Food & Drink

Pineapple Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake

Serves 12

A cornmeal twist on everyone’s favorite down-home dessert

Photo: Johnny Autry

At Southern Soul Barbeque on Georgia’s St. Simons Island, not only can you order pulled pork and hush puppies but you can also tuck into a jerk chicken burrito, a griddled pimento cheese sandwich, or one-off specials such as smoked amberjack spread, pork necks with gravy over rice, and this rum-soused, pineapple upside-down cake. Yes, Griffin Bufkin is the rare barbecue man who bakes, regularly turning out seasonal cobblers and cakes from his vintage cast-iron skillets. The roadside barbecue joint he founded with pit master Harrison Sapp doubles as a sort of modern-day coastal diner, and there’s a reason for that. “When we opened in 2007,” Bufkin says, “there was no place in town where you could buy collard greens that weren’t originally frozen or in a can.” Working with farmers and fishermen, he came up with fresher, more inventive menu options for sun-dazzled sightseers and locals alike. Travel inspired this caramelized, coconut-laced dessert: The St. Simons native has been visiting the Bahamas since the eighties, when his dad would take the family to the islands by boat. But it’s still firmly anchored in local tradition. “It’s a yellow cornmeal cake in a cast-iron skillet,” Bufkin says. “That’s South Georgia.”


    • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

    • 1 cup stone-ground cornmeal

    • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

    • 1 tbsp. baking powder

    • 2 1/4 cups dark brown sugar, divided

    • 1 cup whole milk

    • 3/4 cup coconut milk

    • 1/2 cup canola oil

    • 1/4 cup dark rum, such as El Dorado 12-Year-Old or Bacardi Dark

    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

    • 3 eggs

    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

    • 6 1/2-inch-thick rings of fresh pineapple


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

  2. Place coconut in a 12-inch-deep, steep-sided cast-iron skillet in an even layer and bake for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, 1½ cups brown sugar, and browned coconut, whisking to break up any lumps. In a separate bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine milk, coconut milk, oil, rum, vanilla, and eggs, whisking to mix. Pour wet ingredients into dry, whisking until smooth. Set aside while you prepare the pineapple topping.

  4. Wipe out the skillet and place on stove top over medium-high heat. Add butter and ¾ cup brown sugar, stirring occasionally to caramelize, about 5–7 minutes (let the caramel become dark brown and just on the verge of burning). Carefully place pineapple rings evenly in the pan and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from heat.

  5. Pour batter into skillet, smoothing the top with a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon. Place skillet in the oven, with a baking pan on the rack beneath to catch any drips, and bake for 40–45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

  6. Remove skillet from oven and place on a wire rack. Let cake cool for 15 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate. Spoon any topping that remains in the pan over the cake. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Recipe from chef Griffin Bufkin of Southern Soul Barbeque in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Hot Tip:

Chefs and home cooks alike know that presentation counts. If you want to fit more pineapple rings into the skillet for your cake’s topping, trim them down to size with a round cookie cutter.