Best known for the Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia is home to famous foods that have influences from both the region and the South. Comforting and hearty, meals from the area often include fresh ingredients that are caught, foraged, or hunted locally.
The only state completely in the Appalachian region, the Mountain State’s tastiest dishes are sure to leave you full yet craving more. In no particular order, here are 10 of the top foods to try in West Virginia:
Perhaps the most notable West Virginian dish is pepperoni rolls. An important dish for decades, this delicacy consists of white bread with pepperoni baked inside. Brought to the states in the early 1900s by Italian immigrants who were working in coal mines, pepperoni rolls were a perfect lunch item because they are filling, simple, and non-perishable.
Pepperoni rolls began as a simple loaf of bread consumed with a stick of pepperoni, but today, they are more complex and varied. The pepperoni is typically baked inside of bread dough, which lets out the grease into the bread. You can also find different versions that include ingredients such as sautéed onions, tomato sauce, and cheese.
Each year in September, the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival features some of the best pepperoni rolls around. This festival in Clarksburg, WV, celebrates Italian food and culture, as well as the history of Italians in the local area.
Mountain mushrooms known as morels are another top West Virginia food. Foraged in the Appalachian Mountains for a few weeks each spring, they are used in a variety of special local dishes. Looking for morels can be difficult, as they are often camouflaged with nature.
With a honeycomb-like structure that’s usually light brown or creamy in color, they can often be found around the bases of oak, apple, and elm trees, so these are great places to start your search. Once the morels are foraged and collected, never eat them straight away. Raw morels are toxic, so they are only edible when cooked.
Used by notable chefs across the world in soups and sauces, some restaurants also serve these mushrooms fried. Morels have an earthy and nutty flavor, creating a unique addition to many West Virginia springtime dishes.
Both throughout history and today, many West Virginians have relied on hunting as a way to provide food for their families. Hunting deer in particular is a popular hobby in the state today, which has resulted in venison, or deer meat, becoming a prevalent dish.
The state’s early settlers hunted wild animals in the area as a means to stay alive, with fish, rabbits, bison, and deer all becoming integral parts of many regional recipes. Today, residents continue this tradition by consuming venison, which has a unique, savory flavor and tender, lean texture.
Even if you are not interested in participating in a hunting trip for yourself, you can try this popular West Virginia meat in various restaurants across the state. Venison is often eaten in the form of a steak or dried meat jerky, though many recipes also include it as a major ingredient in stews and soups.
Despite being a midwest mountain state, West Virginia still relies on fish in many of its dishes. One of these popular foods is a fish sandwich. Fish sandwiches are eaten in many different states and regions, but in WV and other midwest states, a fish sandwich typically consists of a fried fish filet between two slices of white bread.
It’s often served with hot sauce or tartar sauce as toppings to supplement the fishy flavor. These fish sandwiches are reminiscent of the region’s interest in all types of fried food, as well as the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent.
The best place to try a traditional West Virginian fish sandwich is Coleman’s Fish Market in Wheeling, WV. It offers both the famous fried fish sandwich on white bread and a deluxe fish sandwich, which is served on a wheat bun with tartar sauce.
Biscuits and Gravy
When it’s time for breakfast, one savory dish is the likely choice of West Virginians: biscuits and gravy. While biscuits and gravy are popular among most southerners, it originated in the Appalachian region, making it still especially popular in this area today.
Cornbread was the traditional bread of choice due to it being so cheap and easy to make. However, biscuits arose as another option for those with more money and time. Once milling became more widespread and flour was easier to get, the popularity of biscuits expanded to more people. The dish is rather simple and carefree.
One or two thick, buttery biscuits are piled high with sausage gravy. Ideally, it is fresh, warm, and homemade. Buttermilk biscuits are most commonly used because they are so fluffy and soft. The gravy includes sausage, as well as sausage grease, and a variety of seasonings to give it extra flavor and maybe even a spicy kick.
The most famous and popular place to try a plate of iconic biscuits and gravy is Tudor’s Biscuit World. This West Virginia-based state has expanded to offer locations in Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida as well.
Across the Appalachian region, making and drinking moonshine is an important cultural and historic tradition. West Virginia in particular is home to many of the top moonshine distillers. Today, moonshine is very different from the substance it once was and is legally produced instead of being done in secret.
Available in many different flavors, popular options include apple pie, cinnamon, raspberry limoncello, sweet tea, peach, or “straight,” an unflavored version. The availability of different flavors and variations will depend on where the moonshine was produced.
While trying some authentic West Virginia moonshine, you may also want to take a tour of a moonshine distillery to get the full experience. Companies such as Hatfield & McCoy Moonshine in Gilbert and Appalachian Distillery in Ripley offer tastings, behind-the-scenes tours, and more to teach visitors all about their products.
West Virginia gives classic American pancakes a unique spin by using buckwheat instead of traditional flour. These pancakes have a more hearty and earthy flavor and are fully gluten-free. While pancakes are often considered to be a less-nutritious and filling breakfast food, buckwheat pancakes offer a great alternative.
Buckwheat is a grain similar to quinoa, which many West Virginia farmers began growing and relying on during the Great Depression. The cakes are generally denser and more savory than normal pancakes, as well as darker brown. The best way to eat buckwheat pancakes is with toppings like butter, syrup, honey, jam, and fresh fruit.
The Preston Buckwheat Festival in Preston County, WV celebrates all things buckwheat, especially the iconic buckwheat pancakes. Each September, crowds flock to this festival to feast on pancakes and plenty of other buckwheat creations.
There’s nothing more American than a hot dog, which West Virginians give a special spin, known as “slaw dogs.” The toppings, particularly cole slaw and a chili-based sauce, set an authentic WV slaw dog apart from a normal hot dog.
A slaw dog’s meat and bun are essentially the same as any other hot dog. The dog is then topped with warm chili (known as “sauce” to locals), cold coleslaw, mustard, and chopped onions. This combination is also often referred to as a “Dixie Dog” and dates back to the early 1900s. Popular ingredients such as ketchup, sauerkraut, and pickles are rarely used on slaw dogs.
You’re sure to find that the traditional combination of toppings already offers plenty of unique flavors! Each summer, Huntington, WV hosts the West Virginia Hot Dog Festival. Attendees can sample numerous hot dogs from local businesses, but the most popular choice is always a classic slaw dog.
Cornbread is a simple, filling side dish enjoyed around the country. In West Virginia particularly, cornbread is people’s bread of choice, and it is nearly always baked in a skillet to give it a crispy crust. While cornbread is often fairly sweet in the North, in the South, it is more salty and savory. Southern cornbread often includes ingredients such as chiles, ham, and cracklins to give it extra flavor.
Some people top the finished product with chili, sour cream, or cheese. Most West Virginians believe that cornbread is best cooked in a skillet. Because the skillet gets so hot all over, it produces a delicious, golden-brown, buttery crust.
Skillet cornbread is great on its own, but it is also often served alongside other classic West Virginia dishes like barbecue, beans, and stews.
Soup beans is one of the most common dishes served with skillet cornbread. This simple, self-explanatory dish is warm and hearty, making it a filling and delicious meal, especially when the weather gets cold. Generally using pinto beans cooked with ham, water, and salt, other ingredients can be added depending on the region or restaurant.
The result of this combination is a salty, savory soup that is easy to make for a low price. The beans soak up some of the ham’s fat, giving them extra flavor, and the broth thickens into a more hearty consistency over time.
Beans and cornbread may seem like a basic combination, especially in Southern U.S. states. However, when served together in an authentic West Virginian homestyle restaurant or around the table at a local family gathering, soup beans, and skillet cornbread are sure to leave you full and satisfied.
When visiting the Mountain State, be sure to take advantage of its unique cuisine. Southern and Appalachian foods combine in West Virginia to create some delicious dishes that y’all are sure to enjoy!