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Welcome. You just found copycat recipes for all your favorite famous foods! Bestselling author and TV host Todd Wilbur shows you how to easily duplicate the taste of iconic dishes and treats at home for less money than eating out. Todd's recipes are easy to follow and fun to make. New recipes are posted each week.

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    A popular staple of any Chinese chain is the fried rice so it better be good, and the version served at Panda Express most certainly is. Here's an easy hack when you need a stress-free, low-cost side for your entrées. But I do suggest that you cook the white rice several hours or even a day or two before you plan to make the finished dish. I found that the cooked rice called for in this recipe works best when it's cold. 

    As for a shortcut, bagged frozen peas and carrots will save you from the hassle of petite-dicing carrots since the carrots in those bags are the perfect size to produce an identical clone. And they're already cooked. 

    Now, how about some Honey Walnut Shrimp, or Beijing Beef to go with that rice? Find all my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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    For a great chicken tortilla soup that doesn’t skimp on chicken and comes packed with other goodies like two kinds of beans, corn, chiles, onion, celery, garlic, and cilantro you’ll want to hack Chick-fil-A’s hearty version. Their soup is not only surprisingly good for a fast food chain, but it could also stand up to tortilla soups from any full-service chain, and these preparation secrets will guide you through a spot-on at-home clone.

    For the white beans look for canned navy beans or small white beans. Cannellini beans and Great Northern beans are too big for a perfect clone, but if that's all you can find they’ll still work here.

    The chicken is made the same way as in my Top Secret Recipe for Chick-fil-A Southwest Chicken Salad—it’s brined for four hours to infuse it with flavor before it gets grilled. Keep that extra prep time in mind when planning your soup.

    Chick-fil-A uses natural roasted chicken flavor in their version, and we can do the same by using Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base found in many stores and online. That particular ingredient will give you the best clone, but if you can’t track it down you can also use regular bouillon cubes.

    Top your soup with fried tortilla strips sold in bags or just crumble some of your favorite tortilla chips over the top, and grab a spoon. 

    Chick-fil-A makes amazing chicken sandwiches and mac & cheese. Find more of my recipes here.

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    For 64 years KFC branded itself with the feelgood slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good,” but when the Coronavirus pandemic struck in 2020 that slogan didn’t feel so good anymore and the chain put it on pause. That also meant that KFC’s Finger Lickin’ Good Sauce, which I hacked here, was removed from the menu, and in its place KFC offers the new, and much better, KFC Sauce for dipping chicken fingers, popcorn chicken, and wings, or for slathering on a chicken sandwich.

    Finger Lickin’ Good Sauce tasted similar to the dipping sauces you get at the chicken finger chains like Zaxby’s and Raising Cane’s. But this new sauce is different. This time KFC seems to have been inspired by the sweet-and-smokey creamy mustard sauce at Chick-fil-A.

    For our clone we’ll use mostly regular Grey Poupon Dijon mustard, but since there are detectable mustard seeds in the sauce we’ll also bring in just a little bit of Grey Poupon Country Dijon. This type of mustard contains the mustard seeds we need to give our sauce the perfect texture and flavor.   

    I've cloned a lot of other stuff from KFC. See if I hacked your favorites here.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    My favorite new Denny’s pancakes are these tasty whole-grain-filled buttermilk flapjacks, peppered with healthy flax seeds. At the base of the formula is my hack for Denny’s buttermilk pancakes, and to that I’ve added whole wheat flour, a little flax seed, and a hot cereal blend with nine different grains in it. Okay, mine had ten grains in it, but who’s counting?

    Regardless of how many grains are in the cereal blend you use, I find it best to give the grains a quick soak to soften them up before making the pancakes. Just let the cereal and flax seeds rest for a bit in the liquid before mixing them into the dry ingredients.

    Find more cool breakfast copycat recipes here.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    The Southern-themed chain famous for its gift shops filled with made-in-America products and delicious homestyle food is also known to have a particularly good meatloaf. This dish ranks high in popularity, right up there with the Chicken ‘n Dumplins and the Hash Brown Casserole, so a good hack is long overdue.

    Making meatloaf is easy. What’s hard is making it taste like the meatloaf at Cracker Barrel which is tender and juicy, and flavored with onion, green pepper, and tomato. I sought to turn out a moist and tender loaf of meat, and one that’s not dry and tough, but my first attempts were much too dense. I wasn’t happy about that, but my dog was thrilled.

    After playing around with the eggs-to-breadcrumbs-to-milk ratios and being careful to use gentle hands when combining everything and pressing it into the loaf pan, the final batch was a winner and I get to pass it along to you.    

    It's best to use a meatloaf pan here which has an insert that lets the fat drip to the bottom, away from the meat. A regular loaf pan will still work, but you’ll want to pour off the fat in the pan before slicing. 

    Satisfy your Cracker Barrel cravings with more of my copycat recipes here.

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    Imagine a giant soft sugar cookie with sweetened cream cheese on top and served warm as if it just came out of the oven and you have California Pizza Kitchen's Butter Cake, a delectable dessert described on the menu with five simple words: “Trust us…just try it.” 

    This dessert is an easy one to prep in the restaurant since the cakes are made ahead of time and chilled until ordered. Once an order comes in the cake is zapped for a minute in the microwave, then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and surrounded by dollops of whipped cream. You can prepare yours this way at home as well—make your cakes in advance, then chill them until dessert time. Or, you can serve the cakes right after they come out of the oven. Either way works.

    The construction is an easy one—you’ll need four 4-inch cake pans, or ramekins, or anything you can bake in that is 4-inches across. To make the batter I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and it worked great, but a hand-held granny mixer also works.

    I think you're gonna love this one. Trust me...just hack it.

    Find more amazing CPK copycat recipes here.

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    Panera Bread’s product information pages refer to a long proofing time when describing the sour characteristic of the chain’s phenomenal bagels, but there is no mention of how long. After several weeks of trying different approaches to proofing these cinnamon bit–filled bagels, I decided the best solution was to form the bagels and proof them overnight in the cold. The next day the bagels came out of the refrigerator not much bigger, but after sitting for several hours at room temperature they more than doubled in size and had a light sourdough flavor like the original.

    The cinnamon drops that go into the bagel were also tricky. I needed to come up with a way to make bits of cinnamon/sugar that were crunchy, but not so hard as to break a tooth. I found the best way was to make oven-cooked cinnamon candy bound with cornstarch and milk and tenderized with oil. This sugar mixture is baked in a loaf pan until no longer bubbling, then cooled and shattered into tiny pieces. When the candy is broken up, much of it gets pulverized into dust, which you separate from the crumbs with a sieve. The crumbs are the cinnamon drops used in the bagel, and the cinnamon/sugar powder is used to dust the tops of the bagels just before baking.

    I also found that kettling (boiling the bagels) with just a tablespoon of sugar in the water produced a browner bagel than kettling with no sugar, so that’s the technique I’m sharing here. Some techniques call for malt in the water, but sugar works just fine and makes the perfectly shiny, blistered crust you see in the photo.

    Panera Bread has amazing soups too! See if I hacked your favorite here

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    To help fill the void left by a lack of dine-in customers when the coronavirus pandemic struck the U.S. in early 2020, restaurant operators had to get creative. That spring and summer we saw a surge in ghost kitchens and virtual restaurants where all the food was prepared for delivery only. Ghost kitchens are kitchens without seating and minimal, if any, signage. Virtual restaurants are delivery-only services where food is prepared in established restaurant kitchens.

    It's Just Wings is a concept cooked up by Brinker, the team behind Chili’s and Maggiano’s, with a menu limited to wings in three styles—bone-in, boneless, and smoked—tossed in your choice of eight creative sauces or two dry rubs. Since I've already hacked a variety of traditional wings and boneless wings, I chose to clone this chain's stand-out smoked wings which are prepared in the same pecan wood smoking ovens (called Combitherms) Chili’s uses to make baby back ribs. 

    The secret is to brine the chicken first, then blot it dry and rub the skin with oil to help make it crispy while it smokes. If you don’t have a smoker, you can smoke the wings on your grill by heating one side of the grill and placing the wings on the other side. Set wood chips or pellets in foil over the heated side, then close the lid.   

    I’ve included hack recipes for three of the chain's most notable sauces: Honey Sriracha, Honey Chipotle, and Truffle Hot Sauce. Pick one (or more), toss your wings in it, and dive in. Or maybe you just want to go naked? These wings also taste great without any sauce at all.

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    In the Summer of 2020, to the dismay of many fans, KFC stopped selling the famous potato wedges that had been on the menu for decades and replaced them with battered French fries.

    Like the wedges, these fries are coated with a flavorful batter, but the seasoning used on the fries is a different blend than what was used on the wedges. Are these new fries better than the classic wedges? That depends. Some may prefer the rare treat of fast food skin-on wedges, while others may prefer the crispiness of these new fries. Some don’t care and just want a clone, so here you go.

    The hack here is simplified by using par-fried French fries found in the freezer section of your store. After coating the fries with this clone of the seasoned breading, spray them with water, then fry them for 3 to 4 minutes. That’s it. Be sure to have a clean squirt bottle filled with water to transform the breading into a thin batter giving your finished product the same crispy coating as the original.

    KFC’s new fries are coated with a blend that includes onion, celery, and carrot powder. It’s easy to find onion powder in most supermarkets, but I had to go online to find celery and carrot juice powders. The blend of vegetable powders adds great flavor, but if you want to omit the celery and carrot powders and just use onion powder, the recipe will still make delicious copycat fries.

    Click here for my KFC Original Chicken recipe or search for your favorites here.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 2

    Popeyes offers two sides with rice: the ultra-popular Red Beans and Rice, which I previously cloned here, and this rice made Cajun-style with ground beef and spices.

    The real recipe at the chain most likely includes chicken gizzard, but that ingredient is not always easy to find outside of buying a whole uncooked chicken that includes a bag of giblets tucked inside. So I set out to design a recipe without that ingredient and the results were great.

    The secret to the fabulous taste, after all, is not found in the gizzard, but in the flavors contributed by the “holy trinity” of green pepper, onion, and celery salt; accentuated by the ground thyme and oregano.

    If you’re making rice tonight, bump it up to something special with just a little extra work for delicious results.

    Can't get enough Popeyes? Find all of my recipes here

     

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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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