Thousands will flock once again this weekend to tiny town of Warwick, Georgia for the annual National Grits Festival. They will celebrate the importance of a food that has nourished millions of Southerners. Cooks will compete for the best dish—savory or sweet—made with grits. But that won’t be the only competition. Salvation South editor Chuck Reece has the story in this week’s commentary.

bowl of grits
Credit: Adobe Stock Image


Something changed in me when I was about 35 years old. Specifically, something changed in my mouth.

Suddenly, for reasons I still can’t understand, I developed a taste for foods I refused to eat as a child. It was like a mechanic of the nervous system had snuck into my mouth and changed out my taste buds.

So I began to wonder if I would suddenly like grits. Because in my childhood, I found them abominable. Tasteless mush. Drivel. When Oliver Twist asked his boss for “more gruel,” I was like, “No, Oliver. What’s wrong with you?”

Then someone invited me to some fancy place for breakfast one morning. And the menu said my bacon and eggs would come with grits that were stone-ground at a small mill on Edisto Island, S.C. I figured I should at least taste them. I put a scant teaspoon-full onto my tongue. My new taste buds squealed with delight. These grits had flavor. Real flavor. Like a corn nirvana in my mouth.

And today, I love grits. But I have no interest in store-brand instant grits. I want grits that are ground from dried corn between two stone mill wheels. There's nothing instant about stone-ground grits. You gotta stand over the stove for at least a half-hour, stirring and watching them until they’re just right. And they are worth every minute. 

Grits Festival

The Grits Festival in Warwick, Georgia.

Credit: Courtesy

There is, however, a place where you would never use good grits.

Every springtime, thousands come to Warwick, Georgia, population 497, for the National Grits Festival. There is a big cook-off that lets cooks compete for the best dish made with at least a half a cup of grits. And for that, I’m sure many of the competing cooks pull out the good, stone-ground stuff.

But the Grits Fest’s other big event celebrates grits not as food, but as — well — recreation.

This is a competition called the Grits Pit. The good people of Warwick cook up about a truckload of cheap instant grits and pour them into a giant trough. Each contestant weighs in before the competition, then steps into the Grits Pit. And they just wallow around in there for a while. Then they step out and onto the scale again.

The person who gets the most grits stuck to their body is the winner.

Every few years, a crew from the national news media will visit Warwick to do, once again, the same old story that lets people who are not from here point their fingers at us crazy Southerners.

But they never seem to notice we’re smart enough to know the difference between the grits we eat and the ones we just wallow around in. And they miss something else: The fact that we know that in a big pit full of grits, all of us are equal.

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Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. Salvation South Deluxe is a series of longer Salvation South episodes which tell deeper stories of the Southern experience through the unique voices that live it. You can also find them here at and wherever you get your podcasts.