A Quest of Biscuit Cookery

Part of my July 4th weekend was spent in the most delicious way, baking southern-style biscuits. I asked my mother to supervise while I attempted to become a skilled and successful Yankee biscuit maker – something the Lee Brothers seemed to have accomplished. So I spent several hours making and tasting rolled biscuits (I haven’t even attempted drop biscuits, but they have to be easier to make), trying to get the rise just right and the insides fluffy and perfect. I should say that I’m not much of a cook and I am even less of a baker, but I really just want to master this one skill. I want to become a champion biscuit maker so I can selfishly enjoy my own creations, and also so I can impress people. Shit, I want to impress people from the south. At the end of the day, I just don’t want to have to drive to Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill to get a good biscuit. While my quest of biscuit cookery continues, I wonder who has the best biscuits in New York. And in that same thought, who makes the best biscuits in the world?

Comments on “A Quest of Biscuit Cookery

    nick on July 7, 2010 2:41 PM:

    This man I know, Joe, from Tennessee. He makes the best biscuits in the world.

    Zach on July 7, 2010 2:45 PM:

    My Southern grandmother made the best biscuits in the world. She’s long-ago dead and took the ineffable touch with her. Scott Peacock, recently of Atlanta’s Watershed and longtime protege of Edna Lewis, makes a passable biscuit now and again.

    waitsfornone on July 7, 2010 2:49 PM:

    There are good biscuits, bad biscuits, biscuits that need a topping and biscuits that don’t need a topping. The best I have ever had though are from a place here in Nashville, TN called The Loveless Cafe. Unfortunately the Biscuit Lady has recently passed on, supposedly taking her recipe with her. I have not had a chance to taste them since. It was a very sad day here.

    shem on July 7, 2010 2:51 PM:

    Hate to say it, but Virgils in NYC makes a damn good biscuit, little maple butter, you’re set.

    Andrew on July 7, 2010 2:51 PM:

    KFC. Or Popeye’s. But I’m poor and lazy. Mostly poor.

    Lee C on July 7, 2010 3:06 PM:


    Keep the butter cold and move on to the pimento cheese biscuit when ready.

    JRod on July 7, 2010 3:21 PM:

    Biscuitville. Hands down. Located throughout NC and VA.

    Blake on July 7, 2010 3:29 PM:

    I second waitsfornone – Loveless Cafe in Nashville is tops.


    Sad to hear about the Biscuit Lady.

    Jed on July 7, 2010 3:30 PM:

    I’ve been on a quest to make awesome biscuits for the past year. I’m getting decent at it. I mostly use Mark Bittman’s recipe http://fulltummies.blogspot.com/2008/12/cracker-barrel-biscuits.html

    Lee C’s recipe looks really good though, and he’s right about keeping the butter cold.

    Also, more butter is better.

    Oh, and the biscuit is a tremendous vessel for a good blueberry or strawberry puree—either of which is dead simple to make.

    biscuitsbiscuits on July 7, 2010 3:54 PM:

    Northern Spy in the East Village – great NYC biscuits.

    Stephen on July 7, 2010 4:19 PM:

    Tudor’s Biscuit World is good too!

    Jordan on July 7, 2010 4:39 PM:

    The best biscuits I’ve ever tasted were at the annual Chuck Wagon Festival at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Real chuck wagon groups from various cattle ranches gather to cook and compete. With your admission you get a bowl and spoon and can go around to all of them for as long and as much as you’d like! There’s nothing like opening a dutch oven and through the steam and smoke from the wood coals seeing the golden brown crust of a batch of biscuits or cobbler.

    Zachary on July 7, 2010 5:03 PM:

    Loveless Cafe. Nashville, TN. Hands Down.

    Chaise on July 7, 2010 5:36 PM:

    Honey ham biscuit at Egg in Williamsburg is the best I have found in nyc.

    Tintin on July 7, 2010 6:17 PM:

    Psyops mess hall at Ft Bragg. Hot with brown sugar and butter.

    Jay on July 7, 2010 6:29 PM:

    Tudor’s is the best chain biscuit I’ve had. Get the “Dottie.” Nothing beats home-made biscuits though.

    ita darling on July 7, 2010 6:33 PM:

    my grandmothers biscuits used crisco. and they rule. if you delve too far into the biscuit world you will realize that most will utilize unseemly and transfat laden devices. grandmas’ biscuits were alright with butter. but crisco ruled the school. (occasionally she would throw in some sour cream. also yum)

    altheunfazed on July 7, 2010 6:37 PM:

    Pine State Biscuits here in Portland, Oregon is run by three NC transplants who grew up on the aforementioned Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen from Chapel Hill. They are surely the best on the West Coast. They’ve racked up tons of awards, magazine write-ups, food network plugs and what not, but plain and simple they make fantastic biscuits and their add ons (fried chicken, gravy, etc…) are all top notch… Anyone ought to stop by if you’re visiting Portland.


    Greg on July 7, 2010 6:47 PM:

    Second what ida said. Shortening is king when it comes to downhome biscuits. Or lard.

    Maura on July 7, 2010 6:54 PM:

    As a former CH resident, I miss Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen and now in Brooklyn I have yet to find a great biscuit. I’ve tried the one at Egg and think it’s OK, but Walter Foods also has a good one (but it’s often part of a special).

    SBK for LIFE!

    Brian Miller on July 7, 2010 8:03 PM:

    This is when I love this blog and I love your readers. All you have to do is throw out the simplest question – and it could be about anything…ANYTHING – and you get so many good responses. Making me want to try my hand at biscuit crafting.

    Thad on July 7, 2010 8:17 PM:

    Best fast food biscuits = Bojangles

    Best restaurant biscuits = Close tie between Pancake House in Shelby, NC (pretty sure this place closed several years ago) and Honey’s in Durham, NC.

    But, nothing can beat the ones that I had when I was young, made with love by my Granny and by Margie. The two things that made their great biscuits are shortening and buttermilk!

    Andrea on July 7, 2010 8:41 PM:

    Funny how the topic of biscuits comes up just now, as I’ve been reading up on cat head biscuits and expect to try my hand at them soon.

    I do recommend White Lily flour and very high quality lard – not that weird stuff that you find at most grocery stores, though.

    Jason on July 7, 2010 10:45 PM:

    I learned biscuits at Short Mountain in TN. The key is to use your hands to cut the fat in as little as possible and to have the fat be utterly room temperature. I’ve never had a restaurant biscuit as good as even a mediocre homemade one.

    Matt Hyatt on July 7, 2010 11:37 PM:

    You guys are all making me want to go on a biscuit roadtrip. I am going to bed now so I can dream about biscuits and jam.

    Jim Redhouse on July 7, 2010 11:51 PM:

    I’ve never had a bad biscuit, and find no difference whatsoever between those made with margarine, Crisco, lard, and oil. The easiest:


    2 c. flour
    3 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. salt
    1/3 c. Wesson oil
    2/3 c. milk

    Pour all at once into the flour mixture. Stir with a fork until mixture cleans sides of bowl and round up into a ball. Knead dough about ten times then roll out between wax paper, 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Cut with biscuit cutter. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for about 12-15 minutes at 475 degrees.

    brad on July 8, 2010 2:16 AM:

    wow…I was actually watching no reservations…charleston – and the lee’s are on right now :)

    John W on July 8, 2010 9:13 AM:

    Paula Deen. Stick o’ butter in each batter. You can’t miss.


    Paul on July 8, 2010 9:34 AM:

    I’m with waitsfornone…. the best biscuit in the world is here in Nasvhille at Loveless. Period.

    B Hunter on July 8, 2010 11:01 AM:

    You fool, somebody’s–hell, EVERYBODY’S–Southern grandmother (or grandmother’s cook, more likely) makes the best buscuits in the world. Three necessary components: lard, real (as in homemade) clabber (i.e., buttermilk), and a well-worn and -seasoned buscuit board (a long, rectangular, shallow wooden bowl). In other words, you’ll never encounter it because, sadly, it’s a lost art, that passed with most of our grandmothers (or their cooks). By the way, the Lee brothers hail from Charleston (although why anyone would CHOOSE to live in NY City rather than that glorious and gracious Southern haven leaves me scratching my head. Having said all that, I honor your quest, Sir. Godspeed.

    Daddy Monster on July 8, 2010 11:01 AM:

    My kids and I love the biscuits at The Little Place at 61 Warren St
    (between Broadway & Church St) in Tribeca. Being from Texas, with deep roots going back to the Ozarks, I have to say these are the most authentic to my family’s ways. They are totally different than the biscuits of the traditional South (N. and S. Carolina, etc.) but, damn, they’re good. Just describing them is makin’ me hungry!

    Clay R on July 8, 2010 11:01 AM:

    The “cathead” buscuits at Moose Cafe in Ashville, NC are some of the best i have ever had, and they come with homemade apple butter.

    Also the Flying Biscuit here in Atlanta, GA. The biscuit and gravy is perfection.

    Mr. Box on July 8, 2010 11:39 AM:

    In New York?
    My vote goes to the ladies at Pies -n- Thighs:


    If I were required to sell my soul just to eat their fine fixin’s, I might consider it.

    JonIndiaâ„¢ on July 8, 2010 12:13 PM:

    totally agree with Mr. Box. Pies n Thighs is a definite. Even though I had the runs last time I had it.

    abigail on July 8, 2010 12:25 PM:

    on the 4th of july I wanted to make shortcake that would impress my southern friend and used James Beard’s recipe. My friend was VERY impressed. I wonder if he has a biscuit recipe….

    Benjamin Nalder on July 8, 2010 1:18 PM:

    Alice Waters’ simple cream biscuit is both incredibly easy and deliciously flaky. A simple biscuit composed of flour/salt/baking soda cut with butter and a rich cream. I use these both as a breakfast meal, sanwich bread, and love them as the base for my strawberry shortcake. Recipe can be found in any of her books, particularly The Art of Simple Food. Best of luck.

    Ed on July 8, 2010 1:58 PM:

    The best biscuit is the one you have when you’re hungry.

    Flour is important. I expect that searching for the right flour will lead to a whole series of future posts. Cortez Milling Co. still packages their goods in cotton sacks.

    Elias on July 8, 2010 3:01 PM:

    You named it. I went to UNC-Chapel Hill for undergrad, and Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen makes the best you will ever have. If you get the chance, don’t go through the drive-thru, but park and go inside to order. It is the most heavenly smell you will ever experience.

    michael on July 8, 2010 3:25 PM:

    Pine State Biscuits. Portland Oregon. Real good. http://www.pinestatebiscuits.com/

    Rupert on July 8, 2010 5:27 PM:

    Pine State Biscuits, Portland Oregon. Slap some Apple Butter on and you’re set.

    greg on July 8, 2010 7:49 PM:

    my quest to make the perfect biscuits is driven by a memory of coming out of the Dr’s office when i was about 5 and eating biscuits with blackberry jam my mother had stashed in her purse wrapped in foil. We sat together under a big old pecan tree in her 56 Plymouth and ate a couple each. The sting from the shot miraculously faded under their spell. I remember she mixed the flour and butter etc with her hands and patted it out. She reminded me when I called for instruction not to work the flour too much. be quick and gentle. With her help i make a passable biscuit, cooking in a dutch oven over a wood fire seems to improve them.

    Hannah B. on July 8, 2010 10:47 PM:

    I am a southern girl through and through, and I *love* your blog! Last summer, this lady in our church taught me how to make the easiest biscuits ever (and strawberry jam to boot!). 1 cup heavy cream + 2 cups self-rising flour… you can see the full post here (http://bswigshoppe.blogspot.com/2009/06/strawberry-jam.html) Happy experimenting! :)
    ~Hannah B.

    Eph McDowell on July 9, 2010 12:16 AM:

    As a son of the South who lives in the grand country of Vermont,
    I REALLY miss Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, I know it well…

    Noah on July 9, 2010 1:39 AM:

    I’ll be glad to taste test, as I believe MS qualifies as the south. And watch out, biscuit making is a slippery slope to jam making and moonshine distilling.

    Nick on July 9, 2010 4:13 AM:

    Those things are called scones. Americans are the only people in the world who call them biscuits. Must have gotten confused on the long voyage to the Americas eh? Just teasing. Anyway, if you google scones, you’ll get heaps more recipes. Treacle scones or cheese scones with parsley are my fav’s.

    Joe on July 9, 2010 9:30 AM:

    Got to be Loveless Cafe in Nashville. Best biscuits around!

    John on July 9, 2010 11:17 AM:

    Any good biscuit maker knows it all begins with the Flour.

    You have to use a southern made flour – “Not all flours are created equal. Southern bleached all-purpose flours are made from the soft winter wheat that grows well in the warmer southern climate while northern all-purpose flours are made from the hard spring wheats that grow in the colder climate. Strains of soft winter wheat have less protein than the hard spring wheat and therefore southern all-purpose flours are better-suited for quick breads such as biscuits, cakes and muffins.” from pinchmysalt.com

    I have white lilly shipped to me in brooklyn so I can make my grandmothers buttermilk biscuits in a old cast iron pan. Nothing better than warm homemade biscuits on a Sunday morning.

    TheGSC on July 9, 2010 11:43 PM:

    Loveless Cafe, hands down for me. Nobody will ever make ’em like Carol Fay did.

    But, next time you’re in Atlanta try a breakfast joint called Java Jive. They have award-winning made-from-scratch biscuits baked by only one lady as far as I know and they’re the best I’ve tasted besides Carol Fay’s.

    brandon capps on July 10, 2010 6:29 PM:

    Glad Loveless is getting some much deserved praise. Fay was a queen!

    Wrecked Stellar on July 11, 2010 1:59 PM:

    Good question. Normally, when I have a choice between biscuits or cornbread to go with a meal, I choose cornbread but that’s a whole other topic. I did enjoy Roy Rogers biscuits growing up (with a ton of butter on them)…

    Jonas on July 11, 2010 3:27 PM:

    Seattle Fire Station 38 A shift. The lieutenant makes buttermilk biscuts from scratch and sausage gravy with eggs for breakfast darn near every morning. They are awesome, but it’s a tough club to get into… And you have to get through his grueling 1+ hour workout before hand.

    Brooks on July 12, 2010 9:23 AM:

    The Flying Biscuit in Atlanta, GA has some fantastic biscuits! Can’t be beat.

    Lauren on July 12, 2010 10:36 AM:

    I grew up in Chapel Hill and now live in Boston. Sunrise is my first stop when I head home to NC

    I also am on a similar biscuit-making quest. One thing I learned after many fairled biscuit attempts is that Yankee flour (king arthur, etc) has more protein in it, so it does not make as fluffy a biscuit as one made with Southern flour. Either order some White Lily self-rising flour and use that, or make biscuits with a combo of regular flour and cake flour (lower protein). Lots of info can be found here: http://pinchmysalt.com/2007/09/18/how-to-make-the-best-buttermilk-biscuits-from-scratch/

    Scott on July 12, 2010 3:14 PM:

    To make the best biscuits I’ve ever had, try using 2 cups sifted White Lilly flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder, finely cut in one stick of softened butter, then add 2/3 cup of whole buttermilk. Be careful not to overwork the dough, but roll and fold the dough 4 times or so before cutting, and on the last fold add a little extra flour, this way your biscuits will have flakey layers, and will open perfectly in the middle. Bake at 500 for 8 to 10 minutes. I usually make a double batch (one dozen large biscuits) with the first half plain, and the second half made with tomato basil feta cheese folded in.

    Bickles on July 13, 2010 11:51 PM:

    i love love love biscuits!

    I used to use my mom’s recipe to make shortcake with cardamom. It was so good I ate it plain.

    I vote for lard. Or 1/2 lard, 1/2 butter.

    Just make em as often as possible, Michael. And remember, DON’T OVER KNEAD THE DOUGH or they end up like hockey pucks/paper weights.

    cvr on July 14, 2010 3:19 PM:

    Agreed with TheGSC, Java Jive makes a great biscuit in Atlanta. Flying Biscuit used to, before they became a chain. best in the world though, my great grandmother’s, every morning until the day she died. my wife makes a mean biscuit as well and yes, drop biscuits are easier and oh, so so so good.

    wcm on July 15, 2010 11:59 AM:

    Flour is definitely important. Southern flours like White Lily do yield a better southern style biscuit.
    My grandmother made biscuits everyday of her life. I asked her once to teach me. She said she had no recipe. Everyday was different depending on the temperature, the humidity, the time of the year, the batch of flour. It was all in her hands. I think the reason why it’s almost impossible to reproduce the biscuits of our southern childhoods is because those biscuits were made by women who cooked by feel and intuition after many many years of practice.

    Michael Williams on July 15, 2010 12:10 PM:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone. I’m sort of surprised how many people had something interesting to add. Just an FYI, you can buy White Lily flour online: http://bit.ly/92Qc2u

    Looks like we all need to head to Nashville and Portland on a biscuit tasting mission.


    Shivs on July 16, 2010 6:45 PM:

    I’m not trying to be a dick here but it really bloody irks me that you people call them biscuits, I know it seems like a minor thing but they’re SCONES! And you have to say them in a poncy accent too.. skohne

    Here is the recipe for lemonade scones; The best scones I have ever had:

    4 cups self-raising flour
    300ml cream
    1/4 cup Sugar
    355ml lemonade
    1/2 tsp salt

    They are ridiculously perfect.

    Haley on July 20, 2010 11:03 AM:

    Sister Schubert.

    The recipes

    The story

    This is the one thing I wanted to learn from my husband’s grandmother. Him and his family are from the very center of Alabama. She let me in on her secret, and that is sister schubert.

    joshna on July 27, 2010 11:40 AM:

    call ’em biscuits, call ’em scones, call ’em whatever you like. some of the best versions of these buttery, flaky bits of heaven have been produced right here in my own kitchen. i’m an unabashed scone baking master. no joke. grated frozen butter and a delicate folding of the dough are key elements to success. i want to go and bake some now…

    Johnny Rocket on July 27, 2010 5:58 PM:

    Had to be in Knoxville in June, and to my surprise, they were holding something called the “First Annual International Biscuit Festival” downtown the day I was leaving. Checked it out on the news from the airport, and it was an overwhelming hit– they had way more people than expected and those who were able to eat were very happy.
    So put that on your travel scheduled for 2011. [And joshna, if you think a biscuit=scone, man, you’ve never had a real biscuit.]

    SergDun on August 3, 2010 9:49 PM:

    if you don’t live in the south and can’t get southern self rising flowers you’re better off using a mixture of cake flour and regular flour, that’s how you get the fluffiness.

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