When you think about North Carolina (specifically from a culinary perspective), you might think of fried chicken. Or maybe biscuits and gravy, or perhaps even tomatoes with mayo. But ask any true NC native what foods best represent their state, and you're more likely to hear about Livermush and Cheerwine, or maybe Texas Pate and Pepsi. Either way, if you want to eat like a true Tar Heel state member, these are the 10 North Carolina foods you need to know about.
Back in the days of World War I, a rise in the cost of sugar pushed Pepsi into bankruptcy. A bad news day for Pepsi, but a good one for Salisbury grocery store owner LD Peele, who'd found a way to make a tasty, low sugar beverage using wild cherry flavoring to provide the necessary sweetness. Cheerwine took off in a major way, with even the return of Pepsi failing to dampen its success. Known affectionately as the “nectar of the Tarheels,” the company is still owned by the Peeler family today. Each year, the people of Salisbury come together to celebrate the brand's heritage at the annual Cheerwine Festival.
If smoke, sauce, and slaw float your boat, North Carolina is going to be your kind of state. Obviously, barbeque isn't a uniquely North Carolina cuisine, but a lot of NC natives will tell you that their barbeque is the best around... and they might just have a point. There's a BBQ joint on almost every corner, but wherever you go, and regardless of whether you get Eastern or Western-style, no visit to The Tar Heel State is complete with at least a few BBQ sandwiches with hushpuppies and slaw on the side.
Sure, Livermush could do with a re-branding, but name issues aside, this regional delicacy is a must-try for anyone who thinks that no breakfast is complete without a hearty portion of offal on the side. By law, North Carolina livermush has to contain a minimum of 30 percent pig liver. Other ingredients include parts of pig heads, cornmeal, and spice. It's not necessarily the most tempting sounding dish in the world, but people in Western North Carolina can't seem to get enough of it, to the extent that Mack’s and Jenkins Foods (two of Shelby's biggest meatpacking businesses) produce almost 40,000 pounds of the stuff every week. Its typically served as a breakfast or lunch dish with grits and biscuits.
4. Texas Pate
Despite the name, Texas Pete hot sauce does not come from Texas. Neither does it have anything to do with anyone called Pete. As any true condiment fan will know only too well, the spicy sauce was developed by the Garner family in Winston-Salem in the 1940s. It started off as a minor business operating from the family's kitchen, but soon enough, its popularity skyrocketed. Today, the brand sells everything from chili sauce to honey mustard sauce, seafood cocktail sauce to buffalo wing sauce, but it's still the original recipe that keeps North Carolina spice fans hooked.
5. Mt. Olive Pickles
If you're in the vicinity of the town of Mount Olive on New Year's Eve, stop by to witness the New Year’s Eve Pickle Drop, an annual event at which the Mount Olive Volunteer Fire Department lowers a giant, lighted, 3.5-foot pickle from its tower truck. If you're not, show your support for North Carolina's favorite pickle makers by tucking into some of Mt. Olive Pickle Company's famous pickles, peppers, and relishes. Established in 1926, the company has grown from a tiny operation into the biggest (and quite possibly most famous) privately owned pickle business in the US.
6. Krispy Kreme Donuts
You don't have to live in North Carolina to enjoy a Krispy Kreme, but if you like a dollop of history to go with your sugar rush, it does help. The company was founded in 1937 in Winston-Salem by Vernon Rudolph, who loved sugar almost as much as he loved his state. After borrowing the necessary ingredients from a friendly local grocer, Rudolph began his business by selling 12 donuts for 25 cents. They'll cost you a lot more today, unfortunately, but each bite is coated in the same southern sweetness as it was back then.
It might be an international giant today, but back in the late 1800s, Pepsi-Cola was a small-time operation run by a pharmacist named Caleb Bradham. Keen to keep his clients in good health and good spirits, he came up with the idea of a sparkling fountain drink designed to aid digestion, boost energy, and give the people of New Bern something to sip on as they socialized. Pretty soon, news of the soda had spread, and by the end of 1902, Bradham had moved his sights from North Carolina to Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. From there, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world caught on.
8. Bojangles Famous Chicken N' Biscuits
When it comes to fast food in North Carolina, you can forget about Mcdonald's, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Chick-fil-A, and even Taco Bell. There's only one place North Carolina natives are interested in when it comes to quick, tasty food, and that's Bojangles. Since its launch in Charlotte in 1977, Bojangles has become as much a part of the North Carolina landscape as sweet potatoes and tobacco. There are now over 700 locations around the state and far, far too many customers to count. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu, but if you want to do it like they do it in the Tar Heel State, get the chicken n' biscuits.
9. Bright Leaf Hot Dogs
As nctripping.com points out, the traditional red of Bright Leaf Hot Dogs comes from artificial coloring, but unlike a lot of their competitors, these North Carolina delicacies are relatively free of preservatives - something that doesn't do a lot for their shelf life, but gives NC natives all the more reason to shove as many down as possible, as quickly as possible. They're particularly popular in Eastern North Carolina, but don't worry if you're heading west - the small but very busy Carolina Packers ships across the entire state.
10. Lance Cracker’s Peanut Butter Sandwich
In 1913, a coffee salesman called Philip Lance of Charlotte, North Carolina ordered 500 pounds of peanuts for a customer. When they arrived, the customer decided he didn't want them anymore so Lance roasted them, bagged them, and started selling them for a nickel a bag. Eventually, he got into peanut butter. Keen to show off the quality of his product, he started spreading it onto crackers to give out as free samples, inadvertently creating the Lance Cracker’s Peanut Butter Sandwich, a much loved NC snack to this day.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn