True Grits

Back Country Road near Highway 73

GUESTS: Country Ma and Pa, their son & Becky

[AB rides in on his motorcycle. He stops next to a backwoods cabin on the road in the middle of nowhere. He pulls out his map, looks around and then goes and knocks on the front door.]

  B: [answers the door]
AB: Oh. Hi. Good morning. Um, I think I'm lost. Maybe you could ... Oh, well, I got off on ...
  B: [she , pulls him inside and sets him down at the table]
AB:  Oh! Oh, thanks. Heh. Hi.
  B: [she whispers into her paw's ear]
CP: Young Becky here says you're lost. Tryin' to find the interstate.
AB: I am. I was on your Highway 73 and I somehow got turned arou ...
CM: Now, now, now. That can wait. It's time for breakfast.
AB: Oh, okay. Well, if you insist. Wow, grits. Yum!
CP: How is it you come to like grits, stranger?
AB: Sir, I'm a good Southern boy.
CP: You don't say.
AB: Absolutely. Why, I remember at my Grandmother's house, white hominy grits were always on the table come breakfast time. Although I have to say, Ma'am, I don't remember hers looking or smelling as good as yours.
CM: Oh, why, it's nothing, sir. It's just cornmeal. I use it for everything around here.
AB: So it's a multitasker then.
CM: Uh ... yeah. We just call it good Southern country food.
AB: Country cooking. And you know, not just this country. Why, in Europe, Africa, even Asia, they eat a lot of cornmeal.
CP: You don't sound Southern.
AB: Aw, it's, it's ... I had to lose my accent for television. Hey, you know that cornmeal's become so popular, they're even serving it in ritzy restaurants in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago. It's really funny. You go there and you watch these people eat and you'd swear they'd never seen polenta before in their whole life.
CP: What you tryin' to say, boy?
AB: Nothing. Just that, you know, when you remove the cultural part of the equation, grits and polenta are the same thing.

[a hush comes over the house as they glare at AB, they throw AB out]

    You know, perception is a funny thing. I mean, polenta and grits are identical twin siblings and yet, depending on where you live, one's considered heritage and the other's considered heresy. And that's a real shame because I gotta tell you, cornmeal's got three times the culinary potential of rice and pasta put together. So no matter what country you are from, you ought to call cornmeal ...

Harry's Farmers Market: Alpharetta, GA - 12:17 pm

    After wheat, more acres of this planet are dedicated to the cultivation of corn, or as most of the world says, maize, than to any other grass or crop, for that matter. But relatively few of those acres are dedicated to the maize that most of us think of when we think of corn. Truth be told, sweet corn really isn't that important as far as foodstuffs go. Neither is popcorn. Nope, the really important stuff is either flint or dent corn, named after the dimples that form in the center of the kernels when it dries. Now these varieties are very low in sugar but very high in starch, which means that they're well suited to drying and milling. Which is a good thing, because fresh, this stuff tastes nasty!
    Although the internet is probably the easiest place to land top-quality cornmeal, you may be able to dig some up at the local mega-mart as long as you're willing to do a little bit of reading. First things first. If the package doesn't say "stone ground" on the bag, just walk away. Ditto, any package that bears the words "quick" or "instant". These are over processed goods and cannot be trusted. Now most stone-ground meals are whole grain and as such, contain the fatty germ of the kernel, which will eventually go rancid unless used quickly or wrapped and frozen. So look for an expiration date that is at least 6 months after the date of purchase.
    The next issue is grades. Stone ground meals come in fine, medium and coarse grounds. And although I have heard it argued that polenta is always made from coarse, and grits from medium, I do protest. I think you can make either from ither ... ither from either, or ... Oh, it doesn't matter. Personally, I just stick with coarse-ground because I just like it better. Last issue: color. Now although I have never seen polenta in anything but basic yellow, traditional grits are made with white corn. Is this really a big difference? I think not.

[AB wrote me and said this part was left out of this scene and that future airings would have the correct version. See the end of this page for the full emails]
    Most stone ground meals are whole grain and as such contain the fatty germ which will eventually go rancid unless used quick or wrapped and refrigerated, so look for an expiration date at least a year after the date of purchase. The next issue is grade. Stone ground meals come in fine, medium and course and although I’ve heard it argued that polenta is always course and grits are always medium, I doth protest because I say you can make either out of either. Personally I stick with course, because I just like them better. The last issue is color. Although I’ve never seen polenta in anything but basic yellow, traditional grits are made with
hominy, that is corn that’s been treated with an alkaline and such corn is almost always white ... but white does not a corn meal make.

Cornmeal was imported from the United States
to relieve the Irish potato famine in 1846.

The Kitchen

    Although there are many, many differences between here—the Southern United States—and here—Northern Italy—the absorption rate of water into a tiny grain of cornmeal is not one of them. And that means that grits and polenta are exactly the same thing.


    [a crash and breaking glass is heard, the camera pans to a stone thrown through his window] Egads! What? What in the world ... [he picks up the brick and reads it] Well, I suppose I should have seen this coming.

U a big fat liar boy.

    [another crash is heard with glass breaking, he steps over to see a piece of marble on his counter top]  What in the blazes ... Well I have to say, this I didn't see coming. Nice marble, though.


"You are a big fat Liar."

    There. Okay, so I will rephrase my prior statement to say that if there is a difference between grits and polenta, it's not in the cornmeal. It's in the liquid used, the method used and the flavors that are added. The meal's exactly the same. 1) LIQUID

    Here we have one common vessel of coarse ground cornmeal and two sauciers, each alike in dignity here in fair kitchen where we set our scene. Now polenta usually begins with a vegetable sweat and that is where we will begin: two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 medium red onion, chopped—that's about 3 quarters of a cup—and a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt. Now just stir this off and on for 4 to 5 minutes or until the onion softens. And by the way, soft bubbling is okay. Loud sizzling means you've got it too hot. [POLENTA] [GRITS]
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Red Onion
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher
    There. When the onion's soft, add 2 cloves of garlic, minced, and cook another 2 minutes. 2 Cloves Garlic
    Finely Minced
    Okay, now comes the identical method part of things, okay? This side gets 1 quart of chicken broth, okay? And we're going to bring that to a boil over high heat. There. 1 Quart Chicken
    Now, over here on this other side, 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of water—in other words, a quart—as well as one and a half teaspoons of coarse salt. I like kosher.   2 Cups Water
2 Cups Whole Milk

1 1/2 tsp. Kosher

Maize was eaten in Italy for the first time in 1650.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Lilly Belle Bannister
              Gino Antonelli

    Once the polenta broth comes to a boil, we will very, very slowly sprinkle in 1 cup of our cornmeal. Why is this important? Well by pouring slowly in a stream, you insure that each little granule is going to be quickly surrounded by hot liquid. And that will help create a pudding-like texture. If you just dumped the meal all in at once, you're going to have lumps. [POLENTA] [GRITS]
1 Cup Coarse
    And here's where we deviate from standard operating procedure. Clamp on the lid and move this to a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, okay? Now this is a real departure from the grit procedure, but I really think that polenta ought to have an almost custard-like texture, and I think the best way to get that is low, even heat from all the way around, and very little agitation. We will stir this, though, but only about every 10 minutes. That means 4 stirrings. Yeah, that's right.

350° For 40 Minutes


    When the milk and water combo comes just to a boil, go ahead and sprinkle in 1 cup of cornmeal. Now unlike polenta, I like grits to have a slightly heavier, starchier kind of feel to them. And to get that, I'm going to cook them over direct heat with frequent agitation. There. I'm just going to clamp on the cover. We're going to cook this for 20 to 25 minutes, but we're going to come back and stir every 2 to 3 minutes. The key is to keep this heat as low as you can get it.   1 Cup Coarse


25 minutes later ...

    And our grits are done. They're creamy, but still just a little bit al dente. But hey, contrast is good. Now, I'm going to add 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter just as we do to the polenta, and work that in gently. Give a taste and then we'll adjust the salt. Okay, just a little bit. [POLENTA] [GRITS]
  4 Tbs. Unsalted
    Now you can enjoy these as is, or you can enjoy them even more by adding 4 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese. I like the sharp kind, but add it a little bit at a time so that it has time to melt. There.   4 Ounces Of
    Cheddar Cheese

    Now that our grits are finished, it's time to turn our attention to the polenta, which is ready to come out of the oven. However, that doesn't mean it's done; we still have a lot of flavor to add to this pot of corn.

    Now we work in 3 tablespoons of butter. Softened will go in a lot faster. And 2 ounces of grated parmesan cheese, and no, I don't mean the stuff in the green can. A few grinds of Pepper... [POLENTA] [GRITS]
3 Tbs. Unsalted
2 Ounces Parmesan
    Cheese Grated
1/4 tsp. Freshly
    Ground Black

    And now, the corny truth. Bon Appetit. [he places the polenta in front of an Italian and the grits in front of a southern belle]

LB: Why, despite a rather disquieting yellow hue, these grits are delightful.
GA: Bene polenta. Graci.
AB: Prego. But I think you mean molto bene, big guy.
GA: Pretty Lady, how do you like-a the polenta?
LB: I don't know what you mean, I assure you, but the grits are delightful.
GA: Aposo?
LB: Please. May I?
GA: Ah, si.
LB: Why that's dinner grits, only grittier.
GA: It's-a smooth and-a cheesy. You eat-a for breakfast?
LB: Every day but Sunday.
AB: Well, there's nothing a Southern born boy like me likes to see more than food-born hospitality.
LB: Pardon me, did you say that you're from the South?
AB: Yes.
GA: Perhaps Southern California.
LB: Southern Florida.
AB: Okay, that's funny. Molti Buffo.

In the 1st century Romans made polenta with pearl barley.

    Country food. You want me to make some real country food? Why, if only I had a ... [he looks down to see what he was looking for] Well, if only I had a pan like this with some parchment paper, and a flexible cutting board, and a spatula, I could ...
Well, I could take my corn porridge [I believe he's referring to the polenta] and I could just pour it in here like this. Yeah, I could do that and I would just smooth it out like this.
    Now this stuff can be kind of sticky to work with so if you don't have a silicone spatula, you're probably going to want to spray your rubber spatula with a little no-stick spray.
    And then I would just let this cool just to room temperature, okay? And then I'd slide it into the refrigerator for 1, maybe 2 hours, until it's set, and it'd be like this. Then I would just take my mat, put in on top, flip it over, remove the paper, and I'd have nice, set polenta. Then I could take something like this and cut it into shapes just like this. [uses a biscuit cutter to cut out a circle] And once I've done that, I could very easily toss these in a little oil and deep-fry them, or sauté them, or I could cook them over a really, really ...

The Backyard

... hot and scrupulously clean grill. Now if the grill is not scrupulously clean, the polenta is going to stick. And that's going to get really ugly. I take out some anti-stick insurance by rubbing down the grill grates right over the fire with just a little bit of vegetable oil on a towel. Move fast. There might be a little bit of flame, but it'll be okay. I also insure against stickage by dabbing just a little bit of oil across all of the polenta on both sides, and I already did the first side. So deliver these to the grill. I do this about 6 at a time. Whatever you do, once the rounds go down, don't touch them for 2 minutes.
    Now once the pieces go down, things are going to happen pretty quickly. Less than a minute later [or maybe 2 minutes? just watch them], they'll be ready to flip. Be gentle and don't be discouraged if some of them have a little brown around the edges. Believe it or not, it's pretty tasty.

Every year at the end of Carnivale in Tossignano, Italy,
the town consumes over 440 pounds of polenta

The Kitchen

GUEST: Colonel Bob Boatwright [played by AB, with a heavy "colonel" accent]

CB: Now I imagine that by now, you good people are wonderin' if cornmeal is good for anythin' other than makin' up an old bowl of mush. Which is good, but perhaps inappropriate when one is hankerin' for something that is sweet, tropical and yet still genuinely Southern, such as myself. Well tell me, children, can you say "Pineapple Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake"? I knew that you could.

CB: Well, we'll start things off by sprinklin' this here cup of stone-ground cornmeal right into this three quarters of a cup of boilin' milk. We just gonna let that sit and hydrate awhile, while we come down here.

1 Cup Coarse Ground Cornmeal
3/4 Cup Boiling Whole Milk

CB: Now you see that I've got a cast iron skillet sittin' right on top of medium heat. You can look right down there and see that fire. Yep, there it is. Now into that we are goin' to put 8 tablespoons, that's 4 ounces, of unsalted butter. We're gonna let that melt. Not only are we goin' to allow that to melt, we are goin' to carefully brush it all the way up the sides of the pan, so the batter won't stick later on.

10 inch Cash Iron Skillet

4 Ounces Unsalted Butter

CB: There. Our butter's gonna brown just a little bit and we gonna let that melt all the way. Mmm mmm. I bet that brush is finger-lickin' good, don't you? Now we're gonna add 1 cup of dark brown sugar right on top of that butter—gracious me—and just stir that until it melts thoroughly. I reckon that'll take about, oh, I don't know.

1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar

CB: Well, looks like 5 minutes is just about perfect. You can see here we've got ourselves a kind of grainy syrup goin', and that's just right, so we're gonna turn that heat all the way off and set our spoon aside safely.
    Now, the fun part. You're gonna open yourself up a can of your Colonel Bob's Sliced Pineapple in Heavy Syrup. This comes from one of my plantations down in Honduras. And you're gonna very, very carefully place one of these rings right in the center of the pan. Very carefully. That syrup's darn hot! You be careful now.

CB: There. Now we're gonna place more and more circles, I see you, right all the way around that first one, just like some kinda gosh-darn planetary orbital thing. I swear. There we go. One goes there, and it's gonna bubble up a little, that's just from that syrup hittin' the pan. And there's number five. Why, that's right pretty. It's kinda gettin' on my suit, though.

6 Slices Pineapple In Heavy

CB: Now we got ourselves 6 maraschino cherries, red as a blushin' bride. And we just gonna put one of them right there in the circle of every one of them pineapples. One, two, three, four, five, six. Now that's gonna be the top of our cake. We're gonna now sprinkle on about a third of a cup of good southern pecans, toasted and chopped up. There we go. Just sprinkle those right over. Continue, please, to exercise caution, as this is hot. There. Sprinklin', sprinklin', sprinklin' a little bit more, there you go.

6 Maraschino Cherries

1/3 Cup Chopped Toasted

CB: Last, but by no means least, we're gonna measure ourselves out about 3 tablespoons of this good old Colonel Bob Pineapple Syrup. Just gonna dip right in there and just barely sprinkle that across there. It is gonna hiss at you. Tablespoon number 2. There. Tablespoon number 3. Now this just needs to sit here and cool itself down while we go over yonder and deal with that batter. Come on.

3 Tbs. Pineapple Juice

CB: Well, what we have here is the Muffin Method. Now you remember the Muffin Method, don't you? It's when we take all the dry ingredients and we mix 'em up all together, then we come over and we take all the liquidous ingredients and we mix 'em up together, and then we bring the two and we mix 'em all together. But not too much, lest our cake be tough. Now let's get going here.

CB: I got myself 4 and three-quarter ounces by weight of all-purpose flour. That's about a cup, you know. And I'm gonna whisk that up with about 2 teaspoons of baking powder. There we go. And half a teaspoon of plain, old table salt. I don't take to that kosher stuff. There, that's fine.

4 3/4 Ounces All
    Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt

CB: Alright. We're gonna set that aside and come on over here. We got ourselves another bowl. We're gonna put in it these 3 eggs, and I'm just gonna beat those up a just little bit. And then we're gonna whisk ourselves in three-quarters of a cup of sugar. Now I know, look at me when I'm talkin' to you, I know what you gonna say. You gonna say, "Colonel Bob, that ain't a wet thing." No, it's not, but most bakers treat sugar like a wet product because it dissolves so readily in liquid. Lookee there, it's done happened. Lookee there. Alright now. To that we're gonna add ourselves one-half cup of good, old canola oil. There. Just like that, and we'll let them emulsifiers in that egg go to work. Oh, I done forgot the ... Gotta get the corn over here.

3 Whole Eggs
3/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Canol Oil

CB: We wouldn't-a had much cake without this. Now we're gonna take our mush that we done made a few minutes ago. We gonna put that right in there like that. Don't wanna get that on my suit. There. Oh well, it's Southern, it's messy. We're gonna mix that up a little, and then we're gonna mosey over to our dried ingredients. There we go.

Add the soaked cornmeal to the wet ingredients and whisk to combine.

CB: And now the secret. This is the secret of the whole operation. We gonna use a lot of speed here, so stick with me. There we go. The wet stuff goes right on into the dry stuff. I'll set that right over there. Now we're gonna mix 'em together, but we're not gonna over-mix 'em. So here we go. One, two, three, four, five, six. Walk away. I said just walk away. That's right. It's gonna be a little lumpy and I don't care. Now come on over here.

China is second only to the United States in corn production.

The Kitchen

CB: Now we carefully pour our batter directly on the fruit. But do it gently. Do it very, very gently. There we go. Now I'm gonna set that [mixing bowl] aside. This whole contraption is gonna go straight into the middle of a 350 degree oven. I done got that all ready right over here. Be careful you don't drop none on the oven door like I did. Woo! I'll be in trouble for that later, I'm sure. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go enjoy myself a lovely beverage. Yes.

350° For 40 Minutes

Upside down cakes originated as "skillet cakes" because they
were cooked on top of the stove instead of in ovens.

CB: Well, howdy! We're back, and look. Our cake-like device has come out of the oven all beautiful, brown and crunchy. But let that cool down, now, for at least half an hour before you go turnin' its world upside down, or it'll turn yours up, that's for sure.
    Okay, now, what we're gonna do is we're gonna take a platter or a plate. This one's made out of that Bamboo. I ain't never seen the likes of it. We're gonna put it right down there over the top, gonna get a good grip, and then as quick as you can, flip that bad boy over. Give it a little thump. "Hello! We're comin' in." Woo! Lookee there. Great gosh goodness almighty, that's pretty. Now I'm gonna take a knife and I'm just gonna cut myself a little wedge. I'm kinda hungry right now. So just kind of dive in there. Make a first cut. I like to cut right in the middle of that cherry. I do. There you go. Now I'm gonna get myself a little wedge out, just like that. Oh my goodness, but that is one slice of tropical Southern Heaven. And 100 percent genuine, I assure you.

Back Country Road near Highway 73

GUEST: Italian Mafia Boss
            Italian Mafia Lacky

[returns the same cabin with "grits" in hand, knocks on the door]

    Well, I hope that we've inspired you to experiment with one of the most multi-tasking of pantry pals of all time: cornmeal. Is it country cooking? You bet it is. But if you'll look past your own borders, you'll see that the cornmeal tradition has international appeal. Of course, nothing says "Good Eats" quite like old-fashioned grits. Certainly not that high-fallutin' city-fied old polenta. No siree. grits are the thing.
MB: [answers the door with ML in background looking over his shoulder]
AB: Um, hi. I was looking for the people who live here.
MB: They don't live here no more. Pa liked the ponies. A little too much, if you know what I'm saying.
AB: Yes, I think I do know what you're saying. Okay, bye.
BC: Hey, what was that you were saying about polenta?
AB: Polenta. I was saying that I have some right here.
BC: Oh, great. Well, come on in. We always got time for some good eats.
AB: Okay ...
LB: [looks around outside, nods the camera and enters]


Emails from AB
  1. From: "Alton Brown"
    Subject: corn meal vs. grits
    Wed, 03 Nov 2004 22:59:10 -0500

    For your members who think I said grits and corn meal are the
    same ... and I quote myself:

    "Most stone ground meals are whole grain and as such contain the fatty germ which will eventually go rancid unless used quick or wrapped and refrigerated, so look for an expiration date at least a year after the date of purchase. The next issue is grade. Stone ground meals come in fine, medium and course and although I’ve heard it argued that polenta is always course and grits are always medium, I doth protest because I say you can make either out of either. Personally I stick with course, because I just like them better. The last issue is color. Although I’ve never seen polenta in anything but basic yellow, traditional grits are made with hominy, that is corn that’s been treated with an alkaline and such corn is almost always white ... but white does not a corn meal make."

    So, what I'm trying to lead into is that there are traditional differences but that that's not all ... there are cooking differences too. Many manufacturers are now blurring the line between what is called grits and polenta and depending on you ask ... well, it's all up to personal opinion. But I did clearly mention the hominy issue.


  2. From: "Alton Brown"
    Date: Thu, 04 Nov 2004 18:41:06 -0500

    Well I screwed up big time.

    Somehow, accidentally, carelessly, one of the scenes at the grocery store got left out of the corn meal show ... the scene in fact that contained the very script passage that I emailed to you last night. Needless to say, I'm not very happy about this and we will fix it immediately. A new version of the show with the missing info will be sent to the network by the end of next week. I take full responsibility for the slip and only wish I knew where the heck I put that shot. I thank you for your continued support and hope the fans will turn away from this ugliness until I've had a chance to mend it.

    And, lastly I want to thank your members for catching this heinous act of cultural negligence. Since I almost never watch Good Eats on air, had they not raised the red flag, there's no telling how long it would have taken for me to become aware of the omission.

    Best Regards,


Then AB also posted this on his Rant & Raves page not long after:

  1. Friday, November 05, 2004

Between a Grit and a hard place

I wish to apologize to any and all southerners who might have caught our True Grits episode the other night. Why? Because a short but crucial scene got lost in the edit and I’ll be darned if I can find where I put it. The scene in question dealt with the issue of hominy grits which are not the same as plain old grits. Hominy grits are made from hominy, a form of dent or field corn which is treated with an alkali such as lye before drying and milling. The resulting chemical changes inside the corn manifest themselves in a gruel that never gets totally creamy. Hominy grits are in fact “grittier” than other grits. But they are not the only grits out there. Many reputable firms such as Bob’s Red Mill market the same product as grits and polenta. And they are technically right to do so. Well actually, they're wrong. Grits and polenta are dishes prepared from corn they really should just be selling corn meal but that's their business. The point is, blasphemous though it may seem to some, there are grits besides hominy grits, just as there are motorcycles that aren't Harley's (more hate mail comin' my way). Just for the record I prefer hominy grits. I am after all a Georgia boy despite the fact that I was born in California. (Both my parents were from Georgia ... they just got a little lost when they got married is all).

So, what are we doing? We’re fixing it of course. In fact by this time next week, Food Network will have replacement shows in their hot little tape decks.

This is the first time I’ve recalled a product for content reasons. It was a simple but negligent oversight on my part made worse by the thought that someone out there may suspect that I don’t know my grits … which is almost too much for me to bare.

Yours truly,

November 5, 2004
Philadelphia, PA

posted by Alton Brown, 4:03 PM

Transcribed by Mike DiRuscio

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010