Southern Fried Cornbread

Cornbread, Johnny cakes, hoecakes – we love it all here in the South! Last week I posted the best chili recipe, and my granny’s awesome fried cornbread (aka hot water cornbread) really should be inseparable from it. I’ve never tasted a cornbread that’s quite its equal.

In this recipe post, I’ll share my tips and tricks for making the perfect fried cornbread.

Overhead Fried Cornbread on Parchment, Some stacked and some laying on a board.

Granny was used to making small portions of her cornbread because my dad is an only child. When I had this slew of kids, she had to get used to making a ton of this cornbread because it became my kids’ favorite as well!

In Grady, Alabama, there is a restaurant that serves cornbread that comes close to this, but it’s not quite as good as my granny’s recipe.

Fried Cornbread and Beautiful Memories

Every time that I make southern fried cornbread, or hot water cornbread, it brings up the best memories.  As long as I can remember, my granny has cooked this perfect cornbread to accompany my favorite meal of soup, deviled eggs, potato salad, and creamed corn.

Stacy Lyn and her granny
My granny and me

I know the food was good, but I often wonder if it was just my granny that was so incredible. The thing I loved about her besides her food was that she thought I could do no wrong.  That amazed me. What an incredible blessing to have a grandparent who thinks you’re perfect, just as you are.

My granny also taught me how to make so many of the recipes that I make.

Now, my children seem to love them as much as I do.

I love that she used the freshest local ingredients before it was “the thing” to do.  She knew that fresh equaled quality!

As you will see, freshness is one of the keys to the best fried cornbread, too.

Horizontal photo of stacked fried cornbread shaped like discs with one propped up on the stacked cornbread and one broken open to see the inside over parchment on wood and black background.

Where Is Cornbread From?

People throughout the U.S. enjoy cornbread as a staple food, going all the way back to Native Americans’ first cultivation of corn. Among the early colonists, cornbread was especially popular in the South because the southern climate was better suited to growing corn than European wheat.

Southern vs. Northern Cornbread?

In the South today, cornbread is the pride and joy of many chefs and home cooks alike. Each cook has their own family recipe that they swear by. However, one thing that remains consistent is most southerners would never put sugar into a savory food like cornbread or hoecakes.

However, for some there are exceptions: along with this fried cornbread, my granny used to make a sweet cornbread as an ingredient for her famous dressing.

But to go alongside chili, vegetable soup, or a vegetable plate, nothing beats the classic fried cornbread without the sugar.

In the North, on the other hand, they often use molasses, honey, or maple syrup and a reduced amount of eggs in cornbread, making corn cakes. This answers the question, is cornbread a bread or cake? It’s both, depending on where you find it!

Fried Cornbread aka Hot Water Cornbread or Hoe Cake in parchment paper on wood surface with Black background

Aren’t these called hoecakes, hoe cakes, or Johnny cakes?

What’s in a name? Although both are made from cornmeal and hot water, hoecakes / Johnny cakes are different from fried cornbread / hot water cornbread.

Often hoecakes are made with unleavened cornmeal and may have fat mixed into them. There’s leavening in fried cornbread just as in regular cornbread so that it will rise. In contrast, hoecakes are more like pancakes. Way back when, they were actually baked over a campfire on the metal flat of a hoe!

Fried Cornbread, aka Hot Water Cornbread

Hot water cornbread is an authentic southern delight, with an ancient recipe and technique passed down from generation to generation.

Why is it called hot water cornbread? The basic ingredients are just self-rising cornmeal and boiling water. It sounds almost too simple, but when these two ingredients meet, a magical reaction occurs. The corn swells, and the leavening releases gases.

That reaction gives the cornbread its light, airy, crunchy texture. To catch it, though, you have to fry the batter quickly in extremely hot oil. Otherwise, that amazing texture will be lost.

How Do You Make Southern Fried Cornbread?

Here are a few hints and tips for crunchy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside fried cornbread.

Stacked Fried Cornbread with a piece of hot water cornbread propped up showing the crispy outside and one cut open showing the creamy inside on wood with a black background.
Is there much more beautiful that fried cornbread?

Why use self-rising cornmeal?

The foremost ingredient in fried / hot water cornbread is self-rising white or yellow cornmeal. It MUST be finely ground self-rising cornmeal, and it MUST be fresh. Why?

Even if you do everything else perfectly, if you don’t use the self-rising cornmeal, then the cornbread will not rise. It will be too dense—a corn pancake instead of light, airy fried cornbread.

Another answer to “why didn’t my cornbread rise?” is that the cornmeal may be too old. If self-rising cornmeal is older than 3 months, then the active ingredient in the baking powder loses its power. The dry mixture won’t react properly with the acid in the buttermilk, leaving you with a flat disk.

Can you substitute regular cornmeal for self-rising if it’s all you have?

For the reasons above, self-rising cornmeal, rather than non-leavened cornmeal, is an essential ingredient in a hot water cornbread recipe. That’s because the self-rising kind contains baking powder. Without baking powder the cornbread won’t rise, making the end result dense and soggy.

However, you can easily make your own self-rising cornmeal, or cornmeal mix, at home. You just need 3 ingredients. Simply place 2 cups of cornmeal, 8 tablespoons of flour, 2½ tablespoons of baking powder, and ¾ teaspoon of salt into a food processor and pulse a few times. Voila, homemade self-rising cornmeal at your fingertips!

Fried Cornbread, some with more rustic and rough edges and some perfectly round, on a piece of parchment paper on top of a blue and white striped linen.
With the rough one with lots of edges, I spooned the cornmeal mixture into the skillet and pressed it just a bit with he back of my spoon. It gives it a lot more surface area for crispy edges. The perfectly round one, I took the same amount of the mixture and made a disc laying it gently into the skillet. Either way is great. You decide!

How do you make fried cornbread crunchy and moist?

What makes cornbread moist? What makes it crunchy without being crumbly? Here are the secrets to perfectly moist, crunchy cornbread.

First, after you pour the boiling water into the cornmeal, you must cook it right away in HOT grease.

Why does the grease have to be hot when you pour it in your cornbread mixture? If the grease is not hot, the cornbread will soak up the oil, and it will be greasy instead of lusciously crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.

What consistency should hot water cornbread batter be?

You should stir your cornbread batter until it’s the texture of wet sand and the thickness of cake batter.

Green bowl of cornmeal batter with spoon
The cornmeal mixture needs to be thicker than pancake and cake batter. It should feel like the sand at the beach you may could make a stiff sand castle with.

What oil should you use when frying cornbread?

Often I only use vegetable oil or bacon drippings when frying cornbread to keep things simple.

Sometimes, I’ll use butter and oil together to get the perfect flavor and color. The butter will give a golden brown color and added flavor, while the bacon drippings or vegetable oil will help to raise the burning temperature of the butter so the cornbread won’t brown too fast or burn.

However, if you have thrown away your bacon drippings, substitute with vegetable oil or lard alone. Whichever you do will be great. 

Check out my jalapeño cornbread and sweet cornbread recipes too!

I hope that you enjoy this fried cornbread as much as I do!  This side pairs perfectly with venison soup, Hoppin’ John and Chili Con Carne.

My granny was used to making small portions because my dad is an only child. When I had this slew of kids, she had to get used to making a ton of this cornbread because it became my kids' favorite as well!

Southern Fried Cornbread

I LOVE CORNBREAD! I hope that you enjoy this crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside fried cornbread as much as I do.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Course Bread, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Southern
Servings 12
Calories 83 kcal


  • 2 cups self-rising cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 2/3 to 2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup bacon drippings for frying
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil such as canola oil for frying


  • In a medium bowl, mix cornmeal, salt, and water together. You'll want the consistency of thick cake batter. If it is too dry, add a little more water.
  • In a cast iron skillet, heat bacon drippings and oil on medium high heat until almost smoking. You will know the oil is hot when a few drops of water sizzle when dropped into the skillet.
  • Drop 2 tablespoons of cornmeal mixture into the oil and brown until a golden crust forms around the edges of the cornbread patties, about 2 minutes. Then turn and brown until cornbread is golden on the outside. Add more oil and/or bacon drippings if the skillet becomes too dry. Remove to a paper towel to drain and serve hot.


Calories: 83kcalFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 104mgPotassium: 1mgCalcium: 1mgIron: 1mg
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  1. Stacy, I know that restaurant in Grady, AL you are talking about. I live in Montgomery and every now and then I drive all the way down there just to get those delicious little “hoecakes”. This restaurant has given me their recipie several times but mine still never turn out like theirs.

    My little 88 year old mother used to make these for me as a child when she didn’t want to make a skillet of cornbread. Unfortunately I didn’t appreciate them until I was much, much older and by then she had pretty much stopped cooking all together and now she can’t even remember how she used to make them.

    I am so glad to have found your recipie with the reference to the place in Grady, AL. If your recipie is better than theirs, I can’t wait to make them!!!

    Thanks for sharing your granny’s recipie!

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      Thank you for your comment! I think that my recipe will work for you. I am going to make it tonight. I usually just estimate ingredients. That is probably what the cooks do in Grady, then they tried to guess as to the amounts. Let me know what you think!

  2. I guess I was so busy thinking about making these that I couldn’t correctly spell recipe at the same time! LOL

  3. Donna Ornduff says:

    When I added the hot water to the meal it got so thick I couldn’t stir it, Had to add a ton of more water to get it thin it enough to stir, what happened? It was still to thick to drop by spoonfuls..

  4. These are exactly what I’ve been looking for. There’s a million “fried” corn bread recipes out there that are like pancakes I wanted real fried! Thank you sooo much!

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      These are bonafide Southern fried cornbread. My grandmother made them everytime I came over. They are devine with soup and potato salad. I know that may be a weird combo, but that is what she fixed for me everytime I visited her house. I hope you enjoy them. If you have any trouble with them, let me know. I have made them many times and have tried to work out all the kinks.

  5. It’s so funny, my mother used to make the best fried cornbread in the entire world and she always swore that you could only use Alabama King cornmeal if you wanted it done right. For the last 15 years or so, I could never find it. today, I went to the grocery store and lo and behold, there it was. I am going to make it just for me tonite as my husband is away on business and both my kids are in college. (Go Dawgs!) I made her potato soup recipe to go along with it. Wish Me Luck!

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      I wish you luck!! Can’t wait to hear how it turns out. I will have to try the Alabama King cornmeal!!

  6. Ernestine says:

    I have heard of a fried cornbread where hot water and plain meal is used but it sounds like it would be flat and tough with no leavening. Those who made it claimed it was the ONLY way to make fried cornbread.

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      These old timers like my grandmother who made it that way knew a thing or two about making this awesome cornbread. There does seem to be a learning curve to getting it right though. Truly, it is the best when you get it right. I love the crispy edges and that creamy texture of this cornbread. I have learned that if you do not use self rising cornbread and if it is old, you will not get good results. I hope you give it a try and let me know what you think.

  7. tex hutto says:

    hey guys, in the name of all things delicious and southern fried…i fry my cornbread to be alot more crunchy and pair it with either fried cabbage or a pot of slow cooked mustards or black eyed peas. I’m looking forward to a ‘new way’ to fry, as i am always up for a good fryin. I did’nt have the luxury of a granny or mom to do these things for me, unfortunatley, I am self-taught out of necessity, love the posts, happy cooking to all.

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      I love that you have pair the cornbread with cabbage. That is one of the best, most comforting foods around. Happy Cooking to you!

      1. Ernestine says:

        I fry mine as well, but use a stick free skillet so grease is at a minimum. Very good! I use a little plain yogurt, which helps me cut down even more on grease and gives it the buttermilk taste.

        1. Stacy Harris says:

          Sounds great. I will have to try that sometime.

  8. My Mother used to make a “hoecake” like this, delicious, my wife now makes something very similar, a recipe she learned from her Grandmother.

    1. Devin Freeman says:

      I love your food

      1. You are just the best! Thank you for saying that. Makes my day!

  9. Sandy Post says:

    Do you use white or yellow self-rising cornmeal?

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      Hi! I use self-rising cornmeal. That is what my grandmother used, so I am sticking to her recipe. If you have any questions, let me know.

  10. Sandy Post says:

    Stacy, thanks for your quick reply to my question. I have self rising cornmeal but does it matter whether I use white or yellow? I bought a bag of each because I didn’t know if there is a taste difference or if one reacted differently than the other. They are both self-rising.

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      I use them both. Just last night, I used the white and it was fantastic. Let me know if you run into trouble. I know you are going to love it.

  11. My Mama (a Louisiana country girl) learned to fry cornbread from my Daddy’s Mama. They were from Georgia. That tradition has been passed to us. We use Martha White’s Yellow Self-Rising Cornmeal, because that’s what she used. We love them thinner, with crispy, lacy edges!

    1. Monica, the Martha White’s Yellow Self-Rising Cornmeal is what my Granny used too. She would use the white as well, but always Martha White and always self-rising for this recipe. You can make your own “self-rising” but I like to make this exactly like my Granny made it. I like them on the thin side too with the lacy edges. How can you get any better than that! I just made cabbage soup tonight and prepared the cornbread to go with it. Splendid!!

    2. Mama called the thin crispy fried cornbread ” Lacy Bread”

      1. I like that – “Lacy Bread.” I have been having people write in with the different names they grew up with for this cornbread. Some have been Hoe Cakes, Johnny Cakes, Fritters, and I have heard Lacy Bread too. Thanks for the comment!

  12. anomymous says:

    we call it hot water cornbread and my mother still makes it.

  13. Good morning Stacy! I have a question for you….

    We grind our own cornmeal (it sounds impressive, but actually we accidentally planted sweet corn and flint corn and popcorn so that they tasseled at the same time. It made it so that the sweet corn was not very good fresh eating but everything was PHENOM dried so we just dried it all and now I grind it for cornmeal 🙂 ).

    My question is what leavenings can I use in my ground cornmeal that will make it “self rising” like it needs to be? Would it be standard leavening amounts? I am sure you cook a lot–does it seem that the self rising cornmeal has MORE leavening or LESS leavening?

    Bonus question :)– When I grind the cornmeal, do you think it should be superfine or more coarse? I can grind it to whatever I desire.

    Thank you much. Have a blessed day 🙂

    1. Hi Stephanie. We grind our own corn too. It is really wonderful to be able to grind the corn to the size that I want it. For this recipe, I would grind it fine to medium; not super course. To make it self rising, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to every cup of flour that you use. You are actually adding a leavening agent to make the self rising cornmeal, therefore regular self rising cornmeal will have more leavening than regular. I love making polenta with my freshly ground corn! Give that a try and grind your cornmeal to a medium to course texture. Have a Happy New Year.

      1. Terry Thompson says:

        Stacy, did you mean to say Baking SODA in this reply?? In your narrative on converting Reg Cornmeal to Self Rising you stated to use Baking POWDER (not Soda). I was just about to make this when I saw this reply to a comment. Don’t want to mess up a whole batch of cornmeal mix.

        1. You’ll use baking powder. To every cup of cornmeal, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out!

  14. I made these tonight. They were delicious! Thank you for sharing your recipe!!!

    1. I am so excited you made them. I just love this cornbread recipe. I think I might fry some tonight too!!!Thanks for your sweet comment!!

  15. My mom likes her cornbread sweet. Any way I can make your recipe and make the cornbread sweet?

    1. You can add a few tablespoons of sugar if you like Tracy. I recommend trying it both ways and letting your mom give it a try. Let me know what she thinks!

  16. Granny in North Carolina made it your way and I was never privy to her recipe Grand ma from Mississippi.Baked cornbread in cast iron skillet from fresh ground corn that Grandpa and I shelled then dropped off at the millers on the way to town on Saturday the only day we went to town picked it up on the way home.We brought 50 #s of ice for Granny’s sweet tea no electricity on their place until nearly 1950 The Ice carefully wrapped and in old style icebox would last nearly all week.All the bread was good with cold buttermilk and I try to duplicate it here in Northern Calif I mention northern because it is a different world from Souther California ruled by Tinseltown .

  17. I love cornbread too. My moms skillet corn bread is awesome too. She uses buttermilk and it makes a world of difference. I have never had the fried cornbread like what your showing that is savory. I make corn bread cakes that are just like pancakes but using corn meal and you add a table spoon of sugar to your batter. Cook on the griddle then add syrup. Have you ever had those before?

    1. I haven’t tried that, but certainly will now. I do have a waffle that has cornmeal and sugar. It’s delicious so I’m guessing your idea would be excellent.

  18. Sherri Clark says:

    Is the Martha White yellow cornmeal that says plain*enriched*degerminated the right one to use??

    1. As long as it is self-rising it should work. Let me know how it turns out.

  19. Jared Harden says:

    Hey Stacy! My family owns a grist mill in Hartford, Alabama and we grind fine white corn meal. We also have Self-Rising meal that I would love you to try out. All of our products are stone ground the old-fashion way and would be perfect for this recipe.

    1. It really does sound like I’d love to try out your corn meal!

  20. Years ago, my Alabama mother-in-law introduced me to White Lily self-rising cornmeal. It makes the best pan cornbread, so I can’t wait to use it for this recipe. Just watched you make this on Matthew Hagee’s talk show. Looks great!

    1. I’m so glad you saw the show. White Lily is great. So happy you will be making this cornbread recipe!

  21. Doug Waller says:

    Back in the 80’s I had a contract with GTE engineering in Dothan, Alabama. They gave me a recipe for Alabama fried cornbread which I still enjoy today. I use only Alabama King whole grain, fine ground, white corn meal. Just add hot water and a little salt to the meal, then fry thin patties in a little skillet grease & drain. These are just outstanding to over-butter and have while hot.

  22. CheriLea Morton says:

    We just moved from Ohio to New Mexico. I always made Johnnycake(cornbread) whenever I made 15 Bean Soup or Chicken Noodle. I’m going to try your fried cornbread. It sounds wonderful, plus I won’t have to turn the oven on. The temperature today is going to be 99!

    1. I never thought about it that way. I wonder if that was why my Granny made the fried cornbread instead of the baked? Her house only had a window A/C unit, so I am sure she didn’t want to heat the house up anymore than she had to.

  23. Debbie Ashcraft says:

    My mom made this all the time but called it hot water cornbread! Loved it. I always had to dip in ketsup. I will make this soon!

  24. Sheri Stump says:

    Am I reading this correctly? 3 cups of boiling water…when I use this amount with 2 cups of self-rising cornmeal, it is the consistency of water…help me out here…I read one comment that it is so thick they cannot stir it…

    1. It works for me. If you need to add more boiling water to make the consistency a little looser, do that. It’s strange. Most of the time this works perfectly, but I have had other times where I’ve needed to add a few more tablespoons.

  25. 5 stars
    The closest to my moms that I have found crisp around edges excellent

    1. That makes me ecstatic!! That’s why I wrote it. The memories that come flooding back with a wonderful crisp edge and a creamy inside!! Thanks for rating it 5 stars and letting me know.

  26. Pamela Lipscomb says:

    My grandmother born in 1913 and Papa 1905 made these cornmeal and boiling water only cakes almost every day for dinner. The only time they weren’t on the table was Sunday when Papa made these high rising hot rolls or Nannie made biscuits for gravy and biscuits like for chipped beef or to go with chicken fried steak, or fried chicken. Hot rolls went with Sunday pot roast.

    Back prior to the 70s, you always could find fresh white stone ground fine corn meal (then and prior it was a special variety of white dent corn that had a little more sweetness than a regular dent or field corn. But always was white and fine stone ground no matter the brand. Getting it fresh from the mill was best. Not sweet like today’s sweet corn you fresh with butter etc fresh from the garden. But you could tell the difference between the yellow and white meals. However, her’s wasn’t made with any leavening and it wasn’t self rising. The reason it’s not heavy or tough is because it’s fairly fresh ground and in how it’s prepared. The size of the patties are determined by how big you make them. They are better though not too big (around or high). About a heaping serving spoon, and smash a little bit with the spoon to make a patty but not much, just enough to spread a bit. The consistency isn’t like a pancake batter, you can’t pour it. But it also isn’t like a dough that you make to make tortillas either. It’s somewhere in between. You can make it with any amount of meal adding the right amount of water to match and the salt is to taste. She would mix it up, put in the salt she thought she needed and then it would sit to absorb the water and salt. She would cook a test patty, we got to taste and say how much more salt it needed – then she would say “I think it’s just right”. We always wondered why she asked us but once they were cooked, and buttered, she was right. The boiling water must be boiling — its cooking the meal. But also you don’t want to over mix and you have to let it sit 10-12 minutes (until when you stir it with a fork there isn’t anymore steam rising, it’s pretty warm but your fingers don’t burn when you put a finger in the mix). Thus waiting allows the meal to absorb the water and you don’t have to mix so much making it tough. But you want it still warm when you fry it. And the bacon grease does need to be hot so it won’t absorb the oil. But not so hot it burns the patties before they get golden brown on both sides. The inside is tender, soft, moist and the outside is golden brown and crispy especially around the edges. Like pancakes the first ones won’t be as nice as the 2nd batch once the pan gets the right temp. Make sure you take out any pieces in the oil before each new batch. You don’t want them to burn and ruin the batch. When you take the patties out and put it in a little saucer or your plate, slather with butter -pressing it into the insides. That mix of soft, crispy, bacon, butter altogether is heaven. These stood by themselves; however, we also used them with bowls of beans, homemade soup, under collards or cabbage, chili, stew, etc. And they were buttered when they came out of the skillet, put on a plate, covered with foil and kept warm until all were cooked. Then into whatever you were eating. My grandfather loved the leftover cabbage or collards in a “mix up all in one bowl”. He would take a patty or two and put in the button of his bowl, put cabbage next, then a couple slices of ham, and then a layer of his great chow chow, and then topped with either Nannie’s super homemade cole slaw (made with the right amount of shredded carrot to the cabbage, Dukes, AC vinegar, celery seed, S &P) or her southern potato salad (made with Dukes Mayo, celery, Mount Olive sweet relish, S&P, lots of boiled eggs both inside and on top sprinkled with sweet paprika). We would tease him about this mix-up — he said it was all going the same place. He did the same with beans but left the coleslaw or potato salad out. If the beans had plenty of ham hock meat in them, he skipped the ham slices too.

    Homemade butter is best if you can get good cream. Sweet butter is made from pasteurized cream (you can buy it that way whipping/heavy cream or get cream from the dairy or creamery and pasteurize it yourself) but not the ultra pasteurized coffee creams. Or if you want real old fashion cultured butter that is made from fresh cream from the dairy (not pasteurized). The pasteurization kills the enzymes needed for it to ferment and won’t culture. The difference is sweet butter is like our American butter but much better and cultured is a slice of European or Irish butter – tangier. Plenty of recipes on making butter, it’s easy and quick. Only thing is you must make sure to knead and rinse it well until the water is completely clear or it will spoil and then get all the water out. Remember other than the little salt you add for flavor, there aren’t any preservatives. The best butter is made each day or two at the most. There is regular butter or cultured butter.

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for this story! I love it. I love to mix my greens together too – like your grandfather. There are so many take aways from this comment. I can’t thank you enough!

  27. Melissa Stinson says:

    5 stars
    Hi Stacy,

    This a great article! My family loves fried cornbread. My grandmother always put a hole in the middle of her cornbread. That made an extra crunchy edge and that’s the way my dad still makes it. We also used extra fine cornmeal from a local mill in southeast Alabama.

    Thank you.

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