This Is Why Cracker Barrel's Chicken N' Dumplins Are So Delicious

Cracker Barrel may have started out as an old country store in Tennessee, but over the last 50 years it has made its way into millions of people's hearts and stomachs. Today there are hundreds of Cracker Barrel locations spanning the country in 45 states. Sometimes you just need a dose of the simple things in life, and that's exactly what Cracker Barrel has to offer with its laid back, old-fashioned vibe and unpretentious, classic comfort food favorites. Guests come for a chance to lounge in the rocking chairs that adorn Cracker Barrel's iconic front porches before getting seated in the cozy dining rooms filled with local antiques and friendly staff. Hot and fresh rolls and cornbread are the first thing to hit the table, followed by breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings that will leave you feeling satisfied and reminiscing about the good old days. 

Perhaps nothing embodies this Cracker Barrel spirit more than their famous chicken n' dumplins, which have been on the menu since the restaurant first opened its doors. There's no "g" on the end, and there's nothing fussy about this dish. And that's apparently how folks like it. Cracker Barrel says that it sells more than 13 million orders of their chicken n' dumplins every year. So what makes this simple dish such a crowd-pleaser? Mashed did some digging to find out why Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins are so delicious.

Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins are the ultimate nostalgic comfort food

There's a good chance that part of the appeal of Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins has nothing to do with Cracker Barrel itself at all. Chicken and dumplings are about as classic as it gets when it comes to Southern-inspired comfort food, and the dish has been around a whole lot longer than Cracker Barrel has even been in business (via Saveur). Dumplings themselves are hundreds of years old (via Serious Eats). And Southerners have been putting their own spin on them, and adding them to hearty meat stews since the 1800s (via the Baltimore Sun).

Put simply, chicken and dumplings evoke a feeling of nostalgia whether you get them in a restaurant or straight from your grandmother's kitchen. They symbolize frugality, endurance, simplicity, and comfort — characteristics that Cracker Barrel itself strives to embody. So it should come as no surprise that people love to come to the restaurant and enjoy such a sentimental dish. It just makes sense, and it just feels good.

Cracker Barrel says their chicken n' dumplins are homemade

As a general rule of thumb, anything that's homemade already has a higher chance of being delicious, satisfying, and heart-warming. That's why Cracker Barrel prepares many of its dishes fresh in-house daily — from their hand-rolled biscuits, hand-dipped and breaded chicken, slow-roasted beef, and homemade mashed potatoes and gravy — so that customers taste the freshness and the care that goes into every item on the menu. And it's not just their word you have to take. Even Cracker Barrel employees have confirmed on social media that much of the food is made fresh (via Reddit).

The same is true for the chicken n' dumplins. This is not a frozen, pre-packaged meal that gets reheated and dumped on a plate. Cracker Barrel says their chicken n' dumplins are handmade from scratch in their kitchens every single day. Whether you're dining in with family, picking up dinner on the way home, or getting your dumplins delivered, you're in for a hot, fresh plate of food.

Cracker Barrel starts with quality chickens for its chicken n' dumplins

One of the main ingredients in chicken and dumplings is obviously the chicken, so it better be good. So Cracker Barrel makes a dedicated effort to use only the best quality chicken for all of its chicken dishes, including its much-beloved chicken n' dumplins. Cracker Barrel says it is "dedicated to animal welfare and encourage[s] our suppliers to lead the way in adopting the best animal welfare practices." The company says it has its own internal compliance department to make sure that its chickens and other animals come from vendors that raise and harvest their animals humanely, including restricting the use of routine antibiotics. Cracker Barrel's chickens are domestically sourced, making it easier to verify these practices. The company also says it prefers to work with suppliers that meet the animal welfare standards set by the National Chicken Council.

And it seems like Cracker Barrel's commitment to quality is paying off. A recent Mashed survey asked hundreds of people to vote on which chain restaurant has the best quality chicken, and Cracker Barrel beat out all the other contenders.

Cracker Barrel's dumplins are flat and it makes all the difference

Chicken and dumplings have a long and convoluted history, and as such, there's not just one right way to make them. There are countless chicken and dumplings recipes out there, a range of techniques, and more than one method for creating the perfect dumpling. Some people prefer flat, rolled-out dumplings in their recipe, while others swear by fluffy dumplings that are dropped in the broth by the spoonful.

Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins dish is made with flat dumplings, and many would argue it makes all the difference in this delicious, stick-to-your-belly meal. The cooks roll out the dumpling dough by hand every day and cut out flat dumpling strips that get added to simmering broth. The trick, at least according to the instructions on Cracker Barrel's proprietary dumpling mix, is to let the dumplings boil in the broth, undisturbed, for just a few minutes until they get plump and tender. Food blogger The Country Cook says these flat dumplings are perfect for soaking up all the flavors in the soup. It's also worth noting that flat dumplings have historically been more associated with the Southern preparation of chicken and dumplings (via Serious Eats). So Cracker Barrel's version may also be so beloved simply because it is so reminiscent of Southern-style comfort food.

Cracker Barrel uses simple, indulgent ingredients in its chicken n' dumplins

You don't always need a laundry list of fancy ingredients to make a downright delicious meal. Some of the best, and most comforting dishes are made with simple, indulgent ingredients that when put together, just hit the spot. Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins definitely fall into that category. All you need is one bite, or even just one look, at a bowl of them and it's clear that there's not a whole lot going on there. And that's a good thing.

While there's no official Cracker Barrel recipe for the dish, there are plenty of copycat recipes out there that come extremely close to the real thing. They call for things like flour, milk, butter, baking powder, salt, chicken broth ... and not much else. One secret Cracker Barrel has disclosed is that its dumplings are made with buttermilk, for an extra rich and creamy taste. It's also worth noting that Cracker Barrel does disclose that their chicken n' dumplins contain milk, soy, wheat, and gluten allergens.

Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins won't leave you feeling guilty

Yes, we just described Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplings as indulgent. But that doesn't mean they are necessarily unhealthy. Especially compared to some of Cracker Barrel's other menu items. According to Cracker Barrel's nutrition guide, an order of chicken n' dumplins is just 450 calories and 9 grams of fat. That's a whole lot better for you than, for example, the Southern fried pork chops, which have more than 1,000 calories and 72 grams of fat in each order. Or even worse, the Southern fried chicken, with a whopping 1,640 calories and 100 grams of fat. The chicken n' dumplings are also an excellent source of protein, with 40 grams in each order. One thing to be mindful of, however, is the high sodium content in the dish. At 1,680 milligrams, that's well over half the daily recommended intake, according to the FDA.

Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins are slow-simmered in house

Having a few simple ingredients doesn't mean settling for simple flavors. Look no further than Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplings for proof. The restaurant says they slow-simmer them in-house every day, letting them cook low and slow until they are rich, creamy, and delicious. The simmering process makes for super tender and juicy chicken tenderloins (via Cooking Light), in a thick, well-seasoning gravy with concentrated flavor (via Pampered Chef). It may take a little extra time in the kitchen, but it's part of what keeps customers coming back for more (via Facebook). And it doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to wait too long for them to arrive at your table. In order to make sure hungry diners get their food fast, Cracker Barrel has cooks that come in as early as 5:30 a.m. to start prepping the ingredients and scratch-made dishes (via Reddit).

Cracker Barrel doesn't add veggies to its chicken n' dumplins

There's very few wrong ways to make chicken and dumplings. You can go for old-fashioned rolled dumplings or drop dumplings, cornmeal dumplings, maybe seasoned dumplings. And you can add an array of mixed vegetables — anything from carrots, onions and celery, to peas, parsnips and corn. An array of herbs work too, from parsley, to even basil, oregano, dill, or chives.

You can try any combination of added ingredients. Or you can go the Cracker Barrel way, and leave all that stuff out for a no-frills recipe that fans have come to love and can't stop trying to recreate. There are no veggies in Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins. Instead, all you get is tender chicken and chewy dumplings in a thick and creamy gravy, flecked with black pepper. And if you've ever tried them, you know that's really all you need.

But the chicken n' dumplins pair perfectly with Cracker Barrel's veggie sides

While Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins aren't made with any veggies, that doesn't mean the dish shouldn't be eaten with them. In fact, Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins are served with your choice of one, two, or three sides when you order them for lunch or dinner. There are about two dozen side dish choices to choose from, including a range of vegetables, like green beans, carrots, corn, steamed broccoli, and stewed turnip greens. If you're feeling a little more indulgent, there are options like mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and scratch-made gravy, or Cracker Barrel's famous hash brown casserole, which is said to be one of the most popular items on the menu. Pair any of these sides with a helping of chicken n' dumplings, and you've got a complete meal that hits all the food groups and is sure to hit the spot.

Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins come with a great price deal

Almost anything tastes better when it comes at a great deal. And Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins will fill you up without weighing too much on your wallet. The lunch portion of chicken n' dumplins comes with one side and costs only $5.99. Come dinner time, and a hearty portion of dumplings along with two sides, will cost you just $7.99. And during the Monday night special, you'll save a little and get the meal for $7.49. Add a third side, and your whole meal is still only around 10 bucks. And it's important to note that these prices also include the basket of fresh, complimentary cornbread and biscuits that come with every meal at Cracker Barrel. With that kind of deal, there may even be room for some dessert, that is if you have any room for it.

At the end of the day, Cracker Barrel chicken n' dumplins are a little bit of a mystery

While hand-rolled dumplings, homemade freshness, and quality, simple yet indulgent ingredients all play a role in making Cracker Barrel's chicken n' dumplins such a crowd-pleaser, at the end of the day, there's also just something about them that you can't really put your finger on. 

Perhaps it's the fact that despite how many copycat recipes there are out there for this dish, it can't be fully created the exact way Cracker Barrel does it. That's because the official recipe is a well-kept secret that Cracker Barrel has no plans to divulge. As the restaurant puts it, "Grandma never gave away her prize recipes, and neither do we! But we do appreciate your interest." So if you want those delicious chicken n' dumplings exactly as they should be, you'll have to pay a visit to your local country store.