Cat Head Biscuits

Cat Head Biscuits are not only fluffy biscuits the size of a cat’s head, but they’re filled with a pocket of melted cheese.

a hand lifting out a cathead biscuit from a cast iron skillet

Last summer, I was invited to an epic picnic in Raleigh.

This wasn’t your usual PB&J and watermelon kind of picnic. It was a giant potluck in someone’s backyard.

Someone cooked a pig and someone else served home-brewed beer. Popular local chefs brought their favorite dishes. People hauled in huge, hot platters of fried chicken, mac-and-cheese and fresh-baked cookies.

The food multiplied like magic. The picnic was held to raise money for a local charity, but it was worth every penny.

At one point, people started whispering to each other, “The cathead biscuits are here!”

I wasn’t sure if I’d heard right. Cats? Biscuits? In the same sentence? My friend noticed my confused look.

“You’ve never had a cat head biscuit?” I shook my head. Shocked, my friend grabbed my hand and we went in search of them (despite our full bellies) before they all disappeared.

a single cat head biscuit on a plate

Cat head biscuits, I learned, are godly little things. They are unlike my go-to beer biscuits and are closer to a classic biscuit.

What are cat head biscuits?

In fact, they are fluffy, buttermilk biscuits brushed with melted butter. Inside, there’s a pocket of gooey, melted cheese.

I did some research on the recipe, which apparently hails from a small section of Eastern North Carolina, toward Rocky Mount and Tarboro.

Many restaurants in that region serve these cheesy biscuits, according to this article from the Raleigh News & Observer.

Like Southern cheese straws or Cheerwine cocktails, cat head biscuits are a perfectly North Carolina recipe that is worth cherishing.

a close up of Cathead Biscuits baked in a skillet

Cat head biscuit recipe

I asked the picnic host who made the cat head biscuits, and she put me in touch with her friend who brought several skillets’ worth to the party.

She gave me a great base for the recipe, which I have adapted each time I’ve made them. They just go so perfectly with bacon and eggs for breakfast, or as a side with black bean soup or apple cider pulled pork.

The baker also imparted these pieces of cathead biscuit wisdom + knowledge:

  • Keep a cold kitchen. You suffer for a good biscuit.
  • Use ‘hoop cheese’ — it’s the only way. (Use a mild cheddar if you can’t find it.)
  • They’re called Cathead Biscuits because, when they rise, they’re the size of a cat’s head. (“You know country people just make up s***,” she added.)

Also, I’m still not sure if they’re cathead biscuits or cat head biscuits or cat’s head biscuits, but you know, that is the kind of thing that doesn’t really matter and also is better debated around a hot skillet of biscuits.

How to make cat head biscuits

Speaking of skillets, you will need one. You can bake these in a baking dish or on a baking sheet, but I don’t recommend it.

If you have a cast-iron skillet, use it. Butter it and arrange each biscuit inside. These biscuits perform best if you can smush them together to trap the heat, which will make them softer and your cheese meltier.

You’ll want to brush your homemade cat head biscuits with melted butter during the baking process so they get golden brown.

Also, make sure you buy real buttermilk for your biscuits. You can make cat head biscuits without buttermilk, but you’ll want to make a buttermilk substitute.

a table outside on a lawn with cat head biscuits and other summer potluck dishes

This is the kind of recipe that inspired this blog. Dishes you stumble across while on a road trip. Family recipes with backstories. Foods you can’t get anywhere else.

OK, well maybe not every recipe I post is like that, but that’s the idea at the heart of this blog. So I thought it was finally time to share my version of Cat Head Biscuits.

I made them for a summer potluck with my friends, where I also served an incredible Citrus Watermelon Sangria (if I do say so myself). 

I finally feel like I’ve perfected it. What’s your favorite piece of North Carolina cuisine? Let me know in the comments! // susannah

a skillet of Cathead Biscuits on a white background with a red and white striped kitchen towel
Cathead Biscuits // Feast + West

Cathead Biscuits

Yield: 12
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Make this classic cheese biscuit recipe from Eastern North Carolina for everything from summer barbecues to the Thanksgiving table.

Ingredients

  • 4½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cubed (see note)
  • 1½ cup to 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • 8 ounces hoop cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Grease a cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet.
  2. Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut butter into flour mixture. It should resemble coarse crumbs, with no large chunks of butter remaining. (If butter gets too soft, refrigerate mixture for 20 minutes.)
  3. Make a well (or hole) in the mixture by pushing it up around the side of the bowl. Add the buttermilk ½ cup at a time, stirring just to moisten all ingredients. Dough should be soft and moist — don't over mix. Add remaining ¼ cup of buttermilk as needed, or discard.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead gently until dough just holds together, about 10 times. Add more flour to sticky dough as needed.
  5. Roll or pat dough into a square. Fold in half and pat flat again. Repeat 2 or 3 times to create flakes.
  6. Cut biscuits with a 3-inch biscuit cutter a round glass or a knife. Place a cube of hoop cheese into the center and form into a ball quickly. Make sure cheese is entirely covered with dough.
  7. Place biscuits into cast-iron skillet, touching. Lightly brush the tops with melted butter. Bake in center of the hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and brush with more melted butter. Bake for another 10 minutes, until golden brown and firm. Brush with more melted butter. Serve warm.

Notes

Working quickly so the butter stays cold, cut half the butter into cubes and the other half into slices.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 biscuit
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 422Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 68mgSodium: 682mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 10g

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Comments

  1. McCrimmon says

    They are delish and the recipe is perfect! They taste just like Abram’s, which is a returaunt that makes these biscuits from scratch in Tarboro, NC. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Sherry Abrams says

    I’m from Pinetops where the original Abram’s Restaurant who started these biscuits is located. My mom, who grew up here, actually made them when I was a kid even before they had them at the restaurant. They are soooo good. The struggle to not eat one everyday is real! At the restaurant you can order a plain cheese biscuit or add a variety of breakfast meats (country ham, smoked or patty sausage, fried pork tenderloin, fried egg, or fried chicken breast) I also love collard sandwiches from Robeson County, area of southeastern NC that is home to the Lumbee tribe. A collard sandwich consists of thinly fried cornbread critters piled with collards, a slice or two of fried fat back, and chow chow (a pickled veggie blend of finely chopped cabbage, carrots, and onion). My other regional fave from eastern NC is “red” potatoes. Often served with BBQ or at cookouts, these are peeled red or white potatoes boiled in a sauce of water, paprika, ketchup, butter, salt and pepper. They are easy and delicious!

  3. Karen Eriksen says

    We love these biscuits and have made them several times. It’s a great way to have a little bit of eastern Carolina wherever you are.

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