Cracker Barrel Side Dishes Ranked Worst To Best

Anybody who's spent a decent amount of time on road trips has likely eaten at a Cracker Barrel at some point. The old-timey logo and front porch decked out in retro rocking chairs invite weary highway travelers in for a down-home meal that, at its best, can taste like there is a Southern grandma hiding behind the kitchen doors.

But of course, Cracker Barrel isn't a family kitchen but a large corporate chain restaurant, and not all the food it puts out is going to be just like Mawmaw made it. We decided to taste as many of the restaurant's side dishes as we could to see which ones were soulful country cookin' and which ones were useless hogwash. A surprising number of the sides really did taste like they were made with love, but a few may as well have been school cafeteria food. Here are 21 sides from Cracker Barrel, ranked from "yee-nah" to yeehaw.

21. Carrots

If you grew up hating vegetables, it was probably carrots cooked like this that caused your distaste. First off, the choice of baby carrots was a mistake. They're good served raw as a snack with ranch or hummus, but they quickly turn into mush when cooked too long. And boy howdy, the ones from Cracker Barrel were cooked too long. They had a grainy, soggy texture that was quite unpleasant to choke down.

The seasoning didn't help matters either. The carrots were begging for more salt, but instead, they seemed to be doused in either white sugar or honey — the already-sweet cooked carrots didn't need the extra infusion of sucrose. This side was just a quick trip through the food processor away from being baby food. Babies are the only people we could imagine enjoying this dish since they don't have any teeth and haven't lived long enough to know what good food is yet.

20. Dumplins

We have enjoyed the chicken 'n dumplins (Cracker Barrel has no use for the "g" in dumplings) from this restaurant before, so we expected to like the side order version as well. As a side, the dish comes with no chicken meat — it's just dumplins in sauce. The dumplins themselves were properly made. They tasted well-seasoned with salt and were nice and fluffy, avoiding the leaden density that lesser dumplings sometimes possess. We'd guess they were made with a dough similar (or perhaps identical) to the one the chain uses for biscuits.

Sadly, the sauce ruined the dish for us. It was over-thickened with flour, which made it quite gluey. This counteracted the lightness of the dumplings and made the dish seem heavy and excessively dense. We think the sauce was supposed to be chicken-flavored, but the poultry didn't really come through. Even worse, there was a strange, almost fishy aftertaste that the generous amounts of salt and black pepper couldn't totally mask.

19. Fresh fruit

Cracker Barrel doesn't specify what fruits come in this side; it may vary seasonally. We received it exactly as pictured on the menu: a blend of pineapple chunks, cut-up strawberries, and whole blueberries.

At the time of our visit, strawberries and blueberries were out of season, and it showed. The strawberries, especially, were incredibly tart, with no sweetness to speak of, even though they looked beautiful and red. The blueberries had a little more sugar but still tasted more sour than we would have liked. The pineapple looked pale and unripe and tasted as bland as it appeared.

On the positive side, the pineapple was nice and crunchy, and all the fruit did indeed seem like it had been freshly cut relatively recently — none of the chunks was overly beaten up. If you order this during the summertime when more fruits are in season, you might have a better experience.

18. Corn

It's hard to screw up plain corn, and while Cracker Barrel didn't exactly screw up the side dish, much like with the fruit cup, it was undone by the quality of the ingredients. The main flavor we're looking for from corn is sweetness and this didn't have much of it. To be fair, it wasn't corn season when we tasted the dish — fresh corn at the supermarket tastes pretty bland and starchy in autumn. However, thanks to food preservation technology, it's easy to access sweet corn all year round these days if you just buy frozen corn that was picked at peak season.

We're not sure whether the restaurant used out-of-season fresh corn or if its frozen corn supplier provided an inferior product, but either way, there wasn't much flavor to be found. The restaurant didn't do anything to elevate the corn either; we didn't taste much in the way of seasoning.

17. Broccoli

Do you like plain broccoli? Then you will enjoy this side, because, as far as we can tell, this cooked broccoli was completely unseasoned. While this was a little disappointing (we generally expect restaurants to add some kind of special touch to the food they prepare), the broccoli still won out over a couple of the other vegetables because it was properly cooked.

It appeared to be either blanched or steamed and was bright green, so it had clearly been cooked fresh and hadn't sat in a warmer forever. It had a perfect tender-crisp texture — not crunchy and raw inside, but not too soft either. With no seasonings to cover it up, the earthy, mildly bitter taste of the vegetable shone through. Even in the absence of salt, the broccoli was still more flavorful than the carrots or the corn. Since it was so plain, we ended up only eating a couple of bites and then using the leftovers to make a stir-fry the next day.

16. Loaded baked potato

Baked potatoes are so easy to make at home — just throw potatoes in the oven for around an hour and you're in business. That makes it frustrating when restaurants like Cracker Barrel serve potatoes that are worse than what you could prepare in your own kitchen. The loaded baked potato wasn't bad, exactly. It was a cooked potato topped with butter, sour cream, bacon bits, and cheese, and all of those components worked well together. 

The dish just wasn't executed with finesse. Rather than being fluffy, the potato was firm, suggesting that it might have benefited from a few extra minutes in the oven to soften it a touch more. The bacon bits were made with real chopped-up bacon, but they could have also used more time cooking as they weren't very crispy. The cheddar cheese struck us as being a tad rubbery. On the good side, everything had enough seasoning on it, so we didn't need to add salt to this dish.

15. Turnip greens

Any Southern-style restaurant should have excellent greens, whether they be collard, mustard, or turnip. The turnip greens from Cracker Barrel had some excellent qualities, but they were ultimately underwhelming. The best part was that they were super tender and soaked in the liquid from the bottom of the pot, which any greens aficionado knows is essential. The texture of the dish was perfect.

Flavor-wise, however, these turnip greens needed a little help. Although they were mixed with a generous amount of country ham, the meat didn't impart a ton of flavor to the cooking liquid. We would have guessed it was turkey rather than ham because of the blandness. The greens also needed some salt, and we would have liked to taste a touch of acidity, heat, and sweetness as well. Without these balancing elements, the bitter essence of the turnip greens was more noticeable than it should have been.

14. Hashbrown casserole

The taste of the hashbrown casserole was a slam dunk. The shredded potato made a perfect starchy canvas for mild Colby cheese, a savory seasoning blend, and surprisingly assertive diced onions. The cheese goop the potatoes sat in had a pleasantly creamy mouthfeel with no graininess.

However, we were missing a crunchy element. This is a matter of personal preference, but we prefer hashbrown dishes to be caramelized and crisp. While the top layer of the casserole did pick up some browning in the oven, it wasn't actually crunchy and the dish as a whole was quite soft. In fact, the crunchiest element was the onion, which was still basically raw. If you're a fan of soft casseroles, you may not mind the texture of this dish, but we would have enjoyed it a lot more if Cracker Barrel had thrown it under the broiler to aggressively brown the top and add some crispy bits.

13. Mashed potatoes

Like the baked potato, the mashed potatoes from Cracker Barrel weren't fluffy, but we didn't mind that as much in the context of this dish. Instead of being light and whipped, these potatoes were dense and slightly chunky, and they reminded us of the homemade mash we ate at family dinners growing up. They packed a ton of potato flavor and had enough fat to make them pleasantly rich. Flavor-wise, they reminded us of KFC mashed potatoes – if KFC used real spuds instead of instant mash.

You can order these taters three ways: plain, with brown gravy, or with white sawmill gravy. Plain potatoes are for kids and we prefer white gravy with biscuits, so we chose brown gravy. This tasted less real than the potatoes, as it had a strong beef bouillon and powdered gravy vibe. Nevertheless, it was yummy, with a strong savory character and plenty of salt and black pepper. We'd order this again, but we still liked a couple of the chain's potato dishes more.

12. Coleslaw

The coleslaw served at chain restaurants is often pretty bad. Sometimes the cabbage is wilted and limp, and the dressing is frequently overly sweet. Neither of these problems affected Cracker Barrel's version of the dish. The blend of green and red cabbage was sliced thin, but not so thin that it lost its crispy texture, and the slaw seemed like it had been made fresh, as the vegetables were perky and crunchy. The carrots added a hint of sweetness, and the mildly bitter flavor of the cabbage came through as well.

We could taste the vegetables distinctly because there wasn't an overwhelming amount of dressing. It was nice and creamy, with a hint of sugar and vinegar, and it balanced out the veggies without taking over the dish or turning it into cabbage soup. This would be the perfect side to accompany a plate of fried fish or shrimp.

11. Biscuits

No establishment serving country classics could survive without making decent biscuits, and Cracker Barrel's version was quite tasty. They had a buttery flavor and were very salty, with a hint of baking powder in the aftertaste. They also seemed fresh, which is key for biscuits — this type of bread starts going downhill the second it's removed from the oven. They didn't have any sweetness to them at all, which we enjoyed, but some people might prefer biscuits with a hint of sugar.

Texture-wise, these biscuits were more on the fluffy-bready rather than the flaky-crispy side of the spectrum. They were soft, with just a hint of chew, and were perfect for eating with soup or sopping up the juice from turnip greens. Ultimately, they were a solid blank slate for absorbing other flavors, but they weren't the most spectacular biscuits we've had; we weren't drawn to eating them plain.

10. Fried apples

Fried apples might conjure up images of something breaded and crispy, but that's not what this side dish is at all. In fact, the "fried" description is something of a misnomer, as these apple slices are actually baked. The dish is sort of like a less-sweet apple pie filling; the fruit is cooked with sugar and cinnamon until it's soft and delicious.

While we found eating something so dessert-like a little strange alongside all of the savory foods we sampled, the fried apples were very enjoyable. The cinnamon and sugar mixed with the juice from the cooked apples to make a gooey sauce, but the apples themselves still retained a hint of crispness and bite. There also wasn't too much sugar; the natural acidity of the apples helped balance out all of the sweetness. This was a warming and hearty dish that would be equally enjoyable topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or next to a slice of country ham.

9. Hashbrown casserole tots

Taking Cracker Barrel's hashbrown casserole, cutting it into chunks, breading it, and deep-frying it added all the texture and browning that the regular casserole lacked. The flavor of the tots was basically the same as the original component — that is, delicious. Creamy cheese melded with bites of onion and tender potato really works well together. 

If anything, we'd guess that there might be even more cheese in the tots than in the casserole. They certainly tasted cheesier, but that might be a flavor enhancement from frying and extra seasoning rather than the actual addition of more cheese. Frying also softened up the chunks of onion, which we liked more than the near-raw onions in the casserole.

The exterior of the tots wasn't super-crunchy, but it had a soft crispness and plenty of browned flavor. This side also impressively lacked the amount of grease you would expect from something that spent time in a deep-fryer. It was pure salty, potato-y bliss.

8. Green beans

Some vegetables, like carrots, do not benefit from being overcooked. Others, like green beans, are amazing if allowed to cook slowly until they're almost falling apart. We love a good crispy blanched green bean, but Southern-style smothered green beans are just as delicious. That's how Cracker Barrel prepares its beans. If you prefer your string beans bright green and al dente, this side dish won't be your cup of tea, but we thought it was great.

The long cooking brought out a slight sweetness in the beans that you don't get from a brief dunk in boiling water. While the beans weren't filled with pork chunks like the turnip greens, they actually had a meatier flavor thanks to the pork seasoning. We also thought we could pick up some onion and garlic powder infusing additional savoriness, along with enough black pepper to make the beans a little spicy. These are the sort of beans we crave next to a country-fried steak.

7. Vegetable soup

This dish's humble name belies the complex mix of flavors and textures hidden in the broth. Speaking of the broth, it was rich and deep, with a red color that hinted at the presence of tomato puree. It tasted quite meaty, but we're not sure if any meat was used to make it — if so, there's no mention of it on Cracker Barrel's menu. 

Swimming in the broth were chunks of tomato, peas, multiple types of beans, and corn. The beans really asserted their flavor, adding a comforting starchiness to the mix. The hefty amount of vegetable pieces made the soup feel quite hearty — it wasn't watery at all, and every spoonful had at least a couple of beans in it.

As with most of Cracker Barrel's food, the seasoning of the vegetable soup was simple yet effective. There was enough salt to maximize the flavor of the ingredients, and chunky bits of black pepper added zest to each bite. We'd love to curl up with this soup on a cold winter day.

6. Fried okra

Okra is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it vegetable, but we think Cracker Barrel's fried version could win over even the most okra-skeptical diners. It didn't have any of the mucilaginous slime that turns people off from the vegetable but instead was crisp, fresh, and snappy. Despite being coated in breading and fried, the green, springy flavor of the okra shone through. Sometimes breading has a hard time sticking, but the coating used by Cracker Barrel had no problem staying adhered.

The breading tasted like it had some cornmeal in it, and its flavor complemented the okra wonderfully. It had a light crispiness — we wouldn't describe it as crunchy, but it wasn't soggy either. The breading didn't soak up much oil from the fryer either, so it almost allowed us to pretend we were eating a healthy vegetable. The one mark against this side was that some of the okra pieces were a little tough, but the flavor was so good that we didn't mind.

5. Cornbread muffins

If you have an older relative from the South, you've probably heard them grumble that all the cornbread people make these days is far too sweet. Cracker Barrel's cornbread muffins seem like they were made to please people like this. They tasted like they contained the barest hint of sugar, but they mostly leaned into a savory cornbread flavor profile, and they were better for it. The corn taste really came through in a powerful way — these tasted more like corn than the fresh corn side dish did.

The cornmeal imparted a slightly gritty texture to the muffins, which was a good thing in this context; we like a bit of grit in our cornbread. Although the muffins were hearty, they weren't heavy. We were impressed by their fluffy texture and soft crumb. They left just the barest hint of oil on our fingers after we ate them, indicating they were made with the appropriate amount of fat. We'd pick these muffins over the biscuits to go with most entrees at Cracker Barrel because it's hard to find cornbread this good elsewhere.

4. Loaded sweet potato

As we write this, the loaded sweet potato has been mysteriously removed from the Cracker Barrel menu in our area, just days after we sampled it. We hope it comes back because it beat the pants off of the regular loaded baked potato. While the loaded white potato was a little firm for our taste, the sweet potato was cooked until its insides were soft and almost creamy. Even more impressive, the skin was tender and tasty, unlike many baked sweet potatoes with skin that is often too tough and leathery to eat. 

The long cooking time made the flesh of the potato almost candy-sweet, and that was before the sugary toppings were added. The sweet potato was slathered in sweetened butter and crowned with a toasted marshmallow that added a delicious s'mores vibe. The whole package tasted like the best Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole you can imagine. We saved it for last and ate it as our dessert.

3. Macaroni n' cheese

Cracker Barrel's mac and cheese reminded us of Stouffer's frozen mac in the best way. It was made with large, plump elbow macaroni cooked past al dente (but not mushy). The pasta was coated in a ton of incredibly creamy cheddar cheese sauce. This was not an old-school baked macaroni casserole where the cheese and macaroni fuse together into a homogenous whole. This dish is for people who like their macaroni to stay creamy and loose no matter how long it sits out. It did have a little browning on top that suggested it had been baked, but it didn't stay in the oven long enough to dry out.

The sauce itself was luxuriously rich and had a pleasant American and cheddar cheese taste. The flavor was super cheesy, but it had clearly been made with mild cheeses, so it wasn't overwhelmingly sharp or tangy. The texture was perfectly smooth, with no graininess whatsoever. Other chain restaurants need to step up their offerings because Cracker Barrel is winning the mac and cheese game.

2. Steak fries

Steak fries aren't typically our favorite french fry cut because there's a lower ratio of crispy surface area to soft interior. Cracker Barrel solved this problem by coating its steak fries in a thick layer of batter. The craggy nature of the batter increased the amount of crisp on the outside of these fries considerably. They were still crunchy and delicious even half an hour after we received them. Even better, they were generously seasoned with savory garlic salt — the oil on the surface of the fries activated the garlic powder in the seasoning, lending the fries an almost roasted garlic aroma.

The insides were just as delicious. The thick-cut potatoes tasted a lot more, well, potato-y than a typical shoestring fast-food fry. The fry interiors were also super fluffy and soft; it was the texture and flavor we wanted (but didn't get) from the baked potato. These are in the running for the best fries we've ever had from a chain restaurant.

1. Pinto beans

Sometimes the simple things in life are the best, and that's the case with Cracker Barrel's pinto beans. They're a masterclass in how a basic ingredient, when treated with the proper respect, can be much tastier than a complicated recipe.

These pinto beans had the firm texture and robust flavor we associate with beans cooked from dry. While canned beans are convenient, they're bland and mushy compared with dry beans that have been rehydrated and cooked for hours on the stove. The serving we got was chock-full of tender chunks of pork as well, and the meatiness worked in perfect harmony with the rustic flavor of the beans. Though these beans weren't as soft as canned ones, the insides were still creamy and smooth. Give us these pinto beans as a main course with some cornbread muffins, and we wouldn't need anything else for dinner — they were that good.