Southern cuisine is known for its rich, hearty, savoury, and sweet dishes. The southern states of America are defined by a variety of cultures coming together – Africa, France, Spain, and US Natives. The long and ugly history of the area created a diverse and rich cultural heritage for the people of the South. People from all over the world brought their cultures with them when they settled in southern America. So, amidst all the strife and pain, there were some really amazing dishes being made. They were passed down from one generation to the next and continue to amaze not only people from the south but also everyone who’s ever had the chance to sample some of the region’s cuisine.
Food that’s uniquely southern is flavorful and uses simple ingredients to make some phenomenal dishes. When you think of the heaviness of Jambalaya, Gumbo, and sweet potato pies, you get a sense that it’s all about rich foods. A lot of dishes such as ham hocks, grits, and collard greens were invented by people who had to make do with the least wanted parts of plants and animals. They infused spices and used techniques such as barbecuing, smoking, frying, and boiling to produce gold from ashes. Each of the southern states has a cuisine that’s local to them and defines so much of the restaurant and home cooking scenes. For example, Louisiana boasts Creole food, Texas is all about barbeque, catfish is synonymous with Mississippi, and Oklahoma is known for grain- and bean-based dishes.
Regardless of your personal feelings about the south, you’d be missing out if you didn’t try at least one of the dishes on this list.
25. Only In The South: King Cake
This is typically a cake baked around Mardi Gras. Its iconic ring shape and colourful appearance are steeped in Southern history and tradition. It’s said that the colours on the cake—green, gold and purple—are meant to honour the three Kings who visited baby Jesus on the 12th day after Christmas. It’s made with a batter of sour cream, sugar, butter, salt, eggs, flour yeast, and sugar. Once the dough is baked, a glaze is drizzled on top, and coloured sugar is sprinkled on top in an alternating pattern. It has to be cooled before you can dig in. Some recipes have provisions for making the cake with a cream cheese filling, but that’s only for those who want to go the extra mile.
24. Recreate: Po’ Boy Sandwich
A Po’boy sandwich is popular in places like Louisiana and consists of roast beef or fried seafood. In some parts of Texas, people prepare a BBQ Po’boy sandwich, and that’s made up of brisket, sausage, and chopped beef. Regardless of the meat in the middle, a typical Po’ boy sandwich is full of flavour and is served on crusty bread such as a baguette. Making the shrimp variation of the sandwich requires you to marinate shrimp in a mixture of milk, hot sauce, and eggs. The shrimp is then coated in cornmeal, flour baking powder, Creole seasoning, salt, and pepper. It’s then fried until golden brown. The baguette is toasted and spread with mayo, tomato slices, lettuce, and crispy, tasty fried shrimp.
23. Recreate: Southern-Style Mac & Cheese
Southern-style mac and cheese are made by boiling macaroni, then melting butter in a large pot. Melted butter, milk, and black pepper are added and cooked. Eggs and evaporated milk are whisked and cooked until thickened. Salt and the cooked macaroni are added to the sauce and stirred continuously. It’s a casserole-style dish, so the macaroni mix is added as the first layer to a casserole dish. Cheddar cheese is the second layer, and those steps are repeated until there are 3 or more layers. The dish is baked for about 20 minutes, at which time the casserole is bubbling and there’s a slight browning of the top layer.
22. Only In The South: Popovers
Popovers are light rolls made from egg batter and baked in a muffin pan or popover tins. They can be served as desserts when paired with fruits or whipped cream or be eaten as a dinner dish when paired with meat. Some cooks add flavour to the batter by incorporating nutmeg or pumpkin puree it. To make some popovers, the first step is to mix the batter with eggs, milk, butter, and optional spices. The mixture should be light and airy and should ideally rest for 20 minutes. Once the oven is preheated to about 450 degrees, pour the batter into a muffin tin, and stick it in the oven. The oven door has to stay closed, but you can watch as the batter rises and oh so slightly pops over the side of the tin, giving it its signature shape.
21. Recreate: Frito Pie
A Frito pie is made of chilli cheese, ground beef corn chips, salsa, beans, onion, jalapeno, and rice. It’s a casserole-type dish whose main star ingredient is Fritos chips. There’s no clear answer as to where the dish originated—some say it’s from Mexico, while others say that the mother of the owner of the Fritos brand was the first person to create the dish. What’s undisputed is that it’s a delicious snack or dinner item that’ll have you licking your fingers or lips in delight. The order of cooking is cooked ground beef, chilli beans, Frito chips, enchilada sauce, and salsa. More chips are put on top, and the entire dish is baked for 20 minutes. Green onions can be sprinkled on top.
20. Recreate: Chicken-Fried Steak
The dish has a very confusing name as there’s no chicken involved. It becomes less confusing, though, once you realize that the “chicken-fried” is referring to the technique of cooking steak. It’s very common in the South. The parts of the beef used for this dish are mainly the bottom rounds. Each piece of meat is seasoned with salt and pepper, then dipped in flour and an egg mixture. The meat should sit for 10-15 minutes before it’s cooked. When the time is up, place the meat in a pan with enough oil so it can be deep-fried. Place the cooked meat on racks, and place them in the oven until they’re brown. It can be served with gravy or sauce of some kind.
19. Only In The South: Alligator Meat
This dish isn’t for the faint of heart or the squeamish. Alligator meat is fried or grilled, and it’s enjoyed by many. Not many people would sample this dish, but according to accounts, it’s delicious and chewy. A typical recipe for fried gator meat involved cutting the meat into chunks and seasoning it with salt and pepper, dipping it in buttermilk and hot sauce mixture, and frying it in an oven at 350 degrees. Once it’s golden brown, it’s ready to go. Folks eat it as finger food, with rice, beans and veggies, and ranch dressing.
18. Recreate: Buttermilk Pie
This pie is similar to custard pie and contains sugar (of course), butter, and wheat flour. For additional flavouring, some people add lemon, vanilla, or nutmeg. To make it, just preheat your oven to 350 degrees, beat some eggs, and add butter, sugar, and flour. Once that batter is smooth, pour some buttermilk into the dish, add vanilla or any other flavouring of your choice, and pour this mixture into a pie shell. You know it’s ready once 60 minutes are up and the center is firm. It can be eaten warm or cooled—it all depends on what you desire. Garnish it with some fruits such as strawberries, cherries, or small pineapple slices.
17. Only In The South: Ham Hocks
The ham hock is the lower part of the pig, somewhere between the ankle and calf area. It has little fat and is covered in skin, which, according to some, is the best part of a delicious, juicy ham hock. It’s often served with vegetables, in most cases cabbage. Apparently, Germans who went to the South to live brought this recipe with them, and over the years, it quickly became a staple in many southern dishes. It takes about 3 and a half hours to prepare, as the hock needs to be boiled to be tender enough to enjoy. After the hocks have been boiling for a while, bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries, carrots, onions, parsnip celery, parsley, and garlic are added. The pot is closed and allowed to simmer on low heat for 3 hours. The honey glaze is often added to the finished product to give it more flavour. The serving size is typically one hock per person.
16. Recreate: Limpin’ Susan
This dish is made with fried okra, rice, and black-eyed peas. Shrimp or bacon bits have been added to some variants of the standard recipe. It’s a traditional food popular in the Gullah community in South Carolina. Long-grain white rice is cooked ahead of time and set aside until most of the moisture is gone. Okra is fried until it’s golden brown and tender. The pot is covered to allow the veggies to steam for one to four minutes. At this point, if you’d like to add other ingredients such as shrimp or bacon, now is the time to do so. Once everything is ready, serve by adding the okra and other foods on top of a pile of rice. The dish is best enjoyed hot and well seasoned.
15. Only In The South: Peanut Soup
This dish was brought to the south by black people from West Africa. Even though it’s considered a Southern dish, it’s still a major dish in many other nations such as Senegal and Ghana. The dish starts out with onion, butter and flour, chicken broth, and cream being blended and cooked for 30 minutes. The mixture is cooled and strained to get rid of any lumps. Peanut butter, lemon juice, celery, and salt are added, and this second mixture is cooked for 15 minutes while being stirred. Once this is done, it’s ready to be served. True fans of the dish garnish it with the ground or crushed peanuts.
14. Recreate: Collard Greens
Collard greens have to be one of the more popular southern foods. This vegetable is a long, loose-leafed plant from the cabbage, kale, and lettuce family, and the leaves have a signature dark green colour. As far as nutrition goes, collard greens are 90% water and contain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, C, K, calcium, and manganese. Collard greens can be added to heavy carb and/or meat dishes. Once the collard greens are washed, they’re chopped in bits of varying sizes (depending on personal preference), seasoned with garlic, onions, and pepper, and cooked in chicken broth for two and a half to three hours. If meat is being added, cook it separately, and add to the cooked collard greens.
13. Only In The South: Spoon Bread
This dish is moist and made of cornmeal. It’s eaten by scooping portions of the finished dish out of the baking pan or tin—hence the name “spoonbread.” Most people who are familiar with the dish often add bacon or corn kernels to the batter. To make spoon bread, all you need is to grease a baking tin, mix cornmeal and salt in a bowl, and add boiling water to it as you mix. Next up is milk—whisk some of that in the bowl, then add eggs, baking powder, and any crumbled bacon if so desired. Place the batter in the bowl, put that in the oven, and let cook for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
12. Recreate: Ambrosia Salad
This is a fruit salad made with pineapples, oranges, coconut, marshmallows, cherries, bananas, strawberries, yogurt, jello, mayo, pudding, and cottage cheese. It’s sweet, colourful, and creamy. The dish has to be refrigerated before it’s served. Whipped cream can be added as well. The dish is even more beautiful if you artfully arrange the fruits in a sort of layered pattern. This is a great way to incorporate fruits into the diet of people who don’t appreciate fresh fruits on their own. It’s also a good substitute for other unhealthy dessert options.
11. Only In The South: Lady Baltimore Cake
Believed to have originated in South Carolina sometime during the early 1900s, Lady Baltimore cake is a layered cake with fruit and nut filling. Depending on whom you ask, the origin of the cake is conflicting at best. To make the cake, a floured and buttered baking pan is set aside, and the oven is set to 375 degrees. The batter contains, flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extract, milk, water, and flour. While this is being baked, the filling, which contains fruits and nuts of choice—raisins, dates, pecans, and walnuts, for example—is made. Corn syrup, water, eggs, and vanilla are mixed and cooked. The nuts and fruits are added to this mixture afterward. To fill the cake, it’s sliced horizontally in 2-3 layers, and the filling is spread on each side. The cake is then reassembled.
10. Recreate: Étouffée
Etouffe is another dish that has its roots in Cajun and Creole. It’s served with shellfish over rice, and it uses a specific cooking technique known as “smothering.” The smothering technique is sort of like braising, except that the food is placed in a pan that’s covered, and everything is allowed to cook on very low to moderate heat. To make this dish, shrimp is cooked on high heat. Onion, carrot, and celery are added and cooked for three minutes. Chicken stock is poured in and brought to a boil and a simmer for 45 minutes. The pot is removed from the heat, covered, and steeped for 30 minutes. The stock is strained and set aside. In the same pot, butter is melted, and onion, garlic, tomato paste, thyme, pepper, and celery are cooked for 3 minutes. The shrimp stick and its solid ingredients are then added; then, everything is stirred.
9. Only In the South: Divinity Candy
Southern divinity treats are fluffy bits of heavenly clouds made with sugar, syrup, eggs, vanilla, and pecans. They’re nougats with chopped fruit or nuts at the center. To make this dessert, you start by heating a saucepan on medium heat and stirring corn syrup, sugar, and water until the sugar has dissolved. As the sugar is cooking, beat egg whites while adding vanilla and stirring in pecans. On wax paper, drop small spoonfuls of the mixture, and twirl it to look like the top of soft-serve ice cream. Place the candies on a rack or in the refrigerator to cool.
8. Recreate: Shrimp and Grits
Grits originated in Native communities. They’re made from dent corn, which is less sweet than regular corn. They can be eaten with practically anything. This shrimp and grits recipe is courtesy of Bobby Flay, world-renowned chef and restaurateur. It starts by boiling water with salt and pepper. Ground grits are cooked until the water is absorbed—this process lasts for 20 minutes. The grits are taken off the fire, and butter and cheese are added. Fry some bacon, and add some shrimp to the pan afterward. Add chopped bacon, lemon juice, scallions, parsley, and garlic. Let this saute for 3 minutes. The grits are placed in a serving bowl, the shrimp and bacon are added on top, and it’s served immediately.
7. Only In The South: Shoofly Pie
Made of molasses and popular in some parts of Virginia, Shoofly pie comes in two types: wet and dry bottom. Wet-bottom pies have a cake top and a gooey, sticky bottom that’s not baked all the way through. The dry-bottom Shoofly cake is baked all the way through and has a cake-like consistency all over. While the crust of the pie is baking, sugar, molasses, eggs, flour, and baking soda are stirred, boiled, and cooled. The crust of the pie is lined with foil and filled with pie weights or dried beans. The crust is baked some more. The foil and its contents are removed, and the crust is dusted with egg yolk, filled with filling, and baked for 50 minutes more.
6. Recreate: Hoppin John
Hoppin John, also from South Carolina, is made with rice and peas, chopped onion, bacon or ham hock or sausage, and green peppers. Vegetables such as collard greens, kale, chard, and turnip are often served with it. Apparently, the dish is popular around the new year because eating it’s said to bring luck, wealth, and good fortune. It’s very easy to prepare. You simply need to cook or fry the bacon and ham hocks, cook the rice and black-eyed peas with garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and cajun seasoning. The meat and peas should be tender, and the rice should be soft and “shelly.” Combine everything in a large pot, toss the ingredients together, and serve piping hot.
5. Only In the South: Boudin
Popular in Cajun- and Creole-inspired cuisine, Boudin is a kind of sausage that is made in different ways using different components. For example, some Boudins are blood sausages, some are encased in pork casings and fried, and some are made with the meat of a crawfish. The crawfish sausage is particularly interesting, as it isn’t often that you hear about sausage made from seafood. To make this sausage, meat from the tail of crawfish, salt, and peppers are combined and set aside to marinate. Onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic are cooked, added to the crawfish mixture, and cooked for fifteen more minutes. It’s then removed from the fire, folded in rice, and stuffed into pig casings. Once the sausages are stuffed, they’re cooked for another 20 minutes. When ready, the water is drained from the pot, and the links are seared in a skillet until all sides are golden brown.
4. Recreate: Seven-Layer Salad
This is a colourful, compact vegetable dish made of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, sweet peas, boiled eggs, shredded cheddar cheese, and bacon crumbles. It’s prepared in a bowl, and the layering order, from the bottom, is lettuce, diced onions, cooked sweet peas, tomatoes, diced cucumbers, cream cheese, bacon, and eggs. It may sound like a lot, but it’s just a simple salad with multiple ingredients. When being served, you have to get a large tong and be sure to angle it down so you can get a bit of all the layers. Some people add chips, cheese, and/or shrimp on top of all the layers. In that case, it’s less of a seven-layer salad but an eight- or nine-layer one. Either way, it’s just as delicious.
3. Only In The South: Pimento Cheese
Pimento cheese, as the name suggests, is a spread made with mayo, cheese, and pimento. It’s added to crackers, chips, and bread or served as a dip for celery. Some people place it as an extra topping on deviled eggs, hamburgers, and hotdogs. It’s fairly easy to prepare, as it only takes a few simple ingredients and ten minutes of your time. Just place cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayo, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, jalapeno, and pimento in a bowl and mix until all the ingredients are combined. When it’s almost finished, add some salt and pepper for a bit more flavour.
2. Recreate: Gumbo
The preparation of a good Gumbo dish requires time and patience. The first step is to season some chicken and cook it until it’s golden brown. The sausage must be cooked until it’s brown then removed from the pot. Flour is sprinkled over the oil with margarine. This makes the roux. Onion, garlic, green pepper, and celery are added to a pan containing margarine. 4 cups of hot water and bouillon cubes are whisked in constantly. Chicken and sausage are added, and everything is brought to a boil. The heat is reduced, the pot is covered, and everything is left to simmer for 45 minutes. The last things to add are okra and tomatoes. Finally, the pot is left to simmer for 1 hour. Before everything is ready to be served, add green onions, cooked shrimp, and chopped parsley. This is a hearty wholesome delicious meal that’s perfect for dinner on a cool or warm night.
1. Recreate: Peanut Brittle
Peanut brittle is like hard candy, only better. It’s made by mixing sugar, corn syrup, and water and boiling them over medium heat. It’s important that the pot is continuously being stirred while it’s boiling. You may need a thermometer to check to see that the mixture has reached 234 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it’s at that temperature, use a scooper to scoop some of the mixtures out and drop it in cold water. If it can form a soft malleable ball, then it’s good to go. Stir in butter and salt and continue cooking until the temperature gets to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, remove it from the stove, and add the peanuts, vanilla, and baking soda. Pour everything onto a greased baking sheet, and spread it evenly over the tray. Once it’s cooled, break the pieces into a small, medium, or large chunks.