From barbecue and hot chicken to biscuits and banana pudding, there’s something extraordinary about Tennessee fare. Here are nine of the most beloved, iconic, and mouthwatering foods the state has to offer – and some of the best places around the state to try them for yourself.
Ah, the biscuit. This Southern staple receives extra lovin’ from the oven in Tennessee – whether in the form of butter in its batter or the innovative toppings placed upon its layers. Crispy chicken, rich gravy or thick-cut bacon accessorize the breakfast champion, though a jam-, honey- or sorghum-covered bite is smooth enough to savor all Sunday long.
In a state so beholden to its smoked ribs, overloaded pork sandwiches and extra-simmered sauces, it’s exceptionally challenging to pick just a few favorites.
Embark upon your own barbecue road trip – dry-rubbed ribs and all – by following the pitmasters and well-tended glowing coals of establishments from Memphis to Mountain City. You’ll find ’cue on the menu at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and The Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis, Top Hog BBQ in Gallatin and Heavy’s BBQ in New Tazewell. Click here to find out more about the Tennessee barbecue scene.
The fresh catch of any day in Tennessee, catfish is battered in boisterous seasonings and flash-fried for a delectable Southern version of fish ’n’ chips.
You can find plentiful platters at Boyette’s Dining Room at Reelfoot Lake, Allison’s Catfish Farm & Restaurant in Friendsville (open March-October), the Catfish House in Springfield, Hagy’s Catfish Hotel in Shiloh and Top O’ the River in Michie. Wherever you place your order, a couple of piping-hot fillets with hush puppies, fries and coleslaw can’t be beat.
Gloriously good fried chicken derives from Tennessee family recipes that now grace the kitchens of renowned restaurant establishments. Fried chicken is the foundation of Southern cuisine, and its styles, while varied and sometimes considered competitive, consistently draw a worldwide audience.
Few desserts offer as much Southern comfort as a batch of banana pudding, whose layers of cream and crunch combine to enrich the palate and elevate the meal entirely, whether at a barbecue cookout or an outdoor picnic.
Grab a spoon at Countryside Cafe in Ooltewah, Germantown Commissary in Memphis, Murfreesboro’s Peter D’s Restaurant or Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House in Knoxville. Want to sample some of the best puddin’ in the state, all in one place? Check out Centerville’s National Banana Pudding Festival each October.
Pair your eggs, potatoes, and biscuits and gravy with a slab of country ham. Opt for exquisitely dry-cured country ham prepared artisan-style for an unrivaled Southern charcuterie spread.
Meat and Three
The phrase “better together” reflects Tennessee’s soulful meat-and-three dining option as a collective presentation of protein and rich sides that far outweighs its individual flavor profiles.
Mix and match your favorites for a sweet and savory feast – and yes, mac and cheese does count as a “veggie.”
For an unforgettable meat-and-three experience, you can’t go wrong at Nashville’s Arnold’s Country Kitchen, the Old Country Store at Casey Jones Village in Jackson, Alcenia’s in Memphis, Chandler’s in Knoxville or Moss’s Southern Cooking in Clarksville.
A short stack of extra fluffy flapjacks will settle and satisfy breakfast crowds of all ages. Most appropriately soaked with maple syrup, these pancake standouts – some even griddled in bacon fat – provide indulgent portions.
Pancakes galore are on the menu at Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg and Nashville, Log Cabin Pancake House in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Elvira’s Cafe in Sevierville (open seasonally beginning in March), Staks Pancake Kitchen in Memphis and Pete’s Coffee Shop in Knoxville.
A flavor profile that is painfully spicy yet totally addictive, cayenne pepper-encrusted hot chicken has become a Tennessee staple. Grab a loaf of white bread and a jar of pickle chips to cool off the heat, and wash down its spicy weight with a glass of sweet tea.
Places in this article
Discover the history, food and music legends of West Tennessee along the Cotton Junction Trail.