Ten Commandments of the Cornbread Skillet

Every Southern Lady has a cast iron skillet devoted solely to making cornbread.  It's a rite of passage, a badge of honor, and a pride and tradition shared by families of all walks of life here in Mississippi and elsewhere among the South.  This is a prized family heirloom, often fought over after the matriarch of the family has passed. Each family has their own recipe, but one thing that remains constant is the skillet.

You can create your own Cornbread Skillet by following these ten commandments:

1. Do not use this pan for anything other than cornbread. 

2. Round or square, the choice is yours so long as it's cast iron.  It's hard to beat a corner piece from a square pan, but the crustless middle is pretty much worthless. A round skillet ensures everyone gets an equal ratio of crunch.

3. You can (should) have two cornbread skillets.  One that makes a full pone big enough to feed 15 people, and one that makes a tiny pone just big enough for two people (plus a slice leftover for crumbling in milk as a midnight snack).  

4. Do not loan out the cornbread skillet.  This is a family heirloom that will be passed down to only the most devoted of your cornbread loving grandchildren.  Protect it as if it were a brick of gold.  If gifting cornbread, send it on a dinner plate and keep the skillet at home.

5. Turn your cornbread out of the skillet while it is still piping hot.  All that work heating up the pan and oil will be for naught if you leave that bread in there and let the crust go soggy.

6. Make a habit of reaching for a potholder or dishtowel before reaching for the cornbread skillet.  Cast iron stays hot for a long time, and you'll forget that pan was just in the oven when you go to move it out of the way.  Ask me how I know...

7. DO NOT EVER USE SOAP ON THIS PAN. Never ever.  Not even a tiny little drop. This is a Sin. With a Capital S. I don't care if you think it's too greasy. It's not, and you're wrong.  Using soap will ruin all the hard work you've put into creating this pan and also make gray haired southern ladies gasp and faint in horror (much like when they see babies without socks).

8. Just wipe it out with a dry paper towel and oil it again.  Any stuck on bits will come right off when it cools down if you've followed a proper cornbread recipe.

9. A good cornbread skillet is developed over time with consistent use and care.  Eventually, it will become black and crusty on the outside and smooth as satin on the inside.  This is when you get the official Southern Lady badge of honor.  (I'm still working on mine.)

10. Use this skillet to teach someone to make cornbread.  I can vividly remember climbing on a stool to help my grandmother, Nanny, measure the cornmeal and level off the teaspoons of baking powder 30 years ago. To this day, I don't measure the buttermilk.  I just know when to stop adding by remembering how the mixing bowl looked those dozens of times I helped her make it. And you can bet your buttons I've been practicing the same tradition with my own children.

Bonus #11. Listen, sugar doesn't belong in cornbread you plan to offer to me.  But if you're not offering it to me, make it the way you like it. 

Here's a starter recipe for you cornbread beginners.

 Nanny's Cornbread

 This recipe makes enough batter for a 10 or 12 inch pan of cornbread

  • 1/4 cup oil, shortening or bacon grease
  • 1-1/2 cups yellow cornmeal (not cornmeal mix)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5-2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg

Pour oil in your cornbread skillet and place in a cold oven.  Preheat oven and skillet to 425 degrees, and let the skillet sit for about 10 minutes after the oven reaches temp.

Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl with a whisk.  Crack your egg into the dry ingredients, and start carefully mixing in buttermilk with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Start with 1.5 cups, adding a little more if you need it.  You want the texture of thick pancake batter, sort of creamy and not too stiff with little yellow specks of cornmeal throughout.  How much buttermilk you'll need depends on the cornmeal you use and the humidity in your house. Stir until just combined, being sure to scrape the dry bits from the bottom of the bowl.

Carefully use an oven mitt to take your skillet out.  Pour in the batter, being extra careful of the sizzle and pop of the oil.  Place back into the preheated oven for about 25 minutes.  It will puff up and turn golden brown on top.  When it is done to your liking, remove the pan and immediately flip the cornbread out onto a plate.  Slice into wedges and serve with butter.

You can add chopped jalapenos and drained corn kernels for a mexican cornbread, or cajun seasoning and shredded cheddar for a cheesy version.


You can also find Erin's recipe on our Skillet Breads Tea Towel and in Family Recipes & Stories Volume 1.  You can purchase a right fine cornbread skillet, cornmeal and skillet handle here. But for goodness' sake, just don't use that skillet for anything else. 


Contributed by Emily Nowell