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How to Make Cornbread

Master the art of Southern cornbread with the help of our step-by-step instructions, tips from experts, and much more!

By: Kaitlin Weiler, Editor, FaveSouthernRecipes.com

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every Southern cook should know how to make cornbread.

This guide for How to Make Cornbread will help teach you the basics of making Southern cornbread. Once you know the essentials of how to make cornbread, you will be able to make any cornbread recipe you want. Below you will find step-by-step instructions, expert tips and tricks, our favorite cornbread recipes, and more!

Even those who were not born in the South can benefit from knowing how to make a good batch of cornbread. Nothing beats the smell of fresh-baked cornbread, and a hearty slice of cornbread goes well with just about any meal.

If you've only ever made cornbread from a boxed mix, our helpful guide will make you an expert in no time! Soon you'll be including a pan of homemade cornbread with every meal.

How to Make Cornbread

What You Need

  1. Ingredients
    - all-purpose flour
    - cornmeal
    - baking powder
    - baking soda
    - sugar
    - salt
    - buttermilk
    - eggs
    - butter and vegetable oil

  2. See our Test Kitchen recipe for Simple Southern Cornbread for exact measurements and further instructions.

Making the Cornbread

  1. Begin by preheating the oven. Combine the butter and vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet. Place the skillet in the oven while it preheats.

  2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.

  3. Use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients.

  4. Place the eggs and buttermilk in a medium-sized bowl.

  5. Use a whisk to combine the eggs and buttermilk.

  6. Slowly incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.

  7. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Swirl the skillet in a circular motion until the butter and oil have coated the bottom of the skillet.

  8. Carefully pour the batter into the hot skillet. If necessary, use a rubber spatula to make sure the batter covers the bottom of the skillet. The edges of the cornbread will start to set up almost immediately.

  9. Return the skillet to the oven and bake until it is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

  10. Cool for 5 minutes and serve!

  11. For the full recipe, be sure to check out our Test Kitchen recipe for Simple Southern Cornbread.

Ask a Southern Cooking Expert

We asked the experts to share some of their cornbread-making secrets with us. Meet the experts and read their tips and tricks below!

  1. Meet the Expert --- Mary Haymaker from Chattavore

    Get to know Mary, one of our Featured Foodies!

  2. Meet the Expert --- Jackie Garvin from Syrup and Biscuits

    Get to know Jackie, one of our Featured Foodies!

  3. Do you have any tips for making perfect cornbread?

    Mary Haymaker - "My perfect cornbread has a nice crispy crust, so I make sure to get my pan screaming hot by sticking it in the oven for a few minutes before I pour my batter in. I put a couple of tablespoons of bacon fat or butter in the hot pan, let it melt, then pour the batter in. It makes a great crunchy edge!"

    Jackie Garvin - "Perfect cornbread starts with quality ingredients. Since cornmeal in the main ingredient, use the best cornmeal you can find."

  4. What's your go-to pan for making cornbread? Do you only use cast iron?

    Mary Haymaker - "Always my 10-inch Lodge cast iron pan! In my opinion there's just no other way to make cornbread."

    Jackie Garvin - "A cast iron skillet is the best vessel for cornmeal baking. Nothing replicates the nice crust you get with cast iron."

    Test out Jackie's tip by trying her recipe for Heavenly Buttermilk Cornbread!

  5. How do you keep your cornbread from getting too dry?

    Mary Haymaker - "Many Southern cooks will tell you that if there is flour in the cornbread, it isn't cornbread. I have never really cared for cornbread that contains just cornmeal, though. I grew up eating cornbread made from cornmeal mix, which has a little flour in it. I think that the flour makes it a little softer so it doesn't seem as dry. Lots of buttermilk - full fat buttermilk - and butter or bacon fat round out the equation." 

    Jackie Garvin - "I prefer buttermilk over regular milk in cornbread. The acid in buttermilk keeps the batter tender.  Buttermilk's tang offers a nice flavor balance to the sweetness of cornmeal."

  6. Do you add any special ingredients to your cornbread or do you prefer plan cornbread?

    Mary Haymaker - "I almost always make my cornbread plain! Sometimes I will add some onions, fresh jalapeños, and smoked cheddar, though. And one thing is very important - I NEVER put sugar in my cornbread. Never, ever, ever."

    Turn your cornbread into a full meal with Mary's recipe for Barbecue Chicken Skillet Cornbread!

Other Tips and Tricks for How to Make Cornbread

  1. Placing the cast iron skillet in the oven while it preheats is essential to getting a golden brown crust on the cornbread. Pouring the batter into the hot skillet helps the cornbread to start forming a crust immediately.

    For more information on cast iron skillets, check out our step-by-step guide and free infographic, How to Use a Cast Iron Skillet.

  2. You can use bacon fat in place of the butter and oil for more flavor.

  3. It is important to use stone-ground cornmeal when making Southern cornbread. The coarser cornmeal will help give the cornbread great texture.

  4. True Southern cornbread is a bit dry and crumbly, like this recipe. To make "Northern-style" cornbread, use equal parts all-purpose flour and cornmeal. You can also add more sugar for a sweeter cornbread.

  5. For a cornbread that has more texture, you can add a cup of corn kernels to the batter before baking.

    Try it out on this recipe for Green Chile and Cheese Cornbread

  6. Although our recipe for Simple Southern Cornbread is rather savory, you can enjoy a sweet treat by drizzling a piece of hot cornbread with honey.

The Great Debate: Why Isn't Sugar Used in "Traditional" Southern Cornbread Recipes?

The most highly contested ingredients in Southern cornbread recipes are sugar and flour. While much of the dispute in rooted in family tradition – whether or not one’s grandmother used sugar or flour in her cornbread – the root cause of the dispute is the 20th century shift in the corn milling process.

In the 19th century, most farmers took their own field-ripened (or dried) corn to the local mill to have it ground into cornmeal. These mills used large millstone rollers that were usually water-powered. This method resulted in a course texture that maintained most of the corn’s flavor.

As larger milling companies began to take over the South in the early 1900s, they began using steel rollers because they were cheaper, and once the Great Depression hit, stone milling was all but phased out. While steel milling made more economic sense at the time, the process created a finer, or less course, cornmeal. Steel milling removes most of the corn kernel and also takes away a lot of the corn’s flavor. This process makes cornmeal less perishable, but it also makes it less nutritious. To produce high volumes of cornmeal, steel mills used unripe corn that was dried with air, rather than letting it dry naturally in the field as earlier farmers had done. This also created cornmeal that was less sweet than its stone ground counterpart.

Both of these changes prompted Southern cooks to make changes to their classic cornbread recipes, such as adding sugar and flour in response to the new, finer texture of cornmeal. The bottom line is, true Southern cornbread shouldn’t be made with flour or sugar, but unless you’re able to find authentic stone-ground cornmeal, these additions may be necessary in the modern era. However, it is now becoming easier to find old-fashioned stone-ground cornmeal at smaller mills, so if you’re able to find it, you’ll be well on your way to making authentic Southern cornbread.

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The fact about sugar and cornbread is really interesting. I'll confess I always just make mine out of the box, but this has me considering trying to make a homemade recipe. it looks super yummy. I have to eat gluten free, so cornbread is an awesome substitute for dinner rolls!

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