Classic Southern Sweet Tea Recipe

Classic Southern Sweet Tea Recipe

By:

Meathead

Pitcher and glass of sweet tea

No meal in the South would be complete without sweet tea and here’s how to make it correctly.

In the Southeast, when you ask for tea, people assume you mean iced and sweet, and that’s the way they serve it. The sweetener is always refined white sugar. Not honey. Not artificial. Sweet tea in Georgia seems to be sweeter than most other places. Georgians are so serious about their sweet tea that on April Fools’ Day 2003 several Georgia state legislators introduced a bill that said (a) As used in this Code section, the term ‘sweet tea’ means iced tea which is sweetened with sugar at the time that it is brewed. “Any food service establishment which serves iced tea must serve sweet tea. Such an establishment may serve unsweetened tea but in such case must also serve sweet tea. Any person who violates this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.”

The amount of sugar is personal, and Southern restaurants make sure the the sugar dispenser is full. Trey Murrell, Rogersville, TN, wrote to tell me “Most folks in the deep South like more than 1 cup of sugar. I put 2 cups myself. My grandmother, who grew up in South Carolina, puts 2 cups in hers. I heard one older man say that he likes his tea so sweet, if he runs out of pancake syrup, he’ll use his tea.”

Beware of sun tea

Sun tea is a method of making tea by pouring tea leaves into water in a clear class jar and sitting it in the sun to steep. People like it because the results are less tannic and bitter than boiled tea. It is also a lovely way to grow pathogens.

Tea leaves are grown in fields where birds and other animals can easily contaminate them with droppings. They are harvested by dirty hands. Many tea leaves are also dried in the open. They are not washed or pasteurized.

Steeping the leaves warm and wet in ambient air temp is a pathogen incubator. UV from the sun and tannin from the leaves may inhibit growth a bit, like a speed bump, but they cannot stop it. Boiling tea leaves kills all microbes. Boil your tea, please.

If you want to brew tea without boiling water, mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of tea leaves in 1/2 gallon of water and leave it in the fridge over night. Strain and serve.

Southern Sweet Tea Recipe


Pitcher and glass of sweet tea
Tried this recipe?Tell others what you thought of it and give it a star rating below.
2.55 from 20 votes
The key here is sweet. As it should be.

Serve with: BBQ or your favorite Southern dishes.


Course: Beverage
Cuisine: American, Southern
Difficulty: Easy

Makes:

Servings: 2 gallon

Takes:

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Chill: 12 hours

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 4 family size tea bags or 8 regular tea bags
  • 1 cup granulated sugar

Method

  • Heat. Pour the water in a 3 quart or larger pot and boil.
  • Steep. Turn the heat off and add the teabags. Cover to steep the tea for 5-7 minutes. Steep it longer to make it stronger and more bitter. Squeezing the teabags makes it stronger and more bitter. Most folks will like it better if you don't steep it longer than 7 minutes and if you don't squeeze the tea bags.
  • Sweet. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
  • Chill. Refrigerate the tea. Some folks like to age it 12 hours or so, others like to serve it warm over ice. It can get skunky if you keep it more than a few days.
  • Serve. Serve over ice cubes with lemon wedges and/or mint leaves as garnish.

Related articles

Published On: 8/6/2012 Last Modified: 4/16/2021

  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.


If you help us, we’ll pay you back bigtime with an ad-free experience and much more!

Millions come to AmazingRibs.com every month for quality tested recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, product reviews, and inspiration. But it is expensive to run a website with more than 4,000 pages and we don’t have a big corporate partner like TV network or a magazine publisher to subsidize us.

Our most important source of sustenance is people who join our Pitmaster Club, but please don’t think of it as a donation. Members get 21 great benefits. We block all third-party ads, we give members free ebooks, magazines, interviews, webinars, more recipes, a monthly sweepstakes with prizes worth up to $2,000, discounts on products, and best of all a community of like-minded cooks free of flame wars. Click below to see all the benefits, take a free 30 day trial membership, and help keep this site alive.


Post comments and questions below

grouchy?

1) Please try the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help.

2) Try to post your question to the appropriate page.

3) Tell us everything we need to know to help such as the type of cooker and thermometer. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can’t help you with time and temp questions. Please read this article about thermometers.

4) If you are a member of the Pitmaster Club, your comments login is probably different.

5) Posts with links in them may not appear immediately.

Moderators

  Max

Spotlight

These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

These are products we have tested, won our top awards, and are highly recommend. Click here to read how we test, about our medals, and what they mean.

Use Our Links To Help Keep Us Alive

A big part of this site is our unbiased equipment and product reviews. We love playing with toys and we have no problem calling them the way we see them. Some companies pay a finder’s fee if a reader clicks a link on AmazingRibs.com and buys a product. It has zero impact on our reviews, zero impact on the price you pay, and the sites never tell us what you bought, but it has a major impact on our ability to keep this site alive! So before you buy, please click our links. Here’s a link that takes you to a page on Amazon that has some of our favorite tools and toys: https://tinyurl.com/amazingribs


Griddle And Deep Fryer In One


The flat top does the burgers and the fryer does the fries. Use the griddle for bacon, eggs, and home fries. Or pancakes, fajitas, grilled cheese, you name it. Why stink up the house deep frying and spatter all over? Do your fried chicken and calamari outside. Blackstone’s Rangetop Combo With Deep Fryer does it all!

Click here to read our detailed review and to order


Surely you know somebody who loves outdoor cooking who deserves a gift for the holidays, birthday, anniversary, or just for being wonderful. There he is, right in the mirror! Here are our selections of best ideas, all Platinum or Gold Medalists, listed by price.

Click here to see our list of Gold Medal Gifts

Our Favorite Backyard Smoker

The amazing Karubecue is the most innovative smoker in the world. The quality of meat from this machine is astonishing. At its crux is a patented firebox that burns logs above the cooking chamber and sucks heat and extremely clean blue smoke into the thermostat controlled oven. It is our favorite smoker, period.
Click here for our review of this superb smoker

Bring The Heat With Broil King Signet’s Dual Tube Burners


The Broil King Signet 320 is a modestly priced, 3-burner gas grill that packs a lot of value and power under the hood. Broil King’s proprietary, dual-tube burners get hot fast and are able to achieve high, searing temps that rival most comparatively priced gas grills. The quality cast aluminum housing carries a Limited Lifetime Warranty.

Click here to read our complete review

GrillGrates Take Gas Grills To The Infrared Zone


GrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, kill hotspots, flip over to make a fine griddle, and can be easily moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips, pellets, or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke.

Click here for more about what makes these grates so special

Compact Powerful Sear Machine For Your Next Tailgater


Char-Broil’s Grill2Go x200 is a super-portable, fun little sizzler made of heavy, rust-proof cast aluminum. The lid snaps shut. Grab the handle and you’re off to the party! Char-Broil’s TRU-Infrared design produces searing heat while reducing fuel consumption. A 16 ounce LP gas canister is enough to keep you flipping burgers for hours.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order

The Pit Barrel Cooker May Be Too Easy


The PBC has a rabid cult following for good reason. It is absolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world. Period. This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers because temperature control is so much easier.

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them