Food & Drink

Nine Southern Foods People Love to Hate—and How to Not Hate Them

Suspicious of boiled peanuts? Eat them in a dip. Anti okra slime? Slice them longways and grill them. Put off by raw oysters? Load one on a cracker

A bowl of steaming boiled peanuts


When a loaf of livermush wound up at the G&G offices a few weeks ago, the staff eyed the grayish slab with open suspicion. A few hours later, though, after a visiting chef had layered a slice of the sagey, squishy stuff into a towering, delicious sandwich, our executive editor was  stunned into honesty: “I think I actually like livermush!” The lesson? Maybe the more maligned Southern foods just need the proper preparation—or a neutralizing vessel—to go from nose-wrinkling to tempting (or at least tolerable). 

As for which Southern foods fall into this category, we asked our readers to weigh in, with only minimal judgment. We’re here to help.

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“Raw oysters. I want to like them so badly, but I just cannot.” 

You’re in good company. Rick Bragg described his first raw oyster as “what a tadpole would taste like if you sucked it right out of the ditch, or a wet hoofprint.” But he converted, much later, in New Orleans, with the assistance of a saltine cracker, cocktail sauce, horseradish, and a squeeze of lemon. “It had to be magic,” he writes. “One minute you hate, the next you love. But it was good. I know that oyster purists will say I did not truly taste the oyster, that I am a commoner, but they can kiss my ass.”

“Boiled peanuts. Why would anyone want a peanut that is served wet?”

Apparently, people in South Texas feel the same way, because the owner of Lil’ Red’s Boiled Peanuts in San Antonio had to deliver the boiled bounty from their soggy shells and mash them up to get anyone to try his product. Boiled peanut dip, which fans eat like hummus or spread on sandwiches, was born—and it’s so good it was one of our Made in the South Award honorees last year

“Pickled eggs. I can’t even bring myself to open that jar full of artificial-looking pinkish-red liquid.” 


No jar-opening required here. You’re going to make them yourself using white vinegar, garlic, olive oil, and shallots, and then you’re going to top them off with flaky sea salt and smoked almonds. They’ll still be pink due to a slug of beet juice, but now you’ll see that as a stroke of decorative genius. 

“Crawdad/crayfish/crawfish…whatever you want to call them. It’s called a mud bug for a reason. Two things I don’t eat: mud or bugs.”

What if said crawfish were slathered in Duke’s mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and horseradish, studded with chopped celery and scallions, kicked up with cayenne pepper and Tabasco, and then loaded between two slices of fluffy white bread? You will taste neither bug nor mud. 

“Collard greens. They stink up the house so bad that I make my husband cook them outside.” 

photo: Imke Lass

“The traditional way is to stew down a large pot of greens with ham hocks for hours until the tough greens are tender,” writes Natalie Keng, a Georgia-born chef with Chinese roots. “A faster way to eat them is to chop or slice them into smaller pieces and sauté them with seasonings.” Besides being less smelly and cutting the cook time way down, this method preserves the collards’ vibrant color and crunch. Keng then fries hers into egg rolls with country bacon.

“I’d take the long way around to avoid a chicken gizzard.” 

Our columnist Roy Blount Jr. once wrote an entire treatise on how damn chewy gizzards are—but what if a hot pound of them were tucked into a dirty rice risotto? “This is my way of connecting traditional Southern dirty rice with a creamy, indulgent risotto, a mash-up of two classics,” writes chef and television personality Jocelyn Delk Adams of her recipe

“Okra. Do I really need to explain why?”

Is slime really that big of a sin? But if you just can’t…pickle them and let the vinegar dissolve the goop (read one chef’s pickled okra conversion story here). You can also grill them and serve them with a saffron-scented lemon and heirloom tomato sauce. Or, slice them longways for frying, matchstick-style.  

“Hushpuppies are my least favorite Southern food because they’re always dry, overly fried in oil, dense, and lacking in flavor.”

Ouch. Visit Hello, Sailor in Cornelius, North Carolina, or try their recipe at home. “We fry these to order, so you get pieces of just-melted butter inside,” says owner Joe Kindred. “They eat like beignets, with beautiful reddish-brown speckles from the cornmeal.”

“Pecan pie. This will be unpopular, but I just don’t see the appeal of sickeningly sweet brown goo topped with bitter nuts that taste like dirt.” 

Let’s put some other players in the game; say, chocolate and bourbon? If you don’t like bourbon, we really can’t help you.