What are comfort foods? They are soothing foods that evoke nostalgia or comforting childhood memories. They are safe foods, with uncomplicated flavors often blanketed in belly-filling carbohydrates. For most of us, these foods are far from gourmet. They are the epitome of home cooking.
What Makes a Dish Comfort Food?
Coziness is perhaps the most important quality in comfort food, and that kind of intimacy often calls for food that is warm (and ideally, that heats the home while it's cooking), soft and creamy.
The evocation of mother's milk is not incidental. Many comfort-food favorites are meals that could be served to small children to wean them, as well as to older adults whose teeth might not stand up to more rigid fare.
Of course, nostalgia foods are a big part of comfort cuisine. The menu of childhood birthday parties —pizza, hot dogs, cake — may rank as comfort food for some. Those raised in other parts of the world will show great fondness for the foods they loved as children: sweet Mexican avena rather than a gloppy American oatmeal, for example.
Finding America's Favorite Comfort Foods
We took reader's poll, and the results were a stroll down memory lane. Revisiting favorite American comfort foods shows distinctive trends relating to age, childhood regional location, and ethnic upbringing. Comfort foods in southern Louisiana are different from those of coastal New England.
But there are some overlaps.
It comes as no surprise that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and grilled cheese ranked highest on our list, but who needs a recipe for those? The next most popular were meatloaf, mashed potatoes, brisket pot roast, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and surprisingly, good ol' tuna casserole.
It's perhaps indicative of traditional American childhoods that very few vegetables made this list.
Top 25 American Comfort Foods and Recipes
Here are the top 25 comfort foods, each linked to an appropriate recipe either traditional or updated. They are listed in alphabetical order for the sake of convenience. Did your favorites make the list?
- Apple Pie: This recipe for Marlborough Pudding Pie is from early American times.
- Baked Beans: Enjoy classic Boston baked beans with molasses and mustard.
- Banana Pudding: Vanilla wafer cookies and bananas in pudding, what's not to love?
- Beef Stew: This recipe uses Guinness stout beer for a traditional Irish stew.
- Brisket Pot Roast: There are many ways to prepare brisket.
- Chicken & Dumplings: A hearty meal with many variations.
- Chicken Pot Pie: You can make this in a crust or enjoy it over biscuits.
- Chicken Soup: Use these tips for the classic soup for the soul.
- Chili: Beans or no beans? Here's a real man chili recipe without beans.
- Chocolate Chip Cookies: Make these with your kids.
- Corn on the Cob: How to cook it right.
- Fried Chicken: Soak it in buttermilk, then fry and bake this classic.
- Gelatin: The classic kid's snack and base of many a jello salad.
- Green Bean Casserole: It's not just for Thanksgiving, is it?
- Hot Dogs: Boil them, broil them, grill them, or steam them in beer.
- Ice Cream: We all scream for ice cream.
- Macaroni & Cheese: It doesn't have to come from a box.
- Mashed Potatoes: How to make this classic.
- Meatloaf: Was Mom's the best? How to reduce the fat.
- Potato Salad: There are oodles of variations, here's one with a bit of bacon.
- Pumpkin Pie: Make it great with molasses.
- Shepherd's Pie: For meat and potatoes fans.
- Spaghetti: Meat in the sauce or on the side with meatballs?
- Tomato Soup: Hot lunches around the table.
- Tuna Casserole: A budget basic.