Cracker Barrel – Is there a restaurant more synonymous with comfort food? Their menu is just full of classic, wholesome, home-style dishes. There’s nothing fussy, there’s nothing unexpected. Just like when you order the Cracker Barrel chicken tenders from their menu!
The chain is old-fashioned without being boring—it’s actually one of the most entertaining restaurants you can take a family to. There’s a little peg game on every table, and there has been since the very first Cracker Barrel opened; it is physically impossible to sit at one of their tables without playing it at least once. There’s also the “Olde Country Store” attached to every restaurant; they aren’t usually very big, but they are absolutely packed with delightful kitsch: games, country music CDs, old-fashioned candy, seasonal decorations. It’s the one restaurant where waiting for a table doesn’t feel like waiting at all.
Cracker Barrel is something of a special-occasion restaurant for most families. Often, it’s only visited during road trips, where the possibility of a cozy sit-down meal is a welcome sight in a sea of greasy fast food.
Their chicken tenders are one of the most popular items on the menu and for good reason. Simple, tasty, moist and kid-friendly—how could they not be a favorite? They’re offered as an entrée, over a salad, and as a kid’s meal.
Everything in this 4-ingredient recipe is inexpensive and easy to find. Groceries often offer great deals on chicken tenderloin, and at stores like Sam’s Club and Costco you can usually buy in bulk.
How to Make Cracker Barrel Chicken Tenders
The nicest thing about chicken tenders’ quick cooking time is, well, the quick cooking time! This copycat recipe for Cracker Barrel’s delicious dish is super-fast, perfect for a weeknight dinner. The marinade comes together quickly, the tenders don’t need to marinade for all that long, and they’re on and off the grill in just a few minutes.
This is a simple and crowd-pleasing recipe for chicken tenders and a citrusy marinade. They’re an easier, healthier alternative to fried chicken strips. They’re great on their own, but also fantastic on salads or in wraps and sandwiches.
Tips For How To Cook Chicken Tenderloins
Admission: I was an adult when I realized something: “chicken tenders” aren’t called that just because they’re soft and tender. It’s because they’re literally the cuts of meat that come from the chicken’s tenderloin.
(I also thought for some reason that something was a “finger food” if it was around the same size as your finger, not because you ate it with your fingers…)
Cooking with chicken tenders is a little different from cooking the whole breast.
The tenderloin is part of the breast: the section of muscle that sits along the inside of the breast, closest to the bone. Because it is not as involved in carrying the bird’s movement and weight, and sits closer to the ribs, it is the softest part of the breast meat and should be treated a little more gently than the breast.
First off: tenders should spend less time marinating. They’re more absorbent than breast meat, so they’re at higher risk for absorbing too much liquid. And if the marinade is on the saltier side, the salt can actually dry out the meat if the chicken tender is left marinating for more than around 10-15 minutes.
Because they’re softer, a whole tender should also be cooked for about half as much time as the same weight in breast meat. Swapping one for another, you will want to make some adjustments in the size of the pieces you’re using, as well as the cooking time or heat.
For a recipe that involves cooking the chicken in pieces, like a stir-fry, breast should usually be in slices. Tenders should stay in larger, bite-sized pieces (around an inch) to make sure that the meat doesn’t dry out.
For chicken soup, the tender should remain in larger pieces as well, and should also be added later in the cooking process. Towards the end of cooking time, bring the soup down to a simmer before adding the tenders. Monitor them closely—they will probably only need 2-3 minutes, or they will be at risk of drying and getting tough.
Useful tip: in any recipe, if the chicken breast strips OR chicken tender pieces you’re using vary in size, arrange your baking tray so that the larger pieces are situated in the hottest part of your oven. This usually means keeping the smaller pieces closest to the oven door. If you’re using a pan, keep the larger pieces towards the center, where they’re most directly over the heat.
How easy is that?
If you don’t have a grill pan, a griddle or nonstick skillet will work; you just won’t get the grill marks.
Be patient, and try to only flip each tender once.
You don’t want to reuse excess marinade after it’s been in contact with raw chicken. If you would like to use a little bit as a dip, reserve a few tablespoons in a separate bowl before adding the chicken.
These Cracker Barrel chicken tenders are definitely a crowd-pleaser. The marinade can stand on its own but isn’t so overpowering that you can’t dip the tenders in your favorite sauces. Cracker Barrel serves theirs with a choice of honey mustard or barbecue sauce.