Knoxville has a vibrant culinary scene that’s often overshadowed by its larger counterparts like Nashville or Memphis. However, insiders know that Knoxville has its own unique food culture, offering a delightful array of dishes that cater to every palate.
In this article, we, your trusted source for all things culinary, will take you on a gastronomic journey through the top 10 dishes that Knoxville is renowned for. Stay put and read it through.
What Food is Knoxville Known For?
Knoxville is celebrated for its indulgent Southern comfort food, featuring classics like savory smoked barbecue, country ham, sweet potato casserole, fried green tomatoes, moon pies, meat and three, hot chicken, biscuits and gravy, cornbread, fried catfish amongst others. With a strong appreciation for farm-to-table dining, Knoxville offers fresh ingredients and locally sourced produce, enhancing the authenticity of its beloved Southern dishes.
1. Knoxville-style barbecue ribs
Knoxville-style barbecue ribs are a beloved local delicacy characterized by their tender, slow-cooked pork ribs coated in a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce.
The key ingredients in this dish include high-quality pork ribs, typically seasoned with a dry rub consisting of spices like paprika, garlic powder, and brown sugar before being slow-smoked to perfection.
What truly sets Knoxville-style barbecue ribs apart is the sauce, which is often a blend of tomato-based barbecue sauce infused with a hint of local Tennessee whiskey, offering a sweet and smoky flavor profile.
The slow cooking process allows the ribs to become incredibly tender, practically falling off the bone.
2. Sweet potato casserole
One dish that Knoxville is famous for, especially during Thanksgiving, is the sweet potato casserole. This delectable treat combines the natural sweetness of baked sweet potatoes with a crumbly buttery pecan topping.
The dish often features hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, giving it a warm and comforting flavor. Classic Tennessee hospitality shines through when families gather around to dig into this heavenly creation.
3. Fried green tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes are a cherished dish in Knoxville, typically made from unripe, firm green tomatoes. To create this Southern classic, the tomatoes are sliced into thick rounds, then dipped in a seasoned cornmeal or flour mixture before being fried until golden and crispy.
The result is a delightful contrast between the tartness of the green tomatoes and the crunchy, savory coating. People adore fried green tomatoes for their unique flavor and texture combination, which marries the tanginess of the tomatoes with the satisfying crunch of the coating.
Often served as an appetizer or side dish, they’re a beloved staple in Knoxville’s culinary landscape, providing a taste of Southern comfort and tradition.
4. Moon pies
Moon Pies, though not a traditional “dish,” are iconic sweet treats that have a special place in the hearts of Knoxvillians and Southerners alike.
These delectable confections consist of two round graham cracker cookies sandwiching a marshmallow filling and are often coated in chocolate, creating a satisfying blend of textures and flavors.
While not unique to Knoxville, Moon Pies holds a nostalgic appeal, as they were first invented in nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1917.
They’ve become a symbol of Southern comfort and are adored for their simple yet delightful combination of ingredients, making them a beloved snack enjoyed by people of all ages in Knoxville and beyond.
5. Meat and Three
This delectable meal consists of one meat dish (typically fried chicken or country ham) paired with three delicious side dishes. The options are endless, ranging from creamy macaroni and cheese to crispy fried okra and collard greens cooked to perfection.
What sets Knoxville’s Meat and Three apart is the incredible attention to detail and dedication to using local ingredients. From farm-fresh vegetables to hand-picked meats, each plate is a testament to the region’s rich culinary heritage.
Not only does this result in superior flavor, but it also supports local farmers and promotes sustainable dining practices.
Grits, a quintessential Southern dish, hold a special place in Knoxville’s culinary repertoire. Made from ground white or yellow corn, grits are simmered with water or milk to create a creamy, porridge-like consistency.
The beauty of grits lies in their simplicity, allowing the natural, earthy flavor of corn to shine.
Often served as a side dish, grits can be enjoyed with a variety of toppings, such as butter, cheese, and shrimp, or even as a bed for saucy dishes like shrimp and grits.
Their versatility and comforting, homestyle taste make grits a beloved staple in Knoxville, embodying the Southern tradition of transforming humble ingredients into a soul-satisfying culinary experience.
7. Hot chicken
This fiery dish features crispy, fried chicken with a bold kick of spice. To create hot chicken, the chicken pieces are typically marinated in a mixture of buttermilk and spices, coated in a seasoned flour mixture, and then fried to golden perfection.
What sets hot chicken apart is its fiery seasoning, which often includes cayenne pepper, paprika, and other spices, resulting in a spicy and flavorful crust.
Hot chicken is served with traditional Southern sides like coleslaw and pickles to help balance the heat, and it has gained a loyal following in Knoxville for those who crave a spicy twist on the classic fried chicken experience.
8. Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and Gravy is a beloved Southern breakfast staple that Knoxville is known for. This comforting dish consists of warm, fluffy biscuits smothered in creamy sausage gravy. The biscuits are typically made with simple ingredients like flour, butter, buttermilk, and baking powder, resulting in a tender, flaky texture.
The gravy is made by browning sausage and then creating a creamy sauce with flour, milk, and flavorful sausage drippings.
The combination of buttery biscuits and rich, savory gravy is a hearty and satisfying breakfast that has become a Southern tradition, cherished by locals and visitors in Knoxville for its comforting flavors and down-home appeal.
9. Country Ham
This mouthwatering specialty has deep roots in the region and is a must-try for any food enthusiast. Knoxville takes great pride in its country ham, which is dry-cured and aged to perfection.
The result? A distinctively rich and savory flavor that will leave your taste buds singing with joy. What sets Knoxville’s country ham apart from others is its traditional preparation methods that have been passed down through generations.
Each step of the process, from selecting premium cuts of pork to carefully applying the curing ingredients, requires skill and patience. The end result is a product that showcases the culinary heritage of this vibrant city and never fails to impress locals and visitors alike.
So, before you leave Knoxville, make sure to sample some scrumptious slices of their world-renowned country ham – it’s an experience that can’t be missed!
10. Fried Catfish
Fried catfish is a Southern delicacy that has found a special place in Knoxville’s culinary culture. This dish features fillets of catfish, often sourced from nearby rivers, and coated in a seasoned cornmeal or flour mixture before being deep-fried to a crispy, golden perfection.
The catfish itself is mild and tender, while the seasoned coating adds a flavorful crunch. Often served with classic Southern sides like hushpuppies, coleslaw, and tartar sauce, fried catfish embodies the essence of Southern comfort food.
Its appeal lies in the fresh, locally sourced catfish and the irresistible combination of crispy breading and succulent fish, making it a beloved dish among Knoxvillians and visitors alike.
Whether you’re savoring the smoky aroma of Tennessee whiskey-glazed ribs or indulging in the simplicity of fried green tomatoes, these dishes exemplify the warmth and hospitality that Knoxville is known for, inviting both locals and visitors to immerse themselves in the flavors that make this city a true Southern culinary gem.