13 Must-Try Tennessee Food: Dishes Tennessee Is Known For

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Tennessee is a state rich in culture, history, and of course, incredibly tasty Tennessee food. From down-home southern cooking to the spicy flavors of Nashville’s famous hot chicken, there’s no shortage of delicious dishes that come from this great state. 

Whether you’re a native Tennessean or just visiting for a short time, sampling some classic Tennessee food is an absolute must! We’ll explore some of the most iconic foods that Tennessee has to offer – so get ready to tuck into some tasty treats!

Most Famous Tennessee Food


Tennessee barbecue has a long and proud history with many traditional styles practiced around the state. So this is more of an overall classification. 

Barbecue in Tennessee is typically defined by its use of dry rubs, sauces, and slow smoking over wood to create tender, juicy meats with a rich, smoky flavor.

In the state, there are two main styles of barbecue: Memphis-style and Nashville-style. Memphis-style barbecue is known for its dry rubs, with the meat being seasoned with a mixture of spices before being slow-smoked over hickory or other hardwoods. 

Nashville-style barbecue, on the other hand, is known for its sauces. The meat gets smothered in a spicy tomato-based sauce before being served. 

Whether you prefer the dry rubs of Memphis or the sauces of Nashville, barbecue is a popular culinary method in Tennessee because it has consistently delivered lip-smacking good food.

This is definitely one of the foods that you have to try while visiting the state.

Popular Tennessee Food

Fried Catfish

Another food Tennessee is known for is none other than fried catfish. This dish has been popular in the area for generations and remains a favorite among locals to this day.

The fried catfish in Tennessee is adored for its combination of crispy exterior and juicy, flaky interior. The state is home to several fish farms and rivers that are rich in catfish. This allows for a steady supply of fresh, locally-sourced catfish. 

The traditional preparation method for fried catfish in Tennessee involves coating the fish in egg wash; then dredging it in a mixture of cornmeal and spices before deep-frying it until crispy. 

The result is a dish that is crunchy, flavorful, and perfectly complemented by traditional Southern sides like hush puppies and coleslaw. 

It’s typically served with tartar sauce, which adds even more flavor to the dish. Fried catfish is often found at traditional restaurants serving classic Southern cuisine but also makes a great street food snack! 

Memphis Pulled Pork

Memphis-style pulled pork is a classic Southern dish that is popular throughout Tennessee. It is a staple of Tennessee cuisine and is known for its distinct flavor and preparation method.

This finger-licking meal consists of slow-cooked pork that is then shredded and served in a tangy barbecue sauce. 

Traditionally, the pork is cooked low and slow over hickory wood, resulting in succulent meat with a unique, rich, smoky flavor. The shredded pork can be served on its own or piled high onto a bun to make the iconic Memphis sandwich.

It also pairs perfectly with sides like coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and baked beans. 

Memphis is known for its rich barbecue tradition, and pulled pork is a key part of this culture, with numerous restaurants and barbecue joints offering their own unique takes on the dish. 

The combination of smoky, savory flavors and tender, juicy meat make Memphis-style pulled pork a must-try if you are visiting Tennessee.

Mac ‘n Cheese

Yes, I know that Macaroni and cheese is super popular throughout the United States. However, this beloved Southern dish is on another level in Tennessee.

At its core, mac ‘n cheese consists of macaroni in a creamy, cheesy sauce, usually made with either cheddar or American cheese. 

The classic version of the dish is often topped with buttery breadcrumbs to create an irresistible golden crust. However, there are many variations of mac ‘n cheese depending on the region and restaurant you’re at. 

Some places offer classic, creamy versions, while others incorporate specialty or locally sourced ingredients, such as bacon, jalapenos, or lobster, to create unique and flavorful twists on the traditional dish. 

This staple Tennessee dish is very versatile, and can be enjoyed as a side dish or as a main course. Regardless, it’s the ultimate comfort food in that always satisfies your taste buds! 

Nashville Hot Fried Chicken

Nashville hot fried chicken is a beloved Tennessee food that is sure to tingle your taste buds. This spicy Southern dish has its roots in Nashville, and it’s become an iconic part of the city’s culture.

The chicken is typically marinated in buttermilk and then coated in a mixture of flour and spices before being fried until golden brown and crispy on the outside. 

What sets Nashville Hot Fried Chicken apart from other fried chicken dishes is the addition of a fiery blend of spices. These usually including cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and other spices, which gives the dish its signature flavor.

The end result is oh-so-tasty deep-fried chicken with just the right amount of kick! The level of spiciness can vary from restaurant to restaurant, with some offering mild versions, while others serve up extremely spicy versions.

To tone down the spice level a bit, try serving this Nashville specialty with some creamy coleslaw or a cool and refreshing glass of sweet tea. 

> Check The Best Nashville Food Tours

Country Ham

Country ham is a Southern-style cured ham that has long been popular in Tennessee, particularly in the rural regions. It has its origins in the early days of American cooking, when curing the meat was necessary for preservation. 

This Tennessee food is known for its distinctive flavor and preparation method. 

The country ham is rubbed with salt and other seasonings before being dry-cured for several months. This process helps to intensify the flavor of the meat as well as preserve it for longer periods of time. Sometimes they are even smoked over wood to give it a smoky flavor.

Once ready, country ham is often served sliced thin and can be enjoyed as a main dish, as a topping for biscuits or sandwiches. It also pairs nicely with other sides like macaroni and cheese or collard greens. 

Alternatively, it is used as an ingredient in dishes like omelets, quiches, soufflés, and more. The salty flavor makes it a great addition to any meal, and its unique taste is sure to delight!  

In Tennessee, country ham has a long and storied history and is considered a true delicacy by many. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, trying authentic country ham is a must-do when in Tennessee.


No Southern meal is complete without a delicious piece of cornbread. This Tennessee food has long been a staple in the region, and can be traced back to the days of early settlers who used cornmeal as an affordable baking ingredient.

This classic comfort food is usually made with a combination of yellow or white cornmeal, butter, eggs, sugar and other ingrdients. It is typically baked in a cast iron skillet to create a golden, crispy crust. The result is a moist and slightly sweet bread that’s often served warm with a pat of butter on top! 

Cornbread is a versatile dish that is often served as a side dish. It pairs well with many dishes, such as chili or barbecue. In addition, it can be enjoyed as breakfast or dessert. 

In Tennessee, there are many variations of cornbread, with some recipes using buttermilk or bacon grease to create a rich, savory flavor, while others incorporate ingredients like jalapenos or honey to create a sweeter, more unique taste. 

Cornbread has a long history in Tennessee, with many restaurants and home cooks offering their own personal takes on the dish. Whether you prefer it savory or sweet, there are some interesting variations to try.

Biscuits And Gravy

Biscuits and gravy is an iconic food that Tennessee is known for. This satisfying comfort dish consists of fluffy, buttery biscuits smothered in creamy sausage or country-style gravy.

While it is a hearty meal that can be served any time of day – it’s especially popular for breakfast or brunch! The savory flavors and creamy texture make this dish to die for, and it pairs perfectly with eggs, bacon, and other breakfast favorites.

Tennessee biscuits and gravy are typically made using homemade flour-based biscuits that are cooked until golden brown. They are then topped with either a white cream sauce or the traditional sausage gravy before being served up hot and fresh. 

You can easily find this on many diners, cafes, and restaurants. It is such a beloved part of Tennessee food.


Snack Foods Tennessee Is Known For

Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet potato fries are a popular dish in Tennessee, known for their distinctive flavor and texture. These crispy and savory treats are a favorite among locals and visitors alike, thus you can easily them in many restaurants throughout the state.

Sweet potato fries are made from freshly sliced sweet potatoes that are then deep-fried until crisp and golden brown. 

Many restaurants also offer unique and creative twists on sweet potato fries, such as adding spices or dipping sauces like honey mustard or chili lime.

The sweet potatoes grown in Tennessee are considered to be of high quality due to the state’s favorable growing conditions and rich soil. The local produce is renowned for its natural sweetness and slightly nutty flavor. 

As a result, they are often used in the preparation of sweet potato fries, which are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. 

This scrumptious side dish is perfect for sharing and can be enjoyed as an appetizer or a main course. That is why they are a staple in the state’s cuisine. Make sure to try some when in Tennessee! 

Fried Pickles

Fried pickles are a snack food that has really taken off in popularity over the past few years, and Tennessee is no exception! They are known for their crunchy exterior and tangy, briny flavor.

This unique dish consists of sliced dill pickles coated in flour and egg batter before being fried until golden brown. The result is crunchy on the outside and tangy on the inside – truly an unforgettable eating experience!

In Tennessee, fried pickles are often served as an appetizer either on their own or with a side of dipping sauce, such as ranch, hot sauce, or chipotle mayo. 

Fried pickles are a fun and flavorful snack that are beloved by locals and visitors alike and are sure to tantalize your taste buds! 

Desserts And Sweet Food Tennessee Is Known For


Moonpies are another classic Southern treat that has been enjoyed in Tennessee for generations. This snack consists of two round graham cracker-like cookies with a layer of marshmallow cream sandwiched between them, then dipped in chocolate or flavored coating.

These tasty treats were originally created and sold by Chattanooga Bakery in 1917 and quickly grew to become an iconic Southern dessert. Today they are available in many different flavors, including chocolate, banana, salted caramel, and more! 

Their portability makes them perfect for anytime snacking, so you’ll often see them served at parties or outdoor gatherings such as picnics or barbecues. Not forgetting the county fairs and festivals, of course.

Moonpies are truly a Tennessee food staple and no trip to the region is completed without trying this classic snack. It is a part of the state’s history and culture.

Banana Pudding

Banana pudding has been a well-loved dessert in Tennessee. It is a creamy, decadent treat that consists of layers of vanilla wafers or cookies, sliced bananas, and a creamy custard mixture made with eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla extract.

Some variations even incorporate whipped cream, condensed milk, or other ingredients for added flavor and texture.

This classic Tennessee food is often served at potlucks or gatherings and is always an instant hit with its sweet flavor and comforting texture. It can be enjoyed as-is or topped with whipped cream for an extra special touch.

Banana pudding is simple to make but truly packs a punch when it comes to taste – so don’t miss out on trying this delicious dessert while visiting Tennessee! 

Stack Cake

Stack cake is a timeless Tennessee food that dates back to the 1800s. The traditional cake consists of multiple thin layers of spiced cake which are held together with a sweet apple butter or jam filling.

As you can guess from the name, it is made by baking a series of thin, flat cakes and then layering them with a sweet filling, such as apples, berries, or nuts, before stacking them on top of one another

The cakes are then left to sit for a period of time, allowing the flavors to meld and the cakes to soften, resulting in a rich, flavorful dessert. 

These cakes can vary in size, depending on the occasion, and are often decorated with icings or other adornments such as dried fruits or nuts.

This dessert is so popular in Tennessee because it calls for simple ingredients yet yields an incredibly delicious and unique flavor. It’s best served warm with a scoop of ice cream or some freshly whipped cream on top, making it perfect for any special occasion. 

Plus, stack cakes are easy to transport if you’re looking to bring something tasty along for events. In Tennessee, stack cake is a staple of family gatherings, holiday celebrations, and other special occasions and is often served as a sweet and indulgent treat.

Sampling Food In Tennessee

While you explore the famous landmarks in Tennessee, don’t forget to check out the food scene and cuisine. The state has a strong culinary culture, and these classic dishes are just a few of the delicious food options available.

Food in Tennessee is known for its Southern and comfort food influences, from the thriving hot chicken scene in Nashville to the enticing dry rub ribs in Memphis. 

The state is also famous for its production of whiskey, and you can find a variety of local distilleries offering tours and tastings. 

Whether you’re visiting or are lucky enough to call Tennessee home, be sure to try some of these classic Southern dishes! 



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Welcome To NomadsUnveiled
This is Rax. For over a decade, I have traveled to over 60 countries - from a budget backpacker to a business traveler, expat and then a digital nomad. You can find insights and perspectives from myself and other world travelers that will inspire your journey of discovery.


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