A Tale of Two Cornmeals: Grits & Polenta

March 19, 2014

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Gabriella Paiella shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: It was the best of corn, it was the cheapest of corn.  

Despite being the Token Critical Friend, I have unquestionably embraced New American brunch since day one -- exactly the sort of sweeping trend that would typically not be spared my vitriol. 

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More specifically, I order grits or polenta every time they're on the menu, which is, luckily, more often than not.   

They're also simple enough to recreate at home, and, when used as a base for vegetables and proteins, the root of a hearty, satisfying, and incredibly cheap dinner.  

More: Rice makes another trusty staple for cheap weeknight meals.

The difference between grits and polenta? Not much. The former is a southern staple, and the latter is traditional in Italy; but when it comes down to it, it's all corn

You're going to slowly cook grits on the stovetop for about 45 minutes, and the same goes for polenta. Once they have cooked, you can even go a step further and set them in a baking sheet or other dish, then slice them into rounds or squares, and fry 'em up.

Ready, set, mush. 

If you've got grits in your pantry, give these recipes a try:

Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock's Shrimp Grits 
Goat Cheese Grits with Red Eye Gravy, Country Ham, and a Fried Egg  
Sweet Potato Grits  
Andrew Carmellini's Green Grits 

And if you prefer polenta, go with these:

Broiled Polenta Cakes on Food52

Carlo Middione's Polenta Facile 
Broiled Polenta Cakes
Polenta with Wilted Escarole and Olive Oil Fried Eggs 
Griddled Polenta Cakes with Caramelized Onions, Goat Cheese, and Honey 
Sage Polenta Bowls with Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Wild Mushrooms 

Tell us: What are your favorite recipes for grits and polenta? 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Natalie Tamara
    Natalie Tamara
  • Christina @ Christina's Cucina
    Christina @ Christina's Cucina
  • bruce
  • molly yeh
    molly yeh
  • starryidash
Yes, my name rhymes.


Natalie T. March 23, 2014
I love polenta cut into thick slices, grilled till it's golden brown, and served with aioli. Simple but so delicious. I've never actually tried it as grits but the sweet potato one sounds right up my street :)
Christina @. March 23, 2014
I hit on a lot of them, but seriously, what 'can't' you do with polenta?!
bruce March 22, 2014
My family would lay out a thin layer on a plate, put some mozzerella down lay another thin layer of polenta, then add the pasta sauce on it! Mangia!
molly Y. March 21, 2014
i love polenta/grits so so much!! and ok i have a big fat burning question that stems from a childhood that was completely void of polenta/grits (i know!)... a lot of times i see a mention of how polenta takes really long to make (like the 45 minutes you mention above), but every time i make it, it gets thick in about five minutes and if i try to cook it for any longer it starts bubbling and spitting at me violently and i have to either go in the other room or take it off the stove. and i use 1 part cornmeal to 4 parts water, over medium or medium low heat. am i doing something terribly awfully wrong?
Christina @. March 23, 2014
Molly, are you using quick-cooking polenta, as that will cook much more quickly. The bubbling and spitting is what happens when you cook polenta, you just have to turn it down and keep stirring-I don't think you're doing anything wrong, except you can't ever leave polenta cooking without stirring it as it will stick and burn.
Andrea P. December 6, 2017
I had the same problem as Molly. This stuff spits like a Volcano! I used regular, not quick -cooking. I want to master this, as I love to smother it with blue cheese and sour cream. Sends me to heaven and back. again.
starryidash March 19, 2014
Where does plain ol cornmeal fit in here? What can I do with it?
Christina @. March 23, 2014
You can use it to make polenta! ;)