Cast Iron

Cracklin’ Cornbread

November  5, 2014
6 Ratings
Photo by Peter Frank Edwards
  • Makes one 9-inch round loaf
Author Notes

My favorite ball cap, made by Billy Reid, has a patch on the front that reads “Make Cornbread, Not War.” I’m drawn to it because cornbread is a sacred thing in the South, almost a way of life. But cornbread, like barbecue, can be the subject of great debate among Southerners. Flour or no flour? Sugar or no sugar? Is there an egg involved? All are legitimate questions. When we opened Husk, I knew that we had to serve cornbread. I also knew that there is a lot of bad cornbread out there in the restaurant world, usually cooked before service and reheated, or held in a warming drawer. I won’t touch that stuff because, yes, I am a cornbread snob. My cornbread has no flour and no sugar. It has the tang of good buttermilk and a little smoke from Allan Benton’s smokehouse bacon. You’ve got to cook the cornbread just before you want to eat it, in a black skillet, with plenty of smoking-hot grease. That is the secret to a golden, crunchy exterior. Use very high heat, so hot that the batter screeches as it hits the pan. It’s a deceptively simple process, but practice makes perfect, which may be why many Southerners make cornbread every single day. —Sean Brock

What You'll Need
  • 4 ounces bacon, preferably Benton’s
  • 2 cups cornmeal, preferably Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse Yellow Cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Put a 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Run the bacon through a meat grinder or very finely mince it. Put the bacon in a skillet large enough to hold it in one layer and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t burn, until the fat is rendered and the bits of bacon are crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the bits of bacon to a paper towel to drain, reserving the fat. You need 5 tablespoons bacon fat for this recipe.
  3. Combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and bits of bacon in a medium bowl. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat and combine the remaining 4 tablespoons fat, the buttermilk, and egg in a small bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just to combine; do not overmix.
  4. Move the skillet from the oven to the stove, placing it over high heat. Add the reserved tablespoon of bacon fat and swirl to coat the skillet. Pour in the batter, distributing it evenly. It should sizzle.
  5. Bake the cornbread for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm from the skillet.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • peg denton
    peg denton
  • bryan
  • AntoniaJames
  • Linda C levy
    Linda C levy

4 Reviews

peg D. October 16, 2015
This is more of a "bacon cornbread", as cracklings are the crispy pieces remaining when you render fat from a pig. That said, this won't break your teeth!
bryan December 30, 2014
This cornbread is divine and Sean Brock is a talented guy. His book 'Heritage' has a magnificent recipe, "Corn-Goat Cheese Soup with Brown Butter Chanterelles" that you MUST MAKE as soon as possible.
Linda C. November 25, 2014
If I use this recipe to make Billy Reid's Oyster cornbread stuffing which calls for 12 cups of cornbread do you think it will be enough that I double this recipe?
AntoniaJames November 6, 2014
Well, this clearly is my kind of cornbread. I'm in the Mark Twain camp of "If God had wanted there to be sugar in cornbread, He'd have called it 'cake'."
On my list for this weekend! ;o)
P.S. I really enjoyed learning about you in the "China Black" chapter in David Sax's new book.