15 Recipes Every Soul Food Cook Should Know

Get to Know These Southern Staples

Southern Fried Chicken Thighs

The Spruce

Whether you’re an expert on soul food cooking or you’re learning your way through the recipes, here are some classic soul food recipes you should know how to prepare. Having these recipes in your arsenal will lead to understanding the essence of Southern cuisine.

  • 01 of 15

    Braised Oxtails

    Braised oxtails

     Debbi Smirnoff / Getty Images

    There’s a reason why oxtails are a soul food staple. Braising oxtails slowly for 3 to 4 hours results in meaty, fork-tender comfort food. This oxtail recipe will be an eye-opener for those who have never eaten them before. This cut of meat is more succulent and flavorful than even braised beef short ribs, thanks to more marbling and the inclusion of bone marrow. The delicious aroma will have you counting down until the oxtail recipe is ready. Another option is to cook the oxtails overnight on low in a slow cooker. While the sauce and meat are usually spooned over rice, it can also be served with mashed potatoes.

  • 02 of 15

    Fried Chicken

    Southern Fried Chicken Thighs

    The Spruce

    If you want a fried chicken recipe that tastes like it came out of a Southern grandmother’s kitchen, follow these easy step-by-step directions. Take note that the chicken needs to marinate in the buttermilk mixture for 12 to 24 hours before cooking to ensure succulent tenderness. This fried chicken recipe is a keeper! 

  • 03 of 15

    Fried Catfish

    Classic summer fried catfish recipe

    The Spruce Eats / Katarina Zunc

    Catfish is a popular dish down South, and for good reason. Most of the farm-raised catfish in the United States comes from Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. And although it can be prepared in a variety of ways including grilled, frying in a cornmeal coating is the most traditional. For a traditional Southern fish fry, serve catfish with hushpuppiestartar sauce, and coleslaw. 

  • 04 of 15

    Country Style Ribs

    Easy baked barbecued country style ribs recipe

    The Spruce Eats / Victoria Heydt

    These boneless country-style ribs are baked to perfection with a spicy rub and your favorite barbecue sauce. It's an easy, convenient meal that is a great choice for any night of the week to bring a little taste of the South to your dinner table. Just pair it with classic coleslawpotato saladbaked beans, and cornbread.

    If you instead use bone-in country-style ribs, allow about 1/2 to 3/4 pound per person.

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  • 05 of 15

    Pimento Cheese

    Pimento Cheese

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Rattray 

    For those who have only experienced pimento cheese in its store-bought form, the homemade version is a revelation. The combination of cheddar cheese, mayo and cream cheese is an addictive trio worshiped by Southerners. The pimento pepper is a red pepper with a sweeter flesh than the red bell pepper. If you can’t find pimento peppers, roasted red peppers are an acceptable substitute. Pimento cheese is also an easy, delicious appetizer for the holidays.

  • 06 of 15

    Fried Green Tomatoes

    fried green tomatoes

    Getty Images

     

    Fried green tomatoes are the ultimate soul food as the crunch of cornmeal breading gives way to the soft tartness of the tomato. Green tomatoes are sourced specifically for this use in the South, but it can be difficult to find these tomatoes in other parts of the country. Just regular red tomatoes picked before they are ripened, ask for them at your grocery store or farmer’s market.

  • 07 of 15

    Collard Greens

    Instant Pot Collard Greens

     The Spruce / Kristina Vanni

    Collard greens have come to be closely associated with the deep South and are a staple in Southern cuisine. It is very common to cook the greens with a bit of thick-cut bacon, ham hock, or another cut of smoked pork. Braising the greens is a slow-cooking process that typically takes at least one hour. However if you're pinched for time, you can try this Instant Pot recipe for braised collards with an even quicker preparation.

  • 08 of 15

    Fried Okra

    fried okra

     The Spruce

    Okra is a classic Southern side, and this preparation brings in the crunch thanks to a cornmeal coating before a quick deep fry. Doused in hot sauce to finish, if you like, or eaten as is, this a great way to give an often overlooked vegetable a try with this craveable preparation.

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  • 09 of 15

    Country Fried Steak

    Country Fried Steak with White Gravy

     wsmahar/Getty Images

    This basic country-fried round steak recipe comes together with a crust made with bread crumbs and cracker crumbs. The creamy gravy and egg coating in this recipe make it more like a chicken-fried steak than country-fried. Whatever you call it, it's a classic Southern dish. The steaks are then finished with a simple, creamy pan gravy. Not only do these steaks make a delicious dinner, but they are also a fabulous breakfast dish when served with a fried egg and hash browns.

  • 10 of 15

    Tomato Gravy

    Tomato Gravy

     The Spruce

    This Southern menu is not shy of gravy and sauces: be it a creamy sausage gravy at breakfast, a red eye gravy for that slice of ham steak, or, this tomato gravy which is tremendous when spooned over split, buttered biscuits.

    Bacon drippings or butter and flour make the roux for this simple tomato gravy. Serve the gravy over freshly baked biscuitsmashed potatoes, or rice.

  • 11 of 15

    Buttermilk Biscuits

    Buttermilk Biscuits

     The Spruce / Diana Rattray

    Buttermilk biscuits are synonymous with soul food. Flaky, buttery, and the perfect addition to any meal, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Serve these hot from the oven, slathered with butter. Load them with sausage gravy and a fried egg at breakfast. Or sandwich a piece of fried chicken between a split biscuit. The options are endless, and once you make your own, from scratch, you'll recognize why these are a favorite down South.

  • 12 of 15

    Corn Bread

    southern style corn bread

     The Spruce

    Cornbread is a staple in the South, and an essential accompaniment to dishes like stewed greens, black-eye peas, and country-style ribs. Southern-style cornbread rarely contains sugar, though some regions and many people do like to sweeten their cornbread a bit. To add sugar or not can be a hot topic. In contrast to traditional Southern style cornbread is the sweetened, more cake like version known as corn light bread -- a middle Tennessee specialty that is typically served with barbecue.

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  • 13 of 15

    Banana Pudding

    Banana Pudding

     The Spruce / Diana Rattray

    Banana pudding has long been a favorite Southern dessert, whether served up in a large bowl and scooped out or assembled into individual pudding cups. This is a shortcut version, using instant pudding as a base, along with sweetened condensed milkvanilla wafers, and sliced bananas. It's a favorite among children and adults alike.

  • 14 of 15

    Sweet Potato Pie

    Sweet Potato Pie

     The Spruce

    Sweet potato pie is a true Southern icon. This vintage Mississippi recipe produces two, single-crust pies with a similar texture and flavor to pumpkin pie, but a little bit sweeter. Sweet potatoes are available year-round, so don't feel like you have to wait for a holiday to enjoy this amazing dessert. You can use purchased refrigerated or frozen pie pastry or homemade pie shells. 

  • 15 of 15

    Lemon Chess Pie

    Southern Lemon Chess Pie
    Classic Southern Lemon Chess Pie. Photo: Diana Rattray

    Southern baking has long been about making the most of what's at hand, which is how the classic chess pie came about. With a classic pastry shell and a simple filling made with sugar, eggs, butter, cornmeal, and salt, chess pie is proof that simple can be delicious. Swap the typical vinegar for lemon zest and juice for a brighter-tasting pie.