20 South Carolina Foods the Palmetto State Is Known For

Instant Pot® Low Country Boil on a white plate
Photo: Soup Loving Nicole

It's impossible to overstate the impact South Carolina's culinary traditions have had on Southern cuisine as a whole. With deep African roots, the Lowcountry is home to countless dishes that have become synonymous with the American South. In this food tour of the Palmetto State, we'll explore iconic South Carolina foods — including Frogmore stew, chicken bog, hoppin' John, benne wafers, and so much more — that the coastal state is known for.

01 of 21

Frogmore Stew

Daves Low Country Boil by Baasinator on newspaper 10.24.11

Few dishes scream "Lowcountry" quite as loudly as Frogmore stew (also known as Lowcountry boil, Beaufort stew, and tidewater stew).

The seasoned medley of boiled corn, shrimp, sausage, and potatoes originated in St. Helena Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina. The area surrounding Frogmore Plantation on the island was referred to as "Frogmore" until the town lost its post office in 1988.

For an authentic Lowcountry experience, boil your ingredients in beer and serve the feast on a newspaper-covered table.

Learn more: What Is Frogmore Stew and How Do You Make It At Home?

Try these recipes:

02 of 21

Gullah Red Rice

Gullah Red Rice
Gullah Red Rice. My Hot Southern Mess

The Gullah Geechee people, the descendants of the Africans who were enslaved in the Lowcountry region on the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, had an enormous effect on Southern cuisine.

One of their most famous culinary contributions is Charleston red rice, a tomato-based rice dish with vegetables and sausage.

Visit the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission to learn more about the community's significant impact on American art, music, language, and cooking.

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03 of 21

Chicken Bog

Chicken Bog
Corey Williams

Chicken bog is a simple South Carolina staple that has stood the test of time.

Some say its name stems from its composition (the chicken is, quite literally, bogged down in rice), while others insist it's a nod to the marshlands of the Lowcountry.

Traditional chicken bog is made by boiling a whole chicken until tender, discarding the skins and bones, then adding white rice to absorb the stock. The dish often contains smoked sausage, onions, and various spices.

Learn more: Chicken Bog: A Comforting Taste of the Lowcountry

Try these recipes:

04 of 21

She-Crab Soup

South Carolina She-Crab Soup

You can't go to Charleston without ordering a bowl of velvety smooth she-crab soup, which is made from Atlantic blue crab.

What's with the name? Female crabs, though smaller than their male counterparts, have sweeter meat. They also produce a flavorful roe that some cooks swear by.

Traditional versions call for crabmeat, crab roe, fish stock, milk or cream, and dry sherry. Some modern chefs (though not all) forgo the roe in favor of crumbled hard-boiled egg yolks.

Try these recipes:

05 of 21

Carolina Gold Sauce

Carolina Style Barbeque Sauce
Photo by lutzflcat.

Food historians think the origins of South Carolina's signature "Carolina gold" barbecue sauce can be traced back to German settlers.

The deep yellow sauce — a blend of mustard, honey, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and other ingredients — is truly liquid gold.

With a unique tanginess, Carolina gold sauce perfectly balances out the fattiness and rich flavor of pulled pork.

Try these recipes:

06 of 21

Huguenot Torte

Huguenot torte slices with coffee and whipped cream
Dotdash Meredith

South Carolina's most famous dessert, the Huguenot torte, has a rather misleading name — it doesn't have Huguenot roots and it's not actually a torte. The apple and pecan crisp is actually descended from Ozark pudding, a cake-like dessert from northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri.

It was first attributed to Evelyn Anderson Florance of Charleston in 1950. When asked about its origins three decades later, Florance said she had Ozark pudding in Texas in the '30s. She renamed it after the Huguenot Tavern, a restaurant where she worked.

Fun fact: It was the favorite dessert of President Harry Truman.

Try this recipe from our sister brand, MyRecipes: Huguenot Torte

07 of 21


Slow Cooker Carolina BBQ
Slow Cooker Carolina BBQ | Photo by Ryan Henderson.

Barbecue is South Carolina's Official State Picnic Cuisine (yes, that's its actual title).

Carolina gold sauce is famously associated with the Palmetto State, but South Carolinians don't discriminate when it comes to barbecue. It's the only state that recognizes four different barbecue sauces: mustard, vinegar, light tomato, and heavy tomato.

Pulled pork is the meat of choice for most barbecue aficionados in the state.

Try these recipes:

08 of 21

Shrimp and Grits

Momma's Shrimp and Cheese Grits
Auntie Tippy

Shrimp and grits is another Southern dish with Gullah roots. It's found nationwide popularity in recent years, appearing on menus coast to coast.

The combination of ingredients has been a mainstay in South Carolina for centuries, but the first written recipe appeared in the 1950 edition of Charleston Receipts (the oldest Junior League cookbook still in print).

The comforting meal lends itself to brunch, but it can be served all day long.

Try these recipes:

09 of 21

Hoppin' John

close up of hoppin john in a red bowl
Baking Nana

Hoppin' John — a delicious combination of black-eyed peas, pork, rice, tomatoes, onions and green bell peppers — is a New Year's tradition in the Southern United States. When its paired with greens and cornbread, the dish is supposed to bring a year's worth of good luck.

Nobody is sure how hoppin' John got its name (and some proposed origin stories are rather problematic), but one accepted theory is that it's a corruption of the French phrase "pois à pigeon," which means "pigeon peas." Most food historians agree the dish has Lowcountry roots.

Try these recipes:

10 of 21


Southern Style Chicken Perlo with Andouille Sausage
Faith N

It's hard to define perloo (or purloo or perlau). Depending on where you're from, it can refer to anything from jambalaya to chicken bog.

When South Carolinians say "perloo," they're probably talking about a budget-friendly, pilaf-style rice dish that's more than likely made in one pot. There really aren't rules when it comes to perloo: It can include any type of meat and any combination of local seasonings.

Try these recipes:

11 of 21

Cooter Soup (Turtle Soup)

Mike's Bait Shop's Turtle Stew
Photo by abiyah79.

The delightfully named cooter soup (also known as turtle or terrapin soup) is not as popular as it once was in the U.S., but it's still considered a local tradition in Charleston.

Turtles thrive in the rice fields of the Lowcountry, so it makes sense that the dish would become a regional favorite. The soup was so beloved in the 18th and 19th centuries, communities hosted huge events called "turtle frolics" where people gathered to enjoy the stew.

Try this recipe: Mike's Bait Shop's Turtle Soup

12 of 21

Catfish Stew

Kerr Lake Catfish Stew
Eric Washington

Like many Southern foods, catfish stew was brought to the U.S. centuries ago through the slave trade. Stewed catfish dishes are common across the continent, particularly in Nigeria.

It took off in popularity during the Great Depression, as it was a tasty and filling meal to make on a budget. These days, it's so popular in South Carolina that there are multiple catfish stew cook-offs hosted in the state every year.

Catfish stew is usually made with boiled catfish fillets, crushed tomatoes, potatoes, and onions. Sometimes the tomatoes are omitted and replaced with milk -- this version is called "white catfish stew."

Try this recipe: Kerr Lake Catfish Stew

13 of 21

Pimiento Cheese

southern pimento cheese
Holiday Baker

No one Southern state can lay claim to pimiento cheese, a Cheddar spread with pimientos (or pimentos) and mayonnaise. The dish is famously a tradition at the Kentucky Derby and at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.

You may be surprised to learn that the "pâté of the South" did not originate below the Mason-Dixon. In fact, the earliest versions (made with cream cheese and pimientos) can be traced back to New York. Georgian farmers began cultivating pimientos in the 20th-century, and the spread became a Southern staple sometime before World War II.

Palmetto Cheese, headquartered in South Carolina, is perhaps the most famous brand of packaged pimiento cheese.

Try these recipes: 10 Pimiento Cheese Recipes That Are Impossible to Resist

14 of 21

Benne Wafers

Benne Wafers by Nikki Fleshman Haborak
Benne Wafers. Nikki Fleshman Haborak

Benne, the plant that produces sesame seeds, was brought to South Carolina by enslaved Africans in the 1700s.

Sesame seeds are the key ingredient in benne wafers, a delicate cookie with a crispy texture and nutty flavor. The paper thin cookies are usually sweet, but savory versions exist and are served as canapés.

Benne wafers, a popular confection among tourists, are sold in Charleston bakeries and hotels.

Try this recipe: Benne Wafers

15 of 21

Oyster Roast

platter of grilled oysters with fennel butter.
Meredith Food Studios

The oyster roast, a community gathering centered around roasted oysters, is a Lowcountry tradition. These celebrations of coastal cuisine can occur year-round, but they're most common in colder months when oysters are at their firmest and most flavorful.

If you host your own oyster roast, make sure to have some crackers for serving, hot sauce and cocktail sauce for dipping, and lots of cold beer for drinking.

Try these recipes: Grilled Oysters With Fennel Butter

16 of 21

Lady Baltimore Cake

cake with gold sprinkles and cherry on top
Carol Bennett-Chevereau

According to legend, a Charleston debutante served a Lady Baltimore cake to author Owen Wister in the early 20th-century. Wister published Lady Baltimore, a romantic novel in which the narrator falls in love with a woman who serves him the same cake, a few years later.

"It's all soft, and it's in layers, and it has nuts — but I can`t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much," Wister wrote in 1903.

The legendary dessert (a white layer cake with a fruity, nutty filling and meringue topping) remains popular to this day.

Try this recipe: Lady Baltimore Cake

17 of 21

Collard Greens

southern collard greens in small white bowl
France C

There's a lot to love about collard greens, South Carolina's official state vegetable. They're usually simmered low and slow with bacon or a ham hock, as pork fat adds meaty flavor that's essential to the Southern side dish.

Collard greens are traditionally served on New Year's Day with hoppin' John. The delicious pair, according to lore, will bring you wealth and good fortune all year long.

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18 of 21

Boiled Peanuts

cajun boiled peanuts

Boiled peanuts, yet another Southern delicacy with African origins, were named South Carolina's official snack food in 2006 via a unanimous vote by the state legislature.

From roadside stands in Spartanburg to fancy restaurants in Charleston, the soggy snack can be found all over the Palmetto State.

You technically need just salt to season boiled peanuts, but many South Carolinians like to turn up the heat with spices such as cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes.

Try these recipes:

19 of 21

Planter's Punch

Planter's Punch cocktail, close-up

According to local lore, Planter's Punch was first served at the Planters Hotel in Charleston. That's not actually true! The sweet, fruity rum drink actually originated in Jamaica.

Still, Charlestonians can't get enough of Planter's Punch. The breezy cocktail, complete with two types of rum and a myriad of citrus juices, is found on menus throughout the Holy City.

Try this recipe: Planter's Punch

20 of 21

Hush Puppies

Buttermilk Hush Puppies
Allrecipes Magazine

There's lots of folklore about the history of the hush puppy, and nobody is quite sure how the delicious balls of deep-fried cornmeal came to be (or what's behind the funny name).

We do know that the term "hush puppy" started popping up along the Southeastern coast, from the Carolinas to Florida, sometime in the 20th-century.

Crispy on the outside and soft in the center, it's impossible to resist the famous South Carolina side dish.

Try these recipes:

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More Inspiration

Charleston Crab and Grits
Photo by Aja.

Hungry for more delicious inspiration? Explore our entire collection of South Carolina Recipes.

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