This Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak Recipe is as Southern as it gets in your home kitchen in 45 minutes!
Prepare the iconic Cracker Barrel Old Country Store chicken-fried steak with creamy country gravy in your kitchen!
Cracker Barrel Country Store is known for its traditional southern-style recipes. The famous Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak recipe is consistently their top menu item of all time.
Country-fried steak, also known as chicken-fried steak here in the southern United States, is a seasoned and coated cube steak fried ’til golden brown, then topped off with a white sawmill gravy that’ll leave you smackin’ your lips for more!
I never considered posting copycat Cracker Barrel recipes until being asked for a method for country-fried steak for the hundredth time. I have been making this recipe for over 20 years, but never imagined the popularity of this iconic fried steak with readers until late.
Why will Cracker Barrel fans want to try this country-fried steak recipe? A super crispy cube steak (or hamburger steak) encrusted in (of all things!) crushed Saltines is the perfectly seasoned base for the cloud of cream gravy that garnishes it.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of Goodson’s or Texas Roadhouse, you’ll still want to have a gander at this method, as it is entirely close to both.
Do You Have What’s Needed to Make This Copycat Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak Recipe? Check The List!
- cube steaks
- Kosher salt
- black pepper
- Saltine crackers
- all-purpose flour
- baking powder
- cayenne pepper
- fresh eggs
- canola oil or vegetable oil
A taste of true southern tradition, favorite dishes such as this sustained generations to where it endears today. Did I mention this is both easy AND economical?
Serve this copycat Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak recipe with mashed potatoes and real butter, steak fries, country sides such as green beans or hashbrown casserole, and warm buttermilk biscuits. Pass extra white gravy at the table for those who need just that little bit of extra!
So, What Is Country Fried Steak Anyway?
Fried steak is most often a tenderized cube steak covered with a well-seasoned coating of flour or cracker crumbs or both and is either deep-fried or pan-fried.
When deep-fried using a technique similar to frying chicken pieces, “chicken-fried” has been a long used descriptive for the dish. The pan-fried version of the classic dish is more often referred to as “country fried steak.”
What is the best way to tell them apart? Don’t try!
They’re for all intents and purposes exactly the same aside from the fry. The method I will teach today is a pan-fried method, hence my recipe for Copycat Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak.
How This Recipe Came About…
The detailed beginnings of country-fried or chicken-fried steak are murky, but it’s presumed the method has its roots in of all thing’s schnitzel. And this really does make so much sense when you stop to consider some facts.
Austrian and German immigrants to Texas hill country likely introduced their preparation methods for breaded cutlets of beef such as Wiener schnitzel and the rest is as they say ‘history.’
The Virginia Housewife, published in 1838 by Mary Randolph, has a recipe for veal cutlets that is one of the earliest recipes for a food like chicken-fried steak. This time period correlates with the dish popularizing in the American south, specifically Texas and Alabama, in the couple of decades following the publication.
You may recall me referencing The Virginia Housewife within my post for Shaker Chicken Pudding. The Virginia Housewife has been used historically to date and trace the origins of so many American food dishes, it’s unassuming pages rife with detail.
Cube Steak Is Notoriously Tough – Should I Tenderize it?
You don’t need meat tenderizer for tender steaks. Cube steak is a fabulous cut of beef for certain recipes because it’s inexpensive and when prepared correctly, is falling apart, melt in your mouth, fork-tender!
Soaking meat in whole milk prior to cooking helps to break down the collagen and proteins. This one simple step helps to make a nice tender cut from an otherwise notoriously tough cut of meat.
What I like about using whole milk is that the milk is not discarded once the cube steaks have marinated. Instead, the milk is boiled right into the white gravy, no waste.
If you’d rather go the baking soda and water route, you won’t be disappointed with the results either. Simply dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda for every 12 ounces of meat in ½ cup of water.
I add the solution to a large plastic zipper bag and then drop the cube steaks in for at least 15 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.
During this time, I flip the bag at least two or three times to ensure all sides of the meat sit in the shallow solution at least temporarily.
Then remove, rinse, and cook. This method produces a seriously tender piece of meat.
How To Get That ‘Country-Fried CRUNCH?’
So, this is a fried dish. Fried means having HOT oil. The key is to test the oil to ensure it’s hot enough.
I specify the use of a thermometer to ensure your oil is registering 350°F BEFORE you drop the breaded steaks in.
If you drop the steaks into oil that is not hot enough, the breading will detach in clumps. Bye bye savory ‘crunch’ that makes country-fried steak country fried…
The best way to test if the oil is hot enough in addition to using a thermometer is to sprinkle a bit of flour onto the surface of the oil.
If the oil is hot enough, the flour will immediately sizzle. I do this in a couple places in the pan because the hard sizzle will also tell me if my pan is evenly heated.
If the flour turns brown quickly however, this means the oil is too hot. Reduce the heat and test the oil again.
How To Make Copycat Cracker Barrel Country-Fried Steak?
Prepping Your Workstation
Preheat your oven to 225°F. Grab a large heavy skillet (at least 12-inches and NOT non-stick) and also line a baking sheet with foil and insert a fitted wire cooling rack. You’ll also need either canola oil or vegetable oil for frying.
Tenderizing The Beef
Begin by popping the cube steaks into a plastic zipper bag with a cup of whole milk or a solution of baking soda and water. With the whole milk method, allow the steaks to tenderize for at least 1 hour and no longer than 3.
If using the baking soda and water method, tenderize for at least 15 minutes but no more than 30. With this method, you must rinse the steaks and pat dry once removed from the solution.
Salt and pepper the fully tenderized steaks and set aside.
The Seasoned Coating Is Key To This Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak Recipe
Saltines are by far the ONLY cracker for this recipe. They are perfectly salted in EXACTLY the right measurement, so no additional salt is really necessary when using this cracker trick as your coating.
Crazy maybe but count out 38 Saltines and pulse them in your food processor several times until you have fine crumbs. Add in some flour, baking powder, black pepper, and a touch of cayenne and pulse again until all is combined.
If you used whole milk to tenderize your steaks, pour it into a measuring cup and add to it to equal 3/4 cups milk. Whisk this together with a couple of eggs.
Set yourself up a little assembly line with the steaks at the ready to coat steaks first in the cracker flour mixture, then the egg mixture, then once more in the cracker mixture. Place the coated steaks atop the prepared baking sheet with wire cooling rack and let sit for 15 minutes while you heat the oil.
The premise behind the wire cooling rack is to allow air to circulate on all sides, drying the egg and the cracker mixture and helping it to adhere to the steak. Think I’m crazy? Martha Stewart uses this same trick in MANY of her paillard and cutlet methods.
Frying Country-fried Steak
Add 3 to 3/12 cups of oil to your large skillet and heat over medium-high heat until a thermometer reads the oil to be between 350°F to 360°F.
Reduce heat SLIGHTLY and fry the steaks in the hot oil for 10 minutes. Always, ALWAYS use kitchen tongs and lay the steak away from you! This prevents the oil from splashing towards you!
If the oil begins to smoke, reduce heat SLIGHTLY again until there is no smoke.
Turn the steaks carefully so as not to dislodge the breading and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Steaks will be a beautiful golden brown.
Remove to the wire rack atop the baking sheet once again. Repeat with any remaining steaks and place into the preheated low heat oven to keep warm while you assemble the sawmill gravy. Dispose of all leftover oil.
Making The All-Important Sawmill Gravy for This Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak Recipe
Use a measuring spoon to save out 1 to 2 tablespoons of the hot pan drippings from the steak. Use a wad of paper towel to wipe the skillet mostly clean. I always make sure to leave quite a lot of cooked bits UNLESS they are more burned than cooked.
Add the reserved drippings back to the skillet and place over medium heat. In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups of milk with some flour, salt, and black pepper.
Pour the milk mixture into the skillet with the drippings and any cooked bits and increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk constantly for 10 to 12 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to whisk until the sawmill gravy has thickened considerably. At this point, taste for the need for any seasonings. Keep in mind that Saltines coat the steaks, so treat lightly if planning to add salt.
Plating the Country-fried Steaks and Sawmill Gravy
Get ready to load up the big person plates!
You’ll want to serve a country-fried steak alongside a bed of buttermilk mashed potatoes (add 1 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup real butter before mashing), sauteed green beans, baby carrots, corn muffins and heaps of sawmill gravy atop the steak and potatoes.
I pass extra gravy at the table just in case my eaters mop it all up before they actually finish their steaks! I also offer hot sauce just in case somebody feels the need to get their zip on.
If You Like This Recipe…
…you may also like:
- Crispy Chicken with Herbed Carolina Gold Rice & Scratch Pan Gravy
- Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- French Onion Salisbury Steak
- Oven Baked Deep South Barbecue Ribs
Copycat Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak Recipe: How to Make It
- 12-inch cast iron or clad skillet do not use a non-stick pan for this method, as the non-stick coating on most cookware is not meant to withstand such high temperatures for such a long duration
- sheet pan fitted with oven-safe wire rack
- heavy gauge aluminum foil
- large, zippered plastic bag
- instant-read thermometer
Ingredients for Copycat Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak Recipe: How to Make It
- 4 4 to 5 ounce cube steaks
- 4 3/4 cups whole milk divided; may substitute all but 3/4 cup of whole milk with 2%
- 2 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt divided
- 1 3/4 teaspoon black pepper divided
- 38 Saltine crackers NOTE: Saltines come two ways; regular and with unsalted tops. I purposely seek out the unsalted tops for a less salty finished steak. The Saltines with unsalted tops still contain salt.
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour divided
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 large eggs
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups vegetable or peanut oil for frying
optional for garnish and for serving
- parsley fresh, chopped
- favorite hot sauce
for the Country Fried Steaks
- Place the cube steaks into a zippered plastic bag and pour 3/4 cup of whole milk into the bag. Seal and jiggle around so the milk is coating all surface area of the meat. Place into the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and no more than 3, flipping bag over several times.
- Remove the steaks from the milk, allowing them to drip, and set on a platter. Reserve all of the milk and add to it as necessary to measure 3/4 cups. Combine 1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper together. Lightly sprinkle the fully tenderized steaks on both sides with the mixture. Set aside.
- In a shallow bowl, whisk together the reserved 3/4 cups milk with the eggs.
- In the barrel of a food processor, add the Saltines, 1 cup of the flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon of the Kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper, and the cayenne. Pulse until the Saltines are fine crumbs, about 8 to 10 pulses.
- Preheat oven to 225°F. Line a baking sheet with heavy gauge aluminum foil and fit with a wire rack. You may spray with non-stick baking spray if you like, however it is not necessary.
- Arrange an assembly line with a shallow bowl with the egg mixture, another shallow bowl with the Saltine mixture, and finally the prepared baking tray.
- Coat steaks first in the cracker flour mixture, then the egg mixture, then once more in the cracker mixture. Place the coated steaks atop the prepared baking sheet with wire rack and let sit for 15 minutes while you heat the oil.
- Add 3 to 3/12 cups of oil to your large skillet and heat over medium-high heat until a thermometer reads the oil to be between 350°F to 360°F. Reduce heat SLIGHTLY and fry the steaks in the hot oil for 10 minutes. If the oil begins to smoke, reduce heat SLIGHTLY again until there is no smoke. Turn the steaks carefully so as not to dislodge the breading and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Steaks will be a beautiful golden brown. NOTE: ALWAYS use kitchen tongs and lay the steak away from you! This prevents the oil from splashing towards you!
- Remove to the wire rack atop the baking sheet once again. Repeat with any remaining steaks and place into the preheated low heat oven to keep warm while you assemble the sawmill gravy. Dispose of all leftover oil, but reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons of the drippings and any cooked bits. Use a wad of paper towels to wipe the skillet mostly clean and add the reserved drippings back to the skillet.
for the Sawmill Gravy
- Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and the 4 cups of remaining milk. Pour this mixture into the reserved drippings and cooked bits in the skillet. Whisk constantly over medium-high heat until the gravy begins to bubble, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to whisk until the sawmill gravy has thickened considerably. At this point, taste for the need for any seasonings. Keep in mind that Saltines coat the steaks, so treat lightly if planning to add salt.
- Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and offer a bottle of your favorite hot sauce at the table to pass.
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