Cracker Barrel chicken and dumplings have been one of my favourite meals since I could sit at a table and hold a fork. That round, brown plastic tray bouncing through a sea of tables. The the hum of conversation and laughter echoing between the wooden lattice walls, dripping in antiques. Centered on that tray, surrounded by plates of biscuits with jams and jellies, salads, and cinnamon apples sat a single white bowl set atop a matching plate. Those ceramics, so thick and heavy they wouldn’t break even if they tumbled to the floor, carried towards me an abundance of fluffy dumplings piled on top of tender pieces of shredded chicken, all smothered in a smooth, creamy gravy. Every bite smacked against the roof of my mouth with comfort and love.
For a long time this was one of the few meals I didn’t want to mess with and make myself. You see for me, this was never just a meal. It was a mouthful of memories, old and new, every time I sat down to a bowl of it. If I was going to do this, it had to be perfect.
A Hungry Canadian in Covid
I was spoiled twice a year by my Grandparents growing up, driving back and forth from Ontario to Florida. It was a two day drive for us, stopping half way in Georgia on the way down, and Ohio on the way home. The hotel, the time we arrived, the people that came with us, that could all change. What never changed though, was dinner. We always ate at Cracker Barrel.
As a kid, I never ordered anything other than chicken and dumplings. I also had a habit of digging through the bowl, only eating all the dumplings. I’d mash the chicken into the side of the dish and hope no one would notice. It never worked, but I also never stopped trying. Somehow, I even still managed to talk them into a frozen mug filled with a hot fudge sundae. It would be piled high with whipped cream, toasted almond pieces, and topped with a bright red maraschino cherry. Man do I wish they’d bring those sundaes back.
We never stopped that tradition either. My grandparents may have swapped the insanity of Disney and Universal, for the peace of winters spent on a quiet street, a short drive from the beach. But not us. Bo and I, we took it over. Piling our one, then two, then three kids into the back of the car and taking two days to drive to Florida. Now we exit Ontario via New York instead of Michigan. Our halfway points are South Carolina and West Virginia. Our dinner though, well, it’s still always at Cracker Barrel.
That is, until 2019, when we decided to take a year off because the kids wanted to see what a beach vacation was like. We spent a week of fun in the Dominican sun, and they loved it. I found myself a little bored, spending long days lounging by the pool. I missed rushing to the next ride, or eating and drinking my way around the world at Epcot. By the time I was on the plane heading home, I was already thinking about driving back to Florida in 2020. Then March of 2020 came, and those hopes quickly travelled on without me. First, to 2021, and now, to 2022.
That picture was my favourite from our last trip. Bo’s cousins came at the same time with our niece and nephew, and one of Bo’s Aunts. Thank goodness that lady in the back row had the same sense of humour we did! I’m up front with Anna and my nephew Logan. Second row has Uncle Alex with Oliver and Sophie, then Bo’s in the back. Special shout out to Logan and Sophie, hands up in the air, who were both only 4 years old! Aunt Jenny was waiting at the exit with my niece Addison. We’re already counting down to our next trip together a few years down the road!
The Tastes That Bind Us
It’s been funny to me, the somewhat ridiculous things I’ve missed over the last few years of mostly solitude. I think Cracker Barrel chicken and dumplings was one of them because it always felt so comforting and familiar. It meant we were on our way to my happy place. Or on our way home after spending an amazing two weeks laughing and screaming with our hands thrown in the air, enjoying each other.
Today, I feel like I’m standing on the center of a tightrope again. The wind is just starting to blow. I’m still, waiting, holding my breath to try and steady my feet. That wind full of whispers keeps swirling around my head about cases climbing, and the kids schools, and all the other what if’s. Getting this recipe exactly right was an escape for me. Piling it into a thick and heavy white ceramic bowl, then curling up on the couch to eat it with the kids while we watched some Tim Tracker. It was exactly what I needed while we countdown to October 2022.
Even still, as an adult, I just can’t completely let go of this meal. I did start switching up my order to some chicken fried steak the last time we sat down at Cracker Barrel in 2018. – (my recipe for this is pictured above) – Really though, I was just swapping out that chicken I used to squish against the side of the bowl, for some crispy slices of beef smothered in the same creamy gravy. To make sure I still felt the comfort, love, and memories wash over me with every bite though, I had dumplings as both of my sides.
Cracker Barrel Chicken and Dumplings vs Biscuits?
Now, even as a Canadian, I know that chicken and dumplings can bring along some drama with it. There is a divide of people with this meal. Half of them will look at these photos and recipe and say “Those aren’t dumplings, those are slicks”. The rest will tell me “Dumplings are way bigger and fluffier, like a biscuit, and sit on top. Those are noodles.”. I get it, one thing can actually be many different things, to many different people.
If you like that biscuit style dumpling, I’ve seen tons of people saying to just use store bought buttermilk biscuits. You can just put them on top straight out of the can. If that’s your jam, do it. Or, try making my Southern Style Biscuits from scratch. Just drop them on top, then finish the whole dish off in the oven. – (my recipe for these biscuits is pictured below) –
Sticking with the Southern Slick
If you haven’t tried this style of dumpling (or slick, or noddle) though, I’m so glad you’re here. I hope when you take that first spoonful it’s instant love for you, just like it was for me. If you used to eat this as a kid, but forgot about it, I hope nostalgia washes over you and brings you back to a moment in time you’d forgotten.
And if you’ve stumbled here somehow by accident, or from one of my other posts. If you’ve never had Cracker Barrel chicken and dumplings, or any style of chicken and dumplings, I hope you’ll try my recipe. More than that though, I hope you’ll end up loving it!
Cracker Barrel Chicken and Dumplings Recipe
I love hearing from you all in the comments. This meal and recipe really mean a lot to me. If you do try it, I would be thrilled to know what you thought of it. Even if you don’t try it, but there’s a meal that resonates with you, tell me what it is. I’m always looking for new recipes to hunt down and try!
- 6 cups of chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 1/2 an onion, kept as one big piece
- 1 peeled carrot, cut in half
- 1 handful of fresh parsley, tied together with twine
- 4 average sized chicken breasts (roughly 1 pound) *see note
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lard (or butter if you don't have lard on hand)
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Carrot pieces (optional)
- Additional fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
- Get a large dutch oven or stock pot set over medium-high heat. Add the chicken broth, onion, carrot, and parsley, and bring to a boil.
- Add the chicken breasts, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, until the chicken is completely cooked. While this is simmering, make your biscuits.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Use your fingers to work in the lard, as best you can, until it's in small, pea sized pieces.
- Slowly drizzle the buttermilk over the top of the flour mixture, then use a wooden spoon to mix it into a shaggy dough with small bits of dry flour remaining. (see notes)
- Turn the dough out onto a well floured countertop, and roll out until roughly 1/4" thick.
- Use a pizza cutter to slice the dough into strips, about 1 1/2" x 2". You can use a knife if you don't have a pizza butter.
Bring It All Together
- Once the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces to a cutting board and tent with foil to let it rest.
- Remove the onion, carrot, and parsley from the pot. If you'd like, you can save the carrot, dice it into small pieces, and add it back with the chicken later.
- Make sure the broth is still simmering. Drop the dumplings into the pot a few at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon after every few additions. NOTE: Don't worry about how many dumplings there are, or how full it looks. The dumplings will puff up at first, but then slowly melt down in size as they thicken the broth into a gravy.
- Simmer the dumplings in the broth for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Shred your chicken into bite size pieces, then add it back into the pot for 5 minutes to warm up. If you wanted to add the some diced carrot in, do that now as well.
- Give your mixture a taste, and add as much salt and pepper as you'd like. If you wanted to add in some fresh parsley, do that now as well.
Chicken Breasts - You can also simply add pre-cooked chicken to the finished broth and dumpling mixture. To save time, I'll buy a rotisserie chicken sometimes and just shred it. Or, if I'm making a roast chicken, I'll make two at the same time, and save the meat from one to make this another night.
Dumpling Dough - The mixed dough should be very shaggy, with streaks and pieces of dry flour still remaining. Don't worry. Rolling it out resolves the shaggy-ness for you, and those little specs of flour help make the gravy.