South Carolina is known for its beaches, hospitality, and Southern cuisine. There’s no shortage of delicious food that’ll make your mouth water while visiting the Palmetto State.
Home to amazing hospitality and down-home cooking, there are plenty of iconic meals and snacks to try during your stay. With so many famous dishes that it could take you days to try them all, in no particular order, here are 17 of the most popular foods in South Carolina:
The Benne wafer is a bite-sized sesame cookie that is light, snappy brown, and crisp. Throughout Charleston, South Carolina, markets and gift shops sell bags filled with tiny benne wafers, about the size of a quarter. They were brought to the United States from West Africa by enslaved Africans.
Sesame seeds are known as “benne,” a term from the Bantu language, and South Carolina’s Lowcountry region became famous for benne wafers. Traditional benne wafers are made with sesame seeds, brown sugar, butter, flour, and salt. Some recipes call for vanilla extract or baking powder.
Sesame cookies are crispy on the bottom and crunchy on the top, making them both sweet and nutty. Their history dates back hundreds of years, making them one of South Carolina’s most important traditions.
South Carolina Barbeque
There’s no doubt that South Carolinians love barbecue. Not just a cooking style, barbeque in South Carolina is a subculture with many variations between regions and competitions held to see who reigns supreme.
South Carolina BBQ has a lot of regional variation, making it unique. From mustard-based to vinegar-based recipes, every part of the state has its formula for making this dish. The BBQ in South Carolina is delicious no matter where you go.
Oyster roasts are a South Carolina tradition with a long and storied history that dates back centuries. Since the early settlers, oysters have been essential to Southern and Lowcountry cuisine. Usually roasted over an open fire and shucked beforehand, the oysters are served with saltine crackers, hot sauce, and lemon wedges.
An interesting fact about this dish is that, at one point, it was believed that oysters should only be consumed in months ending in “R” (September-April). No longer true, today, you can enjoy oysters year-round thanks to modern transportation and refrigeration methods.
Frogmore Stew does not have a list of ingredients like many other stews, with corn and sausage being the only two ingredients found in every pot. Beyond that, the cook decides what else goes in, making no two pots of Frogmore stew alike.
Named after Frogmore, a small community on St. Helena Island near Beaufort, and found all over South Carolina, one thing that is always certain about this dish is that it’ll be delicious.
Shrimp and Grits
When you think of Southern food, what comes to mind? Shrimp and grits are most likely at the top of the list. Coastal areas of the South, particularly South Carolina, are known for this dish. Tasty yet simple, the fish is comprised of, as you would expect, shrimp and grits.
Flavored with bacon, onions, garlic, and spices, this hearty dish is filling enough to serve as a meal. Originating in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, this dish has played a prominent role in local cuisine due to the area’s abundance of seafood.
Pimento Cheese is South Carolina’s favorite creamy, dreamy, cheesy spread. Almost every Charleston restaurant serves it, and it’s a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Consisting of sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and diced pimentos, some recipes use cream cheese, while others add chopped onions or garlic for extra flavor.
Created to stretch scarce resources during hard times, Pimento cheese has been part of South Carolina’s culinary culture for generations. Today, it can be found everywhere, from casual cookouts to high-end weddings. There is no doubt that everyone will enjoy this South Carolina dish.
Gullah Red Rice
Regarding cuisine in the Palmetto State, Gullah red rice is an icon. This dish is traditionally made from rice, sausage, bacon, and vegetables. It’s named for its descendants, Gullahs, enslaved Africans living in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region.
Gullah red rice contains various ingredients, depending on who makes it, and is served with rice cooked in bacon grease or sausage fat, chopped onions, bell peppers, and diced tomatoes. Some people also like to add green peas or okra. Usually an accompaniment to other items, this dish is also eaten as a main course with fried chicken, catfish, or other seafood.
One of the most famous seafood dishes in Charleston, South Carolina, and frequently served with a crab cake, she-crab soup consists of crab meat, cream, and sherry. Found on menus throughout the city, the dish is delicious and satisfying. The first recorded recipe for she-crab soup dates back to the 1800s when it appeared in “The Charleston Receipts” cookbook.
The original recipe was only three ingredients: crab meat, cream, and paprika. Throughout the years, it’s evolved to include other elements such as sherry and crab roe (the orange female crab eggs), although the essential ingredients have remained the same.
Most restaurants nowadays serve she-crab soup with Jonah crabs, which are more prominent and have a rich flavor, rather than blue crabs. If you’re ever in Charleston and looking for a taste of history, be sure to order a bowl.
You can’t go to South Carolina and not have crab cakes! Crab cakes are one of South Carolina’s most popular foods, and their flavorful crab meat and crispy exterior make them irresistible. Straightforward to make, as they include lump or blue crab meat, bread crumbs, eggs, mayonnaise, Old Bay seasoning, and mustard, they are great as an appetizer or main course.
Of course, you can add green onions, Worchestershire sauce, or bell peppers for extra flavor. Some people prefer to keep it simple with crab meat and bread crumbs, and it’s entirely up to you. With a crisp outside, yet moist internal texture, you can bake or fry the dish and serve it with butter, Tatar sauce, or remoulade.
Historically, deviled eggs were created in the 18th century to use up hard-boiled eggs in the southern United States, especially in South Carolina. It has been adapted over the years, but its basic idea remains unchanged: a hard-boiled egg with a creamy, spicy filling.
If you’re from the South, you probably have fond memories of deviled eggs from childhood, however, if you’ve never tried them, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. First appearing in England in 1758, the dish didn’t become popular in America until the early 1800s when immigrants brought them over to the US.
During the Victorian era, deviled eggs were prevalent at social gatherings and included ingredients like mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, relish, and caviar. In the early 20th century, deviled eggs became less popular because they were associated with wealth and privilege. Nowadays, they are a popular party dish and are present on many upscale restaurant menus.
Brought to South Carolina during the slave trade, okra is an ingredient that is cooked in various ways. An integral part of the state’s cruising, okra is considered the official state vegetable. It’s so loved that there are annual festivals, like Okra Strut in Myrtle Beach, entirely devoted to it.
Okra is delicious whether it’s fried, baked, sauteed, stewed, or pickled. In addition to being eaten alone, okra is an essential ingredient in gumbo and jambalaya.
The conversation about dishes in South Carolina cannot be complete without the mention of cornbread. A simple dish that’s been a part of southern cuisine for generations, American Indians were the first to cultivate the bread.
Evolving over the years to encompass a variety of ingredients and cooking methods, one thing that has remained constant is South Carolinian’s love for it.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s buttermilk, honey, or bacon fat; cornbread always hits the spot. Cornbread is among life’s most beautiful Southern comfort foods, bringing back memories of family gatherings, holidays, and warm summer evenings gathered around the dinner table.
Southern Fried Chicken
A dish that’s been around for centuries, fried chicken is one of the most popular foods in the South. Seasoned with a mix of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne, although family recipes may have other spices added, the chicken is coated in flour before being fried in until golden brown and crispy.
Southern fried chicken is traditionally cooked in lard or bacon grease, which gives it a unique flavor that vegetable oil cannot duplicate. Whether it’s plain, dipped in honey, or topped with gravy, you’ll be hooked on this dish once you’ve tasted it, regardless of how you eat it!
On New Year’s Day, Hoppin’ John is a staple at Lowcountry boil parties and is said to bring good luck. The dish originated with enslaved Africans who came to the southeast during the Atlantic slave trade. Likely created to stretch meager ingredients-rice, beans, and greens-to feed large numbers of people, the dish evolved and became a staple in Southern cuisine.
Coming in multiple variations that are usually passed down as special family recipes, the ingredients are the same: rice, black-eyed peas, and greens. Relatively inexpensive, flavorful, filling, and ideal for large gatherings, Hoppin’ John is a prevalent dish in South Carolina, especially during the winter.
Although widely enjoyed in many parts of the world, collard greens are trendy in the southern United States, where they are prevalent. South Carolina’s collard greens are so iconic that they are often referred to as “the state’s leafy green vegetable.” Inherently sweet, collard greens are mildly bitter but soft and flavorful when adequately prepared.
One can cook collard greens in various ways, but one of the most popular methods is to simmer them in chicken broth with vinegar and bacon fat. The result is tender, flavorful collard greens that are perfect for a hearty meal or side dish.
In addition to grilling collard greens, braising is another popular cooking method that involves cooking them over low heat with a small amount of liquid until tender. This way, collard greens are packed with flavor and are highly satisfying.
Chicken bog is a rice and chicken dish that is slow-cooked with spices until the chicken is infused with flavors and is “fall-off-the-bone” tender. Southern comfort food at its finest, there are several ways to make chicken bog.
The essential ingredients are chicken, that’s usually smoked or grilled before being shredded or chopped into bite-sized pieces, as well as rice and sausage. Cooked with chicken broth until it’s fluffy, the rice is then simmered with the chicken and sausage.
Part of South Carolina’s cuisine for generations, the Gullah people who have lived in the Lowcountry region for centuries claim it originated with them. While other sources state that farmers created it out of leftovers, chicken bog is, without a doubt, a unique dish that comes in as many versions as there are families in South Carolina today.
No trip to South Carolina is complete without hush puppies! Served alongside seafood, BBQ, and just about anything else, these deep-fried nuggets are ubiquitous in the Palmetto State. Evolving over the years, this doughy side dish has become a culinary staple. Using cornmeal as the main ingredient, variations include spices as well as ingredients like onions and green peppers.
Typically fried to achieve a crispy exterior and moist interior, the hush puppy is a south Carolinian icon. No matter where you go, plenty of people swear by their grandmother’s recipe for the best hush puppies. They can be found on menus across the state, from casual diners to upscale eateries.
Whenever you plan your next trip to South Carolina, make sure you stop by a few restaurants and try some of these well-known delicious meals. Famous for everything from pimento cheese to shrimp and grits, you may end up finding your new favorite dish while exploring this southern state.