A cheese grits casserole is a traditional southern side dish that often appears at family meals, potluck dinners and restaurants. The primary ingredients are cheese and grits, a ground corn food somewhat similar to oatmeal or Cream of Wheat. Various seasonings and additional ingredients can be added to vary the taste and texture. Unlike traditional grits, which are generally cooked on the stove top, a cheese grits casserole is usually baked in the oven and served in a casserole dish.
The base ingredient of a cheese grits casserole is, of course, the grits. The origin of this food is thought to be Native American, though other native peoples across the world have a history of similar dishes. Grits are generally made by grinding white or yellow corn to produce white or yellow grits. The food is sometimes made with hominy and is then called "hominy grits." Grits are commercially available in instant or traditional forms.
Each variety of grits offers a slightly different taste. A cheese grits casserole might use any one of the varieties, though many cooks consider instant grits to be unacceptable for casseroles. Recipes might call for a combination of white, yellow and hominy grits to deepen the taste pallet and vary the dish's texture.
Grits are usually cooked on the stove top before being added into the casserole. They need significant amounts of liquid to cook properly. A cook might choose a traditional water base or might use stock or another creative liquid option to add flavor.
Cheese selection also varies significantly from dish to dish. White and yellow sharp cheddar are probably the most commonly used. Recipes may, however, call for virtually any relatively hard cheese, from pepper jack to Colby to American. Some cooks prefer to use a combination of cheese varieties and may vary the cheese based on the other additives they plan to use. Very soft or crumbly cheeses are generally used sparingly and in combination with other cheeses.
Eggs, salt, pepper, butter and milk appear in many cheese grits casserole recipes as well. Cooks might add jalapeños or other peppers, and crumbled bacon and sausage are also popular. Common additional seasonings include garlic, paprika, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Such a casserole might be served alone or accompanied by shrimp, chicken, vegetables, pork or beef.
Grits themselves are traditionally a breakfast food, and a cheese grits casserole may well be served at this meal. Such casseroles are, however, commonly served with dinner and at buffet-style meals as well. It is not unusual to see a cheese grits casserole at a southern-style catered affair.