For family-friendly, classic comfort food, Cracker Barrel is one of the most popular restaurants in the country, and for good reason – their cracker barrel chicken and dumplings are something special.
Cracker Barrel is old-fashioned, but definitely never dull. Between the “Olde Country Store,” filled with all kinds of knickknacks, snacks, souvenirs, and decor, to the maddening little peg game on every table (official name: “Peg Game”), to the rocking chairs out front, to an entertaining treasure hunt through the restaurant’s eccentric décor…the place is seriously entertaining.
Fun fact: if kids need a distraction while waiting for their meal, every single restaurant has the following five items hidden somewhere among the rest of the walls full of kitsch: a deer head over a fireplace, a mounted shotgun, an old-fashioned telephone, an antique traffic light, and cast-iron cookstove. Try hunting them down!
One of their most popular entrees is their Chicken and Dumplings—homemade dumplings simmered in chicken stock, with delicate pieces of chicken throughout. It’s like chicken soup, but so much more filling and nourishing. Very simple, but absolutely perfect.
It’s easy to recreate, too, with this Copycat Cracker Barrel Chicken and Dumplings recipe.
Chicken and dumplings is a popular dish, especially in the American Midwest and South. Nobody really knows where it first came from; origin claims have come from Virginia, the Carolinas, and even Quebec. We do know that its popularity peaked during the Great Depression when filling meals that made a lot out of a little were in high demand. Chicken and dumplings became known as a great way to make a satisfying family meal without a lot of expensive meat.
Recipes vary depending on region, and even family. There are three common kinds of dumplings used in chicken and dumplings or other soups.
As expected, these are made with biscuit dough (usually with the canned kind). They’ll make a soft, puffy dumpling. This kind of dumpling is easy, but canned biscuits tend to run overly soft and salty for this kind of recipe.
These are homemade dumplings, made with a softer dough, dropped by spoonfuls into the broth. They tend to be lighter, more unevenly shaped, and puffy.
Cracker Barrel’s Chicken and Dumplings is made with rolled dumplings. They’re smaller, thinner and denser than biscuit or drop dumplings. It’s much easier to make them uniform in size, so they aren’t at risk of cooking unevenly. And while they seem complicated, they’ll come together in just a few minutes.
How to Make Copycat Cracker Barrel Chicken and Dumplings
This is one of those “I can’t believe you made this from scratch!” recipes.
It’s also an “I can’t believe I’ve never made this from scratch before now because it was so much easier than I expected” recipe, but nobody else really needs to know that.
This is a great recipe to try out with kids who are curious about learning to cook.
This is so simple! Feel free to use already-cooked chicken and pre-made broth or bouillon. It’s a great way to use leftover chicken. There are also a few tips and suggestions after the instructions.
A few tips:
If you’re beginning with uncooked chicken, cook it by boiling—you’ll end up with both tender cooked chicken AND broth, and you can use both in this recipe.
If you’re not quite ready to serve the chicken and dumplings as you’ve finished cooking, keep it warm on the lowest simmer possible to avoid overcooking the chicken.
If you don’t have a pastry cutter, you can cut the butter in with two forks using a crisscross motion—or even gently mix with your hands.
Unlike most pastry, you don’t really need to worry about using too much flour when you’re rolling out the dough; a little extra on the dumplings will just thicken the broth, and that’s not a bad thing!
If you don’t have a rolling pin handy, a great hack: try rolling out the dough with a clean, dry wine bottle!
No buttermilk? It’s not hard to make your own. Pour out a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Add enough milk that the milk and lemon/vinegar combined equal a cup of liquid. Mix it up thoroughly, and let it sit for just a few minutes—and you’ve got your buttermilk. Whole milk is best, but 2% will also work.
A few variations:
You can get a brighter flavor from the dumplings by adding fresh herbs right in the dough: parsley, thyme or chives are great.
Adding extra flour or cornstarch to the broth will give it a thicker, creamier consistency.
The dish is traditionally kept quite simple, but people sometimes add finely chopped veggies, like carrots and celery, to give a little more texture, color, and nutrition.
To recreate the full Cracker Barrel experience, serve these chicken and dumplings with a buttermilk biscuit and a couple of classic sides, like green beans, mashed potatoes or Cracker Barrel Hashbrown Casserole.