Trail Chef: The Secret to Perfect Cheese Grits

It's time to make breakfast the most important meal of the day.
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It's time to make breakfast the most important meal of the day.

Grits and oats have been at war for some time now, battling for the hearts of hikers. So far, oatmeal has had the upper hand, with some people having never even tried grits. Offer them a bowl, and the look on their faces is one of I’m supposed to eat that? Fair enough, because naked grits, though hearty, are pretty uninspiring.

But the secret to grits lies in how well they complement any and all toppings. Whether you add sweet sundries (like bananas with brown sugar), salty and savory ones (ham, cheese, bacon, beans), or spicy foods (a handful of jalapenos is amazing), the ground cornmeal’s mild flavor and amazing, velvety texture enhance all accoutrements. Here’s how to transform dried cornmeal into creamy, dreamy grits:

1) Bring the right grits. The regular grits usually taste better than the quick-cooking ones.

2) To cook them, be sure to add about 1 cup of water for every 3 tablespoons of grits (use slightly more water at high elevation).

3) Follow the specific instructions for the grits you bought, but in general, add a pinch of salt, bring the water to a boil, and then add the grits. Cover the pot and remove it from heat—unless you’re adding toppings. In that case, cover the pot and keep it on low heat.

4) Important tip: Stirring the grits regularly will make them softer and silky smooth.

5) Keep cooking until the desired softness is reached. Different grits cook at different rates. Quick-cooking varieties usually take eight to 10 minutes, while regular grits take about 20 minutes.

6) Add a handful of diced cheese cubes (any cheese type works, but American melts easily) and slices of summer sausage. Broccoli is a great veggie alternative, and it comes freeze-dried! You should be able to add the freeze-dried broccoli directly to the grits, without rehydrating first. If they seem too dry in the pot, just add a little more water.

7) Leave the covered pot on the stove at low heat until the cheese is gooey and delicious.

The cheese complements the grits by making a more complete protein (as well as tasting fantastic), while the sausage adds just the right amount of sodium. Other tasty topping ideas:

*Apple and peanut butter—fantastic!

*Powdered milk (no need to reconstitute the milk first. Just add slightly more water to the pot if needed) plus garlic and onion powder

*A handful of gorp

*Plain ‘ol, delicious butter and salt

The only limit for toppings is your imagination!

—Mike Donley, Trail Chef