This Southern morning staple is versatile (and delicious) enough to make an appearance at every meal of the day. 

By Tiffany Stevens
March 23, 2020

Some people prefer oatmeal, others Cream of Wheat. For us Southerners, though, there’s no breakfast cereal quite like grits. The tasty, savory, corn-based porridge is an all-year staple, regardless of whether you’re feeling under the weather or simply craving a comforting breakfast. If you’ve only tried grits alongside eggs, sausage and other morning favorites, however, then you’re unfairly limiting the power of this delectable dish’s versatility. Grits are, like most cereals and grains, easily customized, and they can be made even more delicious by dressing them up with proteins, vegetables, and other additions. Whether you’re a fan of plain grits with butter, salt and pepper, or are simply looking to make the best shrimp and grits you’ve ever had, our grits-making guide will help you to create your perfect bowl. 

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Step One: Choose Your Grits

Naturally, you’ll want to start by obtaining some grits (assuming you don’t already have them in your pantry). Grits come in several different textures, which determines their cooking times. Instant grits are finely ground and cook up quickly in the microwave. Quick grits, as their name implies, cook up quickly on the stove. Regular or stone ground grits, like steel-cut oatmeal, are thickly cut and will need even more cooking time. For most of these recipes, quick grits will do the trick, but feel free to experiment and find out what works best for you. 

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Step Two: Choose Your Cooking Liquid

Grits are normally cooked using water, but there’s no reason to limit yourself to that. You can also cook grits in vegetable, chicken or beef broth for a more savory finish. Or, you could incorporate milk (regular or buttermilk) if you’d like a creamier texture. 

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Step Three: Choose Mix-Ins or Toppings

The above steps may seem a bit basic, but that’s because they’re just the setup. Here is where grits truly get interesting. Since the cereal is a relatively plain base that easily soaks up flavor, you can experiment wildly to find out what toppings and mix-ins taste best to you. Grilled or fried shrimp atop grits cooked in broth is a classic application, but you could also saute up mushrooms or onions for a deeply savory addition. Of course, cheese grits always go over well with a crowd, and if you’ve only tried cheddar, now is your time to branch out. Brisket and pulled pork work amazingly atop grits. And if you’re missing fall already, pick up some puree and make a grits dish that’s certain to scratch your pumpkin itch. 

As with other dishes, think carefully about what kinds of textures you want on your plate. Fresh ingredients mixed in with the grits, especially while they’re cooking, may lose some crunch, so you may want to set some elements aside to sprinkle across the top once you’re finished. 

Step Four: Cook Your Grits

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

How to Make Grits on the Stove

The easiest, and perhaps most common way to cook grits is on the stove. For this, you’ll want about three to four cups of liquid per cup of grits. Bring your liquid to a boil, then turn down the heat, pour in your grits, cover the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook for between 15 and 25 minutes, or until it reaches your desired consistency. 

If you happen to have already cooked grits on hand and you’re feeling a bit fancy, then you can shape the grits into cakes and pan fry them. Take cooked grits and spoon them into a muffin tin, then chill the tin overnight, or about 12 hours. Remove the cakes from the tin, and then fry in oil or bacon drippings until lightly browned on each side. Top with a fried or poached egg and country gravy for an extra decadent meal.

Victor Protasio

How to Make Grits In a Slow Cooker

If you’ve got a slow cooker or an Instant Pot, then you’ve already got a head start toward your best bowl of grits. Simply combine your grits with at least three cups of liquid per cup of grits, then cook on low. Eight hours later, your grits will be ready to serve. 

Victor Protasio

How to Make Baked Grits

Baked grits can also be a fun way to change up your usual routine. For this recipe, you’ll start your grits on the stove, then spoon them into ramekins. Place the ramekins in a baking pan, and then add water until the liquid is halfway up the side of the ramekins. Cook at 375°F for 15 minutes. Feel free, while that’s cooking up, to make up a topper or sauce. Those finishers will go perfectly over the warm, baked grits. 

Antonis Achilles; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Kay Clark

How to Make a Casserole with Grits

Tired of eating your grits in bowls? Why not make a casserole? Cook up your grits, pick out some cheese and other mix-ins, and then once your grits have cooled some, combine them in a bowl with some lightly whipped eggs and your other ingredients. Pour the grits mixture into a casserole dish, set the oven to 350°F and get ready to enjoy your grits casserole in about 40 minutes. If you’re hoping for a souffle, then whip up some egg whites until you reach stiff peaks, then combine with your grits mixture and bake as usual.

Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Claire Spollen; Food Styling: Torie Cox

How to Make Grits into a Quiche or Pie

Grits quiches and pies are another great variation to go with, and just as easy to whip up as a casserole. Simply mix in some cooked grits with your favorite quiche ingredients, and then pour over a pie crust. You can also make a more traditional pie with fewer eggs, or top off a pot pie with grits for a creative finish.

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

How to Make Appetizers with Grits

Think you can’t make a good, bite-sized appetizer out of grits? Think again! Like other grains and cereals, grits can make a great substitution for breads, fries, fritters and other finger foods. For these recipes, you’ll want to pre-make grits and then chill them. For circle shapes, muffin tins or ramekins can be used. For everything else, spread your grits across a baking pan and then cut out the shape you need, or roll the chilled grits into balls if you’re making fritters. Spanakopita can be made by cutting out triangles and fries by cutting out rectangles. Waffle makers can also be used to shape grits, whether you’re hoping to serve the waffle squares at a gathering or simply trying to make the morning more special.