Food & Drink

Pantry Staples for Southerners

The items top Southern chefs can’t do without

Need an idea on how to up your Southern pantry game? We asked seven chefs around the South—from a pitmaster in Florida to an Indian American entrepreneur in Nashville to a Gullah historian and cook—to tell us the items they always have on hand, come hell or high water. Here are their collected responses, including a special chaat masala, Hellmann’s mayonnaise (gasp), a stand-out peanut butter, and some universal classics (here’s to you, Hunt’s tomatoes).

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You won’t catch the Kentucky chef Ouita Michel of Holly Hill Inn without Crystal Hot Sauce for shrimp and grits or a gumbo, and she’s always got a bottle of Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce on hand, her secret-weapon ingredient in sauces, soups, and marinades. “It can’t be beat for depth of flavor,” she says. Michel is also a Ro-tel gal and a lover of Hunt’s fire-roasted tomatoes for wintertime salsas, pastas, or beans. And if it’s an on-the-fly lunch she’s after, she’s still loyal to her childhood favorite, Campbell’s bean and bacon soup.

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The restaurateur Brooks Reitz of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., whose Charleston, South Carolina, joints include Leon’s Oyster Shop and Little Jack’s Tavern, offers high praise for this cream-nut peanut butter from Koeze, which features fresh Virginia peanuts: “It’s just roasted peanuts and the faintest touch of salt. It is the single most perfect pantry item we have.” He also favors Sir Kensington’s ketchup (“the only non-Heinz ketchup that’s worth a damn”), as well as Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.’s own buttery and spicy extra virgin olive oil

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While the Atlanta, Georgia–based chef and restaurateur Anne Quatrano—of Bacchanalia, Floataway Café, and Pancake Social (to name a few)—knows it’s blasphemy, she favors Hellmann’s mayo, original only, a preference that comes from childhood memories of parental debates between Miracle Whip and Hellmann’s. She also keeps Pickapeppa Sauce, Valentina hot sauce, and Tabasco’s green jalapeño hot sauce on hand. 

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You won’t find the Nashville chef, cookbook author, and Food Network regular Maneet Chauhan without two things in her pantry: Spicewalla spices and Milk & Honey ghee. “Spicewalla instantly transports me to the spice alleys of Delhi,” she says, and the ghee provides another taste of home: “It reminds me of the homemade ghee my mother made.”  

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As for hall-of-fame pitmaster Ray Lampe, of Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg, Florida, he’s got a go-to spice mix: Dizzy Pig’s Dizzy Dust, a flavorful all-purpose blend with pink peppercorn and Morita chiles out of Manassas, Virginia. “I use it on everything from smoked ribs and chicken to grilled fish and even vegetables,” he says, and recommends it for cooks trying their hand at home barbecue.

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Cheetie Kumar of Raleigh’s Garland is with Chauhan on Spicewalla spices. “Trust me,” Kumar says, “try the Chaat masala sprinkled on clementines or roasted sweet potatoes.” She also swears by Maggi’s hot and sweet ketchup for all things potato; keeps a bottle of Miguel & Valentino extra virgin Arbequina olive oil on hand for folding into yogurt, and for pouring over grilled veggies or spicy meat; and loves the whole coriander seeds from the North Carolina company SpiceFix. 

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Sallie Ann Robinson—a native of Daufuskie Island, a preservationist of Gullah culture, and the author of Sallie Ann Robinson’s Kitchen: Food and Family Lore from the Lowcountry—sticks to the basics in her pantry: always paprika, always garlic, always several types of Hunt’s tomatoes, Carnation milk, and Crisco. “That goes back to my mom cooking with Crisco,” she says—it’s a must for pie crusts and cobblers. She also keeps a jar of Mt. Olive sweet salad cube relish, out of North Carolina, for salads of all sorts: chicken, potato, seafood. When it comes to stocking your own pantry, Robinson offers the following wisdom: “Your pantry is the stuff that can get you through and isn’t costly—the stuff that goes in different things and stretches a long way.”