14 Foods Every Southerner Should Have In the Pantry

These iconic ingredients are key to recreating recipes "just like grandma used to make."



If you flip through a Southern recipe box, chances are, several staple ingredients will make regular appearances. These tried-and-true ingredients will help you prepare an entire Southern feast, from the cornbread down to the cobbler.

We reached out to our Southern cooking community to get the lowdown on the true kitchen staples of the South, and have compiled a list of all the pantry items you'll need to cook the classics like the soul-food masters. Sure, Southern food is made with lots of love, but it's also made with a whole lot of cornmeal and Bisquick!

Duke’s Mayonnaise

A tomato sandwich on white bread

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

When choosing the mayo that will top off tomato sandwiches, create creamy spinach artichoke dips, and be baked into decadent chocolate cakes, for Southerners, it has to be Duke’s. Mayonnaise is a necessity year-round, versatile enough for casseroles, salad dressings, and grilled cheese sandwiches alike, and the bright, one-of-a-kind flavor of Duke’s is a signature in Southern cooking.

Fruit Preserves

Strawberry Jam

Whether you opt for jam or jelly, blackberry or muscadine, a jar of fruit preserves will always be on hand in the Southern pantry. Not only is it an essential topping for Saturday morning buttermilk biscuits, but it can also be turned into a delicious glaze for grilled chicken.

“Surprise guests? Pour a jar of pepper jelly over the cream cheese, get out a spreader & buttery crackers. Voila! Appetizer!,” shares Allstar Staci Purvis Maddox.


a spoonful of strawberry pretzel salad being lifted from a casserole dish

Speaking to both Jell-O and fruit preserves, All-Star Robin Justice-Michalicek says, “The entire South is mainly constructed of these 2 substances."

Jell-O has a rich history in the South, and its unique properties have made dishes like colorful congealed salads and strawberry pretzel salads possible since the 1900s. Some Southern Jell-O creations will never go out of style (even if we want them to), which is why the box of powdered gelatin remains a pantry staple.

The instant pudding mix is just as valuable as the pure gelatin kind—in fact, it's the secret behind super-moist bundt cakes and the "best banana pudding you will ever find."

Ritz Crackers

Chicken Casserole

Whether you use them to coat chicken cutlets or top off a creamy squash casserole, you never want to run short on Ritz crackers. The buttery, flakey crackers are great for scooping up party dips (like this rich onion dip), but can also be transformed into an easy, last-minute dessert when company comes to town.

Diced Pimientos

southern pimento cheese
Holiday Baker

Why keep a jar of diced pimientos on hand at all times? For pimiento cheese, of course. Homemade pimiento cheese—otherwise known as the pâté of the South—is better than anything you can find in stores, and it's perfect for bringing to almost any occasion.

Everybody knows popular Southern spread is good on crackers, “but, omg, put this on a burger, or try it in a soufflé!,” raves Allstar Sarah Stone.



Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

“I use cornmeal not only for making cornbread, but also for dusting okra and green tomatoes before frying,” says Allstar Paula Roten. Cornmeal is also essential for battering fresh-caught catfish and making hush puppy batter, two staples of a traditional fish fry.

Tea Bags


On those hot summer days when the heat will show no mercy, nothing satisfies like some good old-fashioned sweet tea. You'll find it served with different degrees of sweetness all over the Southern states, but every batch has to start with tea bags. Black tea is the base (typically Orange Pekoe) and it adds a mellow bitterness to round out the intense sweetness. Adding a sprig of mint makes the chilled drink even more refreshing.

This popular recipe for Alabama Sweet Tea is just about as classic as it gets, and the recipe creator swears, "If you're north of the Mason-Dixon, you've NEVER had tea this good!"


Kentucky Garlic Cheese Grits

Grits are as simple and satisfying as comfort foods come. In fact, grits are so iconic in Southern kitchens, the word is even worn as a nickname by some, meaning "Girls Raised in the South."

“Grits with butter or cheese make a hearty breakfast, accompanied with biscuits and gravy, eggs, and sausage, of course," shares Allstar Paula Roten. "Or pair grits with shrimp for a fancy dinner."



Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

In the South, Bourbon is used for baking just as much as it is for sipping. Southern cooks will sneak bourbon into pecan pies, bread puddings, and even BBQ sauces. The native Kentucky spirit adds a bold and balanced flavor to all sorts of desserts and it happens to pair perfectly with chocolate (like in these delectable Kentucky Bourbon Balls).

Of course, it's even more essential in stirring up classic Southern cocktails like a mint julep or bourbon old fashioned.

French's Crispy Fried Onions

Best Green Bean Casserole

For a crispy, flavorful finish to any Southern casserole, nothing beats French's fried onions (and hasn't for decades!). The salty, slightly-sweet crisps add unbeatable texture and flavor to chicken bakes and holiday dishes (they also make for an indulgent snack if nobody's looking). These golden fried onions will make any casserole crave-worthy.

Duncan Hines Cake Mix

Gooey Butter Cake III cut into squares
Dorothy Bridges

So many delicious desserts start with a box of cake mix, and the choice of Southern home cooks is Duncan Hines. With a simple box of yellow cake mix, you can make cookies, crumbles, or this melt-in-your-mouth gooey butter cake. The premade mix is always waiting in the pantry, ready to be turned into dump cakes, coffee cakes, and bake sale desserts in a flash.

Vidalia Onions

top-down view of an oval dish of cheesy-looking dip with crackers on the side

The official state vegetable of Georgia, famous for unbeatable sweetness, Vidalia onions are the only kind of onions that will do in many Southern dishes (like this Vidalia Sweet Onion Dip).

And do you know the best way to keep them stored? In pantyhose! Just drop them down the legs and tie a know between each onion, then hang them in a cool, dry place like the pantry. This tried-and-true trick can keep the sweet onions fresh for months.


plate of Cheddar Bay Biscuits
Okinawan Princess

Blueberry muffins for breakfast? Easy. Chicken and dumplings for dinner? You got it.

A time-saving alternative to another Southern baking icon—White Lily all-purpose flour—Bisquick takes out the step of tirelessly cutting flour with butter or shortening, making fresh biscuits or peach cobblers impossibly easy.

The simple and expensive baking mix has more uses than we can count, and Southern cooks know it's the secret to some of their best baking creations, whether you're making sausage balls for the tailgate or a breakfast bake fit for a crowd (i.e. the whole family).

Cream of Anything Soup


Loads of easy sides, casseroles, and, of course, soups, are made possible with cream of chicken, mushroom, potato, or celery (take your pick) soup. It's the rich and hearty base that melds all the other savory flavors together. Keep a can of the creamy soup on deck and you're halfway to a quick and comforting supper.

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