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Fry a quick batch of hoe cakes in a cast iron skillet for an easy side dish that pairs beautifully with all of your favorite Southern meals. Also called Johnny cakes, these corn cakes are crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and perfect with a pat of butter or a drizzle of honey!

Pouring honey over a stack of Hoe Cakes
Table of Contents
  1. How to Make Hoe Cakes | 1-Minute Video
  2. Origin
  3. Ingredients
  4. How to Make Buttermilk at Home
  5. How to Make Hoe Cakes from Scratch
  6. What to Serve with Southern Hoe Cakes
  7. Preparation and Storage Tips
  8. Recipe Variations
  9. Tips for the Best Hoe Cake Recipe
  10. Hoe Cakes Recipe

How to Make Hoe Cakes | 1-Minute Video

Hoe cakes are old-fashioned cornmeal griddle cakes, and they’re the most basic of Southern breads. Also called “Johnny Cakes,” they are traditionally served as a quick bread on the side of a lunch or dinner entrée. Hoe cakes are great for soaking up pan juices and gravy, but they’re also tasty with a pat of butter, a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, or a smear of apple butter.

Origin

Hoecakes originated with the Native Americans, who had been using ground corn (maize) for thousands of years. As a result, the dish is sometimes called “Indian Hoecakes.” European settlers in the Southern colonies learned the original recipes and processes for corn dishes from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek, and soon created their own recipes for using cornmeal in breads similar to those that were familiar in Europe (source). 

Close side shot of a plate of Johnny Cakes with honey in the background

Why do they call it a Hoe Cake?

There are many different names for this classic dish, including: hoecakes, hoe cakes, Johnny Cakes, Johnnycake, and journey cake. The term “hoe cake” comes from the original method of preparation: the corn cakes were cooked on a type of iron pan called a hoe.

Hoe was a colloquial term for griddle dating back to at least the 1600s in parts of England, where baking cakes on boards or griddles was commonplace.

Dry ingredients for Johnny Cakes in a glass mixing bowl

The Difference Between Hoe Cakes and Pancakes

While hoe cakes look a lot like the modern day breakfast pancakes that we all know and love, they are not the same thing. Pancakes are made fluffy and pliable with ingredients like eggs, flour, milk, and leavening.

By contrast, a hoe cake (or Johnny Cake) is essentially the most basic form of fried cornbread — a pan-fried, (sometimes unleavened) round made from a simple cornmeal batter. Hoe cakes are crisp and golden on the edges, dense and creamy on the inside, and sturdy enough to scrape up the rest of the meal that’s served on a plate. It’s cornmeal flatbread!

Wet ingredients for Johnny Cakes in a glass measuring cup

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a batch of the best hoe cakes. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Cornmeal: just plain yellow or white cornmeal (not a self-rising cornmeal mix).
  • All-purpose flour: combines with the cornmeal to make a tender, fluffy cake.
  • Baking powder: the leavening agent that gives the corn cakes a little bit of “puff” and lift.
  • Sugar: for just a touch of sweetness. These are not sweet hoe cakes.
  • Salt: to enhance the other flavors in the recipe.
  • Eggs: for structure.
  • Buttermilk: whole buttermilk is always my preference (for its thicker, richer texture and flavor). If you’re in a pinch, you can make your own buttermilk with regular milk and either vinegar or lemon juice. See those instructions below. The acid in the buttermilk is important to help activate the baking powder.
  • Water: to thin the batter.
  • Oil: for frying. Pick a neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as canola oil, vegetable oil, or peanut oil.
Hoe Cake batter in a glass mixing bowl

How to Make Buttermilk at Home

You can make 1 cup of homemade buttermilk by using regular milk + either lemon juice or white vinegar. To do so, pour 1 cup of regular milk into a small bowl. Add either 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice or 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Give it a stir, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then use as directed. Since you only need ¾ cup of buttermilk for this recipe, you can discard the extra.

Horizontal shot of cornmeal griddle cakes in a cast iron skillet

How to Make Hoe Cakes from Scratch

These easy hoecakes come together in just a few simple steps. I’ve included the detailed directions in the recipe card below, but here’s the quick version:

  • Stir together the dry ingredients.
  • Whisk together the wet ingredients.
  • Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients to make the batter.
  • Fry the Johnny cakes in oil in a cast iron skillet, working in batches, until the edges are a deep golden brown.
Square side shot of hoe cakes stacked on a plate with honey drizzled on top.

What to Serve with Southern Hoe Cakes

A stack of hoecakes is best when served warm with a pat of butter, honey, maple syrup, or apple butter. Offer them for breakfast alongside eggs, bacon, and sausage, or pair the classic Southern side dish with any of these supper entrées:

Preparation and Storage Tips

  • Hoe cakes are best when freshly fried and warm from the skillet. To keep them warm while you finish subsequent batches, place the cooked hoe cakes on a rimmed baking sheet in a 250°F oven.
  • How to Store: Wrap leftover hoe cakes tightly and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can also freeze hoe cakes for up to 3 months.
  • How to Reheat: Place the hoecakes on a baking sheet and warm in a 350°F oven for about 5-10 minutes. You can also microwave individual Johnny Cakes just until warmed through — about 20-30 seconds.
Three corn cakes on a blue and white plate

Recipe Variations

  • Don’t have buttermilk? Make your own by stirring 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then use in the recipe as instructed (you’ll only need ¾ cup for this recipe).
  • If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can use any other heavy skillet or griddle.
  • Instead of using oil in this recipe, substitute with bacon grease. It’s a great way to add flavor to the hoe cakes.
  • Optional add-ins: chopped jalapeno peppers, grated or minced onion, grated cheese, or chopped bacon.

Tips for the Best Hoe Cake Recipe

  • Don’t overmix the batter. Stir just until the ingredients are combined and you don’t see any dry pockets of flour (some lumps are fine). This helps to avoid tough, dry, or dense hoe cakes.
  • Always preheat your cast iron skillet. The hot skillet (or griddle) creates a crisp, sturdy crust on the outside of the hoecakes, which is a flavorful, delicious contrast to the tender, fluffy insides.
  • Use either vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, or another similar neutral oil with a high smoke point for greasing the skillet.
Stack of hoe cakes on a blue and white plate with honey drizzled on top

More Classic Southern Sides

Hush Puppies Recipe

30 minutes mins

3-Ingredient Buttermilk Biscuits

50 minutes mins

Southern Cornbread Recipe

25 minutes mins

Square side shot of hoe cakes stacked on a plate with honey drizzled on top.

Hoe Cakes

5 from 6 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
0 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings 15 cakes
Calories 91 kcal
Fry a quick batch of hoe cakes in a cast iron skillet for an easy side dish that pairs beautifully with all of your favorite Southern favorites!

Ingredients
  

Instructions

  • To prepare the batter, in a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
    Dry ingredients for Johnny Cakes in a glass mixing bowl
  • In a large liquid measuring cup, combine eggs, buttermilk and water. Whisk until smooth.
    Wet ingredients for Johnny Cakes in a glass measuring cup
  • Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, using as few strokes as possible.
    Hoe Cake batter in a glass mixing bowl
  • To fry the griddle cakes, heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Ladle ¼ cup of batter onto the hot skillet. Repeat with additional batter, working in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pan.
    Horizontal shot of cornmeal griddle cakes in a cast iron skillet

Video

Notes

  • Don’t have buttermilk? Make your own by stirring 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then use in the recipe as instructed (you’ll only need ¾ cup for this recipe).
  • If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can use any other heavy skillet or griddle.
  • Instead of using oil in this recipe, substitute with bacon grease. It’s a great way to add flavor to the hoe cakes.
  • Optional add-ins: chopped jalapeno peppers, grated or minced onion, grated cheese, or chopped bacon.

Nutrition

Serving: 1hoe cakeCalories: 91kcalCarbohydrates: 16gProtein: 3gFat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 23mgSodium: 139mgPotassium: 175mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 51IUCalcium: 65mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: hoe cake, hoe cake recipe, hoe cakes, hoecake, hoecakes, johnny cakes
Course: Breakfast, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

    1. Hi, Susan! Yes — I’ve actually got some in my freezer right now. Just freeze them like you would any other pancakes. Wrap individually and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the toaster oven, regular oven or microwave. Enjoy!

  1. Is it Possible to substitute the flour with oat flour? Would the amount of oat flour change I have to have a gluten-free flour. I cannot use gluten-free flour with rice in it because I cannot have rice.

    1. Hi, Kim! I honestly don’t know — I’ve never worked with oat flour or other gluten-free flours. The texture will definitely be different (since there’s no gluten in the oat flour), and most suggestions I’ve read recommend substituting a little bit of oat flour for the all-purpose flour, but not all. Oat flour supposedly yields dense, gummy products if used as a 1:1 substitute for the regular flour. I would just experiment and see how it works. Since you don’t need the hoe cakes to rise and be fluffy in the same way that you might for something like a cake or muffin, the oat flour might be an acceptable substitute.

    1. Hi, Janet! I don’t think so. I haven’t actually tried it, but I would be concerned that the leavening agent (the baking powder) will not be as effective if it sits for that long.

  2. What!! No Hoppin’ John on the list of foods to eat this with? Seriously, though, thanks for the recipe. I left out the sugar, since I was raised to never ever think about putting sugar in cornbread.

    1. How could I forget, Kate! Hoppin’ John and cornbread are a match made in heaven. 🙂 I know — so many classic cornbread recipes don’t call for any sugar at all. My sweet tooth loves a sweeter cornbread, though. Can’t help it!

  3. 5 stars
    Thank you for the recipe! They were great!
    I only had 1/2 C of cornmeal so I just cut all ingredients in 1/2. I subbed the buttermilk for oat milk and I used organic cane sugar. They came out perfect! I’ve used a different recipe several times before and they all turned out good! I ate the Hoe Cake with greens and pinto beans… yum! Oh I put a little syrup on my Hoe Cake…

  4. 5 stars
    The hoe cakes came out light and so delicious! Best pancakes I’ve ever made and eaten. Did I say how feather light they were? Awesome!!!!!