10 Food Dishes That Are Absolute Symbols of Maryland

Written by Baylee Bunce
Published: November 29, 2023
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Located on the east coast of the United States, Maryland is a small state that borders Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Maryland also borders the Atlantic Ocean to its east, and its proximity influences many of its most iconic food dishes. Many of the food dishes symbolic of Maryland are linked to the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. Discover the food dishes symbolic of Maryland and where these recipes developed in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.

These 10 delicious food dishes personify the state of Maryland.

1. Steamed Blue Crab

Steamed blue crab is a staple of Maryland and is always caught fresh.

Steamed blue crab served Maryland style has a lot of Old Bay Seasoning mixed in.

©bigbirdz / CC BY 2.0 - License

If you have ever met anyone from Maryland, you know that they take their crab very seriously. People have opinions about the best crab, and do not attempt to get into an argument with them about imitation crab! However, the simple steamed blue crab is Maryland’s most famous crab dish. People in Maryland and throughout the Mid-Atlantic region enjoy blue crab every day. However, this crustacean also has an important place in the food chain for red drum, croaker, blue catfish.

2. Crab Cakes

A crab cake done Maryland-style usually consist mainly of blue crab.

Made primarily of jumbo lump crab meat, binder, and seasoning, Maryland crab cakes are often served with saltine crackers.

©Krista / Flickr - License

If steamed blue crab takes first on the list of iconic Maryland dishes, crab cakes need to follow right behind it. The huge crabbing industry in the Mid-Atlantic led to many unique recipes using crab. However, crab cakes remain the most popular. In Maryland, the main ingredient of crab cakes is jumbo lump steamed blue crab meat. Any recipe that adds extra ingredients is most likely not Maryland-style. This symbolic Maryland food dish may be seasoned with the popular Old Bay Seasoning.

3. Old Bay Seasoning

Old Bay Seasoning can be found easily in many supermarkets, especially in Maryland.

Old Bay Seasoning gets its name from a passenger ship line that worked in the Chesapeake Bay in the early 1900s.

©https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/ / CC BY 2.0 - License

This popular seasoning is not strictly a food dish but deserves a place on a list of iconic Maryland dishes due to its use throughout the state for fish and more. Originally created in Baltimore, Maryland, Old Bay Seasoning is a bold blend of herbs and spices, including paprika, celery salt, and other spices. Folks in Maryland put it on just about anything, from crab to shrimp. Marylanders also shake Old Bay Seasoning into clam chowder, oyster stew, and on top of popcorn, eggs, corn on the cob, and much more.

4. Pit Beef

Pit beef is a fast-cooked type of beef eaten in a sandwich.

In Maryland, pit beef is served simply on a Kaiser roll with


sauce, which is a mixture of horseradish and mayonnaise.

©Navin75 / Flickr - License

Pit beef is the best meat dish if you do not have a lot of time to spare. Unlike slow-cooked and slow-roasted dishes in other states, Marylanders cook pit beef quickly and efficiently. People prepare this roast beef sandwich with top round beef cuts over a charcoal fire. The result is rare slices of meat with a smoky flavor. Pit beef most likely originated in working-class, immigrant neighborhoods in Baltimore, with influence from German and Jewish cuisines.

5. Smith Island Cake

Smith Island Cake on a platter with fruits.

Smith Island Cakes remains a dessert associated with the idea of community and unity.

©Missvain / CC BY 4.0 - License

Maryland’s official dessert, Smith Island Cake, is Maryland’s sweetest symbolic food dish. A yellow cake between eight and ten layers, Maryland bakers finish this decadent, multi-layer cake off with chocolate frosting between every layer and all over the top and sides. The story of Smith Island Cake goes back to residents of Smith Island, who made this cake to give to men heading out for days at a time to fish on the Chesapeake Bay. The layers were the result of necessity because Smith Island did not receive electricity until the 1950s. Thin layers were easier to bake on wood stoves.

6. Beaten Biscuit

Beaten biscuits in a plastic container.

Recipes vary on how long the dough needs to be beaten, ranging from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.

©stu_spivack / Flickr - License

Tough like hardtack, beaten biscuits were once popular throughout the American South. Marylanders also historically baked beaten biscuits, which people called “sea biscuits.” With origins in the early 1800s, people could cook beaten biscuits easily, even when yeast was not always available. The popularity of these biscuits has declined over the years thanks to its labor-intensive recipe.

7. Stuffed Ham

A unique food tradition that, Maryland stuffed ham is popular around the holidays.

A whole corned or smoked ham gets stuffed with cabbage, kale, onions, and seasonings to create a proper Maryland stuffed ham.

©Haggicentric / CC BY-SA 4.0 - License

Stuffed ham, a popular holiday dish in southern Maryland, may have originated in St. Mary’s County. St. Mary’s County was first established in 1637. That means stuffed ham has a long history in Maryland. According to the Maryland Office of Tourism, most recipes for stuffed ham have gone unchanged for almost 300 years.

8. Coddies

Coddies consist of includes mashed potatoes, eggs, salt, pepper, onions, crushed up saltine crackers, and a small amount of salted cod fish.

The most common recipe for coddies consists of mashed potatoes, salt, pepper, eggs, onions, crushed-up saltine crackers, and sometimes salted cod fish.

©friend of Peter Fitzgerald / Public domain - License

This snack food has unknown origins but remains a popular staple in Baltimore, Maryland. Various recipes point to the Czech region of Bohemia or to African-American slaves in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. Coddies became popular in Baltimore thanks to a Jewish merchant named Louis Cohen, whose family served the dish until the 1970s.

9. Chicken Maryland

Bananas, the finishing touch to Chicken Maryland, were a major import into Baltimore historically.

©jayneandd / CC BY 2.0 - License

Many families with a long history in Maryland have their own recipe for Chicken Maryland. The typical dish features fried chicken with cream gravy. However, instead of a typical fried chicken in oil, cooks pan-fry this chicken in a cast-iron skillet with a lid to encourage steaming. Other additions to this food dish symbolic of Maryland include bacon, corn, and even bananas.

10. Everything Crab

Male Cheasapeake Blue Crab on a wooden barrel

Atlantic blue crab, known regionally as Maryland blue crab, is the state crustacean of Maryland. It has a sweet flavor many people enjoy in many forms.


If you enjoy crab in any iteration imaginable, head on over to Maryland. You can find crab chips, crab dip, cream of crab soup, and just about every other possibility you can dream of in Maryland. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, blue crabs harvested in Chesapeake Bay equal over 50% of total U.S. landings each year.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Eli Wilson/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Baylee Bunce is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily covering cats, gardening, travel, and geography. Baylee has been writing and researching about animals for 3 years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology from Purdue University, which she earned in 2018. A resident of Indiana, Baylee enjoys working in her backyard garden and spending time with her cats, Stormi and Lady.

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