Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Achieving Cracker Barrel's Chicken Salad

If you have ever eaten at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, you might have tried their wonderful chicken salad plate. For a while, when I first got back to the US after living abroad, every time I went to Cracker Barrel I only ordered their chicken salad plate. It is so very scrumptious that I could not bring myself to order anything else. There was something different about it that I just could not easily place, which is odd because I make lots of chicken salads at home. After making numerous different versions, I was sure I would have hit on that hidden taste.

As luck would have it, I happened to land on this recipe one day. It sounded very promising and I noticed right away that there were two ingredients that stood out to me as different. The first was the use of two types of chicken - both home cooked poached chicken along with some canned chicken. I had always just used home cooked chicken, or a rotisserie chicken at least. But canned? I don't even typically buy canned chicken meat. The other ingredient that caught my eye was the use of a bit of sour cream in the dressing. That instantly made sense to me, I could almost taste the difference that would make just thinking about it.

I did not follow the recipe exactly, but I did use it as a guide to capture that taste I was longing for. I started off with just one pound of my own micro-poached chicken breasts, which I chilled and diced. I also used one large can of chicken meat, which I broke up into shreds with a fork. This was quite a bit more canned chicken meat than the recipe had called for, but I really didn't want to measure out just half. As for the dressing ingredients, I used a bit more sour cream and added some salt and white pepper. Since I really only cared about the chicken salad itself, I did not make up the salad plate the way it would be served in the restaurant, which is with lettuce, tomato, hard boiled eggs, and a wedge of cheese. I simply scooped out a portion onto a bed of torn romaine lettuce leaves, and garnished it with some pecan halves.

The taste was really spot on. I was shocked, and I was delighted. I had finally found a version I loved and that really captured the flavors of the Cracker Barrel version. The sour cream definitely seemed to make the dressing work perfectly, and the mixture of the shredded and chunked chicken gave the salad the correct texture.

Here is my adapted version, based on the recipe linked above:

Just Like Cracker Barrel's Chicken Salad
(serves about 6)

1 pound poached chicken breast meat (about 4 skinless boneless halves), cut into chunks
1 large can (12.5 ounces) canned chicken meat (I used a reduced fat/salt version), drained
1 small celery rib, diced very finely
1 Tbsp red onion, diced very finely
1 Tbsp sweet pickle relish

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4-1/3 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp Miracle Whip salad dressing
salt and white pepper, to taste

Combine salad ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix together dressing ingredients, then toss with the chicken mixture to coat. Chill well and then taste and adjust seasonings, adding more dressing ingredients as needed.

Serve atop a bed of lettuce, garnished with either pecan halves or the Cracker Barrel way, with tomato, hard boiled eggs, and cheese.


  1. I have never eaten at Cracker Barrel, but you make their salad sound amazing. I make a chicken salad up at the big house frequently that has toasted pecans, celery, chopped apple, chopped hard boiled egg, lemon juice, grated onion and mayo in it along with some chicken and seasoning of course! It's quite good too. Your chicken salad looks amazing Heather!

  2. Thank you Marie. I like the sound of yours as well - especially the apples. I really love chicken salad and enjoy it many different ways.

  3. Fun to make a restaurant favorite at home--it looks like a great salad!

  4. It will definitely be one I make again, I was very happy with how it turned out.

  5. I tried it today, and you're right! It's absolutely spot on. I've been wanting to make this at home for years, so thank you very much. Instead of bottled relish, though, I finely chopped some Nathan's Kosher Dill slices. Superb. Looking forward to making this often. Very often.