What is a hushpuppy? It's a question strange to answer for those who have grown up in the south. It's like asking "what is a sandwich" or "can I put sugar on grits?" (Short answer: no). But the thing about Southern food is that it's so magical and warm and nostalgic for those familiar with it, but for those who didn't grow up eating it, it can be polarizing and confusing. It's okay. You're here to learn, and as a 19-year Atlanta veteran, I'm here to teach. 

What is a hushpuppy?

waterman's crab house hushpuppies

goodiesfirst on Flickr

A hushpuppy is thick cornmeal-based batter, deep fried in small balls. Sometimes it's formed into a more oblong oval a la Cook Out, but the most prevalent shape is is the sphere. 

The quintessential place to find hushpuppies is a fish fry. It's arguably the most important part of one (who needs the fish?). There's also a strong belief in frying the hush puppy in the oil from the fish for added flavor. 

You can also find them nestled alongside ribs or pork on a barbecue plate, or outshining the hotdogs at a cook out. Also Long John Silvers


The folklore surrounding the origin of the hushpuppy ranges from mundane to historical to bizarre. The most common origin story (also the one I was told as a little girl by my Granddaddy) was the fishing trip story. As he got ready to fry his catch, a fisherman's hungry dogs wouldn't stop yapping for his catch, so he threw the cornmeal battered fritters to his dogs to "hush the puppies." 

A popular variation on this is that it wasn't a fishing trip, but a group of Confederate soldiers trying to keep their dogs quiet so as not to alert their location to the Union soldiers.

The most bizarre origin story is the salamander story.  This story suggests that salamanders, or as they called them, mud puppies, were fried up with the cornmeal by poor Louisiana southerners to feed themselves. Because they were ashamed to talk about eating them, they wanted to keep "hush" about it. 

Research suggests that all of these popular myths may actually be wrong. Hushpuppies probably actually originated from "Red Horse bread," invented by Romeo Govan, an African American man born into slavery. After the war, Govan served it up with the "red horse" fish to senators, governors, and other members of high society and used the tips to buy a house and land.  A funny example of truth actually being more interesting than fiction. 

How to make hushpuppies

Hushpuppy recipes should be relatively simple. You only really need five ingredients in the batter: cornmeal, flour, baking soda, an egg, and milk. Then season it to your liking and fry it up.  

The simple addition of an onion is one I really like for some sweetness and added flavor. More complex additions like jalapeño or cheese is also a-okay in my book. Add much else, and you're messing with the integrity of the dish. 

If done right, hushpuppies should be golden brown and crispy on the outside, soft and the slightest bit chewy on the inside. Overfry or not have a wet enough batter? It'll be dry and crumbly. 

Hushpuppies are born from humble origins, from kitchen scraps, from making the most of the little that you have. Its reverence in Southern kitchens comes from the two things southerners love most: food and telling far-fetched stories about said food. If you're looking to understand Southern culture, a hushpuppy is the perfect place to start.