If you’ve ever been to the South, you know the food down there just hits different. It blends together a variety of different cultures and flavors which makes it all the more special. If you’ve ever wondered which Southern comfort foods are a must-try, we’ve got your back. Here are 15 Southern Comfort Foods You Need To Try Before You Die.
15. Ambrosia Salad
Ambrosia salad was named after the ‘food of the gods’, which was often eaten on Mount Olympus in Greek mythology. It’s a type of fruit salad that was popularized in America as early as the latter part of the 19th century, as we can see in some cookbooks from the time period. The origins of ambrosia are vague, but the South embraced it with open arms, and it has since been considered an honorary Southern dish. And even though it didn’t originate in the South, you’ll find it at just about any Southern potluck. The fun thing about this salad is that there isn’t one recipe that everyone follows: some have mandarin oranges, others include pineapple, bananas, maraschino cherries, and even mini marshmallows! The one thing that everyone agrees on, though, is that for it to be true ambrosia, there needs to be some kind of coconut involved. There can also be mayonnaise, or Greek yogurt, or even whipped cream! Really, it’s all up to whoever is making it!
14. Bananas Foster
In the early 1950s, New Orleans was the major port of entry for bananas shipped from Central and South America. And, what do you do when you have so many bananas lying around? You create a timeless dessert! Owen Brennan, the owner of Brennan’s Restaurant, challenged one of his chefs to create a new banana-themed dessert to promote the imported fruit. And so the Bananas Foster was born. It was named after Richard Foster, a local civic and business leader, and is made by sauteeing bananas in butter, sugar, and cinnamon, and then bathing this concoction in rum. But wait! There’s more! After you add the alcohol, you add the heat, literally. This sweet treat is then set on fire, which effectively burns off the alcohol in the rum, leaving the taste of smoke and a hint of rum. This fiery dessert is usually made right there tableside – kind of like dinner and a show – and it’s usually served over vanilla ice cream. We’ve gotta say, that’s one impressive flaming dessert!
These bad boys are the official state donut of Louisiana and their journey to get there is a long one. Beignets, like ambrosia salad, didn’t originate in the South. They were actually from Ancient Rome. Ancient Romans created scriblita, a type of pastry made of moist dough dipped into boiling animal fat. Later, French cooks took up a similar method, creating choux pastries (doughs that are moist enough to use steam to fluff them up). French settlers brought beignets with them as they migrated to the eastern coast of Canada in a region called Acadia, and then, after a forced migration in the 17th century, many of these Acadians settled in Louisiana (their descendants became known as Cajuns). When they migrated down South, Acadians brought not only their language, but their cuisine as well, and we cannot be more grateful. Today, beignets are most associated with the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, and are just as delicious as before, if not more!
12. Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and Gravy are an American classic. If you’re in the mood for a warm, hearty meal, biscuits and gravy are a perfect choice. This dish is made up of soft, flaky biscuits, which are drowned in white gravy made from pork sausage drippings, milk, and flour. The gravy often includes bits and pieces of breakfast sausage, which gives it some delicious texture, and it’s seasoned with black pepper. While you may know this as a childhood favorite, you might not know that Biscuits and Gravy emerged as a distinct Southern classic after the American Revolutionary war. This is because, when stocks of food and supplies were in short supply, people had to get creative with their meals. Plus, their food had to be cheap, hence the birth of biscuits and gravy. If you want to get your hands on this tasty dish, there are plenty of restaurant chains that specialize in biscuits and gravy, like Biscuitville in North Carolina and Tudor’s Biscuit World in West Virginia. Even McDonald’s got in on the actions, though they limited their biscuit sales to the southeastern United States. But, don’t worry, there are still plenty of restaurants where you can give these treats a try!
11. Boiled Peanuts
Boiled peanuts are a classic Southern road trip snack, and though they may be an acquired taste, Southerners know it’s a real delicacy. Boiled peanuts are freshly harvested, or “green”, nuts that are boiled in their shells in salty water for hours upon hours. This makes the shells turn soft, and the flavor becomes something you can’t find in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. This snack is sold at roadside stands all over the South, where Southerners and tourists alike can enjoy their unique flavor. These pair great with an ice-cold glass of Coca Cola or sweet tea, and are best consumed outdoors. Why? Because then you can easily spit out the soggy shells that are nearly impossible to crack open with your hands. That being said, you can also eat the peanut whole, shell included, but that requires a bit of practice and a little more patience!
10. Bourbon Bread Pudding
Here’s a fun fact: September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, and making yourself some ooey, gooey, chewy bourbon bread pudding is the best way to celebrate! This Southern classic consists of bread soaked in milk with butter, raisins, and other delicious things, all topped with a sauce that’s been sweetened with sugar and spruced up with some fine Kentucky bourbon. The reason this dish is around is because of frugal cooks not wanting to waste their stale bread. However, in the 19th century, this was frowned upon; cookbooks from back then usually classified bread pudding under the heading “Invalid Cookery”. It seems as though most people disagree with that, though, because Bourban Bread Pudding grew to be a staple of Southern cuisine. This is probably because bread pudding is wonderful comfort food that is sure to warm you on a rainy day. Plus, the bourbon makes it even better. We’ll always have bread and Bourbon Street.
9. Brunswick Stew
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the origins of this delicious stew. On one hand, there’s a plaque on an iron pot. This twenty-five-gallon black iron pot is affixed to a stone base and looks quite intimidating indeed. It’s located in Mary Ross Waterfront Park in downtown Brunswick, and the inscription on it reads, “In this pot, the first Brunswick Stew was made on St. Simon Isle July 2, 1898.” However, there aren’t just one of these pots: there are two, which means the claim is understandably suspect. The inscription on the second pot, placed at the southbound rest area on I-95, reads, “The first Brunswick stew was made here in the Brunswick Golden Isles area in early colonial days. It remains an American favorite.” Additionally, there’s a third story, one that claims a Virginia state legislator’s chef invented the recipe in 1828 on a hunting expedition. Well, wherever it actually came from, this hearty, tomato-based stew is extremely popular in the South, and it features lima beans, corn, and other vegetables, along with some variation of meat. The soup base also includes barbecue sauce and some hot sauce, to spice it up a little. Earlier versions of this stew used squirrel meat, but nowadays, it can be rabbit, chicken, or anything you have in your fridge. Despite its complicated history, this stew remains Southern favorite.
This dish is similar to Irish stew and is often served in the midwest as well as the southern part of the United States. Burgoo is often made with at least three different types of meat, the most common being pork, chicken, mutton, or beef – often hickory-smoked. It’s also chock-full of vegetables like lima beans, corn, okra, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes, and has a thick, spicy base. It pairs perfectly with cornbread and is often eaten at large gatherings in places like Kentucky, at events such as Derby Day parties. That being said, burgoo makes for a great family meal any time of the year, so don’t wait for an special occasion to try it! We swear you won’t regret it
7. Buttermilk Pound Cake
It turns out that adding some buttermilk to your pound cake recipe can make a real difference. This is because buttermilk will bring a pleasant tang to not only your cakes, but also your bread, biscuits, and other things, while also adding very little fat. It gives your recipe that extra acidity that helps round out the flavor profile. In the South, this pound cake is usually made in a bundt or tube pan. It’s sliced thickly and drizzled with a perfectly sweet buttermilk custard sauce. The result? A moist, delicious cake that’s made even better by its sauce. There are different variations of this recipe, with some people adding fresh berries and cream to top it all off, but even without the extra goodness, buttermilk pound cake is the closest any of us will come to perfection.
6. Fried Catfish
Noodling is the practice of fishing for catfish using your bare hands, and it’s pretty common in the southern United States. But what do you do once you’ve caught your catfish? Well, you fry it of course! This surprisingly healthy fish is easy to prepare: you dip it in milk, dredge it in seasoned cornmeal, and fry it in hot oil. It only takes a few minutes to get it golden brown on the outside and wonderfully flaky on the inside. Once it’s cooked, add a drop of lemon and a side of rice, and congrats, you’ve got a staple Southern meal that will keep your belly full! If you don’t want to go out and catch your own catfish, this dish is offered at most Southern restaurants. You might also be able to find some fresh fish at your local grocery store. You don’t have any excuse anymore to not try this delicious fish dish!
5. Chicken and Dumplings
For a truly comforting meal, there’s nothing like a bowl of chicken and dumplings. If you’re not in the South, you can find this meal at almost any restaurant or diner, or you can try to make these at home by simply dropping biscuit dough into cooking soup! That being said, even though making these isn’t difficult, it definitely takes some practice, because making dumplings is a kind of artform. You don’t want to undercook your dumplings, because they get all soppy on the inside, but you also don’t want them to be so overcooked that they start falling apart in the broth. Once you think they’re done cooking, stick a toothpick in it. If it comes out clean, you’re good to go!
4. Chicken Fried Steak
Chicken-fried steak, also called country-fried steak, is a batter, pan-fried steak dish popular in the South. The meat is usually a tenderized cube steak, and it’s dipped in a milk or egg wash, covered in seasoned flour, and fried in a skillet. It’s served drowning in a creamy gravy, which is traditionally made with pan drippings. This dish is commonly believed to have originated in Texas, as the product of German and Austrian immigrants who adapted the dish from a wiener schnitzel, which is similarly cooked but uses veal and breadcrumbs. While you can make this yourself, why not head down to Lulu’s Cafe in San Antonio, where they serve a 21-ounce version of the steak? Lulu’s is also home to the famous 3-pound cinnamon roll, so you know you’ll have plenty of leftovers to take home!
3. Chicken Gizzards
Chicken gizzards are typically served at Super Bowl parties or any other good ol’ Southern get-together. If you serve gizzards instead of wings, believe it or not, your guests will thank you. There are plenty of ways to cook this classic, but they’re most often boiled and then coated like fried chicken before deep frying. Gizzards are basically an organ found in the digestive tract of the chicken. I know, it doesn’t sound like the most appetizing thing ever, but believe us, in this case, you just have to trust the process. Just don’t think about where the gizzards come from, and you’ll have a delicious snack for your next party, southern style!
2. Chicken Pot Pie
Chicken is an ingredient that makes the Southern cooking world go round. Chicken pot pie is such an iconic comfort food that it’s gone beyond the South and landed in kitchens all over the country. A good chicken pot pie simply can’t be beaten. That being said, making a good chicken pot pie is a challenge in and of itself. Creating that flaky, golden crust, the moist chicken, and the just-right vegetable ratio is a huge challenge, which means that when you get a good chicken pot pie, it really is a good chicken pot pie. There are plenty of fantastic Southern restaurants around the country that can make a mean chicken pot pie, but if you want to challenge yourself, you can try your hand at making one yourself. You can get recipes from your grandma, a cookbook, or even online, so there are plenty of options to choose from! That being said, it’s probably going to be a lot of trial and error, with mushy vegetables, dry chicken, and gummy crust, so you better get practicing!
If you’ve never lived down South before, you probably haven’t had the opportunity to try chitlins. While this Southern delicacy is actually called ‘chitterlings’, you’ll find that most people down South have shortened it to chitlins. Chitlins represent the timeless Southern ideology of using everything you’ve got. And when we say everything, we mean everything. This classic comfort food is made out of the large intestines of hogs, though they need to be carefully cleaned and prepared before consumption, for obvious reasons. This dish represents the saying ‘want not, waste not’, and there are plenty of examples of it in other cultures as well (the Haggis of Scotland, or the Isaw of the Philippines, to name a few). They’re typically soaked in baking soda and water, rinsed multiple times, turned inside out, and then carefully cleaned by hand before being left to boil for several hours. Unfortunately, they smell absolutely horrible when they’re boiling, so some people put onion and lemon in the water to make the stench more bearable. After they’re boiled, you batter and deep fry them, then serve it with hot sauce. Boom, you’ve got your very own classic Southern dish!