Why Southerners Will Always Love a Cold Plate

Cold suppers have been a staple in Southern kitchens and hearts for decades.

Summer weather in the South is divided into two categories: sweltering and barely bearable. On unbelievably hot and humid days, you can count on Southerners to have several strategies for keeping cool. From oscillating fans to cooling sheets, we’re full of tricks and tips. But one of our favorite heat-beating inventions doesn’t require batteries or fancy technology at all. It’s the cold plate, also known as a cold supper.

This old-school treat has been around since the days of department store cafes and pharmacy lunch counters, but it's not going anywhere anytime soon. The cold plate is and will remain a staple in Southern kitchens and hearts for generations to come. The no-cook meal combines a few of our favorite things—classic protein salads, fresh produce, and a few pickled components—into one treasured tradition that can instantly turn a miserably hot day into a cause for celebration.

Homemade Chicken Salad

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

What Is A Cold Plate?

Consensus is that cold plates got their start in Newfoundland. Every Sunday night, families took the leftover meat from their weekend roast (ham, turkey, chicken, etc.) and served it cold alongside an array of potato salads and coleslaws. Nowadays, the meal isn’t served quite as often, but it always turns up for major holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.

The Southern adaptation of a cold plate isn’t much different. In ours, we wrap that protein into a mayonnaise-based salad, and give diners a choice of three or four ice cream scoop-sized portions. Think tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, and even pimento cheese. The salads come paired with a stack of crackers—be they fancy water crackers or buttery Captain’s Wafers. Then, the rest of the plate is occupied by an assortment of produce—sweet and savory, fresh and preserved. There may be a nice bunch of grapes, a couple slices of melon, and a hunk of juicy homegrown tomato. Sometimes briny pickled okra and green beans make it onto the plate. And if you’re lucky, you might find a deviled egg tucked into the mix.

When Should I Eat A Cold Plate?

Though a cold plate can be served at any time of day and during any time of the year, our recommendation is to wait until the heat of summer, on a day when you suspect your 15-year-old air conditioning unit might finally call it quits. Fix yourself a giant glass of sweet tea, and have an early cold plate supper on your front porch or back deck. Bonus points if you’ve got a ceiling fan buzzing overhead and lightning bugs flickering in the yard.  

Cold Plate Recipes

Ready to embark on your own cold supper journey? Here are some tried-and-true recipes, plus a few that are a little more unexpected, to get you started.

Homemade Chicken Salad

Let this Southern favorite anchor your cold plate. If you’re looking to switch things up a bit, try these variations for Curry Chicken Salad or Chicken Salad with Grapes and Pecans.

Southern Living Curry Chicken Salad in lettuce cups on a tray to serve

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

Basic Pimiento Cheese

This plus a sleeve of Saltines could easily be our entire meal, but adding a demure scoop to a cold plate means we’ll have plenty left over for lunch tomorrow.

Southern Living Basic Pimento Cheese in a bowl to serve with crackers and vegetables

Fred Hardy; Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey; Prop Stylist: Caleb Clarke

Marinated Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion Salad

When your garden beds are overflowing with summer crop, this is the perfect way to enjoy your bounty.

Marinated Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion Salad

Creamy Cucumber Salad

Not a fan of tomato? First, bless your heart. Second, try this recipe that pairs crisp cucumber with a creamy dressing of mayonnaise, sour cream, and a little vinegar.  

Creamy Cucumber Salad With Dill
Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living

Persian Salad Olivieh

For Southerners who always add boiled eggs to their potato salad, this recipe is for you. We adore this mashup of potato salad, egg salad, and chicken salad.

Southern Living Persian Salad Olivieh (Persian Chicken Salad) on a platter to serve

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

Broccoli, Grape, and Pasta Salad

The surprising combo of red grapes and broccoli make for one addictive pasta salad.

Broccoli, Grape, and Pasta Salad

Jennifer Davick

Our Best Deviled Eggs Recipe

We’ll always make room on our cold plate for a couple deviled eggs.

Our Best Deviled Eggs

Stacy K. Allen, Food Stylist: Torie Cox, Prop Stylist: Shell Royster

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