Behind the Scenes at the Southern Living Test Kitchen

As a girl, growing up in the south, there was always an issue of Southern Living Magazine on our coffee table. I think I am a lot like my mom, looking through those beautiful pages of gardens, decor and recipes dreaming of having that perfect southern home. Never did I ever think I might get to go inside the magic of one of my favorite magazines. Let’s just say this, to me it was like a kid getting told they are going to Disney Land!

Last month I received an email from Delta Faucets, who sponsored my dream trip, asking if I would like to represent them along with 7 other bloggers and visit Southern Living’s Test Kitchen. Now the first thing that ran through my head was; there is no way this is real, and the other was, ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME! So I’m excited to show you behind the scenes at the Southern Living Test Kitchen.

See a behind the scenes tour of Southern Living Magazine with 8 food bloggers! I was shocked at the kitchen!

We arrived in Birmingham, Alabama on a Monday Afternoon and were whisked away to SAW’s Juke Joint. I have to say my husband makes a mean BBQ, so I was a little skeptical; this girl is picky about her Q! We were greeted with Blackberry Lemonade, which you could pep up with a little vodka, gin or whiskey. We took our drinks to the front porch and  chatted with Robby Melvin, the Test Kitchen Director, about some food blogger curiosities; Where do you find recipe inspiration, where you find fresh ingredients offseason and do you ever repeat a recipe? He was very inspiring and down to earth (I’d expect nothing less from a good southern boy though).

Chatting with the Southern Living Test Kitchen Director abour Recipe Inspiration

I bet your still wondering about Saw’s BBQ aren’t you? Well, it was totally surprising and nowhere near disappointing. In fact, it was nothing short of amazing! It’s traditional hometown Bar-B-Q, but it’s sometimes served with a more modern twist.

Saw's Juke Joint in Birmingham, Alabama served AMAZING BBQ - Cheese grits piled with greens, BBQ, and fried onion rings!!!

We were treated to the best wings I have ever eaten. Smoked overnight with a dry rub and  drizzled with white BBQ sauce. Then there was fried okra, cut long ways, with a tomato aioli. I seriously had to contain myself so they would not think I was a pig. The main course was creamy cheese grits topped with collard greens, moist pulled pork, and thin fried onion rings.  I seriously died and went to heaven. If you are ever in Birmingham, you must give this favorite of Southern Livings a try!

The next morning we met and went to brunch at Another Broken Egg Cafe (yes more food!). It was such a relaxing morning where we all sat and talked about our favorite recipes and the business of blogging while we passed around crispy biscuit beignets, blackberry grits, and, gouda cheese grits topped with bacon!  My new friend Kit and I kept lamenting on the menu, with six different ways to have eggs benedict it’s hard not to. We finally settled on the huevos rancheros. We were not disappointed!

Another Broken Egg Cafe has amazing dishes including these buiscut beingnets, gouda cheese grits and huevos rancheros!

Our next stop was to Dorothy McDaniel’s Flower Market. Glenn, who teaches classes on flower arranging, showed us step by step how to make a mounded flower arrangement. I will share that with you soon! He also gave us some fabulous tips on keeping cut flowers fresh, if you follow me on Instagram you would have seen one!

How to make mounded floral arrangements from Dorothy McDaniel Award winning florist

Many of the ladies braved taking them in their laps on the airplane, the rest of us donated ours to a local battered women’s shelter. 

Now it was the time we had all waited for, visiting the Southern Living Test Kitchen. First let me introduce you to my new friends! 

Blogger tour of the Southern Living Test Kitchen!

From left to right- Britni from Play Party Pin, ME!, Carrie from Frugal Foodie Mama, Kit from The Kittchen, Emily from Jelly Toast, Jessica from Swanky Recipes, Jennifer from Kirbie’s Cravings, and Tiffany from Living Sweet Moments. Be sure to check them out and follow them, they are all great! We drove up a long drive lined with stone walls and trees that I would love to experience in full spring bloom or fall. Here are is the headquarters of Southern Living.
Are they what you expected? I bet you expected something a little more traditional didn’t you? This 28 acre campus is home to many other publications like Cooking Light, Health, Cottage Living, and Sunset Magazines.  It’s surrounded by waterfalls and beautiful gardens. I would have to go eat outside to eat lunch every day if I worked there. The buildings beautiful blend of rock, oil bronzed metal, and custom art pieces are right at home in this southern paradise. We walked down the spiral staircase you see above to see a photo shoot for backyard burgers. It struck me as funny how basic this was and is very similar to what I do at home. I just don’t have that 3rd person, the prop designer.
A photo shoot at Southern LIving Magazine for a future issue
Now it was time to enter the inner sanctum!
Behind the scenes at the Southern Living Test Kitchen
We met up with Robby Melvin again, who was of course wearing a seersucker chefs coat! For those of you that don’t know seersucker is quintessential southern. He had warned us the night before it would not be what we expected. I expected an industrial white and stainless professional kitchen but surprisingly it’s four small home kitchens just like yours and mine.
Robbie Melvin, Director of the Southern Living Test Kitchen
He explained the reason for working in small home kitchens with no frills helps them make it’s made just like you do in your kitchen, no fancy equipment needed. Cooking this way in the test kitchen means you can repeat the recipe and get the same results they do. Now you know why Southern Living Recipes stand the test of time!
Next Pam Lolly shared with us the desserts she was working on for a future fall issue. Pumpkin was the theme for today, and I tasted one of the best bread puddings I have ever put in my mouth!
Pam Lolly from Southern Living test kitchen behind the scenes with fall desserts!
We got to taste test all of those recipes as well as some 20-minute meals they were working on which included chimichangas and mushroom stroganoff.
Pan fried Chimi Chungas and Mushroom Stroganoff 20 minute meals from Southern Living
Once we filled our plates with all this deliciousness, we sat around the famous Southern Living Tasting Table, this is where the staff sits every day to taste and make notes on the recipes they are working on. One of the stories I loved was how important the right ingredients are, and if a recipe calls for a specific brand you should use it. Southern Living makes a famous White Cake  and the secret is in the cake flour, they only use Swans Down. They had someone make this famous cake with another brand, and it would never turn out right, they finally realized the person was using the wrong flour and it made a huge difference. They also noted the only flour to use for biscuits is White Lilly.
After our taste test, we gathered for a picture in the kitchen. Did you know that every Southern Living Kitchen has a Delta Faucet, they are their favorite.
Blogger tour of the Southern Living Test Kitchen!
We then traveled to the Prop room where they pull everything from platters, to napkins to tabletops for every Southern Living video or photo shoot. I can only dream of something like this, but all of us were a little ga-ga.
The prop closet from the Southern Living Test Kitchen, see a behind the scenes tour
The bottom 2 pics above were photo set ups. Believe it or not I do the same thing at home on a smaller scale. White foam boards, black foam boards and tissue paper on the windows to diffuse the light. The picture on the left is a natural light studio which opens up from the inside for daylight shots. Our final stop was at the film studio where they record Southern Living Videos like this one that went viral at Valentines.The video studio at this behind the scenes tour of Southern Living Magazine
I love that he is standing on the kitchen counter to get the shot of her cooking BBQ sauce. We were sad to see our visit over but it was time to come home. I can’t thank Delta Faucets and Southern Living enough for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit behind the scenes of Southern Living. Be on the look out soon I will be having a giveaway for you to win your own Delta Touch2O Faucet just like they use in the Southern Living Test Kitchen!

13 Responses

  1. Oh my goodness- what an amazing experience this must have been! The SL offices are so gorgeous! I would love to work someplace like that! Totally keeping an eye out for that Delta faucet giveaway, too!
  2. That looks like such an amazing trip - the food, the bloggers, that prop room - I'm so jealous of it all! :)Paging through amazing magazines like Southern Living always gives me great inspiration for my own blog. You're a lucky girl, Kelley!
  3. What an interesting insight into the world of SL. I love seeing the behind-the-scenes production of it all. And thanks for the info on the particular flours. (Now I have the perfect excuse to use for my failed baked goods!) Great article.
    1. LOL you are welcome Sarah, believe me I have had more than my share of baking fails!
  4. This was such an amazing experience, Kelley! And I just love your recap of the trip. Every time one of the bloggers who was there with us publishes their post on the trip, I get to relive it all over again. :) And it was fabulous finally meeting you in person!
  5. Oh, Kelley, it looks like you had a fantastic time. I hate to say this...but I'm a tad bit (a lot) jealous! I'm glad you had the experience and I can't wait for the Delta faucet giveaway. I've had my eye on the Touch2O for a while. We had to have some plumbing work done over Christmas and our plumber recommended replacing our faucets with Delta ~ he said they are the best.
    1. Thanks Mary Beth, They do it every year so keep your fingers crossed. Our plumber said the same thing!

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