Taking off work, eating (and drinking) too much, spending time with family… it’s what we all look forward to during the holidays.
But there’s one part of the country that happens to excel at all three. Below the Mason-Dixon Line, Christmas is a whirl of outdoor BBQs, potluck-style feasts, and bluegrass hoedowns on the beach. While the rest of us are piling more logs on the fire and shoveling out driveways, southerners take a decidedly more carefree approach to end-of-year festivities.
T+L reached out to six of the region’s best chefs—in cities like Atlanta, Charleston and Nashville—about what they love most about Christmas in the South. We loved the variety of responses, though we couldn’t help noticing a recurring theme. Those southerners sure love their oysters!
Steven Satterfield, executive chef at Miller Union in Atlanta
“We have been spending Christmas at our beach house on Tybee Island, Georgia the past few years. It’s the perfect quiet holiday getaway. My friend Seth Solomon lives on the island year-round, and he and his dad harvest wild oysters at a secret spot (that has been deemed safe by the powers that be). We have a deal that if he gives us oysters, we shuck them, and then I make oyster stew! It is based on a traditional, simple recipe that I add sunchokes and celery to, and garnish with celery leaves and homemade oyster crackers that have lard, country ham and benne seeds in them.”
Landon Thompson, executive chef at Cooks and Soldiers in Atlanta
“My wife’s family has an incredible tradition of meeting up at a barn outside of Greenville South Carolina and playing bluegrass music (her brothers are incredibly talented) and drinking moonshine until the cows come home—to me, that is what Christmas in the South is all about. On Christmas morning, we always drink mimosas and bloody Marys as soon as we wake up. And we always eat monkey bread for breakfast! It’s the most amazing thing ever (if my momma makes it anyway). It consists of torn biscuit pieces tossed in cinnamon and sugar, then layered with pecans, baked, and topped with a brown sugar and butter caramel.“
“My fiancée’s grandma’s braised green beans with smoked ham hocks are amazing and something that I look forward to all year. It is a recipe that has been passed down through the generations. She puts the green beans, salt, secret seasoning, and hocks in a pot and cooks them for six hours—the smell is amazing. Her uncle also prepares a ham for Christmas that he cures and smokes at home with salt and a home-made spice mix. The ham is smoked for twelve hours overnight and believe me, it is worth the wait! The day after Christmas we head out to the farm and prepare a big oyster roast in the barn.”
Daniel Gorman, chef de cuisine at 5th and Taylor in Nashville
“For me, a traditional southern Christmas dish means Coca-Cola glazed smoked ham. My grandma made this every Christmas growing up. We would buy a good quality spiral ham, and then baste it with a mixture of brown sugar, Dijon mustard, Coca-Cola and spices. I would always be the one sneaking away with as much of the sweet and savory crust as possible.
“Growing up in Charleston, we always had some type of seafood at Christmas. Whether it was shrimp, boiled blue crabs, or a fried fish we always had seafood on the table, but primarily we at a lot of oyster stew—my favorite.”
Regina Charboneau, owner & chef at Twin Oaks and King’s Tavern in Natchez, Mississippi
“Christmas breakfast [at Twin Oaks B&B] is brown sugar bacon skewers and popover pancakes with raspberry jam. Christmas dinner is quail and mushroom pie, spinach salad with roasted sweet potato, peppered pecans and sour cream dressing, entrecote with mustard sauce, Natchez spinach, butter biscuits, and orange-scented chocolate mousse.
“[If you’re in Natchez for Christmas], do not be surprised if you are invited into someone’s home for a party. You will find blues in our clubs, you will find gospel in our churches. You will find some of the best tamales, ribs, fried chicken, and wood-fired potpie in the South. Expect the best biscuits you have ever had—we are the biscuit capital of the world!”
Robert Carter, owner & executive chef at Barony Tavern in Charleston
“Growing up on the Gulf Coast, near Tallahassee, traditional Christmas at our house was always whole red snapper with creamy and cheesy potatoes au gratin and sautéed spinach. The day before, I go out and catch the snapper off of St. George Island, and after dinner I love to walk on the beach at sunset.”