The South’s Most Iconic Dishes
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 be gumbo to Louisiana or chicken-fried steak to Texas. Really, Southern cooking is as diverse as those who cook it.
Take the chicken-fried steak, for example. Even in the heart of Texas, This Mama and That Mama might live next door to each other, but they still argue over whether pepper-cream or red-eye gravy goes over it. In almost every great memory we Southerners hold close, food was there. We’d bet large on that. From Hoppin’ John to chicken and dumplings, these Southern food recipes deserve to be kept on the family table for generations to come.
Disclaimer: For sanity’s sake, we left out staples like buttermilk biscuits, cornbread, pimiento cheese, squash casserole, and potlikker greens. These are understood.
These Iconic Meals are Embedded in Southern Culture
Old-Fashioned Chicken And Dumplings
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.
Chicken-Fried Steak with Redeye Gravy
Recipe: Traditional Chicken-Fried Steak
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.)
Mama's Fried Chicken
Recipe: Mama’s Fried Chicken
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.
Red Beans and Rice
Recipe: Emily’s Red Beans and Rice
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.
Savannah Red Rice
Recipe: Savannah Red Rice
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), Savannah red rice is a regional delicacy that might come packed with seafood, sausage, or chicken. Tomatoes, and often hot sauce, give its fiery hue.
Recipe: Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya
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.
Southern Classic: Fried Green Tomatoes
Recipe: Fried Green Tomatoes
This classic Southern recipe delivers the perfect crunch from a cornmeal and flour crust. No one does Fried Green Tomatoes like Southern Living. The cornmeal and flour crust is what sets this recipe apart from others. In only a matter of minutes, your tomatoes will be battered, fried and perfectly crispy. Not only can you enjoy these as a perfect summer appetizer paired with Buttermilk Herb Ranch Sauce, try sandwiching them with lettuce and bacon for an elevated BLT or scattering them in between fresh tomatoes and mozzarella for crunch and flavor in a caprese salad.
Recipe: Banana Pudding
This classic banana pudding takes a page straight from grandmother's recipe box. It's a cool and creamy Southern staple that needs no other explanation.
Recipe: Shrimp and Okra Gumbo
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.
Recipe: Easy Peach Cobbler
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.
Senate Bean Soup
Recipe: Capitol Hill Bean Soup
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. It's so iconic that it has its own recipe page on the Senate website, one version with spuds and one without.
Recipe: Tomato Tea Sandwiches
A Southern phenomenon, to be sure. A classic tomato sandwich is everything we need. 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.
Recipe: Classic Chess Pie
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. It's that simple.
Recipe: Harry Young’s Burgoo
Meet Brunswick stew's Kentucky cousin, the burgoo. This storied stew is traditionally flavored with chicken, vegetables, and mutton (which makes it taste slightly more gamey than Brunswick stew). The old adage puts it best: “If it walked, crawled, or flew, it goes in burgoo.”
Southern Shrimp and Grits
Recipe: Southern Shrimp and Grits
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. Genius.
Recipe: Classic Hoppin’ John
Originally a staple of antebellum cooking, this Lowcountry 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.
Recipe: Frito Pie
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.
Recipe: Oyster Casserole
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.
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.
Recipe: Oyster-and-Shrimp Po' Boys
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.
Biscuits and Gravy
Recipe: Biscuits-and-Gravy Skillet
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.
Fried Pork Chops
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 mashed potatoes, red beans and rice, or Texas toast.
Recipe: Molded Cranberry Salad
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.
Recipe: Hummingbird Cake
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.
Tomato, Cheddar, and Bacon Pie
Recipe: Tomato, Cheddar, and Bacon Pie
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.