Cooking from the Bar Cart: White Lightning Cornbread

A dose of moonshine amplifies the texture and flavor of classic skillet cornbread


People have strong opinions about cornbread. Should it be made from white cornmeal or yellow? Sweetened or not? Do you include flour in the batter? Any which way you like it, one of the beautiful things about cornbread is its versatility, making it easily adaptable to personal taste. While add-ins like bacon, cheese, onion, and chiles are common, a shot or two of a neutral spirit makes a worthy addition, too.

Alcohol works wonders in baking by heightening the aromas and flavors of the other ingredients, and unlike wine or bourbon, moonshine does this without leaving behind its own distinctive flavor notes. Alcohol is volatile and evaporates at a lower temperature than water. As it does, it retards gluten formation, which is why bakers use vodka in pie dough for flakier crusts. Unflavored moonshine works similarly in this cornbread recipe that includes flour, creating a lighter, more tender texture. Almost magically, the alcohol’s ability to bind fat with liquid also amplifies this simple skillet cornbread’s rich, sweet corn essence and buttermilk tang.

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  • White Lightning Cornbread (YIELD: 1 [9-INCH] ROUND)

    • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

    • 1 ½ cups coarse-ground yellow or white cornmeal

    • 1 tsp. baking soda

    • 1 tsp. salt

    • 2 large eggs

    • 1 ½ cups buttermilk

    • ¼ cup unflavored moonshine

    • 1 tbsp. sugar (optional)

    • 8 tbsp. melted butter, divided


  1. Place a 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the center rack of oven and preheat to 425°F.

  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt together to evenly distribute.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, moonshine, sugar (if using), and all but 1 tablespoon of the butter to thoroughly combine.

  4. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients with a spoon until no dry bits remain, being careful not to overwork. Lumps are expected and fine.

  5. Carefully, remove hot skillet from oven. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to skillet and swirl to coat. Pour batter into hot skillet and return to oven to bake until cornbread has pulled away from sides of skillet, is golden, and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before slicing to serve.


Katherine Cobbs is a cookbook author and editor. Her most recent books are Pantry Cocktails (2021) and Tequila & Tacos (2020) published by Simon & Schuster. She also developed recipes for Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook – Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories.