Iconic Foods In Alabama

When you think of Alabama, a couple of things come to mind: gulf coast beaches, college football, and of course, food! 

It’s no secret that Alabamans love to eat.

And much of Southern hospitality is sharing the food that we enjoy here. 

In this post, we’re going to talk about foods Alabama is known for.

So, get cozy and get ready to get hungry. 

Popular Foods In Alabama 

Fried Green Tomatoes 

The history of fried green tomatoes is actually surprising.

Although they are commonly associated with the South, you won’t find any references to them in any Southern newspapers or recipes published prior to the 1970s. 

Jewish immigrants introduced this dish to the US in the 19th century, and it quickly became a staple in regional cookbooks across the Midwest and Northeast. 

Until the publication of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and the subsequent release of the film adaptation, fried green tomatoes were not widely eaten in the South.

So, it turns out that fried green tomatoes aren’t originally from the South.

But here in the Lowcountry, we love them a little bit more than anybody else! 

Fried Catfish 

fried catfish

Being a staple in West African cuisine, fish became an integral part of Southern fare. 

Most enslaved Africans originated from West Africa, and they introduced their regional cuisines to the Americas. 

These folks enjoyed a wide variety of fish throughout this period, but catfish was a popular choice because it was abundant in Southern waterways. 

It required little effort to cook, to the point where it was commonly caught, cleaned, fried, and eaten directly on the riverbanks.

This factored heavily into the success of weekend fish fry specials. 

Fish fries became an essential part of the social lives of African-Americans because of the ease and speed with which a large quantity of fish could be prepared.

Related Reading: Best Seafood Restaurants In Mobile – Find More Here.

Boiled Peanuts 

boiled peanuts foods in alabama

Peanuts entered the mainstream as a snack food during the time of the Civil War.

Folks were starving, and peanuts were available. 

The peanut’s versatility led to its widespread adoption across the South, where it was used for everything from machine lubrication to food and drink (even as a replacement for coffee). 

However, African-Americans and Africans had been boiling peanuts for a long time prior to the Civil War.

Starting in the early 20th century, boiled peanuts became a popular food item during social gatherings.

This was especially true of August and September weddings when green peanuts were in season.

Pecan Pie – Foods In Alabama

pecan pie foods in alabama

The pecan pie that has become a symbol of the South is not actually native to the region. 

Early milk-custard-based pecan pie recipes may be traced back to 1824 to Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife. 

However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the popularity of pecan pie skyrocketed thanks to promotional recipes printed on the labels of Karo syrup bottles.

The wife of a Karo executive has been credited with creating the dish, but a similar pie using syrup first appeared in the Texas Brownwood Bulletin in 1921. 

Thirty years later, it was named “the South’s most popular pie” in Marion Brown’s classic Southern Cookbook.

Banana Pudding 

banana pudding foods in alabama

Of course, bananas are an essential ingredient in banana pudding.

But did you know that Americans didn’t have access to them until after the Civil War? 

Some bunches made it from the West Indies to Atlantic ports like New York and Charleston in the 1840s and 1850s, but they were extremely rare and quickly spoiled. 

However, things began to change shortly after the Civil War, when steamships and new trading companies began bringing in larger quantities of fruit from the Caribbean and, later, Central America.

As a result, cooks started using these still-exotic but now-affordable fruits in savory and sweet preparations, as well as simply peeling them and eating them plain.

Banana pudding acquired its strong Southern American association through time.

This likely happened soon after the end of World War II.

Related Reading: Best Coffee Shops In Mobile – Find The Complete List Here.

Fried Pickles 

fried pickles

Fried dill pickles (a.k.a. Frickles) are a popular Southern American snack item created by deep-frying thin slices of battered dill pickles.

In the early 1960s, fried pickles made their debut on the American dining scene.

On November 19, 1962, the Oakland Tribune published a recipe for “French Fried Pickles,” which called for sweet pickle slices and pancake mix to be fried together.

You may find fried pickles on the menus of local and chain restaurants, as well as at street fairs and other culinary festivals all throughout the United States. 

You can eat them on their own, or with other dishes.

A ranch dressing or other creamy sauce is a common accompaniment to these fried delights.

Fried Chicken (and Waffles) 

fried chicken

Fried chicken seems simple. It’s chicken parts coated with seasoned flour or batter and fried in a variety of ways.

They could be pan-fried, deep-fried, pressure-fried, or air fried. 

In reality, there are so many ways to make fried chicken, and a lot of folks take it seriously.

Your family probably has its own secret fried chicken recipe. 

Traditions of frying chicken in a batter or coating it with spices are held by many West African cultures (cooking the chicken in palm oil). 

The value of this common farm animal was universally acknowledged.

Slaves from West Africa transported their seasoning and frying techniques to the American South, and the rest is history. 

Chicken is often served with waffles in Alabama.

The waffles are served with the usual breakfast fixings, like syrup and butter. 

Many folks, whose tastes have been shaped by the soul food traditions of their families, are particularly fond of this combination.

You get the sweet, pillowy texture of the waffles and the salty, crunchy punch of the chicken.

Peach Ice Cream 

peach ice cream foods in alabama

In Alabama, peaches have been cultivated since the middle of the nineteenth century. 

This gave farmers a chance to expand their income and provide for their families by producing something other than cotton, corn, and other traditional staples. 

The peach may have only been grown in one county, but it has become Alabama’s top commercial crop. 

And since the fruit was in no short supply, Alabamans had to get creative.

They started making fried pies, cobbler, butters, preserves, and ice cream. 

Heavy cream, whole milk, sugar, eggs, and fresh, ripe peaches are all you need to make a batch of delicious Homemade Peach Ice Cream. 

There is nothing more summery than this combination of flavors.

This Southern classic highlights the flavor of the iconic Alabama peach.

Potato Salad

For Southerners, potato salad is a serious matter.

Although our favorite potluck food has deep German roots, many people maintain that Southerners have, once again, taken a decent dish, added some spice, and called the result a Southern classic.

You may have noticed that not just anyone is asked to bring this dish to the family barbeque.

It’s true; there is a competitive character to Southern cooking.  

Almost every Southern family has a designated “Ultimate Potato Salad Maker,” typically a grandmother, aunt, or another senior member of the family who has spent years perfecting their recipe.

So, what distinguishes this Southern iteration from the others?

Many Southerners swear by the Duke’s brand of mayonnaise, while others will disagree. 

Some folks claim that the buttery yellow color comes from the mustard that’s been added. 

Some even claim that the addition of hard-boiled egg pieces is what gives it that authentic Southern flavor. 

A hint of paprika is another telltale sign that the dish was produced in the South, although it’s likely that it’s a combination of all of these factors.

White BBQ Sauce 

white barbecue sauce foods in alabama

Over a century after its creation, Bob Gibson’s Alabama white barbecue sauce is as ubiquitous at Northern Alabama backyard barbecues as it was back then. 

Gibson made a unique and delicious BBQ sauce by combining components that are not often found in the bases of typical BBQ sauces.

In the BBQ world, Memphis is famous for its dry ribs, Kansas City for its molasses, and South Carolina for its mustard.

Well, Alabama is known for its white sauce.  

How, though, did a condiment typically made with a tomato base end up with such a different flavor profile?

Here’s the story.

During the week, Big Bob Gibson was usually found at his job on the L&N Railway. 

Gibson, who was over six feet tall and weighed over 300 pounds, often hosted get-togethers on the weekends.

In the backyard dirt pit he created, he smoked meats like chicken and pork.

Chicken tends to dry out when smoked in a pit for long periods of time because the fat is rendered off throughout the cooking process.

This is where the white sauce comes in. 

Unlike most barbecue sauces, this one doesn’t start with canned tomatoes.

He used mayonnaise, thinned with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.

All that needs is a ton of black pepper, and boom, that’s how the sauce came to be. 

Related Reading: Best BBQ Places In Mobile – Get To Know More Here.

Baked Beans

baked beans foods in alabama

Baked beans are a pantry mainstay and a kitchen shorthand for quick, cheap dinners.

Some people like to eat them on top of jacket potatoes, while others like to pair them with sausages or bread. 

It’s possible that you’d like them best cold, just out of the tin!

No matter how you eat them or if you even enjoy them, baked beans have a rich history that belies their apparent simplicity. 

While its origins are murky, the popular belief is that the modern canned baked bean has its roots in Native American cuisine, notably in recipes made by indigenous peoples in the northeast.

Today, it’s a common addition to an Alabaman potluck or cookout. 

West Indies Salad 

Bill Bayley, an inventive restaurant owner on Alabama’s Gulf Shores, transformed lump crabmeat into a tangy, tasty salad using cider vinegar, vegetable oil, and yellow onion in 1947. 

The meal makes use of the abundant crab supply in surrounding waterways, and the name was chosen to evoke images of the beaches of the West Indies.

The salad quickly gained popularity in Alabama, despite the fact that it contains no ingredients native to the West Indies. 

It continues to be served at many of the state’s oldest seafood restaurants to this day.

Lane Cake

lane cake

Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, entered her “Lane Cake” in a baking competition at the Columbus, Georgia, county fair. 

She gave her name to the sweet treat that she had initially dubbed “Prize Cake.”

It was featured in her 1898 self-published cookbook, Some Good Things to Eat. 

The original recipe for Lane Cake called for four layers of white sponge cake that were stacked and topped with a frosting made of coconut, raisins, nuts, and bourbon. 

It is a common sight at southern parties, whether it’s a wedding shower, holiday feast, or reception.

Sweet Tea

sweet tea

Tea with sugar added to it first appeared in Southern cookbooks in the late 19th century.

Iced tea had been served for decades, but it typically took the form of “punches,” or cold green tea mixed with liquor. 

After 1900, when refrigeration became commonplace, the convenience of iced tea (now primarily produced from black tea) increased, and its popularity exploded. 

By the 1860s, Southerners were drinking iced tea without alcohol.

During the years of Prohibition (1920-33) in the South, people were looking for non-alcoholic beverages to replace their cold boozy drinks. 

The popularity of sweet tea probably increased because of the heat.

Since the South experiences a higher number of hot months, drinking sweet tea is a welcome relief. 

You would be sipping on hot beverages year-round in the North, with sweet tea being a seasonal staple.

Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler 

Although it is often looked down upon in comparison to closest competition, the peach pie, peach cobbler, has received its fair share of praise. 

Peach cobbler was a popular dish in the colonies, where it went by a variety of names.

It’s commonly believed that colonists adapted English recipes after bringing them to the New World.

The early Americans were masters of the art of making do with what they had. 

English steamed puddings were among the traditional dishes they brought over from their homeland. 

They had to improvise with whatever was on hand because they couldn’t find their usual ingredients.

By placing biscuits or dough on top, cobblers were an easy and delightful way to keep fruit from spoiling and to increase the meal’s nutritional value and yield. 

These luscious desserts were so popular among early colonists that they were frequently served as the main meal, for breakfast, or even as a first course.  

Not until the latter half of the nineteenth century did they become largely served as sweets.

Moon Pie 

moon pie

Most people’s minds immediately go to New Orleans when they think about Mardi Gras.

Well, they have the wrong idea . 

The tradition can be traced back to the tranquil city of Mobile, Alabama, just to the east.

Mobile saw the formation of mystical groups in the 18th century. 

These organizations can be compared to the New Orleans krewes.

Carnival-themed parades and balls were made popular by these quirky groups, which brought old customs to Mobile.

So, what is the connection between Mobile and Moon Pies?

It’s a traditional item thrown from floats in the Mardi Gras parade.

Additionally, Mobile has the highest per capita consumption of Moon Pies anywhere in the globe!

Gulf Shrimp 

gulf shrimp

The tradition of Alabama Gulf fresh seafood predates the United States itself.

According to early European settlers in Alabama, fish was a staple diet for the local Native American population. 

By the mid-1700s, Mobile had become famous for its seafood, thanks to delicacies like stuffed Snapper and Shrimp jambalaya.

Around the time Alabama was added to the Union in the early 1800s, its maritime customs began to be industrialized. 

Shrimp were frozen and shipped across the country by rail in those days.

Early in the twentieth century, this technology gave way to canning, which paved the way for the modern techniques of processing seafood.

Natural events have had a significant role in shaping Alabama’s culture alongside the commercial fisheries industry. 

In Mobile Bay, you can witness a phenomenon known as a jubilee, in which a variety of shrimp, crabs, and fish will gather in large numbers near the shoreline at one specific location.

Because of this abundance, Alabamans serve shrimp in various ways, like shrimp bakes, shrimp and grits, fried shrimp, Jambalaya, and Gumbo.

The list goes on and on.

Conecuh Sausage

conecuh sausage foods in alabama

The Conecuh Sausage Company was established in 1947 in Evergreen, Alabama. 

They’ve been in business for 75 years, and while they’re still using the same legendary family recipe, they’ve expanded to six other smoked meat options. 

Conecuh’s popularity can be attributed to its distinctive flavor, which is enhanced by smoking over hickory wood. 

This business now produces between 35,000 and 40,000 pounds of sausage per day.

That doesn’t account for the rest of their offerings, which include things like turkey, bacon, country ham, and spice blends.

The state’s favorite sausage can be used to season beans, scrambled into eggs, or served as the main attraction on a dinner plate. 

It can be “chunked” over hash-brown potato strands while they’re on the grill, sprinkled over pizza, stuffed inside a bun, or even used in place of cracklings in a batch of cornbread.

Barbecue

barbecue foods in alabama

Barbecue refers to the practice of slowly cooking meat over an open flame.

From white sauce-drenched chicken on the Tennessee River banks to pecan-infused hog shoulder in Mobile, Alabama, barbecue is revered across the board. 

In Alabama, it’s not uncommon to find barbecue joints that have been in business for decades and are still being operated by members of the same family. 

Although chicken, brisket, and beef ribs are available at some establishments, pork is the most popular meat for barbecuing in Alabama.

Related Reading: Best Places To Eat In Mobile Al – Check Them Out Here.

Grits 

grits

For as long as there has been an area called the South, grits have been an integral part of the region’s history. 

The origin of many Southern cuisine classics is shrouded in mystery, as is the case with grits. 

Even though grits are now associated with comfort and nutrition, their history is fraught with hardship.

That history involves the movement of ground-corn porridge from native communities to European settlers, from slave gardens and kitchens to plantation dining rooms, and from family farms to multinational conglomerates.

For something as wholesome and simple as ground corn, it sure is loaded with meaning.

Beignets 

beignets foods in alabama

What’s all the hype about beignets anyway?

Well, many would say that breakfasts and brunches in Alabama wouldn’t be complete without beignets. 

Pâte à choux, a light pastry dough, is generally used to make it, though there are a variety of recipes out there. 

The beignet’s signature golden brown crisp exterior surrounds the soft, airy interior.

A fantastic dough mix is the backbone of any good Beignet recipe. 

Beignets are typically enjoyed with cafe au lait or iced coffee and enjoyed when still warm with a dusting of powdered sugar. 

You can usually get a trio of beignets at a cafe.

The traditional Beignet is available in many Alabama cafes, bakeries, and eateries. 

Biscuits and Gravy 

biscuits and gravy foods in alabama

There’s not a lot that a plate of biscuits and gravy can’t solve.

This country was founded on the foundation of biscuits and gravy. 

The dish, which seems to have become popular during the Revolutionary War, was born out of necessity and frugality. 

Folks who worked hard but didn’t have much money could satisfy their appetite for a high-calorie breakfast with this hearty meal. 

Biscuits have come a long way from their earliest iteration as dense flour and water lumps to the modern tender-crumb pastry baked with baking powder.

In the South, this meal is even more ubiquitous than everywhere else.

Biscuits can be made with whatever ingredients were on hand, and gravy was made by extending the drippings with milk or water after cooking meat.

Collard Greens 

collard greens foods in alabama

Southern cooking wouldn’t be complete without the humble collard greens.

Southern cooking is based mostly around collard greens. 

Collard greens have always maintained a special place in the hearts of the South’s foodies.

They are a bountiful feast for the hungry, a satisfying reward for the hardworking, and a soothing remedy for the homesick. 

Africans brought collards to the American South.

History books can’t agree on when or how the first collard plants were brought to the American colonies. 

However, it’s clear that the southern tradition of boiling collard greens in a pot of water until soft was adopted from the foodways that industrious African plantation workers developed while they were enslaved. 

Nutritionally rich and delicious, stewed greens have become a staple dish across the South.

Related Reading: Best Farm To Table Restaurants In Mobile – Find Them Out Here.

Final Thoughts

There are many more iterations of the dishes mentioned above.

That’s how creative Alabamans are! 

Alabama food is a national treasure, and it’s all due to the bountiful resources in the region.

With all these classic eats and some good old Southern hospitality, everyone leaves Alabama with a full heart and belly.

Disclosure:  this article might contain links to the resources discussed.
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