When I first cloned Cracker Barrel’s most popular menu item back in 1997, the chain had only 260 restaurants, located mostly in southern states. Today that number has exploded to more than 620 stores in all but eight U.S. states and the chain is more popular than ever. Cracker Barrel’s menu will present you with some tough decisions when you’re hankerin’ for a good southern-style meal. Regardless of which entrée you choose, you’ll probably want one of your side dish choices to be the chain’s most popular signature dish: the hashbrown casserole. My first clone version of this recipe tasted great, but I’ve now tweaked the technique so that you first make a cheese sauce that includes a little cream of chicken soup stirred into the potatoes before baking. It’s a technique you won’t find anywhere else and it makes a finished product that’s a dead ringer for the original.

8 ounces (about 3 cups) shredded Colby cheese
½ cup Campbell’s cream of chicken soup
½ cup water
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bacon fat (from cooking 4 slices of bacon)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
⅓ cup diced onion
1 30-ounce pkg. Ore-Ida frozen shredded hash browns

Cooking method

1-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Make a sauce by combining the cheese, soup, water, butter, bacon fat, salt, and pepper in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes on high, stirring after 1 minute. The cheese and butter should be melted. Mix the ingredients together with an electric mixer on high speed until the sauce is smooth. Mix in the onion.

3-Pour the frozen hash browns into a large microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 3 minutes, stirring halfway through, so that the hash browns are mostly defrosted and the chunks are broken up. They will still be cold in spots.

4-Stir the cheese mixture into the hash browns, then pour everything into an 8 x 8-inch baking dish or one of comparable size.

5-Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the casserole is hot all the way through and just beginning to brown on top.

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