What Are Grits?
While grits are a regional specialty in the American South, there are plenty of people who didn't grow up with this homey dish (like me, a New England yankee). While grits are a traditionally Southern dish, they actually originated in the Native American Muskogee tribes who populated southeastern states including Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in the 16th century. These tribes are credited with grinding dried corn into the coarse, gritty texture we now know of as grits and serving it to colonists. Grits continued to rise in popularity in the South over hundreds of years. In 1976, South Carolina declared grits the official state food, calling them a "symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality."
There are two basic preparation of savory grits—creamy or cheesy—and four basic varieties of grits—traditional stone-ground, quick-cooking, instant, and hominy. While the base ingredient (corn) is the same in all of these varieties of grits, the way in which they're processed is different (we explain more of that below). Traditional stone-ground coarse grits take between 30-60 minutes to cook. The key to getting smooth, creamy grits rather than lumpy grits is to them cook low and slow over a simmering heat and whisk consistently. Shrimp and grits is a traditional Southern preparation of grits and is the dish that introduces most people to rich, creamy grits. Grits typically lack flavor on their own, which is why they are often cooked with butter, cheese, cream, or gravy and topped with shrimp, mushrooms, ham, or bacon. Below, we explain exactly what grits are made of, the difference between grits vs. polenta, and include our top grits recipes.