Must-Have Maryland: The State’s Most-Iconic Eats and Drinks

From crab cakes to Cow Tales, here's where to find the Old Line State's best bites.

Photo By: Justin Tsucalas ©2017

Photo By: Justin Tsucalas ©2016

Photo By: Justin Tsucalas ©2017

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Photo By: Smith Island Baking Co. ©2016

Photo By: Justin Tsucalas ©2016

Photo By: Dan Whipps Photography ©2014

Photo By: Sandy Jones ©iStock 2013

Photo By: Justin Tsucalas ©2016

Photo By: Justin Tsucalas ©2017

Photo By: Justin Tsucalas ©2017

Photo By: Brian Hagiwara ©Getty Images

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Photo By: National Bohemian ©2016

Photo By: Herr's Potato Chips ©2016

Photo By: Harborside Bar & Grill ©2016

Photo By: WJ Dent & Sons ©2016

Photo By: Otterbein's Cookies ©2017

Photo By: Maryland Beaten Biscuits ©2014

Photo By: DeBaufre Bakeries ©2017

Maryland's Iconic Eats

Blue crab encrusted with Old Bay Seasoning may be front and center in Maryland’s culinary spotlight — it certainly deserves the attention — but there’s plenty of tempting Mid-Atlantic fare to scarf down beyond seafood. From pink-centered pit beef in Baltimore to intricate, fudge-layered cake on Smith Island, the state’s varied offerings guarantee that your appetite won’t go unsatisfied. (And we won’t judge you if you want to finish the culinary tour with a broiled crab cake.) Here’s everything that should be on your stomach’s radar in Maryland.

Illustration by Hello Neighbor Designs

Maryland Pit Beef

Unlike Texas or Kansas City barbecue, which calls for cooking meat for hours on end, Maryland’s regional barbecue is for those without time to spare. Lean top roast beef, minimally seasoned, takes a spin on a grill directly above hot charcoals before being sliced into thin pink slivers, which are often raw to medium-rare. At Chap’s Pit Beef in Aberdeen and Baltimore, those slices come piled atop a roll dressed with onions and Chaps' Tiger Sauce, a pungent blend of two parts mayonnaise and one part horseradish.

Go to: Chaps Pit Beef

Coddies

If a knish and a codfish cake had a baby, you’d get the Baltimore coddie. These hand-formed potato cakes are shot through with salt cod (and sometimes Old Bay) before taking a dip in the deep fryer. They’re traditionally served between two saltine crackers with a dollop of mustard, at room temperature, and were once sold at soda fountains and delis all over 1920s Baltimore. These days, you can find an exemplary version at Attman's on Lombard Street.

Go to: Attman's Delicatessan

Rockfish

It’s called “striped bass” elsewhere in the United States, but in Maryland it’s rockfish, no buts about it. The state’s most-important commercial and recreational fish species is delicious to boot. White and flaky, with a mild flavor, it’s a shape shifter of sorts, allowing for any number of preparations. Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen serves it oven-baked alongside Hasselback potatoes and corn-and-crab fritters. At Carrol's Creek Cafe in Annapolis, get it encrusted with herbs, roasted and complemented by creamy risotto, baby spinach, jumbo lump crab and a velvety blanket of beurre blanc.

Go to: Woodberry Kitchen

Caramel Creams and Cow Tales

In 1895, Goetze's Candy Company was founded as the Baltimore Chewing Gum Company. But the company’s focus shifted in 1917, when Goetze's came up with a confection that resembled a bull’s-eye and was later christened Caramel Creams, which would become its most-popular and signature candy. These individually wrapped coins of soft, chewy caramel have an uber-sugary cream filling at the center and stick to your molars with every chew (in the best of ways, we promise!). They’re the basis of a later Goetze’s creation, Cow Tales, which are basically a long, thin, rolled-out version of Caramel Creams. Find both chewy wonders at grocery stores across the state, at Goetze’s store in Hunt Valley or online at Goetze's e-store.

Go to: Goetze's Candy Retail Store

Smith Island Cake

In 2008, Maryland’s legislature named this towering treat — famous for eight thin layers of rich yellow cake slicked with chocolate-fudge icing — the state’s official dessert. Named for a tiny island on the Chesapeake Bay, from which it hails, Smith Island Cake’s origins can be traced to the 1800s, when locals baked tiered cakes for watermen toiling away during the autumn oyster harvest. At some point, they switched the buttercream frosting to fudge, since it lasted longer, and the rest is history. Smith Island Baking Co. specializes in the decadent dessert and sells the cakes online and at its store in Crisfield, just across the Tangier Sound from Smith Island.

Go to: Smith Island Baking Company

Snowballs

Snowballs are not to be confused with snow cones, Hawaiian ice, Italian ice or even New Orleans-style sno-balls. No, snowballs are a unique Baltimore creation notable for their chunky shaved ice drenched in sweet, neon-colored artificial syrup and gooey marshmallow cream topping. Fine dining they’re not, but snowballs provide the cooling relief essential to surviving sticky Maryland summers. We recommend the rich egg custard-flavored snowball at Timonium's Snoasis, a 30-year-old operation that serves its expertly shaved with a crater-like indent perfect for cradling a blob of marshmallow topping.

Go to: Snoasis

Fisher's Popcorn

Only a few souls know the secret recipe to the caramel popcorn from Fisher’s, which began selling the sticky-sweet treat at its original location on the Ocean City boardwalk in 1937. It’s certain, though, that the stuff is made as it’s always been — by hand, in gleaming copper kettles. These days, you can also get it in flavors like caramel with peanuts, cinnamon caramel, butter, white cheddar and Old Bay. Buy it by the tubful on the boardwalk or snap it up online.

Go to: Fisher’s Popcorn

Lemon Stick

No one knows where the springtime tradition of the lemon stick — a thick stick of peppermint candy jammed into the center of a split lemon — came from. It’s nonetheless a huge part of Baltimore's FlowerMart, an annual flower-filled sale of all things gorgeous and fragrant. The joys of the lemon stick are simple: Suck on the stick, which tastes more and more lemony as it dissolves. Find them at vendors all over the market, which is usually held in early May, or make one yourself.

Old Bay

This quintessential Maryland seasoning has bona fide cult status, but exactly what’s in it remains a mystery. Invented in 1940 by a German Jewish spice merchant named Gustav Brunn, the precise recipe is today closely guarded by spice juggernaut McCormick. (But — shhh — it’s widely believed to include mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger.) Marylanders put this stuff on almost everything, and we mean everything. At Miss Shirley’s Cafe in Baltimore and Annapolis, you can get Old Bay in your bloody mary, Old Bay on your fried oysters, Old Bay on your omelet (pictured), Old Bay in your hollandaise sauce, Old Bay in your remoulade, and even Old Bay on your Caesar salad — so, a lot of Old Bay.

Go to: Miss Shirley’s Cafe

Lake Trout

Lake trout isn’t technically trout, and it’s not from a lake, but neither inconvenient fact matters much to Baltimore’s seafood-loving populace. Lake trout is actually silver hake — a small bottom dweller caught off the Atlantic coast — but enough quibbling. No one disputes that the fish’s proper preparation is covered in cracker meal or cornmeal, fried to crunchy golden perfection in sizzling oil and served hot atop a pillowy slab of white bread. Vinegar-based hot sauce is optional. You can find lake trout at greasy spoons and dives all over Baltimore, like Nick’s Inner Harbor Seafood.

Go to: Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood

Steamed Blue Crab

Nothing shouts Maryland quite like blue crab, the Chesapeake Bay crustacean prized for its sweet, white meat. Annual catches have been on the decline in recent decades, but conservation efforts are helping to bring this state treasure back in force. The purest way to enjoy these clawed beauties is the simplest: steamed and dusted with a piquant spice mix (like Old Bay!). Order them at crab houses across Maryland — think Cantler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis or Costas Inn just outside Baltimore — where steamed crabs are sold by the dozen and dumped directly atop tables covered in newspaper or brown butcher paper. Prepare to get messy, since no utensils are required but your own two hands and the supplied crackers and mallets.

Go to: Costas Inn

Crab Cakes

For those without the patience to pick apart more than a dozen crabs — it’s understandable! — crab cakes are a perfectly respectable, Maryland-approved alternative. The best varieties feature giant lumps of sweet meat with little to no filler and are either sauteed, baked, grilled or fried. Though the cakes are often served with a side of creamy remoulade or tartar sauce, plenty of locals swear that all a good crab cake needs is a squeeze of lemon. For some of the best in the Old Line State, head to Floyd's Crossroads Pub in Dayton, a family-owned institution southwest of Baltimore slinging both fried and broiled jumbo lump cakes. You’ll also find a number of other only-in-Maryland dishes that pay homage to the state’s favorite crustacean, like crab pretzels, crab balls and crab dip — because you can never have enough crab.

Go to: Floyd's Crossroads Pub

Maryland Crab Soup

Cream and sherry have no place in a traditional Maryland crab soup. Instead, expect a tangy tomato base that’s chock-full of hearty vegetables — carrots, corn, lima beans, green beans, peas and more — not to mention chunks of tender crabmeat. At Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore, Chef Zack Mills prepares a version similar to the one his mother made during his childhood in rural Maryland, pepped up with chipotle chiles, thyme and jalapeno.

Go to: Wit & Wisdom

National Bohemian

The Pilsner beer National Bohemian — better known by locals as “Natty Boh” — is no longer produced in Baltimore, where it was first brewed in 1885 by the National Brewing Company, but the light-and-easy quaff still holds the hearts of beer-swilling natives. Its one-eyed mascot, the mustachioed Mr. Boh, is an intrinsic part of the Baltimore skyline: Visitors driving into the city on I-95 can plainly spot Mr. Boh all decked out in neon and smiling down from atop the former National Brewery building. Order Natty Boh wherever beers are sold — you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bar in Baltimore that doesn’t pour it.

“Crab” Potato Chips

Don’t go looking for any real crab in these chips. The Utz brand’s “The Crab Chip” and Herr’s Old Bay Potato Chips (pictured) are flavored with versions of the zesty spice mixture often caked on steamed blue crabs. Both are savory, with a zingy, spicy bite on the finish, and each has a legion of fans who claim their favorite is superior. Decide for yourself by snagging bags of both at grocery stores across Maryland.

Orange Crush Cocktail

Forget fussy artisanal cocktails with aged bitters and locally made spirits. In Ocean City, a beach town on the Eastern shore, it’s all about the orange crush. Basically the screwdriver’s fizzier beach-bum cousin, the orange crush is a decidedly off-trend drink of orange juice, ice, vodka, triple sec, and a dash of lemon-lime soda. The  place of the drink’s 1995 birth, the Harborside Bar & Grill, remains our go-to spot for one.

Go to: Harborside Bar & Grill

Stuffed Ham

In Southern Maryland, no holiday spread is complete without stuffed ham. The intricate dish calls for stuffing a butterflied corned ham with a sinus-clearing mixture of blanched cabbage, kale and onions, then wrapping it in cheesecloth before dunking it in boiling water. It then spends a night in the refrigerator and is served cold the next day. If that sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. But the results are worth it: You end up with a juicy ham riddled with veins of spicy stuffing, ensuring the tastiest bits will be in every bite. Find it at WJ Dent & Sons, which has been around since 1927, in Tall Timbers. Although stuffed ham is traditionally available from mid-October through December, at WJ Dent & Sons you can enjoy it all year round.

Go to: WJ Dent & Sons

Otterbein's Cookies

Paper-thin, crunchy sugar cookies take center stage at Otterbein’s Cookies in Baltimore, a local institution that’s used the same recipe founder Adam Otterbein brought with him from Germany in 1881. Today, the fifth-generation owners produce nearly 4,000 bags of cookies a day, which translates to about 1 million a year — roughly double what they were producing merely a decade ago. The star attraction remains the crackly sugar cookies, which the website aptly describes as “just sweet enough” and a perfect accompaniment to a “cup of hot coffee on a winter day.” Also on offer: lemon, chocolate chip, ginger, oatmeal raisin and orange white chocolate chip cookies. Buy them online or in grocery stores throughout the Baltimore area.

Maryland Beaten Biscuit

Before the 1840s, biscuit lovers had to get creative a since chemical leavener — aka baking powder — wasn't widely available. “Bakers pounded or beat the biscuit dough to introduce air into it, and the beating also served to disintegrate the dough’s protein (gluten),” explains Annapolis-based food historian Joyce White on her blog. Instead of kneading it the traditional way, with a rolling pin, which would have resulted in a chewy biscuit, the bakers exhaustively beat and fold the dough to create a final product that was “tender, puffy, and flaky.” Before baking, the rolls were pricked with fork tines, which helped them cook more evenly and gave them a distinctive look. One of the last remaining commercial operations, Orell’s Beaten Biscuits, closed down in 2013, but the doughy tradition lives on in many kitchens. Feel free to give the recipe a whirl.

Berger Cookies

In 1835, a German immigrant named Henry Berger invented a cookie that would one day strike fear into the hearts of Charm City dentists (we imagine.) Named after the man himself, the Berger cookie is a round, cake-y cookie hand-dipped in thick fudge icing, which solidifies into a dense chocolatey mound. The sugary treat is almost more icing than cookie, and Baltimoreans are mad about it. These days, the cookies are produced by DeBaufre Bakeries and sold in stores across Maryland, Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania.