Let’s Make Southern Cornbread and Cornbread Dressing
Savory with a whiff of bacon flavor and no added sugar, Southern Cornbread bakes up crispy and irresistible. Serve it hot from the pan, or turn it into tender Southern Cornbread Dressing.
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Article, recipes, and photographs by Marrekus and Krysten Wilkes of Cooks with Soul
When it comes to Southern cuisine and soul food, there is one side dish that should not be left off the menu, and that is cornbread. Growing up, I enjoyed cornbread with big family meals and especially at Thanksgiving. Cornbread comes in many styles, including the more buttery, sweet kind. But the kind I love most is flavored with bacon grease but no sugar and baked in a hot cast-iron skillet for an extra-crispy crust.
While this cornbread is amazing on its own, it’s also the base for one of our favorite Thanksgiving side dishes, our soft and moist Southern Cornbread Dressing. Now, a lot of people confuse “dressing” and “stuffing.” Dressing is the Southern name, and with my family and Krysten’s grandmother being from the South, we have always known this dish as dressing. The biggest difference between dressing and stuffing is that traditional stuffing is made from some sort of dried bread or croutons for a coarser texture, whereas dressing is made from cornbread that is crumbled and paired with liquids to create a smoother, bread pudding mouthfeel.
All terminology aside, I can guarantee that once you try these recipes, you will never consider using the kind out of a bag or box again, nor will your family allow it — so let’s get cooking.
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How to make Southern Cornbread
Cornbread is one of the easiest things you can make in the kitchen. The simplicity of the recipe also gives you the flexibility to get creative and add in extras like bacon, cheese, jalapeños, and even corn kernels. You can adapt it to make corn muffins or cornbread sticks, too. The total time to make the recipe is only 40 minutes.
1. Assemble your ingredients
Southern Cornbread requires very few ingredients to create a delicious recipe, which makes it appealing no matter your cooking experience.
Self-rising cornmeal. The key ingredient for quick prep is self-rising cornmeal, which is a combination of white cornmeal or yellow cornmeal, flour, leavening, and salt. It's also called self-rising cornmeal mix. If it’s not available, our recipe gives you the option to combine finely ground cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt.
Bacon fat. There’s that saying that bacon makes everything better, and bacon drippings impart a nice smoky, salty, earthy flavor to the cornbread. If you don’t eat pork, you can use a neutral oil such as avocado oil or grapeseed oil instead.
Salted butter. Including a little butter in addition to the bacon fat makes the cornbread nice and moist.
Milk. We use whole milk, not buttermilk, but you can go with low-fat milk, too.
Large egg. You’ll need 1 egg for the recipe.
2. Heat the cast-iron skillet
We love to make our cornbread in a cast-iron skillet because it gives the cornbread the crunchy bottom and edges that our family loves. The cast iron heats evenly and handles the hot oven temperature perfectly. If you don't have one, you can use a baking pan.
Start by preheating the oven to 450°F. Once the oven is up to temperature, toss in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with the bacon grease and a couple of tablespoons of butter. The key to getting those crispy edges on your cornbread is letting the bacon grease and butter get hot and melted. This takes 5-7 minutes. If you are not using a cast-iron skillet you can use an 8-inch square pan, but you still want to preheat it with the bacon grease and butter.
3. Make the cornbread batter
While you are waiting for that skillet to get hot, go ahead and make up your cornbread batter. Just combine the cornmeal, milk, and egg in a bowl and stir until smooth. If you are going to get creative and jazz up your cornbread, this is the time to add in any of those delicious bonus ingredients we mentioned above.
Once your cast-iron skillet is nice and hot and the bacon fat-butter mixture is melted, pour the fat into your cornbread batter. Make sure you leave a little fat behind in the skillet to keep it greased and to keep your cornbread from sticking. Stir the batter to incorporate the melted fat. Then pour batter back into your hot skillet and make sure to spread it evenly.
4. Cook your cornbread
Pop the skillet back in the oven and bake your cornbread it's golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the bread. The cook time will be 15-20 minutes. Once your cornbread is done, brush melted butter over the hot bread, slice it, and serve. Or hold onto the bread if you can, to make our Southern Cornbread Dressing.
How to make Southern Cornbread Dressing
Now that you have a batch of our Southern Cornbread, its time to get started on the dressing. You can use the cornbread right out of the oven, but letting it cool first will make it easier and safer to handle. You can also make the cornbread a day ahead if that’s more convenient.
Get your oven preheated to 350°F and spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with some cooking spray.
1. Assemble your ingredients
The ingredient list for this recipe may seem long, but I promise you they all have a special part in your dressing coming out fantastic and instantly becoming a family favorite. And the prep time is fast.
Southern Cornbread. This is the base ingredient for the dressing.
Bacon fat. Again, bacon grease contributes a nice smoky flavor, but you can also go with vegetable oil instead.
Diced vegetables. Celery, bell peppers, and onion, known as the Holy Trinity in Southern and Cajun cooking, play a big part in the flavor profile of the final dish.
Seasonings. We go with dried sage, black pepper, and poultry seasoning.
Condensed soup. Cream of celery and cream of mushroom soups add a lot of flavor and a silky texture to the finished dressing.
Chicken broth. We go with reduced-sodium broth.
2. Saute the vegetables
Give the celery, bell pepper, and onion a coarse chop if you want more texture in the dressing, or a fine dice if you want a smoother consistency. Then heat up some of that good bacon grease in a heavy-bottomed skillet and cook your vegetables until they are soft, which takes 5-6 minutes.
3. Mix your ingredients
Take your cream of mushroom and celery soups, pepper, sage, and poultry seasoning and combine them in a large bowl. Next add in your sauteed vegetables and give that a good mix. Now grab that cornbread that you made earlier and coarsely crumble it into the mixing bowl.
4. Adjust the moisture with chicken broth
Here you want to add enough broth a little bit at a time until your dressing is moistened but not soggy. But feel free to use less broth you want a drier dressing, or extra broth if you prefer dressing that is very moist.
Once you have all your ingredients incorporated to the consistency you like, spread the dressing in the 9x13-inch dish.
5. Bake the dressing
You want to bake the dressing until it is lightly browned on top, 50-55 minutes. Then dive in!
Complete your Thanksgiving feast
Our Southern Cornbread and Cornbread Dressing recipes are sure to add a touch of Southern hospitality to your dinner table. We love making these dishes for Thanksgiving and at our house we like pairing them with fried or smoked turkey and delicious sides like candied yams, collard greens or cabbage, and baked macaroni and cheese. The dressing is great on its own, but adding some cranberry sauce or gravy just makes it even more delicious. We hope you enjoy these recipes and that they bring a little Southern love to your family and your dinner table during this holiday season.