Savory Grits Bar
A savory spread for a grits bar (plus a little sweet) is a great way to entertain and feed a crowd during brunch!
Savory Grits BarJump to Recipe
Ok. I have to give credit to my wife, Betsy, on this one. Before Theo roared into our lives we wanted to host a small party with friends and decided that a brunch situation would be easier and more low key than a dinner party.
To be honest, I was struggling with what to make. I had a list of tarts and fancy quiche recipes that would work, but also required some serious effort on my part. I was starting to stress myself out!
That’s when Betsy came up with the idea for a grits bar. Or… for those New England readers… Grits Bahhh.
It was so simple and people loved it. It’s more of a concept than a recipe as once you get the grits method down you can add almost anything to the toppings list. I stayed mostly in the savory world (with one exception), but you could just as easily do a sweet/savory combo.
It’s super easy to throw together and feeds a crowd!
Savory Grits Bar
- 2 cups coarse ground grits
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Salt and pepper
- Crispy bacon
- Caramelized onions
- Cheddar cheese
- Serrano peppers
- Red peppers
- Maple syrup
- For grits:
- Bring stock, water, and milk to a light simmer over medium heat. Once hot, whisk in grits in a slow steady stream.
- Stir the grits well, and let simmer slowly. Stir regularly so the grits don’t stick or clump. The grits will need to simmer for 20-30 minutes until they are done. Taste them to know when they are tender. If they are getting too thick, add more water or stock.
- When grits are thick and tender, season them with salt, pepper, and a knob of butter.
- Keep warm over very low heat or in a slow cooker until serving time.
- For caramelized onions:
- Add 2 tablespoons butter to a medium pot over medium-low heat. Once melted, add sliced onions and cook until they start to soften. Add 2 tablespoons of water to speed up the cooking process.
- Continue to cook until onions are soft and starting to brown a bit, about 20-25 minutes. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar near the end to encourage color and caramelization. If onions get too dark, add a splash of water to slow the cooking.
- Prepare all other toppings by grating cheese and dicing veggies. Let people make their own bowls!
Did you make this?
Snap a photo and tag @macheesmo so I can see your work.
Savory Grits Bar: Grits Makin’
This is a bit confusing, but grits and polenta are the exact same thing: ground corn. For the best grits, you want a coarse ground corn and it will frequently be labeled as “polenta”. I have a theory that this is because polenta sounds more exotic, but they are the exact same thing.
So buy a coarse ground polenta or grits and you’re well on your way.
There are two methods to making grits and both work really well.
If you have a slow cooker, you can soak the grits overnight in water and then drain them and add them to a slow cooker with about 3 cups of liquid per cup of grits. Cover them and cook them on low, stirring occasionally for 3-4 hours until they are thick and creamy. Then season them and keep them warm.
If you want a faster method though, you can increase your liquid to about four cups per cup of grits and bring that liquid to a light simmer.
For my liquid, I like to use a combo of stock, milk, and water. You can customize it to your liking, but I wouldn’t use just water as they will end up being a bit plain.
When the liquid is simmering, whisk in the grits in a slow stream. If you just dump them in you’ll end up with a big clump of corn.
Stir the grits regularly as they bubble over low heat. It’s amazing how much they will thicken and soak up all the liquid.
Just be sure to stir them regularly if you are using this method because they can stick to the bottom and clump together easily. After 30 minutes or so they should be nice and thick and tender.
At this point, you’ll want to season these with salt, pepper, and a hunk of butter.
Keep the grits warm until serving. Again, a slow cooker would be your friend here, but you can just keep them warm over very low heat, covered, for at least an hour or so without issue. If they ever start to get too thick, just stir in a bit more liquid.
There are SO many options for toppings for a grits bar. I recommend making a few cooked toppings though. For my version, I chose bacon and caramelized onions but you could get crazy here. Shrimp? Sausage? Mushrooms? All of them would work well.
If you do use bacon though, make sure it’s crispy!
I like to bake mine to maximize crispiness. If you don’t use a wire rack when baking then make sure to dry the bacon on some paper towels so it isn’t too greasy.
For the onions, add sliced white onions to a pot with some butter and a few tablespoons of water. Put them over medium-low heat and let them cook down slowly.
As the onions cook down they will soften and also brown a bit. To encourage the caramelization, add a sprinkle of sugar and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
The whole process will take probably 30 minutes and you’ll end up with these rich, slightly sweet onions that go great on any number of things, but definitely grits.
For other toppings options, I would highly recommend at least one kind of cheese. Cheddar and grits goes well together and try to find a good sharp cheddar. Any cheese would be a solid choice though.
I like to round out my grits bar with lots of veggies. You don’t need a lot of any one veggie, but make a good spread. I used red peppers, scallions, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and spicy peppers.
It would be amateur to serve grits without butter, so put out some good butter for people also.
The sweet topping that I recommend: maple syrup. Even in a bowl of all savory ingredients, a little drizzle of syrup totally makes everything click.
It’s really fun to let people make their own bowls!
The grits bar was a huge brunch party hit!
I would love to hear your grits bar toppings ideas! Leave a comment!
30 Responses to “Savory Grits Bar” Leave a comment
Our supervisor is originally from the south and he’ll frequently make us grits with the tiny salad shrimp, jalapeños, and lots of cheddar cheese. After a cold morning patrolling the mountain, they are the ticket!
THe shrimp salad idea is awesome! Thanks for the comment Merry!
Looks awesome, Nick! Since I moved from Boston to Florida I have grits often. They’re pretty foreign to New Englanders.
This brunch is a great idea. I love grits, and being from the south they ARE grits. I suppose they’d be polenta in the south of Italy. Thanks.
Haha! I agree. I actually use the words completely differently. To me, this is grits (the creamy version) and if you solidify it and fry it, then it’s polenta. That’s just me though!
You’re correct, polenta is a solidified block or tube form of corn. Not the same at all! Maybe the author meant ‘hominy’ as a different name for grits which actually is the same thing.
Great Idea! We also top ours with a couple of tablespoons of homemade bolognese sauce.
Whoa. I love that idea and a great use of leftovers!
For a definitely non-purist but easier way to prepare grits/polenta check out Barbara Kafka’s method in her 1987 cookbook, Microwave Gourmet. It takes about 12 minutes with no stirring at all. This is one of our regular meals when we want something fast. As you point out toppings are only limited by your imagination.
Thanks for the tip Tom!
There is a difference between grits and polenta, grits are white and polenta is yellow, grits are textured (gritty) and polenta is smooth. Yankees eat yellow cornmeal for breakfast. And the true meanings of grits are, for little ladies, “Girls Raised in the South and young ladies, “Girls Refined in the South”. To each his own.
I have eaten grits my whole entire life, but have never put a single thing on them except butter. I cannot imagine anything else on or in them, but will certainly give it a try. My mama always fixed yellow grits when I was growing up…didn’t even know that white grits existed. After I tasted white grits, I never ate yellow grits again. So, I am wondering if anyone has tried these toppings with white grits?
Oh you are missing out! Toppings are great on white grits also. :)
Love this recipe! One question: I thought that grits were made from hominy, like in masa harena, treated in a lime process?
There are two varieties for sure. Some are with just corn and some are treated. I’ve seen both labeled as “grits” though.
I agree with all your topping suggestions, except the cilantro LOL (we just don’t get along)! I also agree with the person who suggested bolognese: any rich meaty sauce, ragu or even leftover pulled pork or roast meat is delicious! As a vegetarian option, ratatouille or caponata is amazing! Just put olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, onions, eggplant & zucchini in a pan & cook slowly until soft & delicious. You can really use any vegies you have!
Such great ideas Felicity. Thanks! I can’t wait to try a hearty sauce on a bowl.
OOO the caponata also makes me think of maybe an olive tapanade…..
Being a southern girl I love, love grits! This is a wonderful idea I will be using very soon! Options are endless really! Thank you!
Try a dollop of pimento cheese-homemade of course.
Well, that just upped the game a bit! Nice call.
I LOVE grits. I live in AL, and we have a local company that makes stone ground, organic, non-GMO Blue grits. They come out this amazing purple color when they are cooked. (https://www.goodeggs.com/nola/mcewens/organic-blue-corn-grits-1-25lb/540e08311179d10200002cea )That could add a little extra something to your grits party! Lately “grit bowls” have been very popular here. You have the traditional eggs, sausage/bacon, cheese, but there are some other really awesome ones. One BBQ joins (Jim n’ Nicks—-originally from AL but they have actually opened a few locations in the Denver area!) come to the local farmer’s market and have an awesome breakfast bowl with grits, pulled pork, bbq sauce, jalepenos, and cheese.
Whoa. Those blue grits look extremely legit. Thanks Anna!
Okay–I love grits…but I love them topped with home-made fried apples…just thought I’d add that to the list! Love this site!
Grits and Polenta are not the same.
Grits are white corn and polenta is yellow corn.
They taste differently
I add a spoon of guacamole !
Grits are a staple in our house and the idea of a grits bar is great. We are planning it for the first Saturday in December. We will use two types of grits,white and yellow. Other toppings to be used are saute grape tomatoes, wilted spinach and smoked sausage.
I am thinking some candied pecans… would go great with maple as a sweet dish or pair well with bacon and the cheese……
My “Gramp” was raised in Indiana in the 1880’s. He used to tell of a childhood friend who ran away from home because his mother would not let him have maple syrup on his grits.
Turned out amazing!
Thank you for a great recipe.