Our editors and Test Kitchen pros taste test new products every day. After scooping, sipping, and snacking on dozens, we picked our top 20 winners that show off the best supermarket staples and Southern-made specialties
Blue Bell Ice Cream
$8 for 1⁄2 gallon
Those in the know still stock their freezers with this time-honored, Southern-made ice cream. There is a flavor for every season and occasion, from old-fashioned favorites like Buttered Pecan and Rocky Mountain Road to sellout specialties such as Mardi Gras King Cake and Christmas Cookies. The subtle floral flavor and velvety texture of their traditional Homemade Vanilla makes it our preferred choice for topping a warm slice of pie.
Red Truck Rural Bakery Alma Hackney’s Rum Cake
$34 for 9-inch cake
The late Alma Hackney, choir director at First Presbyterian Church of Sanford in North Carolina, would send a friend to the liquor store to purchase rum, which she then used in her legendary Bundt cake. Red Truck (the bakery beloved by Virginia residents, U.S. Presidents, and even Oprah) still follows her original recipe. Mail-order dessert skeptics will be completely amazed.
Wildflower Caramel Co. Caramels
San Antonio, TX
$13 for 12 caramels
While her two children napped, Ellyn Dixon built a business right from her stove-top. Using the tasty homemade caramels
she once gave as holiday gifts, she has turned her Wildflower Caramel company into a staple of San Antonio’s Pearl Farmers Market. Locals line up at the window of her retrofitted camping trailer for seasonal treats like Tequila Basil Lime, Smoked Jalapeno, and Texas Honey.
Callie’s Charleston Biscuits Iced Blueberry Biscuits
$16 for 12 biscuits
The fans who compose the cult of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits have helped Carrie Morey turn a tiny North Charleston house into a bakery that has launched a layered empire with a cookbook, two shops, and (of course) the famous biscuits based on her mother’s recipe. Carrie’s latest creation, biscuits bejeweled with blueberries, comes with an icing reminiscent of toaster tarts.
Buxton Hall Barbecue Red BBQ Sauce
$6 for 12.7 oz
Pitmaster and South Carolina native Elliott Moss likes to say that he has vinegar sauce running through his veins. He’s now the co-owner of Buxton Hall Barbecue—which serves Carolina-style, whole-hog barbecue at a retro-hip spot in Asheville, North Carolina’s South Slope. The joint has started bottling its signature sauce. Their classic red is tart, sassy, and smoky
Lundberg Family Farms Organic White Long Grain Rice
$6 for 32 oz.
In favorite dishes such as Savannah red rice or perloo, where rice is the star of the show, Lundberg Family Farms’ grains truly shine. Their sustainably harvested long-grain white rice has a subtle toasted-nut flavor. Although each piece is pleasantly firm, the texture of a whole pot is fluffy without any clumping. That makes it easier to mix in heavier ingredients like whole shrimp or sausage.
Zatarain’s Creole Mustard
$2 for 5.25 oz.
While Zatarain’s is known for its rice mixes, the company produces enough Creole Mustard annually to dress 175 million po’boys and fill 527 million deviled eggs. The second product introduced by founder Emile Zatarain in the late 1800s, this mustard has a creamy texture that clings easily to French bread and fried shrimp, while its zesty sharpness livens up potato salad.
Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon
$32 for 4 lb.
The official bacon of the South, according to chefs and home cooks alike, these thick strips sizzle with a delicious smokiness that could come only from Allan Benton’s time-tested technique honed in the Smoky Mountains. The king of country hams, Benton lets slabs—which are cured with brown sugar, black pepper, and salt—bathe inside his smokehouse, where a hickory log-burning stove burns for 48 hours. For brunch at home, there’s no better option.
Navy Hill Soda + Tonic
$30 for 12 (8.45-oz.) bottles
Traditional tonic syrups can tamp down the refreshment factor of summertime cocktails or create a cloying taste with too much added sweetener. Navy Hill’s hybrid mixer combines the citrusy bitterness of quinine (the essential ingredient in tonic) with an ultra-effervescent soda water for a buoyancy that keeps cocktails lively minus the sugar crash. We can’t scientifically back up claims that the added electrolytes stave off hangovers, but we’re not complaining.
Copper & Kings American Dry Gin
$35 for 750 ml.
Louisville is known for bourbon, but Copper & Kings has made the city a destination for other craft spirits, including this gin made with their acclaimed apple brandy. Though it presents plenty of classic juniper-forward flavor, other botanicals (such as coriander and lavender) as well as citrus peels lend a nice floral freshness, making it particularly revitalizing during steamy summers.
$15 for 10 oz.
While biking through the southern peninsula of Haiti, Nathan and Michael Pocus discovered that the dazzling vistas and lush mountainsides surrounding them were reflected in the terroir of the country’s coffee. Enamored with the taste, the Birmingham-based brothers decided to source beans from the island’s small farmers for the single-origin varieties at their new roastery.
Mountain Valley Sparkling Water
Hot Springs, AR
$2 for 750 ml
Whether we’re hosting backyard cookouts or formal affairs, these iconic Kelly green bottles have a permanent place on our tables. Sourced from Arkansas’ stunning Ouachita Mountains since 1871, Mountain Valley’s mineral-rich sparkling water has a spring-fresh taste plus a bracing bevy of bubbles that feel just as occasion worthy as its good-looking glass vessel.
Zapp’s Potato Chips
$2 for 5 oz.
Once just a New Orleans anomaly, Zapp's are simultaneously airy yet kettle-style potato chips dusted with loud Louisiana flavors have now spread northward. Grab a bag of Voodoo, which is the by-product of a forklift accident that mixed several seasonings together. Its smoky-sweet-spicy trifecta (much like andouille sausage) makes it nearly impossible to leave one chip behind.
Barrel Creek Provisions Cucumbers
$8 for 16 oz.
Instead of brining their Texas-grown cucumbers, carrots, and okra in a typical vinegar mixture, Barrel Creek Provisions ferments their veggies in salt water with garlic, onion, and spices. Since the pickles aren’t cooked and softened, they have an audible snap at first bite and also contain live strains of probiotics. Bonus: Cut into spears, these crisp cukes stand straight in a Bloody Mary.
Justin’s Honey Almond Butter
$14 for 16 oz. or $2 for 1.15 oz.
With most almond butter brands, it takes some muscle to stir the protein-packed snack together, since the oil and ground almonds often separate. Justin’s jars, however, maintain their consistency without the mess. Because this butter doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it travels easily to work or on a road trip when you need a healthy way to avoid feeling hangry.
Trader Joe’s Just a Handful of Olives
$1 for 1.05 oz.
Avoid the siren song of the vending machine when afternoon hunger hits by keeping your desk drawer filled with a passel of these packets, each containing about 10 pitted and salted Manzanilla olives. Buttery and a touch briny, they calm snack attacks without too many extra calories or processed ingredients. Throw a few of them in tuna salad or leftover pasta to pep up a desk lunch. For less than a dollar, you can afford to make these olives a habit.
$10 for 10 oz.
Siblings Luther and Ryan Cutchins started selling granola as a side project to their catering business. But after Ryan passed away unexpectedly, it became a way for his older brother to carry on his memory. In addition to a nutty, protein-packed blend, Luther still produces Ryan’s original mix: oats, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, and dried cranberries toasted with honey. We suggest trying it with a swoosh of Greek yogurt dotted with fresh berries.
Califia Farms Original AlmondMilk
$4 for 48 oz.
If you think almond milk is just a trendy dairy substitute at subway-tiled coffee shops, keeping a bottle from Califia Farms in your refrigerator will make you see its practical side. Whether splashed in a bowl of oatmeal or your morning cup of coffee, exchanged for milk in rice pudding, or used as a creamier base for a power smoothie, “alt-milk” will soon be a part of your everyday vocabulary.
Sweet & Sauer Kimchi
$10 for 16 oz.
After Lauren Rhoades’ fellowship with FoodCorps ended, she made Jackson, Mississippi, home and focused full-time on her fermented-food side business. From her space in the city’s start-up incubator, The Hatch, Rhoades packs jars with batches of her colorful kimchi, which mingles crunchy daikon radish and napa cabbage with fresh ginger, garlic, and red chile pepper flakes.
Old North Shrub Two In The Bush
$22 for 16 oz.
In addition to foraging wild ingredients in North Carolina's Piedmont region and growing produce on his small farm for restaurants, breweries, and distilleries, and orchestrating pop-up dinners, chef-turned-farmer Jamie Swofford concocts shrubs (also known as drinking vinegars) with ingredients grown and foraged locally in North Carolina. The strawberry-chamomile Two in the Bush adds an herbal, sweet-tart taste to club soda or cocktails.