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Cuisine of the Southern United States

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Southern food is one of the highlights of American cuisine, with home style cooking at its core. From fried chicken to macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and collard greens, the southern United States is home to a variety of unique foods and flavors and some of the quintessential American meals. Many dishes have become associated with comfort food, since they are hearty and remind many people of their childhood or family. Despite being considered somewhat unhealthy, featuring many fried foods, these dishes have become a large part of the cultural identity of the South.

Meat, especially pork, is central to Southern cuisine. Many varieties of pork are Southern favorites, including country hams, pulled pork, sausage, and bacon. Pigs grew in popularity in the South because they are inexpensive and easy to raise. Chicken is another meat commonly eaten in Southern food, served fried or barbecued. This region’s seafood specialties include catfish and shellfish like shrimp and crawfish, which are found around the Gulf and Atlantic Coast.

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Meat and Three

The meat and three is a typical Southern-style meal consisting of at least one kind of meat and a choice of three sides. Many restaurants around the southern United States serving meat and three refer to the sides as vegetables, though many of them are not actually vegetable. Common sides are mashed potatoes, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and fried okra. Meat options typically include beef brisket, pulled pork, fried catfish, and fried chicken. Restaurants serving cafeteria-style meat and three also include cornbread or biscuits with the meal, along with the classic Southern beverage, sweet tea. To make sweet tea, sugar is added to tea while it is hot, then the tea is chilled and served over ice, whereas iced tea is served unsweetened.

Soul Food

Soul food is a large part of Southern cooking, which originated in what is known as the Deep South. Soul food consists of traditional African American dishes, with influences extending back to early European contact with Africa. Many foods that are considered soul food are the result of combining African cuisine with the availability of foods in America, influenced by the Europeans that held them captive as slaves and the local Native Americans. Though many African foods were brought to America during the transatlantic trade, like okra, the enslaved Africans learned to make use of the foods they were given, which included discarded foods, such as greens (tops) of vegetables like turnips and beets, and parts of animals that were not normally eaten, including pigs feet, chitlins (pig intestines), tripe, and ears. The New Year’s holiday meal in the Soul Food tradition includes black-eyed peas, pigs feet, and chitlins, which are said to bring luck and prosperity.


Native American influences are present in Southern food, especially in regards to the incorporation of indigenous plants and animals, like corn. Corn can be found in many forms in Southern cuisine, such as cornbread, hominy, grits, and hush puppies. Grits are made of hominy (corn) ground and made into a porridge. Grits are usually served for breakfast, when they are flavored with butter, sugar, or even syrup. Grits can also be served as a dinner side, especially when cheese is added to make cheese grits, and a common side for shrimp.

Desserts of the South

 The native fruits and vegetables of the South contributed to the dessert specialties of the South, which include peach and berry cobblers and sweet potato pie. MoonPies are a dessert snack first created in Tennessee in 1917 as a portable snack for miners, that have become a classic piece of Southern culture. Marshmallow cream sandwiched between graham cracker cookies, dipped in chocolate make up this snack, which was served alongside RC Cola (another Southern specialty) as a typical treat for laborers in the early 1900s.

Divinity is sweet nougat made of egg whites, corn syrup, sugar, and usually pecans or dried fruit which forms a type of white fudge. Generally considered a Southern treat, Divinity has roots in ancient Turkey, but the American version was created in the early twentieth century.