32 Classic Southern Recipes Every Home Cook Should Know By Heart

If you know, you know. If not, bookmark this. There are some recipes to know by heart, and these 32 Southern recipes should be memorized and mastered.

Shrimp and Okra Gumbo
Photo: Southern Living

While there is always room for experimentation in the kitchen, there are some recipes you should know by heart. No cookbook can tell you how much buttermilk to add like your grandmother could. For Southerners, it's like learning the alphabet, starting with "A" for ambrosia all the way to "Z" for zesty lemon pie.

From buttermilk biscuits to skillet cornbread, gumbo to dumplings, these Southern dishes are the basis from which generations of family dinners and holiday feasts alike have been built in the South—and we'll be darned if we ever saw Mama look at a recipe card while making them. Break out that vintage deviled egg tray and prepare the frying oil. We rounded up our favorite Southern recipes that should be memorized and mastered, singling out those that can be easily remembered and tailored on the fly. Below, find the recipes every Southerner should know how to make.

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Mama's Fried Chicken

Mama's Fried Chicken
Southern Living

The best thing about fried chicken? It doesn't ask for much. All you need is a simple coating of seasoned flour after two hours of letting the chicken soak in buttermilk. (That step, however simple, is imperative.) Then, crispy fried perfection.

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Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits
Southern Living

There's really no excuse not to know how to make this three-ingredient recipe that bolsters any blissful Southern breakfast. When in doubt, our classic Buttermilk Biscuits make a delicious base for breakfast.

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Pimiento Cheese

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

Is it really a party without pimiento? We think not. Southerners know that just a few dashes of Worcestershire, or a couple sprinkles of cayenne, make the difference between basic and out-of-this-world.

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Red Beans and Rice

Emily's Red Beans and Rice
Peter Frank Edwards

Louisianan by origin, red beans and rice should be a dinner staple throughout the South. Starting with the same aromatics as most—onion, bell pepper, celery—it's a heavenly free-for-all after that. 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.

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Deviled Eggs

basic deviled eggs
Southern Living

This favorite Southern snack and side doesn't always get the credit it's due. Sure, it's never the star of the spread, but well-seasoned deviled eggs disappear quicker than any casserole. Don't forget the heirloom deviled egg tray.

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Chicken Bog

Chicken Bog
Greg DuPree

You might know this old-fashioned recipe by any number of names, but regardless, it's always a delicious pot full of chicken and rice. At the heart, it calls for cooking rice in chicken stock, adding shredded chicken, and going heavy on the pepper.

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Old-School Squash Casserole

Old-School Squash Casserole
Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

To Southerners, squash casserole is king. As much so as its sibling, the green bean casserole. (Here's our favorite recipe for that.) These are dishes you'll cook your entire life, so why not master them now?

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Red Rice

Red Rice
Victor Protasio, Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Lowcountry cooks have been making red rice for nearly 300 years, a dish that draws primarily from Gullah-Geechee culture. Essentially a pilaf (also known as pilau, perloo, perlou, and so forth), red rice is a regional delicacy that lets you play around with ingredients. Tomatoes are the must-have ingredient!

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Cheese Straws

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

These might be the hallmark of Southern hosting. In fact, a batch of these simple cheese straws can carry an entire party on its back. Learn it, and learn it well.

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Collard Greens

Southern-Style Collard Greens
Jim Franco; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller; Food Styling: Simon Andrews

Collard greens make it easy. Don't separate them from their favorite friends—ham hocks and bacon—and we won't have any problems. Apple cider vinegar, sugar, and garlic give a nice touch.

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Old-Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings

Old-Fashioned Chicken And Dumplings
Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Here's a Mama-approved hack: Use refrigerated piecrust for the dumplings. It's the time-saving tip that'll get chicken and dumplings on the dinner table a little bit faster.

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Skillet Cornbread

Ben Mim's Perfect Cornbread Recipe
Brian Woodcock

A skillet of perfect cornbread will come together every single time if you learn this simple ratio. Browned butter is the extra step that gives this cornbread its "perfect" title.

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Classic Egg Salad

Egg salad finger sandwiches and option for dipping
Peter Frank Edwards

Egg salad is the most nostalgic of spreads. For this recipe, we recommend adding a dab or two of Dijon mustard to the hard-boiled eggs, Duke's, and seasonings. Tack on chicken salad and ham salad to your list, and you'll have mastered the Southern spread trio.

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Chicken-Fried Steak with Gravy

David's Chicken-Fried Steak with Redeye Gravy
Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Annette Joseph

Much like fried chicken, the magic of this Southern classic lies in its humble simplicity. Seasoned, dredged in flour, dipped in egg-milk mixture, and pan-fried in oil—that's about it. Oh, but don't dare forget about the pepper-cream gravy, which is made from the drippings.

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Fried Catfish

Fried Delacata Catfish
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller; Food Styling: Katelyn Hardwick

Frying up fresh catfish is something Southerners do when feeling frisky—or during Lent. Stone-ground cornmeal makes for the crispiest crust you've ever tasted, and hearty seasoning will steer you home.

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Shrimp and Grits

Gulf Coast Shrimp and Grits
Iain Bagwell

The moment that a coast-dwelling Southerner decided to combine creamy grits with fresh shrimp should go down in history. If you've lived in the South long enough, a good pot of grits should basically manifest on command—then layer it with shrimp, bacon, and its dressed-up drippings.

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Chicken Pot Pie

Skillet Chicken and Root Vegetable Potpie
Photo: Jennifer Causey

Chicken pot pie, though comforting and classic, is a little involved. A couple Southern-loved shortcuts? Use biscuit dough for the topping, store-bought if you're in a pinch, and frozen veggies are your friends.

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Brunswick Stew

Smoky Mountain Brunswick Stew
Southern Living

Just like what they say about Kentucky's burgoo: "If it walked, crawled, or flew, it goes in Brunswick stew." Each Southern cook has a secret combination of ingredients, but most agree that corn, butter or lima beans, and tomatoes are essential. There's still debate whether this dish hails from Georgia or Virginia.

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Shout Hallelujah Potato Salad

Candied Jalapeños
Hector Sanchez

Potato salad doesn't like being overwhelmed with ingredients. A simple, no-fail combination: potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, mustard, celery, onion, sweet pickle relish, and, of course, mayo. The rest is personalized seasoning.

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Banana Pudding

Banana Pudding
Jennifer Davick

Though we love our cakes and pies, nothing is easier to know and love than this classic banana pudding. It takes a page straight from grandmother's recipe box. (Note: You can rebel by using that vanilla pudding packet in your pantry.)

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Peach Cobbler

Easy Peach Cobbler
Iain Bagwell; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Peach cobbler is the ultimate classic. Even if you practically burn water on the stove, you can make this easy six-ingredient recipe.

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Death by Chocolate

Death by Chocolate
Micah A. Leal

Layers of moist chocolate cake, milky chocolate pudding, slightly salty chocolate crumbles, and freshly whipped cream make this scoopable dessert (that you'll hear by different names) a fitting companion for any chocolate lover.

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Bourbon Balls

Fudgy Pecan Bourbon Balls Recipe
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Karin Olsen; Food Styling: Kellie Gerber Kelley

This boozy confection is a Southern holiday favorite worth knowing. We'll vouch for any recipe that features one ingredient from the bar cart, while the other three ingredients are gloriously store-bought.

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Million Dollar Pound Cake

Million Dollar Pound Cake

This is as timeless as it gets. A basic pound cake can fit in anywhere from bridal showers to big potlucks. Serve with toppings of your choice, including fruit and whipped cream.

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Shrimp and Okra Gumbo
Southern Living

In the realm of Louisiana cooking, gumbo is many a cook's specialty. A Southern chef can conjure this stew with whatever's on hand—be it Andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, or okra. (Okra is the ideal thickening agent.) The base requires aromatics like onion, bell pepper, and celery. Hot sauce is always appreciated.

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Tomato Sandwich

tomato sandwich halves stacked on top of one another
Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Not that it really even requires a recipe, but every Southern should know how to make this simple sandwich. In the summer, when garden tomatoes are their juiciest, this simple combination of white bread, mayonnaise, tomatoes, salt, and pepper can't be beat.

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Old-School Squash Casserole

Old-School Squash Casserole in a green casserole dish
Photographer: Fred Hardy II, Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall, Props Stylist: Christina Brockman

This classic casserole is a staple across the South that's found on Easter dinner tables, meat-and-three diner menus, and church potlucks alike. It's an easily adaptable and affordable dish that highlights summer's bounty of yellow squash.

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Pan-Fried Okra

Pan-Fried Okra with Cornmeal Recipe
Alison Miksch; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

This essentially two-ingredient side dish is a must-know for any Southern cook. Okra is the beloved vegetable you'll find fried, stewed, sautéed, and roasted in kitchens across the South, but our favorite way is pan-fried with cornmeal in a skillet.

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Easy Chili

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Having a go-to chili recipe is necessary for cold winter nights and football tailgates. While there are plenty of versions of this one-pot dish, whether you prefer beef, chicken, turkey, veggie, or just beans, this basic recipe is the perfect one to always have in your back pocket.

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Soup Beans

Soup Beans

Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

This simple, comforting Appalachian dish that has been passed down for generations starts with pinto beans and is ideally served with cornbread and chow-chow. The best part about this recipe is it's easily tailored on the fly, depending on what's in the pantry.

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Sausage Balls

Sausage Balls
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

From potlucks and parties to bridal shower brunches, these bite-sized snacks are a Southern staple. Every good host knows the crowd-pleasing power of a sausage ball and should know how to whip them up at the drop of a hat.

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Southern Pecan Pie

Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

Fred Hardy; Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

There are quite a few pies we'd deem as Southern classics, but this one easily tops the charts. From holiday parties to neighborly baking, anything with pecans feels ultimately Southern. And once you make made a pecan pie in a cast-iron skillet, you may never go back to a pie plate.

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