Ultimate Southern Cooking: Grits and Skillets

When it comes to Southern cooking, grits are perhaps one of the most quintessential ingredients and cast iron skillets are one of the signature cooking methods. From a simple pat of butter to more complex recipes, grits can be baked into just about any meal and what better way to prepare them than a cast-iron skillet. Made from a less sweet starchy variety of corn, the beauty of grits is that you can serve them at about any mealtime. With a touch of sweet or spice, thanks to our Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup and Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce, grits serve as a base for many signature Southern recipes and can be enjoyed just as much on their own. 

Thanks to our good friend Jimmy Hagood, founder of Food for the Southern Soul, Jimmy has helped make a strong impression on the Lowcountry food scene with essential ingredients like stone-ground grits and has further elevated high-quality Southern pantry items in ways worth noting.

Along with our friends and talented artisans at Smithey Ironware, creators of beautiful cast iron skillets and cookware, we have curated what we think are some mighty tasty recipes to enjoy morning, noon and night. Using one of the most timeless forms of cooking with one of the oldest Southern staple pantry items, we are excited to bring you this roundup of “Grits and Skillets” recipes to enjoy.

Breakfast:

Cast Iron Maple Bacon Grits (adapted from this recipe)

Serves 2

Combining two of our most favorite things: bacon and maple syrup, this is the ultimate Southern comfort grits breakfast recipe. The combination of salty, sweet and savory richness from the buttery grits makes this a hearty breakfast meal.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Prepare grits according to package instructions. If the recipe calls for something other than a cast iron skillet, simply substitute the skillet for the baking device. Just make sure you butter the skillet well.
  2. The liquid content may differ from that in this recipe. If so, follow package instructions. But if given the option, a mix of milk and water makes the grits much creamier than water alone.
  3. When the grits have absorbed most of the liquid, stir in the maple syrup and butter.
  4. Remove from heat and cover. Allow grits to thicken for at least 5 minutes.
  5. Distribute to 2 bowls. Sprinkle evenly with crumbled bacon and serve.

Ashley Christensen’s Maple Syrup Grits with Roasted Pumpkin (adapted from this recipe)

Serves 4

James Beard Award-Winning Chef Ashley Christensen is known for her Southern Cooking recipes with a New American twist. Simple hearty recipes like this, use age-old ingredients such as stone-ground grits in innovative new ways to create these New American recipes that pay homage to both the past and present Southern cooking. We appreciate her weariness when it comes to using sweet ingredients in savory dishes, which is why we think our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup strikes just the right balance in this recipe, along with using the best quality grits out there. We are partial to Hagood Mill but are also big fans of Geechie Boy Mill, who we had the pleasure of meeting when we were in San Francisco this past January for the Good Food Awards

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Preheat a convection oven to 350°F (or a regular oven to 375°F).
  2. Halve the pumpkin vertically. Scrape out the seeds and set aside; rub the interior of the pumpkin with olive oil and dust generously with salt. Place cut side up on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Flip the halves and bake for 20 minutes more. Let the pumpkin cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, transfer to a food processor, and puree until smooth. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, wash the reserved pumpkin seeds well and measure out ½ cup (discard the rest or save for another use). Place the seeds in a bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Toss to coat. Place a baking sheet in the oven for 5 minutes to preheat. Add the seeds to the hot pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until crispy and lightly golden.
  4. In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups of water, the cream, and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Stir in the grits and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the grits are tender and thick, about 50 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the pumpkin puree, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and lemon juice.
  5. Divide the grits among bowls, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over each bowl, and drizzle with the Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup.

Lunch:

Cast iron Grits & Greens Casserole With Brown Butter Hot Sauce (adapted from this recipe)

 

While we have this noted as a lunch recipe, it really can serve as a savory side dish for just about any meal. The combination of savory grits, with just a touch of heat from our Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce and the greenery of the turnips, also makes for a meal on its own.

Gits & Greens Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup uncooked stone-ground grits
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, divided
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 pound fresh turnip greens
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Brown Butter Hot Sauce Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Stir together milk and grits in a double boiler. Using a small wire mesh strainer, skim any hulls that float to the top of the milk. (This ensures there will be no hard bits in your creamy finished product.) Cook over medium-high, whisking often to ensure grits don’t stick to sides and bottom of the pan, until milk is completely absorbed and grits are thickened and tender, 25 to 40 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt. Remove from heat.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut and discard tough ends from turnip greens; slice stems and leaves into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Heat oil and remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet until butter melts. Add garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the garlic starts to sizzle. (Be careful garlic does not start to turn brown and burn.) Add greens, red pepper, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Using tongs, toss greens until they are just wilted. Add greens mixture and any accumulated liquids to grits in double boiler. Add cheese, stock, and black pepper; stir to combine.
  3. Spoon grits mixture into the same skillet. (Do not wipe skillet clean.) Bake uncovered until set, about 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile for the hot sauce, melt butter in an 8-inch skillet over medium until it starts to foam and turn slightly brown. Stir butter to distribute evenly on the bottom of the skillet, and cook, undisturbed, until butter browns and smells nutty. Stir in lemon juice, pepper sauce, and salt. Cook, undisturbed, until bubbly, about 15 seconds. Spoon sauce over baked grits.

Cast Iron Creole Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo (adapted from this recipe)

Serves 6

Cajun Gumbo is a Southern staple dating back to the 18th century, making it a fine pairing for its timeless cooking preparation in the skillet. While gumbo is traditionally served over white rice, we have adapted the recipe to serve it on white stone ground grits. We think the creaminess of classic stone ground grits is a nice compliment to the flavors of the stew.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 pounds raw, whole, head-on medium-sized (31-50 count) shrimp
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced green peppers
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomato
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and browned
  • 1 tablespoon Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon file powder (also called gumbo filé)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.Place the vegetable oil and flour into a 5 to 6-quart cast iron Dutch oven and whisk together to combine. Place on the middle shelf of the oven, uncovered, and bake for 1 1/2 hours, whisking 2 to 3 times throughout the cooking process.
  2. While the roux is baking, de-head, peel and devein the shrimp. Place the shrimp in a bowl and set in the refrigerator. Place the heads and shells in a 4-quart saucepan along with the 2 quarts of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour or until the liquid has reduced to 1-quart. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid into a container, discarding the solids.
  3. Once the roux is done, carefully remove it from the oven and set over medium-high heat. Gently add the onions, celery, green peppers and garlic and cook, moving constantly for 7 to 8 minutes or until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the tomatoes, salt, black pepper, thyme, pepper sauce, and bay leaves and stir to combine. Gradually add the shrimp broth while whisking continually. Decrease the heat to low, cover and cook for 35 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the shrimp and sausage and stir to combine. Add the file powder while stirring constantly. Cover and allow to sit for 10 minutes prior to serving. Serve over grits.

Dinner:

Cast iron Duck Breast Served with Braised Mustard Greens, Grits and Cherry Compote (adapted from this recipe)

Serves 4

This is a pretty lengthy recipe but if you time it right, the entire meal can be prepared in about 45 minutes and is worth every step.

The original recipe called for a saute pan, Dutch oven and charcoal grill. We adapted this recipe to a use a single skillet and one saucepan in an attempt to keep the flavors building from one step to the next as well as simplify things. While using a charcoal grill certainly adds a smoky flavor to the cherry compote we think that layering the steps in the cast iron builds just as much depth of flavor and really brings out the hints of bourbon from our Maple Syrup used throughout the recipe. 

If you do decide to use a charcoal grill for the cherry compote (see original recipe for smoking instructions), we highly recommend using our Bourbon Barrel Stave Smoking Chunks to bring out that smoky bourbon flavor.

Ingredients:

Pan-roasted Duck Breast

Braised Mustard Greens

  • 3 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 lb mustard greens, spines removed, leaves roughly chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • High-quality sherry vinegar

Grits

  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups heavy cream 
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Smoked Cherry Compote

Directions:

To Prepare the Roasted Duck Breast:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place a large cast-iron pan on a burner, on low heat.
  2. With a sharp paring knife, score the skin of each duck breast in a crosshatch pattern. Mix salt and sugar together in a bowl and coat both sides of each breast with the mixture and let stand for 30 minutes. Remove duck from mixture and shake off excess salt and sugar.
  3. Add the duck breasts to the skillet skin-side down. 
  4. Cook for 5 minutes, being careful not to scorch the skin. When the skin is golden brown, turn the duck breasts and place the pan in the oven. Cook for 8 minutes, until the duck is medium-rare. Remove from the oven and set aside.

To Prepare The Braised Mustard Greens:

  1. Add bacon to the same skillet with duck fat remains and set over medium heat. Once the bacon is softened and has released some fat, remove the bacon and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. 
  2. Add the mustard greens, turning with tongs to coat the greens with fat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and continue to turn the greens until wilted. 
  3. Add chicken stock, one cup at a time. 
  4. Remove greens with tongs and place in a large mixing bowl. Toss with a splash of sherry vinegar and adjust seasoning as needed.

To Prepare Cherry Compote:

  1. Add cherries, maple syrup, wine and water to a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. While the compote is simmering, prepare the grits.

To Prepare The Grits:

  1. Add butter, onion and garlic to the skillet set over medium heat and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add water and cream and bring to a simmer. 
  3. While whisking the liquid, add grits in a slow, steady stream. 
  4. Cook for 30 minutes, whisking occasionally. 
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

To Assemble:

  1. On each of 4 dinner plates, place a large spoonful of grits and top with braised mustard greens. 
  2. Thinly slice the duck breasts and lay 3 to 4 slices on each mound of greens. 
  3. Spoon the compote over the duck and around each plate.

Dessert:

Bourbon Apple Skillet Cake (adapted from this recipe)

Serves 8

This cake has a consistency similar to bread pudding and can be served straight from the skillet. Loaded with fruit flavors the syrup brings out the natural sweetness of the apples and is well balanced with flavors of bourbon throughout. Topped with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream, this is a crowd-pleaser that will have the table spooning it out straight from the pan. And if you happen to have leftovers, this makes for a tasty breakfast treat as well.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (4 ounces) butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 pounds Gala or Honeycrisp apples (4 or 5 small)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar or raw brown sugar 
  • Powdered sugar for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Brush a 9 or 10-inch cast-iron skillet with a little of the melted butter. 
  3. Core the apples and peel all but one. Slice the unpeeled apple into half-moons about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the remaining apples into 1/2-inch chunks.
  4. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a mixing bowl.
  5. Lightly beat the eggs in another bowl with the maple syrup just until foamy (an immersion blender is great for this task). Stir in the bourbon, vanilla, and buttermilk.
  6. Pour half of the egg mixture over the flour mixture and fold briefly. Pour in the butter and stir. Add the remaining egg mixture and stir until no flour is visible. Add the chopped apples and stir gently to blend.
  7. Spoon the batter into the skillet. Arrange the sliced apples on the top, then sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.
  8. Bake until the cake springs back when poked in the center, and the edges are golden brown, 55 - 60 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm or at room temperature. You can top it off with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.