6 Signs You’re a Southern Cook (but Don’t Even Know It)

published Feb 14, 2017
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(Image credit: Kristin Teig)

Do you bake for no reason at all? Are you a lover of lard? Do you take your vegetables salty and slow-cooked? Have you been known to give recipes some extra oomph with a couple glugs of bourbon?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could be a Southern chef and not even know it.

Don’t tell anybody we told you, but you don’t have to be a born-and-bred Southerner to be considered a Southern cook. Here are six signs you qualify — and some recipes to keep you cooking.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

1. If your house was burning down, the first thing you’d grab would be your cast iron skillet.

You pride yourself on your perfectly seasoned cast iron pan, which you’ve been working on for ages. You’d never leave it alone with a dinner guest who could go rogue and take a scrubby sponge to its surface. You’ll take that baby to your grave or, better yet, you’ll hand it down to the next generation, just like it was passed down to you.

Make this recipe: Skillet Cornbread

2. You often ask yourself: WWJLD?

That is, What Would the Junior League Do? If you’re a Southern chef, you’re most likely a believer in the good book — whatever Junior League cookbook your grandmama brought you up with.

These days there are Junior Leagues all over the country, but the crowdsourced cookbooks will forever be emblems of the South. They’re also a great way to get to know a new place — just pick up a copy of the JLC and see what the locals are eating.

Make this recipe: King Ranch Casserole

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

3. You believe in the power of tradition.

Food fads change by the minute, but down south we like to take things slow. How and what we cook is a product of history and circumstance, and we pass our traditions along through the generations.

It’s also why our regional cuisines are so distinctive: Southern food encompasses Louisiana Creole cooking, the Latin-American flavors of Florida or south Texas, and African-American soul food, among many others.

Make this recipe: Shrimp Étouffée

4. You could make a hummingbird cake in your sleep.

Not a carrot cake. Not an Italian cream cake. Hummingbird cake, the dessert that first appeared in Southern Living magazine in 1978 and later became its most-requested recipe, is your go-to birthday/holiday/everyday crowd-pleaser. Sweetened with pineapple and bananas and finished with cream cheese frosting, this is a Southern classic that the whole world needs to know about, and you’re happy to proselytize on its behalf.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

5. Roux doesn’t frighten you.

When it comes to Southern cooking, there may be no better way to separate the wheat from the chaff than by making a roux — a simple task that sends so many unaccustomed home cooks running. But try to make gravy or gumbo without it, and all those great, rich flavors fall flat. To the Southern cook, making a roux is as simple as browning onions.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

6. You’re an okra whisperer.

People who don’t know okra (cough Northerners) don’t tend to give it a lot of love. Its peach-fuzz façade and its stringy, seedy insides hardly make it a beauty queen of a vegetable — and it’s not like it’s the most prominent item in the produce section, either. But if you’re a Southern cook worth your salt, you know how to stew, deep-fry, or otherwise coax this unruly perennial, transforming it from a sturdy seed pod into something my daddy likes to call divine slime.

Make this recipe: Fried Okra

How many of these can you relate to? What’s your Southern Cook score?