As all good Southerners know, grits are the workhorse of the kitchen. Take almost anything you have in the fridge, stir it into a pot of grits, and you have an instant meal. Creamy, cheesy, sweet, or even baked - here's how our test kitchen professionals and food editors make their grits perfect every time.

Salt your water. Cooked grits won't absorb any more salt, so make sure to salt your water or mix salt straight into the dry grits mix before you start cooking.

Whisk it real good. 5 out of 5 food editors agree that whisking often (or almost constantly) makes for the creamiest result, since whisking releases starch.

Involve cheese. One of our test kitchen professionals says she makes sure her grits have cheese in them everytime. But look beyond the classic sharp cheddar! Parmesan and smoked gouda make for tasty alternatives.

Hold the whipping cream. Grits absorb water, broth, and milk much better than cream, so if you like yours with whipping cream, just add a touch at the end to smooth out the texture. However, our test kitchen recommends a half-water-half-milk, or a half-chicken-broth-half-milk mixture, depending on what type of meal you're preparing.

Know your grits! The most important thing is knowing there are different kinds of grits. The ones you find at the supermarket are usually regular or quick grits. The difference between the two is just granulation - regular grits have a medium grind and cook in 10 minutes, quick grits are ground fine and cook in just 5 minutes.

But the best, in our opinion, are stone-ground grits. If you've never experienced the fresh corn taste of stone-ground grits, the first intoxicating forkful will make you a believer. They are the kind preferred by purists, produced the old-fashioned way by grinding with a water-turned stone. They have a chunkier texture and retain a more natural and rich flavor, and take about 45 minutes to cook. You can find these at Whole Foods, specialty food shops, and local gritsmills like Anson Mills and McEwen & Sons.

Try the slow-cooker: The slow-cooker's steady moist heat releases the starch in stone-ground grits with minimal stirring, creating a naturally rich, creamy texture with little or no added dairy products. Here's the technique - Stir together 1 cup of grits and 3 cups of water in a 3-qt. slow-cooker. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes, allowing grits to settle to bottom; tilt slow-cooker slightly, and skim off solids using a fine-wire mesh strainer. Cover and cook on HIGH 2 1⁄2 to 3 hours or until grits are creamy and tender, stirring every 45 minutes. Then stir in any cheese, butter, or other ingredients.

Trend Alert: While most grits come in yellow and white varieties, blue grits, made from blue corn, are currently in vogue. They have a higher protein content and are very hard and sweet. Blue grits turn lavender when water is added to the mix, and produce grayish-blue baked goods, like pancakes and cornbread.