What You Didn't Know About Cracker Barrel's Chicken N' Dumplings

You can't think of Cracker Barrel without thinking of Southern comfort food. Creamy mashed potatoes smothered in butter, fluffy biscuits drowning in sausage gravy, and finger-licking good fried chicken. There's no shortage of indulgent, calorie-laden dishes on the menu at the popular chain. Some would say the food is just like mama made it. In that same category of stick-to-your-ribs good old-fashioned home cooking, is Cracker Barrel's Chicken n' Dumplins. According to Taste of Home, Cracker Barrel sells over 11 million orders of Chicken n' Dumplins each year.

You can find this traditional dish in cookbooks both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, dating as far back as the 1870s — way before Cracker Barrel became a thing in 1969 (via Serious Eats). This supposedly humble entree staple doesn't have such humble origins after all. Here's what even the biggest Cracker Barrel fans probably didn't know about the dish we all love to dig into.

Chicken and dumplings was once considered a delicacy

These days, Cracker Barrel's Chicken n' Dumplins is affordable and budget-friendly, made with basic ingredients such as chicken, flour, and buttermilk. But Wide Open Eats says that wasn't the case when the dish first became popular. Chicken and dumplings was once thought of as a delicacy in the U.S. because chicken was actually one of the more expensive meats to buy, compared to veal or beef. Serious Eats even calls what some mistakenly consider a Depression-era dish a "luxurious treat."

With the start of industrialized farming, chicken became cheaper, making it popular on tables across the country — including the red-checkered ones at Cracker Barrel. The Chicken n' Dumplins we all know and love are now made with juicy white meat chicken and flat strips of chewy dough, all doused with a hearty helping of the creamiest, richest chicken broth.

It all seems so rich, anyway. A Cracker Barrel Chicken n' Dumplin copycat recipe from Food.com unpacks the mystery of dumplings. They are, essentially, boiled biscuits, flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk, and shortening (either animal fat or vegetable oil that is solid at room temperature). But is Chicken n' Dumplins really one of the more decadent dishes on the Cracker Barrel menu?

Chicken n' Dumplins compares favorably with other Cracker Barrel dishes when it comes to nutrition

Cracker Barrel's Chicken n' Dumplins sounds decadent, considering how much meat, fat, and buttermilk it features. But in terms of calorie count, the dish falls below most other main courses at the chain. Cracker Barrel's online nutrition information shows the Chicken n' Dumplins is 450 calories, not counting side dishes. The roast beef and meatloaf dinners have slightly more calories. The country fried steak with gravy is higher still, at 600 calories. If calories are a concern for you, don't even think about the chicken fried chicken, which delivers 1,140 calories.

If you're just looking at calories, Chicken n' Dumplins is a favorable option. The 40 grams of protein is a plus, too. But check out the sodium content — 1,680 milligrams. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends 2,300 milligrams per day, so the Chicken n' Dumplins gets you about three-fourths of the way to your daily limit — before you even dig into those side dishes. Bottom line: For a Cracker Barrel option, the Chicken n' Dumplins is a relatively health-conscious choice. (Your best bets for low-calorie and low-sodium, by the way, would be the grilled chicken tenders or the spicy grilled catfish).

Cracker Barrel's Chicken n' Dumplins gets mixed reviews

If you've never tried the Chicken n' Dumplins at Cracker Barrel, then you may not know another thing about the dish: Is it any good? Judging from customers at the Middletown, Ohio location who bothered to leave reviews on TripAdvisor, the answer would have to be "yes." Judy T. called the restaurant's chicken and dumplings the best ever, "Made me feel like I was back at home again." Judging from another positive review, people are lining up for a table at the Middletown Cracker Barrel as if it were the latest trending Brooklyn gastropub. "Love the chicken and dumplings here, get them on every visit," the reviewer wrote. "Well worth the waits in line."

Not all reviews were positive, however. The person behind the blog Karyl's Kulinary Krusade said they were "very disappointed" with the Chicken n' Dumplins at the Edmond, Oklahoma Cracker Barrel. Part of the reason was that the blogger didn't do their homework. They expected the dumplings to be puffy and round, not flat and noodly. The rounded, or "dropped" dumplings are more typical of the northern U.S., while rolled, ribbon-like dumplings are common in the South, per Serious Eats. Beyond the dumpling shape, Karyl's Kulinary Krusade didn't like the dish because it was too bland and not hot enough. Karyl only found the Chicken n' Dumplins palatable after adding salt, pepper, and syrup. Next time, Karyl said they'll just get the breakfast.