same flint corn. Damn good stuff.

                          2. Polenta is great with short ribs. Goin has a poleta method (in the luques book) that I used with her deviled chicken thighs. The mixture stays loose because you add a bit of water every 20 minutes. This is not a stir, stir recipes. Just initally then occasional whisking as youu pass the pot while doing other things. Oven polenta is nice too.

                            1. well, in my understanding of the situation, grits and polenta basically start out with the same base, ground corn, but the difference is in what goes in them. Grits generally use butter and milk while a polenta would use olive oil and a broth/stock. Texture-wise you can end up with whatever is to your taste.
                              My personal preference with your menu would be a polenta.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: rds246

                                My boyfriend hates grits, loves polenta (even when they're both made in the same fashion)...Go figure.

                              2. a great way to make grits is with butter and cheddar cheese-very delicious-add a bit of hot pepper to intensify the heat and it makes a wonderful side dish..enjoy

                                1. I'd like to vote for polenta. I love it when it's first made. Soft and creamy and redolent of corn. Yum.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: QueenB

                                    I bought Red Mill grits to make shrimp and grits & the grits had a marvellous soft creamy consistency and a wonderful corn taste. Everyone liked them better than 'polenta' .
                                    I lived in Europe & I think the strain of corn for polenta is just not as nice as the American ones. Remember they really don't eat corn on the cob there, it's just big cow corn for animal feed yuuck... whereas our corn is smaller, sweeter & the grits just taste so good, Grits rule!