50 Quintessential American Dishes

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I just read a story about the top 10 dishes of Great Britain, and it got me thinking about what an American top 10 list would look like.

To be fair, our list has to be longer and not just because we’re a nation of braggarts — that would be a Texas list (and before you go all crazy on me, I’m from Texas and I say that with the utmost pride).

Geographically speaking, the USA is 38 times the size of Great Britain and population-wise, it’s five times as large, ergo, we need a bigger list than just 10 dishes.

While I’m certain that I could come up with 380 dishes in a flash, in the interest of keeping your attention, I think I’ll just rattle off 50.

To even begin talking about America’s top dishes, you have to think both nationally and regionally. While it would be easy to list the top three as apple pie, hot dogs and ice cream, I want to delve a little deeper and pick dishes that not only define us as Americans, but ones that also reflect the melting pot that is our population.

We are a nation of immigrants. Only a few of us are descendants of Native Americans. Our foods are also reflective of this ethnic stew. Some of our foods are truly native: corn, beans and squash, for example. Others came with the Spanish (cows and pigs) and Africans (okra) and other settlers. Still others brought certain cooking techniques (the French and Germans specifically come to mind).

I’m not sure if 50 is long enough to reflect the diversity among our most recognized dishes, but it’s a start. So, without further ado, here we go:

(drum roll, please)


50. Blackened redfish (thank you, Paul Prudhomme)

49. Root beer float

48. Pimiento cheese sandwich

47. Scrapple (although I’m not particularly fond of this, many, many Americans swear by it)

46. Frito pie (I’m particularly fond of this staple from my childhood)

45. Bundt cakes (any flavor, sour cream coffee cake is the most popular)

44. Green goddess dressing (over any kind of lettuce, perhaps romaine is traditional)

43. Chicken & dumplings

42. Maryland crab cakes

41. Whoopie pie (yippee!)

40. Jambalaya

39. Cioppino (San Francisco would be hurt if I left them out, they’re sensitive that way)

38. Shoofly pie

37. Iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing

36. Pecan sticky buns

35. Denver Omelet

34. Peach cobbler

33. New England clam chowder

32. Buttermilk pancakes

31. Brunswick stew

30. Philly cheesesteak

29. Chicken fried steak with cream gravy (don’t forget the biscuits)

28. Fried rice (of course we fry the rice, we’ll fry anything)

27. The Po’boy (oyster, shrimp or even roast beef for purists)

26. Shrimp & grits (I personally like the New Orleans style but the South Carolina version rocks, too)

25. Brown Betty

24. Cedar-planked salmon (Seriously? Only one Northwestern dish? I need to go to Portland)

23. Cobb salad

22. Meatloaf

21. King Ranch chicken casserole

20. Kansas City spareribs (notice I didn’t say BBQ — remember, I’m from Texas and we think we invented BBQ)

19. Succotash

18. Fried catfish

17. Soft shell crabs, fried of course

16. Black-eyed peas

15. Seafood gumbo

14.Wisconsin cheese soup

13. Collard greens (or mustard greens)

12. Grilled cheese (fancy schmancy or plain)

11. Mashed potatoes

10. Chicken pot pie

9.  Bowl of chili (red, green, white or even Cincinnati-style with spaghetti)

8. Steamed Maine lobster

7. Chimichanga (yes, it was invented north of the border, although who was first is still in dispute)

6. Chocolate chip cookies

5. Mac & cheese

4. Shrimp cocktail

3. Southern fried chicken

2. Texas BBQ beef brisket

1. Turkey & dressing

(keep scrolling….)

(a little further…)

(almost there…)

(patience…)



0. The hamburger (had to include it — it’s my favorite)

14 replies
    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Jason…. sorry, I had to edit your comment. I appreciate you taking time to express your opinion, but I do need to keep it “family-friendly” (my Dad reads this blog, and while I’m quite certain he’s familiar with salty language — he was a Marine serving in WWII — I still don’t think he’d appreciate your colorful commentary.)

      Chimichanga is definitely an American invention, although two different Arizona restaurants claim to have invented it. And it’s really delicious. I hope you get the opportunity to try it sometime.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimichanga

      Reply
  1. Jeffrey Ho
    Jeffrey Ho says:

    Fried rice is not an american invention. Various asian cultures have been making fried rice for longer than America has been a country. Or if you mean deep fried, I would recommend you research the italian arancini.

    Also Bundt cakes are not really an american original. They are just the american spelling of german bund cakes.

    And cmon, mashed potatoes? They’ve been eating mashed potatoes for thousands of years maybe millions once someone learned how to boil water. You mean when Irish people came to the new world due to a POTATO FAMINE, you think they’ve never eaten mashed potatoes before?

    Also, steamed lobster is not an american invention either. Just because some people in the US like maine lobsters does not mean steaming lobsters was invented there. Now the lobster roll, lobster mac n cheese, Lobster Newburg,

    Fried Soft Shell crab is also older than USA is as well. Heck japanese even have soft shell crab sushis.

    Even Chicken Pot Pies have been around in some shape or form for thousands of years going back to romans and greek empires. And if you want to say that we made a distinct variation of it, then you will have to say that we invented American Pizza.

    I understand that this is all opinion of what you think are good american dishes. But seriously, get some facts right. And eat some more different foods. Like no Italian Hoagie? Cotton Candy? Chicken nuggets? these are classic american inventions. Not the stuff you mentioned.

    PS – Sorry about the rant I saw the fried rice and that just made me go off.

    Reply
    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Jeffery… don’t apologize for your rant… you have every (American) right to express it! Quintessential doesn’t mean “authentic” or “original” or “native”… it means “typical”… and in that respect, the 50 dishes in this list are typical favorites across our country. That’s all. Never meant to convey that these 50 quintessential American favorites originated here. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
    • Aad
      Aad says:

      Jeffrey, with all due respect, but the Irish have not been eating potatoes for thousands of years, left alone mashed potatoes. As a matter of fact, nobody outside the American continents ever ate potatoes before the 16th century since it was a crop native to the America’s that did not excist elsewhere in the world until the “discovery” by Columbus. The potatoe was slow to be adopted in Europe and it took at least another 200 years before the crop finally became accepted. Hence, it is pretty safe to assume that inhabitants of the American continent, either aboriginals or first colonists, “invented” mashed potatoes.

      Reply
  2. Alex
    Alex says:

    Lmao, Jeffrey has his panties in a wad…?!

    Really interesting list…pretty much has everything!!

    Personally I love New Orleans cajun/creole dishes…mmmmm.

    Reply
  3. James
    James says:

    I don’t understand how Americans claim to create so many dishes when they blatantly didn’t or they change it and call it American lol Fried rice? Really? Shrimp cocktail.. that’s a British dish if you call it what it’s suppose to be called which is a prawn. Fried catfish? Do you really think nobody ever thought of frying catfish before the USA’s 240 years? Meatloaf is originally from Germany/Belgium/Holland there is only an American variation too.

    To say the British list could only come up with 10 is stupid seeing as you even listed a famous British dish as an American one. Don’t try beat every other country at everything and fail miserably it’s stupid and annoying you should respect all food culture.

    Reply
  4. Gwen Ashley Walters
    Gwen Ashley Walters says:

    James, thanks for commenting. I think you may have misread the tone. I never said the British could only come up with 10. I talked about how we are a nation of immigrants and how our food is reflective of that. Sorry this is so annoying and stupid to you. It’s food we are talking about, not sports, but you have shown unsportsmanship conduct in your comment. I can tell you are not a regular reader of my blog either, or you would never accuse me of not respecting other food cultures.

    Reply
  5. Micah
    Micah says:

    It is silly to me how many people on here make comments without reading, and make accusations without researching there facts. Gwen, bravo on this list, do many dishes I need to go try. Just think soon we will be adding sushi and gyros to the list. I’ve seen an explosion of those foods in places I’ve been. But I must jokingly nag you for not putting pecan pie on the list :)

    Reply
    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Micah, thank you! And I take your chiding in good stride. Pecan pie is worthy of a spot. My husband said the same thing when he read the list. Perhaps I should have covered 51 dishes :)

      Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] up some typical American Dishes.  I most liked the list presented by Pen and Fork. Take a look.  http://penandfork.com/news-nibbles/50-quintessential-american-dishes/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. […] list below began after coming across a compilation of 50 quintessential American dishes by ChefGwen.  Instead of making our own list of American dishes, we made a list of 50 LOCAL […]

  3. […] I come across on the Internets.  Through one of my Google alerts, I came across a compilation of 50 quintessential American dishes.  I mentioned in passing that I did not agree that it was the 50.  I mean not to disparage the […]

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