Grits are a food of American Indian
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 origin common in the Southern United States
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 and mainly eaten at breakfast
Breakfast is the first meal taken after rising from a night's sleep, most often eaten in the early morning before undertaking the day's work...

. They consist of coarsely ground corn
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

, or sometimes alkali-treated corn (hominy
Hominy or nixtamal is dried maize kernels which have been treated with an alkali in a process called nixtamalization.The English term hominy is derived from the Powhatan language word for maize. Many other Native American cultures also made hominy and integrated it into their diet...

). They are also sometimes called sofkee or sofkey from the Muskogee (Creek) language word. Grits are similar to other thick maize-based porridge
Porridge is a dish made by boiling oats or other cereal meals in water, milk, or both. It is usually served hot in a bowl or dish...

s from around the world, such as polenta
Polenta is a dish made from boiled cornmeal. The word "polenta" is borrowed from Italian.-Description:Polenta is made with ground yellow or white cornmeal , which can be ground coarsely or finely depending on the region and the texture desired.As it is known today, polenta derives from earlier...

, or the thinner farina
Farina (food)
Farina is a cereal food, frequently described as mild-tasting, usually served warm, made from cereal grains. In contemporary American English use, the word usually refers to Cream of Wheat made from soft wheat. Wheat farina is a carbohydrate-rich food, often cooked in boiling water and served warm...


Grits are usually prepared by adding one part grits to two-to-three parts boiling water, sometimes seasoned with salt or sugar. They are usually cooked for 15 – 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the grits become a porridge-like consistency. As grits expand when they are cooked, they need to be stirred periodically to prevent sticking and forming lumps. They may be served with grated cheese, butter, sausage or country ham red-eye gravy
Red-eye gravy
Red-eye gravy is a thin sauce often seen in the cuisine of the Southern United States and associated with the country ham of that region. Other names for this sauce include poor man's gravy, bird-eye gravy, bottom sop and red ham gravy. The gravy is made from the drippings of pan-fried country ham,...

. Grits have also been known to be served with fish such as fried catfish or salmon croquettes.

Grits can also be fried in a pan or molded to create a firm block; the resulting block can be cut with a knife or wire, and the slices fried in a fat
Fats consist of a wide group of compounds that are generally soluble in organic solvents and generally insoluble in water. Chemically, fats are triglycerides, triesters of glycerol and any of several fatty acids. Fats may be either solid or liquid at room temperature, depending on their structure...

 such as vegetable oil, butter
Butter is a dairy product made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk. It is generally used as a spread and a condiment, as well as in cooking applications, such as baking, sauce making, and pan frying...

, or bacon
Bacon is a cured meat prepared from a pig. It is first cured using large quantities of salt, either in a brine or in a dry packing; the result is fresh bacon . Fresh bacon may then be further dried for weeks or months in cold air, boiled, or smoked. Fresh and dried bacon must be cooked before eating...


The word "grits" derives from the Old English word "grytt
Grit (grain)
Grit is an almost extinct word for bran, chaff, mill-dust also for oats that have been husked but not ground, or that have been only coarsely ground—coarse oatmeal...

," meaning coarse meal. This word originally referred to wheat and other porridges now known as groats in parts of the U.K., maize being unknown in Europe in the Middle Ages. The word "grits" is one of the few words that may properly be used as either singular or plural in writing or speech and can be used with a singular or plural verb.


Grits have their origins in American Indian corn preparation. Traditionally, the corn for grits was ground by a stone mill
Mill (grinding)
A grinding mill is a unit operation designed to break a solid material into smaller pieces. There are many different types of grinding mills and many types of materials processed in them. Historically mills were powered by hand , working animal , wind or water...

. The results are passed through screens, with the finer siftings being grit meal, and the coarser being grits. Many communities in the United States used a gristmill
The terms gristmill or grist mill can refer either to a building in which grain is ground into flour, or to the grinding mechanism itself.- Early history :...

 up until the mid-20th century, with families bringing their own corn to be ground, and the miller
A miller usually refers to a person who operates a mill, a machine to grind a cereal crop to make flour. Milling is among the oldest of human occupations. "Miller", "Milne" and other variants are common surnames, as are their equivalents in other languages around the world...

 retaining a portion of the corn for his fee. In South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

, state law requires grits and corn meal to be enriched, similar to the requirements for flour, unless the grits are ground from corn from which the miller keeps part of the product for his fee.

Three-quarters of grits sold in the U.S. are sold in the South
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 stretching from Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 to Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, also known as the "grits belt". The state of Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 declared grits its official prepared food in 2002. Similar bills have been introduced in South Carolina, with one declaring:
Whereas, throughout its history, the South has relished its grits, making them a symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality, and whereas, every community in the State of South Carolina used to be the site of a grits mill and every local economy in the State used to be dependent on its product; and whereas, grits has been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income; and whereas, grits could very well play a vital role in the future of not only this State, but also the world, if as Charleston's The Post and Courier
The Post and Courier
Charleston's The Post and Courier is one of the oldest daily newspapers in the South and the eighth oldest newspaper still in publication in the United States. It is published in Charleston, South Carolina. It traces its ancestry to three newspapers, the Charleston Courier, founded in 1803, the...

proclaimed in 1952, "An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace."

Yellow grits include the whole kernel
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant...

, while white grits use hulled kernels. Grits are prepared by simply boiling
Boiling is the rapid vaporization of a liquid, which occurs when a liquid is heated to its boiling point, the temperature at which the vapor pressure of the liquid is equal to the pressure exerted on the liquid by the surrounding environmental pressure. While below the boiling point a liquid...

 the ground kernels into a porridge
Porridge is a dish made by boiling oats or other cereal meals in water, milk, or both. It is usually served hot in a bowl or dish...

 until enough water is absorbed or vaporized to leave it semi-solid.

Other uses

Folk wisdom contends that dry grits, scattered where ants can get at them, can be used to kill them by causing them to 'explode' as the grits expand inside them; however, laboratory tests conducted on fire ants suggest that grits are ineffective.

Another popular variant of grits are Charleston-style grits, where the grits are boiled in milk instead of water to give them a creamy consistency.

In popular culture

One of the more memorable scenes in the film My Cousin Vinny
My Cousin Vinny
My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 American comedy film written and produced by Dale Launer, directed by Jonathan Lynn and starring Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Lane Smith, Bruce McGill and Fred Gwynne...

involves Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci
Joe Pesci
Joseph Frank "Joe" Pesci is an American actor, comedian, and musician.He is known for playing a variety of different roles, from violent mobsters to comedic leads to quirky sidekicks...

) questioning prosecution witness Sam Tipton (Maury Chaykin
Maury Chaykin
Maury Alan Chaykin was an American-born Canadian actor. Best known for his portrayal of detective Nero Wolfe, he was also known for his work as a character actor in many films and on television programs.-Personal life:...

) on the stand. Tipton testifies that as he had begun to prepare breakfast (grits), he saw the defendants walk into a nearby convenience store, and as he was sitting down to eat, he saw them walk back out. He testifies that his breakfast took him five minutes to prepare, and thus there was not enough time for the defendants to have driven away and for two other men in a similar car to arrive at the store. Gambini first asks "How do you like your grits - regular, creamy, or al dente?". After getting a response of "regular, I guess", Gambini then asks whether Tipton cooks instant grits or regular grits, to which Tipton replies that "no self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits". Gambini then furiously but humorously traps Tipton in a contradiction by pointing out that the recipe for regular grits requires 20 minutes of preparation time, not five minutes.

In the 2002 novel The Secret Life of Bees
The Secret Life of Bees
This is about the 2002 Sue Monk Kidd novel. For the 2008 film, see Secret Life of Bees The Secret Life of Bees is a 2002 historical novel by American author Sue Monk Kidd. It received much critical acclaim and was a New York Times bestseller...

by Sue Monk Kidd, the narrator and protagonist Lily describes a punishment her abusive father routinely inflicted on her: kneeling on grits.

On November 11, 1990, Kid Rock released his debut album titled Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast.

Florence Jean Castleberry
Florence Jean Castleberry
Florence Jean Castleberry , better known to all as "Flo", is a fictional character in the movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the subsequent television series, Alice, and that show's spinoff, Flo...

 ("Flo") on the television series Alice
Alice (TV series)
Alice is an American sitcom television series that ran from August 31, 1976 to July 2, 1985 on CBS. The series was based on the 1974 film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. The show stars Linda Lavin in the title role, a widow who moves with her young son to start her life over again, and finds a job...

became a waitress at Mel's Diner in Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix is the capital, and largest city, of the U.S. state of Arizona, as well as the sixth most populated city in the United States. Phoenix is home to 1,445,632 people according to the official 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data...

, a roadside diner run by one Mel Sharples
Mel Sharples
Melvin Emory Sharples is a fictional character in the 1974 film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and the television sitcom series, Alice. The character was played by the late Vic Tayback, who reprised his movie role for the television show.- The man with the Spatula :Melvin Emory Sharples was born...

. Flo coined the popular catchphrase "Mel, kiss mah grits!"

See also

  • Cuisine of the Southern United States
    Cuisine of the Southern United States
    The cuisine of the Southern United States is defined as the historical regional culinary form of states generally south of the Mason Dixon Line dividing Pennsylvania from Maryland and Delaware as well as along the Ohio River, and extending west to Southern Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.The most...

  • Cuisine of the United States
    Cuisine of the United States
    American cuisine is a style of food preparation originating from the United States of America. European colonization of the Americas yielded the introduction of a number of ingredients and cooking styles to the latter...

  • Mush (cornmeal)
    Mush (cornmeal)
    Mush — sometimes called coosh — is a thick cornmeal pudding usually boiled in water or milk. It is often allowed to set, or gel into a semi solid, then cut into flat squares or rectangles, and pan fried. Usage is especially common in the eastern and southeastern United States. It is also customary...

  • Hasty pudding
    Hasty pudding
    Hasty pudding is a pudding or porridge of grains cooked in milk or water. In the United States, it invariably refers to a version made of ground corn...

External links

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