Founders of Fantastic Food: North Carolina’s Famous Foods
A cold Pepsi and a warm Krispy Kreme doughnut—most North Carolinians know those are legacy foods of their state, but beyond that, North Carolina has introduced many more unique foods. While most of these foods are well-known, not all are associated with North Carolina.
How about Texas Pete? That pistol-packing hot sauce is assumedly from Texas, right? Try again. It’s North Carolina born and bred. It was invented in 1929 by Thad W. Garner, a Winston-Salem man who acquired a handwritten barbecue sauce recipe when he purchased a small barbecue stand shortly after his high school graduation.
By adding hot peppers, vinegar and salt, Garner created Texas Pete, which quickly became known throughout the Southeast. The hot sauce was originally supposed to be called “Mexican Joe,” but Garner’s father insisted it have an American name. And so Texas Pete was born.
Those cheesy crackers that could be found in almost every lunch box in the cafeteria were a childhood favorite. Charlotte-based company, Lance, makes the well-known snack, which is now available in a variety of flavors—everything from cream cheese and chives to grilled cheese flavored.
What about those crunchy pickles that accompany many sandwiches? They’re a product of Mt. Olive. Founded as a small cucumber-brining business in 1926, Mt. Olive has grown to be the best-selling brand of pickles in the Southeast and the second best-selling brand of pickles in the country.
And of course North Carolina is recognized for its barbecue, with Lexington being the self-crowned barbecue capital of the world, but the state has its own sauces too that can be found on grocery store shelves everywhere—Carolina Treet BBQ Sauce and Bone Suckin’ Sauce.
Carolina Treet was developed in the meat cutting room of a small independent grocery store in Wilmington in 1953. The sauce was originally created to barbecue whole chickens that were sold pre-prepared in the store. Before long, people were asking if they could have more of the sauce to use at home.
“It’s a completely different kind of sauce,” says Lenwood King, owner of Carolina Treet. “It has no sugar and no tomatoes. It’s meant to be a cooking sauce rather than a sandwich sauce.”
Bone Suckin’ Sauce was created out of a recipe mistake by Phil Ford of Raleigh in 1987. He was trying to recreate his mother’s Western barbecue sauce and instead came up with something “Bone Suckin’ good.” In 1994, the sauce won the “N.C. Battle of the Sauces,” an event sponsored by the Raleigh Farmers Market.
Ever snap into a Slim Jim? Thank North Carolina for that one also. The Slim Jim was created by GoodMark Foods Inc., which was later bought by ConAgra.
Many North Carolinians can’t deny the soft, buttery biscuits of Hardee’s or Bojangles’. But then, it’s in our blood since both restaurant chains were founded in North Carolina. The first official Hardee’s opened its doors in May 1961 in Rocky Mount. Bojangles’ was started in Charlotte in 1977.
Cheerwine was first produced in 1917 by Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury. The company even used the phrase “It’s a Carolina Thing” in advertisements for the cherry-flavored beverage.
The buffet restaurant chain Golden Corral calls North Carolina home. The original restaurant opened in Fayetteville in 1973. Now popular across the United States, Golden Corral prides itself on serving the highest quality foods at reasonable prices in a clean and friendly atmosphere.
North Carolinians can claim the credit for Brunswick stew and Calabash-style seafood. Both were concocted in North Carolina and use the respective founding towns in the name.
We might not have invented hot dogs, but we did make them red. Bright Leaf Franks from Carolina Packers in Smithfield produce the red hot dogs that are commonly served all across North Carolina, much to the confusion of tourists.
Cooked ham has been around for as long as hogs, but North Carolina has figured out the perfect method for curing a country ham.
“At the Ham and Yam Festival in Smithfield, there was a country ham competition between Smithfield, N.C., and Smithfield, Va., to see which had the best ham,” says Rufus Brown, plant manager of Johnston County Hams. “We probably took about 80 percent of the awards during that time, and eventually Virginia didn’t want to come down to compete anymore.”
Old Salem made Moravian cookies famous. Each year thousands of tourists visit Old Salem and the original bakery that still makes Moravian cookies. They are particularly popular around the holiday season.
Some of the other food items North Carolina is famous for include red-eye gravy, sourwood honey, boiled peanuts, pimento cheese, sweet potatoes, and muscadine and scuppernong grapes. These favorites might not have been invented by North Carolinians, but all are an ingrained part of North Carolina flavor. We just put our own Carolina twist on them.