The Most Iconic Dish From Every Southern State

Lexington BBQ
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

In the South, we can all agree that buttermilk biscuits should be fluffy, pimiento cheese hand-grated, and iced tea extra sweet. Those, you see, are a few of the non-negotiables of our cuisine. And even though we all unite under these dishes, we still allow certain regions to have their "thing." We know to ask an Appalachian about soup beans, but a Kentuckian about burgoo. Our Nashville neighbors have mastered hot chicken, but we'd never expect them to understand Alabama-style white barbecue sauce. From the Cajun dishes you'll see in Louisiana to the Lowcountry fare you'll find in South Carolina, every state likes to put their own spin on Southern cooking. From the Blue Ridge to the Smokies, from Virginia Beach to 30A, the South is home to a diverse geographic and culinary landscape. Read on for the most famous foods from every Southern state—some just may surprise you.

01 of 17

Alabama: Barbecue Chicken with White Sauce

Half Chicken Plate Big Bob Gibson's
Big Bob Gibson's

The Runner-Up: Boiled Peanuts
State's Best Dessert: Lane Cake

Bob Gibson of Decatur, Alabama is credited with creating this mayonnaise-based sauce all the way back in 1925. Most folks like to serve Alabama white sauce with smoked or grilled chicken, but this Southern condiment goes with just about anything, in our opinion.

Recipe: Alabama White BBQ Sauce

02 of 17

Arkansas: Fried Pickles

Fried Pickle Chips
Alison Miksch

The Runner-Up: Cheese Dip
State's Best Dessert: Chocolate Gravy

Because in this state, you'll find Fatman's Original Fried Dill Pickles. These fried pickles are the first of their kind. And while many (even us in the South) think that chocolate gravy is just a myth, it's not. In fact, it's to be served with warm, flaky biscuits.

Recipe: Fried Pickle Chips

03 of 17

Delaware: Cream Chipped Beef on Toast

Creamed Chipped Beef & Toast on a white plate with blue linen
Photographer: Jen Causey, Prop Stylist: Christine Keely, Food Stylist: Ana Kelly

The Runner-Up: Vinegar Fries
State's Best Dessert: Peach Pie

A creamy, gravy-like white sauce rehydrates dried beef, and the dish is served over plain white toast. You'll still see this recipe as a breakfast item on many diner menus, but it originally started as a U.S. Military staple. (And yes, Delaware is, in fact, considered a Southern state, y'all.)

Recipe: Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast

04 of 17

Florida: Cuban Sandwich

Praline Key Lime Pie
Jennifer Davick

The Runner-Up: Conch Fritters
State's Best Dessert: Key Lime Pie

The Cuban sandwich became a South Florida mainstay after being popular in the communities of Cuban workers located in Key West and Tampa during the 1800s.

Named after the small Key limes you'll find throughout the Florida Keys, Key lime pie can only be considered real-deal when topped with sky-high fluffy meringue.

05 of 17

Georgia: Brunswick Stew

Chicken-and-Brisket Brunswick Stew
Iain Bagwell

The Runner-Up: Red Rice
State's Best Dessert: Peach Cobbler

Brunswick stew is a free-for-all. Each Southern cook has a secret combination of ingredients, but most agree that corn, butter or lima beans, and tomatoes are essential.

Recipe: Chicken-and-Brisket Brunswick Stew

06 of 17

Kentucky: Burgoo

Harry Young’s Burgoo
Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox

The Runner-Up: Kentucky Hot Browns
State's Best Dessert: Apple-Bourbon Pie

The old saying puts it best: "If it walked, crawled, or flew, it goes in burgoo." Meet Brunswick stew's Kentucky cousin, the burgoo.

Recipe: Harry Young's Burgoo

07 of 17

Louisiana: Gumbo

Shrimp-and-Sausage Gumbo
Photo: Iain Bagwell

The Runner-Up: Red Beans and Rice
State's Best Dessert: King Cake

Gumbo is one of those dishes that real Louisiana cooks can conjure with heart and whatever's on hand—and King Cake might be the most festive Southern dessert of all time.

Recipe: Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

08 of 17

Maryland: Crab Cakes

Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes
Southern Living

The Runner-Up: Steamed Crab
State's Best Dessert: Smith Island Cake

This coastal state knows crab. Like, really knows it. So if you're served a Maryland crab cake, count yourself lucky. The Smith Island cake originated on an island along the Chesapeake Bay, and each slice has thin yellow cake layers held together with chocolate icing. (The cake gets stacked anywhere from 8 to 12 layers high.)

Recipe: Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes

09 of 17

Mississippi: Fried Catfish

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

The Runner-Up: Biscuits and Gravy
State's Best Dessert: Mississippi Mud Pie

Frying up fresh catfish is something Mississipians do when feeling frisky—or just whenever. To do it right, serve it on a plate with pickled vegetables, cornbread, and greens.

Recipe: Fried Delacata Catfish

10 of 17

Missouri: Kansas City-Style Barbecue

Kansas City BBQ Sauce
Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Prissy Lee Montiel

The Runner-Up: Hot Salami Sandwich
State's Best Dessert: Gooey Butter Cake

This state hosts its fill of tangy and sweet sauce-glazed ribs and thin-sliced brisket. Tip: Be sure to get "burnt ends" and a side of BBQ beans. And if you've had gooey butter cake before, you already know it deserves a spot on this list.

Recipe: Kansas City BBQ Sauce

11 of 17

North Carolina: Lexington-Style Barbecue

Lexington BBQ
Robbie Caponetto

The Runner-Up: Sweet Potato Casserole
State's Best Dessert: Scuppernong Pie

The finished pork you'll find at the famed Lexington Barbecue is served chopped, sliced, or "coarse chopped"—cut into medium-size chunks—and dressed with the region's signature vinegar-based sauce. The locals refer to it as "dip," and it's tinged red with tomato ketchup.

North Carolina also happens to be the nation's top supplier of sweet potatoes, and the scuppernong is the state fruit.

Recipe: Lexington-Style Grilled Chicken

12 of 17

Oklahoma: Cowboy Steak

Cast-Iron Cowboy Steak
Hector Sanchez

The Runner-Up: Fried Okra
State's Best Dessert: Fried Pies

Just ask Ree Drummond—who happens to live on a bonafide cattle ranch in Oklahoma. This state is the place to get a steak. Whether at a restaurant or by the campfire, a cast-iron "cowboy" steak is the way to go.

Fried okra resides on the state's official meal (who knew?), and Oklahoma has been famous for its fried pies for over 100 years.

Recipe: Cast-Iron Cowboy Steak

13 of 17

South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits

Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits
Iain Bagwell

The Runner-Up: She-Crab Soup
State's Best Dessert: Coconut Cake

South Carolinians in the Lowcountry came up with the genius idea to combine creamy grits with fresh shrimp. Consider us indebted.

And even though Charleston's Peninsula Grill wasn't the first to serve coconut cake, it certainly serves the ultimate one. How ultimate, you might wonder? Try 12 layers of moist, buttery cake held together with fluffy coconut filling.

Recipe: Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits

14 of 17

Tennessee: Nashville Hot Chicken

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack
Robbie Caponetto

The Runner-Up: Memphis-Style BBQ Ribs
State's Best Dessert: Apple Stack Cake

It all started in Nashville in the 1930s with Thornton J. Prince III cheated on his lover. In response, she decided to teach him a lesson by making an incendiary version of fried chicken that she hoped would burn up his mouth. He took one bite and loved it. The rest is a fiery-mouthed history. The orangish red, crispy, incredibly juicy chicken is traditionally served on top of white bread and garnished with dill pickle slices.

15 of 17

Texas: Frito Pie

Frito Pie
Southern Living

The Runner-Up: Chicken-Fried Steak
State's Best Dessert: Texas Sheet Cake

Frito Pie is like a walking Tex-Mex taco that pays homage to the state's signature chili. And heavenly chicken-fried steak is a treasure of Texas.

Recipe: Frito Pie

16 of 17

Virginia: Ham-and-Bean Soup

Ham-and-Bean Soup
Hector Manuel Sanchez

The Runner-Up: Brunswick Stew
State's Best Dessert: Chess Pie

Virginia is known for its salty cured hams, and a bowl of this soup will tell you why. A variation of this hearty ham-and-bean soup has been on the menu in the Senate's restaurant every day since at least 1903.

And funny enough, Brunswick County, Virginia, challenges Brunswick, Georgia, for ownership of Brunswick stew. We're staying mum on the matter.

Recipe: Senate Bean Soup

17 of 17

West Virginia: Soup Beans with Cornbread and Chow Chow

Soup Beans
Sheri Castle

The Runner-Up: Pepperoni Rolls
State's Best Dessert: Shoofly Pie

This is how you know someone is an Appalachian: Ask about soup beans. Because it's no soup, and if they think so you've found a phony. Soup beans are pinto beans that have been simmered with water, salt, pepper, and—if desired—ham. In those parts of the South, it's given that soup beans are served with cornbread and chow chow.

Recipe: Appalachia's Soup Beans, Cornbread, and Chow Chow

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