13 Unique Foods And Drinks That Originated In Alabama

Alabama may be more well-known for college football than food, but those who call the Cotton State home know that there's nothing more "Alabama" than a meal made with ingredients born right in the Heart of Dixie. The state's regional fare is the product of blended culinary traditions, influenced by Native American, West African and Caribbean cuisine, and a unique bounty of ingredients. From fresh Gulf seafood to corner store snacks and sweet, refreshing drinks to beat the heat, it's clear that Alabama's food scene is up-and-coming for good reason.

I travel to the Southern states from the Northeast frequently. I tell other people that my travels are strictly for camping, but in truth, I go for the food. The first time I passed through Alabama and stopped for what I thought would be an unimpressive meal, I was floored. From that instance on, the South's food grabbed my attention and never let go. I still make detours so that I can pass through Alabama and enjoy its seafood, fruit and veggies, sweet tea, and unique meals that make the state a hidden gem when it comes to local food. Here are some of 'Bama's most stand out eats that contribute to its identity as a distinguished — albeit obscure — American food landmark.

Conecuh sausage

75 years ago, Henry Sessions opened a meat-processing facility in the small town of Evergreen, Alabama. The company, originally called Sessions Quick Freeze, was famous for its hickory-smoked Conecuh sausages. It's a type of sausage that brings barbecues and homestyle cooking to mind. The seasoning blend used in the company's famous sausages is kept secret — even to this day. But, when you bite in to it, you can clearly see how a hint of red pepper accentuates milder spices for a sweet, savory, and smoky flavor that parallels none.

Sessions Quick Freeze, now called Conecuh Sausage, is still located in Evergreen and attracts tourists and locals alike. Folks from up North stop at Conecuh on their way to the Florida beaches to experience the acclaimed hickory sausage that put the establishment on the map. Meanwhile, locals from across the state cook the company's sausages at barbecues and gatherings, or stock up on it for camping trips. If you visit Conecuh Sausage, be sure to grab a hot meal, and stop by the gift shop to pick up specifically-designed cookware so that you can roast sausages the way they were meant to be prepared.

Golden Flake potato chips

It seems that every U.S. state has its own snack food legacy. Alabama's most legendary snack is most certainly Golden Flake potato chips. Golden Flake chips were made in the heart of Alabama, Birmingham, for one century before the company closed its doors and moved to the Utz factory in Pennsylvania. The company's dramatic backstory is a source of both pride and controversy in Alabama, but nevertheless, the chips remain an integral aspect of a classic Southern lunch.

Although Golden Flake moved north from Alabama, the unique, Southern-inspired flavor offerings have stuck around. The thin and crispy potato chip flavors include original, sweet heat barbecue, and vinegar and salt. The company also offers a wide variety of flavored pork skins — a true Southern favorite — from light and airy rinds to meaty cracklins. Choose between chili lime, red pepper, barbecue, or Louisiana-style hot sauce flavors for the perfect sandwich companion or late-afternoon snack.

West Indies salad

Although its name suggests that the dish came from the Caribbean, West Indies salad is credited to Bill Bayley Sr., Alabamian and owner of Bayley's Seafood Restaurant — a 500-seat restaurant dedicated to serving fresh seafood from the Gulf and Mobile Bay. Fish fans from all over Alabama flocked to the restaurant thanks to Bayley Sr.'s unprecedented recipes — many of which were designed to utilize the bay's aquatic bounty. Bayley's Seafood Restaurant, which opened in 1947, shut its doors in 2022, much to the dismay of its loyal, local customer base. But its legacy lives on with its famous recipes and reputation for small-town Southern hospitality and homestyle cooking.

Bayley's famous West Indies salad is assembled with strict preparation guidelines, although it's made with simple ingredients like crab meat, onions, oil, and vinegar. The onion base is topped with fresh Gulf crab meat, doused in oil and vinegar, and then soaked in ice water for at least two hours. The flavors meld together seamlessly, creating a fresh, crisp meal or side dish, served atop a bed of lettuce, to enjoy on a warm summer evening.

Bud's Best Cookies

In 1991, Bud Cason — former owner of Greg's Cookies in Birmingham and the Bishop Baking Company in Tennessee — continued his tradition of crafting delicious Southern-inspired sweet treats by opening Bud's Best Cookies. Unlike most baked goods, Bud's cookies are miniature, bite-sized morsels — which makes them stand out amongst a crowded scene of competing snack brands. The little cookies were a big hit in Alabama in the '90s, and continue to be a major player on the Alabama snack food scene today.

The company offers nearly every type of cookie imaginable in its signature miniature form, including lemon creme, strawberry creme, oatmeal, peanut butter-stuffed graham cookies, ginger snaps, and the classic chocolate chip. The company also sells sugar wafers and mini vanilla wafers. Serve your next batch of banana pudding with Bud's Best vanilla wafers for a quintessential Alabama dessert that everyone in your home is bound to love. 

Lane cake

One of the South's most unique desserts was born out of a baking competition in the late 1800s.Lane cake was named after Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, who made and entered the cake for a baking competition in neighboring Georgia. But, Alabama's official state cake actually rose to fame when Harper Lee wrote about it in her famous book, "To Kill a Mockingbird." One of the characters, Scout Finch, describes this homemade cake as "so loaded with shinny it made me tight." In other words, this dessert is absolutely brimming with bourbon.

Emma Rylander Lane's original Lane cake recipe is nutty, rich, and sweet. The bourbon accentuates the moist cake, crunchy pecans, and flaky coconut. Lane cake is assembled with four layers, held together by a filling of egg yolk, sugar, finely chopped raisins, and the star of the show: whiskey. If you're planning to take a crack at this Southern delicacy, be sure to bake the cake a day or two before serving; this gives the assortment of flavors enough time to meld together and soak into the cake for a much more decadent experience. 

Camp stew

Stew is timeless, hearty, and universally adored. Almost every state in the South lays claim to its own old-fashioned stew — and you'll find that they share some striking similarities and subtle differences. In Alabama, camp stew is the classic campfire dish that brings people together over a wholesome meal. This dish has deep roots in the state's culinary history; the first mention of it was found in the Montgomery Advertiser in the late 1800s. Ever since then, the dish has been found at restaurants and simmering on stoves across Alabama.

Camp stew starts like any stew; a base of meat and nourishing veggies is slow-cooked and seasoned with spices, sauces, and herbs. In this traditional Alabamian dish's case, the meat is usually a combination of chicken, pork, and beef — a livestock hootenanny, if you will. Next, an assortment of veggies, like potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and corn are added. What sets camp stew apart from standard, old-fashioned beef stew is its use of multiple meats and tomatoes — which sometimes even includes ketchup. The stew is a rich red color, with a tangy and spicy bite thanks to Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.

Alabama Slammer

The Alabama Slammer, one of the most iconic Alabama concoctions, was said to have originated at the University of Alabama in the '70s, though the name of its exact creator is unknown. The drink is synonymous with partying, boat and beach life, and just taking it easy. It has also been referenced to in pop culture, including in the movie "Cocktail," by Tom Cruise's character Brian Flanagan. 

An Alabama Slammer is a unique summertime elixir made with Southern Comfort liqueur. Southern Comfort is not a true whiskey because it's made with grain alcohol rather than bourbon or rye. Instead, its flavor is reminiscent of sweet iced tea and brimming with apricot notes, which makes the Slammer taste all the more Southern. Combine the liqueur with bougie sloe gin — liquor made from sloe berries — amaretto, and orange juice and you're ready to relax big time on a sweltering Gulf Coast summer day.

Milo's sweet tea

The Southeast is often defined by its love of sweet tea. Sweet tea is to the South what pizza is to New York. Like a slice of New York pizza, it's one of those must-tries for visitors and is a point of pride and identity for Southerners. Alabamians love their sweet tea, especially one brand in particular: Milo's. The brand made a name for itself directly following World War II when Milo and Bea Carlton opened a shop specializing in hamburgers doused with a proprietary sauce. The burgers and sauce were a hit, and so was the ice tea accompaniment. The pair began bottling and selling their famed, refreshing beverage, and the rest was history.

Milo's — now a household name in the Yellowhammer State — continues to stay true to its family-owned, made-in-America roots. The company is famous for its charitable donations and commitment to protecting the environment through recycling and water use reduction. Milo's prides itself on its designation as a certified zero-waste manufacturer and makes an effort to lessen its environmental impact while serving Alabamians and fans of Southern-style sweet tea nationwide.

Birmingham-style hot dogs

There's nothing like an all-American hot dog. States and cities are defined by their versions of the delectable street food, and the feud surrounding which is top dog will undoubtedly never cease. You may have heard of the Coney Island and Chicago styles, along with many other great American hot dog styles, but Birmingham-style dogs may not be as familiar. This Alabama treat is rarely included roundups of America's hot dogs, but it's unique enough to stand up to the more famous franks.

In the early 1900s, Birmingham's Greek community initiated a hot dog renaissance. One of the most famous of the spots that opened was Pete's Famous Hot Dogs in 1939 — with Pete Koutroulakis at the helm. But it wasn't Pete who made the Birmingham dog special; it was a sauce created by his nephew, Gus. Gus's sauce is an amalgamation of ground beef, onions, garlic, cumin, paprika, chili pepper, and milk. The exact recipe was kept a family secret even after Gus' death in 2011, but Alabamians frequently attempt to recreate the famous sauce to top their dogs at barbecues and parties where Alabama pride is intrinsic.

Royal red shrimp

Another source of culinary pride for Alabama's citizens are royal red shrimp: the little, brightly-colored gems of the Gulf. Seasoning is optional when cooking with royal reds, as their natural flavor — reminiscent of lobster or extra-tender scallops — does all the heavy lifting. The aquatic morsels are an Alabama delicacy and are often priced much higher than other types of shrimp because of how laborious the catching and storing process can be. Royal reds inhabit some of the deeper parts of the Gulf and don't last long on ice. This, in turn, drives up the price and making these shrimp as elusive as they are delicious.

Royal reds are often used for Southern recipes that calls for shrimp, like Cajun or Creole gumbo or étouffée, but any fan of the shrimp will tell you that they're best steamed or boiled and enjoyed all on their own. Alabama restaurants along the coast brandish royal reds on signage and menus to attract tourists looking to get a taste of the little crustacean with a glowing reputation.

White barbecue sauce

Every Southern state boasts its own unique barbecue style, and Alabama's claim to fame is its tangy white barbecue sauce. The sauce — perhaps the most iconic Alabama culinary creation of all time — is bottled and sold around the world, and stands as (arguably) the most distinctive barbecue sauce ever created. Robert Lee Gibson, from the town of Decatur in Northern Alabama, created the sauce in the 1920s. His sauce was a local hit, enough so that Gibson retired from his railroad job and opened a barbecue shop featuring the acclaimed white sauce. You can still enjoy white sauce made using the original recipe at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que, a century-old restaurant turned iconic Alabama chain.

Alabama white sauce contains traditional barbecue sauce ingredients, but uses a unique mayonnaise base. The mayonnaise prevents the meat from drying out and adds a rich, creamy element to the smoky and sweet flavors of traditional barbecue. Apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and brown mustard give the sauce a tangy bite, while horseradish and cayenne pepper add heat and complexity.

Fried crab claws

Bill Bayley, of Bayley's Seafood Restaurant, is not only credited with making the first batch of West Indies salad, but also with being one of the first to fry crab claws. Both dishes were products of his Mobile restaurant and remain a popular component of Alabama cuisine.

Coastal restaurants down Alabama's beaches serve the dish in honor of Alabama's eclectic culinary history — and because the crab tastes really good. The fertile Gulf, teeming with fish and crustaceans, isn't short on crabs. Bayley knew exactly how to utilize the claws — which were once deemed a byproduct of the more succulent and desirable parts of the crab. 

To fry your own crab claws the way Bill Bayley once did and bring a little Alabama to wherever you are, all you need is flour, peanut oil, egg, buttermilk, Creole seasoning, and Gulf Coast crab. Once the batter is mixed up, the claws can be dredged and fried until golden brown. 

Red Diamond coffee and tea

In 1906, William Donovan founded the Donovan Provision Company — which specialized in the sale of meat, eggs, and dairy. Two years after the company opened, the name was changed to a much more attractive and appealing title: Red Diamond. It has remained family-owned since its inception and has established itself as an Alabama icon over the many decades that it has called Birmingham home.

Red Diamond offers a variety of coffee and tea products, including the famous Southern sweet iced tea. You can buy its tea bags, sold in black, green, and decaffeinated varieties, as well as gallons or individual bottles of tea. While sweet tea is a popular choice, you can also find unsweetened black, sugar-free, and even a sweet tea and lemonade combo. Red Diamond coffee is found throughout the state, from gas stations to cafés, and fans of the coffee buy it by the bag or in single-serving capsules to brew at home.