14 Game-Changing Hacks For Boxed Cornbread

If you ever searched for the perfect accompaniment to a bubbling pot of slow-cooker chili, chances are a box of cornbread mix has conveniently come to the rescue. With little more than an egg and some liquid, you can transform the pre-made blend of cornmeal, flour, salt, and chemical leavening (usually baking soda or baking powder) into a proper skillet cornbread, complete with that classic cornmeal crunch. But boxed cornbread mix has so much more potential just waiting to be unlocked by an enterprising home cook. 


Whether you're looking to transform the texture or add a level of nuance to its flavor, several unconventional ingredients can take this humdrum staple to the next level. Depending on what flavorful mix-ins you select, you can incorporate either a hit of sweetness or salty umami into your cornbread formula. Plus, you can turn to some decadent dairy to enhance and soften your cornbread crumb. With these hacks in your back pocket, you'll find out that a box mix of cornbread is the most versatile item in your pantry. 

1. Make it moist with sour cream

If you're looking to tackle the crumbly texture of your cornbread first and foremost, start by selecting a mix-in that will bring in plenty of rich fat to the batter. Promising both a refreshing tangy taste and plenty of milk fat to make your quick bread soft, sour cream is a tasty shortcut to tender cornbread. In fact, sour cream is also the secret to a more tender pie crust. Why is it so helpful for creating soft baked goods? Besides offering plenty of fat, sour cream offers a boost in acid, which helps weaken gluten strands and leads to an overall more tender crumb. 


Keep in mind that this addition will thicken the overall cornbread batter, making the baked product more substantial and less crumbly. To keep from overwhelming the batter, begin by mixing in ⅓ to ½ cup of room temperature sour cream per 8 ounces of a box mix. If you need a quick substitution for sour cream, an equal amount of full-fat Greek yogurt or crème fraîche will work in much the same way. Stay away from low-fat dairy options, as that rich milk fat is key to a softer texture. 

2. Add some tang with buttermilk

Traditional Southern cornbread has long relied on buttermilk for its delicate texture and taste, so it makes sense that this tangy staple can also bring plenty of flavor and a fine crumb to your boxed mix cornbread. Buttermilk's naturally acidic nature reacts to the basic baking soda present in most cornbread mixes, producing carbon dioxide bubbles to create a light and fluffy cornbread. This acidity also goes a long way toward softening up the gluten strands as well, not unlike what sour cream does for cornbread. 


Start with adding ⅓ cup of buttermilk to every 8 ounces of cornbread mix. Alternatively, if your box mix directs you to use a certain amount of milk or water, use buttermilk in its place in a 1-to-1 ratio. Keep in mind that you need to use full-fat buttermilk for peak richness. If you're struggling to find full-fat buttermilk at your local grocery store, whole buttermilk powder mixed with water is an excellent substitution. 

3. Pump up the richness with melted butter

Another option for moisture is to turn to another liquid form of fat. Bakers can turn to two liquid fats in particular: vegetable oil or melted butter. For cornbread, opt for melted butter. Unlike vegetable oil, melted butter offers that classic milk-fat taste plus a few extra benefits to the mix. The butter's milk solids will also caramelize nicely in a hot cast iron pan, giving it a nuanced flavor. Butter also has a bit of water in its chemical makeup, which helps the structure and texture of your cornbread. In the oven, that crucial bit of moisture becomes a hot gust of steam which creates a nice fluffy crumb.


As a good rule of thumb, use about ¼ cup of melted butter per 8 ounces of cornbread mix. While melted butter alone can instantly pep up your cornbread, this hack works extremely well in conjunction with the addition of buttermilk or sour cream. Both work overtime to create a flavorful and moist slice of cornbread.  

4. Drizzle in some honey

Do you like your cornbread with a touch of sweetness? There's a way for you to get a sweetened flavor without taking your cornbread into yellow cake territory. Enter nature's favorite sweetener, honey. A few tablespoons of honey are all that's needed to give a slightly sugared kiss to your box mix cornbread. Plus, a dash of honey also helps your cornbread take on a lovely golden color during the baking time. Why? Honey's natural sugars caramelize in the oven, creating a perfectly browned crust. As if that wasn't enough, honey's high pH will keep your cornbread from molding (as it kills bacteria) or from going stale too quickly (because it holds moisture).  


To keep it from getting too sweet, bakers should only use two to three tablespoons of honey per 8 ounces of cornbread mix. If you want it sweeter, you can use up to ¼ cup of honey without disrupting the cornbread's texture. If you don't have any honey on hand, maple syrup makes a nice alternative and can be subbed in for a 1-to-1 ratio. For an added bonus, consider whipping a little bit of butter with a tablespoon of honey. This whipped honey butter will be an excellent condiment to serve with your slightly sweetened cornbread.  

5. Double up on your corn

Sometimes, what a skillet of cornbread really needs is 100% more corn. Mixing in actual corn kernels into your cornbread will make it slightly sweeter and offer a touch of moisture, not to mention drive home that rich corn flavor. You have three basic options for your corn addition: fresh, frozen, or canned. If using frozen corn, you'll need to thaw and drain your kernels in advance so that you don't add excess water to the batter. The same rule applies to canned corn, so be sure to drain your corn before using. For the creamiest, dreamiest take, you can even incorporate a can of creamed corn into your bread. Be warned–this will yield a cornbread with a borderline custardy texture. 


Begin by adding about 1 cup of corn per 8-ounce box mix. As this surplus of corn will make your cornbread sweeter, consider pairing this addition with a bit of honey to create a loaf that teeters on the edge of dessert decadence. If you want to tone down this sweetness, try adding a dash of heat in the form of crushed red pepper flakes or a pinch of cayenne.  

6. Stir in some canned milk

Speaking of sweet cornbread, if you like that sugary style, there's an ingredient that can deliver plenty of sweetness and moisture in a one-two punch. Sweetened condensed milk, a reduced amalgamation of milk and sugar, will make a loaf of cornbread that borders on the cakey side. Beyond bringing some sweetness, condensed milk has a high fat content which aids in creating a more tender crumb. If you want all the benefits of sweetened condensed milk but with a throttled-back sense of sweetness, try a can of evaporated milk instead. Evaporated milk also boosts a higher level of fat for maximum cornbread tenderness, but lacks that added sugar.


No matter which type of canned milk you choose, start by using half of a 1 (14-ounce) can for every 8 ounces of box mix. Or, follow the directions of your boxed mix and use the canned milk in place of the liquid called for. If you're looking to create a cornbread that could double as corn pudding or spoonbread, use a can of sweetened condensed milk and a can of creamed corn for one epic mash-up. 

7. Spice it up with a can of chiles

On the flip side, some cooks crave their naturally sweet cornbread to be properly tempered by some spice. Incorporate a touch of fiery Southwest cooking by mixing in some chiles. This can come in the form of both canned pantry staples or a fresher alternative. A 4-ounce can of green chiles works as a good starting point, or, you can take it a step further and use chipotle peppers in adobe sauce. Chop up a few chipotle peppers and dollop in a few teaspoons of their sauce to get a rich, smokey flavor. Offering a subtle heat, this addition pairs particularly well with a bit of cheddar as well. 


Want it even spicier? Add in some freshly chopped jalapeños, serrano chiles, or Thai chiles. You can even take it in a completely different direction and use pickled jalapeños. Whatever style of spice you decide to use, consider incorporating a few other complementary mix-ins with it, like salty cheddar or smoky bacon. The resulting cornbread will be a cut above a standard side dish. 

8. Blend in magical mayonnaise

Another rich addition to the cornbread mix, mayonnaise will help create a very tender slice. This rich, salty ingredient will also give your cornbread an excellent texture and a boost in umami flavor. It'll also yield a darker golden crust, as the fat will caramelize beautifully in the oven. Mayonnaise, like vegetable oil and olive oil, will keep your cornbread moister for longer, maintaining moisture for days. Yet mayonnaise also has a creamier texture and taste than those oils, offering you a quick bread that has the best of both worlds. 


Start with mixing in ⅓ to ½ cup of mayonnaise per 8 ounces of boxed mix cornbread. Keep in mind that mayonnaise packs plenty of salt, eggs, and fat, so you may need to decrease the amount of said ingredients in your cornbread. This salty addition can be tempered by a touch of sweetness, so consider pairing your mayonnaise addition with a spoonful or two of honey.  

9. Incorporate some fresh berries

If you'd like to serve up some cornbread with a bit of fresh sweetness, turn to seasonal berries. Raspberries, blackberries, or the sweetest blueberries are all great options, but even pitted cherries would work well. Offering pops of juicy texture and flavor, these berries are a nice contrasting note to the savory, crunchy grit of the cornbread. 


As a rule, try stirring in ⅔ cup of fresh berries into your 8-ounce boxed mix of cornbread. To keep these berries from sinking to the bottom of the cornbread, consider tossing them in a little bit of flour. If you want to incorporate a bit of sugar with the berries, stir in a few tablespoons of brown sugar or plain granulated sugar. Alternatively, add a liquid sweetener, like a tablespoon or two of honey or maple syrup. Though this fruity take on cornbread may not be suited for complementing a dinner of chili, it makes a lovely complement to your sophisticated brunch spread. 

10. Sweeten the deal with mashed banana

You can–and should–give your cornbread a banana bread twist. By incorporating a little bit of mashed banana, you'll up the tropical sweetness in your cornbread and add some tenderness as well. Skewering on the sweeter side, the banana and corn work in concert to make an unusual but satisfying slice of cornbread. 


To start, add ½ cup of mashed banana (equal to about 1 large banana) to about 8 ounces of box mix. For the best results, avoid the same mistakes that would keep you from making a good loaf of banana bread. Use very ripe bananas (sporting a black or brown-spotted peel), as these bananas have developed a nice amount of natural sugars. To make it sweeter, add a few spoonfuls of honey, sugar, or maple syrup directly into the batter or sprinkled on top. You can also double down on that rich banana flavor and add a row of freshly sliced bananas to the top of your cornbread. Just be sure to brush your banana slices with a bit of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown in the oven. 

11. Fold in some pumpkin puree

For a more squash-forward twist to cornbread, try stirring in a bit of silky pumpkin puree. This ingredient will turn your cornbread delicately orange and bring a mild sweetness to the mix. It should also help create a moist bite of cornbread as well. It works beautifully as an autumnal side dish, or just a great way to use up that leftover can of pumpkin puree that never made it into your Thanksgiving pie.  


Stir in ½ cup of pumpkin puree for every 8 ounces of box mix. If you don't have any pumpkin, any other type of squash, like butternut or kabocha, will be just as delicious in its place. To double down on the squash infusion, you can add in a healthy dash of warm spices as well, like a cinnamon-forward pumpkin pie spice blend. Or, you can go savory and top off your unorthodox cornbread with a handful of crunchy, salty pepitas. Either direction promises a cornbread a cut above the rest. 

12. Swap in beer for your liquid

No matter what brand of cornbread mix you use, chances are that you'll need a bit of liquid to transform it into a batter. This offers the home baker several exciting options, including using tasty options already mentioned, like buttermilk or sweetened condensed milk. But let's set dairy aside for a second. Instead of using plain water or milk, why not stir in your favorite lager to incorporate a bit of malty flavor? Beer adds a nuanced hoppy taste to bread and works particularly well in a hearty loaf of cornbread. Plus, that surplus of carbonation makes for a fluffier crumb in your cornbread. 


However much liquid your boxed mix cornbread calls for, sub in an equal amount of beer. Blonde ales, light lagers, and pilsners will be your best bet as they won't darken the overall color of your cornbread, and their lighter flavors won't overpower the delicate corn taste. Paired with cheese, chiles, or bacon, a beer-spiked cornbread will be an ideal accompaniment to a hearty pot of stew.

13. Sprinkle on the cheese

It goes without saying–cheese and cornbread are natural complements. This beloved dairy product can create either a rich, crunchy crust or a gooey, chewy interior, and cornbread benefits from both. The most obvious suspect to use in this case is bright orange cheddar, but bakers have more options than that. Consider trying some other excellent melting cheese, like delicate gruyere or mild Monterey Jack. You can even go in a Greek direction and mix in a dash of well-drained and crumbled feta, a cheese that will create delicious salty pockets in your cornbread once it bakes.


Start by adding ½ to 1 cup cheese to 8 ounces of cornbread mix. For the best distribution, fold half of your cheese directly into the cornbread batter and sprinkle the other half directly on top of the cornbread. Blended with hot jalapeños and rich bacon, this cheese-laden cornbread will steal the show at your next dinner party. 

14. Toss in chopped bacon

Yes, everything is better with bacon, but box mix cornbread particularly benefits from a touch of porky goodness. Its salty and savory flavors work very well with the underlying sweetness of the cornmeal and its chewy texture adds a note of complication to an otherwise one-note slice of bread. And that's just what that actual bacon can add to your cornbread. Bacon grease can bring even more to the table. Used to grease your pan or as a replacement for the melted butter, it gives your cornbread an extra boost of smokey bacon. 


Consider adding ½ a pound (about 6 to 8 slices) of chopped bacon for every 8 ounces of cornbread mix. For bacon grease, stir in a few tablespoons of melted bacon fat directly into the cornbread batter. If you really want to go for gold, incorporate some hot green chiles, sweet fresh corn kernels, and a touch of tangy buttermilk into this bacon-packed cornbread. No one will ever guess this intoxicating skillet loaf started its life in a humble cardboard box.