Fried Apples

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No need to visit a certain restaurant to enjoy this classic Southern side anymore.

Fried Apples
Photo: Emily Laurae
Active Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
30 mins
Servings:
4

When many Americans think about Southern comfort food, one restaurant chain comes to mind quickly and regularly: Cracker Barrel. This Tennessee-based collection of rustically-decorated eateries specializes in classic Southern fare like fried chicken, catfish, and mac & cheese, along with enormous breakfast spreads.

Cracker Barrel breakfasts are arguably their most famous meals, and the Fried Apples that Cracker Barrel offers as a breakfast side dish have become a verifiable cult classic among Cracker Barrel enthusiasts.

Sweet, tender, and perfectly spiced, Cracker Barrel's Fried Apples taste very much like the inside of an especially-good apple pie. Without all that pesky crust in the way, these apples can be paired with anything from pancakes to waffles to oatmeal to ice cream and even pork chops.

Cracker Barrel works hard to keep the recipe for this beloved dish under wraps, but we've developed a Fried Apples recipe that provides the best qualities of the Cracker Barrel version, but with a few slight twists.

making fried apples
Emily Lagroue/Southern Living

Why Are Cracker Barrel's Fried Apples So Special?

"Fried Apples" is a somewhat inaccurate title for the signature Cracker Barrel dish; in order to get the soft (but not mushy) texture and the correct balance of flavors, the apples can be slowly baked (as they would be in an apple pie). But because that method would be very time-consuming, you can instead gently sauté (or "fry") the apples in butter.

The seasonings for Fried Apples are classic apple companions: brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A syrup-like "sauce" made of apple juice and a thickening agent (cornstarch) gives the cooked apples a velvety consistency that both complements the texture of the fruit and also makes it a fitting companion for whichever food pairing you prefer.

fried apples ingredients
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How to Make Fried Apples

To make Fried Apples on the stovetop, start by melting half a stick of butter in a cast-iron skillet (or am enameled-coated cast-iron skillet) over medium heat.

melting butter in skillet
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

As the butter melts, add 6 tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of white sugar, 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, and a half teaspoon of ground nutmeg to a small bowl, and whisk to combine.

Once the butter melts, it's time to add 4 sliced apples (you can peel them if you want), along with the sugar mixture, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir until the apple slices are fully coated with the butter and the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and cover the skillet. Stir periodically and cook until the apples are soft enough to easily pierce with a fork. (This should take between 12 and 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the apple slices.)

stirring fried apples
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

While the apples are cooking, pour ¾ cup of apple cider into a small bowl, and add 3 tablespoons cornstarch. Whisk to combine.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the apples from the skillet, and place them in a large bowl. Place a lid on the bowl to keep warm the apples (or, if the bowl has no lid, use a piece of aluminum foil).

The juices from the cooked apples should still be in the skillet; pour the apple cider mixture into the skillet, whisk to combine, and simmer until the liquid begins to thicken. (This should take about 2 minutes.)

simmering sauce for fried apples
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

Pour the apples back into the skillet, and stir until the syrup coats the apples. Add 2 tablespoons of cold butter, and stir to further thicken the sauce and give it a glossy sheen. When the sauce reaches a syrupy, almost caramel-like texture, remove the skillet from the heat and serve the apples.

making fried apples
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How To Put Your Own Spin on Fried Apples

The great thing about Fried Apples is that you can get a little creative.

Use your favorite type of apples

Cracker Barrel uses Golden Delicious apples for their Fried Apples, but if you prefer a less-sweet apple, then you should feel free to experiment with different varieties. We find that Honeycrisp apples—which are also on the sweeter side, but which have slightly more acidity and more structural integrity than Golden Delicious apples—work brilliantly for this dish, but Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, or Braeburn apples are other tasty possibilities.

Consider leaving the apples unpeeled

For Fried Apples that are as close as possible to Cracker Barrel's, be sure to remove the peels from the apples before slicing. But if you'd like a bit more bite to the finished dish, then the peels can absolutely come along for the cooking process. Just keep in mind that apples with peels may take longer to cook down and soften than unpeeled versions, so adjust your cook time accordingly.

Try adding a splash of bourbon

Bourbon whiskey has an underlying sweetness that pairs nicely with tart apples, so adding a bit of whiskey to this recipe gives it an extra layer of flavor dimension and complexity. One ounce of bourbon (or a little less than a shot glass) provides these taste-related benefits, but it's a small enough amount that the alcohol can quickly cook out.

Play around with different spices and seasonings

Cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg are classic apple pie ingredients, so they feel like a natural fit for Fried Apples. That said, you're welcome to introduce whichever spices and flavor additions best suit your tastes. Vanilla extract, maple syrup, and allspice are easy add-ons, but you could also try ginger, coriander, sage, Chinese five-spice, or any other seasoning that strikes your fancy.

fried apples
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

Ingredients

  • 4 apples, cored, peeled, and sliced (such as Honeycrisp)

  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided

  • 6 Tbsp. light brown sugar

  • 2 Tbsp. white sugar

  • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch

  • ¾ cup apple cider

  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • ½ tsp. nutmeg

  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice

  • 1 oz. bourbon (optional)

Directions

  1. Combine brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl. In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, melt 4 Tbsp. butter. Add the apples, sugar mixture, and lemon juice, and stir until the apples are fully coated.

  2. Reduce the heat to low. If using, add bourbon, and stir to deglaze the pan. Cover the pan, and simmer for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are fork-tender. Meanwhile, add apple cider and cornstarch to a small bowl, and whisk to combine.

  3. When the apples are cooked to tender, use a slotted spoon to move them to a large bowl, leaving their juices in the skillet. Pour the apple cider mixture into the skillet, and stir to combine with the juices. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, or until the liquid begins to thicken, stirring occasionally. Add the apples back to the skillet, and stir to fully coat. Add the cold butter. Simmer until the butter melts and the sauce takes on a syrupy, almost caramel-like consistency. Remove from heat, and serve.

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