Hot Water Cornbread made the old school way with corn meal, salt, butter, and hot water; fried to golden perfection.

Watch me make this hot water cornbread from start to finish!


There are some simple recipes that in order for you to truly appreciate, you have to grow up eating them. Like eating buttered bread sprinkled with sugar, or homemade snow ice cream. You need the nostalgic piece connected to it.

That’s how I feel about hot water cornbread made the old-school way. It’s nothing fancy, just cornmeal, salt, butter, and hot water.  But when I taste these crisp fried patties today, I’m right there in Grandma Barbs’ living room. We’re both eating hot water cornbread crumbled up in a bowl of milk while watching Wheel of Fortune and calling out letters.

We were the only two people in the house that liked cornbread crumbled in milk so it made it extra special for me. I’ll never forget this memory or the hot water cornbread connected to it.

easy hot water cornbread recipe

What is hot water cornbread?

Hot water cornbread is a dish that dates back to the early Native Americans and enslaved Africans. It consists of cornmeal, salt,  fat (usually butter or animal fat), and boiling water.  Once you mix all of these ingredients together, it creates a soft dough. This dough is then formed into patties and fried in hot oil/fat until golden.

The results are a crunchy cornmeal patty that’s crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside! Hot water cornbread was popular during the Great Depression since they were quick, simple, filling, and cheap.

If you grew up in the South, you’ve probably had hot water cornbread although it may have been called by a different name and consisted of more ingredients.

We use to call it “black people’s cornbread” lol. You can read more about the history of the different types of cornbread here.

hot water cornbread recipe

Two Types of Hot Water Cornbread

I feel like there are two types of hot water cornbread. The old-school version and the upgraded version.

The old-school version- The recipe I’m sharing with you today is the old-school version. It produces a rustic patty with a mild flavor. It’s best served with a bold meal or with flavored butter or jam if eaten as a snack. It’s as bare bones as it comes. This is how I was taught to make it by my Grandma Barb who was taught by her mother Benia.  

The updated version- This version is usually the one that is cooked in many Southern kitchens today. It uses a self-rising cornmeal mix, sugar,  butter, or oil, and sometimes extra salt or baking powder. It produces a more traditional cornbread-like flavor which is delicious eaten plain or with a savory meal.

southern hot water cornbread -1

 Ingredients

Cornmeal: Fine ground white or yellow cornmeal works best. I like to use fine ground yellow cornmeal as it seems to have more flavor, and texture and I just love the yellow color. Be sure that you get plain cornmeal and not the cornmeal mix which contains flour and other leavening agents if you plan on making it the old school way.

Salt: This is pretty much the only flavoring to the cornbread. Other seasonings can be added like garlic powder, onion powder, and herbs. But just salt is perfect for basic hot water cornbread.

Unsalted Butter: Adding a bit of fat to the mix helps add a bit of flavor and makes the dough easier to handle. You can use butter, ghee, bacon grease, or whatever fat you prefer. I LOVE this with butter because it gives it a slight buttery flavor as if it has buttermilk in the dough.

Boiling water: The water must be boiling in order to soften the cornmeal. Add the boiling water a little at a time. You’ll only need to add enough so that the dough can hold its shape when it’s pressed into a patty. This is NOT the style of hot water cornbread that is poured into the hot oil.

Oil- You don’t need much oil to fry hot water cornbread. About a 1/4 of an inch of oil in the bottom of the cast iron skillet will do. You can use vegetable shortening, canola oil, or vegetable oil. A cast-iron skillet will create a super crunchy crust.

southern hot water cornbread

How to make Hot Water Cornbread

  1. Read the note section below before proceeding.
  2. Line a baking tray with paper towels and then place a cooling rack on top. (this is where the patties will drain once fried. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk cornmeal and salt.
  4. Heat some water in a kettle until boiling. (water must be boiling hot in order to soften the cornmeal properly)
  5. Stir in enough boiling water to form a soft dough that can hold its shape. (I usually need about 1/2 cup + 3 or 4 tablespoons) *see note
  6. Stir in melted butter.
  7. Let dough rest for about 5-10 minutes.
  8.  Meanwhile, add about a 1/4 inch of canola oil to a cast-iron skillet and heat to about 375 F.
  9. When the oil is hot, shape the cornmeal mixture into patties and place them into the hot oil. (I find it easier to lay the patty on the end of a rubber spatial and then slide them off into the oil)
  10. Let them fry for about 2-3 minutes or until the underside is golden brown and then flip. 
  11. Remove from oil using a slotted spoon and place on the prepared tray to drain.
  12. Enjoy hot or room temperature.
  13. Serve with a savory meal or enjoy them plain with honey butter (recipe below).
southern cornbread cakes

Tips for making the BEST hot water cornbread

1. Add the boiling water a little bit at a time. You only want to add the water until you are able to form a soft dough. This amount usually changes for me by a tablespoon or two. If you add too much water you won’t be able to form the soft dough. 

2. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes. This gives the hot water a chance to really soften up the cornmeal which will result in the perfect “fluffy kinda creamy” inside texture that is classic to a perfectly cooked hot water cornbread.

3. Use a rubber spatula. I’ve found that placing the formed patty on a rubber spatula and then slowly sliding it into the hot oil works great. That way I don’t have to handle the soft dough and it retains its round shape.

southern cornbread and collard greens

What to serve with hot water cornbread?

Serve hot water cornbread as a side dish or a snack. Serve alongside flavorful meals like stews, chilis, soups, and soulful dinners. It makes a great snack when buttered and crumbled in milk or eaten with honey butter or fresh jams. Some people even serve them for breakfast with grits and sausage or simply eat them hot when they are prepared.

Common Questions

What is the difference between cornbread and hot water cornbread? Hot water cornbread uses hot water and hot oil to cook the cornbread. It does not contain leaving agents like baking powder or baking soda.

Why is my batter wet and grainy? This is a very common challenge with making hot water cornbread. You simply added too much water and it’s best to start over. Add the water in small amounts while stirring after each addition until you have a soft dough that can hold its shape.

Do you put eggs in hot water cornbread? No, eggs are not traditionally a part of hot water cornbread

Why is it called hot water cornbread? It is called hot water cornbread because you add boiling water to the cornmeal to soften and cook it a bit.

How do you store hot water cornbread? Hot water cornbread is best eaten the day you make it. If you need to store it, place it in an airtight container. 


easy hot water cornbread recipe

Get the Recipe: Old-School Hot Water Cornbread

5 from 4 ratings
Hot Water Cornbread made the old school way with corn meal, salt, butter, and hot water; fried to golden perfection
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 5 mins
Servings: 8 patties

Ingredients
 

Hot Water Cornbread

  • 1 cup fine ground cornmeal (yellow or white)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup + 2-4 Tablespoons boiling water (may need more or less)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Easy Honey Butter

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoons honey
  • salt, pinch

Instructions
 

  • Read the note section below before proceeding.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk cornmeal and salt.
  • Heat some water (About 1 cup. You won't use it all) in a kettle until boiling. (water MUST be boiling to soften the cornmeal properly)
  • Stir in enough boiling water to form a soft dough that can hold its shape. Be sure to stir after each addition of water to see where you're at. (I usually need about 1/2 cup + 2 or 4 tablespoons more. Once I add in 1/2 cup, I start adding the remaining water by the tablespoon while stirring. It's so easy to add TOO much water so be careful or you'll have to start over.)
  • Once you have a soft dough, stir in melted butter.
  • Let dough rest for about 5-10 minutes.
  •  Meanwhile, add about a 1/4 inch of canola oil to a cast-iron skillet and heat to about 375 F.
  • When the oil is hot, shape the cornmeal mixture into patties (I make them about 1/2 inch thick) and place them into the hot oil. (I find it easier to lay the patty on the end of a rubber spatula and then slide them off into the oil)
  • Let them fry for about 2-3 minutes or until the underside is golden brown and then flip and let the other side brown. Cooking time will vary based on the thickness and temperature of the oil so keep an eye on them.
  • Remove from oil using a slotted spoon and place on the prepared tray to drain.
  • Enjoy hot or room temperature with a savory meal or as a snack with flavored butter or jam.
  • To make honey butter to accompany, combine all honey butter ingredients until creamy.

Video

Notes

Choose Your Hot Water Cornbread:
The above recipe is for old-school hot water cornbread. It is a bare-bones recipe with a mild flavor. To me, it’s an acquired taste. If you decide that you prefer a more “updated” hot water cornbread here are a few things you can do.
  • Use self-rising cornmeal mix instead of plain corn meal. This mix can be found in the grocery store next to the plain cornmeal and contains flour and leaving agents. You can omit the salt in this recipe if using a self-rising cornmeal mix that contains salt.
  • Add sugar. Sugar will compliment the flavors of the cornmeal.
  • Add spices. Once you know how you prefer your hot water cornbread (with plain cornmeal or a cornmeal mix) you can play it up by adding spices and herbs.
  • Taste it! One of the best ways to know how the flavor of your finished hot water cornbread will turn out is to taste a bit of the dough. Although the texture will obviously be different once fried,  it’s a good way to test for a balance of spices if used.
 
Cuisine: American, southern
Course: Side Dish
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