If you love serious southern cooking, then South Carolina is the place to be. This state’s cuisine is rich with fresh-from-the-sea finds, local produce, and slow-smoked pork. Comfort food is a top priority in South Carolina, and wherever you dine, you’ll be made to feel right at home.
Whether you’re just visiting or plan on moving, it’s worth asking, “What food is South Carolina known for?” Then, set a goal to try each of the Palmetto State’s favorites. Whether you’re in Charleston, Columbia or any other part of the state, here are the top local dishes to enjoy during your time in South Carolina.
In South Carolina, the word barbecue almost always refers to pork. Some food historians claim that barbecue was born in South Carolina. They say that’s where the practice of slowly cooking pork over a smoky wood fire first developed. Not everyone fully agrees with that claim, but it doesn’t change the fact that barbecue is a foundational food in South Carolina.
When visiting this state, pork barbecue should be one of the top foods on your list to try, and you’ll have plenty of sauce options to go with it. They include vinegar and pepper, light tomato, heavy tomato, and a mustard-based sauce. This last option is sometimes known as Carolina gold. Different sauces are popular in different regions, so sample each variety as you travel throughout the state.
What’s a South Carolina barbecue dinner without greens? More specifically, simmered collard greens are the vegetable of choice. As a matter of fact, collard greens have been the state’s official vegetable since 2011.
Greens are often slow-cooked with cuts of pork, which gives them a deep, smoky flavor. Collard greens and barbecue are commonly paired with cornbread and beans to make a full meal. It’s also a holiday tradition to cook collard greens on New Year’s Day and eat it with hoppin’ John, a dish made with rice, pork, and black-eyed peas.
Is Charleston, SC a good place to live? If you love she-crab soup, then absolutely! Perhaps you’ve never had she-crab soup before, but your first bite could have you making plans to move to Charleston. It’s a dish fit for a king — or at least a president. She-crab soup was first developed a century ago to serve former President William Howard Taft.
This creamy soup includes the meat of female Atlantic blue crabs, but that’s not the only reason this is called she-crab soup. Traditionally, crab roe has been included in the dish as well. These days, though, environmental concerns mean that this ingredient is often skipped or replaced with finely chopped yolks of hard-boiled eggs. No matter how the dish is made, it’s a can’t-miss SC staple.
Pimento cheese is a concoction made of mayonnaise and shredded cheddar and speckled with chopped pimento peppers. The mixture is popular throughout the southern states. But every chef in the region puts a slightly different spin on the recipe. No matter how the spread is made, it’s often used as a dip for crackers or a simple sandwich filling.
In South Carolina, you may also enjoy pimento cheese as a creamy topping on a cheeseburger. The cheese spread and the beef patty alone could be plenty to satisfy your tastebuds, but some cooks add additional garnishes, such as lettuce or bacon.
When a group gathers in South Carolina, chicken bog might be on the menu. This hearty dish is an easy crowd-pleaser that’s conducive to large-batch cooking. Put a pot of chicken bog on the stove and invite your friends and loved ones over to partake. Just make sure you have a bottle of hot sauce nearby; a small splash is a popular topping for this dish.
Essentially, chicken bog is chicken and rice with some smoked sausage added into the mix. True chicken bog connoisseurs will tell you, though, that this isn’t just any chicken and rice. First of all, it starts with a whole chicken. The hearty chicken stock produced during the cooking process imparts a rich flavor to the rice. The most important distinction is that the final product is served slightly wet and soupy — perhaps the origin of the “bog” name.
When looking for homes in the Charleston area, be sure to pick up some benne wafers as a souvenir. These thin cookies are studded with sesame seeds. Once used as a party favor, they’re now a staple in South Carolina bakeries.
Benne wafers make a great base for assorted toppings. If you have a savory wafer, pimento cheese works well on top. For sweet benne wafers, you can add a dollop of peanut butter, a small scoop of ice cream, or a decorative candied pecan. Of course, snacking on plain benne wafers is a fine choice too, and since they’re bite-sized, it’s easy to pop one after another in your mouth.
On May 1, 2016, a new law was signed in South Carolina. It named boiled peanuts as the official state snack. You’ll find this salty treat all over the state. Pick up a bag from a roadside stand or a community festival. Once you try a handful, you’ll be hooked.
Each year, South Carolina fields are filled with peanut plants. In fact, 82,000 acres were harvested in 2020. Fresh peanuts, better known as green peanuts, are commonly used for preparing boiled peanuts. The snack can also be made with dried raw peanuts. Either way, the finished product ends up soft and salty. Think about enjoying your boiled peanuts outside so that you can discard the damp shells on the ground.
If you’re sampling the state snack, you should also make time to enjoy the official state fruit: peaches. There’s a reason that this sweet fruit has been given a place of honor in the Palmetto State. South Carolina is the second-highest producer of peaches in the US — and there’s just nothing that compares to a fresh-grown peach.
While you can pick up juicy peaches at produce stands throughout the state, that’s not the only way to enjoy this fruit. You’ll also find peaches incorporated into all sorts of incredible recipes, including sweet desserts and savory pork entrees.
South Carolina’s coastal location means that seafood is a prized food group. Oysters are a particular favorite. If you’re visiting the shoreline or exploring Kiawah Island with a Dunes Properties real estate agent, put oyster dining on your to-do list. You can indulge in steamed oysters throughout the year, but South Carolina natives know that the cooler months offer the best flavor and texture.
Oyster roasts are the best way to enjoy this delicacy. During an oyster roast, large batches are cooked to share with friends. Local festivals open the fun of oyster roasts to entire communities, or you can seek out a restaurant that offers an oyster-roast vibe every night of the week.
As the story goes, Frogmore stew was developed in the Frogmore plantation area of St. Helena Island. These days, there are two key ingredients you need for Frogmore stew: shrimp and corn on the cob. Beyond that, recipes may vary, but red potatoes, onions, sausage, crab, and crawfish are common additions. Whichever ingredients the cook selects are tossed together in a big pot to boil with seasonings.
You have to be ready to get just a little messy when you eat Frogmore stew, also called Lowcountry boil. The cooked-to-perfection ingredients are often spread across newspaper-covered picnic tables or piled onto paper plates. Diners dig in with their hands. Just make sure that you have plenty of paper towels or wet wipes nearby!
Shrimp and Grits
Often thought of as a breakfast food, grits are eaten throughout the southern part of the US. Grits are a type of porridge made by mixing ground corn with boiling water. This basic recipe is a blank canvas to which you can add nearly anything, including sweet or savory mix-ins.
For those who want to move grits from the breakfast table to the dinner table, shrimp and grits is the way to go. That’s especially true if you’re dining along the coast, such as in the Isle of Palms Wild Dunes area. The meal calls for savory grits topped with local shrimp and, often, a handful of sliced sausage too. Some versions take the dish further still with ham, tomatoes, spinach, or other add-ins.
What are you going to wash your South Carolina eats down with? Sweet tea, of course! This state claims to be the place where sweet tea originated. It’s a simple recipe: water, tea, and plenty of sugar. To make sweet tea the SC way, you never tear open sugar packets at the table. Rather, the sugar is mixed in well before serving, so it has time to dissolve fully and permeate the drink.
Served in a glass over ice, sweet tea is perfection all on its own, but garnishes are common anyway. Lemon and mint leaves are frequent choices. Others turn this drink into a cocktail with a shot of vodka.
Lady Baltimore Cake
If you’re looking for an SC-inspired dessert to top off your meal, turn to Lady Baltimore cake. As the story goes, this cake was invented over 100 years ago by the proprietors of a Charleston tea room. It rose to fame after novelist Owen Wister described the cake in one of his works. What is the name of Wister’s novel? Lady Baltimore, of course!
The cake layers of Lady Baltimore rely on egg whites only — no yolks allowed. (Those can be saved for a corresponding cake known as Lord Baltimore.) Once the spongy layers are prepared, bakers fill them with a sweet, fruit-laden frosting. After frosting, the top of the cake, more nuts, raisins, or other embellishments may be used as decorations.
Sample Each of These South Carolina Favorites
Nothing else quite compares to the comforting cuisine of the American South, and South Carolina is one of the best places to sample it. Make it your goal to try every one of the SC favorites on this list. You will surely discover some prized items that you’ll want to return to repeatedly.
In fact, you may love the food so much that coastal Carolina needs to become your new home. If so, Dunes Properties can help you find the Isle of Palms or Kiawah Island real estate that’s right for you. Before you know it, you could be enjoying South Carolina’s hearty dishes and delectable treats every day.