Food & Drink

How Sean Brock Makes Cornbread

The chef’s simple recipe with each element—cast iron, corn, and buttermilk—in perfect harmony

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

Cornbread is very simple and quick to make. But, like so many “simple” things, it takes a lot of practice to master. For me, the best cornbread has to tick a few boxes. First, it has to be cooked in a cast-iron skillet, started on the stove, and finished in the oven. The crispy, deep brown, caramelized crust achieved when you cook cornbread this way is unbeatable. Then, when you bite into the soft crumb inside, you want to taste a tangy sourness that only buttermilk can give. I don’t add flour or sugar, and I always use lard as the fat.

This Basic Cornbread recipe is my gold standard. It’s the cornbread I grew up with. I use different cornmeals every now and again, but for the past few years, I’ve been consistently using Jimmy Red cornmeal. It has the perfect earthiness and sweetness. If you’re using the right corn, there’s no need to add sugar.Sean Brock

Excerpted from South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards.


  • Basic Cornbread (Makes one 10-inch round loaf)

    • 2 cups coarse cornmeal, preferably Geechie Boy Jimmy Red

    • 1½ tsp. kosher salt

    • ½ tsp. baking soda

    • ½ tsp. baking powder

    • 1½ cups full-fat buttermilk

    • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

    • ¼ cup plus 1 tbsp. Rendered Fresh Lard (recipe below), melted

  • Rendered Fresh Lard (Makes about 1½ cups)

    • 1 pound fresh pork fat, cut into ½-inch pieces


  1. For the basic cornbread: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat for at least 10 minutes.

  2. Combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Combine the buttermilk, egg, and ¼ cup of the melted lard in a small bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just to combine; do not overmix.

  3. Move the skillet from the oven to the stove, placing it over high heat. Add the remaining tbsp. of melted lard and swirl to coat the skillet. Pour in the batter, distributing it evenly. It should sizzle.

  4. Transfer the skillet back to the oven and bake the cornbread for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm, directly from the skillet.


  5. For the rendered fresh lard: Combine the pork fat and ½ cup water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the fat has rendered and the water has completely evaporated, about 1½ hours.


  6. Strain the fat through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof container. Discard the browned bits in the sieve. Cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. Tightly covered, the lard will keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.