The Most Iconic Dish from Every Southern State
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. Read on for the most famous foods from every Southern state—some just may surprise you.
We Can Thank Each Southern State for These Iconic Dishes
Alabama: Barbecue Chicken with White Sauce
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
Arkansas: Fried Pickles
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
Delaware: Cream Chipped Beef on Toast
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
Florida: Cuban Sandwich
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.
Georgia: Brunswick Stew
Maryland: Crab Cakes
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.)
Mississippi: Fried Catfish
Missouri: Kansas City-Style Barbecue
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.
North Carolina: Lexington-Style Barbecue
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
Oklahoma: Cowboy Steak
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
South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits
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: Southern Shrimp and Grits
Tennessee: Nashville Hot Chicken
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.
Texas: Chicken-Fried Steak
This heavenly chicken-fried creation deserves to be dubbed the national treasure of Texas. As for the runner-up, Frito Pie is like a walking Tex-Mex taco that pays homage to the state's signature chili.
Recipe: Traditional Chicken-Fried Steak
Virginia: Ham-and-Bean Soup
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
West Virginia: Soup Beans with Cornbread and Chow Chow
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: Ben Mims' Perfect Cornbread