The secret ingredient that makes Southern cornbread so delicious

Southerners are mighty particular about their cornbread. If someone ever asks you if you like it sweet or a little salty and piquant, play it safe and take a middle of the road answer. Trust us. There's actually a pretty deep divide between those who like their cornbread sweet and those who prefer it a little more on the savory side. However, it turns out as much as we love sweet cornbread – especially with honey butter – it may be more of a modern twist on this favorite bread of the British colonists with whom it seems to have originated. 

According to the Charlotte Observer and Michael Twitty, a culinary historian devoted to preserving and promoting African American foodways, breads baked up with cornmeal by those first colonists were not created sweet nor were they sweetened afterward. The paper quotes Twitty as saying, "Why would you put sugar in something? It was a valuable commodity. They didn't need to put sugar in it, they used molasses on everything. That was the poor man's condiment. Quick energy, quick carbohydrate, and a source of iron in the diet."

So how do you achieve the more authentic savory version of this Southern staple? Well, after a little internet sleuthing, we've found there's a secret – or perhaps not-so-secret ingredient – that makes savory Southern cornbread absolutely mouthwatering. What is it?

Bacon drippings help create the most delectable cornbread

The secret ingredient to make your cornbread smoky and tasty is bacon drippings. Yep, you read that right. What could be more Southern? On the Epicurious site, Sheri Castle describes using this salty grease as a must to form a "crispy bottom crust that tastes like a good hushpuppy." While Simply Recipes notes that bacon drippings make certain the cornbread doesn't stick to your cast iron skillet – the "it" pan to bake your cornbread in. And, of course, any time you add bacon's delectable flavor to a dish, it greatly increases the umami level. 

This savory type of cornbread tends to be more crumbly and just less cake-like overall in its taste and appearance. It is quite satisfying to both your taste buds and your olfactory receptors – a win-win. However, Simply Recipes also suggests that if you want to, you can add a tablespoon of sugar. They insist this will not sweeten up the bread, but it will enhance the taste of the cornmeal. So, if you want to up your cornbread game and cook it like a Southern pro, don't forget the bacon drippings.