Tennessee is renowned for its rich culinary heritage, influenced by a blend of cultures and traditions. But before we delve into the delectable cuisine, it’s worth noting that Tennessee boasts a vibrant music scene and is home to iconic legends like Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton, making it a truly great state to explore.
From its breathtaking national parks to the warm hospitality of its residents, Tennessee offers an unforgettable experience. However, one aspect that truly stands out is its mouthwatering southern cuisine.
So, what food is Tennessee famous for? The answer lies in the harmonious fusion of ingredients derived from the indigenous peoples, early colonial settlers, and enslaved West Africans.
This unique combination of flavors creates a tempting array of Tennessee dishes that will leave you craving more. Prepare for a culinary journey with surprises and savor the distinct tastes that define the Volunteer State
What Food is Tennessee Known For?
If you’ve enjoyed exploring the southern states, you’ll know Tennessee is a culinary paradise, offering a delightful array of hearty and mouthwatering dishes.
In this flavorful region, fried chicken vies for attention alongside succulent barbecue ribs and irresistibly pulled pork sandwiches, creating a compelling symphony for the taste buds.
But the goodness doesn’t stop there. Tennessee’s desserts and candies possess their distinct Southern charm, adding a touch of sweetness to the culinary landscape.
So, let’s take a closer look at what makes Tennessee famous in the beautiful world of food, where delectable flavors and unforgettable dining experiences await.
Hot Fried Chicken
Tennessee is renowned for its iconic dish, fried chicken, and they like it spicy in the city of Memphis. The hot version of this delectable chicken is a true culinary gem, boasting a vibrant red hue from its original cayenne pepper coating.
Legend has it that the first public sale of hot fried chicken was attributed to Thornton Prince, a man notorious for his romantic escapades. One of his jilted lovers, seeking revenge, decided to teach him a lesson by generously adding an abundance of fiery spices to his breakfast.
Little did she know that her act of vengeance would make history. The tale of this spicy twist on fried chicken continues to captivate palates and ignite the taste buds, forever etching its place in Tennessee’s gastronomic legacy.
Meat And Three
Tennessee residents have a deep affection for their hearty “meat and three” meals, which can be enjoyed at numerous diners across the state. These satisfying and flavorful meals involve selecting a meat option from various choices, such as meatloaf, fried chicken, or fried catfish.
Three delicious vegetables are added to round out the meal.
In true Tennessee fashion, vegetables may include unexpected delights like mac and cheese and fried pickles.
Who can complain when faced with such delicious options? These unique combinations of meats and veggies make for a truly indulgent dining experience that embodies the region’s rich culinary traditions.
Dry Rub Ribs
While in Memphis, visit the renowned Rendezvous Restaurant for authentic Memphis-style pork ribs.
Unlike the sweet and sticky ribs you may be accustomed to, Memphis residents prefer charcoal-cooked ribs with no sugary glaze. The ribs are expertly prepared by coating them with a flavorful dry spice rub inspired by Greek cuisine.
The deliciousness of these ribs is undeniable, as the chef at Rendezvous Restaurant sells hundreds of racks of their signature dry rub ribs daily.
Unsurprisingly, barbecue holds a special place in the hearts of Tennesseans, and it is Memphis that proudly holds the distinction of being the world’s barbecue capital.
No matter where you are in Tennessee, you’ll come across pit barbecues and smokehouses serving mouthwatering barbecue meats straight from the fire. It’s undoubtedly one of the most beloved culinary delights in the state.
Accompanying the succulent meats are a variety of delectable sides, ranging from creamy mac and cheese to crispy sweet potato fries and refreshing coleslaw.
Tennessee residents appreciate catfish so much that they proudly host the largest catfish fry in Paris, Tennessee, every April.
The channel catfish holds the title of being Tennessee’s commercial fish. You’ll find fried catfish gracing their menus in numerous fish markets, cafes, and restaurants across the state.
Traditionally, catfish is coated in a cornmeal batter and deep-fried to perfection, resulting in a delightful golden crust. It is commonly served alongside crispy potato chips and a side of coleslaw.
In Tennessee, fried pies are a beloved treat, offering a variety of sweet and savory flavors to satisfy every palate. These handheld pies are encased in a buttermilk dough and have become a local favorite.
Indulge your sweet tooth with options like banana Nutella or cheese-filled pies, offering a delectable combination of flavors. If you prefer a savory delight, you can savor the irresistible combination of cheese and bacon encased in the flaky crust of a fried pie.
Biscuits And Gravy
Biscuits and gravy hold a special place as a Southern culinary tradition. Originating from the lumber industry in the Southern Appalachians, this hearty dish has a rich history.
The early biscuits were sturdy and dense, earning the name “beaten biscuits” due to the vigorous kneading required for leavening. Paired with sausage gravy, or “sawmill gravy,” this warm and satisfying combination became a staple.
Today, biscuits are enjoyed with a variety of sweet or savory sauces, and they continue to be a beloved breakfast option that pays homage to the region’s heritage.
Tennessee has numerous restaurants proudly serving country ham, a dry and savory delicacy. This dish is a true Tennessee classic, typically accompanied by red-eye gravy, a unique blend of country ham drippings and coffee.
The distinctive red circles of fat that appear on the surface of the gravy, often referred to as “poor man’s gravy,” lend the sauce its name. Country ham is a beloved breakfast staple, but its versatility shines as it pairs equally well with vegetables for a satisfying lunch or dinner.
Cornbread holds a special place in the hearts of Tennessee residents, who elevate their love for this quintessential Southern staple to extraordinary heights.
The state is home to lively cornbread cooking and eating competitions and proudly hosts the annual National Cornbread Festival.
Variations of cornbread can be found across different regions, but the original recipe involves baking the bread in a cast-iron pan until it develops a glorious golden brown crust.
Served as a delightful side dish, a generous slather of butter often accompanies cornbread. It is a beloved companion to barbecued meat, adding a touch of warmth and flavor to every bite.
Nashville’s Standard Candy Company can be credited with creating the iconic Goo Goo Clusters. These delectable delights are a delightful fusion of beloved ingredients such as roasted peanuts, gooey caramel, and fluffy marshmallow nougat.
The clusters are generously coated in luscious chocolate to enhance their appeal. It’s no wonder that the love for these indulgent candies has extended far and wide, exquisite taste buds across the nation.
Today, visitors can explore a charming shop in downtown Nashville to acquire premium versions of the original Goo Goo Clusters, savoring the timeless goodness they offer.
Tennessee’s beloved dessert, banana pudding, is a delightful blend of ripe bananas, luscious vanilla-flavored wafers, and a velvety, creamy filling. This irresistible combination creates a symphony of flavors that has won the hearts of locals throughout the state.
Whether you visit a cozy café or an upscale restaurant, you can expect to find this delectable treat on the menu, ready to be savored as the perfect finale to a satisfying meal.
Indulge in a spoonful of Tennessee’s favorite dessert and let its rich and comforting flavors transport you to pure culinary bliss.
Created by the Chattanooga Baking Company in 1917, Moon Pies are a delightful confection that has stood the test of time. These delectable treats consist of fluffy marshmallows nestled between two graham cracker biscuits, all generously coated in luscious chocolate.
During the Great Depression, Moon Pies became a popular and affordable indulgence, often enjoyed alongside an RC Cola, earning them the endearing nickname of “the working man’s lunch.”
The demand for Moon Pies was such that, in the 1950s, the bakery discontinued all other products to focus solely on their production.
These beloved treats even supported soldiers during World War II, as the company sent hundreds of thousands of Moon Pies to uplift the spirits of service members fighting abroad.
Today, Moon Pies are a cherished snack, reminding us of their rich history and the simple joys they bring with each bite.
Tennessee Mountain Cake, also referred to as a stack cake, is a unique and flavorful dessert that deviates from the traditional cake mix. Instead, it features layers of dough rolled out into large biscuit-like sheets, then stacked atop one another.
The cake’s sides and top are left exposed to the warm air of the oven to achieve its distinct texture, resulting in a delightfully crisp outer layer. A delectable apple filling is generously spread between each layer, allowing the flavors to meld together.
After baking, the cake is placed in the refrigerator overnight, allowing the apple filling to permeate the biscuit layers, creating a harmonious and irresistible combination.
Famous Places to Eat in Tennessee
Tennessee is renowned for its delectable southern cuisine, and as a result, it boasts a wide array of acclaimed fine dining establishments. From upscale eateries to hidden gems, the state is home to numerous renowned restaurants that cater to discerning palates.
In this guide, we will explore five exceptional dining establishments that serve mouthwatering Tennessee cuisine.
Prepare to indulge in an unforgettable culinary journey through the flavors and culinary traditions of the Volunteer State.
Sweet P’s Barbecue – Knoxville
Sweet P’s Barbecue Company, featured on Travel Channel’s Man v Food, originally started as a catering business in 2005, focusing on authentic southern cuisine. Their food’s incredible flavors and quality quickly gained popularity, leading to the expansion of Sweet P’s into a full-service restaurant in 2021.
With a specialization in smoked and slow-cooked barbecue meats, this establishment has perfected the art of barbecue.
The owner’s extensive travels across Tennessee and North Carolina, exploring various barbecue joints, have greatly influenced the menu at Sweet P’s. Guests can savour the best flavours from both states, including the famous Memphis dry rub ribs.
Alongside your choice of delectable meats, various classic Southern sides, such as collard greens, will delight you. And, of course, the Tennessee dining experience would only be complete with indulging in the state’s beloved dessert, banana pudding, which also graces the menu at Sweet P’s Barbecue Company.
Prepare yourself for a truly satisfying culinary journey through the heart of southern cuisine.
When visiting Tennessee, indulging in the iconic southern fried chicken is an absolute must, and Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is the place that made hot chicken famous.
If you’re looking for a fast-food option, Hattie B’s is a popular chain offering fried chicken in five different heat levels. The Southern level provides a delicious flavor without the fiery spice for those seeking a mild option.
However, if you’re adventurous and crave an intense kick, “Shut the Cluck Up” will undoubtedly leave you speechless.
We recommend starting with a milder heat level and gradually increasing the spice scale. Complement your meal with delectable sides like pimento mac and cheese or black-eyed pea salad.
If you need to cool down after the heat, Hattie B’s spacious patios provide the perfect setting to enjoy a refreshing beer. Get ready to experience the bold and tantalizing flavors of Tennessee’s renowned fried chicken.
Peg Leg Porker – Nashville
Indulge in all the Tennessee favorites’ at Peg Leg Porker, a beloved restaurant in Nashville. The name pays tribute to its owner, who overcame the challenges of losing a leg to cancer during childhood.
Established in 2013 by Bringles, Carey, and Delaney, this restaurant has garnered a strong reputation and earned several accolades over the past four years. Carey, in particular, takes pride in his pitmaster skills, ensuring that the smoked meats are prepared to perfection.
Savour the mouthwatering flavours of their freshly smoked meats, crafted daily. Accompany your meal with delectable sides such as mac and cheese and coleslaw.
Whether you dine in or take your meal to go, Peg Leg Porker guarantees an exceptional culinary experience and is renowned for serving some of the finest food in Nashville.
Rolf and Daughters – Nashville
Nestled within the charming Werthan Factory, Rolf and Daughters have established themselves as a culinary destination since their inception in 2012.
Renowned by prestigious publications such as Bon Appetit and Esquire magazines, this restaurant has garnered recognition as one of the best new restaurants in America. Embracing the power of social media, Rolf and Daughters actively engage with their patrons on Instagram, ensuring they stay relevant and connected in the digital age.
The restaurant offers a delightful array of shareable plates, specializing in Italian cuisine, fostering a convivial dining experience. Their carefully curated menus feature a selection of well-known wines, an impressive collection of whiskeys, and a diverse range of craft cocktails.
On warm summer evenings, you also have the option to enjoy your meal in the inviting outdoor dining area.
Rolf and Daughters invite you to savor their culinary delights, where the combination of delectable dishes, exceptional drinks, and a welcoming ambience create an unforgettable dining experience.
Leonard’s Pit BBQ – Memphis
When craving an authentic barbecue experience in Memphis, make your way to Leonard’s for a memorable meal.
In 1922, Leonard’s began as a humble stand with just five stools, serving delectable barbecue sandwiches. Over time, it expanded into the largest drive-in restaurant in the area, earning a reputation for its exceptional pit barbecue.
Word of Leonard’s delicious offerings quickly spread, attracting none other than Elvis Presley and his entourage, who would gather there to revel until the break of dawn.
Today, Leonard’s is owned by Dan Brown and his family. Trained under the guidance of the original owner, Leonard Heuberger, Dan carries on the rich cooking traditions established by his mentor.
At Leonard’s, the focus is on succulent smoked pork shoulder, complemented by equally tantalizing options like smoked chicken and catfish. For those seeking a unique twist, you can pair your barbecue with spaghetti or ravioli. And what better way to enhance your dining experience than with a refreshing cold beer and the company of good friends?
Join the legacy of Leonard’s and indulge in the flavors that have delighted generations of barbecue enthusiasts.