Foods to Try in Maryland

From blue crabs to Smith Island Cake, these are the foods to sample in Maryland

MACO Crab Feast

Maryland GovPics/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Maryland is known for many things, including the birthplace of the National Anthem, the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, the Chesapeake Bay, and of course its famous fresh blue crabs. But aside from those crabs, there are several other iconic foods and Mid-Atlantic dishes from Maryland you need to eat next time you’re in the Old Line State. From tons of seafood doused in Old Bay to a special style of barbecue to tasty desserts, Maryland has plenty of unique dishes you’ve just got to sample. Here are all the foods to look out for next time you’re in Maryland.

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Steamed Blue Crabs

Maryland steamed blue crabs

Credit: Getty Images/Cyndi Monaghan

Blue crab is usually what most people think of when someone mentions Maryland food, and rightly so. Maryland’s beloved Chesapeake Bay is teeming with the crustaceans from spring through fall and they are cherished for their sweet meat. For a pure experience, eat them steamed and dusted with Maryland’s famed seafood spice, Old Bay. Crab shacks and restaurants across the state sell steamed crabs by the dozen, often served directly atop newspaper-covered tables. Grab a mallet and get crackin’!

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Old Bay Seasoning

Old Bay seasoning

Courtesy of McCormick Corporation

This famous spice is ubiquitous in Maryland, where it’s served on everything from crabs to French fries to salad to fried chicken. Old Bay was invented in 1940 by German-Jewish spice merchant Gustav Brunn and today it’s manufactured by McCormick & Company, at their headquarters in Hunt Valley, near Baltimore. Although the mixture is top secret, it likely includes a mix of mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, red pepper, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. You can’t miss the yellow and blue tin at nearly every seafood spot in the state—do like the locals and sprinkle it on everything liberally.

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Pit Beef

Maryland pit beef sandwich

Credit: Getty Images/Tifanee Gladney

Maryland is considered to be in the South (since it’s below the Mason-Dixon Line), so it shouldn’t be surprising that it has its own style of barbecue. And it certainly stands out from most other barbecue styles in the country, which call for cooking fatty meat for hours. Instead, Maryland’s regional barbecue is made from lean top roast beef that’s minimally seasoned and barely cooked on a grill directly above hot charcoals, resulting in raw to medium-rare pink meat that’s thinly sliced into slivers. It’s often piled atop a roll with onions and a horseradish sauce.

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Crab Cakes

Maryland crab cakes

Credit: Getty Images/Grandbrothers

The second most popular way in Maryland to prepare crab after steamed is to make crab cakes. The juicy cakes are found on many restaurant menus across the state, and some of the best have lumps of sweet meat with little else. The patties can be baked, sauteed, grilled, or fried and some lemon and remoulade or tartar sauce on the side is all you need.

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Crab Potato Chips

Both Utz and Herr’s make crab flavored potato chips, but there’s actually no crab in them. (Well, Utz’s are called crab while Herr’s just has a picture of a crab on them.) They’re seasoned with-you guessed it—Old Bay or a similar spice mixture that’s used on top of steamed crabs. Zingy, zesty, and spicy, you’ll find these at grocery shops and convenience stores throughout the state.

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Extremely popular in Baltimore in the early and mid-20th century, these codfish cakes have a murky origin, with several places claiming to have invented them. Although they’re harder to find today, a few old school delis, grocery store, and stalls at Lexington Market still make them. The fish cakes are made from salt cod, potatoes, milk, and crackers that are hand-formed into patties and deep-fried. They are traditionally served between two saltine crackers with a squirt of mustard.

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Smith Island Cake

Smith Island Cake

Courtesy of Smith Island Cake Co.

Named for a tiny island on the Chesapeake Bay off the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, Smith Island Cake’s origins can be traced to the 1800s. Invented on the island, the cake typically has eight to 10 thin layers of rich yellow cake interspersed with chocolate fudge frosting. Locals used to bake the cakes for watermen working the autumn oyster harvest and their families. In 2008, Maryland’s legislature named Smith Island Cake the state’s official dessert and it soon began to be known and loved well beyond Smith Island and the Eastern Shore. Today, you’ll see stands along Route 50 from the Bay Bridge to the ocean selling it, plus its on many restaurant menus across the state. If you’re looking to have it shipped, Smith Island Baking Co. and Smith Island Bakery sell the cakes online.

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Rockfish/Stripe bass

Credit: Getty Image/Fertnig

The rockfish was named the official fish of Maryland in 1965 and more rockfish are caught in Maryland than any other species. Known as striped bass in other parts of the country, in Maryland they’re called rockfish because they like to hide in nooks and crannies of reefs and ledges. Its buttery white flesh is medium to firm and has a mild flavor that’s a little briny and a little sweet. You can find it prepared in a variety of ways in restaurants across the state, from grilled to roasted to steamed.

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Lake Trout

Lake Trout, Baltimore

Credit: David Hilowitz via Wikimedia Commons

Neither trout nor from a lake, Lake Trout is still a Baltimore seafood favorite and has been since at least the early 1900s. Actually made from whiting caught in the Atlantic Ocean, Lake Trout is covered in crushed crackers or cornmeal, fried until crunchy and golden, and served hot atop a slice of white bread. Hot sauce is optional. In and around Baltimore you’ll see restaurants called Lake Trout, Lake Trout 2, and Lake Trout 3—all are good places to try it out.

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Maryland Crab Soup

Maryland crab soup

Credit: Getty Images/LauriPatterson

Another popular way to eat crab, Maryland crab soup is a bit different than other Southern varieties. It doesn’t have any cream or sherry but it does have a tomato base and is filled with plenty of vegetables like potatoes, corn, and lima beans—and plenty of lump crabmeat, of course. And don’t forget to season heavily with Old Bay!

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Chesapeake Bay Oysters

Chesapeake Bay oysters

Credit: Getty Images/Edwin Remsberg

While crabs may wear the Maryland seafood crown, local Maryland oysters are almost as beloved. Maryland’s oyster farming culture has grown in recent years and today there are more than 4,000 acres of oyster farms along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay on the Maryland side (and just as many if not more on the Virginia side). Check out True Chesapeake Oyster Co., Hoopers Island Oyster Co., and Hollywood Oyster for some of Maryland’s best oysters.

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Berger Cookies

Berger cookies

Courtesy of Berger Cookies

Invented by German immigrant Henry Berger in 1835, this cake-y vanilla cookie is hand-dipped in fudge icing, giving it a thick, chocolaty cap. Today, the super-sweet cookies are produced by DeBaufre Bakeries and you can find them in stores across the state.

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