Why It Works
- High-quality stone-ground cornmeal is all you need for excellent Southern-style unsweetened cornbread.
- If you can't get high-quality cornmeal, a small amount of sugar helps to balance the flavor.
- Preheating the skillet produces a cornbread with crisp edges.
The key to truly great unsweetened cornbread is to use the best stone-ground cornmeal you can find, ideally freshly ground from a small mill. If you can't get that, a tiny bit of sugar is just enough to make lesser stone-ground cornmeals work.
- 15 ounces (3 cups) stone-ground cornmeal (see note)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 teaspoons sugar (optional; see note)
- 2 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted, divided
Place a well-seasoned 12-inch cast iron skillet on the center rack of the oven and preheat oven to 375°F.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk cornmeal with salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar (if using).
In a separate bowl, whisk buttermilk with eggs until homogenous. Whisking constantly, drizzle in all but 1 tablespoon melted butter.
Whisk liquid ingredients into dry ingredients just until thoroughly mixed; avoid over-mixing.
Pour remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter into preheated skillet and carefully swirl to coat bottom and sides. Scrape batter into prepared skillet, smoothing the top gently with a rubber spatula. Bake until cornbread is lightly browned on top and a skewer inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
Let cool for about 15 minutes in skillet, then serve warm. (Cornbread does not keep well and will lose its texture as it cools, so it's best to eat it while it's still fresh.)
A lot of industrial cornmeal is made from underripe corn and then ground using modern methods for a very consistent grind. That kind of cornmeal does not make a good Southern-style unsweetened cornbread. For best results here, use a high-quality, fresh stone-ground cornmeal, such as from Anson Mills, Old Mill of Guilford, or Nora Mill; these cornmeals do not need additional sugar. If you use a more mass-market source, consider adding the optional sugar to help balance the flavor.