I LOVE CORNBREAD! Last week I posted the best chili recipe, and my granny’s awesome fried cornbread really should be inseparable from it. I’ve never tasted a cornbread that’s quite its equal.

Overhead Fried Cornbread on Parchment, Some stacked and some laying on a board.

Granny was used to making small portions because my dad is an only child. When I had this slew of kids, she had to get used to making a ton of this cornbread because it became my kids’ favorite as well!

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In Grady, Alabama, there is a restaurant that serves cornbread that comes close to this, but it’s not quite as good as my granny’s recipe.

Fried Cornbread and Beautiful Memories

Every time that I make southern fried cornbread, it brings up the best memories. As long as I can remember, my granny has cooked this perfect cornbread to accompany my favorite meal of soup, deviled eggs, potato salad, and creamed corn.

Stacy Lyn and her granny
My granny and me

I know the food was good, but I often wonder if it was just my granny that was so incredible. The thing I loved about her besides her food was that she thought I could do no wrong. That amazed me. What an incredible blessing to have a grandparent who thinks you’re perfect, just as you are.

My granny also taught me how to make so many of the recipes that I make.

Now, my children seem to love them as much as I do.

I love that she used the freshest local ingredients before it was “the thing” to do. She knew that fresh equaled quality!

As you will see, freshness is one of the keys to the best fried cornbread, too.

Horizontal photo of stacked fried cornbread shaped like discs with one propped up on the stacked cornbread and one broken open to see the inside over parchment on wood and black background.

Southern vs. Northern Cornbread?

In the South, cornbread is the pride and joy of many chefs and home cooks alike. Each cook has their own family recipe that they swear by. However, one thing that remains consistent is most southerners would never put sugar into a savory food like cornbread.

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However, for some there are exceptions: along with this fried cornbread, my granny used to make a sweet cornbread as an ingredient for her famous dressing.

But to go alongside chili, vegetable soup, or a vegetable plate, nothing beats the classic cornbread without the sugar.

As far as Northerner’s, molasses and a reduced amount of eggs go into their cornbread, making more of a cake than a bread.

Fried Cornbread aka Hot Water Cornbread or Hoe Cake in parchment paper on wood surface with Black background

Aren’t these called hoecakes, hoe cakes, or Johnny cakes?

Although both are made from cornmeal and hot water, hoecakes / Johnny cakes are different from fried cornbread / hot water cornbread. Often hoecakes are made with unleavened cornmeal and may have fat mixed into them. There’s leavening in fried cornbread just as in regular cornbread so that it will rise. In contrast, hoecakes are more like pancakes. (Way back then, they were actually baked over a campfire on the metal flat of a hoe.)

Fried Cornbread: aka Hot Water Cornbread

Hot water cornbread is an authentic southern delight, with an ancient recipe and technique passed down from generation to generation.

The basic ingredients are just self-rising cornmeal and boiling water. It sounds almost too simple, but when these two ingredients meet, a magical reaction occurs. The corn swells, and the leavening releases gases.

That reaction gives the cornbread its light, airy, crunchy texture. To catch it, though, you have to fry the batter quickly in extremely hot oil. Otherwise, that amazing texture will be lost.

How to Make Perfect Fried Cornbread

Here are a few hints and tips for crunchy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside fried cornbread.

Stacked Fried Cornbread with a piece of cornbread propped up showing the crispy outside and one cut open showing the creamy inside on wood with a black background.
Is there much more beautiful that fried cornbread?

Why use self-rising cornmeal?

The foremost ingredient in fried / hot water cornbread is self-rising cornmeal. It MUST be finely ground self-rising cornmeal, and it MUST be fresh. Why?

Even if you do everything else perfectly, if you don’t use the self-rising cornmeal, then the cornbread will not rise. It will be too dense—a corn pancake instead of light, airy fried cornbread.

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Another answer to “why didn’t my cornbread rise?” is that the cornmeal may be too old. If self-rising cornmeal is older than 3 months, then the active ingredient in the baking powder loses its power. The dry mixture won’t react properly with the acid in the buttermilk, leaving you with a flat disk.

Can you substitute regular cornmeal for self-rising if it’s all you have?

For the reasons above, self-rising cornmeal, rather than non-leaven cornmeal, is an essential ingredient in hot water cornbread. That’s because the self-rising kind contains baking powder. Without baking powder the cornbread won’t rise, making the end result dense and soggy.

However, you can easily make your own self-rising cornmeal, or cornmeal mix, at home. You just need 3 ingredients. Simply place 2 cups of cornmeal, 8 tablespoons of flour, 2½ tablespoons of baking powder, and ¾ teaspoon of salt into a food processor and pulse a few times. Voila, homemade self-rising cornmeal at your fingertips!

Fried Cornbread, some with more rustic and rough edges and some perfectly round, on a piece of parchment paper on top of a blue and white striped linen.
With the rough one with lots of edges, I spooned the cornmeal mixture into the skillet and pressed it just a bit with he back of my spoon. It gives it a lot more surface area for crispy edges. The perfectly round one, I took the same amount of the mixture and made a disc laying it gently into the skillet. Either way is great. You decide!

How do you make fried cornbread crunchy and moist (not crummy)?

Here are the secrets to moist, crunchy cornbread. First, after you pour the boiling water into the cornmeal, you must cook it right away in HOT grease.

Why does the grease have to be hot when you pour in your cornbread mixture? If the grease is not hot, the cornbread will soak up the oil, and it will be greasy instead of lusciously crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.

What consistency should hot water cornbread batter be?

Your cornbread batter should be the texture of wet sand and the thickness of cake batter.

Green bowl of cornmeal batter to make Fried Cornbread, Hoe Cakes, or Hot Water Cornbread
The cornmeal mixture needs to be thicker than pancake and cake batter. It should feel like the sand at the beach you may could make a stiff sand castle with.

What oil should you use when frying cornbread?

Often I only use vegetable oil or bacon drippings when frying cornbread to keep things simple.

Sometimes, I’ll use butter and oil together to get the perfect flavor and color. The butter will give a golden brown color and added flavor, while the bacon drippings or vegetable oil will help to raise the burning temperature of the butter so the cornbread won’t brown too fast or burn.

However, if you have thrown away your bacon drippings, substitute with vegetable oil or lard alone. Whichever you do will be great.

Check out my jalapeño cornbread and sweet cornbread recipes too!

I hope that you enjoy this fried cornbread as much as I do! This side pairs perfectly with venison soup, Hoppin’ John and Chili Con Carne.

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