The Lee Bros., The Lee Brothers, Matt Lee, Ted Lee, Cookbook Authors, Simple Fresh Southern, Southern Cookbook, Travel Writers, James Beard Foundation Award, Boiled Peanut Catalogue, Lowcountry, Southern Cuisine, Where to eat Southern, Where to eat BBQ, Where to buy southern ingredients, Charleston, South Carolina, New York, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Toronto



Q. How do you curate your offerings on the Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue? How do you go about finding new products?

A. Our catalogue assortment ranges from boiled peanuts, to hard-to-find preserves and relishes, to barbecue sauces, to T-shirts that express a certain kinship with Southern food. We only carry products we absolutely love, and many of them--like boiled peanuts, Sassard's Jerusalem artichoke relish, and Cheerwine are foods we grew up with.

But when we were starting the business, back in 1994, we knew there were items--like pure 100% sorghum syrup, an essential ingredient for Southern bakers--that were missing. So we would literally get in the car, drive around the South, hitting small independent groceries and country stores that were likely to carry local, artisanal products. And when we found one we liked, we'd just call up and place an order. We've been in business now for more than fifteen years, so our product range has pretty much stabilized. By now we've figured out what our customers, most of whom are expat-Southerners living in places like Summit, NJ or Chico, CA--really need their fix of. But we still travel to the South a lot, especially now that we're writing cookbooks; on book tour, we still scout grocery stores, prospecting for unique, authentic Southern foods.

Currently, we're on the hunt for 100% cane syrup as high-quality as the one the Layfields produced for us in St. Matthews, South Carolina. Sadly, they've quit the syrup business.

Q. What are some great gift ideas (or hostess gifts) that you could recommend from your catalogue?  

A. Our anchor product, fresh boiled peanuts, are always a welcome hostess gift for boiled-peanut lovers who aren't living in the South. Pair it with a signed copy of one of our books, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook or The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern (heck why not both!) and we're pretty much certain you'll get invited back!

For a passionate baker, sorghum syrup is a superb gift around the holidays, because it makes the most spectacular pecan pies.

And for a very special Southern food lover, our Southern Food of the Month Club is the ultimate gift.

Southern Cooking

Q. People often don’t understand what Southern cooking is really about and there are so many misconceptions. What are five things people should know about Southern cooking?

A. That Southern cooking, like Italian cooking, it’s regional. People tend to lump all Southern food under one umbrella, or they want to define it, but it really resists definition because the first thing you have to ask is: what part of the South are we talking about? Yes, there tends to be a common palette of ingredients across regions of the South, but the cooking of Charleston, South Carolina, where we're from, is vastly distinct from New Orleans cooking, even though both are coastal cities with many similar ingredients. And then you try to compare New Orleans and Charleston with the mountain South, the Appalachians, where all the fish is fresh-water, and you realize that you need to travel to really know Southern cooking. And that's an exciting thing, because traveling the South truly is like traveling in Italy--you taste the differences from region to region.

That while barbecue and fried chicken may hog the spotlight, the unsung heroes of Southern cooking are its vegetables. Most everything grows in the South--okra, corn, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, grapes, butterbeans, shell peas, greens, squashes, root vegetables. You name a vegetable and it's likely to hit tables on Sundays in the South, and not in a retiring or apologetic way either. Vegetables are triumphant on Southern dinner tables.

That Southern food can be healthy. If you look in Southern cookbooks published before the rise of convenience and processed foods in the midcentury, you find food that bears a whole lot of resemblance to the foods espoused by today's locavore movement: vegetables freshly picked. 

That Southern cooking, like any cuisine, is a living art. Since the landing of the first Spanish settlers in North America, Southern food has been a changing, evolving craft. The subsequent arrivals of English, Irish, Scots, Portuguese, French Huguenots, Germans, and enslaved Africans introduced new ingredients and new methods. The rise of electric refrigeration and convenience foods in the early 20th century brought about changes in the way Southerners cooked that their ancestors would’ve found inconceivable. In the 1980s, jet-set Southerners doctoring their grits with Danish blue cheese and Italian sun-dried tomatoes ushered in new traditions in Southern cooking. Of course this evolution continues today in the South, and you can taste it first-hand in the range of styles of Southern cooking being practiced around the South by numerous chefs.

Southern ingredients and techniques are now traveling outside the South in a way that’s compelling and sincere: Southern cuisine has now made it onto the palette of major cultural influences—French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese—that aspirational chefs draw upon for inspiration.

Q. Favorite un-healthy Southern dish?

A. We believe in the importance of balance in a diet, whether it's Southern cuisine, or any other. For example, most folks would consider a Chess Pie with a gorgeously flaky crust made of leaf-lard to be unhealthy. But it's also something so special, you eat Chess Pie only rarely. You'd probably have dozens of servings of antioxidant-rich collard greens between servings of chess pie! That said, we're big fans of deep-fried pork rinds, which we're pretty sure won't pass muster with the nutritionists.

Why do we eat them?

--Because they're addictive and delicious.

Q. Favorite lesser known Southern dish?

A. Brown Oyster Stew -- it's a Lowcountry classic, an oyster stew made with toasted sesame seeds and bacon, and you'll only find it served in a few homes in Charleston. It's the taste of where we're from.

Q. What do you miss about the South when you are in New York?

A. When in New York, we miss the spontaneous, communal, outdoor character to entertaining. The phone will ring on a Tuesday afternoon, and it's our friend Will and he's coming back from surfing on Folly Beach, asking should he pick up some oysters to do a roast in his yard tonight. We say, ‘Hell, yes!’ and he tells us to call some folks, and he'll call some, and in an hour or so there's 40 people shucking oysters and drinking beer on his porch. That never seems to happen in New York.

In New York, it's always: ‘Can you come to dinner next month?’ And then a whole datebook drama ensues, with perhaps a cancellation-and-reschedule, or two, or three. That being said, we've attended some truly epic parties in New York (perhaps not surprisingly, they tend to have been thrown by Southern folks). We've been attending a slamming annual derby party hosted by a crew of UVA alums for about fifteen years now.

Q. What's the first thing you crave when you return to New York?

A. Burgers from Fanelli Cafe.

Advice / Tips

Q. What’s the easiest Southern dish to cook at home?

A. Collard greens (or mustard greens).

Q. And what are your tips to make it even easier?

A. Cut them very thinly, slaw-like. They'll cook quicker, you can do 'em on the stovetop in less than a half-hour.

Q. What's the most underappreciated or underused Southern staple?

A. Okra.  

Q. What’s the best way to use it?

A. Halved lengthwise, into a skillet with corn cut from the cob. Tiny bit of oil. High heat. Salt. Black pepper. 10 minutes to Southern-food nirvana.

Q. Where should we buy it?

A. Wherever it's sold. Look for pods 2 1/2 inches or smaller, unblemished, bright green.


FIND | Cookbooks

Your cookbook Bible | American Cooking: Southern Style

By Eugene Walter -- it's the volume on Southern cooking from Time-Life's Foods of the World series. It's a tour-de-force: we don't think there's been any book since that reveals the breadth of Southern food as richly, in narrative, photos, and recipes.

[See details.]

FIND | Markets

Farmers Markets | Athens, OH Farmers Market

Of all the U.S. farmers markets we've experiences, this is one that gives us hope that organically grown, heirloom produce of the highest quality could be within the reach of everyone, regardless of income level.

[See details.]

Specialty Market | Kalustyan's, New York, NY

A must for spices of any kinds, all different manner of hot sauces. The gold standard. 

[See details.]

Meat Market | Marvin's Meats, Hollywood, SC

Frank Marvin is a classic country butcher of the old school, with decades of knowledge. You can buy oxtails, liver, a dressed whole hog for smoking, or have him cater you a barbecue for 300 people. Whatever you get here, you'll be happy.

[See details.]

EAT | Iconic Southern Dishes

Owensboro, KY | Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

For Kentucky burgoo and mutton barbecue.

[See details.]

St. Helena Island, SC | Shrimp Shack

For the shrimp burger.

[See details.]

Nashville, TN | Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

For the Nashville Hot Chicken.

[See details.]

Lockhart, TX | Kreuz Market

For Texas-Style BBQ.

[See details.]

Panacea, FL | Poseys

For smoked mullet.

[See details.]

Charleston, SC | Hominy Grill

For shrimp and grits.

--Gosh...we could be here all day! See more Charleston recommendations.


Hemingway, SC | Scott’s Barbecue

They're doing real, midlands-SC style barbecue, whole hog. Rodney Scott takes no shortcuts. Watch this film the Southern Foodways Alliance produced about Scott's Barbecue, but be ready to take a trip soon. It'll make you want to go that bad! 

[See details.]

EAT | New York

Any of the yakitori places on St. Mark's, whichever has a table soonest.


On Rivington -- they're places with sumptuous, tasty food at an excellent price, and flavors we just can't find in Charleston (except for the boiled peanuts at Baohaus; that we can find down South!).

[See details.]

DRINK | Wine

Ethiopian Honey Wine | Tej

In Ethiopia, you drink it at bars that aren't much more than dark rooms with low pews along the perimeter. The tej poured from teapot-like vessels into small cups. There's typically some communal singing going on and the whole experience is very unique and transporting. Tej is a magical beverage, which makes sense. Ethiopia in a majestic and wonderful place.

[See details.]

DRINK | Pubs

Toronto | Allen’s

Our uncle, John Maxwell, runs it -- it’s a locavore-spirited gastropub that John established two decades before anyone had used the words "locavore" or "gastropub."

We love the food there, but it's also an insanely appealing place to drink for the spirits list alone: literally hundreds of whiskeys, scotches, bourbons. We always end up sipping something mind-blowing and soul-warming--important since it's bone-chillingly cold there for most of the year!

[See details.]


- Hominy Stew with Turkey and Chilies

- Okra and Corn


Details of The Lee Bros.’ recommendations on where to eat and shop in Florida, Kentucky, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Toronto.

City Guides

- Charleston, SC: Download | Online



Photograph courtesy of The Lee Bros.

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