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The Best Cheese Grits

The best cheese grits can be a hearty and savory breakfast or dinner side dish. Using good grits and supporting ingredients level up this southern classic into something filling and special.

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a bowl of grits on a table with cheese and butter melted in

Chances are, if you have had grits in let’s say…Cracker Barrel…you think they are bland, flavorless, and runny.

And you’d be right.

Or if you have had the Quaker instant business from the brown pouches you think it’s something akin to wallpaper paste.

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    And you’d be right again.

    But good grits–the kind that take time to simmer and are made with good stone ground corn, the depth of homemade broth, and sharp cheddar cheese are something else entirely.

    What are grits?

    Grits are made from ground corn. There are several different varieties, including quick-cooking, instant, hominy, and stone ground. This recipe calls for stone ground grits, which are the best in flavor and texture.

    People often confuse grits with cornmeal. They are not the same thing. While cornmeal is also made from corn, it is more finely ground than grits.  

    Should I use white or yellow grits?

    Grits are available in two colors; white and yellow. They do not differ much in terms of flavor or cooking, so feel free to use them interchangeably here. 

    What grits have the best flavor?

    Stone ground grits have the best flavor. No matter what you choose, try not to go after the grocery store stuff in the cardboard container.

    Usually labeled instant or quick cooking grits, these have been so processed, there’s nothing nutritional left–and there’s no flavor.

    Stone ground grits are my top choice. I love these grits by Weisenberger Mills in particular.

    Should grits have sugar?

    Grits are quite versatile. They lend themselves nicely to a savory dish such as this one, but can also be made sweet and eaten as a breakfast porridge or even a dessert.

    When making these cheese grits, I do not suggest adding sugar but feel free to play with sweetened grits now that you have them in your kitchen. Cook the grits in milk instead of broth, swap the cheese out for a little sugar and butter, and you’ve got yourself a tasty treat. 

    What’s the secret to good grits?

    Selecting the proper cooking liquid is important here. It can be tempting to cook your grits in water with salt and pepper but, honestly, you will end up with a pretty bland result.

    I encourage you to opt for a high-quality stock (or make your own) instead. The flavors from the stock will set the base for flavor in the rest of the recipe.

    Remember that the salt level of your stock will determine how much more you add; so use caution and add salt a bit at a time. Never use bouillon cubes or powders.

    Tips for making grits:

    They are quite simple to make but there are some tips and tricks that will allow you to achieve the best grits possible. 

    1. Tools and temperature. When selecting a pot to cook your grits in, I suggest going for a deep pot. Grits tend to bubble and splatter as they cook. The high walls of the pot in combination with keeping the heat low will prevent mess.
    2. Stir. Use a whisk to gently stir the grits throughout the cooking process so they do not clump. 
    3. Plan ahead. Grits. take roughly 30 minutes to cook, so give yourself that time. If you skimp in time, you will end up with hard, overly chewy grits.  
    4. Extra cooking liquid. Grits thicken as they cook. It is important to keep extra cooking liquid close by. Just add some if you see the grits thickening too much. Chicken broth or warmed milk will do just fine. 
    5. Use salt. Depending on your chicken broth, you may need to add extra salt to the grits. Taste them as they are coming close to finished and add salt as needed. 

    How to make the best cheese grits in steps

    Start with broth in a deep, but not wide pot. Grits splatter as they simmer so a deeper pot contains the mess. Add butter and a dash of salt if you know how salty your broth is. Bring to a simmer.

    a pot of chicken broth with butter added and heated

    When the broth simmers, add the grits in a slow stream while stirring. If you dump them in and leave them they will congeal into a mass of lumps.

    a pot of simmering broth being stirred with a wooden spoon

    Simmer gently on the lowest heat you can manage and still have a bubble or two. Stir almost constantly and be patient. Grits take 25 to 30 minutes to cook all the way through. If they start to dry out or look thick, it’s fine to add a 1/4 cup of water or so to thin them back out.

    a pot of cooked grits with a wooden spoon

    Once the grits are tender and thickened but still loose (they will drip off of a spoon when lifted, but should not run like water) turn off the heat and add the grated cheese. Stir until it melts and set the grits aside for 5 to 7 minutes to cool slightly and thicken further.

    a pot of cooked grits with grated cheese added

    What cheese is best in cheese grits

    I love using sharp cheddar cheese in this recipe.

    Buy a block and shred it yourself. This might sound like too much extra work, but pre-shredded cheeses often contain anti caking agents that can clump and make the cheese resistant to melting.

    What can I add to grits for more flavor?

    Grits are quite neutral and are therefore an awesome canvas for other flavors. Add a dash of hot sauce or a pungent cheese.

    Crumbled bacon or some finely chopped caramelized onions would also be delicious.

    You can even plop a poached egg on top for some added protein.

    What texture is right for grits and how do I know they’re done?

    You will know that your grits are done when they start to come together in a texture similar to thick pancake batter. It should be clump-free and far from watery.

    In the cooking process, the grits will release their starches, producing a creamy consistency, so look for that as well.

    Still not sure if they’re done? Have a taste. If you encounter hard bights that you can’t chew, they need more time.

    Keep in mind that the grits will thicken as they cool, so if they are feeling a little too goopey, add a bit more cooking liquid before taking them off the stove.  

    cheese grits on a spoon held above a bowl

    What to serve with grits

    These grits are an awesome side dish and/or vessel for a sauce. Here are some of my favorite things to serve it with. 

    1. Fried Country Ham
    2. Red Eye Gravy 
    3. Country Breakfast Sausage with Sage and Maple 
    4. Fried Apples

    How to rewarm leftover grits

    Feel free to make a big batch to be enjoyed throughout the week. After they cool, store them in an airtight container and place them in the refrigerator.

    When you are ready to enjoy, place the desired portion in a pot, add a bit of milk, broth, or water and stir until heated through and clump-free. You can also use the microwave. Just pause and stir every 30 seconds or so.

    Feeling creative? You can easily repurpose leftover grits into fried grit cakes.

    a bowl of grits on a table with cheese and butter melted in

    The Best Cheese Grits

    The best cheese grits can be a hearty and savory breakfast or dinner side dish. Using good grits and supporting ingredients level up this southern classic into something filling and special.
    Prep Time 7 minutes
    Cook Time 25 minutes
    Total Time 32 minutes
    Servings 6 people
    Author Rachel Ballard

    Ingredients
      

    • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth water can substitute; see note 1
    • 3 tablespoons butter
    • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt see note 2
    • 9 tablespoons stone ground grits 9 tablespoons is the same as 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon
    • 1 cup sharp cheddar grated from a block

    Instructions
     

    • In a 2 quart or larger stock pot, add broth, butter and salt. Bring to a simmer. Make sure you know how salty your broth is before adding salt.
    • Add the grits in a slow, steady stream while stirring and return to a simmer then reduce heat to low.
    • Stir almost constantly to keep down splatters until the grits thicken. 20 to 25 minutes or so. If your grits get too thick, add 1/4 cup water at a time to thin them. Their texture should be like pancake batter but not watery.
    • Turn off the heat and add the cheese and stir to melt. Allow the grits to cool 5 minutes in the pan before serving. Add more salt, pepper and butter to taste.

    Nutrition

    Serving: 0.5cupCalories: 189kcalCarbohydrates: 13gProtein: 6gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 36mgSodium: 725mgPotassium: 54mgFiber: 0.2gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 398IUCalcium: 139mgIron: 0.3mg
    Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
    Course Breakfast
    Cuisine American
    Keyword best cheese grits, cheese grits, homemade grits

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    About the Author

    Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.