This is my salute to the good ol’ U.S. of A. – food wise. American foods have a reputation as being “junk foods.” This is simply not true – some companies may have turned them into junk food, but the basic recipes are most definitely NOT. The best American recipes may have come out of a mixture of many other cuisines, or even been imported from Europe at some time in the past, but they are so ingrained in the culture, it’s difficult to think of them as anything other than American. After ten years living in the US, I have developed a strong affinity for American food. Prepared at home, I would stand it up against any other cuisine in the World. America was built on hearty, wholesome, simple meals made from basic, home-grown, fresh ingredients. You don’t go out and lay ten thousand miles of railroad track by hand after eating granola for breakfast.
It was really hard to narrow my list of favorites down to only ten, and I am sure I will have missed a few un-missables. Barbecue, for instance; there is no way I can cover all my favorite BBQ recipes in ten and still have room for anything else. Maybe I will do a whole separate list just for barbeque. Feel free to add any comments and suggestions for another “top ten.”
Here are my Top Ten Recipes that make America great:
The name “hamburger” comes from Hamburg, a city in Germany. In Germany snacks are often named after the place of origin, like the Frankfurter, the Berliner, or Bratwurst. In Hamburg it was common to put a piece of roast pork into a roll and serve it warm. German immigrants then took this “Hamburger,” to the United States where it was adapted into it’s modern form. There are several US cities and restaurants that lay claim to being the home of the hamburger and there have even been several laws passed to ratify those claims (now that’s very American). Here are some notable ones.
Seymour, Wisconsin. Charlie Nagreen claimed to have served the world’s first hamburger at the Seymour Fair of 1885. “Hamburger” Charlie decided to flatten a meatball and place it between two slices of bread.
Hamburg, New York. Frank and Charles Menches ran out of pork for their sausage patty sandwiches at the 1885 Erie County Fair. Apparently, their supplier, reluctant to butcher more hogs in the summer heat, suggested they use beef instead. The brothers fried some up, but found it to be lacking, added coffee, brown sugar, and other ingredients and christened their creation the “Hamburg Sandwich.” The original recipe is featured at Menches Brothers Restaurants in Akron, Ohio.
Athens, Texas. In 1974, The New York Times ran a story claiming that the hamburger was invented at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, CT. But according to the McDonald’s hamburger chain, the inventor was an unknown food vendor at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Newspaper columnist, Texas historian, and restaurateur Frank X. Tolbert said that this food vendor was Fletcher Davis. Davis operated a café at 115 Tyler Street on the north side of the courthouse square in Athens, Texas, in the late 1880s. Apparently, Davis had been selling an unnamed sandwich of ground beef at his lunch counter. In 1904, Davis and his wife Ciddy, with backing from local businesses, took their sandwich to the 1904 World’s Fair. Fletcher and Ciddy Davis launched their invention from “Old Dave’s Hamburger Stand.” A reference to a New York Tribune article written at the time about the fair called a hamburger the innovation of a food vendor on the pike. Tolbert said that Old Dave was Fletcher Davis from Athens. During the 1980s, Dairy Queen ran a commercial filmed in Athens, calling the town the birthplace of the hamburger. In November 2006, The Texas State Legislature introduced Bill HCR-15, designating Athens as the “Original Home of the Hamburger.”
New Haven, Connecticut. Some believe the first hamburgers were served at Louis’ Lunch, a sandwich shop in New Haven. The small lunch counter is credited by some with having invented the hamburger when Louis’ sandwiched a hamburger between two pieces of white toast for a busy office worker in 1900. Louis’ Lunch flame broils the hamburgers in the original 1898 Bridge & Beach vertical cast iron gas stoves using locally patented steel wire broilers to hold the hamburgers in place while they cook. In 2000, the United States Library of Congress credited Louis’ Lunch with making America’s first hamburger. There is a great article at Wikipedia in more detail here.
Barbecue (BBQ) is the method or equipment for cooking food using the heat of a fire, smoking wood, or hot charcoal and may include application of a marinade or basting sauce to the meat. BBQ can refer to foods cooked by this method, to the cooker itself, or to a party. Barbecue is usually cooked outdoors on a grill, heated by the smoke of wood or charcoal, or with propane. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large brick or metal ovens and is not quite the same.
There are probably more BBQ baby back ribs recipes than there are SUVs in Texas. Barbecue originated in the late 1800s during Western cattle drives. The cowboys were fed the cheapest cuts of meat, often brisket, which can be tough and stringy and require hours of cooking to make it edible. Nonetheless we can thank those hapless cowboys for providing us with one of the best ways of cooking meat known to man – the barbeque. According to Mary Bellis at about, rumor has it that Henry Ford invented the very first briquette in 1920 with the help of Thomas Edison. However, the 1897 patent obviously predates this and Ford and Edison both knew A.Zwoyer, who holds the original patent.
As I said at the beginning, I couldn’t possibly do justice to BBQ with just one recipe, but this is my personal favorite, BBQ baby back ribs.
According to the owners of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, Buffalo chicken wings were first prepared there on October 3, 1964, by Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar with her husband Frank. Upon the unannounced, late-night arrival of her son Dominic and several of his friends from college, Teressa needed a fast and easy snack to present to her hungry guests. It was then that she came up with the idea of deep frying chicken wings and tossing them in “Frank’s Redhot” hot sauce.
Both Duff’s and Rootie’s Pump Room dispute this claim, saying that they, in fact, are the originators of the Buffalo wing. Rootie’s is no longer in business, but the ongoing rivalry between the Anchor Bar and Duff’s continues to provide much entertainment and sometimes animosity between the two establishments and the patrons loyal to one or the other.
The popularity of Buffalo wings has grown such that there are now chain restaurants that specialize in Buffalo wings. Buffalo-style chicken wings are also frequently used in competitive eating events, such as Philadelphia’s Wing Bowl and at the National Buffalo Wing Festival, held every Labor Day weekend in downtown Buffalo. This is one of the few recipes on my list for which I can proclaim the origin is definitely the USA. As with BBQ, there are more Buffalo chicken wing recipes than there are yuppies in New York.
Once again, there are many claims to the home of chile con carne, including Tijuana in Baja California or Juárez, Mexico, but I am going with San Antonio Texas, because this is all about American food and if it wasn’t for America, there would be no chili.
There are many different types of chili; with meat, without meat, with beans, without beans, turkey chili, venison chili, you name it, it’s gone in a chili. There are also many variations on the recipe and here are a few of the more popular versions:
Original Texas-style chili
This one contains no vegetables except chiles which have been prepared by being boiled, peeled and chopped. The meat is traditionally the size of a pecan nut — or coarsely ground with 1/2-inch plate holes in a meat grinder. It must always be beef, venison or other mature meats. Stewing meat also works well. Prime beef and veal, on the other hand, do not work for chili, as they tend to fall apart. For a strong taste, use four pepper pods per pound of meat; for a milder “beginners'” version, use only 2-3 pods. Chili powder just doesn’t cut it is far as I’m concerned.
Pedernales River chili
President Lyndon Johnson’s favorite chili recipe became known as “Pedernales River chili,” named after the location of his Texas Hill Country ranch. It called for leaving out the beef suet (fat) on doctor’s orders after LBJs heart attack, and also included tomatoes and onions. Johnson preferred venison over beef; Hill Country deer were thought to be leaner than most. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson had the recipe printed on postcards because of the many thousands of requests the White House received for the recipe.
Cincinnati-style chili is a regional variation that is very different from Texas-style chili. It is usually eaten as a topping for spaghetti or hot dogs, rather than as a main dish. It is much thinner than Texas-style chili, and usually milder. Cincinnati-style chili is beanless, but a “four-way” serving has beans on top of the spaghetti, under the chili, which is then topped with cheese.
Chains of diner-style “chili parlors” grew up in the Midwest in the 1920s and 1930s. As of 2005, one of these old-fashioned chili parlors still exists on Pine Street in downtown St. Louis. It features a chili-topped dish called a “slinger”: two hamburger patties topped with melted American cheese and two eggs, then smothered in chili, all topped off with shredded cheese. A genuine Texas cowboy would rather die than eat Cincinnati chili.
New Orleans-style chili
New Orleans style chili con carne is almost exactly the same as Texas chili, but with undercooked rice added to the mixture.
Vegetarian chili (chili sin carne)
To make a vegetarian chili, just replace the meat with a textured vegetable protein or tofu. *Shudder*
A Detroit Coney Island (it’s a restaurant) hot dog with chili and onions on it. *Another shudder*
I know, I know, It’s an Italian recipe, but as they say in America, “talk to the hand.” Pizza may have started life in Italy, but the US adopted, nurtured and created so many different ways of making pizza, I call it another American classic. In fact, there are so many varieties, I will probably miss a few. Here are the more popular ones.
New York-style pizza
Originally developed in New York City, this variation is often sold in oversized, thin and flexible slices. It is traditionally hand-tossed, easy on the sauce, and moderately covered with cheese. The slices are sometimes eaten folded in half, or even stacked, as its size and flexibility may otherwise make it unwieldy to eat by hand – perfect for lunch on the run or in a rush; that’s what makes it New York to me.
Chicago-style pizza, or Chicago-style deep dish pizza
This has a crust which is formed up the sides of a deep-dish pan. It reverses the order of ingredients, using crust, cheese, filling, then sauce on top. Some versions (usually referred to as “stuffed”) have two layers of crust with the sauce on top. Pizzeria Uno claims to have created the recipe, and they are still operating along with its twin restaurant, Pizzeria Due, in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. There are, of course, others claiming they invented it.
St. Louis-style pizza
This type of pizza is popular in St. Louis, Missouri. The main difference between this and other pizza is the use of St. Louisan Provel cheese instead of mozzarella. It’s customarily cut into squares.
This refers to pizza with non-traditional ingredients, especially those that use a considerable amount of fresh produce. A Thai-inspired chicken pizza with peanut sauce, bean sprouts, and shaved carrots is a popular version in California-style pizza restaurants, as are pizzas that use chicken and barbecue sauce as toppings. Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California invented this style, and it was popularized by the California Pizza Kitchen chain, along with Wolfgang Puck.
That’s right, you are talking to the hand again – Italy lays claim to this recipe, although, according to wikipedia, Thomas Jefferson invented it.
Traditionally, the cheese sauce is prepared as a Mornay sauce – a classic French sauce of butter and flour cooked into a roux, to which milk and cheese are added. The sauce and cooked macaroni are added together and baked as a casserole, sometimes with a breadcrumb topping. The combination of crunchy topping and soft inside is unbeatable.
I understand there is a version of this dish that comes in a box, but anything that uses “cheese flavored food product,” instead of real cheese doesn’t bear consideration. ☺ In fact, Crayola added a “macaroni and cheese” crayon to their selection of colors available in the US in 1993 which was essentially orange. The color’s name was chosen by Jason Riggs, aged 6 at the time, after entering Crayola’s annual contest. True mac ‘n’ cheese bears little relation to the stuff that comes in a box. As with most American recipes, there are hundreds of variations.
A Caesar salad is made from romaine lettuce, croutons dressed with Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and for me, anchovies (although anchovies are not in the original recipe). While the recipe may have been created in Mexico, it was made for Americans by a guy who lived in San Diego and that’s close enough for me. Anyway, I thought Tijuana was an American state.
Caesar Cardini, who ran restaurants in Tijuana, Mexico, in the 1920s-1940s, is commonly credited as the creator. Cardini was living in San Diego but also working in Tijuana where he avoided the restrictions of prohibition. As his daughter Rosa (1928-2003) reported, her father invented the dish when a Fourth of July 1924 rush depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, successfully adding the dramatic flair of the table-side tossing “by the chef.” Another story is that the salad was created for a group of Hollywood stars after a long weekend party.
Paul Maggiora, a partner of Cardini’s, claimed to have tossed the first Caesar’s salad in 1927 for American airmen from San Diego calling it “Aviator’s Salad.” Caesar’s brother Alex also claimed to have developed the salad. Livio Santini claimed he made the salad in the kitchen of Caesar’s restaurant when he was 18 years old from a recipe belonging to his mother, and that in 1925 Caesar took the recipe from him. No doubt this made for some interesting Thanksgiving table discussions after the recipe became popular.
No American recipe list would be complete without fried chicken. America has taken fried chicken and elevated it to an art form. Fried chicken has it’s origins in the rural American South, starting as a Scottish tradition, then as African slaves were introduced to households as cooks, seasonings and spices were added. Since slaves were often allowed to keep only chickens, frying chicken for special occasions became a practice that spread through the African-American community. After slavery was abolished, poor rural southern blacks continued the tradition since chickens were the only animals they could afford to raise. Since fried chicken could keep for several days, it traveled well, and gained favor during segregation when blacks had difficulties finding places to eat and had to carry their own food. Southern whites picked up the tradition of frying chicken; while not limited socially, poor whites were no better off economically. Made famous worldwide by a chain of popular restaurants, fried chicken has earned a place on my list, and once again, there are hundreds of varieties.
Yup, that’s right, American pancakes have made my Top Ten Favorite American Recipes. There are hundreds of national variations of pancakes; Russian blini, French crepes and galettes, Indian Adai and Dosa, English pancakes; every country in the world makes a variation, but what makes American pancakes so special is the diners that go along with them (that and the raising agents). A great American tradition began with pancakes – The All Day Breakfast. Just try getting an edible breakfast in England or France after eleven o’ clock in the morning. The closest thing to American pancakes outside of the USA is a Scotch pancake, which you can buy in the afternoon from a tea shop.
One of the great things about American pancakes is their versatility. You can add cinnamon, dried fruit, fresh fruit, almost anything. They even go well with sausages and maple syrup. I love them. There are several variations as well – dollar pancakes, hot cakes, but give me a short stack of American pancakes, drenched in butter and maple syrup just about any time of the day and I’m a happy bunny.
Last, but by no means least, is the Apple Pie. Yes, there are apple pie recipes from all over the world, but once again, America adopted the apple pie as her own, nurtured it like a newborn baby and well, made it as “American as Apple Pie.”
There’s a reason for that expression, and as a foreigner (I’m English) it holds true – I can’t think of an apple pie without thinking of America. There are American apple pie recipes dating back to the 18th century. The mock apple pie (made from crackers) was apparently invented by pioneers on the move during the nineteenth century who had no apples. In the 1930s, Ritz Crackers promoted a recipe for mock apple pie using its product, mixed with sugar and spices. Once again, there are as many apple pie recipes as there are apples on the trees.
Johnny Appleseed, born John Chapman (September 26, 1774–March 18, 1845), was an American pioneer who introduced the apple to large parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. He became an American legend, known for his kind and generous ways, his great leadership in conservation, and because of the symbolic importance of apples
Apple Pie Links
Wikipedia has some great stuff about apple pies here
- Johnny Appleseed
The legend of Johnny Appleseed at enchanted learning
I hope you have enjoyed my wanderings through American recipeland and will be kind enough to leave me a comment or a criticism at the bottom of this page. These are my own personal favorites, and represent thebest american food as far as I am concerned – but if there is something you feel I have missed, please add a comment; perhaps I could be encouraged to do another list in the future. And if you like what you have read, please click the “Thumbs Up” button, submit me to your favorite social network and tell all your friends to visit.
Have a Nice Day !