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I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

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    Cheesecake Factory Thai Coconut-Lime Chicken

    Menu Description: “Tender pieces of chicken. Snow peas, shiitake mushrooms, onions, and garlic in a Thai coconut-curry sauce with cashews and pineapple. Served with white rice.”

    Sautéed white meat chicken comes swimming in the chain’s magical coconut-lime curry sauce, served alongside a bed of rice, with stir-fried vegetables, and topped with pineapple relish, cashews, and toasted coconut. The Cheesecake Factory captures great Thai flavors in this striking entrée from the restaurant chain’s specialty menu selections, and you can re-create the Cheesecake Factory Thai-Coconut Lime Chicken dish at home, with this exclusive recipe that I’ve sleuthed out down to every delicious detail.

    The star of the show is the mouthwatering coconut-lime curry sauce that brings together the traditional Thai combination of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors. The sauce brings in sour from lime and tamarind, sweet from honey, salt from fish sauce, and spicy heat from red pepper flakes. And if the sauce is cooked minimally after the parsley is added, the leafy herb will stay bright green for a beautiful and tasty dish that perfectly mirrors the original Cheesecake Factory Thai Coconut-Lime Chicken.

    Check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries

    Waiting for a plane in Philadelphia isn’t so bad if your gate is near the airport location of this 20-unit crab house and sports bar chain where weather delay frustrations melt away over a cold beer, a Philly cheesesteak, and a bucket of Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries.

    Crabfries, despite the name, do not have any crab on them. When the first Chickie’s & Pete’s opened its doors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1977, the restaurant served crab only in the summer. While brainstorming off-season uses for the seafood seasoning, founder Pete Ciarrocchi sprinkled some over crinkle-cut fries, served them with a side of secret cheese dipping sauce, and the most popular dish at his crab house was born.

    The beauty of this Chickie’s & Pete’s Crabfries recipe is its simplicity since you’ll need to prepare only two things, and they’re both easy: the secret crab seasoning and the secret cheese sauce. Since the chain’s cheese sauce is also used on their cheesesteak sandwiches, I surmised that a combination of the two easy-melting cheeses most commonly used on Philly cheesesteaks—white American and Cheez Whiz—would make a sauce with the taste and color of the restaurant version. This smooth sauce goes great with the fries, and it also puts the "Philly" into your next homemade cheesesteak.

    Once your cheese sauce is done and your seasoning is mixed, cook up a bag of crinkle-cut fries following the directions on the package, toss them with the seasoning, and serve immediately with the warm cheese sauce on the side.

    Find more famous french fry recipes from KFC, Taco Bell, and McDonald's here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Necco Candy Butttons

    The majority of paper that I ingested as a kid most likely came from eating these crunchy candy dots of flavored sugar. Peeling the buttons off the strips was never an entirely pure candy experience since there were always several buttons removed with haste that came with a bonus layer of paper stuck to the underside. And perhaps part of the candy’s charm was making a game out of attaining a clean, paper-free button removal.

    Candy Buttons or Candy Dots were created in the 1930s when an engineer at Cumberland Valley Company in New York created a machine to produce tiny dots of flavored sugar onto strips of paper. Necco bought Cumberland Valley in 1980 and became the sole manufacturer of the colorful candy strips until the company declared bankruptcy in 2018, and the famous candies, including Necco Wafers, Sweethearts, and Clark Bar, were sold off to the highest bidders. Candy buttons almost became a dead food, but fortunately, the product was resurrected when it was purchased by Cincinnati-based Doscher’s Candies, and today candy buttons are alive and well.

    A strip of the original pastel-colored candy buttons includes a combination of cherry, lemon, and lime flavors, but you can make your homemade Necco candy buttons any flavor or color you like with this recipe using the same ingredients as the real deal. For flavoring, find the popular LorAnn candy flavoring oils and add one bottle to the pan as the candy is cooling. Get some coated butcher paper and cut it into 11x2-inch strips (or any size you want, really), and use the back end of a skewer to place your dots on the paper. After a couple of days of drying the candy will be crunchy just like the original, and with coated paper, the sugar should make a clean release for a paperless burst of sweet nostalgia.

    The recipe will make at least 1000 candy buttons, but I’m not sure of the exact amount since I only got through about half of the pan of candy syrup to determine yield when my sanity came into question. Don’t feel obligated to use up the whole pan of candy for your buttons. For three different flavors of buttons on each strip like the original, you'll need to make three batches of candy.

    Click here for more of my copycat recipes of famous candy.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Domino's Spicy Jalapeno-Pineapple Specialty Chicken

    My Domino’s new spicy specialty chicken recipe gives you a new way to turn frozen breaded chicken from any supermarket into an impressive appetizer. And this Top Secret Recipe comes with my complete formula for duplicating the chain’s famous sweet mango habanero dipping sauce to give your dish its fiery personality.

    Top your chicken with a blend of Cheddar and mozzarella cheese, jalapeño slices, and pineapple, and bake it on a strip of parchment paper until the cheese is bubbly and browned around the edges.

    Find more of your favorites from Domino's here

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  • Not rated yet
    Carrabba's Traditional Cannoli

    Menu Description: “Two crisp pastry shells stuffed with sweet ricotta and chocolate chip filling, topped with pistachios and powdered sugar.”           

    For great traditional cannoli, one need not look any further than a nearby Carrabba’s Italian Grill. The cannoli there are exactly what you want cannoli to be: a crunchy shell that isn’t soggy or too thick, packed with sweetened ricotta cheese filling that’s smooth and not grainy. And with that classic crunchy/creamy combination comes a hint of cinnamon lingering in the background to complete the traditional taste of a legit cannoli.

    To make Carrabba's cannoli at home, you’ll need 8 cannoli tubes to form the shells. After wrapping circles of dough around these 5-inch long metal tubes, they get deep-fried for a few minutes resulting in shells that are perfectly golden brown.

    As for the filling, it needs to be smooth if you want a good clone, so try to find ricotta cheese that isn’t too grainy. We’ll first strain the cheese overnight so that most of the liquid runs off for a thicker filling, but if your cheese is still grainy run the filling through a food processor until the cheese is smooth before folding in the whipped cream. Now that’s good cannoli.

    Click here for more of your favorite dishes from Carrabba's.

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  • Not rated yet
    Melting Pot Cheddar Cheese Fondue

    This 140-unit chain is America's go-to restaurant for great fondue since 1975. The four-course menu includes a salad, a broth fondue entrée with a variety of meats and vegetables, and a selection of chocolate fondues for dessert.

    But the dining experience starts with a delicious cheese fondue served with various sliced breads, apples, and vegetables for dipping. The most popular of the cheese fondues is this one made with medium cheddar and just a little Emmentaler Swiss cheese melted into beer and combined with garlic and spices. Talking with a manager at my local Melting Pot, I learned that the chain uses Milwaukee's Best or Colt 45 in the fondue, so make sure you use a mild (and cheap) lager beer. He told me that the mild flavor of these beers doesn't overpower the cheese. Use a traditional fondue pot intended for cheese/chocolate fondue.

    Check out my Melting Pot Traditional Swiss Fondue recipe in "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step". 

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    Pizza Hut Spicy Lover's Pizza

    To satisfy America’s growing desire for foods that bite back, Pizza Hut introduced its spiciest pizza ever in early 2022. The new peppery pies include Spicy Hawaiian Chicken and Spicy Veggie, but it’s the Spicy Double Pepperoni version, with both regular pepperoni and cupped pepperoni, that takes the top spot.

    This is Pizza Hut’s first pizza to be topped with brined red jalapeño slices, which are similar to those packed in a jar from Old El Paso. If you can’t find bottled slices, use sliced fresh red jalapeños or red Fresno peppers, or any other spicy red pepper you find in your produce section. Red jalapeños will certainly bring some sting, but most of the boom will come from the chain’s new spicy marinara sauce that’s been kicked up with added peppers, and it's hacked here for you.

    When your feisty pie comes out of the oven, hit it with some “fiery flakes” (crushed red pepper and parsley) and you’ve got a perfect hack of Pizza Hut Spicy Lover's Pizza for your pizza-loving, hungry home team who like some heat.

    You might also want to try my clone recipe for Pizza Hut Pan Pizza.

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    Lofthouse Frosted Cookies

    When the Lofthouse frosted cookies were first produced from a handed-down family recipe in a makeshift bakery in the back of a Utah garage in 1994, it's likely the ingredients were different than they are in the mass-produced product found in markets across the country today. To maintain a long shelf-life, it is common for baked goods to be manufactured with nondairy substitutes, so butter is often replaced with hydrogenated oil and butter flavoring (otherwise known as margarine), and various vegetable gums and preservatives are added to improve the texture and stabilize the product. 

    Rather than using ingredients such as artificial flavoring, lecithin, cellulose gum, or carrageenan in my Lofthouse cookie recipe, as you will see on the label of the store product, we will use real butter, fresh eggs, and vanilla extract in our clone - perhaps just as the family who created this recipe did back in the day. The big difference is that you have to be sure to eat the cookies within a few days to get that freshly baked taste and texture. Or you may want to freeze them. Cake flour is used here rather than all-purpose flour to duplicate the tender, cakey texture of the original, and sour cream is used to add in the dairy needed without overliquefying the dough (as milk would). An added benefit of sour cream is the high acidity, which activates the leavening power of the baking soda. The dough is still going to be much thinner and tackier that typical cookie dough, so chilling it for a couple of hours before portioning it out onto a baking sheet is a must to make it easier to shape. 

    Get the full recipe in Todd Wilbur's "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step" cookbook. 

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  • Not rated yet
    IHOP Chocolate Chocolate Chip Pancakes

    A scoop of cocoa powder and a handful of chocolate chips are mixed into the chain’s famous buttermilk batter for a bold stack that is a chocoholic’s dream come true. And making a picture-perfect home hack with my IHOP Chocolate Chip Pancake recipe is about as easy as cooking can get.

    Just before you serve up each stack, drizzle it with chocolate syrup and add more chips. Finish it up with a pile of whipped cream on top, and some warmed maple syrup on the side.

    Check here for many more of my IHOP copycat recipes.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Freddy's Famous Fry Sauce

    You can't miss the bright red and white awnings featured at all 380 Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers restaurants. They are widely known for their custard and shoestring potatoes, but it's their famous fry sauce that put this joint on the map. 

    The sauce was originally developed as a dipping sauce for their famous french fries. But when Freddy's noticed customers asking for more sauce to go, they realized they had created a versatile sauce that was also excellent on burgers, hot dogs, chicken, and anything else that could use a flavor bump. 

    In 2015, Freddy's bottled their creation. Today the famous sauce can be purchased online for around $12 a bottle, but with my original Freddy's Fry Sauce recipe, you can make almost a cup of the good stuff at home for under a buck.

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  • Not rated yet
    Applebee's Spinach & Artichoke Dip

    When I saw a recent Mashed.com poll where most people picked the spinach & artichoke dip as their favorite appetizer on the Applebee’s menu, I realized I haven’t yet cracked the recipe, and immediately got to work.

    I've hacked many spinach & artichoke dips over the years, but this one is different with a blend of Italian cheese in the mix. Thankfully, grocery stores usually have bags of pre-blended shredded Italian cheese, to make things easy. With that cheese blend, plus some additional Asiago and Parmesan, we've got a spot-on match to Applebee's Spinach & Artichoke Dip.

    No need to defrost the frozen spinach ahead of time—that will be taken care of when it steams in your microwave. Add the steamed spinach to the cheese and other ingredients in a saucepan with the trimmed artichoke hearts, and when it’s hot, sprinkle on some more Parm, brown it under your broiler, and bust out the chips.

    Check out my recipe for Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos and more here

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  • Not rated yet
    Del Taco Tamales

    This 600-unit Mexican fast food chain celebrates the holidays each year with delicious little $2 corn husk-wrapped pork tamales made from a traditional recipe for authentic south-of-the-border taste. The only problem is when the holidays go away, so do these tasty tamales. And that's why we bust out this Top Secret Recipe.

    Making authentic tamales is not difficult, but it does take time. The pork requires a braise for several hours to get it fork-tender, and the wrapped tamales will take around 2 hours to steam until they're done.

    My Del Taco tamale recipe is inspired by traditional tamale recipes that include a braising sauce for the pork made from rehydrated guajillo peppers. To coax out more flavor, I chose to first toast the peppers before adding them to the liquid. And rather than using lard in the masa dough, I found a combination of vegetable shortening and butter to be a more flavorful alternative.

    Steam all 24 of tamales until they are fully cooked, and store those you can’t eat in your freezer for several weeks. Steam the frozen tamales for 20 to 30 minutes, and they’ll taste as good as fresh.

    How about a cold margarita to wash down those tamales? Find your favorite famous drink recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chick-fil-A Peppermint Chip Milkshake

    The chicken chain’s seasonal milkshake made with chips of peppermint and chocolate is only available November through January each year, but what if you’re craving one in March? Or what if it’s Sunday and you can’t get your favorite shake because that’s when every Chick-fil-A is closed?

    Now you can make Chick-Fil-A Peppermint Chip Milkshake at home in the few minutes it takes to smash some candy canes and turn on a blender. Use a small storage bag and a kitchen mallet or handle of a butter knife to smash the peppermint candy into small crumbs, then combine those with dark chocolate bits, ice cream, milk, flavoring, and color, and you’ll be sipping on a perfect copy of the famous shake in under 5 minutes.

    Oh, don’t forget the whipped cream and a cherry.

    Try more of my Chick-Fil-A copycat recipes like their famous chicken sandwich here

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  • Not rated yet
    Popeyes Megan Thee Stallion Hottie Sauce

    In a 2021 collaboration with female rap artist Megan Thee Stallion, Popeyes created a popular dipping sauce with a feisty kick for dunking your nuggets and strips, or for slathering over a crispy chicken sandwich. The chicken chain’s limited edition Hottie Sauce is a sweet-and-sour combo with a base of tangy cayenne pepper sauce. It’s sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, and honey and freckled with delicious Aleppo peppers. The sauce is filled with big flavor and appears to be a huge success for the chain since they have been running out of it at some locations.

    My Popeyes Megan Thee Stallion Hottie Sauce recipe is easy, so you’ll have no trouble being thee cloner of over one cup of this spirited sauce just as soon as you get your hands on some tasty dried Aleppo pepper flakes, which you can find online.

    When I went back to Popeyes a week later to load up on more sauce, they informed that it was sold out. So, if you like to use this sauce on your crispy chicken, you may really need this recipe. But don't stop there, you can also make a homemade version of Popeye's Chicken Sandwich here

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  • Not rated yet
    Domino's Sweet Mango Habanero Sauce

    This is the hottest of Domino’s dipping sauce offerings, and many would say it’s the best. The big sweet-and-sour flavors hit you first right out of the gate, then the habanero creeps in to remind your mouth which ingredient is the boss.   

    Sure, habanero is in the name, but there are actually several peppers at work here including jalapeno and red bell, and three juices: mango, orange, and lime. For your clone, everything gets pureed in the blender until smooth. When your Domino's Sweet Mango Habanero sauce has cooled, use it as a dip or baste for chicken fingers, nuggets, wings, coconut shrimp, salmon, and pizza (yes, pizza!). Give it a try with my Domino's pizza copycat recipes here

    Come for the great flavor, but stay for the heavenly heat of my simple and delicious original recipe for Domino's Sweet Mango Habanero sauce. Includes handy step photos. 

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