Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas
Through the years grits have been the workhorse of the Southern table. Enlisted to fill plates when more expensive ingredients were scarce, grits also acted as a foundation for flavorful items such as gravy or over-easy eggs. However, in the past decade or so, grits have experienced a renaissance, appearing on upscale menus with peppers, cheese, and shrimp.
What Are Grits?
Yet confusion abounds over what grits actually are. Commercially produced grits are made from ground, degerminated, dried white or yellow corn kernels that have been soaked in a solution of water and lye. The only grits for purists are produced by the old-fashioned method of stone grinding with a water-turned stone. These grits retain a more natural texture and rich flavor. Stone-ground grits are sometimes labeled as “speckled heart,” because the remaining germ–or heart of the kernel––looks like a tiny black fleck.
Grits can be very different, depending on whether they're ground at a gristmill or purchased at the supermarket. Use this guide to grits to help you with the different choices.
- Hominy: Dried white or yellow corn kernels from which the hull and germ have been removed. It’s sold dried or ready-to-eat in cans. When dried hominy is ground, it’s called hominy grits. Grits are available in three grinds—fine, medium, and coarse.
- Whole-ground or stone-ground grits: These grits are a coarse grind. You’ll find stone-ground grits at gristmill gift shops and specialty food stores.
- Quick and regular grits: The only difference between these types is in granulation. Quick grits are ground fine and cook in 5 minutes; regular grits are medium grind and cook in 10 minutes.
- Instant grits: These fine-textured grits have been precooked and dehydrated. To prepare them, simply add boiling water.