Are Yankee Grits "True Grits"?

Grits and Eggs
Grits and Eggs. Lew Robertson/Corbis/Getty Images

Yankee Grits

To southerners, the thought of putting syrup on grits makes them gag. Worse than that, it makes them just plain mad. And you don't want to get a southerner mad at you regarding anything related to food.

So before you have the southern food police haul me off to some desolate location where grits aren't even available, please let me tell you how my Cajun family fell into the sin of syrup and grits. 

My dad was a true Cajun with roots going back to 1678 when his 9th Great Grandfather, Louis Noel Labauve, arrived in Acadia (now Nova Scotia). Growing up near Franklin, Louisiana, Dad often visited his aunts in Abbeville, the home of Steen's 100% Pure Cane Syrup. He became a lover of Steen's Syrup and poured it on almost anything that didn't move.

One Sunday morning we were having breakfast: grits for Dad and grits or pancakes for the rest of us. As usual, both Steen's and maple syrup were on the table. Dad loved to experiment with food, and not always wisely. His cooking was wonderful: his experiments could be frightening.

This particular morning, Dad decided to try some Steen's syrup on his buttered grits and proclaimed that he had discovered something new and wonderful. The next step was trying maple syrup on the grits remaining on his plate, which he also thought was a great invention. He was so thrilled with this that we all tried grits with butter and syrup, and a group of believers was born.

Now, to some of my literal and figurative southern cousins, pouring syrup on grits may seem like pouring syrup on rice. Yuk. But what about rice pudding (rice and sugar)?What about pouring syrup on bread? Yuk again. But what about bread pudding (same thing -- bread and sugar)? Now we come to syrup on grits--triple yuk. But what about a square of buttery, hot grits with additional butter cascading down the sides, sweetened with syrup? Not yuk.

Why Not?

All I'm asking is give it a try. While it may be far from traditional, it sure tastes good. Grits, on their own, are a blank canvass waiting for seasonings and toppings that will enhance their natural goodness. Why not sweet toppings? If butter and sugar on grits, why not butter and syrup?

Please don't get the idea that I'm not worth my weight in grits. I love the stuff--in every incarnation from shrimp and grits to grits with a fried egg on top to grits with butter and syrup. In fact, I love grits so much that I even named my adorable little puppy, "Mr. Grits." However, I won't go so far as to recommend his favorite version: grits topped with dry cereal. I haven't and won't taste his version. After all, he's neither southern-born nor a trained chef.

First, try the syrup and butter version of grits in the privacy of your home, so you don't get asked to leave a respectable southern diner. And try it on your own--all alone so you can taste it with an open mind. Then let others make disgusted faces, while you sit there, smiling, lapping up the sweet, buttery goodness. But don't offer them any. Let them wonder, think about it, then ask you for a taste. And there you will likely have it--converts. At the risk of reviving the Civil War, perhaps even a small segment of southerners can turn into lovers of syrupy, buttery syrup-coated, butter glistening mouth at a time.


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Corn is easily grown in the south, and very popular. Thus, there are many uses for corn, and grits are just one--one of the favorites, but just one of many. Grits have long been eaten as a simple breakfast cereal, or porridge, way before it became more widely known and put to use in upscale restaurants, paired with upscale ingredients. Grits are economical not only because they are not expensive, but because leftover grits can be put into a pan, refrigerated until set, and then served sliced and fried--topped with anything from a simple tomato sauce to a flavorful shrimp stew. (What other breakfast cereal offers that option?)

Gritty Facts

  • There are three basic types of grits available in most stores: instant grits, quick grits and stone ground grits.
  • Instant grits are very finely ground and produce an undesirable texture. I strongly recommend against their use under any circumstances.
  • Quick grits are the only types available in many stores outside the south. They are quite acceptable, and take about 5-8 minutes to cook. I suggest quick grits in my recipes, so that those outside the south may learn about and enjoy this wonderful grain. Southerners can, and probably will use stone ground grits if they make my recipes.
  • Stone ground grits are the best. As mentioned, they can be difficult to find outside the south. They take at least an hour to cook but are well worth the time spent. Many southerners would not consider using any other type of grits.
  • Both yellow and white grits are available but, as with stone ground grits, yellow may not be found in many stores outside the south. The corn flavor is a bit more predominant in yellow grits than in white grits.
  • Grits are made from corn that is dried and ground.
  • The word grits technically applies to any coarsely ground grain, but generally, means hominy grits.
  • Hominy grits are made from field corn soaked in water with lye until the shell (aka ​Bran) falls off the corn and is then dried.

Grits vs. Polenta

  • Polenta is made from corn that is more finely ground than grits; thus it cooks faster. If the polenta were to be ground even finer, it would end up as cornmeal, which has a more flour-like texture.

Cooking and Storage

  • Grits may be cooked with water, milk, or both.
  • The longer grits cook, the better the texture will be. Even when cooking quick grits and using the package directions, you can cook them for a longer time on a lower heat than the instructions suggest. You'll have a creamier texture
  • As with most grains, grits can be kept in an airtight container in a cool dark place. However, stone-ground grits should be kept in the refrigerator, as the germ of the corn has been removed and, thus, the shelf life isn't as long.