The Beauty of Lowcountry Cooking

Visitors walking around the Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island.

Along the South Carolina coastline, streets and highways and lined with oak trees cloaked in Spanish moss. The quiet, two-lane roads echo gently with stories of the past–stories that include painful, difficult history, albeit the convergence of cultural practices and traditions that informed the American South. Here, on the South Carolina coast and, according to some, parts of Georgia, is the Lowcountry. Named for a number of reasons, perhaps most obviously for the lower locations of the counties that constitute the region, the Lowcountry is a reference to a specific set of a history, culinary practices, culture, and traditions rooted in communities that exist in conjunction with the coastline.

According to the South Carolina state government, the Lowcountry region includes the counties of Allendale, Bamberg, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper, and Orangeburg. People visit this area for its beautiful beaches, complex history, and national treasures like the Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island. Notably, this region includes the Sea Islands, a group of islands along the coast of the Southeastern United States that’s home to the deeply influential and integral Gullah Geechee people. The region is recognized by its closeness to the water: waterways like salt marshes are notable aspects of the Lowcountry landscape. The Lowcountry was once known as a prominent location during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Here, enslaved Africans were forced to harvest crops like rice and indigo, alongside others that thrived in hot, subtropical climates. Their labor led to great wealth for white Americans, as well as a rich impact on the culture. Enslaved Africans became American, and subcultures within the south emerged.

An empty road with oak tress surrounding.

“The Lowcountry, today, is known for its warm temperatures, its coastal climate, its rich history, and of course, its food.”


The Lowcountry, today, is known for its warm temperatures, its coastal climate, its rich history, and of course, its food. While Lowcountry food shares some characteristics with the regional south, various aspects of Lowcountry cooking, like the cultural history, demographics, and economics, make it separate. Lowcountry food is greatly recognized by the abundance of seafood. Because of the seafood available alongside the Lowcountry coast, there’s a notable amount of seafood in Lowcountry dishes, like crab, shrimp, and whiting. In fact, in colonial times, the Lowcountry was recognized as their cuisine allowed for seafood like oysters, shrimp, and crab that weren’t yet available to inland communities that did not have refrigeration. Crab cakes, she-crab soup–a creamy, rich, and decadent soup–are all notable dishes of the region.

A Lowcountry kitchen is easy to identify. You’ll likely see an abundance of fresh vegetables like corn, okra, and tomatoes. There might be buckets of fish, like crab, shad, and bass. And there’s probably a Lowcountry boil–a tantalizing mix of shrimp, crab, potatoes, and sausage also known as Frogmore Stew–that’s being enjoyed. These are all demonstrative of the foodways that make up the Lowcountry area.

Many of these kitchens are influenced by the Gullah Geechee people.  The history of the Gullah Geechee people can be traced back to Africa. As early as the 1500s, Africans were captured from their homeland and forcibly migrated to the Americas. The people were transported all over, to places like Brazil, Central America, and the United States. In the U.S., South Carolina received an extremely large group of these enslaved Africans. Records kept by colonists show that enslaved Africans arrived from countries and regions like Benin, Angola, Senegambia, Sierra Leone, and the Gold Coast. When these people arrived, they found land that was very similar to their former homes in Africa. In South Carolina, all the way down to northern Florida, the temperatures were hot and humid, the water was grayish blue and crisp, and the land was fertile and ready for farming.

A large batch of boiled crabs.
Zoomed out view of the Angel Oak Tree branches that touch the ground.

African tribes and communities had been cultivating African rice for nearly three thousand years. They had also cultivated crops that grow in hot regions, like yams, black-eyed peas, peppers, okra, and watermelon. These people developed irrigation systems and dams, and cultivated crops like indigo and Carolina Gold rice, which is known for its fluffy texture. As these Africans worked in the South, they found ways to preserve their traditions. They merged their languages with the English language, creating new dialects and a form of Creole. They developed sweetgrass baskets, which are available across the south to this day. And of course, they created their own culinary customs. In addition to seafood, these enslaved Africans also made use of game and fresh livestock, produce, and benne seeds, which offer a slightly nuttier taste than their sesame seed cousin. These Africans became known as the Gullah Geechee people, and their customs, traditions, and skills were essential to the development of Lowcountry culture and food.

Take a dish like red rice, for example. Sometimes, red rice is called Charleston red rice. The dish, a tomato-heavy one pot rice dish, is one of the most notable dishes in Lowcountry cuisine. THe dish exists in part thanks to the Gullah Geechee people who preserved their agricultural knowledge of rice and vegetable farming in Africa, and were able to apply it in the United States. Charleston red rice often shows up on restaurant menus, on church picnics, and in home kitchens. It is often joined by its cousin, chicken perloo or “perlau.” In this one pot rice dish, chicken is the star, and the convergence of European and African cooking shows up in a dish that often draws comparisons to paella.

These are just some of the dishes that the Gullah Geechee people have provided for the Lowcountry cuisine. Frogmore Stew, which takes its name from a Gullah Geechee community on St. Helena Island consists of seafood like shrimp and raw blue crabs, as well as sausage links, red potatoes, and corn. Deviled crab, fried shrimp, and crab cakes are also staples in Lowcountry cooking, and are also on menus across the south.

An Oak Tree cloaked in Spanish Moss.

“These Africans became known as the Gullah Geechee people, and their customs, traditions, and skills were essential to the development of Lowcountry culture and food.”


Enjoying Gullah Geechee food, and seeing the community’s influence on Lowcountry and Southern culture is possible through the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a federally-funded National Heritage area that seeks to preserve the history, influence, and integrity of the Gullah Geechee community. In July 2000, a group of Gullah Geechee people came together to declare themselves a nation. In 2006, the United States Congress passed the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act. This act provided $10 million over ten years to preserve historic sites in southern Lowcountry Gullah Geechee culture. While some sea Islands like Johns Island and Hilton Head are a bit more developed, other Sea Islands have preserved a lot of the land and country. There are Gullah Geechee museums across the south, and there are festivals held year-round in the Lowcountry to celebrate Gullah Geechee history and traditions. Many leaders in Gullah Geechee communities in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, provide tours and talks about the group’s history and legacy in the south. 

The impact of the Gullah Geechee people is especially evident in the region’s food. Across the south, food takes its inspiration from the communities that inhabited the land, and this remains true for the Lowcountry. Finding Lowcountry cooking and learning more about Gullah Geechee communities in the south is a fun and fulfilling thing to do, and an excellent way to learn about the south. Several restaurant and dining experiences will lead to an exciting, and delicious, trip through the south.

Lowcountry boil of tantalizing mix of shrimp, crab, potatoes, and sausage also known as Frogmore Stew on an open fire.
Country road with a white vehicle and motorcycle driving surrounded by oak trees .


Nigel’s Good Food
3760 Ashley Phosphate Rd
North Charleston, SC 29418

Located near the edge of a strip mall in North Charleston, Nigel’s Good Food may not immediately catch the eye. The unassuming restaurant, however, serves some of the most comfortable regional cuisine in the city. The restaurant, owned by Nigel and Louise Drayton and influenced by Gullah Geechee culinary practices and traditions, includes Lowcountry staples like fried shrimp, okra soup, and a not-to-be-missed red rice. Their crispy wings–meat tossed in Nigel’s Geechie Sauce–are perfect to share with friends and loved ones. There are also southern and Lowcountry favorites like Grandma Fred’s shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, and okra gumbo. They offer a Lowcountry ravioli, complete with grilled chicken, bacon, collard greens, black-eyed peas, roasted corn, and cheese stuffed ravioli layered in a whiskey cream sauce. Their devil crab, blended with Lowcountry spices and baked in a fried shell, represents all that is good in the region. Their whiskey served, jumbo shrimp served with sausage, corn and potatoes bath in whiskey butter sauce and served with bread, and their fried green tomatoes, served with grits and a black-eyed pea and corn relish demonstrate a pleasant remind that the south with forever be home to some of the best culinary innovation that United State’s has to offer.

Florence’s Lowcountry Kitchen
90 Folly Rd Blvd Suite B-4
Charleston, SC 29407

Just near the Ashley River, Florence’s Lowcountry Kitchen has become known for its Lowcountry offerings. The restaurant pays homage to the great grandmother of Queen Street Hospitality Group’s Jonathan and Patrick Kish, Florence Moseley. She and her husband, Jesse Powell, spent a pleasant life in the Lowcountry, and spent time enjoying Lowcountry pastimes like crabbing, fishing, going to farmer’s markets, and cooking southern food. They passed their recipes down to their granddaughter Tyler, who is married to Steve Kish, and the influence of those recipes shows up on their menu. Here, regional offerings like a crab cake benedict and fried oysters are favorites. The restaurant is also known for its she crab soup, crab cake sandwich, granny’s deviled crab, and pecan pie. Guests also shouldn’t miss their sweet potato Johnny cakes, as well as the rich and fresh southern tomato pie. 

Bradley Seafood Market
1452 Sea Island Pkwy
St Helena Island, SC 29920

Bradley Seafood Market may be small, but their influence is mighty. Locals know that you can grab the best catch of the day here. Enjoy locally caught shrimp without breaking the bank.

The Angel Oak Tree roped off by yellow chains and signs for visitors to read the history and admire.

Low Country Fish Camp
903 Central Ave
Summerville, SC 29483

This fish camp amplifies the best of southern characteristics. Here, diners can enjoy well-prepared seafood in a friendly and relaxed environment. Grouper bites with jalepeño tartar sauce and camp rolls–shrimp and grits spring rolls served with tasso and pepper jack cheese show that ingenuity is still true to the south. While enjoying a cold beer, guests can also enjoy the restaurant’s large Lowcountry platters. Catfish, shrimp, scallops, oysters, flounder, and chicken are served blackened, seared, or fried with fries, hush puppies, and mayo slaw. There are also savory sides like macaroni and cheese, collard greens, rice and beans, with sausage, and sweet potato tots. 

A Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant
32 Palmetto Bay Rd Suite 4A
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

A favorite of Hilton Head locals, the restaurant is known for its outdoor views and local cuisine. Residents come to enjoy drinks and music, and well as restaurant classics, like their fried green tomato BLT sandwich, seafood purloo, and shrimp and mushroom casserole.


“With a focus on using local ingredients, Green’s restaurant has been known for its flavorful offerings.”


Gullah Grub Restaurant
877 Sea Island Pkwy
St Helena Island, SC 29920

Operated by Bill Green and his family, Gullah Grub Restaurant pays homage to the Gullah Geechee people who worked along the Atlantic coasts. They are true to rules of the Gullah folks–like only eating oysters during the months that end with the letter R. With a focus on using local ingredients, Green’s restaurant has been known for its flavorful offerings. Guests can enjoy the family’s take on Gullah Geechee favorites like shrimp or chicken gumbo, barbecue chicken, and even a fried shrimp and shark dinner served with red or white rice, and lima beans, collard greens, or string beans.

Nana’s Seafood & Soul
5117 Dorchester Rd
North Charleston, SC

Mother and son duo Carolyn and Kenyatta McNeil pay homage to their Nana at this Charleston establishment. Here, the team serves a fine garlic shrimp and lobster dish, deviled crab, and scallops, among other seafood dishes and combinations. They are also known for their wings and catering services, where large options like shrimp and crab salad, crab purloo, and red rice with sausage are offered by the half and full pan.

Mother Smokin’ Good
South Carolina

This moveable food truck is worth keeping track of. Owned and operated by Danielle and Mark Green, the truck is known for offering some of the best barbecue in the state. Depending on what the menu is for the day, you may be able to enjoy a barbecue stuffed potato, pork and beef ribs, chicken, and turkey breast.