Meat pies are a beloved food in many parts of the world, but what are they called in America? The short answer is that meat pies go by a few different names in the US, depending on the region and filling. Some of the most common American names for meat pies include pot pies, chicken pot pies, shepherd’s pies, Jamaican patties, empanadas, Runzas, pasties, and more. While meat pies are not as ubiquitous in American cuisine compared to places like Australia and the UK, they are still enjoyed across the country in many forms.
What is a Meat Pie?
A meat pie is a savory pie with a filling that contains meat and vegetables. The filling is completely encased in pastry dough like a pie crust. Meat pies can be made with all kinds of meats like beef, chicken, lamb, pork, turkey, veal, and more. The filling often contains vegetables like potatoes, peas, carrots, onion, and celery to add flavor. Common seasonings used in meat pie fillings include thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, salt, and pepper.
The pastry dough casing around a meat pie can be made from ingredients like flour, butter, shortening, or lard. It provides a nice contrast to the rich, savory filling. Meat pies are often eaten as a meal or snack because they contain protein, vegetables, and starch. They are portable, convenient, and can be eaten hot or cold.
Popular American Meat Pie Variations
While meat pies are not as ubiquitous in America as some other regions, there are still many popular meat pie variations eaten around the US. Here are some of the most common:
A pot pie is a type of meat pie where the filling is cooked in a pot before being placed into a pie crust. Chicken pot pies are one of the most popular types of pot pies in America. The filling contains chunks of chicken meat with vegetables like carrots, peas, and celery. The filling is spooned into a pie crust and baked. Pot pies can be made ahead of time and kept frozen for convenience.
Shepherd’s pie originated in the UK but is also loved in the US. It is made with a filing of ground or diced lamb and vegetables like carrots, peas, and onion. The meat filling is topped with mashed potatoes and baked. The mashed potato crust gives it a distinctive look different from other pies encased in pastry dough.
Jamaican patties are a popular street food that originated in Jamaica. They came to America with Jamaican immigrants and are now sold in many cities. Jamaican patties have a flaky pastry crust enveloping a spicy, robust meat filling. Common fillings include ground beef, chicken, or fish seasoned with curry powder and Jamaican spices. Yellow split peas are also a traditional Jamaican patty filling.
Empanadas are meat pies inspired by Latin American cuisine. The pastry dough is made from flour, lard or butter, and salt. It is stuffed with fillings like spiced ground beef, chicken, cheese, or other vegetables. Empanadas can be baked or fried and make a tasty, portable snack. They are popular in Texas and other states with Hispanic and Latino influences.
Runzas are a Midwestern meat pie creation. Originating in Nebraska, runzas are made from dough rolled out into a rectangular pocket and stuffed with ground beef, cabbage, and onion. The dough pockets are then baked or steamed. Runzas are associated with Nebraska and the Midwestern region.
Pasties (pronounced pass-tees) are semi-circular meat pies that originated in England. They became popular in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when English, Irish, and Welsh immigrants came to work in the mines. Traditional pasties have a ruffled pastry crust and are filled with beef, potatoes, onion, and rutabaga. Pasties are commonly eaten in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Meat Pie Niche Regional Specialties
In addition to the meat pies described above, there are also some more niche regional meat pie specialties found in different parts of America:
Natchitoches Meat Pies – Louisiana
These small meat pies contain a savory filling of ground beef and pork, onions, garlic, and spices. Originating in Natchitoches, Louisiana, they are still made and sold locally.
Frogeye Salad – Utah and Idaho
Despite the name, this dish is actually a meat pie salad made with carrots, chopped egg, cream cheese or whipped topping, and diced ham or shredded chicken. It is served in Utah and Idaho.
Kolaches – Texas
While not a traditional pie, kolaches are a Czech-Texan pastry with a bread-like dough wrapped around various fillings like sausage and cheese. They are a popular Texas breakfast dish.
Cornish Pasties – Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Similar to English pasties but with more rutabaga in the filling recipe. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has a strong Cornish heritage from miners immigrating to work in copper and iron mines.
Chisaq – Alaskan Inuit Cuisine
An Alaskan meat pie made with caribou, moose, or fish and seal oil. It has a savory, well-seasoned filling wrapped in a bread dough crust.
Reasons Meat Pies are Less Common in America
While beloved around the world, meat pies are less prevalent in traditional American cuisine compared to other regions. Here are some of the reasons why:
Influence of Immigrant Cuisines
Meat pies are more common in places like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and South Africa which had major influences from British cuisine. As a newer country of immigrants, America did not adopt British meat pie culture as strongly outside of some regional specialties.
Abundance of Other Filling Foods
America has access to many hearty, filling foods including burgers, sandwiches, casseroles, stews, and more. Meat pies were not as needed to provide portable sustenance for workers.
Prevalence of Sweets and Dessert Pies
America has a huge culture around sweets and dessert pies, like apple pie, pecan pie, and pumpkin pie. These sweet pies became more of a focus than savory meat variations.
Popularity of Other Cuisines
America has been strongly influenced by Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and other immigrant cuisines. Meat pies did not become a big part of these food cultures that Americans embraced.
Difficulty of Passing Down Recipies
Unlike places with long family cooking traditions, many American families lost touch with old-world meat pie recipes as traditions faded between generations.
Meat Pies on American Menus and in Pop Culture
While not as common as in other Western countries, meat pies still appear in American pop culture and restaurant menus from time to time. Here are some examples:
Australian Meat Pie Chains
Australian bakeries and chains like Pie Face and Tuckers of Oakton have brought Aussie-style meat pies to America. They hope to share this beloved food from down under.
Cottage Pie on English Pub Menus
British-style gastropubs serve classics like cottage pie and chicken pot pie to give diners a taste of English comfort food.
Chicken Pot Pie – Comfort Food Icon
Chicken pot pie is considered an iconic American comfort food, served at diners, homestyle restaurants, and family dinner tables.
Meat Pie References in TV and Movies
Meat pies get referenced occasionally in American entertainment, from Sweeney Todd to characters liking shepherd’s pie on shows like The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers.
Football Game Concession Stand Pasties
At football games in parts of the Upper Midwest, one can get traditional pasties from concession stands to eat in the stadium.
While not as common as in some other Western nations, meat pies have carved out a niche in American cuisine in some fun, unique ways. Pot pies, Jamaican patties, shepherd’s pies, empanadas, and pasties are the most well-known Americanized meat pie variations. While meat pies may never achieve the ubiquity that they have in places like Australia and England, they provide a taste of comfort, nostalgia, and cultural heritage for many Americans across different regions. With rising interest in trying global cuisines, perhaps more foodies will continue discovering the joys of a hearty, savory meat pie.