Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There are shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burgers, shrimp sandwiches …and the favorite of many locals — shrimp & grits. We all have our favorite places to get the Lowcountry delicacy, but which place is the best? Obviously, that is up for debate. LOCAL Life designer Charles Grace has lived here for more than 20 years and has tried them all. Since it’s March (and since last year’s Fried Chicken Madness bracket was such a hit), we asked him to create an NCAA tournament-style bracket featuring the best shrimp & grits on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton. Here are his results:
Disclaimer: The views expressed in Charles Grace’s Shrimp & Grits Showdown do not reflect the views, opinions or positions of LOCAL Life magazine. Selections were made by LOCAL Life designer Charles Grace. If you don’t like how your favorite spot fared, yell at him (not the publisher, editor, art director, social media director, photo editor or distributor). If you feel Grace missed the mark, please drop off a fresh bowl of your favorite shrimp & grits around noon to LOCAL Life headquarters (800 Main St., Hilton Head Island). We will test the product and consider the establishment in next year’s tournament.
Dave Peck wasn’t willing to give up the recipe for his out-of-this-world shrimp & grits, but he did have this to say: “What I always tell people is that we cook our grits low and slow with heavy cream and butter,” he said. “Our sauce is made with crispy applewood bacon and a secret blend of spices.” We hope the image of Dave’s famous dish inspires you to create your own version. All great shrimp & grits recipes share a few things in common.
Use fresh shrimp: Keep the shrimp chilled and in their shells until just before you are ready to start cooking. Each shrimp should be firm, unblemished and have no fishy odors. Don’t be afraid of frozen shrimp. Many times, shrimp are flash frozen while still on the boat and are still of very high quality when thawed.
Use local shrimp: If you find shrimp marketed as “local,” pick it up. South Carolina DNR requires sellers to prove their local claims, tracking receipts all the way back to the boat they were caught on. Insist on the words “local” though. Some people sell out-of-area shrimp out of coolers, fooling customers into thinking they are local. If it doesn’t say “local,” it probably isn’t. Great places to get local shrimp on Hilton Head Island are Benny Hudson’s Seafood, Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks and Piggly Wiggly. In Bluffton, go to the Bluffton Oyster Company. In Beaufort, go to Sea Eagle Market or Highway 21 Seafood.
Use stoneground grits: To make a proper bowl of grits, you’ve got to use the right corn granulation for the job. Instant grits are ground fine and cook in five minutes. Regular grits are medium grind and cook in 10 minutes. Stone-ground grits are coarsely ground the old-fashioned way — between the stones in a grist mill. They take longer to cook but are totally worth it. The entire corn kernel is ground, giving them a speckled appearance and a rougher texture. Since they are less processed, they are also more perishable. Store them in the freezer, not the pantry.
White vs. yellow: Which color of stoneground grits is better, white or yellow? When it comes to taste, it doesn’t matter. The flavor will be determined by the shrimp, butter, cream and spices. Many feel the yellow color looks more appetizing so it is more popular. Piggly Wiggly is a good place to get both colors.