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Ten Things to Taste in South Carolina This Year

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Bowl of uncooked rice and bowl of uncooked field peas
Carolina Gold rice and Southern field peas are prized by South Carolina chefs.

Shrimp and grits - check.

Pit-cooked barbecue - check.

Cornbread and collards - check.

Think you're done with your tour of South Carolina's best eats? Not by a long shot. The Palmetto State is rich in culinary traditions and always on the cusp of new trends destined to sweep the South and beyond. Let us thrill your taste buds with flavors - some fresh, some time-honored, some a bit of both - that help define South Carolina's robust food scene.

Here are some recommendations to add to your foodie bucket list.

Rice & Peas

Bowl of Hoppin' John
Carolina Gold rice and field peas are traditional ingredients in Hoppin' John.

Carolina Gold Rice

Whether forming the foundation of a shrimp purloo, appearing side by side with field peas in Hoppin' John, or served buttered as a side dish, South Carolina Gold Rice is a stand-out. Its distinctive fluffiness and sweet taste can heft the simplest dishes to extraordinary levels.

That's why chefs and cooks rely on it to give their creations authentic South Carolina flavor. Carolina Gold Rice made its way here from Madagascar and was first planted in the late 1600s, effectively launching the state's 200-year history of rice cultivation. A major cash crop in South Carolina during the 1700s, rice saw its glory days wane in the wake of war, economic issues and hurricanes.

Eventually, Carolina Gold disappeared altogether from the fields of South Carolina. But it's back, thanks to operations such as Plumfield Plantation in Darlington County, where the rice is grown and sold under the Carolina Plantation brand. You can purchase bags of Carolina Gold in many grocery stores or order online from Marsh Hen Mill and Anson Mills.

Cook up a pot and bring a taste of 18th-century South Carolina to your dinner table.

Southern Field Peas

Fresh field peas are cropping up on menus across the state. For more than 300 years, these humble legumes - also called cowpeas - provided affordable sustenance to South Carolinians.

Now, they are delighting a whole new generation of diners thanks to chefs dedicated to honoring the state's culinary legacy. Each mouthful of peas delivers an earthy, authentic taste of South Carolina.

Venture beyond the ubiquitous black-eyed pea and try crowder, purple hull, cream, Lady Island red and other varieties. Look for them on the menus of some of the state's most lauded eateries, where the field peas are often served Hoppin' John-style with rice or smoked with greens.

You can also find them freshly hulled at area farmer's markets in the warmer months or order them dried from suppliers such as Anson Mills and Marsh Hen Mill. It will be your good luck to experience this quintessential South Carolina delicacy either way you go.

Crab & Oysters

Plate of garlic crabs
Local blue crabs, flash fried and dunked in spicy garlic butter, is a signature Gullah dish at Ravenel Seafood.

Garlic Crabs

If you like your crustaceans crunchy and spicy, this Lowcountry delicacy is a must. Fresh from local waters, hard-shell crabs are cleaned, seasoned and dredged, then fried up to crusty perfection before being dunked in spicy garlic butter.

You can pick the plump meat but some garlic crab lovers waste little, chomping all the way down to the bottom carapace. Belly up to the counter of one of the region's many crab houses - modest establishments with little-to-no seating - and snag an order. Then head to your nearest picnic table, porch or park and start digging in.

Try Ravenel Seafood in Ravenel, Chucktown Seafood Mobile Seafood and Marvin's Seafood, both in North Charleston, and Nana's Seafood and Soul Food Trailer that rotates locations throughout Charleston. Call first or visit each establishment's websites to check garlic crab availability.

Note: Bring plenty of paper towels and don't wear your best clothes. Eating garlic crabs is a messy affair, but every bit worth the trouble.

South Carolina Oysters

Oyster lovers will fall hard for the meaty bivalve beauties harvested from South Carolina's bays, salt marshes and tidal creeks. With taste profiles ranging from sweet and salty to bold and briny, the state's oysters are considered some of the tastiest in the nation.

South Carolina is home to several stellar oyster farms that harvest from September through April. Dine out for a sampling of their best; call establishments first to confirm availability.

Among the many restaurants serving up locally sourced oysters in season are Nance's Creekfront in Murrells Inlet, Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar, The Ordinary, Husk and Bowens Island Restaurant in Charleston, and a bit further south, Bluffton Oyster Company, the dining arm of the state's only traditional oyster house.

Tea & Charcuterie

Tea being poured into a cup
Taste American Classic teas at Charleston Tea Garden.

"First Flush" American Classic Tea

Despite the unappetizing moniker, the term "first flush" is your clue that you're about to taste the champagne of locally grown tea. If you time it right, you can indulge in a sample at Charleston Tea Garden on Wadmalaw Island, the nation's only commercial tea operation and home of American Classic Tea.

A reference to the rapid growth of new tea leaves that occurs with the onset of spring - typically in April or May - first flush tea is said to deliver a pure and unparalleled tea drinking experience. In Britain and European countries, this tea was only served to kings, queens and other dignitaries.

Even if you miss first flush, come enjoy a tour of the operation and sample their delicious teas.

House-made Charcuterie

Order it as an appetizer or enjoy it as a light meal. Either way, you'll be glad you did.

When Charleston chefs first began creating charcuterie from locally sourced meats, it started a movement that spread across the state. Curing meats for charcuterie is a science and an art, with a little culinary magic sprinkled in to bring them both together.

You can taste the mastery of South Carolina charcuterie wizards when noshing on spicy salami, sausage, smoky ham, prosciutto, mortadella and creamy pate arranged on boards alongside cheeses, pickles, breads and smears of grainy mustard.

Some establishments where you can pursue the finest charcuterie pleasures include Motor Supply Company in Columbia and, in Charleston, Edmund's OastThe Grocery and Slightly North of Broad, where even head cheese has been elevated to a food of the gods.

Peanuts & Peaches

Beer glasses and person shelling boiled peanuts
South Carolina boiled peanuts go great with a cold beer.

Boiled Peanuts

When South Carolinians want something lip-smacking to munch on, chances are they have a hankering for warm boiled peanuts.

These gently cooked and seasoned legumes are breaking snack-time barriers and making surprise appearances in the most unlikely dishes. In fact, they are commonly referred to as "the Caviar of the South."

While, for many, eating these soft and salty goobers on the half shell is the preferred method of enjoyment (and you should definitely follow suit if you've never had the pleasure), don't be shy about going rogue if you see a boiled peanut dish on the menu.

Order a dish of hot boiled peanuts at the Wreck of the Richard and Charlene in Mount Pleasant, or grab a bag at Peanut Chef in Summerton, The Peanut Man in Columbia or The Peanut Company in Simpsonville.

Peach Enchiladas

Just outside the sleepy town of McBee (FYI: pronounced Mac-Bee, just in case you need to ask directions) lies the sprawling orchards and fields of McLeod Farms. More than 20 varieties of peaches are grown here, harvested and shipped out across the US and to Canada.

California is the only state that produces more peaches than South Carolina, though we think ours are tastier! In fact, South Carolina peaches are so popular that they are the official state fruit.

While McLeod Farm's peaches are super juicy and sweet, locals and travelers come to the farm's onsite market to indulge in something that's even more delicious: buttery, cinnamon-sprinkled peach enchiladas. The multi-award winning recipe, in which fresh peach slices are wrapped in dough, baked up and served with a scoop of ice cream, are in high demand at the shop's ice cream parlor and bakery.

Enjoy a decadent peach enchilada from the comfort of a porch rocker as you look out over the bucolic landscape. And do keep the directions to McLeod Farms in your GPS - you'll definitely want to come back for more peach yumminess.

Pimento Cheese & Hot Peppers

Pimento cheeseburger
Try the famed pimento cheese burger at Rockaway Athletic Club in Columbia.

Pimento Cheese Burger

For Columbia-area burger lovers, the question isn't "Where's the beef?" but rather "Where's the cheese?" Pimento cheese, that is.

Indeed, the creamy, gooey spread has been the crowning touch of choice in capital city burger joints for more than five decades. The taste mash-up of char-grilled beef and sharp, tangy pimento cheese is a match made in hamburger heaven.

Sure - you can likely find pimento cheese burgers all over the state. But head to the original birthplace for a taste of tradition at old-school sandwich shops such as Mathias Sandwich Shop in Irmo, The Kingsman in Cayce and, in Columbia, Rockaway Athletic Club and Rosewood Dairy Bar.

Carolina Reaper Hot Pepper Sauces

If you know someone who brags about their hot sauce prowess, here's your chance to take them down a notch. South Carolina is home to the Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper in the world - a distinction confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records

You can take the hot pepper challenge by stopping by the Puckerbutt Pepper Company in Fort Mill. There, you'll find a host of tasty sauces made from the Carolina Reaper pepper, which measures a whopping 1,569,300 heat units on the Scoville scale.

Pepper-heads from around the world stop in to test their mettle on this pepper that's so hot, one tiny bite caused their cultivator, "Smokin' Ed" Currie, to fall on the floor and hallucinate.

Don't say we didn't warn you ...

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.