Cracklin cornbread isn’t your ordinary everyday cornbread. It’s a Southern treat that most people outside of the South probably haven’t even heard about.
There is some unavoidable controversy when it comes to cornbread in the South, though. Like any Southerner, I have my opinions.
We’ve rated this recipe as EASY due to having very few steps and simple ingredients. Most of the preparation can be accomplished at home before you leave for your trip.
I’ll be honest. The beginning of this cornbread starts with the cracklin cornbread recipe from my favorite chef, Sean Brock, and is in his cookbook, Heritage. Heritage is in the top ten of my favorite cookbooks. My absolute favorite is also by Sean Brock – South.
I’ve made some adjustments to this recipe to suit cooking it in a camp dutch oven and to make up for the type of cornmeal that I use.
Additionally, as Sean Brock did, I use bacon instead of fresh cracklins. It is doubtful that anybody will have any fresh cracklins lying around at a campsite, and the store-bought stuff in a bag just ain’t the same. Bacon is the best alternative.
Sugar or No Sugar?
This is where the cornbread debate in the South can get violent.
I grew up with no sugar in my cornbread. It is really a regional thing in the South, though. I grew up in West Texas, but my people come from South Carolina and Tennessee. This is kinda typical of that region from what I understand. Further north, you’ll find sugar in it, and I’ve known many from East Texas and Louisiana that also used sugar. It was almost as sweet as a birthday cake in East Texas.
A big challenge with making sugarless cornbread is cornmeal is not made the same as it was historically. Mass-produced cornmeal is processed in a high-speed milling process that can cause the loss of that sweet corn flavor due to friction. This loss of flavor is compounded by the fact that you cannot buy fresh cornmeal off the shelf on the grocery store’s baking aisle.
A hundred years ago, there were millers in most towns who would grind corn fresh for the local community. Although some of these historic mills are starting to be reopened by entrepreneurs, this is not really an option for most people. Besides, we can order it on the internet if we really want it.
In Heritage, Sean Brock used Anson Mill’s Antebellum Coarse Yellow Cornmeal. It is stone-ground the old fashioned way and milled to order. If you want to taste what cornbread is genuinely supposed to taste like, I highly recommend you order from them. Omit the sugar from this recipe if you do that.
I didn’t use that kind of cornmeal in putting this recipe together because I assume that most people won’t either.
I did want to use coarse-ground cornmeal because I like it in this recipe. If you don’t like the mild grit texture coarse-ground cornmeal adds, you can use medium-ground. I don’t recommend you use mass-produced cornmeal, though. I can’t think of a single reason to buy that stuff.
Get quality cornmeal that’s stone-ground.
For this recipe, I ordered Bob’s Red Mill Coarse-Grind Cornmeal from Amazon. It’s not fresh ground cornmeal, but it is stone-ground. I make up for the lack of freshness by adding just enough sugar to offset the sourness that older cornmeal has, but not enough to make it sweet.
Bacon vs. Cracklins
If you’ve got some fresh cracklins handy, by all means, use them. Just mince them up like what’s called for with the bacon and run with it. Don’t use the cracklins that come in a plastic bag at the convenience store. It’s not the same thing.
If you don’t have fresh cracklins, bacon is a great substitute.
In either case, you need to mince it very well.
To make up the texture difference between bacon and cracklins, you’ll need to get the bacon good and crisp.
To do this, you’ll cook the bacon on medium for a more extended period of time than you usually would.
Just keep cooking and stirring until it looks like the bacon has released all of its fat and has started to get dark
It may seem overly crispy, but by baking it in the cornbread, it’ll soften back up.
One final note. This recipe is specifically designed to work in a standard 12-inch dutch oven. If you try to use a deep dutch oven, it won’t crisp properly on top. If you use a standard 10-inch dutch oven, I recommend you cut the recipe in half. This will make eight small slices as opposed to eight large ones.
Dutch Oven Cracklin Cornbread
- 1/2 lb. bacon – finely minced
- 3 cups high-quality cornmeal – coarse ground
- 1 1/2 tsp. Morton's Kosher Salt
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tbs. granulated white sugar
- 2 1/4 cups buttermilk
- 1 large egg
Before You leave Home
- Mince bacon very finely. Put into a resealable container or zip-top bag.
- Combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar in a bowl. Whisk thoroughly. Put into a resealable container or zip-top bag.
At Your Campsite
- Prepare your dutch oven for frying at about 350 degrees (about 13 charcoal briquettes for a 12" dutch oven).
- Add bacon and fry, stirring very frequently, until very crisp and the fat has all rendered out. 10-15 minutes. Remove the bacon from your dutch oven with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. You should have about 1/3 of a cup of bacon fat left in your dutch oven (if you don't have this much bacon fat, add enough vegetable or lard oil to make it up).About 5 minutes before your bacon is finished cooking, start about 27 charcoal briquettes going in your charcoal chimney.
- Add 15 charcoal briquettes underneath your dutch oven (for a 12" dutch oven).
- Mix your buttermilk and all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat in a metal mixing bowl.
- Beat your egg slightly in a small bowl with a fork.
- Mix your bacon bits, cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, buttermilk, and egg in the mixing bowl with the buttermilk and bacon fat.
- Once the fat in your dutch oven is smoking, pour your cornbread batter in. It should sizzle and pop when you add it. This gives the bottom a crispy texture.
- Put your lid on your dutch oven and place 12 charcoal briquettes on top (for a 12" dutch oven). Cook for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.