Jump to RecipeJump to VideoLeave a ReviewPin Recipe

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website.

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!

Overhead shot of a skillet of southern red rice on a table with parsley
Table of Contents
  1. Red Rice Recipe | 1-Minute Video
  2. What is Red Rice?
  3. Ingredients
  4. How to Cook Red Rice
  5. What to Serve with Charleston Red Rice
  6. Storage
  7. Recipe Variations
  8. Tips for the Best Red Rice Recipe
  9. Charleston Red Rice Recipe

Red Rice Recipe | 1-Minute Video

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 dish with any of your favorite Southern meals, such as chicken and gravy, fried catfish, or pulled pork.

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 103 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 recipe 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!

Frying bacon in a skillet

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.

Pouring water into a skillet

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.
Covering a skillet of red rice with a lid

How to Cook Red Rice

This simple red rice recipe comes together with just a few minutes of hands-on prep, and then the oven does most of the work. No wonder it’s a staple in Southern homes! I’ve included the detailed directions in the recipe card below, but here’s the quick version:

  1. Cook the bacon, then set aside.
  2. Sauté the onion and garlic.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and seasoning.
  4. Add the cooked bacon, water, and rice to the tomato mixture.
  5. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer (uncovered) until the liquid reduces slightly, about 7-9 minutes.
  6. Cover and bake in a 350°F oven until the rice is tender, about 30-40 minutes. Stir the rice every 15 minutes.
  7. Fluff with a fork, garnish with fresh parsley, and serve!
Square overhead shot of the best red rice recipe on a 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:

Spoon serving red rice

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.

Overhead image of a white cast iron skillet full of the best red rice recipe with a blue and white check cloth napkin

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, carrots, and diced green bell pepper. Just sauté the additional veggies with the onion. You can also stir in some frozen peas at the end, since they will thaw almost instantly.
  • Garnish with other fresh herbs, such as chives, thyme, basil, or cilantro.
  • Season the rice with other spices for even more flavor. Good options include paprika, chili powder, cajun seasoning, and oregano. You can make it spicy with the addition of cayenne or hot sauce.
  • 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.
Skillet of red rice on a table

Tips for the Best Red Rice Recipe

  • Use an oven-proof skillet (like this 2.25-quart cast iron braiser), or transfer the rice to a 2-quart baking dish if you don’t have a cast iron skillet.
  • 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.). For instance a cast iron braiser will cook the rice faster than a glass or ceramic baking dish.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Pan of the best charleston red rice recipe surrounded by fresh parsley

More Rice Recipes to Try

Square overhead shot of the best red rice recipe on a table

Charleston Red Rice

4.72 from 7 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Total: 1 hour
Servings 6 people
Calories 261 kcal
This classic red rice recipe is a Lowcountry side dish of long grain white rice that's baked with bacon, onion, garlic, and tomato!

Ingredients
  

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • In a large skillet, cook bacon in a large cast iron skillet (or other oven-proof skillet) 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.
    Frying bacon in a skillet
  • 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.
    Stirring tomato paste into a pan
  • 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 7-9 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet as you stir.
    Pouring water into a skillet
  • If you're not using an oven-proof skillet, transfer the mixture to a greased 2-quart baking dish. Cover the skillet (or baking dish) and bake until the rice is tender, about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
    Covering a skillet of red rice with a lid
  • Fluff the rice, garnish with fresh parsley, and serve.
    Overhead image of a white cast iron skillet full of the best red rice recipe with a blue and white check cloth napkin

Video

Notes

  • Use an oven-proof skillet (like this 2.25-quart cast iron braiser), or transfer the rice to a 2-quart baking dish if you don’t have a cast iron skillet.
  • 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.). For instance a cast iron braiser will cook the rice faster than a glass or ceramic baking dish.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, red rice recipe, savannah red rice
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in May, 2021. The photos were updated in March, 2023.

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!

Read More

Square overhead shot of hands serving a chicken pot pie recipe with biscuits
Overhead image of a bowl of chili mac on a dinner table with cornbread
Hands serving a platter of sheet pan sausage and potatoes

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments

  1. Kris says:

    5 stars
    Happy Sunday Blair!
    Thank you for this recipe. While growing up, my Mom would make a dish very similar to this. She called it “Spanish Rice”. I have no idea where she learned to make it or where it came from. She passed away before I learned the recipe. And she never wrote it down. It’s been the only dish she made that I have really missed not knowing how to put together. I did ask my Grandmother at one point if she knew the recipe, hoping it was something she had taught Mom, but she did not.
    Your recipe is so similar. I think the only difference was that she added bits of hamburger in it. Your recipe brought back fond memories. Thank you.

    1. Blair says:

      Oh, that’s amazing, Kris! There’s nothing better than the old recipes that remind us of loved ones. I’m so honored that you’ll make this in memory of your mom!

      1. Lisa Beard says:

        5 stars
        This got rave reviews from my parents, my husband’s parents, my husband, and myself! We made some chicken and shrimp to add on top if you chose. I added some cayenne and used white pepper as opposed to black (I think it makes the taste more uniform) and we added andouille sausage and fresh scallions and parsley at the end. We will absolutely make this again!

        1. Blair Lonergan says:

          Wonderful, Lisa! That sounds like the perfect meal. Thank you for your note!

    2. Theresa slater says:

      when I saw the Charleston cook book I knew I would love your recipes/. I have that book my sister who lives in Murrells Inlet gave it to me many years ago. I would like2 to be on your mailing list.

      1. Blair Lonergan says:

        Thank you, Theresa! I will add you to the list! If you don’t receive the confirmation email today, or if you don’t get the weekly newsletter on Sunday, check your spam filter or “junk” mail. Sometimes they get filtered out. 🙂

  2. John Royall says:

    The old time way to cook Low Country, Charleston Red Rice was using a Charleston Rice Steamer, THe rice is not all gummy and sticky, Perfect rice, nice and ” crawly: as my Daddy used to say, This utencil is out of production now but soon to be back on the market, Similar recipe but steamed not baked. The Cookbook you cited directs cooks to steam this in a Rice Steamer. Good Stuff! Thanks JERoyall

  3. Barbara from South Carolina says:

    5 stars
    I am in love with this recipe! I have made it twice now. The perfect addition was placing it in the oven to finish cooking. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Thanks, Barbara!

  4. Cathleen says:

    Can this recipe be prepared in a rice cooker?

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      That’s a great question, Cathleen! I’m not sure — I’ve never tried it. I bet it would probably work if you sauteed the bacon, onion, etc. in a skillet first, and then transferred everything to a rice cooker to finish the dish. Not making any promises, though! 🙂

  5. M. C. Casterline says:

    5 stars
    Easy to make, it was delicious. I took it to a dinner club event this weekend, several have asked me for the recipe.

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Thank you! We’re so glad it was a hit.

  6. H Stacy says:

    5 stars
    I love red rice…we have the Charleston Receipts book. What page was the recipe on? I could not find it but I could have an early printed version.
    I cooked 1 strip of bacon, 1T of butter, used short grain brown rice(needs 12 more minutes) and since I love onions 1/2 cup more onions. Love ground pepper so I may have wrenched my wrist a bit, and 2 teaspoons of sugar. it was fabulous if I do say so myself.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Hi! I don’t remember which page it’s on in that book. There are two volumes (a first edition and then a “sequel” with more recipes). This recipe was in the first volume.

      So glad that you enjoyed the dish. Your version sounds great!

  7. Bill says:

    3 stars
    Tsk, tsk. Authentic lowcountry read rice has both bacon and smoked sausage. I got my recipe from an old Black woman that had received it from her mother, repeat door generations. She used one lb each of bacon and smoked sausage. But then she was feeding a large family. I use one lb sausage and 1/4 lb bacon. Fry the bacon until crisp and reserve. Brown the sausage coins in the bacon grease and set aside. Pour off the excess fat, but leave enough to sweat the onion and bell pepper. Add the rice and stir it for a few minutes. Then add the stock and tomato sauce or past. Add the sausage back and cook the rice. Crumble the bacon and stir it in just before serving.

  8. Terri says:

    5 stars
    Delicious! First, I pressure cooked 1/2 cup dry red beans. I left out the onion and bacon due to an onion hater in the family and to make the dish meatless. Added 1 teaspoon onion powder when stirring in the salt, sugar and pepper. Added 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke and precooked red beans before simmering mixture on the stove. It has been years since eating red rice and beans while living in the Carolinas, this recipe was exactly what I was looking for.

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      We’re so glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for trying it out, Terri!