Hot water cornbread is an older cousin to the cornbread that most people are accustomed to today. Maybe it could be considered 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.
We’ve rated this recipe as EASY, but it borders on moderate difficulty. The reason it borders on moderate is that it requires mixing the cornmeal with hot water and flipping it at the right time while frying it can be challenging.
This post was adapted from the Recipe Workbook Hot Water Cornbread Recipe.
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, with a crispy outside and creamy-soft inside.
There are as many ways to cook hot water cornbread as 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. Don’t be too put off though, lard isn’t as bad for you as you might think.
Cooking Your Hot Water Cornbread
A heavy cast-iron skillet is an excellent 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 (and for food safety). It should be in every camp cook’s kitchen kit.
Finally, we use a 5-quart cast iron dutch oven to boil the water (Really any 5-quart or larger pot will do). You only need two cups of water, but as soon as you start adding the cornmeal, it’ll begin to slop out of a small pot. The extra capacity will make your life easier.
On Sugar and Cornbread
There is some drama in the South on whether or not sugar belongs in cornbread.
Just like any other Southerner, I’ve got my opinions on it. To me, it all boils down to how fresh your cornmeal is and how it’s milled. The better the cornmeal, the less sugar you need. Very high quality, like Anson Mills, doesn’t need any at all.
With that said, I think a small touch of sugar makes hot water cornbread even better, regardless of the cornmeal quality. Not enough to make it sweet. Just enough to neutralize any underlying sourness.
The high-speed milling process used in making cheap, mass-produced cornmeal reduces the sweetness of the corn and brings out a sour flavor. Older cornmeal that has been sitting on a grocery store shelf makes it even worse. Adding sugar helps offset the sourness that comes with age and mass-production.
If you want to make this without the sugar, I highly recommend buying a premium fine-ground yellow cornmeal produced in the old school way. We use Palmetto Farms Fine Ground Cornmeal. It is much higher quality than I’ve found at my local grocery store and the fine grind makes the finished cornbread even creamier. If you really want to go all out, order the Anson Mills Cornmeal.
I can’t think of any reason to buy cheap, mass-produced, cornmeal. I’ll skip the cornbread before I eat that stuff.
Camping Hot Water Cornbread
- 2 cups Boiling water
- 2 cups Yellow cornmeal - fine ground
- 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. I use a soup spoon to measure them, them mash them into shape with my hands. Don't worry if you have cooties. Frying will kill them.
- Fill your frying pan at least 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.