How to Eat Your Way Through Carowinds’ Taste of the Carolinas

Returning for the third consecutive year to Carowinds is their annual “Taste of the Carolinas” food festival.

After sampling several dishes at last year’s festival, I knew for this year that I needed to call in some reinforcements if I wanted to try everything. Luckily, I was able to round up a few members of the Coaster101 team to meet at Carowinds this weekend, and we ate our way through this year’s version of Taste of the Carolinas.

Like in 2016, samplings at “Taste of the Carolinas” (known as tastes) were purchased using wooden “taste tokens.” The price between the two years has remained a consistent $1.33 per token, 1.14 per token if you purchased 21 tokens.  Each “taste” at “Taste of the Carolinas” costs three tokens ($4.00 or $3.42 if you buy 21 tokens) for a good sample size of food.

Let’s get to the main event, the dishes, prepared by Carowinds’ Executive Chef Kris Suita and his culinary team. “Taste of the Carolinas” features Carolina cuisine from seven geographical and culinary regions in the Carolinas, and is a perfect way for the Carolinas to come together. We all tried a few different items (18 of the 21 Available!), so we’ll highlight what we tried below!

Everything there is to eat at Taste of the Carolinas

North Carolina Cuisine

Asheville/Mountain Region

Smoked Egg and Pork Belly Salad

The salad was a nice little mixed green salad, tossed to order with a pale purple dressing that with a light fruit flavor (was Carowinds borrowing from Knotts?). The salad was then topped with the warm pork belly bacon and the smoked egg. The pork belly was slightly glazed or candied, giving it a delicious subtle sweetness. It was one of the most composed/balanced dishes I had, you could imagine having a full meal of it with a bigger portion. I was surprised that apparently I was the first person to do order it that day. Do people not realize pork belly is bacon? — Eric

Mushroom Ravioli With Herb Butter


I’m not the biggest fan of Mushrooms, so this definitely seemed like an interesting choice for me to order. Each “taste” consists of five raviolis that were cooked in herb butter. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed these. The chef in the Asheville Booth finished off the dish by pouring the herb butter that the raviolis were cooked in over the pasta. — Andrew

Like Andrew, also not a mushroom lover, so I wouldn’t have ordered it normally, but they were really really good. The herb butter was super flavorful, and the filling had more of an earthy cheese flavor than a mushroom taste. I also love that the chefs sauteed the ravioli to order right in front of you. It’s amazing how fresh all of this food is (not usually common at theme parks, right?). I actually got myself a second order on Sunday. — Eric

Pecan Cinnamon Bread Pudding with Cream Cheese Icing

This was one of my favorite dishes last year, and continued to be one of my favorites this year. The cream cheese icing on top was amazing. — Andrew

It reminded me of a home made pecan cinnamon roll, which means it was delicious. And they’ll heat it up for you, making the filling nice and gooey. — Eric

Outer Banks

Frog Legs

The “tastes like chicken” approach doesn’t go with the frog legs. It has a much softer texture to it, not stringy like chicken, and with the chipotle mayo sauce drizzled on it, it actually was pretty good. Did remind me of a chicken wing as you had to separate the meat from the bones with some pretty small ones, but was enough to get a good taste of an animal I’ve never had before. Kind of wish I had the other side too!  — Larry

Fried Catfish and Calabash Hushpuppies

Of the five items I tried, this was by far my favorite. The catfish was cooked to perfection, served with a side of hot hush puppies on top of a bed of fresh arugula. The icing on top of this great dish was the light lemon drizzle that brought it all together. I could have definitely eaten a whole platter of this! — Kyle

Lexington BBQ Region

The Lexington BBQ booth had various barbecue sauces available if you were interested.

Beer Basted Pulled Pork Slider

You can’t truly “Taste Carolina” without barbecue in my opinion. I’m not usually a fan of the “Red Slaw” of Western NC, but Carowinds had a great version of it. — Andrew

Yeah, I feel like pulled pork with a Lexington/Piedmont style sauce is pretty much a requirement if you’re here. I had never heard of “Red Slaw” (definitely don’t have that here in California), but I liked it, especially topped on the slider. Since the slaw is basically topped with the same style BBQ sauce, it mixes great with the pork. I think if I could change one thing, I’d prefer it on a smaller bun. Or maybe just a plate of pork instead of the slider? — Eric

 Barbecue Chicken Slider

When it comes to barbecue, I much prefer chicken to other meats (brisket is good, but I’m rather averse to pork). So I knew I couldn’t miss the pulled chicken slider. The chicken was tender, and the sauce was sweet — I’m from Memphis, so sweet sauce is the only sauce in my books. The coleslaw on top made for a cooling complement to the sweet tang. The roll was more dense than I was expecting, but not so much that it overpowered the sandwich filling. — John

To clarify, I DO love pork and beef, but still thought the bbq chicken was really good (I topped it with one of the moonshine bbq sauces). It actually may have been my favorite of the Lexington BBQ options, although they were all pretty good. — Eric

Barbecue Ribs

I don’t know if it stood out particularly from other good ribs, but it had a nice char, a tasty rub, and the meat was well cooked. It fell into that sweet spot with ribs where the meat pulls off the bone easily, but not so much that it tastes over cooked. It maybe wasn’t the most surprising of the dishes I had, but it’s hard to go wrong with a nicely cooked rib. I topped it with the Southfork BBQ sauce (from nearby Lucia, NC) at the chefs recommendation. — Eric

South Carolina Cuisine

Upstate SC

Sweet Potato Popover

Two things I love dearly — sweet potatoes and bread — were the stars of this simple but delicious treat. The warm roll alone was enough to lure my taste buds. But the sweet potato filling was warm and spiced perfectly. And if it wasn’t great enough already, the popover was drizzled with a delectable caramel sauce. I could eat these for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snack (or all of the above). — John

Spring Onion Bread Pudding with Pickled Peaches

There was a lot going on with this dish. There was definitely the savory element with the spring onion bread pudding, which had a great flavor. It paired well with the pickled peaches, which gave the taste an element of sweetness. This was my biggest surprise of Taste of the Carolinas as to how much I enjoyed it. –Andrew

Butterbean Slider with Pimento Cheese and Arugula

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of half of the ingredients involved here: butterbeans and arugula. But the concept seemed interesting enough to try. I wasn’t expecting the frying of the butterbeans. But that frying didn’t have much of an effect on the taste of the butterbeans — they remained very dominant, as did the arugula. And unfortunately, the pimento cheese was lost among those stronger flavors. If you’re a fan of butterbeans or arugula, I recommend you give it a try. –John

Low Country SC

Tomato Pie

I ran out of tokens before I could try the Tomato Pie in 2016. After making it my first taste in 2017, I realized that I had made a terrible mistake. The Tomato Pie was delicious, similar in taste to a pizza on a puff pastry crust. We ended up ordering three of these over the course of the weekend, the last one of which I hoarded for myself. It was that good. –Andrew

Peanut and Oyster Stew

This one surprised me! Even though it it labeled “Peanut and Oyster Stew” the peanut flavor was really subtle, as it can easily over power a dish, which made it pretty good! Be warned though, they do put a real fresh raw oyster at the bottom of the bowl, so give it a quick stir first to get those juices incorporated and finish the bowl off by eating the oyster soaked in the stew! — Larry

Bourbon Chocolate Fritter (RECIPE)

A fried dough ball with a hint of bourbon flavor and a chocolate sauce that I tried to mop up as much as possible. Yeah, I’d probably eat these until I felt sick if they were sitting in front of me. Good thing we were walking a lot. — Eric

It was awesome seeing the Bourbon Chocolate Fritters being made first hand. I learned my new life motto from the chef who was at the Low Country booth both days. He told me to “Never trust a skinny chef,” because it means they’re not eating their own cooking. I loved that, and I loved these fritters. Like Eric mentioned, I could probably eat these by the dozen. –Andrew


Pulled Pork Spring Roll with Carolina Mustard Sauce (RECIPE)

I’ve said multiple negative things about South Carolina’s mustard-based barbecue sauce in my life. This spring roll didn’t quite sway me to liking it as much as Western North Carolina’s tomato based sauce, but it made a solid effort to change my mind. So much so that when I ordered a second spring roll, I asked for extra sauce. –Andrew

I’ll add that I think this may have been the most unique thing I had at the festival. It’s basically like a Vietnamese or Thai spring roll (even with the cabbage and carrot filling), but filled with pulled pork along with the vegetables. I think my only complaint was wishing it had more sauce (which Andrew fixed on the second go), and maybe would have been nice with some of the sauce on the inside, assuming it wouldn’t make it overly soggy. — Eric

Barbecue Roasted Corn

As messy as it is to eat, I love corn on the cob. I had never considered adding barbecue sauce into the mix. The sauce used was more vinegar based (again, being from Memphis, I prefer sweet). But the corn was so delicious and well cooked that the barbecue sauce was nearly lost among the buttery kernels. But it added just enough of a smoky flavor to make this cob stand above your average ear of corn. –John

Poached Peaches over Gelato

I went for the poached peaches to end the meal, as I was looking for something refreshing in the warm afternoon heat. It turned out to be perfect for that. The peaches themselves were nicely cooked, such that they weren’t overly soft on the ice cream. The gelato itself had a powerful cream taste, giving the dish sort of an elevated “peaches and cream” flavor. It made a great dessert in the warm sun. – Eric

Charleston, SC

Sweet Tea Glazed Chicken

The crispy fried chicken leg tasted like it was freshly cooked, with a nice crunch on the skin. The sweet tea sauce was really the stand-out, though. The tea flavor and sweetness isn’t overpowering, but it’s present enough that you can tell it’s there. Makes for a pretty unique sauce that paired well with the crisp chicken. — Eric

I second what Eric said. The chicken was cooked great – tasty and juicy, but the sweet tea sauce is definitely the star. I wish they had this sauce available for purchase, I would have loved to take a bottle home. — Kyle

Another highlight of Taste of the Carolinas was the variety of wines and beer from North Carolina and South Carolina Breweries. Each craft beer or wine sample cost 4 tokens. ($5.33/$4.56)

Featured Breweries Included: 

RJ Rockers – Spartanburg, SC

Palmetto Brewing Co. – Charleston, SC

Hi-Wire Brewing – Asheville, NC

Catawba Brewing – Morganton, NC

Green Man Brewery – Asheville, NC

Benford Brewing – Lancaster, SC

Full Spectrum Brewing Co. – Fort Mill, SC

Aviator Brewing Company – Fuquay-Varina, NC

Carolina Brewery – Chapel Hill/Pittsboro, NC

And there were several wines from the Biltmore Estate Winery in Asheville, NC

There were also several demonstrations as part of Taste of the Carolinas, including Chainsaw Carving and Ice Sculpting.

If Culinary Demonstrations are more your thing, Taste of the Carolinas also features Culinary Demonstrations inside of Harmony Hall that happen each day at 1:00pm and 4:00pm.

Remaining Weekends:

May 6 & 7: Charlotte-area Chef Alyssa Willen

May 13: Chef Geoffery Bragg of the Community Culinary Institute of Charlotte

May 14: Chef Lucca Annunziata

Taste of the Carolinas also features live Music on the Harmony Hall outdoor stage at 12:00pm and 4:00pm

May 6 (12:00pm): Jeff Luckadoo

May 6 (4:00pm): Cho Cho Tumbleweed

May 7 (12:00pm): Back Porch Orchestra

May 7 (4:00pm): Early Ray

May 13 (12:00pm): Early Ray

May 13 (4:00pm): Cho Cho Tumbleweed

May 14 (12:00pm): Back Porch Orchestra

May 14 (4:00pm): Natty Boh Duo

Unfortunately, we were unable to try the following (ran out of time and tokens) — but our friends over at CPFoodBlog managed to try all 21 items at Taste of the Carolinas two weeks ago. Be sure to check out their review!

Crispy Shrimp and Grits – Charleston, SC

Lady Baltimore Cake – Charleston, SC

Seafood Potato Croquette – Outer Banks, NC

We’re stuffed just thinking about Taste of the Carolinas!

Taste of the Carolinas continues at Carowinds on May 6-7 and May 13-14. For more information about Taste of the Carolinas, be sure to visit, and follow Carowinds on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!