There are a few things that go into making great cornbread. These are not laws and you can certainly still make good cornbread without them. But if you want great cornbread, you need two things: a hot cast iron skillet and bacon grease. I think most folks who've cooked their share of cornbread will agree on these two points.
But here’s where folks disagree. Some like it sweet and some don’t. I tend to like mine without (much) sugar. I do put a little in mine and, before you start fussing at me, trust me when I tell you, this is not a sweet cornbread recipe. The small amount of sugar in this just brightens it up a little. You can leave it out if you prefer or you can add more to suit your taste.
To get that crispy “rind” on your cornbread, you have to heat your skillet until it’s scorching hot, add bacon grease and return the skillet to the oven until the bacon grease is sizzling. Then you pull it out just long enough to pour the batter in and immediately return it to the oven to bake. The magic happens when the batter hits the hot grease.
And using bacon grease just gives it another layer of flavor. You get a hint of smokiness in there that just can’t be beat. I've used vegetable oil or lard in a pinch, but if you've got it, definitely use bacon grease.
2-3 tablespoons bacon grease*
1 cup cornmeal (not self-rising)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk**
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, well-beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sugar
Preheat oven and skillet to 450 degrees. Remove skillet from oven and add enough bacon grease to coat the bottom and sides of an 8-10 inch cast iron skillet (or equivalent sized pan). Place the skillet with bacon grease in the hot oven while you make your batter.
Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl; stir to combine.
In another bowl, combine buttermilk, milk, egg, vegetable oil and sugar and mix well by hand. Stir in dry ingredients and mix until just combined – don’t overmix the batter, some small lumps are OK. Batter will be thin.
Remove skillet from oven and immediately pour batter into pan. Bake at 450 until browned around the edges (10-14 minutes).
Remove from oven and serve.
*substitute vegetable oil for bacon grease if necessary then ask the Lord for forgiveness for throwing away your bacon grease.
**you can make a substitution for the buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon white vinegar to a glass or plastic measuring cup then filling to the 1-cup mark with regular milk. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. Don’t use a metal vessel for this as it may react to the vinegar.
You may wonder why there’s buttermilk and regular milk in this recipe. I've often wondered how things would be if I used all buttermilk but since this is my mama’s recipe and it’s absolutely perfect to me, I've never risked changing it!