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Looking for a tasty, versatile, and inexpensive side dish? Look no further than a humble bag of grits. The ways to eat grits are countless but we’ll start with 10 simple and frugal ones here.
Growing up in the South, grits were a staple of our diet. I’ll never forget shortly after I got married, going grocery shopping in Canada and searching fruitlessly for grits. My inquiries of the store employees were met with blank stares and I thought to myself, “They must be called something different here.”
When my husband got home from work, I said, “You won’t believe it, but I went to two different stores today and couldn’t find any grits.”
He gave me the same blank, puzzled stare as the grocery store workers and asked me the words that will ring in my ears and make me giggle forevermore. “What’s a grit?”
While my fellow Southerners are laughing, let me give you the lowdown on grits. Grits are a very coarsely ground dried corn product cooked into something similar to porridge or other hot cereal grain. I don’t know too many people who are ambivalent about grits. You love them or you hate them. If you hate them, I would suggest that you may have had them poorly prepared and cooked with water. If you can get your hands on some at a good price, try one or more of the following ways to eat grits and you may find yourself a pro-grits convert. They’re a great addition to your Cheap Eats repertoire.
Ways to eat grits: the shopping part
The main difference between grits and polenta are simply the color of the corn. Grits are typically made from white corn and polenta is made from yellow corn. Polenta is a bit more coarsely ground than grits, and a bit fussier and more hands-on to cook. However, anything you can do with grits, you can do with polenta, and vice versa. Just get whichever is cheapest – or if you’re not in the South, whatever is available.
For the love of Jack Daniels, don’t get those little packets of instant grits. They are cooked then dried out and then recooked, and it sucks out the flavor and nutrients. Cooking grits from scratch is not difficult and makes a world of difference in your end product.
For corn products, I always select organic ones if possible. I personally prefer to avoid GMOs when I can but if that doesn’t bother you, conventional will cook up the same way.
Grits 101: How to cook them
Grits are as easy to cook as rice – seriously. For nearly any recipe you’re going to make with grits, you’ll start with this simple base.
- 4 parts liquid: I use half milk and half water. Non-dairy oat milk works fine for this. Depending on your final recipe, you might wish to use broth in place of the milk for a savory dish. You can also cook your grits in water and add some milk or cream at the end.
- 1 part dry grits: I prefer stone-ground but “old-fashioned” grits have a longer shelf life and cook faster.
- 1/2 tsp-1 tsp of salt: Even if you are making a sweet dish, your grits need a little salt.
- In a saucepan, bring your liquid to a boil.
- Add your salt.
- Slowly stir your dry grits into the boiling liquid.
- Cover it and reduce it to low heat.
- Simmer the concoction for 15 minutes for old-fashioned grits and 45-60 minutes for stone-ground grits, stirring occasionally. Because I’m forgetful, I set a timer for every 5 minutes to remind me to stir.
You’ll know your grits are ready when they’ve reached a gloriously cream consistency. Take a spoonful out, let it cool enough not to burn your tongue, and taste a tiny bit to make sure the grits are soft without crunchy pieces. If there are still crunchy pieces, you may need to add a bit of hot water and cook it for longer.
Now that your grits are cooked, how will you serve them? If you’re going to make them into any type of cake or patty, you need to spread them out and let them chill in the fridge for an hour or so. Otherwise, carry on seasoning your grits.
Ways to Eat Grits
There are so many different ways to eat grits I’m just scratching the surface. Once you’ve fully embraced your love of grits, the sky’s the limit.
Buttered grits are the easiest way to serve them. You can use this as a side dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Simply stir in a hefty helping of butter and some black pepper once your grits are cooked. When I have leftover buttered grits, I stir in a little milk to then them down before heating them up, and then I serve them in place of mashed potatoes or rice as the base for other foods.
Cheese grits are utterly glorious and versatile. You can use any kind of cheese. Our particular favorites are extra sharp cheddar and parmesan. When your grits are done cooking, add anywhere from half a cup to a cup of cheese to your steaming hot pot of grits. I often season cheese grits with onion powder and black pepper.
Shrimp and Grits
This is the Southern classic that Forrest Gump made mainstream. I’m not personally a fan of crustaceans but the article would not be complete without this – one of the most popular ways to eat grits.
While your grits are cooking, fry up a couple of slices of bacon in a skillet. Put your cooked bacon to the side. Then add peeled, deveined shrimp, garlic, chopped onion, and Cajun seasoning to your bacon grease and fry it up until your shrimp turns pink.
You can add cheese to your grits if you want, although it’s not part of the classic recipe. Top your grits with the shrimp mixture, then crumble up your reserved bacon (you didn’t eat it while you were cooking, did you?) on top of that.
The Base of a Breakfast Bowl
You can make a fabulous savory breakfast bowl by topping buttered grits with bacon or sausage, some sauteed onions and peppers, and a fried egg.
Grits and Gravy
If you don’t have any biscuits kicking around or don’t want to turn on the oven to bake them, make white gravy from sausage or bacon and ladle that on top of your hot grits. (Get gravy-making instructions here.)
There are SO MANY casseroles based on grits. My favorite is made with sausage. While your grits are cooking, fry up your favorite sausage – I prefer crumbled breakfast sausage – along with onions and peppers. When all this stuff is cooked, then beat some eggs in a large mixing bowl. Scramble them lightly in your sausage pan. Grease a casserole dish. Stir in all your ingredients and some cheese until everything is well combined. Bake this divine concoction at 350 for half an hour.
Another way to eat a bowl of grits is to season it up like oatmeal. Add stuff like brown sugar, maple syrup, chopped pecans or almonds, fruit, cinnamon, nutmeg, or granola, and enjoy.
Parmesan Grits Cakes
After cooking your grits, immediately stir in some parmesan cheese, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and salt. Spread the mixture out in a pan and put it in the fridge for an hour to chill.
Heat your favorite cooking oil on the stovetop. Cut little squares of the chilled grits concoction and fry them for 3 minutes on each side. Let them drain on a paper towel.
You can serve this with a marinara dip or as a base for an Italian dish like chicken cacciatore or chicken marsala.
Do you make cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving? You can skip the step of making cornbread and just use cooked grits instead. Dressing is not stuffing. It is cooked aside from your turkey. I cook my grits in chicken broth for this recipe. Cook your grits a day ahead of time and leave them in the fridge. About an hour before the turkey is done, stir in a couple of raw eggs, sage, salt, black pepper, onions, mushrooms, and any other delightful additions you put in dressing. Pop this into a greased baking dish and cook it in the oven at 325 for approximately an hour or until it’s firm and slightly crisp on top.
This could not possibly be about a Southern food without instructions for frying it. You can make your fried grits sweet or savory. I’ll give you the basic instructions and then some variations.
Spread them out in a pan and let your cooked grits cool for at least an hour, but preferably overnight in the refrigerator. Next, you’re going to batter them. Beat a couple of eggs in one dish, and put some seasoned flour in another. Cut your wedges of chilled grits, and dip them first into the egg was, then into the flour. Plop that right in a preheated frying pan with your cooking oil of choice while you continue making wedges of grits. Fry them for about 5 minutes per side. Then put them on a paper towel to drain a little of that grease from your fried grits.
- Add salt and pepper to the flour and serve them as a side dish to eggs and bacon. (An alternative to hash brown potatoes)
- Top them with butter and maple syrup and eat them like pancakes.
- Add the savory seasonings of your choice to the flour. Top your fried grits with leftover Cajun food like gumbo or jambalaya.
The sky is the limit with fried grits!
What are your favorite ways to eat grits?
Do you have a favorite way to eat grits that I didn’t mention here? There are hundreds of ways so I know y’all (see what I did there) will have suggestions. Let’s talk about ways to eat grits in the comments.