THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES

New Recipes

You tried it in the restaurant, now make it at home. Re-create your favorite restaurant dishes with copycat recipes you won't find anywhere else from America's most trusted food hacker, Todd Wilbur. New recipes are posted each week.

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    Dickey's Barbecue Pit Potato Salad

    America’s largest barbecue chain is famous for its great smoked meats. But Dickey’s Barbecue Pit also deserves a major shout-out for tasty potato salad that even potato salad haters will like. It’s sweet, sour, creamy, and speckled with just a bit of bell pepper and celery to make it interesting. And it’s easy to make a perfect copy at home with this handy Top Secret Recipe.

    For my Dickey’s Potato Salad copycat recipe, you’ll start with a simple dressing that includes cooked egg yolks (secret ingredient!), tossed with diced potatoes that take less than 10 minutes to cook. Stir in some minced red and green bell pepper—both cook al dente in under 5 minutes—plus a little minced celery and your work is done. And you made it for much less than it would cost to buy the real thing.

    After it chills, give it a good stir, and your potato salad hack is ready to fill hungry mouths.

    Fans of Dickey's will also love my original BBQ sauce and coleslaw copycat recipes here.

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    McDonald's Mambo Sauce

    One of two new sauces McDonald’s debuted in late 2023 is inspired by the famous Washington D.C.-area sauce originally offered at chicken wing restaurants and Chinese takeout joints in the 1960s. The sweet, sour, and spicy mambo sauce—also called mumbo sauce—is used as a dip for all kinds of finger foods including fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, French fries, and eggrolls.

    But McDonald’s only offered the sauce in small blister packs, which were available for about a month. So, if we want to bring back the great flavor of the limited-time-only sauce we'll need a handy home hack. Fortunately, I got my mitts on enough of the sauce before it went away to whip up this exclusive knockoff.

    My McDonald's Mambo Sauce copycat recipe is super easy, requires only common ingredients, and will make 1½ cups of the versatile stuff you can use for dipping anything that needs to be perked up.

    You might also like my clones for McDonald's sweet and spicy jam, hot mustard, sweet and sour, honey mustard, and Szechuan dipping sauces. Find all my McDonald's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes

    A great buttermilk pancake recipe will produce fluffy, tangy, and slightly sweet pancakes—the same qualities as the popular pancakes served at Cracker Barrel restaurants nationwide. But Cracker Barrel’s flapjacks have a secret ingredient that sets the chain’s morning stack apart from other restaurants. And this Top Secret Recipe will reveal it.

    To create my Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes copycat recipe, I first purchased a box of the chain’s pancake mix at the restaurant’s store to examine the list of ingredients on the package. In the list were the ingredients you'd expect, like wheat flour, sugar, salt, and leavening. But there was also a surprise: yellow corn flour. When added to the mix in the right ratio, the yellow corn flour contributed great cornbread-like flavor and gave the pancakes a unique crumbly texture that many seem to love.

    Does this special ingredient produce buttermilk pancakes which are superior to a more traditional recipe? It's easy to find out. Once you have corn flour and just a handful of other common ingredients, it takes just minutes to produce enough pancakes for you and everyone else to get a taste and decide if these are indeed the best buttermilk pancakes in the biz.

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    El Pollo Loco Homemade Tortilla Soup

    Packed with tender chicken and vegetables, my El Pollo Loco Homemade Tortilla Soup copycat recipe is just like the original, which happens to be one of the most wholesome tortilla soups I’ve ever hacked.

    And the technique here is ultra-easy since you use chicken pulled from a supermarket rotisserie chicken, which is a good thing for a couple of reasons. You don’t have to cook the chicken, so you save time. And, since rotisserie chickens usually cost less than a whole uncooked chicken, you’re saving money, too. One 2-pound rotisserie chicken will give you around 1 pound of white and dark chicken meat, which will be perfect for this recipe.  

    Most of your time will be spent chopping the celery, carrot, and peppers, then it’s just a simple matter of sautéing the vegetables until soft and adding the remaining ingredients. Once the soup is hot, serve it topped with crispy tortilla strips, cotija cheese, and cilantro, and pass out the spoons.

    Find more famous El Pollo Loco recipes here.

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    Kellogg's Pop-Tarts

    It took six months for Kellogg’s product developers to figure out how to mass produce a par-baked filled pastry that could be crisped up in a home toaster. In 1964, Pop-Tarts hit grocery store shelves in four flavors: strawberry, brown sugar cinnamon, blueberry, and apple currant, and went on to become Kellogg’s top-selling brand.

    I set out to make a taste-alike version of the popular snack that looks just like the original and could be cooked for a second time in a toaster. It was apparent that I would need a pastry dough that was flakey yet sturdy, and with a familiar flavor reminiscent of Pop-Tarts, and eventually, I came up with a recipe that worked.

    As I completed the dough for my Kellogg's Pop-Tarts copycat recipe, I worked on the filling, developing recipes for two of the most popular flavors: strawberry and brown sugar cinnamon. The strawberry filling here requires seedless strawberry jam and the cinnamon sugar filling is a simple combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, and butter—like streusel. The filling is spread on the bottom layer of dough and then a top layer of dough is added, ventilated with a toothpick or wooden skewer, and baked just until light brown. 

    When cool, the brown sugar cinnamon tarts are frosted with cinnamon icing, and the strawberry tarts are frosted with white icing, and then topped with sprinkles. When the icing hardens your Pop-Tarts clones are ready to be finished in a toaster for eating at your convenience, just like the real ones.

    Try my Kellogg's Pop Tart copycat recipe below, and find more of your favorite breakfast copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa

    In March 2024, Taco Bell debuted the Cantina Chicken menu, featuring 2 types of tacos, a burrito, a quesadilla, and a chicken bowl, each starring the chain’s new slow-roasted chicken. The Mexican chain also introduced avocado salsa made with peppers, tomatillos, lime, cilantro, and avocado as a companion to the latest items. But unlike all the other hot sauces, extra packets of the new sauce cost 20 cents each. And the 2½ teaspoons of salsa they hold doesn’t go very far. But 3½ cups sure does.

    For my Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa copycat recipe, I found there was no need to go through the extra time-consuming step of roasting fresh tomatillos and peppers when canned ingredients worked so great. The avocado, lime juice, and cilantro will be fresh, and the dry ingredients, namely the onion and garlic, will rehydrate nicely as the salsa rests.

    The first ingredient in Taco Bell’s version is oil, but for our purposes, we can reduce the ratio. Taco Bell chefs most likely add all that oil to their salsa to prevent the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown, thereby extending its shelf life. The oil has the same function in my version, but I call for ½ cup, which is much less percentage-wise than the real thing. The oil will indeed extend the life of your salsa, but feel free to reduce the amount substantially if you plan to eat the salsa within a couple of days and prefer to avoid the added fat.

    Followed as written, this recipe makes 3 1/2 cups of salsa or the equivalent of 67 Taco Bell blister packs. 

    Try more of my Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie

    For a delicious slice of your favorite iconic American pie, Marie Callender’s is the place to go. The chain serves tasty breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees, but it's mostly famous for great homestyle pies, and the classic coconut cream pie is no exception. Like many other pies I’ve hacked from Marie Callender's (Pumpkin Pie, Double Cream Blueberry Pie, Chocolate Satin Pie), the Coconut Cream Pie is sold in your store’s freezer section. But none of these frozen pies are as good as a fresh one you make from scratch. 

    The filling for my Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie copycat recipe takes just 10 minutes to make, and if you use a premade pie crust, this becomes a very low-impact recipe. I recommend you make the whipped cream topping from scratch using the recipe here that will produce much better whipped cream than anything from a can, and it's also quick. The most time-consuming step is making the dollops of whipped cream that cover the top of the pie, but even that’s pretty fun.

    If you’d like to make your pie crust from scratch, I’m including a recipe from my previous Marie Callender’s pie hacks. It’ll add time to your build, but the extra effort will be worth it.

    Try more of my Marie Callender's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi

    This top entrée pick from Cheesecake Factory is a classic dish, but its preparation is far from traditional, and perhaps that's why it's so popular.

    The creamy scampi sauce is flavored with a handful of whole roasted garlic cloves, plus shallot, basil, and tomato. The shrimp are lightly battered and fried until golden, then arranged upright around the plate to keep their crunching coats from sogging.

    In addition to all the secrets you’ll need to assemble two servings of my Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi copycat recipe, I’ve also included a cool technique for easily roasting the garlic cloves in just 15 to 20 minutes, and you won’t even need to peel the cloves. After your garlic cools, the skins will slip right off.

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Charms Blow Pop

    The fruity lollipop with gum inside is Charms' bestselling product, but the cool combo candy was the brainchild of a different candy company. Thomas T. Tidwell of Triple T Co. invented and patented his method for encasing gum inside candy in the 1960s, and sold his new lollipop, Triple Treat, for a short time. In 1973, Tidwell sold the product idea to the Charms Candy Company who renamed it Blow Pop, and for over 50 years the famous pop has been enjoyed by millions of happy mouths.

    I’m not privy to the details of Tidwell’s method, but I can see by the vertical seam on a real Blow Pop that it's probably made by sealing two halves of the pop together, one half with gum and one half without. I tried various silicone lollipop molds for my Charms Blow Pop copycat recipe with little success and decided instead to create a technique using half of a slightly altered cake pop mold. I first poured half of the pop into the molds, added the gum on a stick, and when it hardened I removed it, poured the other half of the candy into the mold, and added the hardened first half on top. When all was set, I had perfectly spherical pops with seams just like the original. And it didn’t seem to bother anyone that my pops were more than twice as big as the real thing.

    I designed my recipe to call for 1 dram of LorAnn Oils which you can find online. The original Blow Pops come in five flavors, and I’ve got four of them for you here: cherry, grape, watermelon, and sour apple. I also made a batch of cinnamon pops just for fun and added those instructions to the Tidbits below. Real Blow Pops don’t come in cinnamon flavor, but after tasting these, you might wish they did.

    Click here to make more famous candy at home. 

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    Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken Breast

    Menu Description: “Honey Sesame Chicken Breast is made with thin, crispy strips of all-white meat chicken tossed with fresh-cut string beans, and crisp yellow bell peppers in a sizzling hot wok with our new delicious honey sauce and topped off with sesame seeds.”

    The limited-time-only availability of this entrée is unfortunate for those who claim it as their top choice at America’s biggest fast Chinese chain. But now, with my Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken Breast copycat recipe, you can make your own homemade version anytime you want, and it won’t matter if the real one's yanked off the menu.

    The success of this clone depends almost entirely on how good the sauce is. The sauce needs to be sweet, but when I used too much honey the honey flavor overpowered the dish, so it was clear that some of the sweetness would have to come from sugar. Eventually, I found the right balance for a good sauce hack: sweet, salty, and sour, with a light back-end hit of red pepper.

    For the batter, I tweaked the coating in my hack for Panda Express Honey Walnut Shrimp, increasing the yield of the batter, so you won’t run out.

    After your sauce is done and the chicken is finished, build the dish by tossing green beans, yellow bell peppers, and crispy chicken in a wok or large sauté pan with the sauce, then spoon it over rice, and grab some chopsticks.

    Click here for more of my Panda Express copycat recipes. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Original Pancake House French Crepes

    It's not clear when Original Pancake House changed its French crêpes recipe. Old menus say the crêpes are filled with strawberry preserves and served with tropical syrup, but the current version switches out the preserves for fresh sliced strawberries, and the dish now comes with homemade strawberry syrup on the side. I can't say which is better since I never had the former version, but the current variation is as great as you would expect from this beloved pancake chain, and it's a dish well worth a home clone. 

    For my Original Pancake House French Crêpes copycat recipe, I started with the strawberry syrup, and with only three ingredients it took just a couple batches to perfect, then I cleared the deck for the more daunting task of cloning the fantastic crêpes.

    But after a dozen or so attempts, I was still not happy with my crepes, so I headed back over to the Original Pancake House to hopefully obtain more intel. While polishing off a huge serving of three French crêpes, I chatted up the server for any information that might improve my batter and I got a great tip: add more cream. Back at the hack lab, I replaced the milk in my formula with half-and-half and was thrilled to have finally produced a great clone of the original dish.

    And I discovered another secret: use clarified butter in the pan before pouring in the batter. That's how they do it in the restaurant according to my informant, and I've made sure to include that step in the recipe so yours will come out looking and tasting just like the real thing.

    You might also like my recipe for the Original Pancake House German Pancake aka "Dutch Baby".

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane

    Fans of Cheesecake Factory’s Steak Diane don’t seem to care that the dish isn’t a traditional take on the classic dish. The restaurant chain’s version is indeed served with mushrooms and medallions of beef tenderloin just like the old-school recipe, but you won’t find any Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cognac, or cream that one would expect in a true Steak Diane. Instead, the chain douses steak with the same Madeira sauce served with its Chicken Madeira entrée, and it's delicious.

    I hacked the chain’s Chicken Madeira many years ago in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 but was happy for the chance to go back and improve the great sauce. After some fiddling, I came up with an improved formula that calls for less wine and uses a more thorough reduction to intensify the flavors. When shopping for ingredients for my Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane copycat recipe, it's okay to pick the least expensive Madeira wine on the shelf. Just know that Madeira wines have different characteristics, so your final flavor may slightly vary from the restaurant version.

    For your tenderloins, start with thick steaks, since you’ll be slicing the portions in half through the middle, making them thinner. You’ll need 7 to 8 small steak portions to be sliced in half for 14 to 16 medallions. 

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Red Lobster Walt's Favorite Shrimp

    Many identify Red Lobster as the restaurant that serves free cheesy Cheddar Bay Biscuits with every meal, but the chain has another claim to fame as the first chain to make popcorn shrimp a thing.

    Introduced in 1974, Walt’s Favorite Shrimp is butterflied, breaded, and lightly fried, making the crustaceans a simple-to-eat finger food. But there’s more to my Red Lobster Walt’s Favorite Shrimp copycat recipe than simply breading and frying a pound of large shrimp. First, we’ll need to add flavor to the shrimp with a brine. And instead of using a salt brine, I found that a brine of concentrated chicken bouillon worked wonders for flavoring the shrimp all the way through.

    After brining the shrimp give them three coats of flour and one with breadcrumbs, then it takes just a minute or so until they’re golden brown and crispy, and ready to serve with a side of cocktail sauce.

    Find more of my Red Lobster copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Lotus Biscoff Cookies

    Jan Boone first created the traditional Belgian speculoos cookies at his Lotus Bakery in Lembeke, Belgium in 1932. Spiced shortbread cookies like these are often enjoyed with a cup of coffee, so the new cookie was called Biscoff as a mashup of “biscuit” and “coffee.” The cookies didn't become popular in the U.S. until the 1990s when airlines began passing out the cookies to travelers on every trip.

    Recipe authors who claim to re-create these cookies with a blend of spices that includes clove, nutmeg, and cardamom appear to be confusing speculoos cookies from Belgium with speculaas cookies from the Netherlands. Many spices were too costly to import to Belgium at that time, so speculoos cookies were often made with just cinnamon, while the Dutch version got the more expensive blend of exotic spices.

    Biscoff cookies are called “caramelized cookies” because they’re made with Belgian blonde candy sugar (bruen leger), which is granulated sugar that has been lightly caramelized. This ingredient contributes a unique taste to the cookies that is slightly different from cookies made with American brown sugar, which contains molasses. You can find brun leger online or make it yourself with white sugar in your oven using the tips here. If you'd rather not fuss with that, you can substitute with domestic light brown sugar.

    Finish my Lotus Biscoff Cookies copycat recipe by slicing the rolled dough with a fluted pastry wheel to make fancy edges like the real thing, and you’ll have around 3 dozen of the classic European cookies that will fit nicely on one half-sheet pan for baking. I’m calling for all-purpose flour here, but if you want more tender, melt-in-your-mouth cookies, use fine pastry flour.  

    Find more of your favorite famous cookie copycat recipes here.

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    Legal Sea Foods New England Clam Chowder

    This phenomenal clam chowder, made with lots of fresh littleneck clams, was chosen to represent the state of Massachusetts at the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981—just a year after first being served at the restaurant—and has been served at every presidential inauguration since. I think it's the best clam chowder you'll get at any casual restaurant chain in America, making it a perfect home clone candidate.

    I could glean only minimal information from servers at Legal Sea Foods in Philly where I first tasted this fantastic chowder. Fortunately, the company has an online seafood store where I could order a quart of the soup—for a whopping 45 bucks with shipping—which provided me with an ingredients list on the package to aid in the hacking. The restaurant has its cookbook, which provides a few more clues, but the recipe there does not produce a soup that is anything like the version in the restaurant. Many of the ingredients I found on the label of the restaurant version are not listed in the cookbook recipe. 

    The real soup includes a little salt pork, which I have replaced here with bacon since such a small amount is used. For the best flavor, you'll want to use fish or seafood stock, which I found at Walmart, but you can substitute with chicken broth if seafood stock is unavailable. My Legal Sea Foods New England Clam Chowder copycat recipe makes over 2 quarts of the soup and will cost you a fraction of what I paid for just a single quart through the company's website. 

    Find my Legal Sea Foods Crab Cakes copycat recipe here.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Portillo's Chocolate Cake

    I can confirm that the secret recipe for Portillo’s Chocolate Cake is as simple as adding a cup of mayonnaise, a cup of water, and three eggs to a box of chocolate cake mix and baking it in two 9-inch pans at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. The frosting on the cake is the kind you find in the baking aisle in tubs for $2. That's it.

    The recipe I've described would cost around $6 to make at home, and yet you'll pay $75 to have a frozen version of the real Portillo's cake delivered to your house. I know this because I did it. It was the easiest way to confirm my suspicions about the recipe. And sure enough, the cake packaging listed ingredients one would find in just about every box of grocery store cake mix: diglycerides, dicalcium phosphate, and propylene glycol. 

    Perhaps you prefer not to pay $75 for a cake you can make at home for 6 bucks. I get that. Maybe you also want chocolate cake that's not made with boxed cake mix because it’s, well, boxed cake mix. Same here. So, I wondered if I could make a similarly moist mayonnaise chocolate cake just like Portillo's, but this time from scratch, with wholesome ingredients in both the cake and the icing. Thankfully, after baking over a dozen different cakes I finally came up with a recipe that tastes like Portillo's Chocolate Cake but without the hard-to-spell additives found in the real thing.

    And if mayonnaise sounds like an unusual ingredient for a cake, fear not. Practically everything in it benefits your cake batter. The blend of eggs and fat helps keep the cake fluffy and moist, salt and sugar add flavor, as do the vinegar and lemon juice which also assist with the leavening process to produce a tall cake with a light crumb. You could say mayonnaise is the perfect ingredient.

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    P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken

    I'm not sure why it took me so long to clone this dish, considering that it was my daughter's favorite thing to eat at P.F. Chang's when she was a kid. I recently tackled it and created a spot-on copy of the chain's signature sweet-and-sour honey sauce, and in the process found some new intel that improved on my earlier version of the chain's crispy chicken which I had already hacked for a different P.F. Chang's recipe. The dish came together beautifully on the plate, and it cleared the final taste test by earning an enthusiastic thumbs-up from my now-grown little girl.

    Since P.F. Chang’s sells a version of this dish in the freezer aisle of my local grocery store, I was able to improve my chicken batter formula by extracting some good info from the ingredients listed on the product box. Based on this new information, I added more cornstarch to the batter along with corn flour and egg whites for a much better, crispier coating.

    The sauce in my P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken copycat recipe is sweetened with honey and sugar, soured by wine and rice vinegar, and thickened with cornstarch and gelatin powder to create a flavorful finishing glaze that sticks to the crispy chicken like the real thing. In the restaurant, the chicken is served over a bed of fried maifun rice sticks so I’ve included prep notes for that in the Tidbits, but you may prefer to forego that step and serve the chicken over or alongside cooked white or brown rice.

    Check out more of my P.F. Chang's clone recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak

    It finally happened. I recently created a new clone recipe for Cracker Barrel's Country Fried Steak only to realize much later that I had already cloned it eight years before in my book, Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step. But I'm okay with the unplanned re-do because the final result turned out to be a more accurate re-creation, making several improvements on my first hack from many moons ago. 

    Most chicken-fried steak recipes, including my previous Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak copycat recipe, call for cube steak—round steak that’s been scored in a butcher’s tenderizer—which isn’t always as tender as you may like it to be. Connective tissue that remains intact will make some bites too chewy, yet if the steak is over-tenderized it will fall apart when cooked.

    To ensure that every bite is perfectly tender, my solution is to avoid cube steak altogether and start with lean ground beef, as with recipes for Salisbury steak or Hamburg steak. Forming the ground beef into steaks and then freezing them so they hold together makes the breading and cooking process easy, and when served, every bite of the finished product is guaranteed to be fork-tender. 

    Of course, this iconic clone recipe wouldn’t be complete without a spot-on hack for the famous sawmill gravy that gets spooned over the top. I’m including a fresh hack for the gravy that improves on my original recipe, and it's super easy to make with just six ingredients.

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Chicken Marsala and Mushrooms

    Menu Description: “Chicken breast sautéed with fresh mushrooms in a rich Marsala wine sauce. Served over bow tie pasta.”            

    Unlike the creamy Marsala sauce served at many restaurant chains (as with Olive Garden’s Stuffed Chicken Marsala), the sauce served at The Cheesecake Factory is rich and dark with an unctuous concentration of flavor seemingly created by a thorough reduction.

    For my Cheesecake Factory Chicken Marsala and Mushrooms copycat recipe, you'll reduce lightly seasoned marsala wine and chicken broth to less than one-quarter of its original volume. Once reduced, your cloned sauce is strained to remove the herbs, then butter and lemon are added, along with a browning sauce such as Kitchen Bouquet to match the deep color of the original.

    Browned mushrooms are added to the sauce, then it's all spooned over sautéed chicken cutlets arranged on a huge bed of farfalle pasta. Hope you're hungry, because this recipe makes two huge Cheesecake Factory-size servings. If it's too much for two of you, the dish can easily be portioned into three or four more modest servings.

    Find more of your favorite dishes from Cheesecake Factory hacked here

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  • Not rated yet
    IHOP Cinnamon Bun Crepes

    One of IHOP’s creative new crêpes is this cinnamon bun/cheesecake mashup that’s probably more dessert than breakfast food, although no one at my house complained. Two delicate crêpes are filled with cheesecake mousse and drizzled with cinnamon bun filling and cream cheese icing, and it looks beautiful on the plate.

    For my take on the IHOP Cinnamon Bun Crêpes recipe, I reworked the cinnamon topping which I previously hacked for IHOP’s Cinn-A-Stacks to hold its shape better when applied with a squirt bottle. And I’m including two easy new hacks for the cream cheese icing and cheesecake mousse.

    Once your mousse and icings are done, use this original crêpes formula to make eight beautiful, delicate crêpes for four servings, topped with sliced strawberries and a dusting of powdered sugar.

    Find more of my IHOP copycat recipes here.

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    McDonald's Sweet & Spicy Jam

    Sugar and spice make this rare McDonald’s sauce very nice, but it was only available for a limited time at the chain. Fortunately, that short time window was long enough for me to procure several samples of the new McNuggets dipping sauce, and reverse-engineer a sweet copycat that can step up now that the tasty original is gone.

    This flavorful jelly brings the heat with ground cayenne pepper and cayenne pepper sauce, which, along with the minced red bell, give the sauce its red tint. The real thing also contains Szechuan peppercorn extract which adds a magical numbing effect to the flavor profile. So, for my McDonald's Sweet & Spicy Jam copycat recipe, I’m including just a bit of ground Szechuan peppercorn, which you can grind from whole peppercorns, or buy pre-ground.

    When your cooked sauce cools it will thicken and become jelly, thanks to the magical properties of pectin. Loosen it up by stirring it before serving alongside a variety of finger foods, including crispy chicken strips and nuggets, fried shrimp, eggrolls, jalapeño poppers, baked brie, and lamp chops.

    Find more McDonald's famous dipping sauces here.

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    See's Candies Chocolate Walnut Fudge

    Fudge can be finicky. It's created by combining hot candy syrup with chocolate, which can result in a grainy mess if the chocolate seizes and gets clumpy. This undesirable situation can be avoided by closely monitoring the temperature, but even then your chocolate could still lock up, and your fudge will be ruined. I couldn't let that happen in my recipe re-creation of the famous fudge from the 100-year-old West Coast candy chain. 

    For my See's Chocolate Walnut Fudge copycat recipe, I made over 56 pounds of fudge on my quest to develop a recipe that works every time, even if the chocolate seizes. And in most of my batches, it usually did. So I came up with a secret trick: reserve a little cream for later, then after the hot candy syrup is mixed with the chocolate and the chocolate begins to seize, send the cream to the rescue and the fudge will become smooth, as if by magic. 

    Stir in some walnuts, then pour the fudge into a wax paper-lined pan, and when it cools, you'll have over 3 1/2 pounds of thick fudge that tastes just like the real thing. That's more than $110 worth of fudge if you bought it at the candy store!

    Fans of the cinnamon lollipop will love my See's Cinnamon Lollypop recipe here.

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    Lofthouse Frosted Cookies

    When 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's 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 you find on the label of the store product, such as artificial flavoring, lecithin, cellulose gum, or carrageenan in my Lofthouse cookie recipe, we'll 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 can freeze them so they last longer. 

    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 over liquefying the dough (as milk would). An added benefit of sour cream is its high acidity, which activates the leavening power of the baking soda. The dough is still going to be much thinner and tackier than 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 work with. 

    Find more copycat recipes for your favorite famous cookies here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog

    Online taste tests and reviews routinely mention Farmland Fresh, Darigold, and Southern Comfort as America's best egg nog brands. And of the three, Southern Comfort, a brand famously known for fruit-flavored whiskey, often takes the top spot with its delicious “traditional” egg nog. Which, ironically, contains no booze.

    But the first egg nog, invented in medieval Britain, was quite intoxicating. It was a warm drink made with milk and sherry, and thickened with plenty of egg yolks. That’s a much different beverage experience than today’s branded egg nog, often served cold. And the cartons of egg nog from your market are now made with non-traditional ingredients such as corn syrup, and much of the egg yolk has been replaced with cheaper and longer-lasting natural gums, like carrageenan and guar gum.

    But, for my Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog copycat recipe, we'll turn back the clock and make egg nog more traditionally, with plenty of real egg yolks to thicken the batch, and no gums or corn syrup. My easy recipe will give you around 36 ounces of fresh homemade egg nog. And it’s up to you to add any booze.

    Make more fun, famous drinks with my recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa

    In March 2024, Taco Bell debuted the Cantina Chicken menu, featuring 2 types of tacos, a burrito, a quesadilla, and a chicken bowl, each starring the chain’s new slow-roasted chicken. The Mexican chain also introduced avocado salsa made with peppers, tomatillos, lime, cilantro, and avocado as a companion to the latest items. But unlike all the other hot sauces, extra packets of the new sauce cost 20 cents each. And the 2½ teaspoons of salsa they hold doesn’t go very far. But 3½ cups sure does.

    For my Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa copycat recipe, I found there was no need to go through the extra time-consuming step of roasting fresh tomatillos and peppers when canned ingredients worked so great. The avocado, lime juice, and cilantro will be fresh, and the dry ingredients, namely the onion and garlic, will rehydrate nicely as the salsa rests.

    The first ingredient in Taco Bell’s version is oil, but for our purposes, we can reduce the ratio. Taco Bell chefs most likely add all that oil to their salsa to prevent the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown, thereby extending its shelf life. The oil has the same function in my version, but I call for ½ cup, which is much less percentage-wise than the real thing. The oil will indeed extend the life of your salsa, but feel free to reduce the amount substantially if you plan to eat the salsa within a couple of days and prefer to avoid the added fat.

    Followed as written, this recipe makes 3 1/2 cups of salsa or the equivalent of 67 Taco Bell blister packs. 

    Try more of my Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes

    A great buttermilk pancake recipe will produce fluffy, tangy, and slightly sweet pancakes—the same qualities as the popular pancakes served at Cracker Barrel restaurants nationwide. But Cracker Barrel’s flapjacks have a secret ingredient that sets the chain’s morning stack apart from other restaurants. And this Top Secret Recipe will reveal it.

    To create my Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes copycat recipe, I first purchased a box of the chain’s pancake mix at the restaurant’s store to examine the list of ingredients on the package. In the list were the ingredients you'd expect, like wheat flour, sugar, salt, and leavening. But there was also a surprise: yellow corn flour. When added to the mix in the right ratio, the yellow corn flour contributed great cornbread-like flavor and gave the pancakes a unique crumbly texture that many seem to love.

    Does this special ingredient produce buttermilk pancakes which are superior to a more traditional recipe? It's easy to find out. Once you have corn flour and just a handful of other common ingredients, it takes just minutes to produce enough pancakes for you and everyone else to get a taste and decide if these are indeed the best buttermilk pancakes in the biz.

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Charms Blow Pop

    The fruity lollipop with gum inside is Charms' bestselling product, but the cool combo candy was the brainchild of a different candy company. Thomas T. Tidwell of Triple T Co. invented and patented his method for encasing gum inside candy in the 1960s, and sold his new lollipop, Triple Treat, for a short time. In 1973, Tidwell sold the product idea to the Charms Candy Company who renamed it Blow Pop, and for over 50 years the famous pop has been enjoyed by millions of happy mouths.

    I’m not privy to the details of Tidwell’s method, but I can see by the vertical seam on a real Blow Pop that it's probably made by sealing two halves of the pop together, one half with gum and one half without. I tried various silicone lollipop molds for my Charms Blow Pop copycat recipe with little success and decided instead to create a technique using half of a slightly altered cake pop mold. I first poured half of the pop into the molds, added the gum on a stick, and when it hardened I removed it, poured the other half of the candy into the mold, and added the hardened first half on top. When all was set, I had perfectly spherical pops with seams just like the original. And it didn’t seem to bother anyone that my pops were more than twice as big as the real thing.

    I designed my recipe to call for 1 dram of LorAnn Oils which you can find online. The original Blow Pops come in five flavors, and I’ve got four of them for you here: cherry, grape, watermelon, and sour apple. I also made a batch of cinnamon pops just for fun and added those instructions to the Tidbits below. Real Blow Pops don’t come in cinnamon flavor, but after tasting these, you might wish they did.

    Click here to make more famous candy at home. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie

    For a delicious slice of your favorite iconic American pie, Marie Callender’s is the place to go. The chain serves tasty breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees, but it's mostly famous for great homestyle pies, and the classic coconut cream pie is no exception. Like many other pies I’ve hacked from Marie Callender's (Pumpkin Pie, Double Cream Blueberry Pie, Chocolate Satin Pie), the Coconut Cream Pie is sold in your store’s freezer section. But none of these frozen pies are as good as a fresh one you make from scratch. 

    The filling for my Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie copycat recipe takes just 10 minutes to make, and if you use a premade pie crust, this becomes a very low-impact recipe. I recommend you make the whipped cream topping from scratch using the recipe here that will produce much better whipped cream than anything from a can, and it's also quick. The most time-consuming step is making the dollops of whipped cream that cover the top of the pie, but even that’s pretty fun.

    If you’d like to make your pie crust from scratch, I’m including a recipe from my previous Marie Callender’s pie hacks. It’ll add time to your build, but the extra effort will be worth it.

    Try more of my Marie Callender's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi

    This top entrée pick from Cheesecake Factory is a classic dish, but its preparation is far from traditional, and perhaps that's why it's so popular.

    The creamy scampi sauce is flavored with a handful of whole roasted garlic cloves, plus shallot, basil, and tomato. The shrimp are lightly battered and fried until golden, then arranged upright around the plate to keep their crunching coats from sogging.

    In addition to all the secrets you’ll need to assemble two servings of my Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi copycat recipe, I’ve also included a cool technique for easily roasting the garlic cloves in just 15 to 20 minutes, and you won’t even need to peel the cloves. After your garlic cools, the skins will slip right off.

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane

    Fans of Cheesecake Factory’s Steak Diane don’t seem to care that the dish isn’t a traditional take on the classic dish. The restaurant chain’s version is indeed served with mushrooms and medallions of beef tenderloin just like the old-school recipe, but you won’t find any Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cognac, or cream that one would expect in a true Steak Diane. Instead, the chain douses steak with the same Madeira sauce served with its Chicken Madeira entrée, and it's delicious.

    I hacked the chain’s Chicken Madeira many years ago in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 but was happy for the chance to go back and improve the great sauce. After some fiddling, I came up with an improved formula that calls for less wine and uses a more thorough reduction to intensify the flavors. When shopping for ingredients for my Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane copycat recipe, it's okay to pick the least expensive Madeira wine on the shelf. Just know that Madeira wines have different characteristics, so your final flavor may slightly vary from the restaurant version.

    For your tenderloins, start with thick steaks, since you’ll be slicing the portions in half through the middle, making them thinner. You’ll need 7 to 8 small steak portions to be sliced in half for 14 to 16 medallions. 

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    McDonald's Mambo Sauce

    One of two new sauces McDonald’s debuted in late 2023 is inspired by the famous Washington D.C.-area sauce originally offered at chicken wing restaurants and Chinese takeout joints in the 1960s. The sweet, sour, and spicy mambo sauce—also called mumbo sauce—is used as a dip for all kinds of finger foods including fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, French fries, and eggrolls.

    But McDonald’s only offered the sauce in small blister packs, which were available for about a month. So, if we want to bring back the great flavor of the limited-time-only sauce we'll need a handy home hack. Fortunately, I got my mitts on enough of the sauce before it went away to whip up this exclusive knockoff.

    My McDonald's Mambo Sauce copycat recipe is super easy, requires only common ingredients, and will make 1½ cups of the versatile stuff you can use for dipping anything that needs to be perked up.

    You might also like my clones for McDonald's sweet and spicy jam, hot mustard, sweet and sour, honey mustard, and Szechuan dipping sauces. Find all my McDonald's copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    KFC Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Sauce

    After the success of KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken, R&D chefs explored other sauce variations that could be drizzled over the chain’s Extra Crispy Fried Chicken and breaded tenders. The beauty of the Nashville chicken sauce is that it’s made without any water in the formula, just oil, so the crispy fried chicken that gets doused with it stays crispy.

    But I had to make this sauce another way that includes water in the mix. With moisture in the blend, chicken coated with this clone of Georgia Gold sauce doesn’t stay crispy as long as Nashville chicken, even though it still has the same great taste as KFC’s version—sweet, tangy, spicy, and slightly smoky. 

    To make the sauce, I mixed dry ingredients into the mustard, then drizzled the oil into the mustard blend while whisking to form an emulsion, locking everything together into a smooth baste. Since mustard is such a great emulsifier, the process produced a very thick sauce. At the end, I added a little water to thin it out so that when the sauce is drizzled over fried chicken or strips, it coats just right. You can use my recipe for KFC Extra Crispy Tenders here, or cook pre-breaded crispy frozen chicken pieces.

    Get this recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Raising Cane's Sauce

    This chicken finger chain makes a big deal out of its "secret" dipping sauce recipe, even requiring employees to sign a confidentiality agreement to protect any details about the recipe. As far as I can tell, it's a very simply recipe made with just a handful of pretty obvious ingredients. All you do is mix everything together and let it sit for a bit in the fridge. This may not be the exact recipe the chain uses, but it tastes the same, and that's all that matters. 

    Get the full recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step".

    You might also like my bottled Chicken Tender Sauce, inspired by the sauce at Zaxby's and Raising Cane's.

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  • Not rated yet
    Nothing Bundt Cakes White Chocolate Raspberry Cake

    While sharing a Bundt cake one day in 1997, amateur bakers and close friends Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz realized they could do better. After much experimentation, the duo discovered a batter that produced a moist, delicious cake, which was a huge improvement over the dense, dry cake usually associated with Bundts. But they weren’t done yet.

    The next step was to decide how to best frost their new Bundt cake. Traditionally, Bundt cakes are glazed by drizzling warm icing over the top, which drips down the sides and dries there. But the pair didn’t want to use glaze. They had a cream cheese icing they thought tasted better than any glaze, but it took some time to figure out how to apply it. They eventually settled on frosting their Bundts with large piped vertical ropes, so the icing looks like it’s dripping down the outside of the cake.

    To make a Bundt cake that matches the moistness and crumb of the real Nothing Bundt Cake, it’s important to start with the right flour. The cake has more bite to it than one made with only cake flour, but it isn’t as tough as one made with all-purpose flour. That’s why I settled on pastry flour, like the one from Bob’s Red Mill. Pastry flour contains more protein than cake flour, but not as much as all-purpose flour, so it works perfectly here. If you can’t find pastry flour, no need to worry. I’ve got a way for you to hack it by combining cake flour with all-purpose flour in a 2-to-1 ratio.

    The raspberry puree is made from scratch using frozen raspberries and it’s swirled into the batter before the cake goes into the oven. While the cake cools you can make the cream cheese buttercream icing. Get a 1A tip, which is a wide, circular tip for a pastry bag or gun, to make ropes of icing over the top and down the sides of the cake all the way around, just like the original.

    Get this recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Leonard's Bakery Malasadas

    “Biting into a cloud” is how many describe the lightly crisp browned shell and fluffy, custard-like middle of Leonard’s malasadas. Hawaii has become known for the best malasadas in North America, but the hole-less doughnuts aren’t originally from Hawaii. Malasadas were brought to the islands in the late 1800s by Portuguese immigrants who worked on the sugarcane plantations, and today malasadas are sold in bakeries all over Hawaii. But for the best malasadas, everyone knows you must brave the long lines that always go out the door at Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu. And that’s okay because it’s always worth the wait.

    Leonard’s has been making malasadas since 1952 using a well-protected secret recipe that many have unsuccessfully tried to duplicate. The chain will ship malasadas from Hawaii to your house on the mainland for a pretty hefty fee (nearly $100), but even after following strict reheating instructions, eating a two-day-old malasada is not the same heavenly experience as consuming a fresh one. A fluffy, fresh malasada turns into a tough and chewy malasada in just a few hours. That’s the nature of fried dough. It quickly became clear that if I were ever to properly clone these, I would have to experience them fresh, from the source. So, I hopped on a plane to Hawaii.

    I visited two Leonard’s locations in Honolulu: the original brick-and-mortar bakery and a Leonard’s Bakery food truck parked in a shopping mall lot. I watched them make malasadas in big vats of oil, lowering dozens of doughnuts at once into the oil with a metal screen pressing down on them so that they were fully submerged in the hot fat. I observed the process, noted the temperature, watched the malasadas come out of the oil and get sugared, and timed everything.

    Back home I made malasadas for weeks, using intel gathered in Hawaii. Dozens and dozens of versions later, after altering variables such as proofing methods, mixing methods, flour types, fat types, sweetness, saltiness, and many others, until I landed on this one. I believe it was number 92 out of 93 attempts.

    Before you begin making my Leonard's Malasada recipe, let me offer a few tips about equipment you’ll need. It’s best to have a stand mixer. The dough starts loose but it eventually gets too tough for a handheld granny mixer. I’m sure it’s possible to mix and knead the dough by hand when it gets too tough for the little mixer, but a big mixer is much better.

    Also, a deep fryer is helpful. You can fry these in a pot of oil with a thermometer if you want, but it’s so much easier to regulate temperature with a deep fryer. And you must devise a way to keep the malasadas submerged so that you won’t have to flip them, and they won’t get a white line around the middle where the dough isn’t in the oil. Deep fryers typically have a basket that you can use to put on top of the malasadas to hold them down. Rather than placing the dough in the basket when frying, carefully lower the dough into the fryer without the basket and use the basket on top of the dough to hold it under the oil. If you are frying on your stovetop, you can use a spider or strainer to hold the dough under the oil.

    Get this recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Nabisco Fig Newtons

    In 1891, a baker named Charles Rosen invented a machine that inserted fig paste into seamless pastry dough and was soon mass-producing one of the first commercially baked products in America. Rosen named his creation after the nearby town of Newton, Massachusetts, and eventually sold the recipe to the Kennedy Biscuit Company, which later became Nabisco. Today Nabisco sells over 1 billion Fig Newtons each year.

    It has long been my wish to create a satisfying clone of such an iconic snack, but I was never quite sure how to go about it. The fig filling needs to be sweet with a sour aftertaste, and thick like jam. The thin pastry would need to be tender, not tough, and should smoothly wrap around the figs without cracking. After a week or so of pureeing dry figs and testing pastry doughs, I finally created a Fig Newton recipe that tasted great and looked just like the original.

    Since you likely don’t have a fig bar extruder in your kitchen like Charles Rosen did, we’ll use a dough folding technique to make nicely shaped bars with smooth sides, no cracks, and no visible seam. The trick is to roll out the dough on wax paper, then wrap the dough around the fig filling by lifting the wax paper up and over the filling. You can cleanly manipulate very thin dough this way, and when you flip the bar over, the seam will be hidden.

    Re-hydrating the dried figs will help make them easier to puree, and the dry pectin in the mix will thicken the figs to a jammy consistency and give the filling additional tartness (citric acid is in pectin to help activate it). My Fig Newton recipe will make 48 cookies, or more than twice what you get in two 10-ounce packages of the real thing.

    Get the recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Zaxby's Chicken Fingerz

    Zaxby's is the largest chicken-finger chain in the country, with over 800 units throughout the Southeastern U.S., but it wasn't the first. In the early 1980s, Guthrie's restaurant in Haleyville, Alabama was serving hamburgers, sandwiches, ice cream, and Golden Fried Chicken Fingers that became a smash hit with customers. Guthrie's eventually eliminated all the other menu items and began serving just chicken fingers, French fries, Texas toast, and coleslaw, along with a special dipping sauce. You’ll find the same offerings on Zaxby’s menu, and the chain’s Chicken Fingerz are always the star of the show.

    One secret to making great chicken fingers at home is brining the chicken with a lightly seasoned salt solution to add flavor and juiciness throughout the tenderloins. Another secret revealed here is the inclusion of baking soda in the breading. This will make a light, crispy coating with a perfect golden brown color, just like Zaxby's chicken fingers.

    Get the recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Taco Bell Green Tomatillo Sauce

    Taco Bell has two green sauces mentioned on its website. One is a green chili sauce, which isn’t served at any Taco Bell I’ve been to. The other is a green tomatillo sauce, the most popular of the two, which can be ordered on any Taco Bell item or will be provided a la carte for you to pour on as you see fit. The tomatillo sauce, with its mild heat and bright tomatillo flavor, is the one we’re hacking here.

    It appears that Taco Bell uses canned peppers and tomatillos for their recipe, which is great because canned ingredients are ready to use, they add additional flavors and the acidity we need, and they simplify the recipe. Fresh produce would certainly require much more wrangling.

    My Taco Bell Green Tomatillo sauce recipe is easy. Just pop everything into a blender in the order prescribed and blend away, but don’t blend so much that the seeds get pulverized. You want a sauce that isn’t completely pureed, with visible small pieces of peppers and seeds. You’ll end up with 1½ cups of the tasty green stuff to use on tacos, burritos, salads, eggs, and more.

    Be sure to warm up the sauce a little before you use it (they keep it in a warmer at Taco Bell). The flavor of the real thing is fairly mild, so if you want your version hotter than that, just add more jalapeños to the blender.

    Get the recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Panera Bread Blueberry Scone

    A great cream scone should include just enough cream to help the dough stick together, but not so much that the inside of the scone is gooey. And the perfect amount of butter is required to keep the scone from being either too tough, or too flakey, like pie crust. 

    After two dozen attempts, I believe I found the right ratios that will give you tender, nicely-browned scones with juicy blueberries buried inside–and very little blue dough from blueberry juice just like the real thing. 

    Get the recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

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

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