Cracker Barrel: the savior of tired, road-tripping families throughout the South and Midwest. A sight for sore eyes on long highway journeys. A comforting, delicious meal, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A leisurely sit-down meal (rare, for a highway stop), and a quirky, slightly eccentric shopping trip. All of which make the cracker barrel hashbrown casserole that bit better.
Many states in the US are practically empty of Cracker Barrels. This is sad. And if you have moved from an area that has the chain to one that doesn’t, you know how homesick you can get for the uniquely homey restaurant.
Cracker Barrel Brief History
There’s something soothing about stepping into a Cracker Barrel. Everything—the food, the friendly servers, the little retro shop, the wooden game that sits on every table—is exactly what you expect it to be. It doesn’t feel like it has ever changed, or will ever change.
Cracker Barrel adjusts its retail side and restaurant décor to its location a bit, but some things are ever consistent. Every restaurant has a front porch lined with rocking chairs. Every table has that game with the wooden triangle and the little pegs that look like golf tees. (According to Cracker Barrel, it is officially called…”Peg Game.” It’s been in the restaurants from the very beginning).
And every restaurant has the following five items displayed somewhere—hunting for them is a great distraction for the kiddos:
- An antique traffic light
- A cast-iron cookstove
- An old-fashioned telephone
- A mounted shotgun
- A deer head over the fireplace
And the food. Travel from coast to coast and every Cracker Barrel is going to have the same classic comfort foods. At any meal—breakfast, lunch or dinner—you’re going to find the creamy, cheesy hashbrown casserole.
Hashbrowns, Just Wow
All of their sides are amazing, actually. There’s a reason that they offer an “entrée” that is nothing but your choice of sides. But the hashbrowns are really something special.
You can buy that peg game in the “Old Country Store” that sits beside every Cracker Barrel restaurant. You can buy a wide variety of scented candles, or a country music CD, or a rocking chair. Or penny candy, or (depending on the time of year) Halloween costumes, Easter baskets, Christmas everything.
Do I need a Cracker Barrel rocking chair, or a scented candle, or a Garth Brooks CD?
No, probably not.
Do I need their hashbrown casserole?
And I need that hashbrown casserole way more often than I ever lay my eyes on an actual Cracker Barrel, so it was very important to me to find a good copycat. I’ve experimented with many tweaks, and this Cracker Barrel hashbrown casserole copycat recipe is the closest I’ve managed to find.
This is a classic breakfast food, alongside eggs and bacon or sausage. In my opinion, better by far than traditional diner hashbrowns, most of which are just oil with a side of potatoes. It’s equally delightful as a lunch or dinner side, accompanying the main dish and a salad. I have brought it to at least half a dozen potlucks, and sometimes serve it at Thanksgiving (where mashed potatoes are a classic, but there’s no such thing as too many potatoes at Thanksgiving). Bake it in individual ramekins and call it “potato casserole” and suddenly it’s fancy.
How To Make Cracker Barrel Hashbrown Casserole
There is really no better way to cook with frozen shredded potatoes. And by the way: don’t bother grating your own potatoes. Use frozen. Seriously: grating your potatoes and soaking and squeezing out the moisture will not ever be worth it. Actual chefs will tell you that they use frozen hashbrowns for all kinds of fancy dishes.
Frozen potatoes are in every grocery store in the United States, they’re usually less than 3 dollars, and—honestly—they’re just going to be tastier and way more convenient.
There are a ton of variations you can make on this recipe.
-Add just about any meat or vegetables you want. Mushrooms and bell peppers are wonderful. Crushed or minced garlic will be delicious.
-This recipe calls for mild cheddar, but sharp cheddar, Colby, or Colby-jack will all be great.
-You can replace the shredded potatoes with frozen cubed potatoes; the recipe won’t be as similar to Cracker Barrel’s, but it will still be a hit.
-To make the casserole vegetarian, replace the cream of chicken soup with cream of cheddar or cream of mushroom.
-For a spicy version, replace the cheddar in the recipe with pepper jack and throw in some red pepper flakes or jalapenos.
-For some crunch, sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs, fried onions or crushed cornflakes mixed with a little butter, and bake. You can also use a larger baking dish and a slightly shorter cooking time, for more surface area to get golden and crispy.
-For a lighter version, use a low-sodium soup, replace the sour cream with Greek yogurt, and swap half the butter for a light, neutral-tasting oil, like vegetable or canola.
-To bulk this recipe into a full breakfast meal, add veggies and protein: cubed or diced ham, crumbled bacon or shredded chicken. You can assemble the ingredients the night before, pop it in the fridge. and bake first thing in the morning.
This recipe is flexible, forgiving, and super easy. It will stay good for several days in the fridge. It’s easy to freeze and can keep in an airtight container in the freezer for several months.
You’ll need one bowl, one casserole dish and a few minutes. Give it a try!