The South's Most Beloved Appetizer Starts With a Sleeve of Saltines
Sometimes an oven is like that mysterious black box on a magician's stage where odd things go in and something far more delightful comes out. Ohhh. Ahhh. That's what happens when you put seasoned saltines in the oven and pull out the snazzy Fire Crackers a few minutes later. Ohhh. Ahhh.
Fire crackers, sometimes called Alabama Fire Crackers, are so easy that the recipe barely qualifies as baking. Just spread saltines on a sheet pan and drizzle on butter or oil and a bevy of spices, including more red pepper flakes than seems prudent, yet their kick doesn't hurt much. The crackers will look too saturated at first, but they crisp up like champs during the bake.
Fire crackers are casual or fancy, depending on how you serve them. They are a robust side to soups, chilies, salads, and sandwiches. Broken bits can pass for croutons. They are a killer party snack for guests to gobble by the handful alongside refreshing brews and beverages. A tin of these crackers makes a welcome hostess gift during summertime getaways. In some hometowns, baby and bridal showers feel incomplete without a tray of these crackers on the buffet.
The ingredients are inexpensive and easy to find. You can substitute other crackers for the saltines. Contenders include buttery rounds and rectangles, thin wheats, or those little cheese crackers the size of a postage stamp -- pretty much any cracker that plays well with the bold seasoning. The recipe is scalable, making it easy to halve or double down depending on your needs. It's wise to make more than you think you'll need, to make up for all you'll eat straight off the baking sheet as soon as they cool.
WATCH: 10 Foods Southerners Are Really Picky About
16 oz package of saltine crackers
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 tbsp (2 packages) ranch dressing mix
3 Tbsp red pepper flakes (if you can handle the heat, add more)
2 cups olive oil
1. Using a large gallon Ziploc bag, pour in the olive oil, seasonings, and spices. Close the bag and knead to thoroughly mix the ingredients together.
2. Place all 4 sleeves of crackers in the bag, re-seal, and gently turn the bag over several times to coat the crackers with the spice mixture. The more times you do this the better the coating.
3. Let the bag sit overnight.
4. Remove crackers and lay out on a baking sheet. Bake at 250°F for about 15 minutes. (Note: If you are short on time, the crackers still taste great skipping the baking Step 4.)
No one knows the big bang moment of fire crackers, but they show the creative resourcefulness of home cooks who can doctor up a store-bought staple to transform it into a homemade treat. It's the type of recipe that spreads like wildfire through a family and circle of friends, popping up on the pages of community cookbooks across the South and then passed, pinned, and posted all over the place. We love these recipes. As Andy Griffith used to say, "Good cracker. Good cracker."