9 Food Dishes That Are Absolute Symbols of North Carolina

Written by Niccoy Walker
Published: September 22, 2023
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North Carolina offers a unique food experience, from its cherished fast-food restaurants to its super-specific products everyone in the state uses to make their favorite dishes. If you’ve ever visited this Southeast state, you’ve probably scratched your head wondering why there’s a Cook Out and Bojangles on every corner or why you can only find Texas Pete hot sauce in the store. And don’t get North Carolinians started on the BBQ debate – chopped versus pulled. One thing’s for certain, the folks from this part of the country know a thing or two about food. Check out these nine food dishes that are absolute symbols of North Carolina, from fried fish and greens to grits and hushpuppies. 

1. Carolina BBQ

Pulled pork with vinegar barbecue sauce american style

Only pork is used in Carolina BBQ

©Angel Simon/Shutterstock.com

What constitutes Carolina BBQ may be right or wrong depending on who you ask or what region of the state you’re in. Pork, in general, is used for authentic BBQ in the state, but how it’s eaten gets a bit more tricky. Barbecue in Eastern North Carolina is typically whole hog and chopped and served with a thin vinegar sauce. But in the west, you will find smoked pork shoulders, either chopped or pulled and dressed in vinegar and tomato sauce (Lexington style). Pork BBQ in North Carolina is generally served with slaw and a Mount Olive pickle.

2. Fried Green Tomatoes

High slices of green tomato coated in corn meal, frying in oil in a cast iron skillet odn an electric stove.

Fried green tomatoes are a Southern staple

©Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock.com

A staple in Southern cooking, fried green tomatoes are unripe tomatoes coated in cornmeal and fried to golden perfection. Putting heat to the green tomato gives it a juicy and sweet flavor that pairs well with seafood or cheesy grits. You can expect to find this delicacy in many restaurants across the state.  

3. Fried Catfish

What do catfish eat - fried catfish


is lightly battered and quickly deep fried

©Elena Veselova/Shutterstock.com

Fried fish of any kind is a common food you will find in North Carolina. But catfish, in particular, is abundant in the state’s rivers and deep reservoirs. Calabash seafood is one of the most popular ways to eat fried fish. This style involves freshly caught fish lightly battered and quickly deep-fried. It gets its name from the Seafood Capital of the World, Calabash, North Carolina. 

4. Livermush

Livermush - Southern United States food product composed of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal

Livermush consists of hog meat, spices, and cornmeal. It is one of the food dishes that are absolute symbols of North Carolina


Migrating with German settlers from up north, livermush is a mixture of ground hog meat, liver, spices, and cornmeal. It’s a common cuisine in Western North Carolina, where people consume it for breakfast or lunch. This Appalachian delicacy even has a festival dedicated to it, featuring livermush-themed food trucks. You slice the meat mixture, dredge it in cornmeal, and fry until crispy. You can then serve it on white toast with a slice of American cheese and a fried egg.

5. Sonker

Sweet Potato Sonker with Milk Dip

Sonker is a fruit dessert similar to cobbler


Hailing from Surry County in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the sonker is a type of fruit dessert similar to a cobbler. Many believe the sonker was originally passed down from Scottish immigrants and became a favorite among Southern farm workers. During the summertime, North Carolinians make a thick fruit-filling and top it with unanchored buttery, flaky dough. You can also make it with sweet potatoes.

6. Cheerwine Float

Made in Salisbury, North Carolina, for over a century, Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored soft drink and iconic among Southerners. It’s similar in taste to a Dr. Pepper mixed with cherry syrup, with a stronger carbonation. One of the best ways to drink this soda is to pour it over creamy vanilla ice cream. 

7. Hushpuppies

Delicious southern American cuisine known as hushpuppies

Carolina hushpuppies comes in strips rather than balls

©Rob Byron/Shutterstock.com

Because Carolina has its own way of doing things, it’s no surprise Carolinians put their spin on hushpuppies, too! In Eastern, NC, you might be surprised to find the hushpuppies in strips rather than balls. This Southern staple is made from thick cornmeal batter and seasoned onions fried to a golden perfection. You will typically find it served with french fries and fried fish or alongside fried chicken, greens, and mac and cheese.

8. Greens With Texas Pete

Large pot of Collard Greens with ham hock.

In North Carolina, collards come with a ham hock and Texas Pete hot sauce

©Warren Price Photography/Shutterstock.com

If your greens aren’t topped with fatback or ham hock and Texas Pete, it’s not from North Carolina. Southern greens are typically made from collards, ham hock, apple cider vinegar, and bacon, then set them to simmer low and slow for several hours. It is a common side dish for many recipes in the South. 

9. Pimento Cheese Grits

Southerners don’t play about their pimento cheese or their grits. If you come to North Carolina, expect your grits to be made with this cheesy, tangy delicacy and maybe a splash of Texas Pete. To complete your breakfast, fry up some eggs and bacon and add a fresh, flaky biscuit. 

A Recap of the 9 Food Dishes That Are Absolute Symbols of North Carolina

NumberFood Dishes of North Carolina
#1Carolina BBQ
#2Fried green tomatoes
#3Fried catfish
#4Liver mush
#6Cheerwine float
#8Greens with Texas Pete
#9Pimento cheese grits

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Angel Simon/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Florida State College. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

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