Picture this: You're 50-something and watching a commercial about this new, eccentric food. You feel yourself sinking into the couch, wondering, "What in the Hell is spiralized zucchini?" You flip the power off and let your mind reminisce on all of the beloved, traditional foods you grew up savoring, like burgers, macaroni and cheese, and bbq ribs. If you're salivating by just the sounds of this description, then this master list is the challenge you've been looking for!
The team at Eat This, Not That! has compiled 50 cherished foods for you to indulge in by the time you're 50, along with some fascinating history. (Admittedly, not every food is from America, but we've come to see them as American. It's not like pho is on this list, but we're still a young country that got plenty of inspo from elsewhere!) And FYI, those "zoodles" mentioned above are pretty awesome, too. Making smart swaps like that are one of the 40 Weight Loss Tips for If You're Over 40!
The Classic Hot Dog
"Take me out to the ballgame!" We're kickstarting this list with the signature food of America's favorite pastime; it's no wonder why there's a brand of hot dogs called Ballpark. The hot dog is said to have gotten its name from a cartoonist for the New York Journal named Tad Dorgan in 1901. He hastily sketched the scene from the New York Polo Grounds that showed vendors launching hot dogs from hot water tanks yelling, "They're red hot!" One difference back then was that these dogs were made out of sausage, whereas today's hot dogs can be made from a myriad of different kinds of meat. Speaking of concession stand foods, can you believe these 25 Worst Concession Foods in the History of America?
Mac & Cheese
You could go to an elegant restaurant and dine on a decadent bowl of creamy artisan cheese and handcrafted noodles or simply be making something from the box at home, and it's still a satisfying treat many Americans adore. While its exact origin is tricky to identify, the earliest known recipe for macaroni and cheese was written in 1769, according to Smithsonian. Rumor has it that Thomas Jefferson was responsible for introducing it to the United States; while abroad in France, he was inspired by the myriad of pasta dishes offered there, so he brought back a few recipes and a pasta machine to boot. The next event recorded entails him serving mac and cheese at a state dinner during his presidency in 1802.
According to the USDA, over 90 million acres of land are devoted to the cultivation of corn. Wow! Corn meal is the primary component of the bread, and it pairs best with just about any meat, salad, and stew. Watch out, though, because some cornbread mixes out there are chockful of added sugar, which is highly unnecessary seeing as the cake-like bread has a wealth of flavor on its own. Refer to The Best and Worst Baking Mixes to see which one won't spike your blood sugar!
The inception of the corn dog is accredited to the Fletcher brothers, Carl and Neil, who introduced Fletcher's Corny Dog to the State Fair of Texas in 1942. With that, the perfect marriage of cornbread and hot dog became an iconic meal in American history.
Buffalo chicken wings make a delicious asset to pub grub on game day, and the first wings were introduced by a family-owned joint in Buffalo, New York. But be careful about how many you chow down on; some chicken wings are shockingly bad for you, like those that made our list of America's 18 Worst Restaurant Chicken Wings—Ranked!
With a buttery homemade crust housing slices of baked apple entwined by a vat of sweet syrup with cinnamon speckled throughout, it's no wonder this pie is a dessert favorite for many. In 1902, an editor for The New York Times said, "No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished." Sounds promising. Oddly enough, apple pie—despite America's fascination with it—did not originate in the U.S., it actually developed in England during the 14th century. It hadn't even been introduced to the United States until 1697! The term, "as American as apple pie," became a commonplace term in the 1940s when the U.S. entered WWII and men reluctantly answered why they were willing to go to war with, "for mom and apple pie." In terms of the damage that a slice will do to your waistline, see where apple pie falls on our exclusive list of 25 Most Popular Pies—Ranked!
If you need to clear your sinuses, this savory bean and meat combo is your go-to because it surely packs quite a bit of heat. This spicy bowl has an excellent ratio of carbohydrates and protein, which makes it a fantastic recovery meal post workout. It's said to have originated in 1893 at the San Antonio Chili Stand in the World's Fair in Chicago. By the beginning of the 20th century, chili joints popped up all over Texas and swept across the west by the 1920s. Not only was it incredibly delicious, it was also cheap—which was advantageous during the Great Depression. Now that's some food for thought! If whipping up a warm bowl of hearty chili piques your interest, check out 20 Chili Recipes to Keep You Warm This Season.
Grilled cheese is honestly the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, actually, grilled cheese debuted the same time as sliced bread, but you get the idea. The year was 1928 when sliced bread became a thing, thanks to Otto Frederick Rohwedder's bread slicing machine. Just a few years before this, James L. Kraft patented processed cheese—and when the two were matched together, viola! Like chili, it was another cheap meal that served as an integral asset during the Great Depression.
Did you know that Americans consume over 70 million pounds of tater tots per year? Seeing as the side dish is predominately comprised of its fried shell, you may want to reevaluate your diet if you're contributing to that annual intake but still hoping to lose 10 pounds. In other news, the tater tot came about in 1953 thanks to the masterminds behind Ore-Ida Labs. Seeing as the side dish is predominately comprised of its fried shell, you'd be better off opting for some homemade potato wedges. But hey, everything in moderation, right?
The Lobster Roll
It's funny how lobster is viewed as a splurge-worthy delicacy when it surely wasn't before the 20th century. In fact, lobster was regarded as "sea trash," and was served to prisoners! Regardless of its initial reputation, lobster—particularly when it takes the form of a roll— is one that makes those from the New England region go wild. Pair the lobster and mayo mix with a sweet Hawaiian roll or opt for a lettuce wrap to house the succulent crustacean.
Surprisingly, the California roll did not, in fact, originate in "The Golden State," rather, it was kickstarted in Vancouver by Hidekazu Tojo back in 1974. The roll consisted of sticky white rice, a tidbit of avocado, dried seaweed, crab meat, and the occasional appearance of cucumber or radish, and it was not originally coined the California Roll. In fact, it was not until the 80s when it earned that name, as it became more popular in the states that lie beneath the Canadian border. Tojo's idea went against traditional Japanese sushi because he placed the seaweed inside the roll in attempt to hide it from reluctant customers. He also substituted what is dubbed as sushi-grade fish for crab meat, which was also an attempt to complement the American and Canadian palate. The result? He launched a newborn love for the delicacy and ultimately spread the profile of the Japanese food around the world.
Burgers are perhaps one of America's most popular staples. With fast food restaurants like McDonald's, In and Out, Sonic, Wendy's, and many more all having their own glorified rendition of the cheeseburger, it explains why it's become such icon on the American menu. Healthier variations of the cheeseburger include bison, elk, and lean, grass-fed beef, which you can find at places such as Bareburger. And nothing brings people together quite like a burger-flipping BBQ in the backyard.
On March 30, 1867, the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia for two cents per acre, costing a total of $7.2 million. In celebration, chef Charles Ranhofer at New York's famous restaurant Delmonico's created the igloo-shaped sponge cake enclosed with several layers of ice cream and coated in fluffy, toasted meringue. And then it's set on fire because 'MERICA!
If you're looking to stock up on soup recipes this winter, let gumbo be on the top of your list. It's a huge hit in the state of Louisiana and most variations include either seafood, chicken, sausage, and of course some kind of green veggies. Next time you're in New Orleans, make it a priority to try a steamy bowl of this long-lived, Southern delicacy!
Have you ever considered a plate of shrimp and grits as a healthy breakfast idea? Well, in the Southern states such as Georgia and South Carolina, this would be considered an ideal wake-up call. With Native American roots, grits consist of coarsely ground corn. Have you ever noshed on polenta? They're basically siblings on the food pyramid.
Any connoisseur of barbecue knows how delicious ribs are. But do they know which style of ribs their palate prefers? It all depends on which region of the United States you're in. The Memphis style rib is known for its pulled pork shoulder, which is coated in a sweet tomato sauce. North Carolina style takes a drastically different take on how the meat should be prepared; the whole hog is smoked in a vinegar-based sauce. Kansas City, on the other hand, cooks the ribs in a dry rub. And, finally, natives of Texas favor their barbecue to consist of beef. Consider yourself updated on the latest BBQ trends.
Wild Alaskan Salmon
It's no news that wild caught salmon is outrageously good for you with its plethora of omega-3 fatty acids and protein content. Cheers to health and this classic American dish!
This classic, juicy sandwich houses a generous serving of corned beef and sauerkraut that's been topped with a melted slice of Swiss cheese and smushed together by two plump pieces of rye bread. All I have to say is who, what, where, when, why, and how? Seriously, this sandwich is so complex and quite eclectic! The date of origin is debatable, however, it seems like the early 1900s is when it made its debut. Since then, it has claimed a spot as one of the top sandwiches served at hotels and restaurants!
Key Lime Pie
Mmm, pie. It's said that the first key lime pie recipe was recorded in the 1930s but there's a catch—everyone local to the Keys already knew how to make it. The area had been absent of fresh milk and ice due to zero refrigeration until the arrival of tank trucks with the opening of the Overseas Highway in 1930. Prior to this point, they had all been using sweetened condensed milk, which gives the pie its creamy and lush texture. If you're not into the usual ingredients, check out number four on 20 Healthy Pie Recipes for Pie Lovers for a vegan key lime pie with blackberry!
If you've been on the prowl for some healthy crock pot recipes, you're in luck. The term pot roast is rather ambiguous with regard to the kind of meat it contains. It simply references browned meat with vegetables in a covered pot. This technique made its way into cookbooks in the late 19th century, but the method of braising (which is slow cooking in liquid) is something that has been around for centuries.
This decked out salad was actually constructed on a whim and made from leftovers! Bob Cobb, owner of The Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood in 1937, rummaged through his kitchen for a late night snack. The ingredients that appear in the Cobb salad we see today reflect that of what he threw together in attempt to satisfy his midnight munchies. If salads are your jam, then check out 30 Salad Recipes for Weight Loss for some healthy ideas.
Similar to the Cobb salad, Jambalaya was made on a complete whim. As historians put it, a traveler arrived at a New Orleans Inn several hours after dinner had been served, but the Inn's cook threw something together for the exhausted man to feast on. And just like that, the dish of chicken, sausage, and/or seafood with an assortment of Creole seasonings, rice, bell pepper, onion, and garlic was born.
Biscuits 'n Gravy
Warning: If you're trying to lose 10 pounds consuming this breakfast combination will not aid you in your quest. However, this is a dish that should be savored in moderation because, having origins in the Southern states, this duo is the definition of soul food. On the plus side, its high fat content does promote satiety, so you should be free of hunger pangs until mid-afternoon.
Ah, the onion ring—a classic substitution for the french fry. The earliest recipe shockingly dates back to 1802 with John Molland's cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined. His recipe called for fried onions with parmesan cheese. The next recipe did not follow 1910 in the "Middletown, New Daily Times. It's interesting how such a popular (and naughty) side dish today took a little over an entire century to gain popularity upon its inception!
Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza
Believe it or not, the Chicago deep-dish pizza was created as a means to cope with the economic shifts that were taking place during WWII. The ingredients for the pizza's dough, wheat flour, corn oil, salt, and yeast, were not among the rationed foods and were filling (although, not nutritious). Refer to 20 Incredible, Healthy Pizza Recipes for lower-in-calorie (and carbs) ideas!
So, apparently, there's major controversy around who invented the first banana split. The century-long feud between David Strickler of Pennsylvania and E.R. Hazard of Ohio still persists even today. Whether you're pro Penn or Ohio, the recipe remains the same and we're happy someone came up with it!
If you think about it, this is a very basic recipe, yet its origin is quite complicated. Perhaps the most promising background story is provided by etymologist Barry Popik who claims the BLT sandwich derives from Chicago and was named after Chicago Tribune writer Bert L. Taylor (otherwise known as "BLT") in 1941.
Who knew that two pieces of bread and a swipe of peanut butter and jelly would be such a monumental hit? Peanut butter became an irresistible hit in 1904 at the World's Fair in St. Louis, but the first mention of a PB&J sandwich did not appear until the 1940s. Check out The 36 Top Peanut Butters—Ranked to see which kinds are the best for your health!
A hot dog vendor in South Philadelphia named Pat Oliveri spontaneously made the decision to throw a slab of beef on the grill one day. A taxicab driver supposedly caught a mere whiff of the aroma and asked if he could have a steak sandwich. Within days, cab drivers from all around the city were coming to Oliveri for his killer steak sammies.
The group of people accredited to the foundation of beef jerky is torn between Native Americans thousands of years ago and an ancient Inca tribe called the Quechua in the 1500s. Regardless, it spiked in popularity when the Europeans began to migrate to North America because traders and explorers deemed it as an excellent way to receive an adequate amount of protein during their expeditions.
The birth of meatloaf actually dates back as early as the 5th century in Europe, but it gained its American status during the Industrial Revolution when the meat grinder was invented. It proceeded to be an economically viable meal for families during the Great Depression, as well. Have you spotted a trend yet?
Maryland Crab Cakes
In the late 19th century, only those along the coasts got to enjoy crab cakes. Today, crab meat is transported for even those in the mountains and desert to enjoy, Crab meat, eggs, bread crumbs, milk, and seasoning are the main components in this dish. Unfortunately, crab cakes are notorious for having more bread than the actual fish in it, so make sure you know where you're buying them from! As a side, ditch the fries and opt for a serving of sautéed kale with a hint of lemon for a boost in vitamin K.
Chicken and Waffles
This 21st century, trendy dish has origins dating back as far as the '30s. The dynamic duo of crisp, fried chicken and fluffy waffles with a drizzle of maple syrup was a signature dish at Well's Supper Club in Harlem, New York. It's not your traditional breakfast item, and it doesn't exactly earn a spot on the list of healthy chicken recipes. However, it's one combo that's worth splurging for when you see it on the menu.
Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, but the reason why the turkey became the main dish served is a bit fuzzy. Sarah Joseph Hale is a potential contender, who is known in history as the "Godmother of Thanksgiving" for setting the bar in New England by roasting a turkey shortly after the day of feasting was declared a holiday. Who knows who deserves the credit, but it's an integral asset to the dinner table for today's Thanksgiving feasts across the country. For some other interesting trivia, check out this Thanksgiving Trivia That Will Blow Your Mind!
Deviled eggs definitely don't have roots in the United States; the first mention of the dish came about in 61 A.D. in a Roman satirical fiction called, "Satyricon." Wow! Regardless of this dish's inception, there's no question that deviled eggs are a delectable appetizer in the United States today.
The first s'more came about in 1927 when a recipe for "some mores" debuted in the magazine Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. Samoas and s'mores—what else did the Girl Scouts of America invent? If you're looking for a killer s'more recipe, check out the S'mores Two Ways Recipe!
New England Clam Chowder
Any gourmand is bound to try a heavier, predominately cream-based soup such as lobster bisque or clam chowder. Clam chowder was first served in the United States in Boston's Ye Olde Union Oyster House—which is the oldest operating restaurant in the nation—in 1836. With juicy bits of clam, butter, and heavy cream, you'll feel full after just a small bowl of this rich chowder!
The origin of potato salad dates back to Spanish explorers bringing the dish over to Europe in the 16th century. The more Americanized version of the recipe, though, is a reflection of the way the Germans adapted the recipe. It was vital that potato salad was a part of this article, though, because it is a go-to side dishes for picnics, family get-togethers, graduation parties, tailgates, and many other casual and fun events.
Similar to potato salad, coleslaw was not first invented by Americans but rather by the Dutch. The word coleslaw derived from the Dutch word "koolsla." One thing to note about this salad is the amount of mayonnaise that's utilized. For fewer calories, opt for a light vinaigrette with a dash of cracked pepper. Or if you don't want to make the swap, at least don't drench the high fiber cabbage in the dressing; drizzle it so you can reap the nutritional benefits of the vegetable without the gobs of saturated fat.
When you hear po-boy, does your mind instantly think of fried shrimp? Oddly enough, the first po-boy was comprised of spare bits of roast beef that were doused in gravy. The word po-boy came from "poor boy," which caught on from restaurant owners and brothers, Clovis and Benjamin Martin, when they went on strike from streetcar driving in 1929. They created the inexpensive sandwich so they could feed those also on strike, and the name came from workers crying up to the kitchen, "Here comes another poor boy!"
Corn on The Cob
One of the best foods to chomp on at a state fair or festival is a juicy, crisp, and sweet corn on the cob. The origin of corn dates back about 9,000 years ago, where it was first cultivated in Southern Mexico and Central America. Today, it is a must-have treat for Americans, especially for those residing in the Midwest. Refer to 15 Regional Eating Habits in the U.S. to get an idea of which part of the country is notorious for exploiting a particular foodie trend!
The Tuna Melt
The first can of tuna hit the market in 1903, but it was not until post-WWII that recipes for tuna fish sandwiches popped up. Perhaps the first recipe ever recorded for the combination was produced by Irma Rombauer in her cookbook, Joy of Cooking, in 1946. On page 30, you will see the recipe for, "Tuna Fish Sandwiches with Cheese," which entailed broiling an open-faced tuna sandwich with tomatoes and grated cheese.
The year was 1840 when Wisconsin began producing copious amount of cheese and there were 2,800 cheese factories within the state by 1922! Wisconsin pumps out over 2 billion pounds of cheese per year, so it should be no surprise that it's the state in which cheese curds originated. You can think of the cheese curd as premature cheese, because unlike most varieties, it is not recommended to eat after it has aged. It's best to eat this bite-sized nub fresh; it lets out a little squeak after your teeth have sunken into it, then you're good to go. Of course, the cheese curd gains a bit more character once it has been deep fried.
The cobbler is essentially an adaptation of the steamed puddings that the British adored but can be made with just about any type of fruit that's enclosed around a thick crust. Yum! They became a hit dessert in the late 19th century and cobblers are still an American fave. Fruit and dessert has always been an acceptable duo, but have you ever thought of vegetables being mixed inside a dessert? Before you gag, read up on 11 Dessert Recipes with Hidden Vegetables for a sweet surprise!
This history behind the sloppy joe sammie contains what's probably the most pristine origin above any of these other dishes, simply because there isn't any controversy between "who did it" or lack of any documentation. All it took was a cook named Joe at Floyd Angell's café in Sioux City, Iowa to throw some tomato sauce into a pan of his "loose meat" for sandwiches—and the sloppy joe was born.
Red Velvet Cake
It's said that a recipe started roaming across the U.S. in the midst of the 1920s after it had been served at the restaurant in New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. If you're a fan of the cake, opt for the red velvet pancakes listed in 13 Ways to Cook with Beet Greens and Beet Root! Not only will you save yourself from ingesting any artificial dyes, you'll also knock out a serving of vegetables, too.
The Coney Dog
This kind of hot dog has quite a special history. The Coney dog gained popularity throughout the eastern U.S. by both Greek and Macedonian immigrants in the 1900s and 1910s. These dogs are smothered in tangy chili, onions, and mustard. It makes for the perfect snack at an amusement park like Coney Island for example!
One of the best ways to up your intake of resistant starch is by tossing back beans. Baked beans have Native American roots, originally being cooked with fat and maple syrup.
Cubed, fried, and seasoned to utter perfection, these breakfast potatoes remain a classic across the country. But we do suggest ordering the mixed greens instead, if you aren't craving the spuds like crazy.
Bacon, Eggs, and Pancake Breakfast
Interestingly enough, bacon and eggs were deemed the "American Breakfast" in the 1920s after Sigmund Freud's nephew helped the Beech-Nut Packing Company increase consumer demand for bacon. He turned to the company's internal doctor asking if a heavier breakfast was beneficial, who then asked 5,000 of his colleagues to confirm the hypothesis. This newfound "study" inspired Americans to eat a heavier morning meal to kick start their day and it's no doubt that pancakes became the pair's trusty sidekick shortly after. This may also be a contributing factor in America's drastic change in cholesterol intake. Make sure to have this breakfast sparingly and read up on 17 Foods That Lower Cholesterol for some heart healthy alternatives!