14 Ways To Upgrade Boxed Cornbread

Of all the baked goods you can make from a mix, cornbread might just be the most delicious. Consisting of a few simple, traditional ingredients like flour, corn meal, sugar, and baking soda — plus the addition of milk, egg, and oil that you add before baking — boxed cornbread is a classic comfort food that's tasty and satisfying. 

Perfect to serve with chili, fried chicken, stew, savory bean soups, grilled meats, roast beef, or even BBQ, cornbread is an ideal side that goes with almost everything and makes every food it's paired with taste better. It's quick, easy to make, and super affordable — what other food like this can you buy for a few bucks or less?

And while it's great on its own, perhaps the very best thing about any boxed cornbread mix is that you can modify it to make it better — fresher, more savory, smokier, spicier, heartier, even sweeter. Stir in a bit of this or add a dash of that and it's almost like you've got a whole new dish. Need proof? Here are 14 ways to transform already crave-worthy boxed cornbread mixes into even more mouthwatering culinary delights. Enjoy!

Make it cheesy

One of the easiest and most effective ways to quickly turn cornbread from a simple side into the star of any meal is with the addition of grated cheese. And this is one addition that couldn't be any faster — you don't even have to modify your basic cornbread mix recipe. For a classic American-style cornbread, consider stirring 1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese into your cornbread mix as you prepare it. For more of an Italian-style cornbread, opt for 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and serve the baked cornbread with some homemade lemony chicken piccata.

Prefer something a bit more Southwest-style? Add 1 cup of grated Pepper Jack cheese to that cornbread mix. Or go all out exotic with the addition of 1/2 cup of crumbled blue cheese — perfect for nutty, tangy cornbread you can pair with a fresh crisp garden salad — or even 1/2 cup of grated Gruyère cheese. Pour your cornbread batter into a muffin tin and make Gruyère cornbread muffins part of your next big weekend brunch — your friends and family will love it paired with a rich umami-packed mushroom frittata and Bloody Marys. Yum.

Set it on fire (with added peppers)

As you're working cheese into your cornbread mix, you may also want to pair some spice with all that creaminess. Peppers — from mild, diced red or yellow bells to fiery hot jalapeños or habaneros — can be a great flavor enhancing option for any boxed cornbread. You can either add them raw or sautéed as you prepare your dish. Raw peppers will maintain more crunch as the cornbread cooks, providing brighter flavor and more texture to the finished bread. Cooked peppers, in contrast, will be tender and softer with a more mellow flavor and less pepper "bite."

Start with one diced pepper per boxed mix and then add more to the batter before baking if you really want to layer in added flavor. Or consider a mixture of complimentary peppers like green bell peppers paired with jalapeño or red bell peppers plus poblanos to create an even more complex pepper flavor within your finished cornbread. Also, remember that removing seeds from the peppers before you stir them in will help to lessen their heat; leave them in if you really want that spicy kick!

Fold in sun-dried tomatoes

To add sweetness, texture, and tang to the natural goodness of cornbread, consider sun-dried tomatoes. Again, this is an addition that can be done without any modifications to your overall cornbread recipe. Stir between 1/2 to 1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes directly into your cornbread batter and bake as normal. Note that the tomatoes do need to be softened first before you use them, so make sure you have soaked them in a bit of warm water for at least 15 minutes. Then drain, dry off, chop 'em up and fold them into your prepared batter.

To compliment the Mediterranean-flavor of those tomatoes, you might also consider adding 1/2 cup of sliced olives or 1 to 2 tablespoons of pesto to your cornbread batter. You can use traditional basil pesto or try one of these unique homemade variations made with cilantro, lemons and pistachios, or even mint. Easy and oh-so-delicious!

Bulk it up with black beans

The combination of cornbread plus chili is one of the culinary world's greatest unions. But you can recreate much of the savory, comforting quality you get from that dish simply by adding canned beans to any cornbread mix — no chili or massive stockpot required!

Canned beans (whether mashed, pureed, or even left whole) add flavor, protein, and fiber to cornbread, making it even heartier and more filling. Black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans are all good options, and each adds a slightly different level of depth and complexity to the taste of your cornbread. Add anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 cup to your batter, slightly reducing the amount of added liquid the recipe calls for due to the extra moisture contained within the beans. The beans should be drained and rinsed and can either be chopped in a food processor, mashed with a potato masher, or left whole — again, depending on your preference.

If you're a true chili lover, you could also stir in 1 or more teaspoons of chili powder, paprika, cayenne pepper flakes, garlic powder, or onion powder to even further enhance your bean and cornbread creation. Once your beans are worked into your batter, bake your cornbread as directed by the box recipe. You'll know it's done when it's golden on top and has begun to brown around the edges.

Get corny (with fresh or canned corn kernels)

Either paired with beans or on its own, corn is another perfect addition to any cornbread mix. Whole corn kernels not only help to compliment the sweet, starchy taste of corn meal, they also bring added texture, crunch, and chew to any cornbread loaf that's fresh from the oven. 

You can add 1/2 to 1 cup of fresh or canned corn to your cornbread batter — again, be sure to cut back on the amount of other liquids you add to the batter to make up for that additional moisture within the corn. If you are adding fresh corn you have cut from the cob, simply stir those kernels directly into the cornbread batter. To use canned corn, drain and rinse the kernels first — shake well to remove as much water as possible — and then stir the corn in.

Canned creamed corn can also be a wonderful cornbread addition. Make your cornbread batter according to the box recipe, using significantly less water than the recipe calls for, and then pour the batter into a loaf pan. Then swirl the contents of a can of creamed corn into the pan, using a knife to help evenly distribute your swirls throughout the entire loaf. Bake the cornbread as normal. To determine when it's done, insert a clean toothpick into the center of the loaf, 1 to 2 inches deep. If it comes out clean, the loaf's fully baked.

Stir in pimento cheese

A Southern staple that's just as beloved below the Mason Dixon line as cornbread itself, pimento cheese is rich, creamy, tangy — and a perfect ingredient to add to cornbread to make it even more amazing!

To get started, first you need some good quality pimento cheese. You can either pick up a carton at your local market or make it yourself with a mixture of grated sharp cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, pimento juice, and pimentos. Once you have your pimento cheese in hand, adding it to cornbread batter is a breeze. Simply make your cornbread according to the box directions, then fold anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 cup of pimento cheese into the finished batter.

Once the pimento cheese is added to your mix, bake your cornbread like normal. Note that the added pimento cheese may extend your cornbread's baking time slightly, so watch it closely and look out for those classic clues that show it's done and ready to serve, like a golden crust and slight browning in the corners of the pan. Top the baked and cooled pimento cheese cornbread with a dollop of butter — and dig in!

Swap in buttermilk or sour cream

Sometimes you don't even need to add anything to a boxed cornbread mix to make it better. You can just swap one ingredient for another. For example, instead of making your cornbread batter with milk, consider using buttermilk or even sour cream as a quick and easy flavor enhancing substitution.

Both buttermilk and sour cream have a natural tanginess that adds richness and additional layers of flavor to baked cornbread, making it sweeter with a more pronounced earthy, nutty flavor. Since buttermilk and sour cream are also thicker than regular milk, they add extra moisture to cornbread, making it more tender and less crumbly. Depending on the amount of baking soda or other leavening agents in your cornbread mix, added buttermilk or sour cream could also help to make your cornbread lighter and fluffier.

To make this substitution, either use half the milk the box mix calls for and half the remaining amount of buttermilk or sour cream — or swap the milk entirely and use the full amount of either ingredient instead.

Add caramelized or diced green onions

Caramelized onions are one of those ingredients that makes everything better, from burgers and steaks to scrambled eggs — even pizza or a grilled cheese sandwich is exquisite with caramelized onions! So it stands to reason that adding caramelized onions to cornbread batter is one more way to make something that's already tasty even more mouthwatering.

To make this incredible dish, you first need caramelized onions. Start by slicing anywhere from three to five onions and then cooking them in butter or oil over low to medium heat until they become soft, golden brown, and sweet. You'll need around 30 minutes — so you can make your onions in advance and then include them in any recipe as needed. For cornbread, you'll want 1/2 to 1 cup. Next, simply prepare your cornbread mix as directed and then stir your caramelized onions into the batter before you put it in to bake. 

Don't have time to caramelize onions but still looking for some onion taste in your cornbread? Consider adding 1 or 2 teaspoons of onion powder, diced onion flakes, or even freshly chopped green onion. All will provide that sharp, pungent onion bite you're after.

Make it meaty with sliced hot dogs

Whether you've got kids in the house and are looking for an easy way to make mealtime more fun, or you just love a good corn dog (and who doesn't?), hot dogs are another perfect ingredient to stir in to any cornbread mix. Simply slice one, two, or even more hot dogs into thin chunks and then fold them into your cornbread batter before you put it in to bake. The resulting dish, once done, will be a bit like a corn dog casserole, filled with all the carnival flavors you or your family love in easy-to-slice, golden baked squares.

If beef or pork hot dogs aren't your thing, consider swapping slices of cooked brats, pepperoni, chorizo, or any other hot dog-shaped meat you do enjoy into your final batter. "Hot dog cornbread" is also a great option following a backyard picnic or any get together in which you might grill too many dogs and end up with a fridge full of leftovers you don't otherwise know how to use up. Just slice 'em, add them to a batter, and ring that dinner bell: Supper is served!

Crumble in cooked sausage

If you can't imagine stirring slices of hot dog or pepperoni into cornbread, you can get a similar meaty taste — in a slightly more elevated form — by stirring cooked, crumbled sausage into your cornbread batter. You might choose crumbled maple-flavored breakfast sausage or a robust Italian rosemary and basil-flavored sausage, or even a spicy Cajun or Creole-infused andouille sausage.

Whatever sausage you select, remove the meat from its casing and then brown it in a hot skillet until done. The cooked meat should no longer have any pink and its juices should run clear. Next, take your sausage crumbles, drain off any residual grease or oil, and fold them into your cornbread batter. Bake the meat-filled cornbread until golden and perfectly done within your loaf pan and then serve. You can pair it with spicy mustard or hot sauce, apple chutney, coleslaw or even any style of eggs. Delish!

Make it herb-licious

While there's almost no limit to what you can add to cornbread mix — pumpkin puree for a taste of fall, for instance, or diced apple and cinnamon for a breakfast loaf — the simplest options are sometimes the best. In this case, you can't go wrong by adding nearly any type of fresh chopped herb to cornbread batter. Just mix up your batter as directed and then fold in 1 to 2 tablespoons of your favorite herbs.

Rosemary is ideal for a piney, slightly woody flavor in cornbread. Thyme provides a subtle earthy and lemony flavor. And sage yields a robust savory flavor with hints of eucalyptus — it's almost like Thanksgiving dressing minus the turkey. For a wonderfully aromatic and peppery cornbread, consider mixing in some freshly diced basil. If you're going for a Tex-Mex style bread, choose zesty cilantro. Dill-infused cornbread pairs perfectly with seafood and fresh green salads, while a cornbread made with oregano can be a choice complement to tomato or cream-based pasta dishes.

Try a different herb as a mix-in every time you make cornbread — there's no wrong pairing.

Grill it!

Adding or swapping ingredients to your cornbread mix isn't the only way to elevate good cornbread to outstanding. Sometimes, all you have to do is tweak the way you serve the cornbread you've already prepared — even if you just made it exactly as the packaging suggested. For example, if you want to add smoke and char to cornbread, and make it even sweeter and crispier, just consider plopping a few slices on the grill!

Cut a slice of cooled cornbread about 1-inch thick, add some butter on both sides, and then grill on your outdoor grill until have beautiful char marks on one side. Flip, and then grill the other side to smoky perfection as well. No grill — or too cold for grilling outdoors? You can do the same thing with a good quality grill pan on your stovetop. Or, simply use your regular skillet and cook each side of the cornbread until it just starts to crisp and brown, as if you were making toast.

Make it into French toast

If toasting cornbread starts to give you ideas and you wonder, "Well, could I also fry my cornbread?" The answer is yes! Any cornbread, even a loaf made from a boxed mix, can be turned into an insanely good French toast. Step one is obviously preparing your cornbread. Bake it in a large loaf pan — depending on the size of the box you use, you may need to make two to three boxes. That's okay, it's worth it! 

Once your cornbread is cooked through and cooled, slice it into chunks that are at least 1 to 2 inches thick. Next, treat those cornbread slices as if you were making French toast with any other bread like challah or brioche. Dip each side of the slice into a mixture of eggs and cream — feel free to add a dash of cinnamon or a few drops of vanilla. Then, cook those egg-soaked slices on a hot skillet or griddle until golden brown and crispy on each side.

Serve your French toast-style cornbread with syrup, honey, powdered sugar, fresh berries, or a dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with chopped nuts. Or go all out and pile some freshly fried chicken on top of your French toast cornbread for the homemade brunch to end all brunches.

Turn it into waffles

If baking cornbread and then frying it up sounds like too much work — and you're still yearning for some chicken and waffle goodness — then save yourself time and turn that cornbread batter directly into a waffle. This mind-blowing idea is just as easy (and tasty) as it sounds. Simply whip up your cornbread mix according to the box directions. Then, instead of baking it into a loaf in the oven, pour the batter directly into a warm waffle maker.

Lightly grease the waffle iron with cooking spray or a small amount of oil. This not only prevents the waffles from sticking but also ensures a crispy texture. Next, pour about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of batter onto the preheated waffle iron. Close the waffle iron and cook the waffles until they are golden brown and crispy on both sides — roughly four to six minutes. Then, for the fun part, serve the still warm and cooked cornbread waffles with butter and syrup, fried chicken chili, cheese sauce, or even gravy. It's a meal so filling and satisfying, even you won't believe it started with a box!