Tennessee has a reputation for healthy food and great whiskey, so what food is Tennessee known for?
Before we get into that did you know that Tennessee is home to music legends like Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton, the state has much to offer.
From one of the most visited national parks in the country to the warm and welcoming people, you won’t forget your stay in the Volunteer State.
Then of course there’s that great southern cuisine. So, what food is Tennessee known for? The most popular food in Tennessee combines ingredients used by the original indigenous people with early colonial favorites.
Add to that the food favored by West African slaves to create a distinctive palette of flavors. All combine to create an exciting line-up of Tennessee food that will have you coming back for more.
What Food is Tennessee Known For?
Anyone who has traveled to the southern states will be quick to tell you that Tennessee food is both hearty and delicious. Here fried chicken competes with smoky barbecue ribs and pulled pork sandwiches to entice the taste buds.
Even the desserts and candies in this part of the world have their own southern appeal. So, let’s have a peek at what Tennessee is known for in the wonderful world of food.
Hot Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is a signature dish in the state of Tennessee. In Memphis, they like it hot. The hot version was originally fried with a coating of cayenne pepper which gave it a red hue.
The original hot fried chicken was first sold to the public by Thornton Prince who, legend has it, was known for his womanizing ways. One of his conquests had had quite enough of him and, in revenge added loads of hot spices to his breakfast.
She had hoped to teach him a lesson, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Meat And Three
Tennesseans love their full meat and three (veg). You will find diners throughout the state that offer these delicious and filling meals.
These meals typically involve choosing meat from a selection such as a slice of meatloaf, fried chicken, and fried catfish. Add to this, three vegetables to complete your meal.
Sometimes the veg will include some unlikely offers like mac and cheese and fried pickles, but, hey, who’s complaining?
Dry Rub Ribs
If you’re passing through Memphis, consider dropping in at the Rendezvous Restaurant to experience pork ribs Memphis-style.
You may be accustomed to sweet sticky ribs, but Memphis residents prefer their ribs cooked on charcoal with no sweet basting.
The cooked ribs are rubbed with a mix of dry spices of Greek origin. They are so delicious that the chef makes and sells hundreds of dry rub rib racks every day.
Naturally, barbecued Meat is a firm favorite in Tennessee, and it is Memphis that claims the title of barbecue capital of the world.
Wherever you find yourself in Tennessee you’re bound to find a pit barbecue or smokehouse serving delicious barbecue meat straight off the fire. It’s possibly the most popular food in Tennessee.
The meat comes with an array of sides from mac and cheese to sweet potato fries and coleslaw.
Tennessee folk enjoy the catfish that much they claim to hold the world’s largest catfish fry in Paris, Tennessee each April.
The channel catfish is the commercial fish of Tennessee. In Tennessee, most fish shops, cafes, and restaurants have fried octopus on their menus.
The octopus is typically dipped in a cornmeal batter and deep-fried to a golden hue. It is most often served with potato chips and a side of slaw.
Whether you prefer sweet or savory fillings, you’ll find a fried pie to suit your taste. These handheld pies are firm Tennessee favorites. Served in buttermilk dough the pies are filled with delicious fillings like banana Nutella and cheese, and bacon.
Biscuits And Gravy
Biscuits and gravy are a southern staple. This food has a history that goes back to the lumber industry in the Southern Appalachians.
The first biscuits were rougher and denser than today’s versions. They were called beaten biscuits referring to the strenuous way in which they were leavened.
The biscuits were served with sausage gravy also known as “sawmill gravy,” a warm and filling combination. Today the biscuits are served with either sweet or savory sauces and they remain a popular breakfast meal.
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Found in restaurants across the state of Tennessee. The dry and salty country ham usually comes with red-eye gravy, a mixture made from country ham drippings, and coffee.
Red circles of fat that form on the surface of the gravy, also known as “poor man’s gravy,” give the sauce its name. Country ham is a breakfast favorite. It is equally good served with vegetables for lunch or dinner.
The residents of the south all love their cornbread, but Tennessee residents take their love of this southern staple to a whole other level.
They hold cornbread cooking and eating competitions and they even hold a National Cornbread Festival every year. Cornbread differs from place to place but the original bread is baked in a cast-iron pan until it becomes golden brown.
It is served as a side dish with butter. It is a favorite side served with barbecued meat.
Goo Goo Clusters
An original Nashville candy, the Standard Candy Company invented Goo Goo Clusters. These sweet treats combine favorites like roasted peanuts, caramel, and marshmallow nougat.
The clusters are drenched in chocolate. It’s hardly surprising that a taste for these scrumptious candies has spread across the country. Today there is a shop in downtown Nashville where you can pick up premium and original versions of the clusters.
A combination of banana, and vanilla-flavored wafers all drenched in a creamy dessert come together to make Tennessee’s favorite dessert, banana pudding.
Every café and restaurant in the state offers a tasty treat as an after-dinner sweet treat.
Invented in 1917 by the Chattanooga Baking Company, these delicious, sweet treats consist of marshmallows sandwiched between graham crackers. Finally, chocolate smothers the biscuit sandwiches to create a decadent biscuit.
The biscuits combined with an RC Cola were cheap treats during the Depression, earning the name “the working man’s lunch.
Moon Pies sold so fast that the bakery discontinued all the other products in the 1950s to concentrate are making Moon Pies.
The company sent hundreds of thousands of Moon Pies to soldiers fighting abroad during the Second World War.
Also known as Tennessee Mountain Cake, a stack cake consists of layers of dough rather than cake mix. The layers are rolled in large biscuit-like layers that stack one upon the other.
The cake sides and top are exposed to the warm air in the oven to create a crisp outer layer. Apple fills the gaps between the layers. Once baked, the cake remains in the fridge overnight to allow the apple to penetrate the biscuit.
Frequently Asked Questions
What drink is Tennessee known for?
Settlers first moved into the Tennessee area in 1796 and very soon they started to make whiskey. Tennessee whiskey is slightly different from most other whiskeys.
Scottish and Irish settlers who first started making Tennessee Whiskey used more corn than rye in the production of their whiskey as consumption of the liquor increased.
To call your product Tennessee whiskey, you must comply with certain regulations. The whiskey must be made in Tennessee with at least 51% corn mash bill.
There are also other regulations including those related to the alcohol content. Tennessee whiskey tastes a little like a lighter bourbon. The most famous Tennessee whiskey is Jack Daniels.
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What food is Knoxville Tennessee known for?
Knoxville has a reputation for its wide range of delicious southern food. From seafood and barbecued pork ribs and fried catfish to seared tuna, you’ll find it all here. Most locals wash down their southern food with a cup of sweet tea.
What food is Knoxville Tennessee known for?
The humble tomato was designated the state fruit of Tennessee in 2003. Though many people think of a tomato as a vegetable, it is, indeed, fruit.
Famous places to eat in Tennessee
Tennessee is known for its delicious southern cuisine so, as you would expect, its restaurants include award-winning fine dining restaurants. There are, in fact, dozens of famous places to eat in Tennessee. We have looked at five of the restaurants serving delicious Tennessee food.
Sweet P’s Barbecue – Knoxville
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Featuring on Travel Channel’s Man v Food, Sweet P’s Barbecue Company started as a catering business, specializing in southern cuisine in 2005.
The delicious food became so popular, that the business thrived and so began the sit-down era of Sweet P’s. A full-service restaurant followed in 2021. The restaurant specializes in smoked and slow-cooked barbecue meat.
The owner spent years on the road, eating at barbecue joints across Tennessee and North Carolina. The menu includes the best flavors from both states, including Memphis dry rub rib.
Your choice of meat comes with an assortment of southern sides like collard greens. You’ll also find Tennessee’s favorite dessert banana pudding on the menu.
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken – Nashville
You can’t visit Tennessee without trying the southern fried chicken at least once. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack made hot chicken famous.
Hattie B’s is a fast-food chain that makes this chicken in five levels of heat. The mildest is Southern and contains no hot spice. If you’re brave and you prefer eye-watering heat, try Shut the Cluck Up. It’ll surely shut you up for a while.
We suggest you start with something a little milder and work your way up the heat scale. Order pimento mac and cheese or black eye pea salad as a side. You can also cool down with a beer on one of their roomy patios.
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Peg Leg Porker – Nashville
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You’ll find all the Tennessee favorites right here at the Peg Leg Porker. Named after its owner who lost a leg to cancer as a youngster this is one of Nashville’s more popular restaurants.
Bringles, Carey, and Delaney opened the restaurant in 2013. They have honed their skills, and over the last four years, the restaurant has won several awards. Carey prides himself on his skills as a pitmaster.
The couple serves delicious smoked meats made fresh daily along with a range of sides like mac and cheese and coleslaw. Sit down or take it away. Either way, Peg Leg Porker serves some of the best food in Nashville.
Rolf and Daughters – Nashville
Located in the historic Werthan Factory, Rolf and Daughters have made quite a name for themselves since they opened in 2012.
The restaurant was among Bon Appetit and Esquire magazines’ best new restaurants in America. The restaurant posts on Instagram, keeping the restaurant relevant and up to date on social media.
It specializes in Italian dishes, offering sharable plates to encourage a convivial atmosphere. The menus include well-known wines, a collection of whiskey, and a range of craft cocktails. If you prefer outdoor dining, on a warm summer evening that’s also an option.
Leonard’s Pit BBQ – Memphis
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If you’re in Memphis over the weekend and looking for a traditional barbecue pit, try a meal at Leonard’s.
This pit barbecue started in 1922 as a stand with five stools. It served barbecue sandwiches. The restaurant soon expanded to become the biggest drive-in restaurant in the area.
It was so popular that Elvis Presley and his group of friends soon came to hear of it, and they would party there until the sun rose.
The restaurant now belongs to Dan Brown and his family. Trained by the original owner, Leonard Heuberger, Dan continues the cooking traditions started by his mentor.
The restaurant specializes in smoked pork shoulder. Smoked chicken and catfish are also right up there. If you like to mix it up, you can combine spaghetti or ravioli with your barbecue. Wash it all down with a cold beer and some good company.
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Enjoy the Pleasures of Tennessee Food
We’ve answered the question “What food is Tennessee known for? and we’ve taken you across the state to enjoy some of the most popular food in Tennessee. We hope that you’ll soon take the time to visit and try some delicious Tennessee food.