Food pairing is choosing complementary ingredients that bring out the best in each other. When done right, food pairings can result in a dish greater than the sum of its parts.
For quality food pairings, a few considerations are essential. The first is to think about the different flavors that will be present in the dish. You want to ensure that each ingredient contributes its unique flavor without overpowering the others.
The second is to consider the texture of the ingredients. You want to create a balance of textures so that the dish is not too “one-note.”
Finally, color is an additional important factor to some people, as complementary colors can make a plate pop and the eating experience all the more appealing.
I’ll share the best food pairings, why they are so appealing, and when is the best occasion to eat them.
Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese are among the most popular and best food pairings.
Something about melted, salty cheese smothered over creamy pasta hits the spot every time.
People make mac and cheese in all different ways, from convenient frozen mac and cheese to elevated baked mac and cheese with additional ingredients like bacon, lobster, or jalapeños.
In my opinion, the best mac and cheese has a crispy top layer from being baked in the oven, which contrasts the soft pasta and gooey cheese.
Also, I usually make it with cheddar cheese, but feel free to experiment with other cheeses like gouda, Monterey jack, and gruyère.
Either way, mac and cheese is the perfect dish for family dinners or backyard barbecues.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Peanut butter and jelly, colloquially called “PB&Js,” is a timeline, classic flavor combination everyone loves. It’s sweet, it’s salty, and it’s so easy to make.
Traditionally, people use grape jelly and smooth peanut butter, but you can use any type of fruit jellies like strawberry, peach, or apricot.
I love using crunchy peanut butter as it creates a more dynamic consistency and delightful crunch.
The bread is also an important aspect of PB&J. Some people prefer good old white packaged bread, but I love making mine on freshly baked sourdough or wheat bread for a higher-quality taste.
PB&Js are also the most convenient, quick, and portable lunch; you can take them anywhere with you — camping, work, picnics, etc.
Fish and Chips
Fish and chips are an English dish that has been around since the 19th century. It typically consists of battered fish and deep-fried potatoes.
People usually serve this dish with malt vinegar, lemon wedges, and tartar sauce on the side. The vinegar helps cut through the dish’s greasiness, while the lemon adds a touch of brightness.
This food pairing is so highly-loved because it is the perfect combination of crunchy, salty, and tangy flavors.
Fish and chips are also an ideal dish to share with friends, as you can eat them with your hands, making them an excellent idea for a shared appetizer before dinner.
Chicken and Waffles
One of my favorite food pairings of all time is chicken and waffles.
Chicken and waffles were created in the colonial period and have been a staple breakfast and brunch dish across the East Coast and South.
Both fried chicken and waffles have something in common: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, making them act as the perfect duo.
In addition, the saltiness of the chicken pairs well with a sweet syrup topping to make it all come together.
I love eating chicken and waffles for brunch, but some prefer it for breakfast or dinner.
It’s so good, plus it has a savory element that’s hard to resist, so it’s perfect for any time of the day.
Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and gravy is a popular, scrumptious dish in the South, and it typically consists of flaky biscuits smothered in sausage gravy.
Something about the hot, salty, fatty gravy on a freshly baked, buttery biscuit is to die for!
Scratch-made biscuits are the best, but you can also use store-bought ones as a shortcut.
I usually make the gravy with pork sausage, but you can also use beef or turkey.
This dish is hearty and comforting, making it the perfect meal for a cold winter day. It’s also a fantastic food combination to make ahead of time and reheat, but it’s best when the biscuit is fresh.
I enjoy biscuits and gravy for breakfast when I’m ravenous because it is quite filling, and I never want to give up on eating it!
Chips and Salsa
Chips and salsa are the perfect food pairing for any party or gathering. It’s a classic appetizer that always seems to be a hit and is so easy to make.
All you need is a bag of tortilla chips and a tasty salsa, which you can buy at the store or make yourself. I love salsa that includes:
- lime juice
- fresh chilis
- a little salt
The crunchy, salty chips pair swimmingly with these zesty, softer ingredients.
And the best thing about chips and salsa is that it’s a relatively healthy dish, so there’s no need to feel guilty about slamming a ton of it, especially if you manage your consumption of the chips.
It’s also a wonderful dish to make with friends, as everyone can customize their spice level.
If you’re looking for a dish to bring to a party or potluck, chips and salsa are never a bad option.
Cookies and Cream
Cookies and cream is an excellent flavor combination because it pairs two of the best things in life: cookies and milk!
This flavor combo is usually found in desserts, such as ice cream, cake, and cookies. I love how the rich, creamy flavor of milk complements the sweetness of the cookies.
The cookies add a lovely crunch to the dish and provide a beautiful contrast in texture.
The best cookies for this pairing are chocolate chip cookies, which provide a satisfying balance of sweet and buttery flavors.
If you’re buying ice cream, cookies, or cake for a gathering, cookies and cream is usually a safe choice that isn’t too boring (like chocolate or vanilla).
Hummus and Pita
Hummus and pita is another excellent food pairing that works well as an appetizer for a party or potluck.
It’s a classic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dish that’s healthy and flavorful.
Hummus is a creamy, protein-rich dip made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice.
The warm pita bread it’s usually served with is the perfect vessel for dipping because it’s soft and fluffy.
Hummus and pita is also a great dish for vegetarians, as hummus provides a good source of protein.
However, although I’m not vegetarian, I still eat it all the time as it’s the perfect snack that’s satiating, as opposed to potato chips or crackers.
Bacon + Eggs
Ah, bacon and eggs. When I hear these two words together, I immediately smile. Both of these food items alone are superb.
Bacon is fatty, savory, crunchy, and delightful. Eggs are soft, fluffy, salty, and satiating. Together, they make the perfect morning meal.
I love how the bacon adds a smoky flavor to the dish, and its crispiness pairs perfectly with the creaminess of the eggs.
This dish is simple but oh-so-delicious, which is likely why you’ll see both of them at every breakfast buffet or brunch event.
Cheeseburger and Fries
When I try to think about the last time I ordered a cheeseburger without fries, my mind blanks, it’s difficult just to eat a cheeseburger without fries because snacking on fries in between is so appealing.
They are similar in terms of flavor—salty, fatty, and delicious. But because cheeseburgers are usually quite hearty, it’s nice to take little “breaks” between those big bites and plop in one or two skinny fries.
Fries are undoubtedly the side item, but they help advance the burger to new heights.
And, of course, you can eat a cheeseburger and fries on many different occasions.
They’re perfect at barbecues, festivals, family outings, or simply in the comfort of your home, especially if you have a grill and a deep fryer.
Chocolate and Peanut Butter
Many people might say that chocolate and peanut butter is their favorite flavor combination, and I’m one of them. It’s hard to beat the pleasant taste of chocolate and peanut butter together.
The two flavors complement each other perfectly because the chocolate is rich and sweet, while the peanut butter is salty and nutty.
People usually combine these flavors in desserts, such as chocolate peanut butter cups, cookies, and ice cream. I love how the chocolate and peanut butter swirl together in a beautiful marbled pattern.
My favorite idea to enhance brownies is adding a layer of peanut butter to the top once they have cooled down.
Brussels Sprouts and Bacon
Bacon isn’t just for breakfast. It’s a unique food item that goes with everything, including Brussels sprouts.
I love this food combination because it makes me feel a bit healthier than eating straight bacon alone.
The flavor profiles are complementary because the Brussels sprouts are slightly bitter while the bacon is savory and salty.
People usually roast this dish in the oven, making the bacon nice and crispy, or cook them in the air fryer.
I love to eat this dish as a side at holiday dinners or as a main course for a light lunch.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Another timeless food pairing, arguably as popular as mac and cheese, is spaghetti and meatballs.
If you’re unsure what to order at a restaurant and want a safe choice that won’t give you “food regret,” go with spaghetti and meatballs.
It’s hard not to love the tomato sauce-coated noodles with big, juicy meatballs.
The acidity of the tomato sauce pairs nicely with the richness of the meatballs, and the spaghetti provides the perfect vessel to transport the sauce and meatballs from plate to mouth.
This dish is also pretty filling, so ensure you’re hungry before ordering! But if you make a pot at home, it keeps relatively well, so you can warm it up the next day if you get full.
Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese
Another tomato sauce-based dish is tomato and mozzarella cheese.
Like the meatball pairing, the tomato sauce’s acidity pairs swimmingly with the richness and saltiness of the mozzarella.
This pairing is a popular flavor combination in Italy, using fresh tomatoes and mozzarella.
The dish sounds simple, but with high-quality ingredients, it is elegant and divine.
It also works well as an appetizer—just slice up some baguette, add a dollop of tomato sauce, and top it with some mozzarella slices and you’re good to go!
Buffalo Sauce and Blue Cheese
If you like your food on the spicier side, you’ll love buffalo sauce and blue cheese.
This flavor combination is most commonly found in buffalo chicken wings. The sauce is usually made with a combination of hot sauce, vinegar, and butter, which can be pretty spicy.
The blue cheese dressing helps cool the heat and provides a creamy texture.
Buffalo wings with blue cheese are perfect for game day or whenever you’re in the mood for something fried and delicious. Make sure you have some napkins on hand—it can get messy!