Nine Essentials For A Traditional Southern Breakfast

By Angela Garrison Zontek

All the best southern days start in a warm kitchen that smells of biscuits and something frying in the skillet. Has anything amazing ever resulted from a bowl of cold, bland cereal? Of course not. Breakfast is our first chance to make the day special, and the meal should be hot.

To be considered a full-on southern country breakfast, cooks need four major components: bread, meat, eggs, and potatoes. In fact, there are nine essential foods that can make up a traditional southern breakfast. Don’t be surprised to see them all making an appearance at a large holiday breakfast or Sunday brunch. But for everyday breakfast, combining as you please will create a great hearty start to your morning.

The Starches

Biscuits

Waking up to the smell of fresh buttermilk biscuits cooling on the counter is what we consider true Southern bliss. My grandmother was up and baking by five o’clock in the morning to put a hot breakfast on the table. I’ve often found that the way folks dress their biscuits tends to be seasonal. While butter is certainly a year-round favorite, fresh jams and jellies appear in the warmer months, with home-made apple butters arriving in the fall.

Grits

Grits are synonymous with breakfast in the South. We like them served warm and in their own bowl. I prefer mine buttered and salted, but some prefer them sugared, or even doused with real maple syrup. Whether you’re eating them salty or sweet, grits bring that down-home comfort to the breakfast table every time.

Fried Potatoes

Fried potatoes are a fun addition to almost any meal. At breakfast, we like them served cubed and dressed with onions and peppers. Some folks like the addition of shredded cheese or a dusting of cayenne pepper. My family likes to smother them with chili and top with scrambled eggs during the winter months, then we cool them down with sour cream and chives during the summer.

Hash Brown Casserole

Hash browns afford the breakfast cook with all sorts of fun options for making breakfast special. Hash brown casseroles are extremely popular for their versatility. There’s a hash brown recipe out there for everyone. These casseroles also freeze beautifully, so cooks can make them in advance when anticipating a large gathering. I like to use them as nests for a runny egg. I bake them in a muffin tin, adding the eggs after. This is a nice option for when you’re serving picky eaters who don’t want the egg yolk to spread across their plates.

The Meat

Bacon

Who doesn’t love bacon? Pork belly is easily the most popular breakfast meat in every corner of the country, but in the South, we make it more of a feature as opposed to a side. We don’t serve it as a garnish, with just two delicate strips nestled under a pile of scrambled eggs. Our breakfast meats come served on their own plate, piled high with plenty for the entire family. We also insist on frying our bacon in a cast iron skillet and using the grease to season other dishes. For those of you wondering if it’s ever acceptable to cook bacon in the microwave, let me leave you with this nugget of wisdom—just because you can, does not mean you should.

Sausage


We like our sausage heavily spiced with sage and nutmeg, with a preference for meat locally raised and processed on our regional farms. Most Southern cooks make a trip to the butcher monthly, as we take what we serve our families and guests very seriously. Some favor a strong sage flavored meat; others like for sausage to pack some heat. My family likes to crumble the spicy stuff into our egg and potato dishes.

Liver Pudding

Liver pudding, sometimes referred to as livermush, is a distinctly southern concoction of ground pork liver, cornmeal or rice, and spices. It is formed into loaves and served fried by the slice. Like grits, liver pudding is a regional favorite and remains popular mostly in the South. Enjoy with a side of eggs or grits and make it a sandwich with soft white bread or a biscuit.

Country Ham


Country ham is the most divisive of breakfast meats. Should it be cut thick or thin? I’ve seen grandmothers shake a meat fork at folks who tried to cut their ham too thin. Country ham is salt cured and smoked, making the flavor intense for many. For this reason, it’s often suggested that the ham be served thinly sliced. However, in the South, we like our ham with big, bold flavors and appreciate a thick slice to put on a biscuit sandwich.

Scrambled Eggs


Eggs may be the most versatile food in our kitchens. Everyone has their favorite egg dish for breakfast, but the classic scramble is always a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Big, fluffy, yellow scrambled eggs contrast nicely on a plate of potatoes and your choice of protein.

Making a Southern breakfast is an event that requires a little hard work, but we don’t mind. Starting the day with family gathering around a full spread of hot breakfast favorites is more than worth the extra elbow (and bacon) grease. Rise and shine so you can get to fry’n.