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Hot Water Cornbread

August 16, 2011

Southern meals typically include either biscuits or cornbread.  Biscuits are well-known as breakfast offerings but they also take their place along side  lunch and dinner fare.

People who didn’t grow up eating typical Southern food, would have similar expectations for how a biscuit should look, taste and feel.  Those same people may expect cornbread to be yellow, slighty sweet and leavened.

To those folks, I say, “Let me introduce you to hot water cornbread. ”

There’s nothing more rustic than hot water cornbread.  In a different culture, it would be considered peasant food. The ingredient list is short: cornmeal, hot water and salt. The cornmeal is pure ground cornmeal, not cornmeal mix.  It contains no leavening so it doesn’t rise like cornbread might be expected to do.

The texture of the final product depends strictly  on personal preference.  If you like a soft and dense center, make the batter more thick.  If you’re big into crunch and really don’t care much about a soft center, make the batter thin.  If the batter is thinned out enough, the edges will take on a lacey appearance and get very crisp.  This version is called lacey cornbread, for obvious reasons.


My favorite brand of cornmeal is Great Smokey Mountain ( which I order online unless we happen to take a trip to The Great Smoky Mountains and visit the store at Cade’s Cove.  It’s stone ground and has a wonderful taste and texture.  Cornbread this simple can only be good if the cornmeal is good.

Make a mush of hot water, cornmeal and salt the consistency of thick oatmeal.

Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil that is at least an inch deep. Cast iron  is the best cornbread cooking implement around.  Different textures can be achieved by changing the ratio of cornmeal to water.  It’s hard to give measurements. Start out with the batter a little thicker, fry up a piece or two.  If you like the texture, continue on.  The thicker the batter, the softer the insides.

To make Lacey Cornbread, thin out the batter with more water  To help get lacey cornbread even crispier, flatten out the batter with the edge  of a spoon after it’s dropped in the hot oil. Lacey cornbread cooks very quickly. Stay focused while your cooking it!  Don’t answer the telephone or get interested in a TV show.  It’ll burn up, fast.  Fry on one side until brown, flip and fry on the other side until brown.  Remove and drain on paper towels or a rack.  Sprinkle with salt while still warm.

My grandmother and mother often made a cornbread in a “cake” instead of small pieces.  For this method, you want to add a thin layer of batter to 1/2 to 1 inch of hot oil.  Make sure some oil is on the top of the batter to help it brown. Place in a 400 degree oven and bake until the top browns.  If the bottom and sides have browned, but the top hasn’t, place the skillet of cornbread under the broiler to get it brown.

I love the laceyness of lacey cornbread.  Everywhere you see a hole, you see crispiness. Crispiness is good eatin’. I am creating my own language and starting with laceyness and crispiness.

There’s a lot to love about this humble cornbread.   If I owned a restaurant that served Southern fare, I’d serve lacey cornbread on every table.  It exemplifies so much about Southern culture. It’s simple, but serves it’s purpose.  The best part for me is remembering it coming out of Mama’s and Granny’s kitchen. And that suites my purpose to a tee.


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Lacey Cornbread

yield: 12 pieces

I use a small  flatware spoon , not a measuring spoon. Tap down the center of each piece with edge of spoon as soon as it’s dropped into the hot grease to make the cornbread as flat as possible.  It cooks quickly, only a couple of minutes on each side.  

1/2 cup plain cornmeal, not self-rising

1/2 cup hot tap water

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

cooking oil

Mix cornmeal, water and salt.  Set aside.

Heat 1/2 inch cooking oil in cast iron skillet.


Drop teaspoonful into hot grease, tapping down the center of each with spoon as soon as it hits the skillet.  Turn when edges are browned and cook remaining side until browned.

Remove from hot grease when browned.  Drain on paper towel.  Sprinkle with additional kosher salt while still hot.


You might also enjoy:

Southern Buttermilk Cornbread

Garlic Cheese Biscuits

Sally Lunn Bread

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35 Comments leave one →
  1. David Griggs, SC permalink
    August 28, 2011 1:11 pm

    OMG! “Lace Cornbread”…. wanta adopt me?

  2. Barbara S. permalink
    August 28, 2011 3:19 pm

    MMMMMmmmmmmm, I can smell it from here!

    Comfort food for sure with ham, macaroni and cheese, zipper peas and slicl-slimy boiled okry!

  3. Barbara S. permalink
    August 28, 2011 3:20 pm


  4. Barbara Starling permalink
    November 8, 2011 10:50 pm

    Jackie, do you have measurements for the lacey cornbread?
    _________ cup(s) plain meal
    _________ cup(s) hot water
    _______t (T) salt

    I NEED to know this to get in some practice before Thaksgiving and Christmas.
    Thanks Jackie, bessings! <3

  5. Sheena Austin permalink
    July 1, 2012 3:53 pm

    Hi, I just wanted to Thankyou for having this recipe up. My great aunt use to make this and she taught me when I was alittle girl but I couldn’t remember how to make it exactly. After she past three years ago following my uncle things haven’t really been the same and with my family I really want those traditions kept through me and you reminded me so thankyou.

    From Texas with love,
    Mrs. Austin

    • July 1, 2012 4:42 pm


      Your comment describes, perfectly, one of the reasons I write and published Syrup and Biscuits. Food serves a connection between family members and it bridges generations. I hope you can use my recipe as an inspiration and create the same dish your aunt used to make for you. 🙂

  6. Doris Robinson permalink
    October 23, 2012 3:03 pm

    Would you use plain meal ? How much meal and water ?

    • October 29, 2012 11:28 pm


      You use plain cornmeal, not cornmeal mix. You want your mixture to be a little thinner than oatmeal. It really is a trial and error proposition. If you’re making lacey cornbread, you should see the “lacey” appearance on the edges as soon as the batter hits the hot grease. if not, then try thinning out the batter just a tad more.

  7. JoAnn Tindall permalink
    January 6, 2013 11:09 am

    I make this type of cornbread ALL the time ! The thinner the better !!!!!!!

  8. winston jones permalink
    January 11, 2013 9:07 pm

    what temperature for the oil?

    • January 12, 2013 12:02 am


      I’ve never measure the actual temperature of the oil in degrees. I set my eye between medium high and high. As soon as the oil starts to ripple, I drop in a little batter to test. It needs to cook at a fast sizzle as soon as it hits the pan. If it’s cooking too slow, I wait a bit for adding more batter.

  9. ella liddle permalink
    October 27, 2013 7:34 am

    I love fried cabbage but haven’t tried it with bacon. I’ going to try this. I haven’t had fried cornbread in a long time. I make mine a little different and it is delicious. Thanks for sharing. : )

  10. Lee Allen permalink
    October 30, 2013 7:48 pm

    In eastern NC this is still served with meals several times a week. A staple with fried fish. Love it. Had no idea about baked cornbread until I was almost grown. Still prefer this style. When my mama made it, it was like manna from Heaven. Thanks!!

  11. Diane Taylor permalink
    November 16, 2013 3:17 pm

    Jackie, There is a wonderful secret I want to share with you that you not know about……. I am from Southern Alabama myself, in fact I am from Opp. My Daddy and I use to take our corn to a water wheel grist mill in Hartford, Alabama. I am sure you know where that is because it is near Geneva. Anyway, fast forward, as I grew up and we stopped making the trips each year as Daddy got older and stopped farming, etc.. We bought Pollard and Sons in the IGA food store. I have used it only since I married , 31 years ago. This is the very same people my Daddy got to grind his corn each year. I have lived in AZ and NM the past thirteen years, recently retired to TN. I have hauled cornmeal from Hartford each time I made a trip back home. I now live in “middle TN”, and made a declaration to my husband only a week ago that it was time to make a trip back home because we are out of cornmeal !!! True story. The mail reason I wanted to tell you this is that you may not know about Pollard and Son’s. You can access them via internet if you wish. It is plain, extra fine, white cornmeal made the same way in the same place for many generations, and yes, it is always fresh and delicious!!! Thanks for the memories Daddy….. Dyan Taylor

    • November 16, 2013 7:56 pm


      Not only do I know where Hartford is, my parents moved there when I was in college at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. I didn’t make the move with them and stayed in Mobile. I’m very familiar with Pollard and Sons cornmeal. While it’s good meal, I’ve really come to like the cornmeal from Great Smoky Mountain Association better. Do you remember Doc’s BBQ in Hartford?

  12. Caro Jarr permalink
    April 2, 2014 11:57 am

    trying to make this but they stick. Yes, cast iron and it normally does not stick with other things.
    Even sticks to my spatula. Please tell me what I am doing wrong.

    • April 2, 2014 1:34 pm


      What kind of cornmeal are you using? Also, you have to have your oil hot, at least 350 degrees.

  13. October 23, 2014 12:07 pm

    I’m not from the South but I LOVE CORNBREAD and coming from Maine I grew up making it to go with baked beans every Saturday night unless we made biscuits for a change. I have gone to a local store and in the deli they have these cornbread muffins and as you eat them they have a larger grit of meal in them also and they are sweet which I love. What would I order to get that same extra bite of corn.

    • October 23, 2014 12:52 pm


      You would want to look for a course ground corn meal. Some folks had some canned creamed corn to corn muffins.

  14. Lynda permalink
    December 31, 2014 12:26 pm

    My husband grandmother made this kind of cornbread every day, mostly twice a day and it’s called fried cornbread and she used Alabama cornmeal and it was always the best ever! !!!!!!!!!

  15. December 31, 2014 2:23 pm

    LURVV!!! No seriously, my mom made hot water cornbread and we all loved it. First time I’ve seen it mentioned. Me, I’m all about the zippidey speed cooking.. So cornbread muffins are my thing. Occasionally, I beg my mom to make hers tho. My cousins tell me, they call it crackling cornbread, due to the grandparents on that side of the family.. I wish I could time travel n see how my moms 2 sets of grandparents cooked cornbread…very curious. Happy New Year!

    • December 31, 2014 5:43 pm


      Crackling bread is a little different in that it had bits of crackling which is made from the layer of fat under the skin of the pig.
      Happy New Year!

      • December 31, 2014 6:21 pm

        That’s what my mom & aunt were telling me. I’m 44, and just discovered that buttermilk makes cornbread muffins even better. I luv learning new things.. Makes me wanna video all the elders cooking, so we don’t loose any of the old recipes and techniques.
        Happy Cookin’ y’all!
        Damn that sounded Southern. SE Tx. 😉

        • December 31, 2014 6:32 pm

          Buttermilk is one of my favorite ingredients. Replace liquid in a boxed cake mix with buttermilk and it tastes homemade.:)


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