As a North Carolina native, I grew up eating all kinds of North Carolina food!
In this guide, I share the 19 best and most popular North Carolina dishes to try. These include seafood from the coast, country dishes from the mountains, and famous brands that originate from my home state.
Food’s a big part of our culture, and enjoying local fare is one of the best things to do in North Carolina. Time to dig in!
Table of Contents
- 19 Best North Carolina Food & Dishes to Try
- North Carolina-Style Barbecue
- Calabash Seafood
- Texas Pete
- Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
- Carolina-Style Hot Dogs & Hamburgers
- Craft Beer
- Biscuits and Gravy
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- Sweet Potatoes
- Pimento Cheese
- Fried Chicken
- Mt. Olive Pickles
- Scuppernong or Muscadine Grape Wine
- FAQs About North Carolina Food
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19 Best North Carolina Food & Dishes to Try
North Carolina-Style Barbecue
North Carolina’s best-known dish, served eastern or western style.
North Carolinians are serious about their barbecue. There are two styles: eastern style and western style. Eastern style has a vinegar-based sauce and is often prepared as a whole hog barbecue. Western style (also known as “Lexington style”) is known for its sweet and smoky tomato sauce. This style is typically prepared using only the pork shoulder.
You can expect most North Carolina barbecue to be served as pulled pork on its own, or inside a sandwich. Barbecue is a staple in North Carolina cuisine, so be sure to try it!
Lightly battered seafood originating from North Carolina’s east coast.
Calabash-style seafood is fresh, Atlantic seafood that’s caught locally off North Carolina and South Carolina coasts. This dish is lightly battered and deep fried, and typically served as a mixed seafood platter. The best place to try this is at one of the many Calabash seafood restaurants within the small, coastal town.
📚 Related Reading: 29 Best Places to Visit in North Carolina (in 2023)
A thin, tangy red hot sauce used to accompany bbq and other dishes.
🍽️ Where to Find Texas Pete: Any grocery store
This legendary sauce isn’t actually from Texas — it’s from Winston-Salem, North Carolina! An advisor of the company originally suggested calling the hot sauce “Mexican Joe.” However, the family business wanted something that spoke to its American origins. Texas had the spice reputation, and so Texas Pete was born.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
Classic glazed doughnuts with a cult following.
🍽️ Where to Find Krispy Kreme: Krispy Kreme (original location, Raleigh), most cities
Krispy Kreme is a household name, but did you know it’s a North Carolina food? Krispy Kreme began in Winston-Salem and is known for its classic and delicious glazed donuts. The perfect combination? A hot donut and a cup of coffee.
Carolina-Style Hot Dogs & Hamburgers
A tasty topping mix featuring chili, onion, and coleslaw.
“Carolina-style” is a topping combination that’s used to Carolina-ify hot dogs, hamburgers, and more. It’s typically a mix of chili, onion, coleslaw, and sometimes, mustard. Whether you get these condiments for hot dog sausages, burgers, or barbecue, it’s worth trying if you’re up to it.
North Carolina has its own apple country.
Henderson County in Western North Carolina is also known as “apple country.” In fact, it’s one of the top growing regions in America! Here, local orchards grow numerous apple varieties. Apple picking season takes place in the fall and many orchards are “U-pick.”
📚 Related Reading: 17 Best Towns in Western North Carolina (in 2023)
One of America’s favorite cola sodas.
🍽️ Where to Find Pepsi: Any grocery or convenience store
The original formula for Pepsi was invented in New Bern, NC! Today, Pepsi is an international soda phenomenon. It’s a classic refreshing beverage, but it started from humble beginnings. The original recipe mainly consisted of water, caramel, sugar, kola nuts, nutmeg, and lemon oil.
A cola soda with a cherry twist.
🍽️ Where to Find Cheerwine: Any grocery or convenience store
During WWI, sugar prices were high. So, a man named L.D. Peeler in Salisbury, NC got crafty. He substituted some of the sugar in cola soda with wild cherry flavor. Cheerwine was born. Each year, a Cheerwine festival is held in downtown Salisbury.
North Carolina has the most craft breweries in the South.
In recent years, North Carolina has become a craft beer mecca, with hundreds of breweries around the state. Western North Carolina is a particular hotspot, with Asheville being named “Beer City, USA” multiple times.
Biscuits and Gravy
Fresh biscuits covered in savory gravy.
Biscuits and gravy originates from Southern Appalachia. This breakfast dish is made up of hot, fresh biscuits drenched in a savory white gravy. It’s a quintessential North Carolina food and a popular part of Southern cuisine.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Unripe or “green” tomatoes, fried in cornmeal.
Fried green tomatoes are a favorite in Southern cuisine. It’s prepared using unripe tomatoes, which are coated in cornmeal and fried. This dish is typically accompanied by something like a remoulade, eggs, grits, and other side dishes.
The official state vegetable of North Carolina.
🍽️ Where to Find Sweet Potatoes: Any grocery store
North Carolina is the #1 producer of sweet potatoes in America! Truthfully, sweet potato dishes aren’t as popular as others on this list, but they’re still North Carolinian. They’re usually served mashed or baked with things like butter and sugar.
A cheese spread made with pimentos and mayonnaise.
Pimento cheese is a bright orange spread made of cheese, mayo, pimentos, and spices. It’s a staple in the South and is typically served as a sandwich or with crackers.
Side dishes that often accompany barbecue, and are star foods in their own right.
In the South, “fixins” refer to the side dishes served with other typical Southern dishes. This includes things like barbecue, fried chicken sandwiches, and more. Some staples include mac and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, coleslaw, and deviled eggs.
Southern crispy chicken, fried to perfection.
A favorite North Carolina food is fried chicken. This golden brown chicken is most popularly served on its own, or in a brioche bun with snappy pickles, lettuce, and mayo.
North Carolina is also the home of Bojangles, a popular fast-food joint that is best known for its fried chicken and biscuits.
A fruit dessert topped with a golden crust.
Sonker, or cobbler, is a sweet, baked dessert that’s traditional in Southern Appalachia. The filling is made up of cooked fruit (peaches, berries, etc.) and it’s topped with a crisp, golden batter. Vanilla ice cream usually tops it off. Yum!
A pork loaf made from pork liver, scraps, and other spices.
Livermush is a southern cuisine staple. It’s a type of meatloaf made from pork scraps like pig liver, bits from the pig’s head, cornmeal, and other spices. It’s fried and typically served on its own or in a sandwich.
Mt. Olive Pickles
One of America’s most popular pickle brands, originating from North Carolina.
🍽️ Where to Find Mt. Olive Pickles: Any grocery store
This famous pickle brand is based out of Mount Olive, NC. The flavor of these pickles is similar to kosher dill, but they come in a variety of flavors and styles. Nonetheless, they’re all crunchy, tasty, and make a great condiment.
Scuppernong or Muscadine Grape Wine
Grape variety found in eastern North Carolina.
The names “Scuppernong” and “Muscadine” are used interchangeably for North Carolina’s Southern variety of grapes. They can be eaten on their own, but they’re most popularly used to make sweet wine.
FAQs About North Carolina Food
What foods is North Carolina famous for?
What food is most popular in North Carolina?
North Carolina barbecue (eastern and western style) is the most popular food in North Carolina, along with all the “fixins.”
If you’ve reached the end of this article, you’re probably hungry. Sorry about that! I hope this guide gave you some North Carolina food and drink ideas to help you plan your trip!
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