11 Iconic Tennessee Foods You Need to Try

Tennessee dishes
Tennessee dishes | © Panagiotis Kyriakos / Alamy Stock Photo
If there’s one thing you’ll find an abundance of in the South, it’s delicious food. From hearty mains to tasty sides, there is a lot to choose from, so to help you decide which foods to sample when visiting Tennessee, here is a list of 11 must-try dishes.

Meat and Three

You haven’t eaten like a true Southerner until you’ve enjoyed a meat and three, which, in simple terms, is when you order one meat and three side dishes from a list of daily specials. Many times, this type of meal comes with cornbread and sweet tea, which are also Southern food staples. One of the best places to try this specialty is Arnold’s Country Kitchen. It’s been a Nashville area favorite for more than 30 years and has a menu full of classic Southern foods.

Cheeseburger and french fries in Memphis, Tennessee © Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright / Alamy Stock Photo

Fried Pickles

In the South, just about everything is fried, and pickles are no exception. You’ll find fried dill pickles, fried hamburger pickles, and fried pickles with a hint of garlic. There are also fried pickle chips from Sportsman’s Grille, which are just as delightful as other fried pickle varieties.

A serving of deep fried pickles at a barbecue restaurant © Yarvin Market Journeys / Alamy Stock Photo

Sweet Potato Fries

One food in the South that you won’t find in many other places is sweet potato fries. In Tennessee, most restaurants offer them as a side item for customers who prefer them over regular fries. They have a sweeter taste, but that doesn’t stop Tennesseans from enjoying them with a hearty burger full of other flavors. For the best burger and sweet potato fries combo around, check out The Pharmacy in East Nashville.

Baked sweet potato fries. © Panagiotis Kyriakos / Alamy Stock Photo

Catfish

With all the fishing that people do in Tennessee, it’s no wonder catfish is such a popular food, and like many Southern recipes, it’s best served fried. Of course, you’ll find catfish in many different forms; sometimes it comes with hushpuppies and fries or shrimp or other types of fish. For catfish served quickly, and at a reasonable price, Uncle Bud’s Catfish has a family-friendly atmosphere with other menu options like chicken and frog legs.

K8CB05 Cornbread encrusted fried catfish served with french fries and tartar sauce on rustic background © Tatiana Isaeva / Alamy Stock Photo

Barbecue

From pulled pork to sweetly slathered ribs, Tennessee is known for its mouthwatering barbecue. In addition to sandwiches, you’ll find spicy beans, mac ‘n cheese, and coleslaw on most barbecue restaurant menus. Some places even pile coleslaw on top of the meat for an extra tasty option. There are many chain barbecue restaurants in the state, but the small, down-home environment and authentic flavor at Bob’s Barbecue make it a prime spot for getting a dose of this Southern classic.

BHBJ41 BBQ Rib with Baked Beans & Cole Slaw, B.B. Kings Blues Club, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, USA © Martin Thomas Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Cornbread

Sweet cornbread goes great with just about any Southern food, and its soft texture makes it hard to eat just one serving. If you want to try some of the best-rated cornbread in Tennessee, then be sure to visit Cafe Monell’s. Served with the restaurant’s multi-course meal, the cornbread is moist and hard to resist.

2A80XEC Traditional corn bread served on a festive Thanksgiving table © Adelina / Alamy Stock Photo

Mac ‘n Cheese

Rich, creamy and delectable – these are the words that come to mind when thinking about mac ‘n cheese, and in Tennessee, there are many varieties of this delicious dish. One of the tastiest versions you’ll find is from Bleu Restaurant & Lounge in Memphis. Loaded with Monterey Jack, white cheddar, and Colby Jack cheeses, and then topped with bacon, it’s technically a side dish, but it’s hearty enough that you could probably enjoy it as an entrée.

2A13DC5 Mac and cheese served on a tray © Mauricio SPY / Alamy Stock Photo

Country Ham

While it’s usually enjoyed abundantly on holidays, country ham does take residence in many Southern kitchens year-round. Other than chicken, it’s probably the most popular meat in Tennessee. From classic seasoning to maple flavored, country ham is a delicacy, and thanks to places like Rice’s Country Hams, Tennesseans are able to enjoy some of the highest quality meats in the Southern United States.

C8PMT8 Roast Ham, Sliced Charred Bacon at a Deli © Helen Sessions / Alamy Stock Photo

Banana Pudding

Some consider it a side dish, while others consider it a dessert. Either way, banana pudding is definitely on the list of must-try Tennessee foods. Most recipes use wafer cookies to top off the pudding, but any homemade variety is bound to be splendid. The Loveless Cafe in Nashville has a made-from-scratch banana pudding that receives a lot of positive feedback.

2B1NR8A Banana pudding in small glasses © Elena Veselova / Alamy Stock Photo

Hot Fried Chicken

Two elements you’ll find in many Southern recipes are hot flavor and fried texture. In the case of chicken, both is best. Tennessee fried chicken ranges from mildly hot to outrageously spicy, and some people even top their spicy chicken with hot sauce. Whether it’s eaten with mashed potatoes, sweet corn, or Southern greens, the chicken in Tennessee is crispy, flavorful, and unlike anything else you’ve tasted. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken serves options that are pleasing to everyone, no matter how hot (or mild) you like your bird.

D7TH1Y fried chicken in the fryer © Steve Anderson / Alamy Stock Photo

Biscuits and Gravy

There’s nothing more satisfying than biting into a warm, moist biscuit, but when you top those biscuits with gravy, the flavor becomes even more intense. You can enjoy biscuits and gravy for breakfast or with your supper; as long as biscuits are part of your meal, you know you’re eating in true Southern style. When in Nashville, be sure to visit Biscuit Love where you can find buttermilk biscuits that melt in your mouth; they even come with different toppings like peanut butter and jelly.