They say that New Orleanians come out of the womb knowing how to make red beans and rice; same goes for Kentuckians with burgoo. Though there are some Southern dishes that every Georgian, Mississippian, and Tennessean alike should know, we like to give certain regions their “thing,” whether it’s shrimp and grits to the Lowcountry or chicken-fried steak to Texas. Really, Southern cooking is as diverse as those who cook it.
Disclaimer: For sanity’s sake, we left out staples like buttermilk biscuits, cornbread, and pimiento cheese. These are understood.
In almost every great memory we Southerners hold close, food was there. We’d bet large on that. All of our gatherings—from holidays to weekend cookouts—feature a long table full of plates and platters. From hoppin’ John to chicken and dumplings to red rice, these famous Southern soul food dishes deserve to be kept on the family table for generations to come. Now, what’s for dessert? Maybe one of these iconic Southern confections.
While certainly not the only way to enjoy green tomatoes, this is simply the most delectable and Southern way to do it. The best fried green tomatoes are crispy, lightly coated slices of tangy green tomatoes, fried in vegetable oil or bacon grease. Some buttermilk and a 50-50 blend of cornmeal and flour is all you need.
We love in-season tomatoes so much that we’ll bake them into pies. With its mayonnaise and shredded cheese, old-fashioned tomato pie has a decidedly retro appeal. But unlike retro dishes such as congealed salad, we’ll chow this down any day.
In the South, a dish can come with many names, and red rice falls into that family. Essentially a pilaf (also known as pilau, perloo, perlou, and so forth), red rice is a regional delicacy that might come packed with seafood, sausage, or chicken. Tomatoes, and often hot sauce, give its fiery hue. It’s derived from the Gullah-Geechee culture in the Lowcountry.
Does it get any cozier than chicken and dumplings? Down here, definitely not. Part resourceful Southern cuisine, part comfort home cooking, this classic dish is a hug in a bowl.
All we can think is, “Where are the mashed potatoes, collard greens, and biscuits?” This is our most loved, most shared, most perfect fried chicken recipe ever. Mama’s secret is to soak the chicken in buttermilk at least two hours before frying.
Peach cobbler is the classic of all classics. Be it by way of buckles, slumps, pandowdies, crisps, or cobblers—Southerners love a sweet, stewed fruit. This recipe comes together in four easy steps and tastes just as good as you remember.
Meet burgoo. This storied stew is traditionally heavy on the meats (chicken, pork, mutton, or all three) and vegetables. The old adage puts it best: “If it walked, crawled, or flew, it goes in burgoo.”
Originally a staple of antebellum cooking, this dish became a promise of prosperity when served for the New Year. It comes together as a perfect blend of rice and black-eyed peas, usually flavored with ham hocks or bacon. Don’t forget the collard greens and corn bread.
A staple in Gullah-Geechee cooking, okra soup is time-honored and comforting. While the recipe is filled with delicious vegetables (you can use fresh or frozen), spices, and aromatics, one of the main components is the fresh shrimp stock. Use the shells from your peeled shrimp to make it.
This old-fashioned banana pudding takes a page straight from Grandmother’s recipe box. It’s a cool and creamy Southern staple that needs no other explanation. Homemade pudding and a fabulous meringue topping makes this version extra delectable.
A Southern phenomenon, to be sure. A classic tomato sandwich is simple and statement-making, but with a no-frills attitude. Here’s a cheat sheet: Slather one thick slice of good white bread with real mayonnaise, and top with one or two thick slices of fresh tomato and salt and black pepper to taste—though the more pepper, the better.
In the realm of Louisiana cooking, gumbo is the original apogee. It’s one of those dishes that real Southern cooks can conjure with heart and whatever’s on hand—and it’ll turn out amazing. This recipe from Jessica Dupuy includes fresh Gulf shrimp and a whole lot of okra.
We should’ve known that Texas wasn’t going to let a bowl of chili cut it for long. Instead, the Lone Star State went bigger by making this corn chip-laden chili dish. It’s like a walking Tex-Mex taco that pays homage to the state’s barbecue obsession. Often, it’s served right out of the original chip bag.
Whether we call it oyster dressing, oyster pie, or even scalloped oysters, oyster casserole is right at home on many Southerners’ Christmas table. Typically, it includes a crunchy topping of soda crackers—or Saltines. Our Test Kitchen tinkered a bit and came up with what we think is the best version ever: plump oysters baked in a rich Parmesan cream sauce and topped with buttery breadcrumbs.
You know it’ll be a good day if starting with a plate of split biscuits smothered in sausage gravy. Making it at home? This recipe lets the skillet do all the work, combining sausage, milk, and Southern-style biscuits together in perfect harmony.
When we say eating a real-deal po’boy is a nothing less than a Southern (or New Orleans) rite of passage, we mean it. Because there are few moments in life quite like the one when you taste the perfectly crispy, deep-fried goodness that’s packed into crusty, chewy French bread and dressed up with slatherings of gravy, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles for the very first time. Hot sauce optional.
Chess pie hails from an era of make-do pies. Using cornmeal and vinegar to thicken and flavor, this vintage pie from the South is what Mama would make if there was nothing else to do. This recipe uses pre-made crust to keep things simple.
A popular dish found throughout the Lowcountry and Sea Islands, particularly in Gullah Geechie communities, crab rice is hearty, savory, and totally unique. In cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson’s version, sweet crabmeat is paired with precooked rice, bacon, and sautéed vegetables.
Imagine a whole community coming together to make a stew, throwing in meats (wild game and otherwise), spices, and seasonal vegetables with wild abandon. That’s this dish. Each Southern cook has a secret combination of ingredients, but most agree that corn, butter or lima beans, and tomatoes are essential.
One of the hallmarks of Creole cooking, jambalaya makes a play for most popular. That might be due to the fact that it can be as quick and easy as you’d like, using whatever meats and seasonings you have on hand. Some think the name derives from the French word jambon, meaning ham, the main ingredient in many of the first jambalayas.
Most agree that this glorious chicken-fried creation should be dubbed the national treasure of Texas. To deserve the name, chicken-fried steak should involve tenderized beef steak that’s breaded, fried, and blanketed with a pepper-cream gravy. (Or, if preferred, old-fashioned red-eye gravy.)
If making any dish could be dubbed a patriotic act, this would be the one. This hearty bean soup has been on the menu in the Senate’s restaurant every day since at least 1903. Plan ahead as the navy beans require an overnight soak for a proper soup.
It’s the most popular recipe in Southern Living history. Enough said. Simple spiced cakes with canned pineapple and bananas popped up in community cookbooks throughout the early 20th century, and this three-layer dream became the clear frontrunner. If this cake hasn’t graced your plate, well, you’re surely not from around here.
Once upon a time, a Southerner along the Gulf Coast thought it would be a genius idea to combine creamy grits with fresh shrimp and a rich, tomato-based sauce. He or she was correct. In this take from Robert Stehling of Charleston’s Hominy Grill, it all begins with stoneground grits blended with Cheddar, Parmesan, butter, and Tabasco.
Smothered or fried, fried then smothered, smothered then topped with something fried—we don’t care which combination. Pork chops are quickest way to a Southerner’s heart. Especially when served with potatoes and peas.
Even if it just sits there, and nobody knows why it’s there, a congealed salad just wants to be included on the spread. Congealed salads were once quite stylish in the South, and we’re happy to have rediscovered this jewel of a holiday recipe. Turns out raspberry gelatin and cranberry sauce blend to perfection.
No barbecue or church potluck is complete without it. Don’t leave it out in the heat for more than an hour though—stick it back in the fridge until your party is ready for seconds. Creamy and tangy, our Southern potato salad includes hard-boiled eggs, sweet pickle relish, and bacon.
Nashville Hot Chicken is not for the faint of heart, but you’ll never forget biting into one of these sweet, spicy, buttery drumsticks. This dish has been a hit since the 1930s, and you can still get it at the original Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. At home, you can adjust the heat however you like–and make sure to keep a cold beverage at hand.
This recipe should be cooked in a cast-iron skillet with fresh, not frozen, corn kernels. It’s loaded up with butter and bacon grease—we did say Southern fried corn, after all. Onion and garlic amp up the flavor.
Traditional Carolina pulled pork is cooked until it falls apart, then drenched in a vinegar sauce. Not everyone has the room to smoke a whole hog, so we’ve got a kitchen-friendly version using a pork shoulder and your slow cooker. Use a soft white bun and top your barbecue with coleslaw, pickles, and extra sauce.
Whether you call it shrimp boil, Lowcountry boil, or Frogmore stew, every Southerner knows the basic ingredients of this summertime classic. Choose a pot big enough to feed your crowd and go heavy on the Old Bay seasoning. For individual servings, scoop the ingredients into shallow bowls with a little liquid.
Using a slow cooker takes all the guesswork out of cooking up a mouthwatering slab of brisket. First, apply a rub to tenderize the meat and load it with flavor before adding it to the slow cooker with a rich broth. Now work on those favorite barbecue sides, from potato salad to coleslaw.
Local legend traces the origin of Charleston’s iconic she-crab soup to a presidential dinner served at the home of Mayor Rhett in the early 1900s. It’s a rich sherry-infused soup with freshly harvested crabmeat and cream, augmented with the coral-colored roe of the female crabs. If local fishing rules prohibit using roe, try crumbled hard-cooked egg yolks as a substitute.
What’s more Louisiana than crawfish? Crawfish in an étouffée. This recipe closely resembles the original ’20s dish created at the eponymous Breaux Bridge Hebert Hotel. A longtime Lenten favorite, crawfish étouffée has dozens of variations.
Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are known for salt-cured ham, which is why some call the area the “ham belt.” Red-eye gravy is nothing more than strong black coffee thickened in fried country ham drippings. Drizzle it onto your ham, a hot biscuit, or a creamy bowl of grits at breakfast.
In the South, you might be served a slice of this instead of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. This recipe gains its sweetness from roasted sweet potatoes, accented with a light dose of brown sugar and fall spices. Don’t use canned—roast the potatoes for the perfect amount of moisture and to concentrate their sweetness and flavor.
Florida’s most famous dessert is always welcome on the summer picnic table. Use Key limes for the most authentic flavor. The tiny, dark green limes are slightly sweeter than standard grocery store limes.
We intentionally didn’t get fancy with this traditional recipe. Dredge your okra with plain cornmeal and salt, just like Southern families have done for generations. The best way to eat fried okra is to pop it in your mouth as soon as it comes out of the fryer.
There are many delicious ways to cook collard greens, but this is the best-known way to do it in the South—low and slow with plenty of bold, smoky ingredients to amp up the flavor of the greens. The real deal may take a few hours to simmer, but collard greens only require a few minutes of hands-on cooking time.
Louisiana by nature, New Orleans by distinction, red beans and rice is a staple of the Cajun community. Every recipe is bound to be a little different, but that’s what makes it so special to every person who cooks it. For some, ham hocks, andouille sausage, or bacon are a must; for others, it’s pickled or salt pork. Some serve it with fried pork chops; others omit the smoked sausage in the pot and serve it with a link instead.