Our Favorite Southern Food

These 39 traditional Southern food recipes will satisfy your craving for comfort.

By SAVEUR Editors

Published on May 22, 2020

Anyone who grew up in the American South can attest to the region’s prowess with calories-be-damned comfort food. Nobody does fried chicken, biscuits, or barbecue better. Below the Mason-Dixon, even pious fresh produce—okra, collards, tomatoes—often tastes like original sin. And while some traditional Southern food recipes persist from state to state, it ain’t all pimento cheese and grits down here.

Only Louisiana can lay claim to authentic Cajun and Creole cooking. The Lone Star State owns Tex-Mex. Hoppin John and benne wafers belong to Charleston, South Carolina. Barbecue? Depends on whether you take your pork Carolina or Memphis style.

It’s impossible to make a list of Southern food classics without including a dessert or three. And this compendium of our best Southern food recipes will help you turn out a flawless hummingbird cake, chocolate chess pie, or gallon of peach ice cream. We dare you to diet.

Our Readers’ Favorite Fried Chicken Recipe

Simply seasoned and fried, with a thin, crisp coating and tender, juicy meat, the fried chicken at Martha Lou's Kitchen is some of the best we've ever tasted. Get the recipe for Our Readers' Favorite Fried Chicken Recipe »

Super-Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits With Honey Butter

This honey butter-topped biscuit recipe, from Jean-Paul Bourgeois, executive chef at Blue Smoke in New York City, earned first prize in the 2017 Charleston Food & Wine Festival's Battle of the Biscuits. High-quality dairy—and high-fat dairy—are two of chef Bourgeois' tricks to making them extra-special. Look for either high-fat buttermilk or a higher fat, European-style butter, which make for a more delicate, flakier texture. Get the recipe for Super-Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits With Honey Butter »

Garlicky Skillet Greens with Ham

Garlic confit, a silky, spreadable condiment, relies on a French technique for gently poaching peeled whole cloves in oil or fat. The process caramelizes the cloves and draws out their sweetness, yielding a sumptuous spread. We love to use it in dishes like these skillet-cooked greens from Linton Hopkins, chef and owner of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, which feature garlic confit and a piquant sorghum gastrique. Get the recipe for Garlicky Skillet Greens with Ham »

Southern Tomato Pie

As soon as the first tomato blossom turns into a tiny green orb, people start calling Kinston restaurant Chef & the Farmer to find out if tomato pie is on the menu. If you have access to two different colors of tomatoes, combine them here—one for the roasted portion and another for the fresh. It's a nice visual touch. Get the recipe for Southern Tomato Pie »

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Pecan Cream Cake

Packed with coconut and pecans and covered in cream cheese frosting, this cake is a specialty of Georgia home cook Cile Ellis. It first appeared in our November 2013 issue with Wendell Brock's story Southern Belle. Get the recipe for Pecan Cream Cake »

Biscuits with Sawmill Gravy

One of the pillars of the Southern breakfast table, buttery biscuits smothered in a sausage-studded white gravy makes a hearty meal any time of day. A hint of cayenne brightens the gravy's richness, but it's even better with a dash or two of hot sauce. Get the recipe for Biscuits with Sawmill Gravy »

Nashville Hot Chicken

The secret to Nashville's famous hot chicken is in the layering: The bird is marinated in a spicy buttermilk brine, then dredged with more flour and spice, double-fried, and finally slathered with a fiery butter paste to create a crunchy, peppery coating. One bite into its burnished orange crust reveals first a tangy crunch, and then a deeper, complex spice that leaves a lingering fire behind. Adjust the heat by adding as much—or as little—cayenne as you like. Get the recipe for Nashville Hot Chicken »

Hush Puppies

These crisp-fried cornmeal balls are traditionally served alongside fried fish and tartar sauce in the Deep South. Get the recipe for Hush Puppies »

Maison Premiere Gumbo

This seafood gumbo from Brooklyn's Maison Premiere features smokey andouille sausage, seared shrimp, oysters, and crab. Maison Premiere Gumbo »

Pimento Cheese Sandwich with Homemade Pickles

John Bates and Brandon Martinez of Noble Sandwich Co. in Austin, Texas, add sriracha to their chunky pimento cheese recipe in this sandwich, upping the spice factor and helping to offset the creaminess of the cheddar. The spread is so good, Bates recommends slathering it on everything from romaine spears to crackers. Get the recipe for Pimento Cheese Sandwich with Homemade Pickles »

Chocolate Chess Pie with Cornbread Crumble

Chef Scott Crawford of the forthcoming Nash Tavern in Raleigh updates the simple Southern custard pie by adding cacao nibs to the butter crust and sprinkling a nutty cornbread crumble on top. Get the recipe for Chocolate Chess Pie with Cornbread Crumble »

Blueberry Barbecue Chicken

Similar to a shrub—a fruit syrup punctuated by vinegar—this blueberry sauce makes a bracing drink when mixed with club soda or booze. It's also the first step in a fruity vinaigrette and is a perfect glaze on oven-baked chicken. Keep in mind this is not a marinade. Brush it on toward the end of cooking and let the chicken soak up more of the sauce before serving. The final soak is key. Get the recipe for Blueberry Barbecue Chicken »

Alabama-Style Chicken Sandwiches with White Sauce

A recipe for hickory-smoked chicken sandwiches served with tangy, mayonnaise-based white sauce originated in 1925, when railway worker Big Bob Gibson dug a pit in his backyard in Decatur, Alabama, nailed a plank-oak serving table to a sycamore tree, and started smoking barbecue for friends, co-workers, and passersby. His popular recipe eventually spread to barbecue joints throughout the region. What distinguishes this dish is a creamy sauce that bastes and dresses the chicken. This recipe first appeared in our June/July 2011 BBQ issue along with our story Classic 'Cues. Get the recipe for Alabama-Style Chicken Sandwiches with White Sauce »

Cajun Seafood Boil

This spicy boil is inspired by one served at Charlie's Seafood in Harahan, Louisiana. This recipe first appeared in our April 2013 special feature on New Orleans. Get the recipe for Cajun Seafood Boil »

Country Ham With Red-Eye Gravy and Grits

It takes longer to determine the origin of red-eye gravy's name than it does to make it. Some Southerners believe that the gravy takes its name from a man's red-rimmed eyes in the morning or from the reddish hue of certain country hams. Others swear that the name comes from the red-tinted layer of fat that forms on the surface of the gravy. Get the recipe for Country Ham With Red-Eye Gravy and Grits »

Char-Smoked Baby Back Ribs

"Using a chargrill and smoke combo, you can create this really soulful, comforting flavor pretty easily," says chef Sean Brock of Husk and McCrady's in Charleston, South Carolina. After getting a nice crust on these ribs, Brock converts his grill into a smoker and finishes the meat low-and-slow in a cocoon of smoke, which gently breaks down the meat. Cooking note: Please allow time for overnight brining. Get the recipe for Char-Smoked Baby Back Ribs »

Hot Milk Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

Scalded milk produces a moist texture in this simple dessert, an ivory-hued cake that's so straightforward it's often referred to, even in vintage cookbooks, as "old-fashioned." Made right, as it is at Dr. Ho's in North Garden, Virginia, with a fluffy white crumb and an uncomplicated buttercream frosting, it is tender and egg-rich—a mother's-hug Dixie treat. This recipe first appeared in our October 2014 issue with the story Best of the Blue Ridge. Get the recipe for Hot Milk Cake with Vanilla Buttercream »

Pork Rind Oysters

Roosters are an oyster bar standard made up of a single saltine topped with an oyster, horseradish, and several slices of jalapeño. The tradition: You shoot one back, grimace, chase it with a beer, and before you know it, you've eaten a dozen and got a T-shirt to prove it. This is not that. This tastes good. Instead of something you'd eat only after partying a bit, this version is an adept way to start a party. Get the recipe for Pork Rind Oysters »

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich with Jalapeño Slaw

The chicken in this sandwich, from Alison Barakat of Bakesale Betty in Oakland, gets dredged once in buttermilk and twice in flour, which ensures a crisp coating. Add the crunchy, spicy jalapeño slaw right before serving. Get the recipe for Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich with Jalapeño Slaw »

Dirty Rice

Pecans, chicken livers, and vegetables add layers of flavor to wild rice in this recipe from Food Editor Ben Mims. Get the recipe for Dirty Rice »

Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Salad

Chef Mason Hereford rarely leaves a country store without a haul of fried chicken. With the leftovers, he often makes this salad, a jumble of sweet potato, celery, and chopped pickles tossed in a lemon- and hot-sauce-spiked dressing anchored by plenty of Duke's brand mayonnaise. Get the recipe for Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Salad »

Pecan Cheese Wafers

Pecans lightly brushed with egg whites are baked into cheesy, buttery wafers with a touch of chile flakes. Get the recipe for Pecan Cheese Wafers »

Hummingbird Cake

This hummingbird cake honors the legacy of the Southern cook Edna Lewis. The luscious, fruit-and-nut-studded layer cake is served in Atlanta's Watershed restaurant; the recipe first appeared in Christiane Lauterbach's feature about the restaurant, which ran in our April 2009 issue. Get the recipe for Hummingbird Cake »

Cornbread Coffee Cake with Fresh Figs and Walnut Streusel

Southern chef Vivian Howard developed this cake with breakfast in mind, maybe something to share with family over coffee. But when she first made it, her kids named it corn-candy cake and called for it after supper. She obliged and put some whipped cream on top. Whenever you choose to eat it, feel good about baking it a day ahead. It keeps beautifully and is as satisfying at room temperature as it is warm. Get the recipe for Cornbread Coffee Cake with Fresh Figs and Walnut Streusel »

Redfish on the Half Shell with Creamy Grits

Grilling fish skin-side-down with scales still attached protects the delicate meat and insulates it from the heat, resulting in perfectly tender flesh. Get the recipe for Redfish on the Half Shell with Creamy Grits »

Peach Ice Cream

Sweet, pale orange ice cream flavored with ripe, juicy peaches simply screams summer. Get the recipe for Peach Ice Cream »

Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies

At Lillie's Q, hushpuppies—little cornbread fritters you could eat like popcorn—get a dose of zesty pimento cheese for extra richness. Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies »

Green Chili Grits

For soft, creamy, and flavorful grits, chef Harold Marmulstein of Austin's Salty Sow cooks his low and slow, then adds a rich, spicy, bright-green purée of chiles and cilantro. Get the recipe for Green Chili Grits »

Spicy Pickled Okra

This lightly spicy recipe adapted from Jacob Clark of Brooklyn's Maison Premiere makes the perfect, puckery bar snack. The okra can also be a satisfying garnish for Bloody Marys. Get the recipe for Spicy Pickled Okra »

Watermelon Rind Pickles

Even when summer gets away from us at the restaurant and we're not able to pickle and preserve the heck out of everything in our path, we somehow find a way to make these pickles: It feels good to make something translucent and crispy out of stuff that's potentially trash. That's one reason we go to the trouble. The other is that they're a pork chop's soul mate. Use a vegetable peeler to peel a whole watermelon—it's easier than slicing it up first. Get the recipe for Watermelon Rind Pickles »

Turtleback Cookies

Traeger's Bakery in Demopolis, Alabama first popularized these soft spice cookies, which are named for their hard cinnamon glaze that glistens like a glossy turtle shell. Get the recipe for Turtleback Cookies »

Chicken and Dumplings

Think of the dumplings in this classic comfort food as buttermilk biscuits that are steamed instead of baked—they’re cooked right on top of the chicken until light and fluffy. Get the recipe for Get the recipe for Chicken and Dumplings »

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Sweet Potato These sweet spiced pancakes are adapted from the recipe served at the Arcade Restaurant in historic Downtown Memphis. Get the recipe for Sweet Potato Pancakes »

Shrimp and Grits

A classic Lowcountry breakfast dish, shrimp and grits also makes a splendid easy supper. Get the recipe for Shrimp and Grits

Chile con Queso

This classic Tex-Mex dip comes from Lisa Fain (a.k.a. The Homesick Texan). With both serrano chiles and jalapeños, the dip has a bright spiciness that cuts through the richness of two cheeses. The tangy sour cream added at the end brings it over the top. Get the recipe for Chile con Queso »


Though Tex-Mex-style fajitas are unknown in Mexico, grilled skirt steak is eaten with tortillas in Nuevo Leon, under the name arrachera al carbon. Get the recipe for Fajitas »

Lexington Pulled Pork

In Lexington, North Carolina, pork shoulder is chopped and served with a tart tomato-based sauce. Get the recipe for Lexington Pulled Pork »

Sweet Benne Wafers

Adapted from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen cookbook, these tuile-like cookies are crunchy, light, and airy with a delicate nuttiness from toasted sesame seeds. Get the recipe for Sweet Benne Wafers »

Hoppin’ John (Black-Eyed Peas and Rice)

Sandra McCray, the owner of Dave's Seafood Carry-Out, riffs on this classic dish of rice and peas by adding cumin, coriander, and other spices. She uses field peas, but black-eyed peas are a more traditional choice. Get the recipe for Hoppin' John (Black-Eyed Peas and Rice)»

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