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Must-Try North Carolina Food | 10 Best North Carolina Dishes

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Looking to learn all about North Carolina food? You’ve come to the right place!

There are varieties of unique foods, drinks, and places to enjoy in North Carolina. Of course, several sweet treats are available nationwide (and around the globe), but nothing compares to enjoying a cold soda or a hot donut in the place where it all began.

You can sample hot cocoa, fried doughnuts, and fried chicken at one of the many local restaurants. And, no food tour is complete without stopping for a sweet treat. From a variety of donuts to a post-race burger, North Carolina has some unusual offerings you have to try!  

So, the following ten native North Carolina foods will certainly satisfy an adventure lover’s taste buds.

Visiting other destinations in North Carolina? Check out our other delicious guides:

Must- Try North Carolina Food

Pulled Pork

North Carolina Food: Pulled Pork

The American barbecue technique of pulled pork involves simmering pork over low heat, which results in tender, moist meat that can be easily torn into small pieces. Traditionally,  in the western part of North Carolina, it uses pork shoulder cuts dressed with vinegar, pepper and tomato sauce.

In the eastern part of the state, they cook and pull the whole pig and the sauce usually contains no tomatoes. 

The popularity of pulled pork spread across the country and there are many variations available, including different cuts of meat and cooking times, marinades, and sauces. 

North Carolina-Style Barbecue

North Carolina Food: North Carolina-Style Barbecue

There are two regional styles of barbecue in North Carolina, one on the western side and one on the eastern side. There’s a lot of whole hog barbecue in the east, while more Lexington barbecue is found in the west.

In the east, they smoke the whole hog, while they smoke only the pork shoulder in the west. In addition, barbecue is usually served chopped with vinegar-and-spices-based sauce in the east, whereas in the west, it is generally served as a sandwich with tomato sauce.

Hickory and oak are typically used for this type of barbecue, probably the oldest type of barbecue in America.

Texas Pete

Many types of hot sauces are available in the United States, but Texas Pete is the third best-selling brand. Sam Garner, a North Carolina barbecue stand vendor, sold the first bottle of Texas Pete in 1929. 

The Garner family made a cayenne pepper version of the sauce after customers complained and wanted it hotter. Thus, the legendary sauce was born.

The Garners refused to name the sauce Mexican Joe, insisting that it should have an American name. Their marketing advisor suggested the name Mexican Joe, but they rejected it. 

His son Pete, whose nickname was Harold, inspired him to name the dish after him, and he selected Texas due to its reputation for spicy food. 


North Carolina is known for its livermush, an American dish. The dish is made from fried slices of livermush (a product made from pig livers, heads, and cornmeal and is spiced with sage and pepper). 

Livermush is typically served for breakfast with eggs and grits, although you can also enjoy it for lunch or dinner.

Even though some people might think that livermush and scrapple are the same, scrapple has a bit less cornmeal and can have more liver, less liver, or no liver at all. 

These days, livermush is becoming more popular, and one can sometimes add it to omelets or use it as a pizza topping.

Carolina-Style Hot Dog

North Carolina Food: Carolina-Style Hot Dog

Hot dogs made in the Carolinas consist of hot dog sausages wrapped in split bread rolls. In addition to slaw, onion, and chili, they are characterized by traditional condiments. 

 As a fourth condiment, they sometimes add mustard to hot dogs with the slaw or as a replacement.

Hot dogs with slaw are pretty popular due to the sweetness and crunch of the slaw, which contrasts with the slight spiciness of the mustard and chili. 

Carolina-style condiments are no longer limited to hot dogs; hamburger toppings are also included.

Red Slaw

North Carolina Food: Red Slaw

From North Carolina comes the red slaw, a variation of coleslaw. It’s also known as barbecue slaw and is traditionally made from shredded cabbage, water, vinegar, sugar, and ketchup, giving the salad its reddish color.

A significant part of Lexington barbecue is red slaw, which is especially popular there. 

As a side dish, salads are also used in barbecued meat sandwiches. The ingredients in red slaw may vary depending on the region, but what’s important is that it is served very cold. Other components might include mustard seeds, black pepper, onions, carrots, or hot peppers.


Originally from North Carolina, Provision is American taleggio-style cheese. They use pasteurized goat’s milk to make this semi-soft cheese, which is aged for three months. 

The cheese is brushed and hand-turned in the maturation process, while the rind is washed and develops a hard exterior.

It has a crumbly, compact texture, a yeasty aroma, and a creamy flavor. Providence can be served as a table cheese with cured meat and olives. It goes well with dark Syrah.

Chocolate Lab

Looking Glass Creamery makes it in Fairview, where Chocolate Lab cheese is produced. Pasteurized milk is used to make the cheese. 

Each other day, the red rind is washed with a brine solution. It has a firm texture, intense aromas, and sweet, sharp flavors.

During the rubbing process, they also coat the wheels with crushed cocoa and sea salt to give the rind a rich and rugged appearance.

Chocolate Lab pairs well with a glass of Malbec wine or a chocolate stout beer.

Calabash-Style Seafood

North Carolina Food: Calabash-Style Seafood

Calabash-style seafood is a traditional American dish originating from North Carolina, or more precisely, from Calabash. 

Usually served in Calabash seafood restaurants, this feast includes multiple kinds of seafood, such as crab, shrimp, and fish, either breaded or unbreaded, and fried to a golden brown.

North Carolina has named this dish its official state dish in the past few years because of its popularity. 

Besides being one of the rarest dishes because it is not commonly found in seafood restaurants, the Food Network also regarded it as American cuisine. As a result of all the factors listed above, Calabash-style seafood is popular these days.

Pimento Cheese

North Carolina Food: Pimento cheese

You’re missing out on one of the most incredible things since sliced bread if you haven’t tried pimento cheese. Southerners enjoy this amazing cheese concoction on crackers, in grilled cheese sandwiches, mixed into grits, or added to deviled eggs; basically, in any form.

At Community Deli, you can get the classic grilled pimento cheese sandwich or take it to the next level with The Big Easy, with grilled pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, and bacon. 

The pimento cheese fritters with pepper jelly appetizer or the Southern Mac skillet are a few dishes to try at Relish Craft Kitchen & Bourbon Bar. 

Also, the pimento cheese starter is a must-order at the Poole’s Restaurant if you’re lucky enough to get a booth or a seat at the bar.

Summary Of The 10 Best North Carolina Dishes

After sampling many different foods, drinks, and restaurants in North Carolina, perhaps you are wondering if anything truly defines North Carolina food. Yes, it does. 

There are some city-specific dishes that are quite unique to each place (and each restaurant).

So if you are roaming around in North Carolina, make sure you try some of these delicious

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Monday 12th of September 2022

Perfect--thanks for doing this research. Exactly what I was looking for. Am hosting a dinner for our book club--after reading "Where the Crawdads Sing," and I promised to make NC foods, sine it's my home state (even though have lived in CA for 20 years). But I wasn't sure what that was--I thought of Brunswick stew and banana pudding, but that's as far as I got--you've given me more food for thought. Thank you!

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