What are Grits? Your Ultimate Guide to Understanding this Classic Southern Dish

Cornmeal has been a staple of Southern cuisine for centuries, dating back to the Native American tribes who first cultivated maize. From cornbread to hush puppies, there are countless ways Southerners have incorporated this versatile ingredient into their cuisine. But perhaps no dish is as iconic or beloved as grits. Whether enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, grits have become synonymous with Southern hospitality and comfort food. Despite its popularity, however, many people outside the South may be unfamiliar with what exactly grits are and how they’re prepared. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about grits, from its history and nutrition facts to different types and cooking methods. Get ready to discover why grits are more than just a dish – they’re a cultural institution.


Grits is a popular dish that has been a staple in Southern cuisine for generations. Made from ground cornmeal, grits have a creamy texture and are often served as a breakfast food. Despite their humble beginnings as a simple porridge made by Native Americans, grits have evolved into a versatile ingredient that can be enjoyed in many different ways.

In the South, grits are often served with butter, salt, and pepper, but they can also be mixed with cheese or bacon for a savory twist. Grits bowls have become a popular trend in recent years, with toppings like shrimp, sausage, and eggs added to create a hearty meal.

But grits aren’t just a delicious comfort food. They also have cultural significance, representing the region’s history and traditions. Grits were a common food during the Civil War, and they continue to be a part of Southern identity today.

Overall, grits are a beloved part of Southern cuisine and a must-try for anyone visiting the region. Whether you prefer them sweet or savory, there’s no denying the deliciousness and versatility of this classic dish.

What are Grits?

The History of Grits

Grits have been a staple in Southern cuisine for centuries, but their history dates back even further. Native Americans were the first to make grits by grinding dried corn kernels into a coarse powder and boiling it with water. This porridge-like dish was known as “rockahominie” or “hominy.”

During the Colonial era, European settlers adopted this dish from the Native Americans, and grits became a popular breakfast food among the Southern colonists. Grits were made using a similar method as the Native Americans, but with the addition of milk or cream for a richer flavor.

However, it wasn’t until the Civil War that grits truly became a Southern icon. Soldiers on both sides of the war relied on grits as a cheap and filling source of sustenance. In fact, Confederate soldiers often referred to grits as “Southern rice,” and they were a crucial component of their rations.

After the Civil War, grits continued to be a staple in Southern households and gained popularity across the country. Today, grits are a beloved ingredient in many Southern dishes, including shrimp and grits, cheese grits, and grits bowls.

Overall, the history of grits is intertwined with the history of the South itself. From its humble beginnings as a Native American dish to its essential role in feeding soldiers during the Civil War, grits have played an important part in Southern culture for centuries.

Different Types of Grits

When it comes to cooking grits, the type of grits you choose can make all the difference in terms of flavor, texture, and overall quality. Here are three different types of grits you may encounter:

Stone-Ground Grits

Stone-ground grits are made from whole kernels of corn that have been ground between two stones. This process produces a coarser texture and a nuttier flavor compared to other types of grits. Additionally, because stone-ground grits are less refined than other varieties, they tend to retain more of the corn’s natural nutrients. However, this also means that they take longer to cook and may require additional liquid to achieve the desired creaminess.

Instant Grits

Instant grits are the most convenient option for busy cooks. These grits have been precooked and dehydrated, so all you need to do is add boiling water or milk to rehydrate them. While this type of grits can save you time, they often lack the depth of flavor and creamy texture found in other types of grits. Plus, many prepackaged instant grits contain additives like salt and preservatives, which can affect the overall taste and nutrition.

Quick Grits

Quick grits are similar to instant grits, but they require a brief cooking time before serving. These grits are also precooked, but they’re typically cut into smaller pieces and processed further to speed up the cooking process. Compared to instant grits, quick grits tend to have a smoother texture and a slightly richer flavor. However, like instant grits, they may still contain additives and may not be as flavorful as stone-ground grits.

Ultimately, the type of grits you choose will depend on your personal preferences and cooking style. For a truly authentic Southern experience, consider trying stone-ground grits, which offer the best combination of flavor and nutrition. However, if you’re short on time or looking for convenience, instant or quick grits may be a better option.

How to Cook Grits

How to Cook Grits

Grits are a delicious and versatile dish that can be enjoyed in many ways from savory to sweet. However, cooking grits can be tricky if you don’t know the basics. Here are some tips on how to cook grits perfectly every time:

Water-to-Grits Ratio

The water-to-grits ratio is crucial in achieving the perfect creamy texture for your grits. The general rule of thumb is to use four cups of liquid (water or broth) for one cup of grits. This ratio ensures that the grits have enough moisture to cook evenly and absorb the flavors of the liquid.

Boiling vs. Simmering

When it comes to cooking grits, boiling versus simmering can make all the difference. Boiling the grits will cook them quickly, but they may become too thick and clumpy. To avoid this, try simmering the grits over low heat. This slow-cooking method will allow the grits to fully absorb the liquid while maintaining their creamy texture.


While traditional grits are delicious on their own, adding some flavorings and toppings can take them to the next level. There are endless possibilities when it comes to add-ins for grits. Some popular choices include cheese, bacon, shrimp, or even maple syrup for a sweet twist. These additions not only enhance the flavor but also add some texture and color to the dish.

In conclusion, learning how to cook grits is easy once you understand the basics. With the right water-to-grits ratio, cooking method, and add-ins, you’ll have a delicious and satisfying dish that everyone will love.

Ways to Enjoy Grits

Popular Grits Recipes

One of the best things about grits is their versatility. They can be a great base for any number of dishes, from savory to sweet. Here are three recipes that showcase the range of possibilities when it comes to cooking with grits.

Red-eye Gravy and Grits

This classic Southern dish features salty country ham, creamy grits, and a tangy gravy made with coffee. To make red-eye gravy and grits, start by cooking your grits according to package directions. While the grits cook, fry up some sliced country ham in a skillet until crispy. Remove the ham from the skillet and set it aside. In the same skillet, add some coffee and bring it to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook the coffee for a few minutes, until it thickens slightly into a gravy. Serve the grits hot, topped with the crispy ham and the red-eye gravy.

Grits Casserole

This hearty casserole is perfect for feeding a crowd at brunch or dinner. To make grits casserole, start by cooking your grits according to package directions. Once the grits are cooked, add some shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, and crumbled cooked bacon. Mix everything together and pour it into a greased casserole dish. Bake the casserole at 350°F for about 30 minutes, until it’s hot and bubbly. Serve the casserole hot, garnished with additional green onions and bacon if desired.

Grits Fritters

These crispy fritters are a fun twist on traditional fried foods. To make grits fritters, start by cooking your grits according to package directions. Once the grits are cooked, let them cool slightly. Stir in some shredded cheddar cheese, chopped jalapeño peppers, and a beaten egg. Mix everything together and form the mixture into small patties. Heat some oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the fritters to the skillet and cook them for about 2-3 minutes per side, until they’re crispy and golden brown. Serve the fritters hot, garnished with sour cream or salsa if desired.

These three recipes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cooking with grits. With their creamy texture and neutral flavor, grits can be a great starting point for all kinds of dishes. Try experimenting with different ingredients and seasonings to find your own favorite grits recipe!

Grits Nutrition Facts

Grits Nutrition Facts

Grits are a popular Southern dish that is made from milled corn and often served with butter, cheese, or gravy. While they may be delicious, it’s important to understand their nutritional value as well.


Grits are primarily made up of carbohydrates, which provide energy to your body. One cup of cooked grits contains approximately 38 grams of carbohydrates. However, it’s important to note that not all carbohydrates are the same. Grits are considered a high glycemic index food, meaning they can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes or are watching your blood sugar levels, it may be best to enjoy grits in moderation or pair them with protein and fiber-rich foods to help balance out their effects.


While grits are not a significant source of protein, they do contain small amounts that can contribute to your daily intake. One cup of cooked grits has about 3.5 grams of protein. If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, consider adding toppings like shrimp or eggs to your grits.


Grits are not a rich source of vitamins, but they do contain some essential ones. For instance, one cup of cooked grits provides about 10% of the recommended daily intake of thiamin, which is critical for energy production and brain function. They also contain niacin, which helps maintain healthy skin and nerves.


Grits are a good source of minerals, particularly iron and phosphorus. Iron is essential for healthy blood cells and oxygen transport throughout the body, while phosphorus plays an important role in bone health and energy metabolism. One cup of cooked grits contains approximately 2.5 milligrams of iron and 110 milligrams of phosphorus.

Overall, grits are a tasty and versatile dish that can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. However, it’s essential to be mindful of their high carbohydrate content and glycemic index if you have certain health conditions. By pairing them with protein and fiber-rich foods, you can help balance out their effects and enjoy them in moderation.



Grits have rightfully earned their place as a beloved Southern staple, but their appeal extends far beyond the region. As we’ve explored in this comprehensive guide, grits are a versatile ingredient with a rich cultural significance and undeniable deliciousness.

Their versatility is apparent in the variety of dishes they can be used in, from sweet breakfast porridge to savory shrimp and grits. Grits can also serve as a base for other ingredients, such as cheese grits and grits bowls, making them an excellent canvas for innovative culinary creations.

But grits are more than just a tasty food. They hold a deep cultural significance in the South, where they are often associated with family gatherings, community events, and hospitality. And while their origins can be traced back to Native American cuisine, grits have since become a symbol of Southern pride and tradition.

Finally, there’s no denying the deliciousness of grits. Whether served plain or dressed up with toppings or add-ins, grits offer a creamy, comforting texture that is hard for anyone to resist. Plus, with their affordable price tag and easy preparation, grits are accessible to anyone looking to enjoy a hearty meal.

In conclusion, grits are much more than just a simple cornmeal dish. Their history, versatility, and culinary potential make them a truly unique and cherished ingredient. So next time you’re looking for a delicious and satisfying meal, don’t overlook the humble grits!
Grits may be a humble and unassuming dish, but they hold a special place in Southern cuisine and culture. From their Native American origins to their popularity in colonial times and during the Civil War, grits have always been an essential part of Southern life.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ve explored what grits are, how they’re made, and the different ways they can be enjoyed, from traditional shrimp and grits to cheesy grits and flavorful grits bowls. We’ve also discussed the nutritional benefits of grits and how they can be incorporated into a healthy diet.

But grits are more than just a delicious and nutritious dish – they represent a connection to our past, a celebration of Southern heritage and traditions, and a symbol of the resilience and resourcefulness of the people who have lived and thrived in this region for centuries.

So whether you’re a lifelong fan of grits or a newcomer to this classic Southern staple, we hope that this guide has deepened your understanding and appreciation of this beloved dish. And who knows – perhaps you’ll be inspired to try a new grits recipe or even create one of your own, adding your own unique twist to this timeless Southern favorite.

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