Daily Meal Staff Reveals 'Classic' American Dishes They've Never Tried—And Why

Even though we at Daily Meal consider ourselves experts in our field, it seems that all of us have at least one big, glaring omission when it comes to those quintessential "classic" American foods that apparently everyone else has already tried. Yes, food might be our trade, but everyone has blind spots — even culinary greats. (Don't take our word for it: Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself, only just drank her first-ever martini this year in 2023, and if accounts are to be believed, food writer Julie Powell didn't try an egg for the first time until she was well into adulthood.)  So it's no surprise that this is the case for us, too.

Before we go further, we definitely know that what is considered part of the pantheon of American food is ever-shifting. Trying to define exactly what "American" food actually is might be a thrilling and complex project, but those factors of history, cultural background, and heritage are in turn why some of us grew up eating a lifetime's worth of spinach kugel, or moussaka, or adalu — but not tuna casserole. Conversely, it could be something a bit more simple: personal taste or dietary guidelines, or even something as simple as location. Keeping this in mind, we asked our writers what "classic" American foods they have never tried, why, and if they'll ever take a bite out of that slice of key lime pie or chicken fried steak someday. 

Corn dogs—Haldan Kirsch

I've never eaten a corn dog. Yes, the fried hot dog on a stick has never graced my palette, and I have no regrets or plans to change that.

From what I can tell, the big draw of a corn dog is the combination of crispy fried cornbread, and juicy hot dog. Those are just two things I prefer to enjoy separately. If I want fried food, especially at a state fair or ball game where these things are best enjoyed, I'd go for chicken tenders, french fries, or a funnel cake. And if I want a hot dog, then I want all the toppings that come with it. As the great people of Chicago know, hot dogs are best when given the works — and you just can't load a corn dog up with sauerkraut, pickles, or other toppings.

It could also just boil down to cultural differences. The original corn dogs were invented by German sausage makers that went west to Texas and found there wasn't much interest in their standard dogs with the fried cornmeal breading. However, I grew up in central Pennsylvania (otherwise known as Pennsylvania Dutch territory) alongside the descendants of those German immigrants who enjoyed their sausages with breading. More importantly, this Pennsylvanian region is Sheetz gas station territory, where at the time I grew up, you could get two hot dogs for a dollar. This was the fixture of many quick meals and snacks throughout my childhood, and corn dogs were never really on the menu.

New England clam chowder—Camryn Teder

While I do consider myself a pretty adventurous eater, there's an exception for me when it comes to seafood. It's not that I have an aversion to the category as a whole. Indeed, indulging in a bowl of low country boil is one of my favorite parts of living in the South.

All that being said, I don't normally go seeking out a lone plate of shellfish. The oysters and clams of the world have simply never appealed to me; with their soft, briny contents concealed inside a shell, I have to admit that I prefer the kind of seafood whose oceanic origins aren't so obvious. (For example, I like fish after it's sizzled on a hot grill or rolled in a smattering of spices.) Even so, it's true that I haven't been very fair to clams — I've always seen them as a stand-alone dish. Recently, however, I've found they don't have to be. It's why I'm dying to try some New England clam chowder.

Something akin to potato soup, this chowder seems like a way to eat clams that I could truly get behind. With the salty, nutty flavors of the mollusk bringing an edge to familiar flavors of bacon and butter, this is a meal I could potentially devour. Growing up in the South, I haven't had enough exposure to this Northeastern dish to seek it out before, but it seems like the perfect compromise for the kind of seafood eater that I am: Someone that prefers seafood when it acts as an integral element of a really well-rounded dish.

Chicken fried steak—Crystal Antonace

There is one traditional American meal I still can't bring myself to try -– one that includes tougher pieces of steak that are breaded, fried, and served with white gravy. Chicken fried steak, which has long been considered a Southern comfort dish, has never really appealed to my taste buds. While I do enjoy traditional fried chicken and I love rich homemade gravy (preferably with turkey), there is something unappealing to me about breaded beef drenched in a cream-based sauce.

It's possible that my heritage tenuously connects me to chicken fried steak in some way. There are a few theories on where this classic American staple originated, ranging from Italian to Austrian to German citizens who traveled to America in the late 19th century. I myself am Italian (or rather, Sicilian), and although I am not a stranger to breaded chicken cutlets, breaded veal or steak was not a common meal served in my childhood home. I also grew up in the Northeast and eventually moved to Chicago, where the most comforting meal for me was a thick slice of deep-dish pizza. Now that I reside in the South, I have observed firsthand, Texans' dedication to chicken fried steak — yet I'm still apprehensive to try one of those fried beef cutlets myself.

Don't get me wrong, I love most comfort foods: chicken pot pie, homemade macaroni and cheese, and even a perfectly cooked piece of steak. But for me, I'd rather eat beef drenched in butter and garlic instead of one deep-fried and served with white gravy.

Hot dish—Cristine Struble

While Minnesota might be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the state's long, harsh winters have made many residents resourceful with their food choices. A casserole can be easy to make and cost-effective, and it is a warm, comforting bite on a chilly day. The infamous Midwestern comfort food goes back to Minnesota church potlucks as a popular communal gathering, paired with the ability of most within those communities to make food purchases stretch. Basically, a hot dish is a combination of protein, a vegetable, a starch, and a binding sauce. Over the years, the most well-known versions feature ground beef, cream of mushroom soup, and tater tots.

Although the Midwest nice may not vocally disagree with this humble opinion, hot dish has left me cold. Instead of taking a scoop of that potluck favorite, I have passed on this offering time and again. While I do not subscribe to food having separate compartments on a plate, this combination of ingredients can turn into a soggy serving. From the tater tots losing their crunch to a broken sauce, the serving feels more like a scoop from the unenthusiastic lunch lady than a serving of love from grandma's kitchen.

Some one-pan meals are both a time and cost-saver. Unfortunately, many of the hot dish recipes are stuck in the 1950s and need a bit of a modern, contemporary upgrade. Even if some Midwesterners love the nostalgia of the hot dish, for me, it is a spoonful of a hot mess.

Meatloaf—Stacie Adams

As a child, I took being a picky eater to a whole new level. You might even say I was downright phobic about the majority of foods that showed up on the dinner table. If it wasn't a burger and fries, or perhaps some chicken nuggets, I didn't want anything to do with it; I didn't even want to be in the same room with it, lest some kind of catastrophic occurrence resulted in my tasting green beans or pasta or, god forbid, soup. Coming from a solidly working-class background, my mom didn't exactly appreciate my reluctance. In my household, it was more important for meals to be economical as opposed to tasty, especially when catering to an overly anxious child's plebeian tastebuds.

While I can proudly say that I'm no longer a picky eater, there is one food I still refuse to eat. Although it's a staple of most family dinners, meatloaf is a culinary no-go for me. Even the name inspires fear: meatloaf. A literal loaf of meat. A hunk of meat formed into a loaf and slathered in ketchup. This tortured hamburger has no place in my life. From the texture to the combination of flavors, it takes me right back to those childhood dinners, complete with the gnashing of teeth, tears, and bargaining. Maybe one day I'll overcome my fear of meatloaf, but until that time we'll continue our uneasy truce.

Biscuits and gravy—Chase Shustack

Growing up in the Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I never had a chance to taste authentic Southern food. Most of the food I ate was influenced by the Eastern European, Italian, or Pennsylvania Dutch cultures that made up the Coal Region centuries ago. While I enjoyed chicken and waffles (or at least the kind prepared by the Pennsylvanian Dutch) and biscuits before, I've always been interested in trying Southern foods — lobster boils, cornbread, grits, and most notably, biscuits and gravy.

Traditional recipes for biscuits and gravy dictate the dish is a buttermilk biscuit smothered in savory sausage gravy, which itself is prepared from the fat and drippings of sausage, flour, and milk or cream. While I understand that there are many different arguments towards what's considered "authentic," as traditions and cultures vary from household to household, I refer to biscuits and gravy that are prepared with real ingredients and by real individuals. I don't want to toss pre-made biscuits and gravy in a microwave and eat the resulting sloppy mess of doughy biscuits and cold gravy out of some cheap plastic bowl. When you want to try something, you want to get as close to the real thing as possible.

To me, as a dish Southern-style biscuits and gravy is one of the most perfect examples of genuine American cuisine. It's simple without being too basic. It's cheap without being trashy. It's an honest, simple meal that is both filling and delicious without being pretentious. That, and it looks like a good breakfast.

Crawfish boil—Nick Johnson

I've never eaten crawfish, and I'm not sure what's holding me back at this point. For a while, this gap in my culinary canon of knowledge made sense. I grew up in Minnesota, so my seafood diet was generally restricted to fried walleye filets and birthday dinners at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

However, I currently live in the South. Though Tennessee is technically landlocked, the ocean is much closer here than it was in Minnesota, and seafood is abundant. Despite this, I still haven't enjoyed a crawfish boil – which is strange, given the fact that an endless pile of spicy and still-steaming seafood is something right up my alley.

For me, there is some stress associated with this classic American dish. I imagine cracking open a hot crawfish is a rather finicky affair, especially if it's your first time attempting it. Despite this and other apprehensions, I will almost certainly try crawfish soon. I just have to find the right restaurant first.

Key lime pie—Nico Danilovich

Key lime pie is quite specific in branding, considering how widespread it is. It most likely comes not only from a single state or metropolis but from one small chain of isles. This may be stating the obvious, but I only recently put that fact together.

I think those two things — key lime pie's interesting name and its Southerness — are why I never tried it growing up. As a kid, the word "key" deterred me. "Metal in pie?" I thought, aghast, and didn't have the sense to investigate deeper. Eventually, I realized it was a normal part of Southeast cuisine, even if I didn't make the connection to Florida. Still, I was raised in Chicagoland, and I've most spent most of my adult life in California, so I gravitated toward Midwestern and Western food. This dessert felt like it was out of my wheelhouse — closed-minded, I know. But hey, I once thought there were actual keys in pie, so I admit I didn't start out with the most sophisticated culinary mind.

And that's a shame, because a dish made with eggs, graham crackers, and lime juice sounds like it would be right up my alley. Personally, being lactose intolerant now, I might need to take some Lactaid to deal with the condensed sweet milk and whipped cream. Regardless, given how foolishly I overlooked this classic my whole life, I think that may be worth it!