Hot water cornbread is an older cousin to the cornbread that most people are accustomed to today. Maybe it could be considered a distant great-granduncle to the typical stuff since according to Sean Brock, the professor of all things Southern Cooking, it predates regular cornbread quite a bit.
Hot water cornbread is a treat not too commonly found outside of the Southern United States. It’s more of a corn fritter than a slice of cornbread, with a crispy outside and creamy-soft inside.
A common way to serve it in the South is with a heavy drizzle of honey on top. It also goes excellent with a pot of beans or with some fried catfish.
There are as many ways to cook hot water cornbread as home cooks in the Southern United States. Right or wrong, this is the way we like to do it.
Cooking Your Hot Water Cornbread
You can use a deep-fry thermometer for your dutch oven if you like. We just prefer an instant-read thermometer since it won’t get in the way while you’re frying.
We use a relatively large pot to boil the water because, as soon as you start adding the cornmeal, it’ll begin to slop out of a small pot. The extra capacity will make your life easier.
On Sugar and Cornbread
There is some drama in the South on whether or not sugar belongs in cornbread.
Just like any other Southerner, I’ve got my opinions on it. To me, it all boils down to how fresh your cornmeal is and how it’s milled. The better the cornmeal, the less sugar you need. Very high quality, like Anson Mills, doesn’t need any at all.
With that said, I think a small touch of sugar makes hot water cornbread even better, regardless of the cornmeal quality. Not enough to make it sweet. Just enough to neutralize any underlying sourness.
The high-speed milling process used in making cheap, mass-produced cornmeal reduces the corn’s sweetness and brings out a sour flavor. Older cornmeal that has been sitting on a grocery store shelf makes it even worse. Adding sugar helps offset the sourness that comes with age and mass-production.
If you want to make this without the sugar, I highly recommend buying a premium fine-ground yellow cornmeal produced in the old school way. We use Palmetto Farms Fine Ground Cornmeal. It is much higher quality than I’ve found at my local grocery store and the fine grind makes the finished cornbread even creamier. If you really want to go all out, order the Anson Mills Cornmeal.
I honestly won’t bother with hot water cornbread if all I have is cheap cornmeal. I really can’t think of any reason I’d buy cheap, mass-produced cornmeal at all.
Hot Water Cornbread
- 2 cups boiling water
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal - fine ground
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. white sugar
- 2 tbsp. lard or shortening
- vegetable oil - for frying
- Combine cornmeal, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk well.
- In a large pot over high heat, bring water to boil. Slowly stir in the cornmeal mixture until fully combined, all the water has been absorbed, and the batter is very thick. About 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Add the lard and stir in until melted and combined. Let rest until cool enough to handle. About 10 minutes.
- Make disks approximately 2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick. I use a soup spoon to measure them, then shape them with my hands.
- Fill your frying pan at least 1/4 inch deep with vegetable oil. Heat until 350-375° F (a temperature probe should help determine the temperature).
- Fry until light brown (2-3 minutes) then flip and fry an additional 2-3 minutes.