What are Grits?
Grits are a common breakfast dish in the American South, traditionally made of ground hominy. Grits can also be made of plain corn, but alkali-treated hominy is considered more traditional when making grits. Grits are a thick, porridge-like food when cooked and are typically served with only salt, pepper, and butter. They are either yellow or white depending on the type of corn used, and are similar to polenta or farina. Three fourths of all the grits sold in the United States are sold in the South, and they are even the official state food of Georgia. Grits are a cheap comfort food for many, and they have a cultural significance in many southern states.
Native Americans were making grits long before the first settlers came to America, by soaking corn in potash water and grinding the corn on stones. Today, the vast majority of grits are made in modern roller mills. The basic process for making grits starts with purchasing corn. Either yellow or white corn can be used, depending on the miller’s desired choice of final product. After the corn has been cleaned of impurities, it is either treated with a lye-based solution to make hominy then allowed to dry, or it is sent directly to the roller mill. Either way, the roller mill breaks the grain and it is then sent through a sifter. This sifting process separates the endosperm from the germ and bran. The endosperm is then ground to a fairly thick consistency and separated to be sold as grits. Grit meal, a finer grind of the corn, is a byproduct of making grits.
This type of milling makes quick grits, which are the most common type sold. Whole grain grits, or speckled grits, can be found in some stores, but they are fairly uncommon. Quick grits are used in a variety of ways. The most traditional way to cook them is in plain boiling water then add salt, pepper, and butter. However, they can also be cooked in milk or broth for additional flavor. Grits are also frequently served with cheese, or cut and fried similar to polenta. They are typically eaten for breakfast, so it is not uncommon to see them served with bits of sausage or bacon, and red eye gravy. Some restaurants, especially in the South, have started to serve fish cakes, catfish, chicken, ham, and shrimp alongside grits as well. They are typically savory, however some sweetened dishes can be found as well.