Cooking Secrets From The South's Best Chefs We Had Never Heard

The chefs always enlighten and inspire us—and now they're teaching us new things, too.

illustrated graphic with eggs, butter, aluminum foil, and wooden spoon

Corinne Mucha/Dotdash Meredith

There are few things more delightful than cookbooks , especially when they have lavish pictures, easy-to-follow recipes, rich culinary histories, and make you ravenous for whatever dish you are reading about. But when the cooks are thoughtful and generous enough to include little tips and secrets that they have learned over the years, those works are truly a blessing. Here are 10-such books for your happy and delectable reading!

1. Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook: A Celebration of African American Cooking

from the National Museum of African American History and Culture

In 2016, the Sweet Home Cafe opened in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C. The book is a heartfelt and stomach-rumbling tour of African American culinary history through 109 recipes, ranging from Waffles and Fried Green Tomatoes to Yams and Chocolate Chess Pie. The book is blessed with lots and lots of pictures.

Tip #1: For potato salads, use "preferably Duke's " mayonnaise. (We knew this one, of course. We just like to see others agree with us.)

Tip #2: With the Candied Sweet Potatoes, "gently stir the potatoes two or three times during the cooking process to help thicken the glaze."

2. Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day

by John Currence

Currence, who won the James Beard award in 2009 for best Southern Chef, has a string of restaurants, including the successful Big Bad Breakfasts in cities like Charleston, South Carolina and in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, among others. This book, with its huge and colorful pictures (have Honey Buns and Summer Vegetable Quiche ever looked so decadent!?) puts breakfast where it's supposed to be—"revered, respected, and adored."

Tip #1: When it comes to making eggs, use " clarified butter if you want to avoid sticking."

Tip #2: " Pepperidge Farm Multigrain makes a really nice French toast."

3. Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories

by Jocelyn Delk Adams

Inspired by her Mississippi grandmother affectionately known as "big mama" Maggie, Adams gives us a treasure-tome of decadent desserts and ambrosial recipes, such as Old-Fashioned Butter Pound Cake and the heavenly-sounding Gooey-Gooey Cake. The author aptly manages to give her grandmother's cherished desserts a contemporary spin, while preserving the most important ingredients.

Tip #1: When is butter properly at room-temperature? "Your butter should be soft enough for your thumb to leave an indent when you lightly press."

Tip #2: For layer cakes, "I usually spray the pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and then also spray the paper to ensure that everything pops out perfectly."

4. I Cook in Color: Bright Flavors from My Kitchen and Around the World

by Asha Gomez

This Atlanta-based chef brings a duo of Souths to her dishes: the American South and Southern India. Her Gorgonzola Three-Potato Gratin, Three-Mushroom Bok Choy Stir Fry, and the silkenly pictured Sticky Pandan and Date-Toffee Pudding Care are just just a trio of sumptuous examples of her perfect melding of two, rich culinary traditions. Asha also works as a Global Ambassador for CARE, specifically in the area of food insecurity.

Tip #1: With tomato or watermelon salads, serve "little cubes of feta cheese for snacking."

5. Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland

by Tanya Holland

Though not Southern by birth or location, Holland's beautiful collection of 86 savory recipes is a product of her tree-lined, soul-food restaurant, in West Oakland, California that would be every bit welcome in the Carolinas or any Georgia city. Patrons lined up to chow down on everything from cornmeal waffles and Macaroni & Cheese to Shrimp Gumbo and the knock-out Caramel Layer Cake with Brown Butter-Caramel Frosting. Chef Holland received her formal training at the La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in France.

Tip #1: "Add chopped fresh fruit to your stuffing to stop it from drying out while it cooks in the oven."

Tip #2: "While chai is traditionally made with milk, we find that it doesn't really need it, but do add milk if you like."

6. Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing

by Jerrelle Guy

Focusing on whole flour and less refined sugar, Guy serves up 75 easy recipes (each with vegan alternatives), along with 75 stunning images. Particularly succulent looking is the zucchini bread and Grits & Greens soufflé. Jerrelle Guy is the creator of Chocolate For Basil , a vegetarian blog that has been featured on, Food52, and in the Boston Globe, to name a few. The book was a 2019 James Beard Foundation Award Nominee.

Tip #1: Signs of a well-made brownie: "Deep fissures stretching across the top,...and a gloss finish that looks like the top's been varnished with clear acrylic."

7. Welcome to Buttermilk Kitchen

by Suzanne Vizethann

With a passion for breakfast and tired of working night shifts, Vizethann (chef, founder, and owner) opened Buttermilk Kitchen in an old house in the Buckhead section of Atlanta in 2012. I was delighted to read that she also earned a degree in hospitality from the University of South Carolina, in Columbia. The book's 100 recipes are a treat to savor. Angie Mosier's photos beautifully capture Vizethann's mouth-watering creations, such as her pancakes, egg dishes, and super sumptuous-looking biscuits .

Tip #1: Vizethann only uses King Arthur Unbleached Flour . She says to be sure to "store it in a container with a tight sealable lid away from direct sunlight."

Tip #2: All of the chef's eggs are pasture-raised—meaning the hens graze on grass and are allowed lots of room to roam. "Happy hens equal happy eggs." Vizethann purchases theirs from Handsome Brooks Farms .

8. Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul: A Cookbook

by Jeanne Claiborne

The book's subtitle truly tells what's inside these lavish pages: 100 relatively simple vegan recipes that have tons of flavors, sweetness, and soul (I like her quote from American singer and songwriter Erykah Badu, who says "Soul food means to feed the soul"). Clairborne's Low Country Grits and Tempeh Bacon look particularly yummy.

Tip #1: To save on cleanup time, "I never bake or roast directly on a sheet pan but instead use either parchment paper or a silicone mat."

Tip #2: Invest in a waffle iron. "Homemade waffles are an absolute treat, and you're going to love my Sorghum Cornmeal Waffles."

9. Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories

by Patty Pinner

Family stories, extraordinary desserts, and the magic of Sunday mornings are all magically brought together in Penny's heartfelt collection. She managed to complete this rich culinary assemblage while not only working for the U.S. Postal Service, but while helping out at her family's restaurant, Erin's Seafood Restaurant. It's all here—memories of church dinners, family meals, photographs, and divine recipes for Butter Rolls, Sweet Potato Pie, and Old Time Chocolate Pudding Rum Cake.

10. Cheryl Day's Treasury of Southern Baking

by Cheryl Day

Day, who happily resides in Savannah, Georgia, has produced a treasure-trove of stunning pictures and over 200 delectable recipes. Be sure to check out the Skillet Cornbread, Buttermilk Waffles, and Deep-Dish Spinach Quiche! The author is also a founding member of the leadership committee for the James Beard Foundation investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans.

Tip #1: With flaky biscuits, position the "rack in the middle of the oven."

Tip #2: Want billowy mile-high meringue? "Allow your egg whites to come to room temperature before whipping them."

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