28 Soul Food Recipes That Southerners Swear By (and Northerners Need to Try)
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. But it turns out the baker extraordinaire has a *ton* of savory, traditional Southern recipes up her sleeve too, including comfort food classics like baked mac and cheese, cornbread and candied sweet potatoes. Here are her most essential soul food recipes, along with a few favorites of ours that are sitting firmly on our to-cook list.
1. Southern Collard Greens
Delk Adams calls them 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
This family recipe leans on a cast-iron skillet for crispy edges and a moist, buttery inside. The key is getting the skillet scorching hot while you mix the batter, then greasing it with vegetable oil and pouring the batter in before transferring the skillet to the oven. Eat it with barbecue, dip it in gumbo or have a slice fresh out of the oven slathered in butter.
3. Southern Baked Macaroni and Cheese
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 red pepper flakes. Just make sure that you don’t overcook the pasta—it’ll finish softening in the oven.
4. Candied Sweet Potatoes
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
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 oil: a packed fryer causes the oil’s temperature to cool, which is a recipe for 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
If you’d rather avoid deep-frying, this recipe for buttery, sweet baked chicken will definitely not 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
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
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.
10. Fried Green Tomatoes
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, tart and soft on the inside.
11. Easy Red Beans and Rice
This Creole staple stars beans braised alongside ham hock and Andouille sausage.
When the recipe calls for an entire stick of butter, we take that as a good omen.
13. Southern Deviled Eggs
You can make this crowd-pleaser up to a day ahead of serving. Your guests will love their spicy tang, courtesy of jalapeño and relish.
12. Fried Okra
Go ahead and make a second batch—they only take 20 minutes to bread and fry, and they definitely won’t last long.
13. Big Mama’s Biscuits
Delk Adams’s trips to visit her grandmother in Mississippi always called for daily biscuit breakfasts. One bite, and you’ll see why.
14. Fried Fish Po’ Boy Sandwich
While you could use catfish, tilapia or whiting fish, you definitely shouldn’t substitute the traditional French bread.
15. Seafood Gumbo
Another New Orleans mainstay, this gumbo is fully loaded with shrimp, oysters and crabmeat, plus okra and lots of peppers.
16. Stewed Okra and Tomatoes
Talk about making the most of tomato season. Come summer, you’ll want this 30-minute wonder in your back pocket.
17. Hush Puppies
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 basically like little cornbread fritters.
18. Classic Southern-Style Meatloaf
Whipping the heavy cream and eggs together helps make the meatloaf surprisingly moist.
19. Southern Creamed Corn
OK, ready to have your mind blown? Take out your Bundt pan, stand the corn cob on the center whole and slice off the kernels for a mess-free mise en place.
20. Easy Weeknight Shrimp and Grits
We’ll let you in on a little secret: The key to this 20-minute recipe is quick-cooking grits, which only take about 5 minutes from start to finish.
21. Southern Pecan Pie
This holiday-ready dessert is buttery, gooey and lusciously caramelized. Big Mama does it again.
22. Sweet Potato Pie
This recipe strays from the traditional a bit, since it uses both sugar and corn syrup, as well as tangy buttermilk.
24. Homemade Banana Pudding
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).
25. Southern Peach Cobbler
Canned peaches are totally fine to use—just drain most of the syrup. It’s worth the extra effort to make your own syrup to go with it.
26. Southern Egg Pie
Be sure not to overbake it. The pie should still be a bit jiggly in the center when you take it out of the oven.
27. Traditional Southern Pecan Pralines
Trust us: Your willpower is absolutely no match for this NOLA delicacy.
28. Hummingbird Coffee Cake
Meet a breakfast-inspired twist on hummingbird cake, an iconic banana-pineapple spice cake originally from Jamaica that’s now popular in the South.