Blue Willow Inn

Enjoy Southern classics at the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, Georgia

How to Eat Like a Southerner

Knowing what to eat and how to eat it will have you feeling like a Georgia native in no time.

Georgia cuisine has a colorful history deeply influenced by climate, crops, and the people who have brought ingredients and cooking styles from all over the world. Dining in Georgia can be a true adventure, a trip back in time and, most of all, a delicious way to experience the state. Georgia’s cuisine is about much more than just food; it’s about hospitality, fellowship and tradition.

Fried Chicken

Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens at Molly B's at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens at Molly B's at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

Fried chicken is a popular food for special occasions, get-togethers or even tailgating at college football games. But it has to be prepared properly. To the most dedicated chicken fryer, this can mean hours of saltwater soaks and buttermilk baths, not to mention sweating over the frying chicken on the hot stove.

Thankfully, plenty of Georgia restaurants are happy to do the frying for you. Mary Mac's Tea Room in Midtown Atlanta has been serving up fried chicken and other Southern favorites for more than 70 years. At the The Dillard House in Dillard, fried chicken is always on the menu, where you’re also likely to find fried green tomatoes.


Barbecue at Southern Soul Barbeque on St. Simons Island
Barbecue at Southern Soul Barbeque on St. Simons Island

Georgia barbecue is all about the pig, and unlike states whose barbecues are very distinctive, ours is a little more loosely defined. It’s almost always slow-cooked over oak or hickory and served with a tomato-based sauce, but different regions of the state feature different flavors. East Georgia barbecue is typically served with exotic-flavored sauces, while West Georgia barbecue is served with a mustard-and-vinegar-based sauce with hot peppers. Northeast Georgia is where you go for finely chopped pork served with a thin vinegar sauce similar to what you would find in other states. Sample the different styles at Country’s Barbecue in Columbus, Southern Soul Barbeque on St. Simons Island, and really, any barbecue joint you find.

Wild Georgia Shrimp & Grits

Shrimp & Grits
Shrimp & Grits

Georgia is blessed with a coastline and many lakes and rivers, so we also love our fresh seafood. One of our favorite dishes is wild Georgia white shrimp and grits, which recently has been jazzed up by chefs all over the South. The Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival makes the popular combination the center of its festivities.

And, you can’t go wrong with fresh catfish served with hush puppies and cole slaw. In southwest Georgia, seek out Ray’s Millpond in Ray City for a great meal with views of a popular fishing pond.

Fried Veggies

Fried green tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Juliette, Georgia
Fried green tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Juliette, Georgia

We actually do eat our veggies, too. Of course, we generally fry them or cook them with fatback, bacon or ham hock, but that’s what makes them taste so good. Take collard and turnip greens, for example. When prepared with smoked ham hock and served up with a side of cornbread, they’re a true Southern treat. Pair that with fried okra, fried Vidalia onion rings or a hearty helping of fried green tomatoes, perhaps from the Whistle Stop Cafe in Juliette.


Fred's Famous Peanuts in Helen, Georgia
Fred's Famous Peanuts in Helen, Georgia

In addition to being the birthplace of President Jimmy Carter, the city of Plains has another claim to fame: its peanut production. The only way to eat peanuts Georgia-style is boiled. The best place to find this addictive treat is at a roadside stand where they’re cooked up over a fire and served with a cold soda or sweet tea.


Georgia peach ice cream
Georgia peach ice cream and peaches at Jaemor Farms in Alto, Georgia

Georgia is the Peach State for good reason: We grow 130 million pounds of them every year. They’re sweet and juicy and at their peak of ripeness during the summer. We eat them whole or sliced, in homemade ice cream, peach cobbler or peach pound cake, and more. Buy Georgia peaches and sample other peach treats straight from the orchards, such as Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley and at Jaemor Farms in Alto or Commerce.

Pie, Cake & Ice Cream

Mini pies at Crave Pie Studio in Duluth, Georgia
Mini pies at Crave Pie Studio in Duluth, Georgia

Desserts are popular in Georgia -- especially pies. Favorite flavors include pecan, peach, apple, pumpkin, cherry, sweet potato and shoofly (made with molasses). We also love fruit cobbler, banana pudding, fried apple pies, pound cake, red velvet cake and any homemade ice cream. Be sure to try the fried pies at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, and treat yourself to one of the many delicious choices at the Crave Pie Studio in Duluth.

And so goes Georgia’s list of fabulous culinary creations. To name a few more, think Coca-Cola, strawberry shortcake, sweet potato soufflé, hoecakes, divinity and succotash. But what makes these and so many Georgia dishes truly Southern is the fellowship in which they are prepared and served. That’s what Southern food is really all about.

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Published: September 2023
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