Recipe: Eastern North Carolina Corn Sticks

UPDATE:  This recipe has been viewed thousands of times.  Several people have had problems with this recipe.  Sometimes the issue is clear:  You should not use self rising flour.  Other times, it is not at all clear what the issue is, although the reported dry crumbly results suggest the need for more liquid.

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I mention corn sticks from time to time here on the Blog.  To be more specific, I mention them about every time I go to Eastern North Carolina, or when, as now, I’m planning an Eating Trip to North Carolina in April, and a second Eating and Beach Trip in July.  Corn sticks are, more or less, a cousin of hot water corn bread: they are made with corn meal and no flour.  Here is an example of the corn sticks from Parker’s in Wilson.

parkers mine

The outside is crunchy and the inside is soft and fairly dense.  And they are delicious. Parker’s has the best corn sticks on earth, and they come with every meal.  Well, you can get a mix of corn sticks and hush puppies, or you can even forgo the corn sticks and get all hush puppies, if you’re stark raving mad.  They also serve great corn sticks at Bum’s in Ayden, which also has great, great collards, outstanding banana pudding, and the Best Eastern North Carolina Style Barbecue in the World.

Here, as a public service, is a recipe.  It makes a dozen corn sticks, which is enough for four people or me.

  • 2 cups water-ground cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 rounded tablespoon or so of bacon grease plus additional, to grease pan

Preheat oven to 450 F and grease a cornstick pan.  Mix the dry ingredients before adding the eggs, milk, and the rounded tablespoon of bacon grease. Pour the batter into the molds and bake until brown — about 20 minutes.

I mentioned a mold.  I’ve seen lots of cast iron molds for wider corn sticks or corn bread, the kind that are shaped like the imprint of an ear of corn and that are made with some flour — around four parts corn meal and one part flour.  These pans produce delicious corn sticks, but with a lower proportion of that heavenly outside crunch.

Vintage-Cast-Iron-Cornbread-Pan-7-Corn-Sticks

The magical corn sticks at Parker’s and Bum’s are, as you can tell from the photo of corn sticks above, much narrower.  I haven’t been able to find the narrower molds.  If you know of a source, please post a comment.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mr. Tommy Haddock, the mystery is solved!   The correct mold,, Mr. Haddock informs us, is a Griswold #22.  Details here.  And John Shelton Reed reports that Wagner Ware also made a pan used in making corn sticks.

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27 thoughts on “Recipe: Eastern North Carolina Corn Sticks

  1. The best Coen sticks ever were served in the men’s grill at the Birmingham Country Club rivaled only by the sweetrolls. They also had a half and half plate, black eye peas and turnup greens ( no collards!) For a dollar.
    I also have to mention the corn sticks at the Gateway restaurant in Raleigh, but I don’t think they are gluten free, like Parkers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have found the perfect recipe for my narrow corn stick pan! They used to sell the aforementioned corn sticks at “The Bar B Que Lodge” at mini city on Capitol Blvd. I searched for a long time and finally found a pan on Ebay. Though it was pretty expensive but I felt like a winner when I received it. I got it cleaned up and am going to season it. Then head to the store for the ingredients.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Loved their corn sticks too. I just got a real pan like you. Does the recipe above turn out what we expect like BBQ Lodge up at Capital Blvd. used too?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks so much for the recipe! I’ve been eating at Parker’s BBQ for longer than I can remember. I’m 62 and my father grew up on Parker’s.

      I think the trick to corn sticks is to pre-bake them and then finish them by frying them. I say this because we would often get barbecue, slaw and corn sticks to go. The corn sticks would be partially baked and then Mom would fry them to finish them. Tasted just liked they did at the restaurant. I suspect this is how they were prepared at the restaurant as well.

      Give it a try. I think you’ll be pleased. I’m still playing around with the pre-bake time. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Mom that one , too.

      Lawrence Faithful

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much for your comment. That’s really interesting. Pan fried rather than deep fried? (My mom always pan fried things, so I think that’s the best way.)

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      2. They may have deep-fried them in the restaurant. Mom had to use her cast iron skillet and a deep layer of oil.

        Forgot to mention that they would come frozen so you could keep in the freezer and just take out what you wanted for a given meal.

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  2. Please remove this recipe….so-o-o disappointed. I am a Carolina girl living in Tennessee and really excited to find this recipe and story about my favorite BBQ restaurant back home. Batter was like wet sawdust and after baking 20 min. …dry sawdust.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You can find the iron cast “vintage cornstick” pan on ebay for around 32 dollars. They don’t make them anymore. I have my mother’s and use it alot.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been eating at Parker’s in Wilson since they opened in 1946. (I was 2 that first time so you can do the math). The pandemic has limited my travels somewhat so a few weeks ago I started Jonesing for some Parker’s corn sticks. I found a pan on eBay and was really excited to find your recipe through google. But I must say my first effort turned out like that of the lady from Tennessee— sawdust! I strongly suspect the recipe needs a lot more milk. The batter was too thick to pour into the mold and had to be spooned in. I plan to gird up my loins and try it again this afternoon with a thinner batter. Would love to hear what success others may have had with this. Thanks!
    —an old sailor from Ocracoke

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. That’s odd. It should work. You may need some more old or more bacon grease — did you use a rounded tablespoon (actually that makes 2 tablespoons. Let me know what adjustments you make, and how it comes out. I haven’t made it in a while, but will do so soon.

      Is your pan a Griswold or one of those pans with corn-shaped indentations?

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  5. Okay, think I’m sort of closing in on this project. I just took today’s first batch out of the oven and they are better than last time but still a far cry from the real deal. I think one problem might be the cornmeal. The only kind available locally seems to be “self rising “ which probably renders the two teaspoons of baking powder redundant. Parker’s sticks have the perfect balance between fluffy and crunchy and you can tell by the slightly concave side that the batter doesn’t quite rise to the top of the slots. These rose up over the top and although they had some crunch on the outside they were too fluffy (like ordinary corn bread).

    I just took the final (for today) batch out of the oven. I used the same batter but only filled the slots halfway. They are much crunchier but still rose too much to suit me. My pan is the 11-slot
    Griswald 22-S.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Robert Temple….did you ever get them right? I have tried two batches one with more milk to make it looser. I had wet sawdust too on 1st try and had to spread like paste into my molds. Didn’t work, dry and like bland corn bread. Second batch with more milk and bacon grease laid in molds like pancake batter but thicker with a squeeze bottle. But, still not corn sticks like I grew up on around Raleigh at BBQ Lodge on Capital and others.?? Just crappy corn bread outcome.
      How do we do it? Did you get it right?

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      1. Oh my gosh! This was my mother’s recipe and hers were great, but she never actually followed a recipe in her life. I’ll have to take a run at it and see what I can do

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  6. Dang! A old friend I knew that worked at a BBQ restaurant told me that they would bake them half way in the oven, with a loose corn meal batter, in the iron pans and then lay the whole pan, with corn sticks, into the deep fryer and the sticks would release and float to the top like hushpuppies when they were done. ???? Then they would remove the iron pan and set it aside for another batch. Said they never washed the stick pans just let them drip drain while hot. So that’s one restaurant way . But at home, ??????!!

    Liked by 1 person

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