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Carolina Lowcountry: Shrimp and Grits

Step foot into just about any greasy spoon in Carolina Lowcountry, and you’re sure to find some version of shrimp and grits on the menu. The delicious breakfast food is a Southern staple, and its association with the region is undeniable. 

So much so that many people assume this simple, hearty dish originated there. However, the true origins of the combo are a little more nuanced.

But it’s no secret you can get the best shrimp and grits in Carolina Lowcountry, especially when shrimp are in season. And we know exactly where to find them.

Let’s dig in!

Did Shrimp and Grits Originate in the Carolina Lowcountry?

Shrimp and grits is a dish with cross-continental origins. Native Americans made hominy grits well before Europeans arrived. But once Europeans brought corn back from the Americas, it became a common crop in Africa. 

Africans were the first to serve cooked ground corn and shellfish together. When enslaved Africans came to plantations in the Carolina Lowcountry, they adapted the dish to local corn and shrimp. The original recipes called only for shrimp sauteed in butter and served over hot grits.

Like many staple foods, it’s simple, cheap, and homey. When shrimp are in season, they’re plentiful on Carolina’s coast, and it was the perfect meal for fishermen to start their day with.

By the mid-20th century, the dish evolved, using bacon fat, peppers, and onions to spice it up. But the influence of a restaurant in North Carolina and a New York Times food critic helped elevate the dish to national fame. 

Man sprinkling spices on shrimp and grits
Shrimp and grits is a kitchen staple in the south.

The Influence of North Carolina Chef Bill Neal

While shrimp and grits was well known in the Carolina Lowcountry, Bill Neal’s recipe was the first to receive national attention. Bill Neal was a self-trained chef who got his start with a French restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the early 1980s, his love for the regional cuisine he grew up on led him to open up Crook’s Corner

Crook’s Corner remains a Chapel Hill mainstay largely because of Neal’s legacy. He studied local fare and spent years refining the techniques and ingredients. His passion helped others 

take Southern food seriously, and to this day, many cooks still use his recipes as the standard. 

The New York Times food editor and critic Craig Claiborne drew national attention to Bill Neal’s recipes, especially his shrimp and grits, and helped popularize the dish across the country. Claiborne cited the dish’s historical importance, a cuisine that represented our nation’s complex past. 

Neal’s recipe calls for coating the shrimp in flour and cooking it in bacon fat and peanut oil. He uses mushrooms for more umami and adds tabasco for a dash of heat. The chef cooks the grits with broth and cream, with a healthy portion of cheese mixed in for a filling, flavorful base. 

Are Grits and Hominy the Same?

Hominy and grits share some similarities, but they’re two different things. The words were often used interchangeably in the past, which can get confusing. 

Grits are boiled cornmeal. When prepared correctly, they have a smooth, creamy texture. On their own, grits have a fairly neutral flavor, but chefs in Carolina and across the South have created countless variations to spice them up. 

Hominy, on the other hand, is made from whole corn kernels. These are treated with an alkaline solution, usually lime water, until they burst. The process, known as nixtamalization, brings out a sweeter flavor with notes of lime. In addition to the more complex flavor, hominy has a chewier texture. 

Pro Tip: If you’re a foodie, grab a bite to eat at one of these 7 Most Unique Restaurants in the USA.

Shrimp and grits plated
While in South Carolina, make sure to order some shrimp and grits.

Where Is the Best Place for Shrimp and Grits in South Carolina?

While you won’t have any trouble finding shrimp and grits on the menu at just about any traditional Southern restaurant, we can help you find the best spots to enjoy this iconic Carolina classic. 

Poogan’s Porch

This is a home-style restaurant based in an old home on Queen’s Street in Charleston. Poogan’s opened its doors in 1976, taking the name from the dog left behind by the previous owners. 

Poogan’s Porch is a local favorite of people of all walks, including celebrities, politicians, and tourists who want to get their fix on Southern favorites like biscuits and fried chicken. Their take on shrimp and grits includes ham gravy and andouille sausage. 

A Lowcountry Backyard

This laid back little gem in Hilton Head Island is a favorite for locals and tourists alike. The warm atmosphere is welcoming to families, with an outdoor area with games to keep the kids happy while you sneak a sample of local moonshine or explore their soul food menu rich in Gullah heritage. 

The shrimp and grits were recently voted best in South Carolina, and we can understand why. The pan-fried shrimp are cooked with smoky sausage and served with Applewood bacon cream sauce over smooth, delectable grits. 

Page’s Okra Grill

This casual diner in Mount Pleasant offers authentic Southern classics at affordable prices. But don’t let the relaxed atmosphere fool you. Page’s uses fresh, local ingredients to bring you the best of Carolina cuisine.

Their take on the dish features battered and lightly fried cheesy grits topped with jumbo shrimp. While you’re there, try the crab cakes and enjoy delicious cocktails made with local spirits. 

Shrimp and grits
Shrimp and grits are perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

What Do You Eat With Shrimp and Grits?

Shrimp and grits offers an extraordinary combination of flavors. Smoky bacon, buttery grits, and fresh seafood flavors that truly shine best with other Southern cuisines. For a truly decadent breakfast experience, you can pair it with fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits with gravy. 

But if you prefer your breakfast shrimp for lunch, it also matches perfectly with collard greens, fried okra, or coleslaw. Sweet potato fries, another dish that combines the sweet and savory with ease, are another go-to option you can enjoy any time of day. 

Fried green tomatoes offer a tangy complement to the seafood flavors in shrimp and grits for a uniquely Southern experience. Check the menu and follow your heart. It’s hard to go wrong with any of your favorite country classics.

Pro Tip: Feeling hungry? Head to one of these Best Places to Get Chicken and Waffles in the USA.

Carolina’s Lowcountry Still Offers the Best Shrimp and Grits

Because of Bill Neal’s work elevating the appeal of Southern cuisine, you can find shrimp and grits in diners across the U.S. But nothing beats shrimp and grits in the heart of Carolina Lowcountry. You can get the best fresh caught flavors served with authentic Southern flair, especially at the peak of shrimp season. 

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