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May 24, 2014 07:47 AM

What is a great cornmeal for cornbread?

We dont really eat much cornbread where I live so I have no preconceived notions of how cornbread should taste like. Im not attached to white cornmeal or yellow cornmeal or whether sugar should be added. Im also seeing coarse and fine cornmeal. What brand do you think makes the best cornbread? I just rendered some leaf lard and would love to make a nice cracklin' cornbread. I heard Three Rivers Cornmeal was popular but thats not available anymore. Im having some Anson Mills Grits shipped. Do they have good cornmeal?

btw...This is a picture of the cornbread from Harold's BBQ which was known for their cracklin cornbread (they have since closed down). Their recipe was published in "The Glory of Southern Cooking" by James Villa but I have a feeling they lied about their recipe. It says they use yellow cornmeal but I suspect is really white cornmeal that they use. Does yellow cornmeal not always lead to really yellow cornbread?

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  1. Stoneground. Not fine. Lots of good brands. If you have a choice, go by freshness. Not all of the artisinal corn mills are southern, btw. Rhode Island has a rich history of cornmeal use (typically, jonnycakes) and three heritage grist mills (Carpenter's, Gray's, and Kenyon's), for the very hard, colonial-era flint cornmeal that is traditional.

    Yellow cornmeal leads to yellow cornbread unless you cut it with lots of flour. But then it would not be the kind of cornbread you're contemplating.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karl S

      There is nothing better than a really good johnny cake topped with maple syrup butter!

      I used to buy Indian Head cornmeal but now I buy Bob's Red Mill corn meal. I find it has better flavor and texture. For johnny cakes I prefer medium grind but for corn bread I prefer course.

    2. Unless you are constrained by family tradition or regional chauvinism, there isn't a 'best' cornmeal.

      Take you pick on color. I just tried some blue stuff.

      Coarseness affects the texture of the final product. The coarser the grind, the grittier the bread.

      Stoneground has a wider range of grit size. It has the bran and germ, and as a result a shorter shelf life.

      Degerminated cornmeal, such as the Quaker and Albers brands, has a longer shelf life. If you aren't a frequent cornbread baker, and don't have the freezer space, this works fine. It also works well in the half and half style of cornbread. There's enough coarseness to tell you are eating cornbread, but not too much (if you aren't used to grit).

      I don't usually make the pure-cornmeal version. One time I used a fine cornmeal (flour) this way, and thought it worked well, provided I used a hot skillet to make a crust. I think a coarse meal in a pure-cornmeal version would be too crumbly for my liking. White Lily and Martha White cornbread mixes use a fine grind.

      Bobs Red Mill has a range of cornmeal grinds.

      I'm too cheap to consider ordering a specialty cornmeal online.

      6 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        I've always seen cornbread as a southern thing as here in nyc. I rarely ever see cornbread. Im probably a cornbread virgin as I dont remember having any aside from in thanksgiving stuffing. Always saw it as a southern thing.

        Sort of assumed that the south would treat their cornbread like their biscuits. There seems to be a widespread notion that biscuits must be made with White Lily and that northern flour makes inferior biscuits (well that seems to be true...I dont like biscuits here). Good to know there isn't any cult cornmeal from the south that I was missing out on or have to have shipped here. Was starting to think that even their cornmeal was different than what we have in our stores. Of course we dont have Martha White or White Lily cornmeal though. We dont have southern flour here so that is something I will always have to have shipped.

        1. re: GOJIRA

          king arthur now has a soft southern type self-rising flour that you may be able to find retail in NY.

          1. re: GOJIRA

            <<<There seems to be a widespread notion that biscuits must be made with White Lily and that northern flour makes inferior biscuits>>>>

            There seems to be a widespread notion that biscuits must be made with SOFT WINTER WHEAT FLOUR and that HARD WHEAT FLOUR makes inferior biscuits.

            Fixed it for you! :)

            Doesn't matter where it's grown. White Lily is one and IMO superior example of flour made from a blend of soft winter wheat.

            1. re: GOJIRA

              In colonial days corn was easier to grow than wheat. New England had its Indian pudding, thirded bread (rye, corn, wheat), RI jonnycakes. But modern cornbread depends on baking soda/powder, which dates from the middle of the 19th c. By then bread wheat was grown in the Midwest and Great Plains. So in the north, yeast bread became common. But in the south, biscuits and cornbread were a bigger part of the diet. I'm guessing the difference was due to many factors - more rural, poorer, slower adoption of technology like cast iron ovens, warmer weather (harder to handle yeast).

              Talks about cornbread and molasses being the staples in poor parts of MIssissippi in the early 20c.

              The habit of eating 'molasses sopped with cornbread' may help explain why southern style cornbread was usually unsweetened.

              1. re: paulj

                So true. Not much on this Earth better than a hot buttered piece of cornbread with molasses.

            2. re: paulj

              In addition to White Lily and Martha White (my current favorite), there is Aunt Jemima. A friend who hails from Atlanta prefers that brand. There is also Tenda-Bake. I don't recall every trying that.

            3. The cornbread in that image is either white cornmeal, or heavily cut with white flour; my guess is the former, not seeing the recipe.

              I prefer a coarser cornmeal for my cornbread, and much more cornmeal than flour. I want the corn taste and texture. I've always relied on Quaker's Yellow Cornmeal, but I recently bought instead a sack of Arrowhead Mills Organic Yellow Corn Meal for another purpose. I figure to experiment with it in my usual North-South cornbread also, and see how it differs in result.

              2 Replies
              1. re: mcsheridan

                The recipe contains 3 cups yellow cornmeal and 1/2 cup flour. So it seems they never released their real recipe.

                1. re: GOJIRA

                  i agree with your assessment, GOJIRA

              2. Once I wanted to make cornbread yet had no corn meal in the house. I *did* have a bag of masa harina (corn flour).

                Never went back to corn meal, I prefer the texture and taste I get using the masa.

                If you do a search I know that several threads and multiple recipes show up here and elsewhere on the web.

                Key for me (no matter the recipe): a cast-iron skillet and plenty of butter.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pedalfaster

                  I ran out of cornmeal and used masa harina for cornbread. It is much finer and has a different taste, it is treated with lye to provide more nutrients. I did not like the texture or taste, wound up tossing it. Different tastes I guess.
                  I do use a cast iron skillet pre heated in oven with melted butter. And I increase liquid, preferably buttermilk, by up to 2x with no problem. You can add in things like corn, chopped jalapenos, ham, cheese.

                2. I *love* the Anson products. They need to be stored in the freezer. Their cornmeal is great, but follow the recipe on their web site first.

                  I agree with the stone ground; Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe for southern cornbread that involves making a "mush" with part of the cornmeal and stirring it in to the rest. A later CI recipe suggests toasting the cornmeal before you combine the batter. I found out about that by searching this board. Lots of ideas here.

                  In my opinion, white or yellow doesn't really matter. Buttermilk does. No sugar matters. Heating the fat in a cast iron skillet before pouring in the batter gets the crust really crackling, so to speak. For health reasons I usually use olive oil, but you can substitute bacon drippings or rendered lard in the same amount.

                  cornbread made with yellow cornmeal is yellow. That photo looks like white.

                  But i'm from the south!