beef stew - a smoky mountain food
· ·

12 Traditional Smoky Mountain Foods to Try

When travelers visit an area like the Smoky Mountains, some of them may do everything to avoid going to familiar chain restaurants. Instead, they want to enjoy Smoky Mountain dishes; regional specialties they can only find there, and that are all the rage among residents and visitors alike.

For generations in the Smoky Mountains, residents have made home-cooked dishes made from whatever is grown in the garden, what they’ve fished out of the water, or what they’ve hunted in the woods.

That approach echoes the farm-to-table movement that’s also popular in culinary circles today. The closer dishes originate from their source, the higher the quality of the food will often be.

The first outside settlers were Scottish and Irish, bringing their methods of cooking and familiar foods, finding local equivalents whenever necessary. They also adapted practices from the Cherokees, like soup beans and cornbread.

Because of the often long distances from town, Smokies residents rarely went to the general store. So people at home often became very creative with their creations.

If you’re in the Smokies, you owe it to yourself to try some or all of the 12 dishes listed below. Some of them can be found on local restaurant menus, some can be made at home, and all of them are delicious.

collard greens - a smoky mountain food

Lettuce and Onions

Don’t let the basic name of this dish scare you off! This salad offers a refreshing starter or something to enjoy when you want something light for a warm day.

The dry, salt-cured pork imparts some welcome meaty smoky flavor, and if you create the cornbread croutons alongside, you’ll have a great buttery crunchy texture.

Collard Greens

As an iconic vegetable dish all over the South, collard greens are a kitchen staple. It’s also the recipe with which many Southerners bring in the New Year, along with black-eyed peas, for good luck. Unfortunately, these vegetables can sometimes be overcooked and lose their flavor. So here’s a version that is guaranteed to be full of home-cooked deliciousness.

beef stew - a smoky mountain food

Beef Stew

Like many culinary creations, this hearty comfort food has as many versions as there are cooks. Because the base recipe simply incorporates cooked beef, stock, and canned tomatoes, it’s a great way to use up spare vegetables and whatever else you like.

The stew or soup often accompanies the dish that follows and makes a complete Smoky Mountains meal.

Soup Beans and Cornbread

Scratch the surface of this dish, and you’ll find its roots in Native American cooking. Adapted by the European settlers to the Appalachians, this dish is a predecessor of pork ‘n’ beans and really pairs up well with homemade cornbread.

It’s been a great source of comfort for generations of Southerners, and it’s a cinch to make.

Dried Apple Stack Cake

This is the quintessential Smoky Mountains dessert, created with dried apples and flat cake discs. But there’s no doubt that it takes patience to make right.

There is some debate about whether the recipe should include spices, or if the straightforward original (which uses flour, eggs, buttermilk, sorghum, and apples) will do just fine.

You’ll probably find that it’s a matter of preference or that you just might enjoy both kinds. If you make it at home, the best thing you can do is tinker with the recipe until you get it perfect to your liking.

Cherokee Fry Bread

The influence of the historical Cherokee tribe is still felt throughout the Smokies and food has been a way to honor that influence. It serves as the perfect compliment to Smoky Mountain staples like beef stew.

This bread is a centuries-old staple, passed down through generations that can be enjoyed at sit-down restaurants as well as campfires. The bread can be loaded with toppings or eaten with some dipping oil. It can also be loaded with honey, fruit, or even cinnamon for a tasty dessert.

Barbeque I Photo Credit: Joshua Resnick / Shutterstock


A visit anywhere in the South requires at least one stop for some mouthwatering barbeque and visiting the Smokies is no different. From savory pulled pork to fall-of-the-bone ribs to scrumptious sides, visitors can find all their favorites at Smoky Mountain restaurants.

Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que and Calhouns are two Smoky Mountain spots offering up tasty ‘que. There’s plenty of menu variety and a Smoky Mountain barbeque joint is the best spot for hungry customers to just pig out.

Crockett's Breakfast Camp - Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Crockett’s Breakfast Camp | photo via @queen_taco_nacho_pizza

Breakfast Foods

While breakfast isn’t unique to the Smoky Mountains, there are definitely two dishes visitors need to try when they come to the Smokies: Biscuits and gravy and buttermilk pancakes. Crockett’s Breakfast Camp in Gatlinburg is famous for its griddle cakes, which can be ordered as a side or by the stack, and jazzed up with all kinds of toppings.

Biscuits and gravy is a Southern staple found on just about any menu. Crockett’s serves up a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy as well; soft, fluffy biscuits topped with hearty, homemade gravy. Ordering a side of breakfast meat and eggs is the perfect compliment to this meal.

Pimento cheese

Pimento cheese enjoys widespread popularity in the South, and this concoction is extremely versatile; it can be served on sandwiches, as a dip for crackers and chips, and even baked into grits, fritters, and souffles.

There are many ways Pimento Cheese spread can be made at home, but it can also be found on restaurant menus throughout the South, especially in the Smokies!


No trip to the Smoky Mountains is complete without having a little taste of moonshine (if you’re legal age, of course). Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are home to several moonshine distilleries, and visitors can stop by these shops to sample a variety of delicious flavors.

Even those who haven’t had moonshine will likely find a flavor they want to try. Flavors like apple pie, cinnamon, butter pecan, margarita, mountain java, and many more.

Shrimp and Grits
Shrimp and Grits I Photo Credit: Lulub /Shutterstock

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and grits is a decadent Southern staple. It’s packed with flavor and can be found on several Smoky Mountain restaurant menus. One place is at the Pottery House Cafe at the Old Mill Restaurant, and the shrimp and grits there feature shrimp sauteed with onions and peppers and served over cheesy grits and topped with parmesan cheese, green onions, and bacon.

Shrimp and grits is also a popular dish to make at home, and home cooks can get as traditional or creative as they like. Old Mill sells grits in its store and offers a home recipe for people to try.

Cinnamon Bread

The Grist Mill at Dollywood is home to warm, mouthwatering cinnamon bread that’s gained a nationwide following. The bread is freshly made and best enjoyed with apple butter and buttercream icing. It’s the perfect decadent treat that pairs well with a cup of coffee but can be enjoyed any time of day.

Those who want to try making this delicious bread at home can do just that. Whether you’re counting down the days to a Dollywood trip or you want to try your hand at making the bread yourself, this is sure to be a hit with friends and family.

Experience These Smoky Mountains Dishes Today

No matter if you’re open to trying just about anything or you’re a big fan of hearty foods like soups and stews, the regional specialties of the Smoky Mountains have something to satisfy every taste bud.

Finding some of these dishes in a local restaurant might be challenging, but if you’re up for cooking simple recipes, give them a try at home. Just remember to have some patience as you cook because some of them take time to get just right.

If you find them in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or the surrounding area, be sure to enjoy them when you have the chance. You may find something so decadent, so delicious that it will have you coming back to the Smokies again and again to get a taste!

Similar Posts