This Southern buttermilk cornbread is moist, slightly sweet, and super flavorful. Baking in a cast iron skillet gives it craggy, crispy edges you’ll love!
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Just when I thought cornbread couldn’t get any better, it did.
Last year I made my mom’s recipe for cornbread into easy grab-and-go homemade cornbread muffins. It’s now one of the most popular recipes on the blog!
Today I took the base recipe, made a couple modifications to the batter, and put it in a preheated cast iron skillet greased with some bacon grease, real Southern-style. And boy is it goooood! I didn’t know a simple buttermilk cornbread recipe could pack so much flavor but dang, it sure can.
Ingredients, flavor, and texture profile
The flavor and texture in cornbread can vary greatly from recipe to recipe, so it’s important you know what you’re getting with this one!
Ingredients and flavor
Yellow cornmeal. Butter. Buttermilk. Bacon grease (if you have it). With all those ingredients in and around the batter, how could it not be delicious? Pardon me while I grab myself another slice, warmed and topped with a little extra butter for good measure.
All these ingredients make this cornbread recipe rich and buttery. The bacon fat used to grease the skillet adds an extra depth of flavor that is characteristic of many Southern foods. If you don’t have bacon grease on hand you can use butter, which will still be more flavorful than vegetable oil or cooking spray.
This version has enough sugar in it to enhance the natural sweetness of the yellow cornmeal, but is not as sweet as some of the more cakey recipes you’ll find. It’s sort of a middle ground, the perfect compromise for a family whose members might prefer both sweetened and unsweetened cornbread. If you prefer it more or less sweet, you can definitely adjust the amount of sugar in this recipe, but to me it’s exactly right.
Southern cornbreads tend to be on the more crumbly side while recipes originating in the Northern U.S. tend to err on the more cakey, sweet side. But even a Southern recipe shouldn’t be too dry! While not cakey, this Southern cornbread recipe is moist and delicious, but when cool is still crumbly enough to crumble into a bowl of chili or glass of milk, or to use when making Southern cornbread dressing.
Besides the flavor and dominant texture, the highlight of this recipe is the crispy crust around the edges, created by preheating the skillet and by the generous amount of bacon grease or butter used to grease it before adding the batter.
For eating this cornbread by itself as a side dish, I recommend it warm and topped with butter. It’s addictive! I’m having a really hard time saving a piece for my husband.
Why should I make cornbread in a cast iron skillet?
I mean, I use my cast iron skillet for just about everything. But there are some other good reasons to make your cornbread in a cast iron skillet too!
First, you have all the flavors from potentially years of cooking contributing to the flavor of your cornbread. (Make bacon in your skillet as often as possible and you won’t be sorry with that extra seasoning!)
Second, when you make cornbread in a cast iron skillet, you don’t just pour the batter into a cold pan. You preheat it, grease it, and then add the batter so it sizzles a little and creates more of a crust. I greased mine with two tablespoons of bacon grease (you can use butter instead) which is more than what you’d get with a thin layer of cooking spray. It’s enough to swirl around the bottom of the pan and up the edges a bit.
After adding the batter, the grease kind of pooled up around the top edges. I was skeptical, but do you know what those little pools of bacon grease did? As the cornbread baked, they created a crispy, craggy, delicious crust — almost like frying just the edges of the cornbread. A subtle but oh-so-dreamy touch.
Third (or an addendum to item the second item), if you cook your cornbread in a cast iron skillet and cut it into wedges like a cake or pizza, did you know EVERY PIECE is an edge piece? That’s right. No “middle pieces” that lack that delightful crispy crust.
Yeah. That’s enough reason for me! Cast iron from here on out, baby!
But do I have to make it in a cast iron skillet? What if I don’t have one?
If you don’t have one, GET YOU ONE. It’s good for, like, EVERYTHING. Crispy blackened salmon, Charleston red rice, weeknight chicken and chorizo paella, Brussels sprout hash, you name it, it’s better in cast iron!
Okay, but if you don’t have one and you want to make the cornbread today, or if you’re already using your cast iron skillet to make some Charleston red rice for dinner, that’s fine. Just skip the preheating and make it in a 9-inch square baking pan or cake pan. You’ll miss out on those delightful craggy edges but it’s still gonna be some dang good cornbread.
I got some buttermilk just to make this cast iron skillet cornbread today, but I don’t always have it on hand. When I don’t, I usually use what’s known as clabbered milk as a substitute, which is just a mixture of milk and an acid like vinegar or lemon juice.
To make a cup of clabbered milk, start by putting 1 tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice into your measuring cup, then fill it the rest of the way with regular milk. Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes so the acid can permeate the milk and do its thing. The acid will properly react with the baking soda and give the cornbread that subtle bit of tang you’d get from the buttermilk.
Substitutions for buttermilk:
- Clabbered milk (details above)
- Slightly soured milk (If I have milk just past its expiration date that isn’t too bad but smells like I don’t want to drink it straight from a glass, I use it in baked goods!)
- Sour cream or plain yogurt thinned out with milk to about a heavy cream consistency
This recipe uses 2 tbsp of bacon grease to grease the skillet before you add the batter. If you don’t have any bacon grease on hand, you can do one of the following:
- Use butter instead, or do what I did, and
- Fry up a couple slices of bacon. Eat the bacon while you’re making the cornbread batter and leave the grease in the pan for your cornbread. Or crumble the bacon on top of the batter before baking if you want!
What does buttermilk cornbread go well with?
This cast iron skillet buttermilk cornbread is a perfect side dish for just about any Southern entree. It also goes great with chili, on its own for breakfast (just finished a breakfast slice myself!) or, as I’ve heard but not tried, crumbled into a glass of milk or buttermilk.
Here are a few dishes that will give you the perfect excuse to whip up a side of buttermilk cornbread!
Want cornbread muffins instead?
Try this recipe for Easy Homemade Southern Cornbread Muffins!
Southern Cast Iron Skillet Buttermilk Cornbread
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 egg
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup butter melted and cooled
- 2 tbsp bacon grease or butter
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Add cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda to a large bowl and whisk to break up any clumps.
- Combine egg, buttermilk, and melted butter in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
- Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix.
- Preheat cast iron skillet in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Remove from oven, add bacon grease or butter and swirl until melted and it coats the bottom and sides.
- Pour batter into a skillet and smooth out with a spoon or spatula. Bacon grease or butter may float to the top of the batter and pool around the edges and that's okay! That will give you crispy, craggy edges.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden on top and toothpick stuck in the center comes out mostly clean. Don't overbake!
- Serve warm with a little extra butter for good measure.