Cornbread was a staple in my childhood home and has remained so in my adult home. I remember Mom serving it with pinto beans and chili, for sure, and my dad loved it broken into a tall glass (or Mason jar!), salted, and soaked with buttermilk. This recipe for Crunchy Cast Iron Cornbread is simple … nothin' fancy! But it's a sure fire way to have a crunchy crust and a tender inside.
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Cornbread has a long history in the United States having originated with the Native Americans in the South before the European immigrants arrived. Corn grew very well in the heat of the South and was more prominent than wheat even after it was introduced to the farming crops. Cornmeal was later most happily adapted by the colonists and their enslaved Africans. In fact, much credit must be given to the enslaved Africans for the many ways they adapted cornmeal into the cuisine they helped develop.
A Recipe Quote:
Irene Robertson, a former slave from Arkansas, had the following recipe for bread:
“Sift meal add salt and make up with water, put on collard leaf, cover with another collard leaf put on hot ashes. Cover with hot ashes. The bread will be brown, the collard leaves parched up…” 14 You can read more HERE.
Cornbread may have come from humble beginnings, but it still holds a place of honor in southern cuisine. And there's no doubt, it has certainly spread to all areas of our country! Even when it was only found in the South, there wasn't only one recipe that encapsulated all that cornbread is to the cuisine. That is because the South is a large area of land and the people of each region have their own preferences. Such as … sweet or absolutely not sweet (this isn't a North-South difference as is commonly believed)… cast iron or baking dish … white cornmeal or yellow … add-ins or never add-ins …
I don't remember how I arrived at this recipe, but it's exactly what I like in cornbread … crunchy, fluffy, salty, simple, versatile.
Just mix the dry ingredients, then stir in eggs and buttermilk.
The very last step is to pour in hot bacon grease (or shortening), listen for the sizzle, stir it in, then put the batter in the hot pan.
You'll know that the pan wasn't hot enough if you didn't hear the sizzle. The sizzle is imperative! But be careful, you don't want the bacon grease (or shortening) to start smoking. That's a bit too hot.
Bake it hot … like 450 degrees hot! That will keep the crust crunchy, but the insides still soft.
Why cast iron for cornbread?
Besides baking-in-leaves in the super early days (see the story above), cast iron was the baking/cooking dish of choice. And there are reasons:
- Heating it with the oil allows it to arrive at a high temperature so that when the batter is poured in, the crust starts forming immediately.
- Cast iron distributes heat evenly so it cooks thoroughly and easily throughout.
- It holds heat so that foods remain at serving temperature longer.
Do you see that crust in the photo above?! That started the moment I poured the batter in the heated skillet and it just got crunchier as it baked … all while the insides got fluffy and soft.
Be sure to turn the cornbread out of the skillet immediately after taking it out of the oven. If you don't, it will steam in the skillet, full on ruining that crust you worked so hard to create!
My favorite thing to do … and it's hard to resist! … is to cut the cornbread into wedges immediately, put a substantial slab of grass-fed butter on one side, and top it with the other side so that the butter melts into both sides.
That, my friend, is hard to resist.
Once you know how to make a beautiful cornbread, you can make it to accompany soups, chilis, and slow-cooked beans. It's just perfect for soaking up all those delicious sauces and soups. And it sure comes in handy to make Cornbread Dressing at Thanksgiving!
Other Recipes You Might Like:
- Homemade Corn Tortillas
- Jalapeno Cornbread Poppers
- Salsa Verde Braised Pork
- Grilled Corn Salad
- Vanilla Bean Flan
Crunchy Cast Iron Cornbread
- 1½ cup cornmeal
- ½ cup all-purpose flour or 1:1 gluten-free flour blend
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 eggs
- 1½ cup buttermilk (see notes)
- ¼ cup bacon fat melted in the skillet (see notes)
- Heat oven to 450°F.
- Put the shortening or bacon fat in the skillet and set it over medium high heat. Keep an eye on it while you mix the cornbread up. You want it to get fairly hot, almost smoking, so KEEP AN EYE ON IT!
- Put the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk or stir well to combine.
- Break the eggs into the dry mixture, then pour in the buttermilk. Stir well to combine.
- Turn the heat off under the skillet and pour the hot grease into the batter. Stir to combine, then pour the batter into the hot skillet. You should hear it sizzling.
- Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately invert onto a platter.
- Cut into 8 wedges and serve immediately with lots of BUTTAH!