The 10 Best Southern Appetizers of All Time, Ranked

Mamau’s Cheese Straws
Photo: Robbie Caponetto; Prop Styling: Mary Beth Wetzel; Food Styling: Pam Lolley

As much as Southerners love to gather around the table and feast on dozens of indulgent casseroles, there is something even more nostalgic about grazing on a spread of your grandmother's homemade snacks. Appetizers in the South don't stop at a bag of chips and jar of store-bought dip, and it's engrained to always have the makings of at least one classic recipe on hand at all times, just in case of unexpected drop-in visits from family or friends.

Every family has their own recipes for iconic Southern appetizers like cheese straws, seasoned Saltines, or pimiento cheese—but we'd be as bold to say there is still a hierarchy in place. Frankly, some snacks are better than the rest, and your Southern grandmother knows it as much as we do.

These top 10 best-ever, nostalgic Southern appetizers are all winners in our hearts, but here's how we'd rank them. All in good fun, of course.

01 of 10

10. Toasted Pecans

Buttery Toasted Pecans
Iain Bagwell

During the holidays, these get a pass, since they're easy to refill and have out all day for snacking. But, truth be told, they're more of a salty sidekick than a main character.

Recipe: Buttery Toasted Pecans

02 of 10

9. Cowboy Caviar

Bulldog Caviar
Jennifer Causey, Prop Stylist: Lindsey Lower, Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Despite being objectively tasty and always a popular bowl at the cookout or tailgate table, this dip gets knocked down a few notches merely for being a cold dip, although it does provide a fresh crunch for warm-weather hosting. For those who don't know, it's made with black-eyed peas, corn, tomatoes, bell pepper, jalapeño, and onion—and is best served with Fritos or tortilla chips.

Recipe: Bulldog Caviar

03 of 10

8. Fire Crackers

Alabama Fire Cracker Saltines
Kate Robertson

It's hard to go wrong if the recipe starts with a sleeve of Saltines, or soda crackers as many Southern grandpas call them. This easy recipe is seen in many different variations (a favorite of which is sold at Buc-ee's) and features many different seasoning combinations depending on where you are in the South, but generally includes Ranch dressing mix, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, and more.

Recipe: Fire Crackers

04 of 10

7. Rotel Dip

Rotel Dip
Caitlin Bensel

This is the ultimate Tex-Mex party dip, now and forever. It's simple (customarily made with just Velveeta cheese, a can of Rotel, and cooked ground sausage) and satisfying (who doesn't love a melted cheese dip?) in the greatest way ever. It's guaranteed to be a hit with any group, and you can easily cook it and keep warm in a slow cooker for hours-long snacking.

Recipe: Rotel Sausage Dip

05 of 10

6. Bacon-Wrapped Smokies

Bacon Wrapped Smokies
Micah A. Leal

If you don't know why these are on the list, you've clearly never had one. From tailgate spreads to Christmas Eve parties, "lil smokies" wrapped in bacon and baked until warm and crispy are a classic that needs no introduction, especially when that bacon is brushed with brown sugar or maple syrup. Sure, you might be embarrassed to keep going back for more, but we have it on good authority that you can successfully sneak about five into a cocktail napkin when no one is looking.

Recipe: Maple-Bacon Smokies

06 of 10

5. Pepper Jelly and Cream Cheese

Cream Cheese and Red Pepper Jelly
Lance Dwight/Getty Images

This combo is bound to put a smile on any real-deal Southerner's face. Pepper jelly, a favorite Southern condiment, dolloped right on top of a block of cream cheese and served with crackers? Pure bliss in all of its simplicity. Just make sure every side of that cream cheese is blanketed in neon, jellified goodness, and everyone will get along. In fact, this is a fabulous time to use up any leftover Fire Crackers you have lying around.

Recipe: Jalapeño Pepper Jelly

07 of 10

4. Deviled Eggs

Best Deviled Eggs
Southern Living

If we could sum up the South in one singular bite, deviled eggs would make a worthy showing. Especially if the recipe includes a spoonful of Durkees. These bites of heaven fit in at literally every scenario, from Easter brunch to football cookouts to burger night. It's customary to have one as an appetizer and another with the meal, so it's always best to double the recipe when hosting.

Recipe: Classic Deviled Eggs

08 of 10

3. Sausage Balls

Pimento Cheese Sausage Balls
Anna Theoktisto/Getty Images

As long as we're talking about heavenly bites, we can't ignore the ultimate holiday snack food: sausage balls. These get major points for starting with only a box of Bisquick, cheese, and sausage. You can then customize to make them spicier, more seasoned, or comically more Southern — ever heard of pimiento cheese sausage balls? These never disappoint a crowd and are quite substantial as an appetizer, which lands them very high on the list.

Recipe: Pimiento Cheese Sausage Balls

09 of 10

2. Cheese Straws

Mamau’s Cheese Straws
Robbie Caponetto; Prop Styling: Mary Beth Wetzel; Food Styling: Pam Lolley

Cheese straws can serve many purposes beyond feeding a hungry Southerner. They can settle disputes, comfort a loved one, bring a smile to a kid's face, and even spur someone to fall in love with you. Well, we swear that last one is just a fib our grandmothers used to tell us. These can also appear in many different forms and recipes, but their spirit takes them almost to the top of the list. There's never a dull moment when cheese straws are on the table.

Recipe: Spicy Cheese Straws

10 of 10

1. Pimiento Cheese

Basic Pimiento Cheese
Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Was there ever any other option? This is the king and queen of Southern cuisine. It requires no introduction, and it also demands respect. Every family has their own recipe, but it's safe to say that homemade is practically a requirement. It comes out on top for reasons beyond just being an epic spread of cheesy, creamy deliciousness, but also for its versatility. You can serve it with crackers, melt it into a grilled cheese, throw it on top of a burger, layer it on a tomato sandwich, or just sneak a spoonful straight from the fridge. There's no judgment here.

Recipe: Best-Ever Pimiento Cheese

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