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Cheesy Grits Fritters - Easy Appetizer

Crispy, snackable Cheesy Grits Fritters! These bite-sized fried appetizers are crispy on the outside, soft and cheesy on the inside, and so irresistible and perfect for dipping into the easy, 2-minute Cajun marinara sauce.

Serve these grits fritters as a snack or as a Mardi Gras party appetizer and you'll be shocked at how quickly they disappear.

Plate of fried grit balls and fried shrimp with Cajun marinara sauce.

I created this recipe years ago as a sponsored post for SeaPak shrimp, and I am so excited to share these little crispy grits appetizers because they go so well with a platter of fried shrimp and other finger food appetizers.

Crispy grits -  a southern-inspired appetizer

These grits fritters are a cross between hush puppies, cheesy grits, and fried rice balls (but made with grits instead of rice). They're crispy on the outside, soft and cheesy on the inside. They're best served warm, dipping into a Cajun-spiced marinara sauce. The ingredient list and the instructions are simple for this grits appetizer, but the flavor and irresistible crispiness is nothing short of delicious!

Closeup of fried grits balls to show crispy texture.

The recipe starts by making really thick grits - much thicker than you would eat if you were serving grits as a side dish or for breakfast. This helps the grits mixture be scoop-able enough to form balls for frying.

You'll want to plan ahead a little because the grits need to cool enough to be safely handled with your hands. In fact, the colder the grits, the easier it will be to form little grits balls for frying. If you want to prepare the grits ahead of time, you can refrigerate them after cooking, and take them out when you're ready to fry your fritters.

This is similar to the steps to make polenta fries, where you cook the polenta first, let it cool down, then slice it into French fry shaped pieces and air fry.

Hand holding a grits fritter appetizer that's been bitten into.

Related recipe: Cheesy Grits with Cajun Shrimp

Add-in ideas for grits fritters

The recipe I share below is a basic one for cheesy grits fritters, but of course you can add anything you want to these bad boys! Try adding any of these tasty add-ins to the grits before the cool:

  • Cooked crumbled bacon
  • Finely diced chives or scallions
  • Diced cooked shrimp (shrimp and grits fritters are AMAZING!)
  • Diced ham
  • Extra cheese, or try different kinds of cheese, such as a spicy pepper Jack or a smoky mozzarella

I recommend stirring these in before the grits cool, because it will be much easier to stir while the grits are warm. When the grits cool, it will be like a thick paste.

Plate of grits fritters appetizer and fried shrimp.

Related recipe: Breakfast Grits with Peaches

Ingredients

For the cheesy grits fritters:

  • 1.5 cups quick cooking grits
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun spice
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt (or omit if your Cajun spice has a lot of salt)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Vegetable oil for frying (~2-3 cups, depending on the size of your pot or saucepan)

For the Cajun marinara sauce:

  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun spice
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • Optional garnish: Fresh diced chives or scallions

Related recipe: Cajun Sweet Potato and Chickpeas with Cheesy Grits

Instructions:

Step 1: Combine the grits, water, Cajun spice, and salt in a medium saucepan and whisk to mix. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower, the heat, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. If using any add-ins, such as bacon or ham, add them in now. 

Step 2: Add the shredded cheese and chopped chives and stir well. The mixture should be thick like a paste. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely until the grits can be handled safely with your hands. Keep in mind that the center will need a lot of time to cool - you can stir the grits to help them cool faster. You can also cover the grits and place them in the fridge until ready to fry, once they're at room temperature. 

Related recipe: Instant Pot Sausage Jambalaya

Step 3: Remove from heat and allow to cool completely until the grits can be handled safely with your hands. Keep in mind that the center will need a lot of time to cool - you can stir the grits to help them cool faster. You can also cover the grits and place them in the fridge until ready to fry, once they're at room temperature. 

Step 4: Use your hands to form small fritters from the grits - make a ball and then flatten it slightly in the middle. You can wet your hands in a bowl of cool water in between every 2-3 balls of grits, this helps prevent the grits from sticking to the hands. If the mixture is very sticky and too soft, you'll have to go back to step 1 and cook down some of the extra liquid, then cool the grits again. 

Step 5: Preheat your vegetable oil in a small saucepan or a medium pan with high sides - you don't want the hot oil splashing out from the sides of the pan. It's your choice whether to heat a lot of oil and deep-fry these grits balls, or whether to add 1-2 inches of oil and add more oil if needed. Insert a wooden toothpick to check the oil temperature -  if small bubbles form around the toothpick, the oil is ready. If not, keep preheating the oil.

Use tongs to carefully place the grits balls into the oil, and fry for about 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove onto a paper towel and allow to cool a few minutes before serving.

Step 5: Make the Cajun marinara sauce by combining all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mixing. Serve with warm grits fritters.

Related recipe: Easy Instant Pot Gumbo

If you enjoyed grits appetizer recipe, let me know with a comment and a star rating below. And don't forget to share it on Facebook and save it on Pinterest for later!

Closeup of fried grits balls to show crispy texture.
Print Recipe
4.86 from 7 votes

Cheesy Grits Fritters

Crispy on the outside, soft and cheesy on the inside - the perfect finger food appetizer! These grits fritters always disappear fast, even non-grit lovers love these little grits appetizers!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time1 hr 25 mins
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Servings: 24 fritters
Author: Kate

Ingredients

For the Grits Fritters:
  • 1.5 cups quick-cooking grits
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun spice
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt (optional if your Cajun spice has lots of salt)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives or scallions
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • vegetable oil for frying (~2-3 cups, depending on the size of your saucepan)
For the Cajun Marinara Sauce:
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun spice
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • optional garnish: chopped chives

Instructions

  • In a medium saucepan, mix together the grits, water, 1 teaspoon Cajun spice, and ½ teaspoon sea salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture should be much thicker than typical grits that you would eat for breakfast, almost like a paste. If adding any add-ins, such as bacon or ham, stir that in now. See notes for more add-in ideas.
  • Stir in shredded cheese and chives and mix well. Allow to cool for about 1 hour, or until the grits are cool enough to handle with your hands. Colder grits will be easier to form into fritters, warmer grits will stick to your hands.
  • Using your hands, form the fritters: Take about 3 tablespoons of the grits mixture, roll it into a smooth ball, and flatten it slightly. Tip: you can dip your hands into cool water in between every 2-3 grits balls, to help them not stick to your hands.
  • Preheat vegetable oil for frying in a small pan or sauce pan - there should be 1-2 inches of oil. Insert a wooden toothpick to test the temperature - if small bubbles form, the oil is hot enough.
  • Use tongs to carefully place the fritters into the hot oil, do not crowd the pan. Fry the fritters for 3-4 minutes per side, or until they are golden brown. Remove from oil when golden brown and drain on a paper towel to absorb the extra oil.
  • Prepare the Cajun marinara sauce by mixing together the marinara sauce, Cajun spice, lime juice, and chopped chives.
  • Serve the Cheesy Grits Fritters fresh and warm with Cajun Marinara Sauce.

Notes

  • If the grits mixture is too sticky, you'll need to reheat it and continue to cook it down for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Then you'll need to let it cool again. 
  • Optional add-ins: cooked crumbled bacon, diced ham, diced cooked shrimp, diced scallions, pepper Jack cheese.
  • The nutritional information is estimated, since the amount of oil that gets absorbed is different depending on your frying technique.

Nutrition

Calories: 93kcal (5%) | Carbohydrates: 8g (3%) | Protein: 2g (4%) | Fat: 6g (9%) | Saturated Fat: 2g (10%) | Cholesterol: 5mg (2%) | Sodium: 106mg (4%) | Potassium: 39mg (1%) | Fiber: 1g (4%) | Sugar: 1g (1%) | Vitamin A: 151IU (3%) | Vitamin C: 1mg (1%) | Calcium: 36mg (4%) | Iron: 1mg (6%)

 

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Little Cooking Tips

Monday 7th of March 2016

First of all, Wow. This looks awesome! Second, New Orleans is one of the place we dream of visiting one day! We love anything Cajun and Creole, plus we're huge seafood lovers, so you realize how much we'd enjoy the food there:) Your recipe is fantastic dear Kate, one small question though; grits is non-existent here, can we use coarse-ground cornmeal instead? Does that sound like something that could work? We use coarse cornmeal for coating calamari or shrimp sometimes, have you ever tried it? Sorry for asking for substitutions, we know it is annoying, but we honestly can't find any grits:) Please forgive us:) PS You looks so happy in the photo!:) Sending you lots of hugs, Panos and Mirella

Cathy

Wednesday 17th of February 2016

Kate, this looks like a delicious New Orleans dish! I love that you are serving up 2 kinds of SeaPak Shrimp! :-) #client Cathy

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