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Nov 6, 2009 04:57 AM

Help! I Need A Traditional Southern Cornbread Recipe for My Cast Iron Skillet

I was going to wait until New Year's Day to have a full Hoppin' John blowout / Twilight Zone marathon, but now that I have black eyed peas and collards on the brain, I don't think I can wait that long! I need a cornbread recipe that my North Carolina friends would approve of--not too sweet, no whole corn kernels--and that I can bake in my 10" cast iron. Any suggestions?

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    1. Great timing. I just posted about this on my blog. I am just copying it from there:

      This is just a recipe for cornbread. Boring right? However, every time I need to make cornbread I have to track down THIS recipe. This usually involves calling my sister and getting her to give it to me again. I promised her the last time, that I would make a more permanent note of it. So here it is.

      The ingredients are all very normal and standard. Somehow though, these exact proportions create a way better cornbread then all the other recipes. The small amount of sugar in the recipe is more for seasoning like salt, not for sweetness.


      1 cup corn meal

      1 cup all-purpose flour

      1 tablespoon baking powder

      1 teaspoon salt

      2 teaspoons sugar

      1/4 cup vegetable oil

      1 1/8 cup buttermilk

      1 egg

      Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix together corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk together buttermilk and egg in a large measuring cup. Pour the oil in a cast iron baking pan, place it in the hot oven.

      Add the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Combine gently. Pour half of the hot oil from the pan into the batter. Stir in well. Pour the batter into the baking pan and place in the oven.

      Bake about 15 minutes or until the top and edges are browning in spots. Loosen from the pan, and turn out onto a rack to cool.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Becca Porter

        I'm sure this is a fine cornbread, but the OP was asking for a traditional southern cornbread, and that's not what this is.

        First off, a 1:1 cornmeal-flour ratio is all wrong. One and a half cups corn meal to one-half cup flour would be closer to the mark, though I've seen southern cornbreads that use even less flour, and some that use no flour at all. Also, vegetable oil brings no flavor: melted butter or bacon fat would be a more traditional fat.

        The main key to a quality southern cornbread is to use as coarse a cornmeal as you can find: avoid Quaker corn meal, especially. It's close to the consistency of cake flour, and your cornbread will have no body. Goya coarse-ground is my favorite, but if you can't find it, anything stoneground will do.

        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

          Your probably right. After all, it looks like you are from Boston and I am just from Louisiana...

          I am pretty sure she wanted a good southern cornbread, not just the most authentic. Down here, as long as it is not sweet, and is baked in a cast iron skillet it is considered southern.

          and as often as I make cornbread, I can't use bacon fat every time. Though it is great every now and then. I am actually making cracklin cornbread tonight.

          1. re: Becca Porter

            I'm from Texas, punkin, and my mama taught me how to make skillet cornbread when I was about six years old. My credentials are in order.

            She asked for a traditional southern cornbread recipe. Few if any traditional southern cornbread recipes use a 1:1 ratio, and they sure as heck don't use vegetable oil.

            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

              Ozark hillbilly here, and Barmy's right. No veg. oil & NO sugar. Yankee's put sugar in cornbread. Southerners use cornbread as cheap bread, not a sweet. You wouldn't ladle a serving of beans & ham hock over a sweet, would you? (seen this served in a restaurant, and the first - and only - bite of sweetened beans and cornbread was horribly unforgettable ) Back in the day, cornmeal was cheaper than flour, and 'lightbread' was for sundays only, in the depressed south. Sugar? Hardly anyone could afford it for everyday use.

              1. re: weewah

                Funny that Southerns wouldn't think of putting sugar in the cornbread (at least not true Southerners, see also 'no true scottsman'), but are quite happy to load their ice tea with sugar.

      2. I've heard good things about the Skillet Cornbread on Southern Plate:

        1. Paraphrased Cook's Illustrated recipe:


          Makes one 8-inch skillet of bread. Published in Cook's Illustrated May 1, 1998.


          4 teaspoons bacon drippings or 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

          1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground (divided use 1/3 cup & 2/3 cup)

          2 teaspoons granulated sugar
          1/2 teaspoon table salt
          1 teaspoon baking powder
          1/4 teaspoon baking soda

          1/3 cup water (rapidly boiling)
          3/4 cup buttermilk
          1 large egg , beaten lightly


          Place an oven rack on lower middle shelf of oven. Now place an 8-inch cast-iron skillet, greased with 4 tsp bacon fat or 1 tsp vegetable oil and 1 Tbs melted butter on that rack.

          Start oven pre-heating to 450-F.

          In a medium bowl, measure out 1/3 cup of the cornmeal.

          In another smaller bowl mix the remaining 2/3 cup cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking power and baking soda and set aside until needed.

          Pour 1/3 cup of boiling water into the 1/3 cup of cornmeal and stir to form a stiff batter.
          Slowly whisk in buttermilk until batter is smooth, then whisk in the beaten egg.

          When the oven has reached 450-F and skillet is hot, stir the small bowl of dry ingredients
          into the larger bowl of moistened cornmeal batter.

          Remove hot skillet from oven. Pour heated bacon fat or butter from hot skillet
          into the bowl of batter and stir until mixed.

          Now quickly pour the bowl of batter into the hot skillet. Return skillet with batter to hot oven.

          Bake until cornbread is golden brown, about 20-minutes.

          Remove from oven and turn out cornbread onto wire rack. Cool 5 minutes then serve.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Antilope

            my mom was from the south,, and so was my mom n law (alabama girl) and southern cornbread had NO SUGAR... it's not sweet bread.. .it's cornbread and beans... that was a staple for them when they were growing up.

            1. re: teennamarie

              Southerners must save up all the sugar they don't use in the cornbread and use that sugar to ruin perfectly good tea.

              1. re: Antilope

                It's Southern thing Antilope you wouldn't understand.. Sugar and flour in cornbread is just a sweet cake YOU drink with your crappy Tea...!!!

                1. re: ironuser

                  I like sugar in cornbread. I put sugar in cornbread, I will continue to put sugar in cornbread. I'm even going to put sugar (and flour) in southern cornbread. Irrational people can wave their arms, foam at the mouth, throw dirt in the air, stomp, sulk, rant and rave. So what, it tastes good and I will continue to do it. If you visit my house, that's what you will be served. Get use to it.

          2. My mother actually uses the Martha White corn meal mix, but this is basically the same thing. Also, their website ( has a product locator.

            1 1/2 cup cornmeal (I've always used white
            )1/2 cup all-purpose flour
            1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
            1 teaspoon baking soda
            1 teaspoon salt
            1 egg, beaten
            1 1/3 cups buttermilk
            4 tablespoons butter (I always use salted; I think cornbread should taste like salt and butter)

            Preheat the oven to 450. Combine the dry ingredients, then whisk in the wet (except the butter) until a thick batter forms. Put the butter in your cast iron skillet and put that in the oven until the butter is melted and the skillet is good and hot. Pour the batter over the melted butter and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

            Now, this is how my mother and grandmother always did it:

            Let cool for a few minutes and then invert the cornbread onto a plate. Slice the top (formerly the bottom) off - about a half inch thickness. Dot the exposed top with pats of butter, then put the cornbread top back on. Slice. Eat. Enjoy.

            6 Replies
            1. re: CarolinaGirl06

              It may be heretical among the southern Hounds to make cornbread from a pouch, but by Gawd, I swear by Martha White. That stuff is off-the-charts great every time and as easy as can be. I see no real need to make cornbread from scratch.

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                Actually, it's not considered heresy as long as it's a Martha White or Pioneer mix. The Martha White brand is probably better known throughout the South because of its long-term sponsorship of the Grand Ole Opry since 1948. If you ever hear the Martha White jingle performed by Flatt and Scruggs, you'll know it's no NY City brand - the jingle is a bluegrass standard - but I've read ALL of these recipes and the truth is, I believe Martha White's WHITE cornbread mix is the best. I love to throw parties and have cookouts and tailgaters nd BBQs... Too many of my born and bred Southern friends have just gone nuts over the Martha White cornbread demanding the recipe because even though they were raised on it, it's "the best cornbread I ever had!" The most important thing, in my opinion, is using plenty of grease in the cast iron skillet and getting it REAL hot, but not smoking when you pour the batter in. I like enough that it comes over the top of the batter. The end result is a texture to die for - crisp on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. Two things stuck out as I read all of them - one, white cornmeal is used more for cornbread in the South. I honestly don't think yellow and white taste the same and the yellow is so coarse and grainy. I reserve yellow cornmeal and use it for things like dressing and the other thing was - NO self-respecting Southerner puts SUGAR in their cornbread! It's like a Texan putting BEANS in a pot of chili! You just don't do it! You can put things like corn or vegetables in it, pour honey or syrup over it, but not IN it.

                1. re: Adele In Texas

                  Sorry Adele, but based on my experience, I have to respectfully disagree with some of what you've said. I've posted my family's recipe down a few posts. We are all from Louisiana and my daughters are now the 7th generation using that recipe. There is a small amount of sugar and flour and we are all indeed self-respecting southerners. The cornbread is always made of coarse ground yellow cornmeal. In all my 50+ years I have never been served cornbread made with white cornmeal in the south.

                  You are absolutely correct that getting the skillet hot first is key to getting the right texture with the yummy crust.

                  1. re: decolady

                    I agree with decolady. I am also from Louisiana and my recipe above uses a small bit (2 teaspoons) of sugar and flour in our cornbread. I have never seen white cornmeal used either.

                    The best part of cornbread is the crunch of the yellow cornmeal...

                    1. re: Becca Porter

                      Thirded, from down the bayou in Louisiana, and we make coosh-coosh with the leftovers: cornbread with whole milk poured over it and a drizzle of Steen's black strap molasses.

                  2. re: Adele In Texas

                    Looking at all these posts, on the topic of sugar in particular, it seems obvious that there is not just one type of Southerner. It does appear that the Lousiana folks are unified in using a modest amount of sugar.

                    The analogy to Texas chili and the no-beans rule seems apt.

                    Not a Southerner myself, I am at liberty to salivate in nonpartisan fashion at all of these terrific recipe ideas. I'm making some cornbread SOON!