Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Lindsey Lower; Food Styling: Torie Cox

What to add to get them the perfect color, how to avoid soggy (or overdone) hushpuppies, and our favorite foolproof hushpuppy recipe.

By Sheri Castle

Hushpuppies are two-bite nuggets of piping hot, deep-fried cornbread. They are beloved in the South. Most (if not all) plates served at a Southern fish fry come with hushpuppies, as does many a plate in our hometown barbecue joints. Heck, there are chain restaurants in the South that will sell you a paper tray of hot hushpuppies through drive-thru windows. Yet there are people in other parts of the country that have never had a hush puppy. My goodness.

As with skillet cornbread and ice tea, people are particular about their hushpuppies.

Slightly sweet or savory?

Plain or dotted with finely chopped scallions or onions?

Enjoyed unadorned, buttered, or dipped into cocktail or tartar or comeback sauce?

Spheres or crescents?

Airy or dense?

Bumpy or smooth?

From a mix or from scratch?

One can make a heartfelt and compelling argument for or against any of those attributes. The one non-negotiable attribute is that hushpuppies must be crisp and well-cooked. Properly fried food—including hushpuppies—is neither soggy nor greasy. The secret to making perfect hushpuppies comes in the frying technique.

Related: The Ultimate Fish Fry

The top 5 secrets to great deep-fried hushpuppies

  1. Rely on a deep-fat thermometer that eliminates guesswork when it comes to the temperature of the fat. Heat the oil to the temperature specified in your recipe (usually 375°F) before adding any food to the pot, and then adjust the heat as necessary to maintain steady temperature throughout the fry. Let the oil return to that temperature between batches of hushpuppies. The likely culprit in soggy hushpuppies is oil that is too cool. The likely culprit in overdone hushpuppies with underdone centers is oil that is too hot. Thermometers are inexpensive and invaluable. Choose one with a clip that lets you suspend it in the oil rather than rest on the bottom of the pot.
  2. Use fat with a high smoke point, such as peanut oil. Olive oil is a poor choice.
  3. Use a wide, sturdy, heavy vessel (such as a cast-iron Dutch oven) that is deep enough to hold 3 to 4 inches of oil with 3 or more inches of headspace to safely contain the bubbling action. Sit the pot on your largest burner so that the fat will heat evenly.
  4. Although restaurants sometimes rely on machines that can crank out hundreds of identical hushpuppies, most home-cooked hushpuppies are shaped by hand. Make uniform hushpuppies (about the size of a ping-ping ball) so that they will cook at the same rate. Add no more to the oil at one time than can float freely. Use a long-handled wooden spoon or skewer to flip the hushpuppies midway through cooking so that they brown evenly.
  5. Although freshly cooked hushpuppies are delightful, they can be alarmingly hot when they first emerge from the oil, so let them rest at least 5 minutes before popping one in your mouth, preferably on a wire rack that allows air to circulate around them.

The top 3 insider secrets to great hushpuppy batter

  1. Think of the batter as a quick bread: Stir only until the dry ingredients are moist, what cooks once described as ten times around the bowl. Over-mixing makes for tough hushpuppies.
  2. Even if you don’t care for sweet cornbread, a spoonful of sugar stirred into the batter encourages browning.
  3. Let the batter rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes (but no more than a half hour) before frying the hushpuppies.
Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Annette Joseph

How to Make Hushpuppies

Get the Recipe: Hushpuppies

This recipe, from our friends at Southern Living, is our favorite way to make hushpuppies. We also love this twist on the classic for a fancied-up flavor profile, Smoked Pimiento Cheese Hush Puppies with Pickled-Okra Tartar Sauce