This recipe for southern shrimp and grits with bacon and eggs will knock your socks off. I love it for weekend brunch, but it’s absolutely hearty enough to have for dinner. Heat level is adjustable to your tastes, and even my kids enjoy it. Give it a try – you won’t regret it!Jump to Recipe Print Recipe
How does a Midwestern girl in Green Bay have a recipe for shrimp and grits? By spending 17 years living on the gulf coast (Louisiana and Florida), that’s how. I learned to love a good bowl of grits down there, and shrimp and grits with bacon became one of my favorite entrees. My recipe has been through quite a few iterations, but this (with some influence from my favorite cookbook, Momofuku) is far and away my favorite.
Ingredients for Shrimp and Grits
What are Grits?
Grits are a classic Southern dish that was introduced to the Europeans by the Native American Muskogee people. It is made of ground hominy (dent corn with the hulls removed) cooked with liquid in a 3:1 ratio to form a porridge. Alone they don’t have a strong flavor, so grits take well to a variety of sweet and savory additives. White grits are the most common, but yellow and even blue corn grits can be found.
What are Polenta, Cornmeal, and Masa? Can I Use Them in Place of Grits?
Grits, polenta, and cornmeal are all just ground corn, so they have quite a bit in common. Masa harina is also ground corn, but it is treated with calcium hydroxide. If you live somewhere where you can’t get grits, you can substitute polenta, cornmeal, or masa. The texture will be a little different, but the taste very similar. Polenta would be my first choice.
Cornmeal is simply corn, with no further treatment, ground very fine. It is often used either as a batter or to make cornbread, but cornmeal mush is the porridge that results when it is slowly cooked with water or broth. Polenta is an Italian ground flint corn that can also be cooked into a porridge, and is also often served baked or fried into cakes. Masa harina is treated cornmeal, and is mixed with water to make tortillas and tamales.
What Type of Grits Should I Use for Shrimp and Grits?
Grits are commonly available in stone ground, quick, and instant varieties. Whole grain stone ground grits are the coarsest. They have a noticeably coarse texture, and take the longest to cook (at least 45 minutes). If you can find them, use them. Anson Mills is the brand that every site recommends. I’ve never actually cooked with them. They can be mail-ordered directly from Anson Mills (minimum order 4×12 oz packages) if you’d like to give them a try. I have used grits from War Eagle Mill in Rogers, Arkansas. It’s near my in-law’s home, so we’ve visited. Their product is available on amazon, and I highly recommend them.
Quick grits are more widely available in grocery stores, cook more quickly (10-20 minutes) than stone ground grits, and are also a good choice in this recipe. They have a smoother texture that’s more palatable to some people. If you don’t feel like stirring for 45 minutes or don’t have time to wait for an online order to arrive, feel free to use them here.
Instant grits are a precooked, dehydrated, microwaveable product that is not appropriate for this recipe. They won’t absorb much flavor. If they are all you can fine, use polenta instead.
White grits are the most common type used in shrimp and grits, but I’ve used yellow grits with good results as well. I haven’t personally tried blue corn grits, but I’d like to! There shouldn’t be much flavor difference, so if you have access to blue or yellow grits, give them a try. There’s no reason not to.
Broth for Cooking Grits
If it’s all you have, you can absolutely cook grits in salted water. They’ll be much more flavorful for this savory recipe, however, if you cook them in broth or stock. Pork or bacon stock is best. Asian flavors add umami. If you have leftover Ramen Broth or broth from my Pork Pho, this is a great way to use it up. You can make bacon dashi if you have konbu on hand. You can also cook 6-8 oz of bacon in chicken broth, pork broth, or powdered dashi for either an hour on the stovetop or 15 minutes in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker to achieve a similar flavor. This is a great way to use the end pieces leftover from slicing homemade bacon. If you’re pressed for time, you can also just use canned or boxed chicken stock or dashi made from powder. It won’t taste like bacon, but it will have much more flavor than water.
How to Buy Shrimp
If you live somewhere with access to verified freshly-caught shrimp, use them. If you’re like most of us, you’re actually better off buying frozen shrimp than you are purchasing from your grocery’s meat counter. Most shrimp are frozen at sea and then shipped frozen to distributors. The vast majority of US meat departments open a frozen bag, defrost the shrimp, and place them behind the glass. If you buy frozen, you have the option to defrost as much as you need, and you know how fresh it is. You can’t refreeze defrosted grocery store shrimp, and you have no idea how long it’s been sitting there prior to your purchase.
What Kind of Shrimp Should I Buy?
Most groceries have several different types of shrimp available. Pink, white, brown, tiger, and prawns, in a variety of sizes and levels of pre-processing. Type of shrimp doesn’t make a huge difference in this recipe. Labeling isn’t regulated, and prawns and shrimp are really the same thing. I usually use white or pink shrimp, but you can feel free to try anything you have access to.
What do the Numbers Mean on a Package of Shrimp?
16/20? 21/25? 41/50? For shellfish, the numbers on the package always refer to the number of shellfish per pound. 21/25 shrimp, my preference for this recipe, will have 21-25 shrimp per pound. The largest shrimp will be labeled U8 or U10 (“U” means under). “Jumbo” shrimp are usually 16/20 or 21/25. “Large” shrimp are 26/30 or 31/40, and so on and so forth. If you can’t get 21/25, close is fine.
Head On or Off? Peeled? Deveined? Precooked?
I always buy head off shrimp that has not yet been peeled. Individually frozen is better than all together in a block – they’re easier to defrost. Most frozen shrimp are sold headless, since the head contains enzymes that can break down the shrimp over time. Companies use machines to peel and devein shrimp, and the processing can harm the flavor and texture. It’s better to do it yourself, although if deveining grosses you out “EZ Peel” shrimp are a fine (pre-deveined) alternative. NEVER buy precooked shrimp. They’re usually cooked well past rubbery, and any further cooking will render them inedible.
You should always devein shrimp prior to cooking. The “vein” is the animal’s digestive tract, and the black stuff is exactly what you think it is. Take a parking knife, slit the shrimp down the back, turn your knife to the side, and remove the thin dark tube. I normally remove it under cool running water to make sure I get it clean. If you don’t see one, it may have recently evacuated – there’s no need to keep hunting. It also isn’t dangerous to eat, so there is no harm if you miss a little.
Whether or not to peel the shrimp prior to cooking is up to you. Shrimp retain a little more flavor when cooked with the shell on, but I have little kids and don’t like to deal with peeling them at the table. I generally peel them, but leave the tail on.
If you have homemade bacon, it’s amazing in shrimp and grits! I’m always partial to frying it in my trusty Lodge cast iron pan, but you can use whatever method you prefer (how to cook bacon). You will want some bacon fat for later in the recipe, so microwaving is a bad choice, and if you bake it don’t put anything in your pan to absorb the grease.
Soft-boiled eggs are my favorite for shrimp and grits, but you could use fried or poached if you prefer. Learn how to soft boil eggs from The Kitchn.
Recipe: How to Prepare Shrimp and Grits with Bacon
Prepare Bacon and Eggs
Start by cooking the bacon. Two slices per person works for us. Cook to desired level of doneness, and set aside on a paper-towel lined plate. Frying in a cast iron pan is nice because you can use the same pan later to cook the shrimp, but use what you’re comfortable with. Reserve two tablespoons of bacon grease for the grits, and one for the shrimp. While the bacon is cooking, soft boil the eggs. One per person is usually sufficient, and I make a couple of extra for leftovers or second helpings.
Devein one pound of shrimp, and peel if you aren’t planning to cook with the shells on. Toss the shrimp in a medium bowl with two tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon each of garlic powder and either cayenne or paprika (depending on your spiciness preference). Set aside until later in the recipe.
Start by heating four cups of whatever stock you’re using. Pork or bacon stock preferably, and Asian flavors from leftover pho or ramen broth are a bonus. Chicken stock or plain dashi will also work if you don’t have time to simmer it with bacon. Once the stock begins to boil, slowly stream in two cups of grits while stirring continuously. Turn the heat down to medium, and continue to stir for about five minutes after adding the grits.
Turn the heat to low, and cook the grits until they’ve reached a creamy consistency. Stir every few minutes and check to prevent sticking. Add more stock or water as the grits begin to thicken – usually two more cups in total. Quick grits will be ready in 20 minutes, but stone ground will take 45-60. Once the grits have gotten creamy, add more flavor. I like to stir in two tablespoons each of soy sauce, bacon fat, and butter. Add a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and taste the grits. Adjust the seasoning as needed.
Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat – the pan used to cook the bacon can be reused for the shrimp. Heat one tablespoon of bacon fat. Cook the seasoned shrimp in a single layer (in batches if needed) for about 2 minutes per side, or until cooked through. When shrimp are done, the tails curl towards the head, and the flesh becomes opaque. Do not overcook. Once each shrimp is done, remove it to a separate plate. Peel if you haven’t already.
Assemble Shrimp and Grits with Bacon
Divide the grits into four bowls (there may be some left over). Top each bowl with 1/4 of the cooked shrimp, leaving the center open. Crack a soft-boiled egg into the center of each dish. Add bacon to each serving, and top with diced scallions. Enjoy!
What to Serve with Shrimp and Grits
This is a filling meal, so we often have it alone – even for dinner. If you feel the need to serve something with it, I would go with either bread or a green vegetable. Toasted fresh baked bread would be nice to scrape up the last of the grits from the bowl. A salad or a bowl of fruit is another good option. Collard greens would continue the southern theme, but any sautéed green would also be a delicious accompaniment. Zucchini cakes would be tasty as well. You could also start the meal with an appetizer like gyoza or edamame, or a bowl of miso soup. Some recipes that would work include:
- Artisan No-Knead Bacon Bread
- Bacon and Shrimp Gyoza (Potstickers)
- Zucchini Pancakes
- Southern Collard Greens
- 12 Kale Salads
- Homemade Miso Soup
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Shrimp and Grits with Bacon
- cast iron skillet
- 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne powder substitute paprika if you don't like heat
Shrimp and Grits
- 8 pieces bacon
- 4 eggs soft-boiled
- 1 lb shrimp jumbo (preferably 21/25 count), peeled and deveined, raw
- 6 cups pork stock or chicken stock or dashi – see note
- 2 cups grits stone ground or quick, NOT instant
- 3 Tbsp bacon fat divided
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup diced scallions
- Mix together marinade for shrimp: oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne or paprika. Toss shrimp in marinade and let flavors meld.
- Cook bacon to desired level of doneness, preferably in cast iron pan. Remove to paper towel lined plate and reserve 3 tbsp of the rendered fat.
- Bring 4 cups of the stock to a boil. Turn heat to medium. Slowly pour in grits, stirring constantly. Continue to stir for 5 minutes. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, adding more liquid as grits become firm, until all 6 cups have been used. Cook stone ground grits for 45-60 minutes and quick grits for 20 minutes.
- Once grits are creamy and all liquid is absorbed, stir in 2 Tbsp of bacon fat, butter, and soy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat remaining bacon fat in cast iron pan over medium-high heat (same pan used for bacon is fine). Once hot, add shrimp in single layer (cook in batches if needed). Cook for about 2 min per side, or until tails curl and flesh turns opaque. Remove immediately.
- Divide grits into 4 bowls. Top each with shrimp. Crack one soft-boiled egg into the center of each bowl. Top with bacon and scallions. Add salt and pepper to taste.