Grits are no longer an obscure breakfast food from the South, thanks to the far-flung appeal of dishes like shrimp-topped bowls of the stuff. Still, the coarse-ground corn is a little tricky to prepare. Home cooks are vexed when grits turn lumpy, or are too thick or watery. Here are some sure-fire suggestions for creating the most crave-able, creamy grits you'll ever eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Corn grits polenta
Grits are the start of a great brunch. Photo by Meredith Publishing

Start with Quality Grits

The instant grits made from white corn that have been on supermarket shelves for decades are bland, which isn't a problem for many folks who grew up eating them. But in the late 1990s, a clever entrepreneur named Glenn Roberts begin experimenting with varieties of corn that dated back before the Civil War. He founded Anson Mills in South Carolina, and developed technology for processing the corn that ensured maximum flavor and a toothsome texture. Since then, artisan grits have become a THING, especially as cooks and diners have fallen in love with dishes such as shrimp and grits. Look for grits from Palmetto Farms, Bob's Red Mill (which also produces grits made from barley and millet) and, my personal fave, Delta Grind from Mississippi.

650 x 465 big bad breakfast grits photo by Leslie Kelly
Grits at Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, Miss. Photo by Leslie Kelly

Let's Talk Liquids

When it comes to turning grits from something gritty to a bowl full of yum, it's all about nailing the right ratio of liquid to solids. For coarse grind grits, the traditional combination is four cups of liquid for every cup of grits. That can be water, stock, whole milk, cream or a combination of any or all of those. David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar cookbook calls for cooking grits in a bacon dashi, which is made by simmering kombu (kelp) with bacon and chilling, then skimming the excess fat. No matter what liquid(s) are used, bring to a boil, add the grits and whisk, whisk, whisk. Reduce the heat and stir, adding more liquid if the mixture is too thick. Cooking time varies, depending on the grind and the freshness of the grits, from 20 minutes to close to an hour. To cut cooking time in half, soak the grits overnight in the cooking liquid in the fridge.

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Chicken stock. Photo by Meredith Publishing

The Big Finish

As the grits soften and absorb the liquid, they go from a soupy consistency to a more porridge-like texture. At that point, add shredded cheese or butter, if the recipe calls for it. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Remember, the grits will become more solid after they're served, so add a little hot water if you're looking for a creamy texture. While sauteed shrimp is one of the most popular toppings for grits, Southerners traditionally eat them on their own, as a superstar, comfort food side dish.

Watch this short video from Chef John for tips on how to make his top-rated shrimp and grits:

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