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The Best And Worst Of Cracker Barrel's Seasonal Items

cracker barrel cinnamon roll pie
cracker barrel cinnamon roll pie - Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel is known for bringing comfort through its classically Southern menus to 45 U.S. states. It feeds over 630,000 citizens a day who return for big portions and favorite orders. There are items on the menu that are there to stay (we're looking at you hash brown casserole), and for good reason.

First off, Cracker Barrel has been on the scene for over 50 years, only 30 years behind McDonald's. In the same way that McDonald's is culturally significant to many an American's upbringing, so is Cracker Barrel. It brings nostalgia (as well as home-fried steak) to the table. Aside from the memories that Cracker Barrel makes, its food is diverse enough to please any taste bud, at any time. Sure, everyone has their opinion on the best things on the menu, but the things that crop up over again are the classics: cornbread, meatloaf, that double chocolate fudge Coca-Cola cake. Cracker Barrel even did its own research where it asked customers about their favorite menu items. No surprise that the ol' faithfuls topped the charts.

But what about the seasonal specials? Are they really that special or do they leave something to be desired? We've worked out what's a hit and what's a miss (check out how at the end of the article). Here's what you need to know about the best, and the worst, of the Cracker Barrel seasonal menu.

Read more: Steakhouse Chains Where The Sides Outshine The Steaks

Best: Golden Carolina BBQ Tenders

plated golden carolina BBQ tenders
plated golden carolina BBQ tenders - Cracker Barrel

When Cracker Barrel announced the new Golden Carolina BBQ Tenders on its Instagram account people got excited. They are "officially" came to the menu for the first time in February 2024, but DashPass members were able to get their hands on the tenders from mid-January. What a way to start the year. The comment section had followers begging the chain to expand to more areas -- just so it would be easier to get their hands on the tenders. But why has this limited-time, online exclusive, become so popular?

It's all in the recipe. Fried chicken plus BBQ sauce sounds like a simple enough equation, but there's a lot in those two components that make this menu item one of the best Cracker Barrel are putting out at the moment. Samin Nosrat's concept of salt, fat, acid, heat dictates that, if all four of those elements are present in a dish, then you've got a technically perfect bite. In this case, there's salt from the batter of the chicken and fat from the deep frying. The sauce takes it from here adding acid from vinegar and heat from hot sauce. There's your full house. And the proof is in the pudding. Customers have been loving these tenders in online reviews because the sauce is tangy and sweet.

Best: Wildberry Tea

filled jug and glass of sweet tea
filled jug and glass of sweet tea - Cracker Barrel

The Wildberry Tea was introduced to the menu for winter 2024 and is the perfectly zingy accompaniment to a heavy Friday fish fry or country fried steak. Switching to this from your usual peach tea will be a welcome change because the flavors from wildberries are naturally a bit tarter, making this winter seasonal special the perfect antidote to an oil-heavy meal.

Sweet tea is a Southern staple, so of course Cracker Barrel has its fair share of variations on some easy-drinking sugar hits. There are some real classics on the menu; Southern half n' half, peach, freshly brewed sweetened (or unsweetened), and even a Merry Berry holiday special. Sweet tea is as synonymous with Southern food, and Cracker Barrel makes it in its signature homemade style. According to a Reddit thread, the chain makes its flavored teas from scratch using 50% sweet tea, 50% unsweetened tea and then adds a fruit puree for the flavor. The only knock we can really give it is the tea has nearly three times the calories of the standard sweet tea. So it's probably best to enjoy this treat in moderation.

Best: Cinnamon Roll Pie

sliced cinnamon roll pie
sliced cinnamon roll pie - Cracker Barrel

The Cracker Barrel Cinnamon Roll pie was introduced in the holiday season of 2021 and what a gift it has been to fans of the restaurant. This pie has appeared on the menu from the beginning of November to the end of December every year since, and for good reason. It's the best of two desserts rolled up into one. Gooey cinnamon rolls smothered in icing, bundled up into a crunchy pastry crust is a textural triumph.

Reddit user Trevellation says "Idk why it wouldn't be good ...I like both cinnamon rolls and pie crusts, so I'd probably like this." This is exactly the sentiment we need around the holidays: everything in excess! You could just go ahead and make a giant cinnamon roll but honestly, why stop there? Add pastry. Add more icing. You'll probably like it, too.

Even better is that, despite its apparent excessive characteristics, the Cinnamon Roll Pie only comes in at a modest 3,300 calories per whole pie, making it the second lightest of all the holiday pies Cracker Barrel offers, after the virtuous pumpkin pie. If you're going off the recommended serving size of six portions per pie, that's a comfortable 550 calories per slice. The average American reportedly clocks in over 3,000 calories on Thanksgiving, so this dessert is only a puny 18% of that, meaning you've got a bit more room for seconds. That makes it very good in our eyes.

Best: Homestyle Chocolate Pecan Pie

sliced chocolate pecan pie
sliced chocolate pecan pie - dani_e22 / X formally known as Twitter

But, out of all the Cracker Barrel desserts you can't get enough of, this one has got to take the win. Available in the same time period as the Cinnamon Roll Pie, the Homestyle Chocolate Pecan Pie is exactly what your Thanksgiving table is crying out for. Despite the trend of people looking for desserts to serve on Thanksgiving that aren't "just" pies, it's hard to deny that the most favored desserts on the day are still some form of pie. This is where the chocolate-studded pecan pie comes into its own.

Chocolate makes everything better, so a nostalgic dessert that's oozing with the stuff is only going to be a plus. There's no wonder that people will make the trip to their local Cracker Barrel for a slice. It hits that sweet note of being the pecan pie you know and love whilst adding a touch of je ne sais quoi with the irresistible addition of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Plus, if you're eating it at home you can have it how you want. Straight out of the fridge for a firmer texture (and easier preparation) or warmed up with a dollop of ice cream on top. Either way is delicious.

Best: Country Fried Turkey

plated country fried turkey in gravy
plated country fried turkey in gravy - Cracker Barrel

Much like the ice tea, Cracker Barrel can't not nail its country-fried recipes. Though the chicken and steak versions are on the menu all year round, the Country Fried Turkey only appears every now and then. It'll definitely be on the menu around Thanksgiving, but sometimes the big wigs at head office will treat the Cracker Barrel customers to a surprise appearance of the crave-able meal. In 2021 the chain reintroduced it in February, much to the delight of its diners who love it for its taste and generous portion size.

The reason why this one is so good is because it makes the humble turkey something to be excited about. The meat is often accused of being too dry and bland. So how else to elevate it than by giving it a quick swim in the deep fryer? Cracker Barrel hand breads each filet to make sure each and every bite is crispy perfection and the frying process seals in moisture, meaning you'll get juicy, delicious turkey. To really scare away any ounce of dryness, the dish is topped with the restaurant's ever-popular herb-infused pan white gravy.

Worst: Broccoli Cheese Casserole

full bowl of broccoli cheese casserole
full bowl of broccoli cheese casserole - Cracker Barrel

It's the broccoli cheese casserole where things start to get a bit off-track for Cracker Barrel. This seasonal dish isn't hitting the mark for a couple of reasons. Broccoli cheese casserole is a classic weekday meal in many an American household. There's a reason why there are so many copycat recipes online. It's simple enough to make and it's a crowd-pleasing side, but it seems that there's some fault with Cracker Barrel's own recipe. Mainly that it's just a version of broccoli cheddar chicken dish -- minus the protein.

So considering the underwhelming product, the $3.49 price tag feels a little steep, especially when you could get the much more popular ​​hashbrown casserole for the same price. We don't know about you, but we'd rather go with a longtime customer favorite over a lackluster side deconstructed from a main dish. If you're craving a broccoli cheese casserole you're better off making this one at home. It's likely to be a lot healthier, tastier, and cheaper than the tepid Cracker Barrel offering.

Worst: Heat And Serve Thanksgiving Turkey

glossy plate of sliced turkey
glossy plate of sliced turkey - Cracker Barrel

Whilst the Country Fried Turkey is one of Cracker Barrel's seasonal delights, the Heat and Serve Thanksgiving Turkey is ... not. When Evelyn H Blogs unboxed her heat and serve on Youtube she was disappointed, and many of those commenting under her video echoed the same sentiments. The biggest complaint from reviewers is that the portion size was far from big enough. Which, for a place which is so often applauded for its generosity, is both surprising and disappointing. But this has a big knock on effect. One customer commented that the heating directions were poor and resulted in a smokey kitchen because the turkey breast was so small the amount of heat recommended by the Heat and Serve guide was too high and burned the bird.

The second issue with the turkey is that was just lacking in quality. Under this 2023's announcement on TikTok for the Thanksgiving seasonal offerings, customers from previous years were commenting that the skin slips off and the texture of the turkey is rubbery. Not ideal for what is meant to be the showstopper of the day. A better idea would be, as many say, to order the sides and make your own Thanksgiving turkey.

Worst: Glitter Globe Spritzer

full glass of spritzer
full glass of spritzer - Cracker Barrel

Don't get us wrong, we love a fun cocktail as much as the next person. But when we saw that Cracker Barrel were bringing back its Glitter Globe Spritzer, we weren't excited. The main reason is a pretty simple one. It doesn't taste good. And when you look at what's going into this holiday special, it's easy to deduce why. The ingredients are as follows: Roscato Moscato wine, Sprite, and red glitter. Roscato describes this particular type of fizzy wine as sweet. Sprite is characteristically fizzy and sweet. And glitter? Well, glitter doesn't taste like anything. Which is a shame, because something other than fizzy and sweet might be a welcome remedy to the double dose of each that this drink is serving.

It is crucial that cocktails should be well-balanced, without a single dominating flavor profile. The Glitter Globe Spritzer seems to have missed the memo here. It's a sweet (very sweet) assault on the taste buds that will make you wish you'd just ordered a Wildberry Tea instead.

Worst: Cornbread Dressing

cracker barrel thanksgiving plate with cornbread dressing
cracker barrel thanksgiving plate with cornbread dressing - Cracker Barrel

Reddit users are not happy with the cornbread dressing. This seasonal item comes in the Thanksgiving Hot and Ready package. There's a lot riding on the performance of this one, it's being served on a food-focused day with a lot of eyes, and stomachs, focused on the meal as the main event. So when something is sub-par, it's going to cause upset. Which is something that the cornbread dressing has gone and done.

The dressing needs a little bit of attention on the day. Though it sounds simple in the Thanksgiving instruction manual (just hydrating the dried mix with chicken broth and baking in the oven for 40-50 minutes) it seems that a lot of customers have had varying experiences with the outcome. Some call it crumbly whilst others say it was a sloppy mess, people say it's too heavy on the sage but almost all write about having to add more ingredients to it (turkey pieces, butter, eggs) to make it palatable. For something that is meant to make Thanksgiving less stressful, this cornbread dressing is achieving the opposite.

Worst: French Toast Latte

two full french toast coffees with cream
two full french toast coffees with cream - Cracker Barrel

The French Toast Latte was first introduced to the Cracker Barrel customer base in March 2019 where its Instagram post described it as a blend of "...rich espresso and steamed milk with sweet cinnamon flavor. Top it off with whipped cream, crispy cinnamon crumbles, and a drizzle of pure natural syrup to enjoy this breakfast favorite, all day long". We can't deny that it sounds good and, even though it reappears every fall, we are not so convinced.

Let us explain. The issue that we have with the Cracker Barrel French Toast Latte is that it is so darned sugary. It might taste alright, but it's hard to justify a coffee that has 40g of sugar per drink. According to the USDA, that's 100% of your daily sugar intake, which is impressive before you've even chewed anything. A portion of Grandma's Sampler French Toast Breakfast (which is a plate of french toast and two eggs) is a much more modest 19g of sugar. It comes with a good hit of protein from the eggs which will keep you satiated for a lot longer than the sugary, caffeinated rush of the French Toast Latte. That's something we can stomach a little easier.

Methodology

cracker barrel restaurant
cracker barrel restaurant - J. Michael Jones/Getty Images

When working out whether a seasonal item was worthy of a best or worst rating we took into account a few things. First and foremost, flavor and texture were taken into consideration, as was the frequency of the dish reappearing on the menu, the nutritional information, and how customers perceived the dishes. We used personal experience, social media threads and reviews, and reviewing websites like Reddit to create a balanced opinion on each item.

Read the original article on Mashed.