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What are original hush puppies?

Hush puppies are a classic Southern side dish made of cornmeal, buttermilk, and seasonings that are battered and deep fried into little balls of deliciousness. They are a staple at fish fries and other gatherings across the American South. But where did these tasty morsels get their unusual name, and what were they originally like? Let’s take a closer look at the history and origins of hush puppies.

The History and Origins of Hush Puppies

There are a few theories about how hush puppies got their name:

Theory #1: They were used to “hush the puppies”

One common explanation is that Southern cooks would fry up scraps of cornmeal batter and toss them to dogs to “hush the puppies” during meal preparation. Giving dogs table scraps or little bites was a way to keep them quiet and occupied so they wouldn’t beg at the dinner table. The fried corn fritters became known as “hush puppies.”

Theory #2: They were inspired by an American Revolutionary War general

Another origin story credits an American general during the Revolutionary War. General Thomas Jones supposedly named fried corn cakes “hush puppies” that he made for his soldiers.

Theory #3: The term originated with SEMINOLES

There is also a theory that the name comes from a similar food made by the Seminole tribe in Florida called “sofanoxi.” The Seminoles would fry balls of cornmeal and drop them into soups and stews as a thickener, which American settlers called “corn dodgers.” The words “sofanoxi” and “corn dodgers” may have gradually morphed into “hush puppies.”

So while the exact beginning is uncertain, what is clear is that hush puppies have origins in Native American and Southern home cooking techniques using cornmeal. They were developed as a way to use up extra bits of cornmeal batter. The crisp on the outside, moist on the inside balls of fried corn were so delicious they became a mainstay.

What Were Original Hush Puppies Like?

While recipes can vary, original hush puppies were simplicity at its finest:


The base of old-fashioned hush puppies was cornmeal or corn flour. Often, cooks would use yellow or white cornmeal, or a combination. Frontier settlers grew and ground their own corn into the rustic cornmeal that was a pantry staple.


Buttermilk gave hush puppies a tangy flavor and reacted with the baking soda or powder to help the batter puff up when fried. Early cooks would use the buttermilk left over from churning butter.

Bacon grease or lard

For frying, Southern cooks typically used good ol’ bacon grease or lard rendered from pigs they raised. Using the leftover fats added flavor.


Diced yellow or white onions were commonly mixed into the batter for savory flavor and texture. Other veggies weren’t typical.

Salt and Pepper

Just simple salt and black pepper provided seasoning. Occasionally baking soda or powder provided leavening.

Fried golden brown

Hush puppies were fried crisp on the outside and moist inside. Cooks would drop spoonfuls of batter directly into hot grease in a cast iron skillet. The little cornbread balls were fried until golden brown.

So original hush puppies contained just a handful of kitchen staple ingredients like cornmeal, buttermilk, onion, and salted pork fat. They were simple, crisp fried bites that made the most of leftover ingredients.

How Hush Puppies Evolved Over Time

While original hush puppies were bare bones affairs, the recipe evolved over the years:

Finely milled cornmeal

Instead of coarse homemade cornmeal, finer ground commercial cornmeal became available to help make hush puppies more delicate.

More flavor variations

Cooks got creative, adding minced garlic, chopped jalapenos, cayenne pepper, shredded cheese, or herbs to the basic batter. Regional specialties emerged.

Adapting to new oils

Vegetable oil and shortening gradually replaced lard for frying during the early 20th century. Adding an egg also helped bind the batter.

Mixing flours

Some modern recipes cut the cornmeal with a bit of wheat flour for a crispier crust. Occasionally pancake mix is used too.

New shapes and sizes

Hush puppies expanded from bite-size balls to larger, irregularly shaped blobs and sticks. Piping the batter into the fryer became popular.

Seafood additions

Coastal versions added chopped shrimp, crabmeat, scallops, or fish to the batter. These became known as seafood hush puppies.

So over time, hush puppies evolved from the basic cornmeal fritter to become much more varied and creative. But they’re still best served hot and crispy!

Where to Find the Best Traditional Hush Puppies

If you’re looking for excellently executed classic hush puppies like great-grandma used to make, head to these spots across the South:

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room (Savannah, GA)

This comfort food institution has made legendary hush puppies for over 70 years. They’re still served family-style just like in the old boardinghouse days. The crisp outside and moist, sweet inside make them standouts.

Scott’s Bar-B-Que (Hemingway, SC)

Scott’s whole hog BBQ joint fries up superlative hush puppies using a generations-old recipe of cornmeal, buttermilk, and onion. Their consistency wins accolades.

Nick’s Old Original Filet House (Panama City, FL)

Deep in the Florida panhandle, Nick’s has made waves for their hush puppies served alongside locally caught seafood since 1951. Their secret is frying up bite-size ones throughout the day for freshness.

Doe’s Eat Place (Multiple Locations)

This storied Mississippi steakhouse chain sets the gold standard for hush puppies oozing with oniony sweetness. Their scrumptious corn fritters are the perfect accompaniment to juicy steaks.

One Hot Mama’s, Hixson, TN

This trendy barbecue eatery adored for their bold flavors serves a hush puppy basket with addictive sweet pepper jelly dipping sauce. They get the texture just right.

So seek out true old-fashioned hush puppies at traditional Southern restaurants committed to preserving heritage recipes. You’ll discover why they became such an icon of Southern cooking.

Tips for Making Your Own Excellent Hush Puppies

Want to try your hand at making this delicious Southern staple? Here are some top tips:

Use coarse stone-ground cornmeal

The whole grits and rustic texture make a difference. Finely ground cornmeal can get gummy.

Let the batter rest

Mixing up the batter early lets the cornmeal fully hydrate and develops the flavor.

Refrigerate before frying

Chilled batter holds its shape better when dropped in hot oil. The inside stays moist.

Fry in small batches

Avoid overcrowding so they fry up even golden brown with crispy edges.

Keep oil between 350-375°F

Maintaining the right temp makes them perfectly crisp outside without getting greasy.

Drain on paper towels

Letting excess grease drip off keeps them from getting soggy. Sprinkle with salt right after draining.

Serve hot out of the fryer

You want to catch them fresh from frying while hot and crispy. Let diners add their own condiments.

With the right techniques and ingredients, you can master brunch-worthy hush puppies from the comfort of your own kitchen. Just be prepared for all the begs for “more puppies, please!”

Unique Ways to Enjoy Hush Puppies

Hush puppies aren’t just limited to a side dish – their versatility means you can enjoy them in creative new ways:

Hush puppy salad

Crumble up cold leftover ones on top of fresh salad greens, tomatoes, cucumber, and chopped onion. Toss with vinaigrette.

Breakfast Hush puppies

Make a sweet breakfast version with cornmeal, maple syrup, and diced apples fried in cinnamon butter.

Hush puppy sliders

Split large hush puppies in half and stuff with pulled pork, coleslaw, BBQ sauce for a fun spin on BBQ sandwiches.

Hush puppy bread pudding

Day old hush puppies baked in a custard with milk, eggs, vanilla, and raisins makes a decadent bread pudding.

Hush puppy croutons

Toss cubed hush puppies in butter or oil then bake until crunchy to top salads or soups.

Hush puppy stuffing

Add crumbled hush puppies to your stuffing or dressing for Thanksgiving with all the fixings.

Hush puppy poppers

Mix hot sauce, shredded cheese, and minced jalapenos into the batter then fry bite-size ones for spicy poppers.

So feel free to indulge your creativity! Hush puppies work for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacking.

The Enjoyment of Hush Puppies Endures

Hush puppies have come a long way from their humble beginnings, but they remain a fixture of Southern cuisine more than two centuries later. Their delicious crisp exterior enclosing a sweet and fluffy interior makes them a universal favorite. They’re the ultimate comfort food that evokes nostalgia of big family meals. You’ll find new twists, but the classic remains as appetizing as ever. This versatile fritter continues to earn its place at tables across the South.


Hush puppies bring people together through their incredible flavor and amazing history. Born of resourcefulness from simple local ingredients, their appeal has only grown over time. While recipes and shapes have evolved, at their core hush puppies still celebrate the cornmeal, buttermilk, and fryer-freshness of tradition. They’re a distinctive Southern treat to be enjoyed in myriad ways. Hush puppies are a culinary tradition to savor. So grab a side, or a basketful, and experience a bite of the South’s hospitality. Their charm endures, one delicious golden fried ball at a time.