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Classic Southern Cornbread

Recipe by Allison Estes

New York is known for its many excellent restaurants with food from all cultures, including Southern food. In the three decades I lived there, I found good barbecue, catfish, gumbo, collard greens, peas and hushpuppies. But the one thing they couldn’t get right was good old Southern cornbread. Most places insisted on adding sugar to the recipe (yuck!) or other odd flavorings. The texture was usually either heavy and gummy, or dry enough to choke a horse. Luckily, when my kids and I craved it, I could always make a perfect pan of classic skillet cornbread at home. 

  • ¼ cup or generous dollop vegetable shortening or bacon grease

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1 egg

  • 1½ cups yellow corn meal (not “cornmeal mix”)

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

Drop the shortening into a 10-inch cast iron skillet, and put the skillet into the oven while you prepare the batter. Set the oven to heat to 425ºF.


In a large, 4-cup measuring cup, add the milk and then the egg. When the oven is close to 425ºF, beat the egg and milk together with a fork, then add the dry ingredients, and stir to combine.


Remove the hot skillet from the oven, and pour the melted shortening into the batter. Quickly stir to mix in the shortening, then pour batter back into the skillet and return it to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and starting to brown on top. 


Remove from oven. Allow to sit for a minute, then lift one edge of the cornbread and prop it up with a knife against the edge of the skillet for a few minutes, to allow steam to escape and keep the edges crisp. When the bread has cooled just a little, slice it in the pan and serve it while it’s hot, with fresh butter. 



If you have any left over, try it for breakfast, split, toasted with butter and drizzled with honey. 


Add 1/4-1/3 cup or to taste: jalapenos, grated cheese, whole kernel corn, pork cracklins.


To make individual servings, grease 12 muffin cups and pour batter into them, then bake. 


To make sweet corn muffins, add 1/3-1/2 cup sugar to the batter, along with 1/3 cup dried cranberries, 1/3 cup pecan pieces and 1 tablespoon grated orange zest.

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