What Really Sets Cracker Barrel's Chicken N' Dumplins Above The Rest

Every restaurant has a niche that it likes to focus on, such as bar snacks, fast food, Japanese cuisine, pizza, and so on. For Cracker Barrel, that niche is old-fashioned, Southern-style comfort foods. Think of things like fried chicken, meatloaf, biscuits, and pot roast — anything that can invoke a feeling of nostalgia. One particular dish that Cracker Barrel is known for serving up, however, is its famous Chicken N' Dumplins.

In case you've never heard of chicken and dumplings before, it's basically shredded chicken that's boiled in either water, stock, or a creamy, gravy-like sauce and mixed with chewy hunks of biscuit-like dough. While this dish is relatively simple to make, Cracker Barrel's take on the classic recipe seems to have been an astounding success. The company sells an incredible 13 million orders of this chicken dish per year. Suffice to say, that's a whole lot of chicken and dough for one restaurant chain.

But what actually makes Cracker Barrel's Chicken N' Dumplins so popular? How exactly could you change such a basic recipe to be something that sells this well? It would seem the answer to this question lies in how the Chicken N' Dumplins dish reflects Southern traditions. Another key aspect of the dish, surprisingly enough, is how the dumplings themselves are made. 

Cracker Barrel's dumplings are shaped differently

When you think of the word "dumpling," you probably imagine a small, round, fluffy, and short glob of dough. It may be plain or stuffed with meat and vegetables (if we're talking about dumplings in a traditional Eastern style). Cracker Barrel's dumplings, however, are a bit different.

Unlike most chicken and dumplings, the dumplings that Cracker Barrel serves in its meal are more like flat, wide strips of dough than balls or drops. According to Cracker Barrel, the dough for its Chicken N' Dumplins is not only "hand-rolled and made from scratch daily," but they're also "slow-simmered" to ensure they're as tender as possible. This may seem like nothing more than a slight difference in appearance, but flat, wide dumplings actually tend to soak up sauce better than round dumplings. Have you ever had chicken noodle soup and noticed that those thin noodles seem to absorb the broth as you eat them? It's the exact same principle. This way, when you're eating your Chicken N' Dumplins, you're always getting a forkful of flavor instead of bland, flavorless dough.

While Cracker Barrel's take on dumplings may not be what you expected, this isn't to say that flat and wide dumplings are uncommon. In fact, Cracker Barrel is actually using the Southern version of chicken and dumplings, keeping in line with its usual Southern theming.

Southern-style chicken and dumplings are specially made

Southern themes, chicken and dumplings, and biscuits — when you think about it, all three of these things form a strong bedrock on which Cracker Barrel is founded. And Cracker Barrel is nothing if not Southern.

Southern-style chicken and dumplings fit right in with that identity. They're prepared using shortening, and then they're simmered in liquid — similar to how Cracker Barrel's Chicken N' Dumplins are prepared. This is different from what are known as Northern-style chicken and dumplings, which are prepared using butter and then steamed separately, outside of the broth, atop the pot. Northern-style chicken and dumplings also consist of "dropped" dumplings, those round drops of dough you may have expected to see in chicken and dumplings.

In a sense, Cracker Barrel's Chicken N' Dumplins are a cross between a chicken pot pie and soup, with the chicken simmering in a light, creamy broth and topped with tender, chewy dough. It's sort of like a casserole, but it has the liquid qualities of a soup. Although many copycat recipes do exist, all claiming to have found the best recipe for these Chicken N' Dumplins, it seems the only one who knows for sure how this recipe is made is Cracker Barrel itself — and with how popular it is, we don't think Cracker Barrel will be giving up the recipe any time soon.