Southern cooking has enjoyed a massive revival in recent years. It incorporates the kind of qualities we are learning to appreciate more in today’s world — things like seasonality, reliance on vegetables, and using the offcuts of meats — and it has benefited from its association with the idea of Southern hospitality. So let them other folks go ahead and enjoy their fancy filet mignon while you sit back and appreciate the flavors of the underdog — or hog, in this case.
Southern cooking all started with the European settlers who were looking for a way to make a quick buck. The only resource they had at the time was the land, and although they learned a thing or two about harvesting maize from Native Americans, Southern cuisine didn’t fully take shape until African slaves came carrying the seeds and techniques to grow sesame, okra, yams, peas, and, of course, collard greens.
It was established pretty early on that breeding pigs was less expensive and required less maintenance than raising cattle, which is why pork plays such a significant role in Southern cooking, especially as barbecue.
The ‘cue has a long, respected history in America which has captured the hearts and mouths of many over the years, and there’s are few more iconically Southern sights than a whole pig roasting all at once in preparation for a church social or volunteer fire department fundraiser. There are many things that contribute to a good barbecue, but the common denominators in the South seem to be the hog, the time, and the temperature, all of which merge to create a trifecta of flavor that often takes years to master.
But before you give in to your inner pitmaster, let’s not discount the role that other main courses (like fried chicken and gumbo) and classic side dishes (like cornbread and collard greens) play in Southern cuisine. We’ve come up with 21 Southern classics that have conquered America and that will deliver some of the flavor of the South with every bite.