What Are Hush Puppies Exactly?

And why are they called that?

Part fritter, part dumpling, with a smidge of croquette thrown in for good measure, hush puppies are one of those deceptively simple Southern foods that pack a satisfying mouthful of flavor and texture into a perfectly-sized, bite-sized package. And whether you dunk yours in spicy remoulade or slather them with honey butter, it’s hard to stop until the basket is empty.

But don’t despair if you have a few left: Unlike most fried foods, hush puppies reheat pretty well, even in the microwave. You’ll lose the crunch, but in my opinion, a leftover hush puppy is better than no hush puppy at all.

Easy Hush Puppies

Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

What Are Hush Puppies?

At their most basic, these golden orbs of crunchy goodness are deep fried blobs of cornmeal batter. Some cooks add a dash of chopped or grated onion; others a bit of sugar. Either way, the crust is all sandy crunch; the steamy interior is soft and moist.

They’re best hot, but, even as they cool down and the paper towel turns transparent with grease, they’re still pretty good. 

The Secrets to Great Hush Puppies

Remarkably, hush puppies are sometimes served free, like white bread at a barbecue joint or at fried seafood palaces.

That’s where Adam Kirby, chef and partner at Bistro 217 in Pawleys Island, South Carolina tasted his first hush puppy. "I was a kid, so it was the only thing on the table that I’d eat at that point," he laughs. "They were sweet and crunchy and delicious."

These days, Kirby mixes up his hush puppy batter with a grated Vidalia onion, a bit of Cheddar cheese, and a hint of fresh jalapeño. They arrive at the table just the right shade of gold, with homemade comeback sauce and lots of napkins.

"The difference between a great hush puppy and a good one is in the details,” he explains. “The batter needs to be thick enough to hold its shape, but not like a biscuit. You want to keep them on the small side, too. I use about an ounce and a half of batter and fry them at 325°F to keep them from getting too dark. In the end, you want a little salt, a little sweet, and even a little grease to round it out.”

Why Are They Called Hush Puppies?

Though making—and eating—hush puppies is pretty straightforward, their origin story, like that of Frogmore stew, red-eye gravy, and so many of our favorite Southern dishes, is anything but.

They’ve been linked to dogs (“hush, puppies"), batter-coated fried salamanders (oh no!), and even Civil War soldiers.

One story links them to Romeo Govan, a formerly enslaved man who, after the Civil War, opened a successful fish camp on the Edisto River in South Carolina near what is now Bamberg and served tasty fried nuggets of what was likely leftover fish fry batter. Since Govan often served a variety of local fish called River Red Horse, he called his popular creation red horse bread.

Unfortunately, for Govan, around the same time he was frying up batches of his famous morsels, other cooks were doing the same thing, giving them names like “festivals” in Jamaica and, somewhere, hush puppies. Which is what stuck.

hush puppies in a paper towel-lined baking pan
Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

What To Serve With Hush Puppies

You'll find hush puppies most commonly served at seafood restaurants and bbq stops. That puts it squarely as a side dish for Southern favorites like:

Hush Puppies Recipes

Now that you're craving a few balls of fried batter, here are our best recipes:

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