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35 Soul Food Recipes That Southerners Swear By (and Northerners Need to Try)

From mac and cheese to candied sweet potatoes, these recipes are the epitome of comfort food.

soul food recipes: fried catfish
Grandbaby Cakes

You may know Jocelyn Delk Adams, food blogger and author of the award-winning Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories, for her stunning desserts. It turns out the baker extraordinaire has a ton of savory, traditional Southern recipes up her sleeve as well, including comfort food classics like baked macaroni and cheese, Southern cornbread and candied sweet potatoes. We asked her for her most essential soul food recipes, then pooled a few favorites of our own that are sitting firmly on our to-cook list.

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What Is Considered 'Soul Food'?

The term 'soul food' gained popularity in 1964, when a newspaper reported on the resurgence of "Black pride," according to Britannica. Although it had a cultural resurgence in the 1990s, soul food's roots date back several centuries. It originated in the 1800s in the rural South, after the emancipation of enslaved people.

Following emancipation, formerly enslaved cooks expanded upon their cooking techniques. Now with easier access to a wider range of ingredients, they were able to develop a cuisine that combined flavors of their African heritage with more American elements. Black-eyed peas, yams and collard greens are a few soul food staples, according to the Oxford African American Studies Center (OAASC). Even though many main dishes contain meat, plant-based soul food restaurants are on the rise nowadays.

"Soul food in the context of [the 1990s] revival was used to reinforce such themes as the need to build and maintain strong Black families, Black economic institutions and pride in things African-American," Charles L. Lumpkins writes for OAASC. "Soul food entered the 21st century as an expression of African-American ethnic pride and heritage, and as a prominent component of a genuinely American cuisine."

35 Soul Food Recipes to Try at Home

1. Southern Collard Greens

  • Time Commitment: 3 hours and 15 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, make ahead, beginner-friendly

Delk Adams calls collards the staple green vegetable of the South. If you’ve never shopped for greens before, she suggests checking the leaves before buying to make sure they’re easy to pull away from the stem and not too tough. You can make greens without meat, but the smoky, salty ham hock is more than just traditional. It’s also the key to the flavorful broth (aka pot likker) that the greens braise in.

2. Southern Cornbread

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why I Love It: vegetarian, special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly

This family recipe leans on a cast-iron skillet for crispy edges and a moist, buttery interior. The key is getting the skillet scorching hot while you mix the batter, then greasing it with vegetable oil and pouring in the batter before transferring the skillet to the oven. Eat it with barbecue, dip it in gumbo or have a slice fresh out of the pan, slathered in butter and honey.

3. Southern Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • Time Commitment: 55 minutes
  • Why I Love It: vegetarian, kid-friendly, special occasion-worthy

Southern mac and cheese is heavy, rich and beyond decadent, since it includes both usual suspects (butter and shredded cheese), as well as heavy cream, half-and-half and eggs. If you’re wondering why eggs, they add stability to the dish as it bakes. Delk Adams’s recipe uses three cheeses (sharp cheddar, manchego and gruyére) and lots of spices, like ground mustard, nutmeg and crushed red pepper flakes. Just make sure not to overcook the pasta—it’ll soften to completion in the oven.

4. Candied Sweet Potatoes

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Why I Love It: vegetarian, gluten-free, kid-friendly

This five-ingredient side couldn’t be easier to pull off. In fact, you probably have all the necessary ingredients already, minus the sweet potatoes themselves. Thanks to sugar, butter and a few more seasonings, the water the potatoes cook in magically transforms (read: evaporates) into a sweet, syrupy glaze.

5. Fried Catfish

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why I Love It: dairy-free, kid-friendly, special occasion-worthy

Fried chicken may be the first dish that comes to mind when you think about soul food, but Delk Adams’s recipe proves fried fish is just as quintessential (and delicious). The flaky fillets are dredged in an old-school spiced cornmeal breading, just as her grandma, aka Big Mama, used to do. The most important tip here is to not overcrowd the pan: A packed fryer causes the oil’s temperature to cool, which will result in soggy fish. (On that note, you may want to pick up a deep-frying thermometer to make sure the oil is just the right temperature.) Serve with lemon wedges and allllll the tartar sauce.

6. Southern Baked Chicken

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours and 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: high protein, make ahead, crowd-pleaser

If you’d rather avoid deep-frying, this recipe for buttery, sweet baked chicken definitely won’t disappoint. Pats of butter mingle with maple syrup, onions and spices in the oven to create a sticky sauce and crispy chicken skin. While Delk Adams uses chicken wings, you can substitute legs or thighs—just don’t use chicken breast, which is sure to dry out instead of tenderize due to the longer cooking time.

7. Auntie Rose’s Southern Cornbread Dressing

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 20 minutes
  • Why I Love It: kid-friendly, special occasion-worthy, make ahead

You know that skillet cornbread recipe you just bookmarked? That’s the base for this Southern holiday mainstay. It’s a bit of a labor of love, as Delk Adams uses homemade cornbread and homemade chicken stock (she says store-bought doesn’t come close). She also sometimes adds layers of shredded chicken to the stuffing itself instead of serving it alongside turkey or chicken. The key to the dressing’s moisture, though, is four cans of soup—two cream of mushroom and two cream of chicken.

While these dishes are Delk Adams’s most essential, here are 21 more soul food recipes to dive into, including Southern dinners, sides and desserts.

8. Southern Black Eyed Peas

  • Time Commitment: 3 hours and 20 minutes
  • Why I Love It: special occasion-worthy, gluten free, make ahead

New Year’s Day is incomplete in the South without a pot of these on the table. While Sephardic Jews brought the recipe to Georgia in the 18th century, the dish became a symbol of emancipation for African Americans after the Civil War.

9. Sweet Tea Fried Chicken

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours and 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: kid-friendly, crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy

Don’t get us wrong—Jocelyn’s standard fried chicken recipe is beyond mouthwatering. But we love this creative mashup of two Southern classics, where sweet tea is used as a brine. For peak crispiness, don't forget to dry the chicken off with paper towels.

10. Fried Green Tomatoes

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, vegetarian, kid-friendly

Green tomatoes can hold their own against a deep fryer, while red tomatoes are too soft and ripe. These beauties are crunchy and savory on the outside and tart and soft on the inside. Serve with tartar sauce, or your condiment of choice. (We love spicy remoulade.)

11. Easy Red Beans and Rice

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours and 55 minutes
  • Why I Love It: gluten free, beginner-friendly, make ahead

This Creole staple stars beans braised with ham hock and andouille sausage. While many recipes for red beans and rice take much longer, this one swaps canned beans for dried. But don't worry: Thanks to a flurry of spices, it'll still taste like it was cooking for days.

12. Grits

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, gluten free, kid-friendly

When the recipe calls for an entire stick of butter, we take that as a good omen. You'll want to start whisking the grits as soon as possible upon adding them to boiling liquid, to ensure they turn out creamy and lump-free.

13. Southern Deviled Eggs

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, vegetarian, gluten free

Even though deviled eggs seem difficult to execute, they take less than 30 minutes to pull off. Plus, you can make this crowd-pleaser a day ahead of serving. Your guests will love their spicy tang, courtesy of jalapeño and relish.

14. Fried Okra

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, vegetarian, kid-friendly

Go ahead and make a second batch—the okra only takes 20 minutes to bread and fry, and it definitely won’t last long. Let the pieces sit in the batter for longer, if you'd prefer them to have an extra thick coating.

15. Big Mama’s Biscuits

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, vegetarian, special occasion-worthy

Delk Adams’s trips to visit her grandmother in Mississippi always called for daily biscuit breakfasts. One bite, and you’ll see why. The secret to their fluffiness? Shortening and buttermilk.

16. Fried Fish Po’ Boy Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 35 minutes
  • Why I Love It: kid-friendly, special occasion-worthy, beginner-friendly

One bite, and you're in New Orleans. While you could use catfish, tilapia or whiting fish, you definitely shouldn’t substitute the traditional French bread. Try swapping regular mayo for chipotle aioli, if you're up for spicing things up.

17. Seafood Gumbo

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours and 20 minutes
  • Why I Love It: dairy free, special occasion-worthy, make ahead

Another New Orleans mainstay, this gumbo is fully loaded with shrimp, oysters and crabmeat, plus okra and lots of peppers. Make sure to use a heavy-bottomed pan, and start to whisk as soon as you add the flour so your roux doesn't burn.

18. Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: beginner-friendly, vegan, gluten free

Talk about making the most of tomato season. Come summer, you’ll want this 30-minute wonder in your back pocket for every picnic and cookout you host. Serve it as a main dish over rice or as a side for grilled meat.

19. Hush Puppies

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, vegetarian, beginner-friendly

Jocelyn puts it perfectly: “Hush puppies are to fried fish what peanut butter is to jelly.” If you’ve never tried hush puppies, they’re essentially little cornbread fritters. Her pro tip? Let the batter rest for ten minutes before frying to thicken and set.

20. Classic Southern-Style Meatloaf

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 10 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, high protein, kid-friendly

Even picky kids can get down with this dinner classic. Whipping the heavy cream and eggs together helps keep the meatloaf impossibly moist. Make it a complete meal with mashed potatoes or creamed spinach.

21. Southern Creamed Corn

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, <30 minutes, kid-friendly

OK, ready to have your mind blown? Take out your Bundt pan, stand the corn cob on the center hole and slice off the kernels for a mess-free mise en place. Because it's made on the stove, this side will take you less than 30 minutes to prepare.

22. Easy Weeknight Shrimp and Grits

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, beginner-friendly, gluten free

We’ll let you in on a little secret: The key to this 20-minute recipe is quick-cooking grits, which only take about five minutes from start to finish. Plant-based eaters can swap the chicken broth for veggie broth—just add extra salt to taste.

23. Southern Pecan Pie

  • Time Commitment: 55 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, kid-friendly, make ahead

Big Mama does it again. This holiday-ready dessert is buttery, gooey and lusciously caramelized. Serve the pie with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and something hot to wash it down with.

24. Sweet Potato Pie

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 10 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, kid-friendly, special occasion-worthy

This recipe strays from the traditional a bit, since it uses both sugar and corn syrup, as well as tangy buttermilk. Opting for fresh sweet potatoes is best, but you can also used the canned kind if you're in a bind.

25. Southern Chess Pie

  • Time Commitment: 45 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly

While this treat hails from England originally, it’s now a Virginia mainstay. It’s basically egg custard in pie crust. (If you’re feeling ambitious and want to make your own crust, go for this recipe, which calls for both shortening and butter.)

26. Homemade Banana Pudding

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly

Go the extra mile by spritzing the bananas with citrus juice so they don’t brown (and, while you’re at it, don’t skip the broiled meringue topper either). Serve the cups immediately, or prep all the components ahead and torch the meringue just before serving.

27. Southern Peach Cobbler

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours and 15 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly

Canned peaches are totally fine to use—just drain most of the syrup before adding them to the filling. On that note, it's worth the extra effort to make your own syrup to go with it. Sprinkle extra cinnamon on top for a warm-spiced finishing touch.

28. Southern Egg Pie

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours and 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly

This iconic treat is basically as simple as combining eggs, butter, nutmeg and vanilla. Be sure not to over-bake it—the pie should still be a bit jiggly in the center when you take it out of the oven. When stored properly, it will keep for up to four days.

29. Traditional Southern Pecan Pralines

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly

Trust us: Your willpower is absolutely no match for this NOLA delicacy. Just be prepared to stir constantly for up to 30 minutes, so the candy coating properly thickens.

30. Hummingbird Coffee Cake

  • Time Commitment: 55 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly

Meet a breakfast-inspired twist on hummingbird cake, an iconic banana-pineapple spice cake originally from Jamaica that’s now popular in the South. Serve with a cup of coffee and you'll be everyone's favorite host.

31. Southern Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly, beginner-friendly

Rise and shine, y'all. The recipe notes that a pound of any ground sausage will suffice. You can use breakfast sausage, pork sausage, flavored sausage, hot or mild. Make your decision based on your preferences—and lay the gravy on thick.

32. Real-Deal Southern Green Beans

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours and 45 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, special occasion-worthy, gluten free

Forget that gloppy casserole you served at Thanksgiving last year. These green beans are braised with smoked turkey wings for a luxuriously savory flavor (although you can substitute bacon in a pinch).

33. Chicken and Waffles

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why I Love It: kid-friendly, special occasion-worthy, beginner-friendly

The chicken is seasoned in a number of spices including garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika and white pepper. You can always add more to taste, plus top with hot sauce and maple syrup to your liking. Chalk the thick, drool-worthy breading up to the buttermilk brine.

34. Louisiana Crunch Cake

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 10 minutes
  • Why I Love It: special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly, beginner-friendly

This Louisiana staple is buttery, rich and ever so slightly coconut-flavored. The simple almond-infused glaze on top really takes it to the next level. If you're craving additional crunch, finish the confection with chopped pecans.

35. Cajun Lobster Tails

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, special occasion-worthy, kid-friendly

This dish will steal the show at your next dinner party. Showcasing classic Cajun flavors, these lobster tails will pair incredibly with steak, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and, well, just about anything.


taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...

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Freelance PureWow Editor