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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).

              http://books.google.com/books?id=wO3L...
              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!

                  1. Color is mostly preference.Coarse grind, I prefer for its grittiness......sugar seems to be a regional thing.

                    Most recipes I have seen use too much AP flour.i tend to reverse the proportions

                    I have also been known to add diced onion (or reconstituted minced) and sometime the kernels from a leftover ear of corn on the cob

                    1. I order my cornmeal from the Littleton Mill in NH. Used to stop in when visiting my family, but they lost their lease to a sports bar, so order I do.

                      All the grains that they mill on the old grindstone are excellent.

                      http://www.littletongristmillonline.com

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: smtucker

                        I live in the deep south, have all my life.....White Lily is the cornmeal you want. And no, our cornbread is not like biscuits. If you get the White Lily cornmeal mix, you won't need to add SR flour or baking powder. Just add buttermilk, eggs & oil. NO sugar allowed!!!!

                        If you have a cast iron skillet, use that. Heat it up, along w/ some bacon grease in the oven, while oven heats up. Pour batter into skillet (it should sizzle). Cook for about 25 minutes. YUM!

                        1. re: chloebell

                          Didnt mean that cornbread=biscuits. Just meant how some southeners tend to be very particular about the ingredients that go into their biscuit (e.g. Some will refuse to make biscuits without self rising white lily). I was wondering if a similar feeling was felt towards a southern brand of cornmeal with a similar type of cult following and popularity.

                          1. re: chloebell

                            To throw that to the wind.... I married someone from the Deep South and he doesn't care for anything White Lily. He likes more sugar in his cornbread than I do. I have deep roots here in the North. He has those same roots down there. So there is no one answer regarding regional variations.

                            All White Lily cornmeal products have baking powder in the mix so of course you don't need to add anymore.

                        2. I use the recipe in "Miss Mary's Down-Home Cooking" by Diana Dalsass, long out of print, a collection from the late Mary Bobo of Lynchburg boarding-house fame. Her Skillet Cornbread uses no flour, only salt, soda, cornmeal, eggs, buttermilk and shortening. The shortening is put in the pan to preheat, then poured and beaten into the batter before it's poured into the hot pan. I like a coarse, crunchy texture, and while I have been using either Albers or Quaker yellow cornmeal I've lately been substituting about a half-cup of stoneground corn grits for a like amount of cornmeal. I love it, but I suspect Mrs. O is not so crazy about it …

                          I grew up in Illinois, believing that cornbread was fluffy, yellow and sweet, and was always made with Jiffy mix. I believed that until well into my thirties, when I moved to Nashville and learned The Truth – at least the brand of it that I like best. I still like yellow better; it's cornier somehow.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Will Owen

                            Re: flour in cornbread – Miss Mary also gives a recipe for a "fancier" cornbread with flour added. I've made that too, and not liked it, nor do I care much for the White Lily mix. What I look for in cornbread is crunch and flavor without any significant chewiness, and wheat flour makes it chewy, although the WL mix is less so than what you get from adding AP flour. The one mix I used a lot in Nashville if I was in a hurry (or feeling lazy) was the pouches of Martha White "Cotton-Pickin' Cornbread" just-add-water mix – in fact I bring some back home when we go to Nashville for a visit. Make it in a skillet as usual and it's pretty darned good. I just don't want to read the contents panel …

                            1. re: Will Owen

                              will, the cornbread recipe i have here on chowhound is very tender, not chewy, if you're interested. http://www.chow.com/recipes/30165-dad...

                              slather with butter and maybe add a touch of salt.

                            2. re: Will Owen

                              Yikes, sweet cornbread, and maybe cake like. We use Morrison corn kits for a mix. It's out of Denton,Tx. and tastes almost as good as Granny's cornbread, being in SE Texas, yellow of course. The Hispanic wifeacita adds jalapenos unless we're out of them, a rarity. They also make pan kits, a mix for pancakes and waffles. I've tried a Southern Living pancake mix, and Jeff Smith's waffle mix whipping egg whites, etc. and the corn and pan kits are just as good, requiring only egg and milk.

                              http://morrisonmilling.com/

                              1. re: James Cristinian

                                This is a Guenther brand
                                http://www.chg.com/our-brands/
                                Pioneer is another of their brands. They were also the previous owner of White Lily.

                            3. I just glanced at Cracker Kitchen in the library.
                              http://www.amazon.com/The-Cracker-Kit...

                              Grandma's cornbread is a straight forward half/half - equal parts cornmeal and self rising flour. Their cracklin cornbread is the same thing with the addition of store bought cracklins (pork rinds) (soaked).

                              http://hereandthere123.blogspot.com/2...

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: paulj

                                I know it's just me, but I never understood adding flour to cornmeal to make cornbread. I mean, is the reverse true?
                                If a brownie recipe calls for 2 cups of flour do folks use 1 cup flour and one cup of cornmeal? OK, so you feel the need to add the flour...then why for Pete's sake use Wheat flour? Wouldn't Corn flour be better? ;)

                                1. re: Uncle Bob

                                  Compare the texture of a muffin with an all corn cornbread. A bread using half flour (white AP) and half cornmeal will be more like the muffin, but with some of the corn flavor and grit.

                                  I have made cornbread with corn flour (Bobs Red Mill). While it didn't have the grit of a coarser cornmeal, it didn't have the lightness of a half/half cornbread. It was one case where I really appreciated the contrasting texture that the crisp crust provided. That crust also helped hold it together.

                                  Corn flour is not a direct substitute for wheat flour, though gluten-free bakers have worked out various combinations of starches and emulsifiers (gums, flax meal, etc) to mimic flour.

                                  Sure cornmeal can be used in brownies or other recipes that use AP. I'm not sure I'd like the texture. However I have made, and liked, a 'polenta cake', an Italian style cake using cornmeal, olive oil, and citrus flavoring. You have to pick the meal to fit the desired texture. Recipes seem to favor instant polenta (i.e. fine grits).

                                  I've made cornmeal biscuits (from an ATK recipe), and various cornmeal pancakes. Old Joy of Cooking has a couple of recipes, one using mostly cornmeal that produces thin lacy cakes (almost jonnycakes), and one that softens the meal with a 10 min soak in boiling water.

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    Yeah, been there and done a lot of that. You must try adding a bag of chocolate chips to your corn bread batter sometimes. Or at the very least a double handful of crushed BBQ potato chips. j/k Seriously I used to grow about 1/2 acre of Pencil Cob corn for the freezer and mostly to grind into meal. Late fall I would take 200# or so to an old guy with a 24" stone mill. It made awesome bread. ~ Now the old guy is dead, the mill is gone, and I'm too darn tired of fighting the coons and deer for the corn. Nowadays gimme some Martha White or White Lily SR Corn Meal Mix, an egg or two, some milk and/or buttermilk, some oil, and a cast iron skillet and I'm happy.

                                    1. re: Uncle Bob

                                      What's the proportion of corn to wheat in the White Lily mix? The ingredients list (available online) is unclear.

                                      In Seattle I only get WL or MW if Grocery Outlet snagged some at clearance prices.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        I dunno Paul. I do know that both have added wheat flour along with the leavening and salt. In what exact proportions...I haven't a clue. It makes an OK bread...Not up to the old Pencil Cob corn meal standards, mind you, but acceptable.

                                        1. re: Uncle Bob

                                          http://ansonmills.com/products/12
                                          Anson Mills on Pencil Cob corn
                                          a relatively soft dent corn that was popular with subsistence growers.

                                          The harder flint corn was more common in the northern colonies, and is also the variety that was adopted by the Italians. Presumably they had access to larger, more capable mills.

                                          http://www.ansonmills.com/grain_notes/13

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            Yes. It is an old dent 'field' corn. Some of the old timers called it Shoe Peg..not to be confused with the white, sweet Shoe Peg variety. Picked at just the right time it's delicious as roasting ears or creamed corn. Unlike many of the modern sweet and super sweet varieties, Pencil cob's window of freshness is very short...just two or three days. If it's ready today...you better pick it. After that it's only good for meal, moonshine, and animal feed.

                              2. I guess I'm lucky - I get my coarse ground cornmeal from one of the farms at our local farmer's market. And some dent corn grits that make you glad you have teeth.
                                Hailing from the north, but residing in the Deep South, I like my cornbread sweet, but I like it gritty as well.
                                My born-n-reared-in-alabamer coworker hates my sweet cornbread. She grew up on it dry and crumbly, to break up into a bowl of buttermilk.

                                1. I use Indian Head from Ellicot City, Md.It is white stone ground corn meal. They produce both white and yellow meals. It is what I grew up with and have never deviated when making corn bread. I do use good old Quaker yellow meal when baking breads, English Muffins and pizza crust. Both are available on Amazon.

                                  1. It's peasant food, and not even festival food at that.
                                    Don't bother getting the "best cornmeal" -- find something you like, but they all work well.
                                    (yes, there is a "best cornmeal" -- it's not a commodity).