Grits is a food of Native American origin that is common in the Southern United States; it mainly consists of coarsely ground hominy (dried maize kernels which have been treated with an alkali), or nixtamalized. It is sometimes called sofkee or sofkey from the Creek word.  The name ‘grits’ likely derives from the Northern European grit gruels.

Grits is similar to other thick maize-based porridges from around the world, such as polenta. It also resembles farina, a thinner porridge.

Grits can be served hot or cold and as a base for a multitude of dishes from breakfast to dessert, depending on the additives. Additives can include salt and butter, meats (especially shrimp on the east or Gulf Coast and “grillades” in Louisiana), cheese, and rarely vegetables (but mostly in nouvelle Southern cuisine). It is also common for people from above the Mason-Dixon Line to have sugar with their grits.

Grits can also be fried in a pan or mold to create a firm block. The resulting block can be cut with a knife or wire, and the slices are fried in a fat such as vegetable oil, butter, or bacon grease.

Grits have their origins in Native American corn preparation. Traditionally the corn for grits was ground by a stone mill. The results are passed through screens, with the finer part being grit meal, and the coarser being grits. Many communities in the U.S. used a gristmill up until the mid-20th century, with families bringing their own corn to be ground, and the miller retaining a portion of the corn for his fee. In South Carolina, state law requires grits and corn meal to be enriched, similar to the requirements for flour, unless the grits are ground from corn where the miller keeps part of the product for his fee.

Three-quarters of grits sold in the United States are sold in the South stretching from Texas to Virginia, also known as the “grits belt”.The state of Georgia declared grits its official prepared food in 2002.Similar bills have been introduced in South Carolina, with one declaring:

Whereas, throughout its history, the South has relished its grits, making them a symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality, and whereas, every community in the State of South Carolina used to be the site of a grist mill and every local economy in the State used to be dependent on its product; and whereas, grits has been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income; and whereas, grits could very well play a vital role in the future of not only this State, but also the world, if as Charleston’s The Post and Courier proclaimed in 1952, “An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace.”

Yellow grits include the whole kernel, while white grits use hulled kernels. Grits are prepared by simply boiling the ground kernels into a porridge; normally it is boiled until enough water evaporates to leave it semi-solid.