Simple Cast Iron Southern Cornbread Recipe

Six tips for perfect Southern Cornbread baked in a hot-hot-hot cast iron skillet. The tips are in my latest "Kitchen Lesson" column – a series of occasional recipes with extra insider tips and ideas gained from long experience in the kitchen.

Simple Cast Iron Southern Corn Bread ♥ KitchenParade.com, six tips for perfect cornbread every time, either a large batch or a small batch.


COMPLIMENTS!
"My husband declared it the best ever." ~ Cathy
"This was perfect!" ~ Kim


Now truth be told, I'm a Yankee.

But when it comes to cornbread, Southern Cornbread is my go-to recipe. The recipe starts with a big batch for a large cast iron skillet but there's also a small batch for a tiny skillet, good if you're cooking for one or two and aren't excited about leftovers. I hope y'all love this recipe: it's one of a handful of "signature" recipes, the ones I'm really known for. Enjoy!

TIP #1For perfect cornbread results every time, bake cornbread in a cast iron skillet. Buy one new for $15-$20 (cast iron skillet ideas here) or hunt for a bargain at a resale shop, flea market or garage sale. These days, new skillets usually come pre-seasoned – it’s the "seasoning" that makes a well-seasoned skillet nearly as "non-stick" as a non-stick pan.

TIP #2Invest in stone-ground cornmeal. It’s a real treat and a "whole food", nothing more than coarsely or finely ground corn, nothing added, nothing removed. Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal is easy to find in grocery stores, I’ve also ordered freshly ground cornmeal from War Eagle Mill in Rogers, Arkansas, great prices and am in love-love-love with War Eagle Mill's Organic White Cornmeal, Fine Grind. Do store stone-ground cornmeal in the freezer, double bagged to prevent freezer burn. Plan to use it within a few months.

TIP #3For a golden, chewy crust, heat your greased skillet in the oven until hot-hot-hot before adding the cornbread batter. What a difference this makes!

TIP #4For a headstart, collect the dry ingredients in one bowl and whisk the egg-buttermilk mixture in another a few minutes or a few hours before baking. But don’t combine the two until the skillet is toasty hot. If you do, the baking powder and baking soda will do all their "leavening" work (that’s the lifting which makes cornbread light) in the bowl, rather than the skillet. And that means you’ll end up with flat, tough cornbread. And that means Mama ain’t happy.

TIP #5Know the difference between "southern cornbread" and "Yankee cornbread", then find your happy "border state" version.

A southern cornbread usually calls for white cornmeal, a small proportion of flour:cornmeal (and some times no flour at all), buttermilk, little to no sugar, bacon fat and just one egg. There's no mistaking southern cornbread for cake, it's not in the least bit sweet.

A Yankee cornbread usually calls for yellow cornmeal, a higher proportion of flour, sweet milk (that’s regular milk, not buttermilk), a good measure of something sweet like sugar or sorghum or honey, butter and two or more eggs. My recipe for a Yankee-style cornbread is Skillet Cornbread, it stays moist and sweet for days but is a little fussy to make, especially compared to this simple recipe for Simple Cast Iron Southern Cornbread.

I have trouble finding white cornmeal so nearly always use stone-ground yellow cornmeal for both my southern cornbread and my Yankee cornbread.

TIP #6If you’re a fellow cornbread fiend, consult with the sage of cornbread, Crescent Dragonwagon. Really. There’s no making up such a name. She's the author of my own guide to all things cornbread, The Cornbread Gospels.

CAMPFIRE CORNBREAD

The last two falls, I mixed up cornbread for a group of gourmet camp-cooks and elk hunters who (I’m told) devour the hot cornbread in minutes. Now my grandmother would say, “Hunger is the best sauce,” but me, I'm 99% sure it's the fresh bread coming off a hot fire out in the middle of the wilderness.

To make Campfire Cornbread, just mix and carry the dry ingredients in a ziplock bag. Heat the well-greased skillet in hot embers or atop a Dutch oven with coals, see the photo below. Just before cooking, use a fork to mix in the egg, oil and buttermilk right in the bag and transfer to the hot skillet. Put the skillet back into the embers, let cook until the cornbread is golden.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!

KITCHEN LESSON:
SIMPLE CAST IRON
SOUTHERN CORNBREAD

Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Time to table: 45 minutes
    LARGE BATCH
    (for a nine or ten-inch cast iron skillet, makes 8 - 12 full-size slices)
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease or butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons (33g) vegetable oil
  • 1-1/4 cup (280g) buttermilk
    SMALL BATCH
    (for a six-inch mini cast iron skillet, makes 4 large wedges or 12 mini wedges)
  • 1 teaspoon bacon grease or butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup (67g) buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 31g
  • 1/3 cup stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Heat the oven to 425F/220C. Rub a cast-iron skillet with bacon grease or butter and place the empty skillet into the hot oven for 15 minutes. (Why? See TIPS.)

In a small bowl, whisk the egg with the fork until the yolk and white are combined, then whisk in the oil and buttermilk until well combined.

In a large bowl, with a fork, stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda until well combined. (Stop here if mixing ahead of time. Why? See TIPS.) Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, use the fork to gently combine.

Pour the batter into the hot skillet and immediately place in the oven. For the large batch, bake for 15 minutes; for the small batch, 10 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the cornbread is pulling away from the sides. Serve immediately hot from the oven. Best warm from the oven and should be eaten within 24 hours.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Large Batch, Assumes 12/8 Slices, Per Slice: 104/157 Calories; 5/7g Tot Fat; 2g Sat Fat; 18/28mg Cholesterol; 352/359mg Sodium; 12/18g Carb; 1g Fiber; 0g Sugar; 2/3g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 2/3.5 & PointsPlus 3/4 & SmartPoints 3/5

NUTRITION INFORMATION Small Batch, Assumes 12/4 Slices, Per Slice: 41/123 Calories; 2/5g Tot Fat; 0/1g Sat Fat; 18/55mg Cholesterol; 98/294mg Sodium; 5/15g Carb; 0/1g Fiber; 0/1g Sugar; 1/4g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 1/2.5 & PointsPlus 1/3 & SmartPoints 1/4

WHY THE SMALL BATCH? Families grow big, families grow small, it's the ebb and flow of family life. Right now, I mostly cook for two so am always on the look-out for half-size or even smaller cooking vessels. So far I've found a half-size angel food cake pan, a half-size Bundt pan and yes, for cornbread, a miniature cast iron skillet, just six inches in diameter. It took a few tries to break down the cornbread recipe but now I never hesitate to make cornbread for dinner, knowing that the two of us can use all or most of it up. Besides, the mini wedges are just so cute alongside a small bowl of soup, a perfect "small bite" of warm bread!

MORE VARIATIONS This has been my go-to simple cornbread recipe since 2010, a new batch every few weeks. That means that more often than not, now, I "play around" with the recipe. I go back and forth between all-purpose flour and 100% white whole-wheat, both are good. After a few batches, I decided I liked a little more leavening. But if your taste leans toward a thinner flatbread-like cornbread, use half the specified baking powder and baking soda. Not everyone likes the texture of stone-ground cornmeal. To soften it, soak coarse stone-ground cornmeal in the buttermilk for about 3 hours or use fine stone-ground cornmeal. The recipe is an easy one to adapt, adding green chilies for a southwestern-style meal, fresh blueberries during berry season, toasted walnuts just because they were on the counter. Turns out? Walnuts are such a favorite, I add them every time now! When the cornbread is a little long in the tooth and dry, break it into pieces in a bowl, cover with milk, just like breakfast cereal!


CAMPFIRE CORNBREAD


Simple Cast Iron Southern Cornbread ♥ KitchenParade.com, here 'Campfire Cornbread' cooked in a Dutch oven over an open fire.

Out in the wilderness, there's nothing more unexpected than just-baked bread. This recipe works great over an open fire or atop a Dutch oven, for tips, see Campfire Cornbread. Here, a stew was bubbling away in the Dutch oven below, so I just added a cast iron skillet to the top coals! Cooking like this isn't as "precise" or as "controlled" as in your kitchen but still, mighty satisfying.


This Week, Years Past 2002 - 2012

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This Week, Elsewhere

Warm Gooey Butter Cake from Gentelin’s on Broadway
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My Column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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More Cornbread Recipes

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
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© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2012, 2014 & 2016 (repub)



It must have been my years spent overlooking the Capitol of the Confederacy, but I never make cornbread in anything other than cast iron. I also adapted my regular recipe to fit my little "two fried egg" skillet, so we could have just enough for the meal. I will have to branch out on cornmeals, though--so many to try.

Thanks, Alanna!
 
March must be the month of cast iron! I love my cast iron pans, and the article singing cast iron's praises in this month's Sauce Magazine is motivating me to take better care of mine.

I'll have to try this recipe the next time I make soup.
 
For a Yankee you have written a mighty fine Southern cornbread recipe. Thanks for the small batch option. Perfect size for two and delicious. My husband declared it the best ever.
 
Kirsten ~ Ah, we so often think alike!

Melissa ~ I saw that article. We have cast iron in more shapes and sizes than you can imagine. Two skillets are getting "worked on" in the oven right now.

Cathy ~ Why, thank you! We are totally smitten with this cornbread, too. In fact, it makes up so fast, the last time I made a mini batch was at ten o'clock at night for a little before-bed snack!
 
I was searching for a recipe that reminded me of what my grandmother from Kentucky used to make. It always had a crispy crust and not overly sweet. This was perfect! I made the small batch to go with a low country boil. I did add a hint of honey, about 1 teaspoon. It was enjoyed by all. Thanks!!!
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna