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Red Rice is a classic Lowcountry side dish that’s made by cooking long grain white rice in the oven with bacon, onion, garlic and tomato paste. The end result is tender, fluffy rice with rich tomato flavor, a touch of sweetness and a hint of smokiness. Charleston Red Rice was first brought to the American South by enslaved Africans, and has been perfected by the Gullah Geechee people for generations. Serve this simple red rice recipe with any of your favorite Southern meals, such as chicken and gravy, fried catfish or pulled pork.

Overhead shot of a bowl of Savannah Red Rice on a wooden table with fresh parsley garnish

This red rice recipe comes from a vintage Charleston cookbook that my great Aunt Bee gave me from her own collection. Aunt Bee is now 101 years old — so she’s not doing too much cooking at this point — but she has shared many of her favorite recipes with me over the years (like these 3-Ingredient Buttermilk Biscuits and this Shrimp Pasta Salad). The cookbook was published in 1950 by the Junior League of Charleston, and it’s a wealth of ideas!

While many of the “recipes” in the 70-year-old cookbook do not include specific measurements or complete instructions, they’re a great starting off point. This Charleston red rice was no exception, since I borrowed the basic ingredients and used them as inspiration to create an updated version of the classic rice dish that holds closely to its Lowcountry roots.

Vintage Charleston cookbook

What is Red Rice?

Also called Charleston Red Rice, Savannah Red Rice, Lowcountry Red Rice and Gullah Red Rice, this easy rice dish is a combination of long-grain rice that cooks in a tomato-based liquid (in this case, water and tomato paste) along with aromatics like onion, garlic and/or bell pepper, as well as a smoky meat such as bacon or sausage. The ingredients are affordable, the process is simple, and the results are incredibly delicious!

Origin

The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of Africans who were enslaved on the rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast. Rice was a major crop of the Lowcountry region until the end of the Civil War, so slave traders valued the expertise of Africans from rice-growing regions and sold them to work in the fields. The enslaved Africans brought many of their dishes with them, including a version of red rice, which resembles the West African dish, jollof rice. Because of their similar origin, red rice has close ties to many of our other favorite Southern rice dishes, such as jambalaya, chicken bog, hoppin’ john and gumbo.

Easy red rice recipe on a wooden table with parsley garnish nearby

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need to make red rice. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Bacon: just enough to provide that smoky flavor.
  • Butter: to sauté the vegetables and to flavor the rice.
  • Onion and garlic: aromatics that add more flavor to the rice.
  • Tomato paste: provides rich, concentrated tomato flavor.
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper: to enhance the flavors in the dish.
  • Sugar: adds a touch of sweetness, and also helps to balance the acidity from the tomato paste, giving the rice a more complex flavor.
  • Water: the liquid that cooks the rice.
  • Long-grain white rice: this recipe is specifically formulated for long-grain rice, so do not substitute with other varieties like instant rice, wild rice or brown rice.

How to Cook Red Rice

This simple rice comes together with just a few minutes of hands-on prep, and then the oven does most of the work!

  1. Cook the bacon until crisp, then set aside on a plate.
  2. Sauté the onion until softened, then add the garlic.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, kosher salt, sugar and pepper; cook for 1 more minute.
  4. Add the cooked bacon, water and rice.
  5. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer (uncovered) until the liquid reduces slightly, about 8-10 minutes.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a greased 2-quart baking dish, cover it tightly, and bake in a 350° F oven until the rice is tender, about 40-45 minutes. Stir the rice every 15 minutes.
  7. Fluff with a fork, garnish with fresh parsley, and serve!
Crispy chopped bacon on a plate
A wooden spoon stirring onion in a skillet
Stirring tomato paste bacon and onion in a skillet
Overhead image showing how to make Charleston red rice
Process shot showing how to cook red rice
Overhead image of red rice baked in a casserole dish
Square overhead image of Charleston red rice in a blue and white serving bowl on a wooden table

What to Serve with Charleston Red Rice

This classic Lowcountry side dish goes well with almost any of your favorite Southern meals. Here are a few good options to serve with red rice:

Close up side shot of Charleston Red Rice in a blue and white serving bowl

Storage

Leftover red rice will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. You can also freeze the cooked rice in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Reheat individual servings of red rice in the microwave for about 1 minute, or until heated through. To reheat the rice on the stovetop, place it in a saucepan or skillet, add a splash of water or broth, cover and warm over low heat, stirring occasionally, just until heated through.

Recipe Variations

  • Swap out the bacon and replace it with smoked sausage. You’ll need about 8 ounces of finely-diced kielbasa, andouille, or other fully-cooked sausage.
  • Use broth. For added flavor, cook the rice in chicken broth or vegetable broth instead of water. Depending on how salty your broth is, you may need to decrease the amount of added salt in the recipe.
  • Make it vegetarian by omitting the bacon.
  • Add more vegetables such as diced celery and diced green bell pepper. Just sauté the additional vegetables with the onion.
  • Scale the recipe up or down, depending on the size of your family. For instance, to serve a larger crowd, double all of the ingredients and bake the rice in a 4-quart 9 x 13-inch dish.
Horizontal shot of gullah red rice in a blue and white serving bowl

Tips for the Best Red Rice Recipe

  • Simmer before baking. I learned this tip from Southern Living, and it works really well! By simmering the rice, vegetables and cooking liquids in a skillet on the stovetop (to reduce the liquid) before finishing it in the oven, you’ll get separate yet tender and fluffy grains. Sometimes baked rice can have a mushy, gummy texture — but not here!
  • Cover the rice tightly in the oven. Otherwise, steam will escape during the cooking process and the rice will not cook properly.
  • Stir regularly. Even when the rice is in the oven, use a fork to fluff and stir the dish every 15 minutes or so. This will keep the grains fluffy and separate and will help the rice cook evenly.
  • Total cooking time will vary depending on a number of factors (such as the size and depth of your baking dish, how hot the mixture is when it goes into the oven, etc.).
  • Keep a close eye on the rice. Overcooked rice will have a mushy, gummy texture, which is not ideal. If the rice absorbs all of the liquid before it’s tender, add a little bit more water to the pan, fluff with a fork, cover and return to the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes.
  • Do not substitute with brown rice, instant rice, or other varieties of rice, since the amount of liquid and the cooking time in this recipe is specifically tailored for long-grain white rice.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs like parsley for a bright touch of color and flavor.
Overhead shot of gullah red rice in a bowl with a serving spoon

More Rice Dishes to Try

Overhead shot of a bowl of Savannah Red Rice on a wooden table with fresh parsley garnish

Charleston Red Rice

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour 10 minutes
Total: 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 261 kcal
This classic Red Rice is a Lowcountry side dish of long grain white rice that's baked with bacon, onion, garlic and tomato!

Ingredients
  

  • 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • ¼ cup salted butter
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish; set aside.
  • In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 7-8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving the drippings in the pan. Melt butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste, kosher salt, sugar and pepper. Cook for 1 more minute.
  • Add the bacon, water and rice. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced slightly, about 8-10 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet as you stir.
  • Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Cover and bake until the rice is tender, about 40-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
  • Fluff the rice, garnish with fresh parsley, and serve.

Notes

  • Simmer before baking. I learned this tip from Southern Living, and it works really well! By simmering the rice, vegetables and cooking liquids in a skillet on the stovetop (to reduce the liquid) before finishing it in the oven, you’ll get separate yet tender and fluffy grains. Sometimes baked rice can have a mushy, gummy texture — but not here!
  • Make sure that the rice is covered tightly in the oven. Otherwise, steam will escape during the cooking process and the rice will not cook properly.
  • Stir regularly. Even when the rice is in the oven, use a fork to fluff and stir the dish every 15 minutes or so. This will keep the grains fluffy and separate and will help the rice cook evenly.
  • Total cooking time will vary depending on a number of factors (such as the size and depth of your baking dish, how hot the mixture is when it goes into the oven, etc.).
  • Keep a close eye on the rice and remove it from the oven as soon as the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Overcooked rice will have a mushy, gummy texture, which is not ideal. If the liquid is absorbed before the rice is completely done, add a little bit more water to the pan, fluff with a fork, cover and return it to the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes.
  • Do not substitute with brown rice, instant rice, or other varieties of rice, since the amount of liquid and the cooking time in this recipe is specifically tailored for long-grain white rice.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs like parsley for a bright touch of color and flavor.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the recipeCalories: 261kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 5gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 28mgSodium: 952mgPotassium: 376mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 673IUVitamin C: 8mgCalcium: 30mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: charleston red rice, gullah red rice, red rice, savannah red rice
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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