Hot water cornbread is an older cousin to the cornbread that most people are accustomed to today. Or maybe hot water cornbread is a distant great-granduncle to the typical stuff, since according to Sean Brock, the grand-master of all things Southern Cooking, it predates regular cornbread quite a bit.
Hot water cornbread is a treat not too commonly found outside of the Southern United States. It’s more of a corn fritter than a slice of corn cake. Crispy on the outside and creamy-soft on the inside.
A common way to serve it in the south is with a good drizzle of honey on top. It also goes excellent with a pot of beans, like in one of the recipes below:
There are as many ways to cook hot water cornbread as there are home cooks in the Southern United States. Right or wrong, this is the way we like to do it when we’re out camping.
Since we’re cooking for people who don’t mind getting out and camping and hiking, we didn’t make the diet version. It’s got a little lard in it. You might want the calories after your hike.
It tastes better with lard anyway, so we’ll lie to ourselves as much as we want about how many calories we’ll burn in the morning.
Cooking Your Hot Water Cornbread
A heavy cast-iron skillet is the way to go when pan-frying in the boonies. The heat retention in the skillet will help keep things consistent in the wind.
Related: Learn how to season your cast iron.
We recommend an instant-read thermometer because likely you won’t be accustomed to cooking on your camp stove or a fire grate. You won’t have a feel for the oil temperature like you would your home oven. Too little heat and you’ll have greasy cornbread, too much and it’ll burn before it’s cooked through.
An instant-read thermometer is a critical camping tool for this reason. It should be in every camp cook’s kitchen kit.
On Sugar and Cornbread
There is some drama in the South on whether or not sugar belongs in cornbread.
I’ll be hated by some for my opinion here, but what the heck, I’m going to give it to you anyway. Maybe my Southerner card will get revoked.
Not all cornmeal is created equal. The cheap stuff is far, far inferior to a premium stone-ground cornmeal.
The process that is used in making cheap, mass-produced cornmeal reduces the sweetness of the corn and brings out a sour flavor. Adding sugar helps offset this.
My understanding is that the cheap cornmeal is ground at high speed in a steel mill. This produces heat from friction that destroys some of the sweetness.
If you want to make this without the sugar, I highly recommend buying a super premium fine-ground yellow cornmeal that is produced in the old school way. Something like Palmetto Farms.
Since I used cheap cornmeal in this recipe, I’ve added sugar. Not enough to make it sweet, but enough to offset the sourness. If you want it sweet, add more.
Camping Hot Water Cornbread
- 2 cups Boiling water
- 2 cups Yellow cornmeal
- 2 tsp. Morton's Kosher Salt
- 1 tbs. White sugar
- 2 tbs. Lard or shortening – (I used lard in mine)
- Vegetable oil – (for frying)
Before You Leave Home
- Combine cornmeal, salt, and sugar. Whisk well. Put into a zip-top bag or other container.
- Put the lard or shortening into a small plastic container.
Cooking at the Campsite
- Bring water to boil and slowly stir in cornmeal mixture until fully combined.
- Add the lard and stir in until melted and combined.
- Remove from heat and let cool for five minutes.
- Make disks approximately 2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick. Use a large spoon as a guide.
- Fill your frying pan 1/4 inch deep with vegetable oil. Heat until 350-375° F (your temperature probe should help determine the temperature).
- Fry until light brown (2-3 minutes) then flip and fry an additional 2-3 minutes.
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