Southern cooking is some of the most well known food in the world. It keeps tourist coming back season after season and has made many a hard working Southern cook famous. Paula Deen, Alton Brown, and even Emeril have all lived and cooked in the South. They have some of the most successful cooking shows on the Food Network Channel today. Fame is not what Southern cooking is all about though. Every Southern cook adheres to these well-known secrets in their own home. No favorite dish would be complete without them.
Time is the first secret to Southern cooking. Many well known Southern dishes take much less time to prepare than they actually take to cook. Slow cooking over a long period of time is indigenous to many dishes. In Louisiana making a pot of gumbo it easy to prepare, but can take hours to cook. Pots of beans and peas cook slowly until they are a heavenly meal unto themselves. Even a dish as simple as grits cook for at least 25 minutes. Now, that is if you aren’t using those fake grits better known as instant grits. Slow smoked BBQ is a shining example of this secret. Hours and hours pass before this well-known Southern delicacy is ready to serve.
Fat is the second secret to Southern cooking. Ok, so if anyone has ever watched an episode of Home Cooking with Paula Deen, then you know she loves butter. Lard, fat back, and oil are all key players in Southern cooking as well. If you have ever wondered why a plate of green beans in the South have you dreaming about them at night, you should thank that little hunk of fat back that cooked in the pot with those beans. I have never heard anyone say, “Mmmmm, I can’t wait to go to New York City to get some more green beans.” Sounds crazy when you put it that way! On the other hand I do know grown men that will almost cry at the smell of a pot of black eyed peas cooking on their mother’ stove top. Along the coast you find deep fried seafood that is some of the best in the world. You can find almost anything fried in Southern cooking. Zucchini, okra, and sweet potatoes are some of the best-fried vegetables you can find in the South.
Spices are another great secret to great Southern cooking and recipes. Especially in Louisiana this secret ingredient is true. Cayenne pepper is a key ingredient in many dishes. It delivers the right amount of heat to keep you coming back. BBQ relies on a dry rub of great spices. These spices define Southern cooking and set it apart from the rest of the world. I grew up in Georgia. For the most part the only spices we used were salt and pepper. Sometimes all a dish needs is a little salt and pepper.
Finally, local ingredients are the number one top secret to successful Southern cooking. Southern cooks have always relied on local ingredients. The fresher the better. There is nothing so satisfying as cooking up a big pot of greens after you have spent months watching them grow. No trip to the grocery store can suffice. Almost every Southerner I know has a tomato patch in the summer. They spend as much time trying to give them away as they do eating them. Only in the South can you have supper at someone’s house and find a plate of beautiful red sliced tomatoes served up alone. I have watched people eat a tomato like an apple and even make a tomato sandwich. Vegetables play a key role in every Southern recipe. There is nothing as fulfilling as a vegetable plate served up piping hot with a basket of warm yeast rolls and corn bread.