How to make shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits is a Southern dish everyone—regardless of where you’re from—should know how to make. Here’s how to make it the best-ever.

Cook the shrimp in bacon fat.

Because shrimp cooks so quickly (only a couple minutes per side!), you can sauté it in bacon fat without a risk of burning. If you want to avoid the bacon fat, feel free to use a couple tablespoons of butter.

Use chicken broth + water to cook the grits.

Cooking grits (or rice or quinoa) in broth is an easy way to add flavor. To make sure that it’s not too overpowering, we generally use a combo of equal parts water and chicken broth. If you want to use vegetable broth, go ahead. And if you want to skip the broth all together, just use 4 cups water.

Make the grits CHEESY.

All great grits have cheese. Ours has a ton of cheddar, which gets mixed in with butter at the very end. The grits will be so creamy, you can just skip the heavy cream all together.

Round it out with lemon juice.

There’s a lot of richness going on here. Bacon! Butter! Cheese! To cut all the fat, you need some acid. Enter: freshly squeezed lemon juice. It’ll brighten your bowl up BIG TIME.

Need help with the basics (i.e. peeling and deveining shrimp)?

There’s no pretty way to do it. To peel the shrimp, we recommend using your hands to pull off the legs then use your thumbs to crack the shell and peel it off. It comes off easily and is oddly satisfying. As for the vein running along the shrimp’s back (which is really the shrimp’s digestive track), make a small incision with a pairing knife at the top, then use the tip of the knife to pull out the rest of the vein. It’s OK if you don’t get every last bit. Eating it won’t make you sick, it can just add an unpleasant grittiness. Of course if you want to skip all this, you can buy it peeled and deveined from the fish counter. Just know you’ll likely need to shell out more for the convenience.

Have you made this recipe? Let us know how you liked it in the comments below!

Quick and easy! This one will be loved by the whole family; it is a constant favorite in my house!

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup quick-cooking grits
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined small shrimp
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • ¾ cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chilies
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • Step 1

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9×12 inch baking dish.

Bring chicken broth and salt to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Stir in the grits, return to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low, and continue cooking for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, melt the margarine in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the green onions, green pepper, and garlic; cook until the peppers have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the shrimp, and cook until they begin to firm.

Stir the Monterey Jack cheese, 3/4 cup Cheddar cheese, shrimp and vegetable mixture, canned tomatoes, and black pepper into the grits; pour into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Cheddar cheese.

Bake in preheated oven until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown, 30 to 45 minutes.

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

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Shrimp and grits is a very simple recipe, but make sure you have everything ready before you start cooking the shrimp. They only take a few minutes to sauté, so you don’t have time to run and chop scallions or juice a lemon. Once everything is assembled, this recipe is a snap. To make things even easier, you can make the grits a bit ahead since they stay hot a very long time.

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Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white grits
  • ½ cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced green onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • Step 1

Place bacon in a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until almost crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer bacon to a dish, leaving drippings in the skillet.

Whisk 1/4 cup water, cream, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce together in a bowl.

Stir 4 cups water, butter, and 1 teaspoon salt together in a pot; bring to a boil. Whisk grits into pot, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook until grits are creamy, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir white Cheddar cheese into grits.

Place shrimp in a large bowl and season with Cajun seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Heat skillet with bacon drippings over high heat. Cook shrimp in hot bacon fat in a single layer for 1 minute. Turn shrimp and add jalapeno; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir cream mixture, bacon, green onion, and garlic to shrimp mixture; cook and stir, adding water as necessary to thin the sauce, until shrimp are cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

Shrimp and grits is an iconic Southern dish and easy to make at home. Creamy grits come together with saucy shrimp, onions, peppers, and bacon in this flavorful rendition.

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

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A Classic Southern Dish

Shrimp and grits is one of those iconic Southern dishes that stir something deep inside those who grew up with them.

Originally from the oceanic South—Georgia, the Low Country coast of the Carolinas and Gulf Coast states all have their versions—this homey bowl of awesome was historically a simple fisherman's breakfast: Grits, with some bacon and a few shrimp tossed on top.

If you've ever eaten it, you can understand why shrimp and grits has burst from the seaside shrimp shanties.

The Best Shrimp and Grits Recipe

The grits are soft, buttery, and often cheesy, with a savory, bacon-studded sauce surrounding them, and lots and lots of shrimp. Maybe some parsley or green onions for color and crunch.

My recipe is an amalgam of all my best experiences with shrimp and grits. If it has a direct inspiration though, it would be the rendition I ate in 2011 made by Chef Linton Hopkins of the Atlanta restaurant Holeman & Finch.

I never got his recipe, and I make no claim to have the One True shrimp and grits recipe, but I can vouch for how this one tastes.

How to make shrimp and grits

The Best Grits to Use

And while it may seem obvious, shrimp and grits all starts with the grits. Please, please, please try to get coarsely ground white grits for this. When Elise and I tried to find real grits (stone ground are best), or even coarse ground white corn. or any white corn, for that matter, we struck out here in Sacramento.

Other than Mexican masa harina, it’s all yellow corn in these parts. And I’ve heard more than one Southerner threaten violence when the topic of making grits with yellow corn comes up. (Here are the white grits we use.)

The best grits come from hominy, a large-kerneled, white corn that has been alkali processed just like that Mexican masa harina. The key difference is that in grits the corn be coarsely ground, ideally by a stone grinding wheel. It actually makes a huge difference in flavor.

Good grits come out smooth, delicate and flecked with bits of the corn hulls that makes for a radically different experience compared to its Italian cousin polenta (which I also love).

How to make shrimp and grits

Keep in mind that almost all cooks who make shrimp and grits have their own variation on the dish. This one is mine, and I hope you like it.

Follow these key steps for a perfect iteration of this time-honored Lowcountry recipe.

Shrimp and grits is one of the most iconic Southern dishes, served across the region from mom-and-pop diners to haute restaurants. Some versions are elaborate and detailed, requiring a long list of ingredients and techniques, but to get to the heart of the dish, it pays to look back at its Lowcountry provenance.

The earliest versions were simple and straightforward, little more than freshly seined shrimp stirred into the day's first bubbling pot of white corn grits (that were called hominy according to local parlance.) The dish was known, appropriately, as breakfast shrimp. Over time, the versions made in Charleston home kitchens during local shrimp season evolved into quick sautés of shrimp in bacon fat with accents of lemon and green onions, spooned over a pool of buttered grits, and served more often for supper than breakfast.

Shrimp and grits didn't start popping up on restaurant menus until the 1990s when a Craig Claiborne piece in the New York Times brought them to national attention.

There are great shrimp and grits recipes to follow (and some overwrought clunkers to avoid), but the secret to the best shrimp and grits ever is to remember that it's difficult to improve on the original, so pay close attention to the two essential and elemental components: the shrimp and the grits.

Related: How to Make a Classic Shrimp Boil

Shrimp

Use wild-caught shrimp purchased from a reliable vendor that can answer all of your questions about sourcing and freshness. Fresh shrimp are often flash frozen while the boat is still out on the water, so frozen or recently thawed shrimp can be of very high quality. Shrimp keep best when left in their shells until just before use, and should be firm and unblemished with no fishy odors. Keep them safely chilled right up until they hit the pan.

Grits

Most people prefer the robust corn flavor and aroma of coarse stoneground grits. Real grits need to simmer for few minutes longer than parboiled quick grits, but they are not difficult to prepare, and instant grits are not a worthy option. Some cooks prefer white grits because that's what they grew up with, while others contend that quality and freshness of the grits are more important than their color. Stoneground grits are wholegrain, so store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for no longer than one year. Grits love salt, pepper, and butter, so season them well.

How to Make Shrimp and Grits

This wonderful take on shrimp and grits comes from Robert Stehling of Charleston's Hominy Grill, a restaurant known for impeccable Lowcountry dishes. Many visitors consider these shrimp and grits to be a destination dish. The shrimp portion of the recipe comes together quickly in a skillet, which honors the spirit and expediency of the original breakfast shrimp.

Make sure the grits are ready to serve and that all of the ingredients are prepped and ready to go before you start the shrimp topping, which takes only 3 minutes from start to finish. Some people advise having the eaters sitting ready at the table before adding the shrimp to the skillet, to ensure the shrimp don't languish for so much as a second, which can push them over the edge from perfectly succulent to disappointingly tough. Not even bacon and hot sauce can redeem overcooked shrimp.

How to make shrimp and grits

This Classic Shrimp and Grits recipe is SO easy, SO simple, and the ULTIMATE Southern comfort food. This traditional low country recipe uses bacon and is served with a simple sauce and uses stone-ground grits with cheese (but it’s easy to adapt to have no bacon, or other flavors and ingredients). And the whole thing only takes 30 minutes to make!

How to make shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits is a Southern staple. It originated in the Lowcountry of the South Carolina coast, during the season when shrimp were plentiful. It’s traditionally a breakfast dish, but I love it for a quick dinner.

Other Southern regions have developed their versions of shrimp and grits- for example, you can find blackened shrimp and grits in New Orleans with a creole/cajun spin.

In this version, the grits are cooked with milk, butter, and chicken broth, with cheese melted in at the end.

The shrimp is cooked in bacon fat and then mixed with a simple buttery sauce, then served on top of the grits with crumbled bacon and green onions. It’s so insanely delicious!

I love the simplicity of this recipe. Often, shrimp and grits recipes are made with peppers and onions, or with blackening seasoning for extra flavor. When it comes to comfort food, I like mine to be simple.

This version of shrimp and grits keeps things simple. I used salt and pepper only for seasoning, with a garnish of green onions at the end. The smoky bacon flavor stands out and the chicken stock and butter makes it super savory and creamy tasting.

First, let’s talk about the grits.

How to make shrimp and grits

What kind of grits to use for Shrimp and Grits

I used stone-ground yellow grits to make these classic shrimp and grits. You can use white if you want, and they are more traditional… the only reason I used yellow is because it’s the only thing my grocery store had.

I DO recommend that you use stone ground, however, whether they are white or yellow. I used Bob’s Red Mill Yellow Corn Grits/Polenta. Make sure you don’t buy cornmeal by accident- it’s not the same!

Stone ground grits are classic. They are the steel cut oats of the grit world. The texture has some bite to it, and the flavor is, for lack of a better word, super “corny.”

They do, however, take longer to cook than quick cooking grits or instant grits. If you are pressed for time, you can certainly use one of these as a substitute.

How to save time cooking stone-ground grits

Here’s my time-saving trick for cooking up these delicious grits: you don’t have to whisk them continuously. Some traditional Southern cooks may be rolling in their graves right now. Many people think that you do have to whisk or stir them for almost the entire cooking time.

The thought is that the more you whisk the grits, the more starch is released, and the creamier the grits become. Kind of like when you cook risotto.

And while this may be true, I find that grits will get creamy no matter what, and it’s not worth the labor of constantly attending to them.

Instead, I whisk them every 5 minutes or so during the 15-20 minute cooking time. This allows plenty of time to prepare the bacon, shrimp, and sauce portion of the shrimp and grits!

How to make shrimp and grits

What kind of shrimp to use for Shrimp and Grits

While we’re on the subject of what’s worth the time and what’s not, I recommend buying already peeled and deveined shrimp.

I spent a good 20 minutes peeling and deveining the shrimp myself, after which my hands smelled bad and I had a bunch of shrimp peels that were left to rot away in the garbage in my hot Texas summer garage. (Although, you CAN save the peels to boil to make seafood stock, if you want.)

You can save a bit of money buying shrimp with the peels on, but I don’t think it’s worth it. The grits are so cheap, so spend a little more money on some already peeled and deveined shrimp.

I DO recommend buying large or jumbo shrimp. They are easier to cook, and have a meatier texture that holds up well with the creamy soft grits. And I think the flavor is better, since they are harder to overcook.

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make shrimp and grits

Cooking shrimp and grits is easy- just cook the grits and add some cheese. While they’re cooking, sauté some bacon, cook the shrimp in the bacon grease, then make a simple butter sauce in the same pan!

  1. Cook the grits in a mixture of chicken stock and milk. I also added a little butter for extra richness.
  2. Then, cook up some bacon until it’s crispy, then remove it from the pan and chop it up when it’s cool.
  3. Pat the shrimp dry and season it with salt and pepper, and sauté the shrimp in the bacon fat. This will only take a few minutes, since shrimp is really fast to cook.
  4. Add some butter and chicken stock to the shrimp. Once the butter is melted, turn off the heat so the shrimp doesn’t overcook. The butter will melt into everything and the chicken stock will help deglaze the pan, making a super flavorful sauce to spoon over the grits. SO GOOD!
  5. Stir in some shredded cheese into the grits. YUM. I used cheddar.

To serve, spoon some grits into a shallow bowl, and scoop some of the shrimp and some of the sauce on top. Then, sprinkle with the chopped bacon and some sliced green onions. It’s so simple and delicious!

Shrimp and grits are a true Southern classic! Learn how to make the most flavorful, creamy, southern grits and the best way to season plump, tender shrimp.

How to make shrimp and grits

Don’t think this is just a breakfast item anymore, people are enjoying shrimp and grits at all times of the day and all types of ways.

Alright, y’all come and sit down and figure out how to make shrimp and grits.

*looks at you in old southern woman*

The meal comes from the South, period.

There may be different twists to the low country dish, but this is how I was taught how to make it by my family in Georgia. Though I will say this is the authentic Southern shrimp and grits, shrimp and grits most definitely weren’t created in the ‘South’ as its origin.

How to make shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits comes from this ‘low country’ area, the Carolinas and Georgia, but has been a staple for the Gullah-Geechee culture for hundreds of years before it ever became popular or trendy. They fished and cast nets for shrimp off the islands they lived on, eating them with a mainstay: grits.

The Gullah are Africans who were stolen and enslaved from different parts of Africa, mainly West and Central Africa, who lived (and still live) on the islands on the east coast from North Carolina all the way to St. John’s County in Florida. They were able to keep closer to their African roots than enslaved Africans in the inland Southern states, they created their own Gullah language, and have a completely different culture than most other African Americans.

If you want to learn more about the Gullah-Geechee and their culture, click here.

For now, I’m showing you the southern meal. Maybe one day I’ll be well-versed enough to bring you some Gullah-style shrimp and grits. *makes mental note to run up to the coast and meet people*)

How to make shrimp and grits

How to make Southern Shrimp and Grits

First, get some nice, plump shrimp

You want the nice, big, pretty shrimp: a 15-20 count like in my shrimp scampi recipe. These babies are the main star of our shrimp and grits so we want them to be a nice size.

I used wild-caught Red Royal shrimp since they’re local and fresh here in Florida, but I do suggest you use frozen shrimp if you’re not comfortable with fresh, since health and safety is incredibly important when dealing with seafood, especially shrimp since it goes bad quickly.

To learn how to choose fresh shrimp and what’s up with frozen shrimp, click here.

Season your Shrimp and Grits well

There are plenty of ways to season your shrimp, don’t be afraid to play with some old bay, some cajun seasoning, add in that holy trinity, whatever you want. I like giving it some flavor with a little bacon fat.

It’s optional, but since I’m usually making bacon with a big breakfast anyway, I melt in the butter with my reserved bacon fat and it’s just amazingly delicious.

Seriously, don’t skip the bacon. Put some chopped bacon in your shrimp and grits, too; it’s a delicious addition and adds a nice crunchy texture to those tender, plump shrimp and the creamy grits.

How to make shrimp and grits

Flavor every aspect, including your grits

As for the grits, you can use whatever you’re comfortable with. Quick grits, stone-ground grits, whatever you feel good about. Just make sure you use stock, a little milk, and plenty of butter. We don’t do grits with just water here, there’s no flavor in that, it’s a fact.

How do I know it’s a fact? Because someone on Masterchef made shrimp and grits with water in their grits and Gordon Ramsey didn’t give them an apron. The people who made it with stock did. So that should be solid enough for you, it’s Gordon Ramsey approved.

Also, because grits don’t really have a flavor themselves, you need to add in flavor. Just like you need to salt your pasta or make soup with stock or broth, grits get their flavor from what they’re cooked in. Just because you’re covering it with gravy or sauce and protein doesn’t mean you shouldn’t season it (like your pasta!).

Also, cheese. Is it a must? Maybe not, but I love it. Cheddar cheese adds so much in texture and flavor, so don’t be afraid to mix a good handful in your serving bowl.

Make your grits creamy and rich, and make them before you start on the shrimp since they take longer than the shrimp do. And please, for the love of God, when you’re done with your pot of grits, pour water into it immediately.

Otherwise, you will be stuck with concrete in your pot and it will be impossible to remove. Well, almost impossible.