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You lucky devil. You just found copycat recipes for all of 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. Get all the best restaurant recipes from Applebee's to El Pollo Loco here. New recipes added every week.
- American Coney Island
- Auntie Anne's
- Bahama Breeze
- Baja Fresh
- Barney's Beanery
- Big Boy
- BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse
- Bob Evans
- Bonefish Grill
- Boston Market
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
- Buca di Beppo
- Buffalo Wild Wings
- Burger King
- Cafe Rio
- California Pizza Kitchen
- Capital Grille
- Carl's Jr.
- Carnegie Deli
- Cheeseburger in Paradise
- Cheesecake Factory
- Chickie’s & Pete’s
- Claim Jumper
- Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
- Cosmic Wings
- Cracker Barrel
- Dairy Queen
- Del Taco
- Din Tai Fung
- Dunkin' Donuts
- Einstein Bros. Bagels
- El Pollo Loco
Barney's Beanery, the self-proclaimed "third oldest restaurant in Los Angeles," has a long history of celebrity patrons dropping by for a hot bowl of chili and a beer or three. John "Barney" Anthony opened the first Barney's Beanery in Berkley, California in 1920, and seven years later relocated the restaurant to its current location on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Barney's soon became a popular watering hole for film stars from the 1920s and '30s, such as Clara Bow, Clark Gable, and John Barrymore. In the '50s and '60s Lou Costello was a regular, and so were Donald O'Connor, Charles Bukowski, and Dennis Hopper. Jim Morrison and his Doors bandmates were frequent customers since the offices of their record label, Elektra, were nearby. Janis Joplin was said to have had a drink there the night she died. The Brat Pack of the '80s—Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe, John Cusack, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore—would often come in to play pinball and video games. And Quentin Tarantino wrote most of his screenplay for Pulp Fiction while sitting at his favorite booth at Barney's.
This original chili was a favorite of Peter Falk's character on Columbo, who ate it often at the restaurant on the TV show. But the show wasn't filmed at the actual location. The Barney’s Colombo viewers saw on their TV was a sound-stage replica.
I found the secret to the flavor in Barney's chili comes from two chili powders that were popular in the West over 100 years ago, around the time Barney's first opened: Gebhardt and Mexene. Chili powders were new at that time, and there were very few on the market, so it's highly likely these ingredients were used in the recipe that made Barney's Beanery famous. Find those two chili powders, and follow my Barney's Beanery classic chili copycat recipe below to properly duplicate this Hollywood classic at home.
Menu Description: "Smoked ham, smoked turkey, two cheeses, battered and fried until golden with raspberry preserves and dusted with powdered sugar."
When pondering casual chains with the best Monte Cristo sandwiches, two come to mind: Bennigan's and Cheddar's recipes. At each chain the sandwich is built with turkey, ham, and cheese, then it’s battered and fried, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with raspberry preserves for dipping. It probably sounds strange if you've never had one, but Monte Cristo alums know it all tastes pretty darn great together. I hacked Bennigans' version years ago for my cookbook Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2, and recently, on a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, I was able to get my hands on Cheddars' signature version of this famous sandwich.
I planned for the mission by bringing along a cooler of ice so that I could get a fresh sample safely back home. Once I was back in the lab in Vegas, I subjected the sandwich to a series of tasty tests, burned through several versions of batter, and eventually assembled this new Cheddar's Monte Cristo copycat recipe that I think is even better than my previous Bennigan's hack. The better batter is the big secret here—it's light and crispy and perfectly golden brown, and the sandwich features two kinds of cheese, both white and yellow American. Will this be the best Monte Cristo you've ever had? You’re about to find out.
First impressions are important, and after my first bite of Denny's new buttermilk pancakes, I couldn't stop thinking about waffle cones. Back in the lab, I mashed together a standard waffle cone recipe with one of mine for buttermilk pancakes and was able to create the perfect recipe for Denny’s new, improved buttermilk flapjacks. And because of their unique waffle cone flavor, these pancakes taste just as great doused with maple syrup as they do topped with a big scoop of ice cream.
My Denny's Buttermilk Pancakes copycat recipe makes eight big 6-inch pancakes, which you will form by measuring 1/2 cup of batter onto your preheated griddle or skillet. If you have a large griddle pan, you may be able to make a couple of these at a time. With smaller pans, though, you’ll have to make one at a time, which will take a little longer. And that’s why they invented mimosas.
The health concerns regarding microwave popcorn are a result of the way it’s packaged. For the corn to pop, the kernels are submerged in boiling fat inside the bag until a buildup of steam in the kernels causes them to burst. To prevent the liquid fat from seeping through, the bags are lined with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, which, unfortunately for microwave popcorn lovers, has been linked to cancer and other nasty things.
I set out on a mission to make better homemade microwave popcorn with only natural ingredients, and without using costly popping gadgets. I also wanted to avoid using plastic, tape, or metal, such as staples. My solution is a new method of prepping the kernels, but like many other techniques I researched, it requires paper lunch bags. I was dismayed to find some discussions about the potential for problems using brown paper bags in your microwave oven, such as fire, but I had absolutely no issues any of the many times I did it. No smoke, no sparks, nothing looking at all dangerous was going on inside my cooking box. The USDA states that using paper bags in your microwave, “may cause a fire, and may emit toxic fumes,” yet the internet is full of microwave popcorn recipes calling for paper bags. I chose to still share my recipe and technique, but ultimately leave it up to you to decide if it’s a hack recipe you feel safe using. If you’d rather stay on the safe side, see the Tidbits for an alternate technique.
My Orville Redenbacher's Movie Theater Butter Popcorn copycat recipe starts with clarifying butter so that it’s pure fat, without any milk solids or water. Butter is about 16 percent water and if any of that stays in the mix, your popcorn will be on a fast trip to Soggytown. Once the butter is clarified, we’ll combine it with popcorn and salt and freeze it into pucks that can be saved for weeks until you are ready to make quick popcorn.
When it’s popcorn time, a puck goes into a small bowl, which goes inside two interlocking paper bags. After a warming session, you hit the “popcorn” button on your microwave oven and the popcorn will pop just like the store product (you may have to add another 30 seconds or so of cooking time). The first bag will soak up the excess butter that splashes around inside as the popcorn pops, and the second bag will keep the butter from messing up your oven.
To serve, pull the bags apart over a big bowl, and you’ll have a fresh batch of hot microwave popcorn coated perfectly with real butter and salt.
If you're like me and you like things spicy, try sprinkling your copycat Orville Redenbacher Movie Theatre Popcorn with my original Hell Flakes to create what we like to call "Hell Corn".
Like at Wendy’s, where unsold and broken burger patties provide the beef for their famous chili, Chick-fil-A gets the chicken for this delicious noodle soup by chopping up the leftover chicken used on their grilled chicken sandwiches. But grilling isn’t the first step to take when whipping up a home hack of this famous Chick-Fil-A chicken noodle soup. First, you must brine the chicken to fill it with flavor and keep it juicy like the real thing. A couple of hours later, when the brining is done, it’s grilling go-time.
The pasta shape Chick-fil-A uses in their soup is an uncommon one, and you might have a hard time finding it at your local market. It’s called mafalda corta (upper right in the photo), which is a miniature version of the ruffled-edge malfadine pasta used in my hack for Olive Garden Beef Bolognese. It also goes by the name “mini lasagna.” If you can’t find mafalda corta (I found it online), you can instead use your favorite small fancy pasta here, such as farfalle, rotini, fusilli, or whatever looks good at the store.
Bojangles’ signature Cajun rice is always a big seller at the 750-unit fried chicken chain, and a hack has been on my hit list for years now. When I recently found myself in Huntsville, Alabama, I stopped at Bojangles’ and filled up my travel cooler with tubs of dirty rice and buttermilk biscuits and smuggled them safely back to the underground lab in Vegas.
Dirty rice gets its dirty look from the chunks of pork sausage (made from the patties used on the breakfast biscuit sandwiches), and the ground green herbs found in the traditional, and top secret, Cajun seasoning blend. For my Bojangles' dirty rice recipe below, I started with the seasoning, and since I couldn’t see any large herb leaf pieces, I made sure to crush the dried parsley in the palm of my hand before adding it. I figured oregano and thyme would be in there, but they should be in ground form to contribute the proper green “dirtiness” to the rice.
Flavors in Cajun cooking are often created with what’s known as “the holy trinity,” a combination of onion, celery, and bell pepper. The celery salt in the Cajun seasoning brings the celery flavor to the dish. Adding green onion and red bell pepper to the rice completes the trinity. Be sure to finely mince the red bell pepper before sweating it in the butter with the green onion. And keep the heat medium/low when you cook the pepper and green onion to prevent the butter from burning.
As for the rice, I found converted to work best since it’s less starchy and tends not to be as sticky. Converted rice has been parboiled in its husk, so it’s also a healthier option than regular white rice, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. If you can’t find converted rice (Uncle Ben’s is a good one), you can also use long-grain white rice.
Check out more of my Bojangles copycat recipes here.
The new Mac & Cheese at Chick-fil-A is baked fresh every day, and the recipe is more complex than you might expect from a fast food chicken chain. According to the official list of ingredients, the formula includes several different kinds of cheese including Parmesan, Romano, and award-winning hard cheese from Wisconsin called BellaVitano. The BellaVitano cheese adds a subtle nuttiness to the mix and all three hard cheeses contribute big umami flavor that nicely complements the blend of white and yellow cheddars.
Those five kinds of cheese combine to make a great flavor, but the blend would melt into a greasy mess if it weren’t for the assistance of one more ubiquitous cheese: American. The benefit of American cheese—which makes up for its lack of flavor—is found in the sodium citrate it contains. This natural sodium salt is an emulsifier that keeps the fat in the cheese from separating (and it also happens to be useful in preventing kidney stones!). By first melting several slices of American cheese in the milk, we don’t need to make a roux to create a perfectly smooth cheese sauce.
As for cooking the macaroni, here’s another secret: don’t follow the directions on the box for al dente pasta, because you don’t want the pasta to be al dente, or slightly tough. You want to cook the elbow macaroni for 20 minutes so that it absorbs as much water as possible. This will ensure that the pasta won’t suck up liquid in the cheese sauce when they are combined, and the sauce will maintain a perfectly creamy consistency.
For decades, Carl’s Jr. has effectively cornered the market on fried zucchini at major fast food chains by serving a great crispy breaded version that’s flavorful all the way through. Now you can make zucchini that tastes just as good, as long as you know the secret step that other fried zucchini recipes miss. It makes all the difference.
The secret is a brine. I found that this fried zucchini tastes best when it takes a salted water bath before breading. In 60 minutes, the salt in the brine is absorbed by the zucchini, spreading good flavor all the way through. After the brine, the zucchini is rinsed, coated twice with flour and once with seasoned breadcrumbs, and fried to a beautiful golden brown.
I’m giving you a couple choices here. You can make the recipe all the way through and serve it immediately, or if you want to serve it later, you can par-fry the zucchini and freeze it for several days. After that, when an occasion arises, a couple minutes is all it takes to finish off the dish and serve it. My Carl's Jr. Fried Zucchini recipe makes enough for a small gathering, but you can easily cut it in half for a more intimate hang.
Crispy cauliflower appetizers are abundant at the chains these days, and not all of them are good enough to be clone-worthy, but CPK’s take on breaded cauliflower in buffalo wing sauce is one of the best I’ve had. The crispy florets are made gluten-free with rice flour and they are beautifully presented in a puddle of ranch dressing, sprinkled with Gorgonzola cheese, and topped with julienned celery and green onions.
For the sauce, CPK chefs combine the flavor of traditional buffalo wings with sriracha and then sweeten it a bit. After a few tries, I came up with a hack that’s ridiculously easy, requiring only four ingredients.
The batter is even easier, with only three ingredients— rice flour, buttermilk, and salt—and once your oil is hot enough, it takes under 3 minutes to cook the cauliflower to perfection. After a gentle toss in the secret sauce, you’re ready to plate your trendy, tantalizing appetizer.
Bojangles’ was founded in 1977 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and today the 750-unit chain is famous throughout the southeastern U.S. for its juicy fried chicken, fluffy buttermilk biscuits, and Cajun dirty rice.
And just like McDonald’s, Bo’s has a special sauce that’s pretty famous too. It’s arguably much better than McDonald’s Big Mac sauce, especially if you like the flavors of horseradish and roasted red bell pepper. The lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and sugar team up for the appropriate sweet-and-sour notes found in any decent special sauce, and the herbs add a nice finish you don’t get with other sandwich sauces. You might also like to know that my Bo's special sauce recipe is made without the high-fructose corn syrup that’s listed as the third ingredient in the real thing.
Mix everything in a bowl and park it in the fridge for a spell so the flavors can mingle, then use the sauce as you see fit on sandwiches made with fried chicken, grilled chicken, and roast beef, or as a dip for chicken fingers and nuggets.
If you like Bojangles’ famous flakey buttermilk biscuits, then you’ve got to be a fan of the chain’s popular Bo-Berry Biscuits. Bojangles’ transforms their great top-secret buttermilk biscuit recipe into a popular dessert item by adding blueberry bits and a drizzle of sweet glaze over the top. Really good just got better.
The basic recipe here for the biscuits is the same as my clone for Bojangles’ Buttermilk Biscuits, because I wouldn’t want to change a thing. The new secrets you’ll get here are for the glaze and a handy trick for getting the dried blueberries chopped into little bits without making a sticky mess.
I suggest margarine for a fluffier final product, but you can replace the margarine with butter if you want more butter flavor in the biscuits. Just as with the plain buttermilk biscuits recipe, make sure all of your ingredients are cold and your oven is very hot. And don’t overmix or overwork the dough if you want flakey, fluffy biscuits that look and taste just like the real Bojangles' Bo-Berry Biscuits.
Once you have the basics down, most coconut shrimp comes out tasting the same. But Bahama Breeze uses a special secret ingredient that makes its signature appetizer stand out above all the rest.
Adding Coco Lopez cream of coconut—a mixer often used to make pina colada cocktails—to the batter gives the shrimp a burst of coconut flavor that it won’t get from coconut flakes alone, plus a perfect sweetness. After the shrimp are dipped in the batter, they are coated in a blend of breadcrumbs and shredded coconut and fried for just three minutes.
I’ve also included my hack for the delicious citrus-mustard sauce served on the side for dipping, but the Bahama Breeze Coconut shrimp are so good on their own you could eat them straight up.
Braised and shredded pork shoulder is a staple of Mexican cuisine that Chipotle prepares with a simple blend of flavors, and a surprising ingredient you may not have expected: juniper berries. Once you track those down (they’re easy to find online), the berries are combined with thyme and bay leaves in a braising liquid that will transform your own pork roast into an easily shreddable thing of beauty in under 3 hours. Then you can use your Chipotle carnitas clone on tacos, in burritos, or in a bowl over rice and beans just like they do in the restaurant.
When picking your pork roast, try to find one without too much fat. If your roast has a thick cap of fat on it, trim off the excess. You want some fat in your braising liquid, but if the cap of fat is too thick, it may not fully render down and you’ll get chunks of fat in the shred.
It’s often assumed that the pork butt is from the rear end of the pig, even though cuts from the back region already have a name: ham. The pork butt, also known as a Boston butt, is cut from the other end, the upper shoulder of the pig. It’s called a “butt” because in pre-Revolutionary War New England the roasts were stored and transported in barrels called “butts”, and the confusing name stuck.
This recipe was our #5 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce (#1), Olive Garden Lasagna Classico (#2), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4).
Over the years I've hacked a bunch of items from Chili's menu, including their Fajitas, Baby Back Ribs, Salsa, Chili Queso, Southwestern Eggrolls, Chicken Crispers, Boneless Wings, and more, but it wasn’t until recently that I got the chance to create a recipe for the Chili's award-winning Original Chili. Why it took so long, I have no idea.
The chili served at Chili’s is a Texas-style con carne recipe, which traditionally means no beans and no tomato. You won’t find any beans in this recipe or chunks of tomato, but their chili does have a tomato base to boost flavor, so I’m adding that into the mix by including one 6-ounce can of tomato paste. As it turns out, that small can is just the right amount.
The preparation technique for my Chili's Original chili recipe is simple: brown the beef, drain off the fat, then add some of the fat back to the empty pan to sauté the onions and peppers in. When those are done, you add the beef back to the pan along with the remaining ingredients and simmer for 1½ hours. That will be just long enough to braise the beef and tenderize it, and to thicken the chili to a perfect consistency.
When the chili’s done, top each serving with a cheddar/pepper Jack blend, and some crispy tortilla bits. Then pass out the spoons.
Menu Description: "Lightly fried Brussels sprouts tossed in Big Poppa Smokers Desert Gold seasoning with sweet sriracha crema."
Brussels sprouts have been exploding on chain restaurant menus in recent years, and the best I've tasted are served as starters. The cruciferous wonders are usually roasted or fried, then dressed with a sauce meant to override the sprouts' inherent bitterness. And when they’re done right, those Brussels sprouts will be the most memorable dish at the table.
BJ’s preparation technique of choice for Brussels sprouts is to fry them, then sprinkle them with a lemony seasoning blend by Big Poppa Smokers just before they get drizzled with sweet sriracha crema. For the seasoning, there’s no need to buy the real thing since I’ve come up with an easy hack. And the sriracha crema copycat couldn’t be simpler, with just four ingredients.
My BJ's Honey Sriracha Brussels Sprouts recipe makes a share plate appetizer-size serving for 2 to 4 people, but you'll have enough seasoning and sauce here for a bigger serving (such as a side dish) if you just add more sprouts.
Menu Description: “This fresh-baked pull-apart bread is topped with caramelized butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, baked to a golden brown finish and then topped with vanilla bean ice cream.”
BJ’s signature dessert, and probably its most famous single menu item, is the Pizookie, which is a cookie baked in a small pizza pan, served hot with ice cream on top. But the cookie in the pan isn’t always a cookie. Sometimes it’s a brownie, or in the case of this recent variation on the famous dessert, freshly-baked monkey bread.
Just as in the restaurant, the monkey bread in this recipe isn’t originally baked in the 6-inch cake pans (or pizza pans) it’s served in. The monkey bread is baked ahead of time in a larger pan, then the sections of bread are placed into the smaller serving pans, with the gooey side up, and they’re warmed up just before serving.
Great monkey bread needs to be made from scratch, and it’s not hard. Many of the most popular recipes for monkey bread you’ll see are made with instant biscuits in a tube. This is an easier solution to be sure, but monkey bread made with quick dough—dough that’s chemically leavened with baking powder—rather than with hardier yeast dough just doesn’t match up to the real BJ's Monkey Bread Pizookie.
Rather than making the monkey bread in a Bundt cake pan as most traditional recipes call for, we’ll make this one in a single layer in an 8-inch cake pan or deep-dish pizza pan. When the bread is cool, it’s broken up and transferred to two smaller cake pans, warmed up, topped with ice cream, and served.
I’m not sure why Einstein Bros. claims there are just four cheeses in the new Twice-Baked Hash Brown when the ingredients clearly list six kinds of cheese, plus cream cheese. Regardless, the shredded Asiago, Romano, Parmesan, provolone, and mozzarella listed there can be found combined in an “Italian Blend” at many supermarkets, making for an easy start to our home clone. And don’t just be thinking about breakfast for these cheesy potatoes. They work great as a side for any meal.
In the detailed description of the new item, Einstein Bros. claims the hash browns contain two kinds of schmears, which is true, but a little misleading because one of them is just plain cream cheese. The other is onion-and-chive cream cheese, which we can make from scratch. We’ll combine those two shmears into one blend by doubling the cream cheese added to our onion-and-chive schmear formula.
Follow my Einstein Bros. twice baked hash brown recipe below, and mix everything together. Then, load the ingredients into a standard 12-cup muffin pan with circles of parchment paper cut out to fit into the bottom of the 12 cups. Without these parchment circles, the hash browns may stick and break when they’re released. You can also use paper muffin cups, if you don’t mind the less crispy, ridged sides.
Bake them the first time for 30 minutes, then cool and store. Now you have a dozen servings of cheesy hash brown potatoes that are easy to finish off by baking them a second time until crispy. These Einstein Bros. Twice Baked Hash Browns are great served with breakfast, or for dinner as your starchy side alongside beef, chicken, lamb, and many other savory entrées.
Korean chicken is famous for its extra crispy coating, and Bonchon’s recipe—especially the wings—is one of the best in the world. That chain's famous formula is why there are now over 340 Bonchon outlets in nine countries, including over one hundred in the US and more planned to open here in the near future.
The biggest challenge when creating my Bonchon chicken wings recipe was finding the perfect magical mixture for the batter that fries to a golden brown, and with tender crispiness that stays crunchy long after the wings have been brushed with the flavorful glaze.
I knew that a traditional double-frying technique would help create the crunchy coating we needed, but it would take some trial and error to determine the best time splits. The wings are par-fried, rested, and then fried again until done, but just how long to give each stage was yet to be determined since every recipe I found for Korean chicken used different times and temps. Some recipes even changed the temperature between frying steps, but I found those made the recipe too difficult to manage when frying multiple batches.
I eventually settled on 350 degrees F with most of the frying done up front in the par-fry stage. A three-ingredient batter is all that’s needed for crispy golden-brown wings, and the soy garlic sauce is a quick hack using your microwave oven. If you like your wings spicy like I do, it’s very easy to kick them up by adding Korean red chili paste (gochujang) and Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru) to the soy garlic recipe in the measurements listed below.
Click here for more delicious copycat appetizer recipes.
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. I've designed my CPK Butter Cake recipe below the same way, so you can make your cakes in advance and 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, 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 fine.
You're gonna love this one. Trust me...just try it.
Find more amazing CPK copycat recipes here.
If you didn’t know this salad came from Chick-fil-A you could easily be fooled into thinking it was a much more expensive salad from a casual chain like T.G.I. Friday’s or Chili’s. The bed of greens is built with crisp romaine, green leaf, and red leaf lettuce, and without a speck of tasteless iceberg in sight. On top of that are ingredients you don’t associate with fast food, like grilled corn, black beans, roasted peppers, spicy chili lime pepitas, and crunchy tortilla chips. Everything works great together, and now I can show you how to make all of it for a spot-on home hack.
Chick-fil-A knows chicken, so of course the spicy chicken served on top of the salad is delicious. We can easily clone it by marinating chicken fillets in a special spicy brine for a few hours to infuse it with flavor and juiciness, then grilling it, chilling it, and slicing it thin.
The biggest star of the salad is the secret recipe that kitchen cloners have requested most: the creamy salsa dressing. To make your own version, roast some peppers and mix those with the other ingredients in a blender until the dressing is smooth and creamy. You’ll get a bright, spicy dressing that perfectly duplicates the one served on the Chick-fil-A Spicy Southwest Salad.
Not having ever lived in the southern US my experience with this dessert was about as minimal as it gets. The first buttermilk pie I tasted was at Cracker Barrel and I was immediately hooked on the sweetened vanilla custard with its distinct, but not overwhelming flavor, tang from the buttermilk and lemon juice, balanced with a sweet garnish of strawberries and whipped cream. It’s a versatile dessert that is as well-suited for summertime get-togethers as it is for traditional southern winter holiday meals.
Now I’ve tasted over a dozen variations of this decades-old favorite—all but one of them coming out of my own oven—on my quest to discover the best way to make Cracker Barrel’s popular dessert. And finally, I hacked it.
The beauty of my Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pie copycat recipe is its simplicity: you’ll need just a handful of common ingredients, a whisk, and an unbaked pie shell. You can make your own pie shell using your favorite recipe or buy a frozen unbaked crust at the supermarket to save time. My pie shell was made by Marie Callender’s and it was delicious.
Whisk together the filling in stages as described here, pour it into your pie shell, and bake it starting on the lowest rack so that the bottom of the pie gets browned. If you have a convection oven, this is a good time to use it so you’re sure to get even browning on top.
After about an hour your pie will be done, and when it cools, it's slicing time.
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 Cracker Barrel Meatloaf recipe 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.
Chipotle’s popular limited offering is a good example of how straightforward and flavorful carne asada can be. It’s not overly mysterious since Chipotle is transparent about the ingredients used for the restaurant's entire menu—53 ingredients in all—but identifying those is only the beginning of the process. There was still plenty of work to do in establishing ratios and settling on an ideal preparation method.
Carne asada is almost always made with flank steak or skirt steak. A server at Chipotle told me they use skirt steak, which is surprising since that is the tougher of the two cuts. Perhaps she was wrong about that? Flank steak also has a better flavor than skirt steak, so I'm recommending flank here. Just be sure not to marinate it for more than 2 days or the acid in the marinade may toughen your steak and you certainly don't want that.
After you grill it, slice the meat across the grain and use it in burritos, tacos, bowls, or as a Southwest-style salad topper.
My Chipotle carne asada recipe was our #5 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4).
Social media shredded Chipotle’s first queso dip which debuted in 2017, calling it “gritty,” “bland,” “watered-down,” and “a crime against cheese.” Chipotle was in desperate need of a re-do.
In early 2020, after months and months of test-marketing an improved cheesy dip recipe in Dallas, Detroit, and San Diego, the Mexican chain introduced Queso Blanco to the entire U.S., and this time the reviews were much better.
Chipotle claims their new formula contains exactly 13 ingredients, including 2 kinds of cheese and 3 different chile peppers. With cornstarch as the thickening agent, the preparation starts by making a white sauce with milk and cream. When the cheese is fully melted and smooth, the veggies go in, and in about 10 minutes it’s ready to serve.
Use my Chipotle Queso Blanco copycat recipe as a dip with tortilla chips or as a topping on your copycat Chipotle carne asada or carnitas tacos and barbacoa burritos. Find all my Chipotle recipes here.
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Birria was invented over 400 years ago when an increasing goat population became a problem for residents of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Their solution: eat them.
But goat meat can be tough and gamey, so a low and slow braising method was developed to make the meat tender and tasty. A broth flavored with chili peppers and spices was combined with the meat in a covered pot which was then buried in the ground with hot coals. Early the next day, the braised birria is ready to eat, which is why the dish became a traditional Mexican breakfast food.
But customers at El Pollo Loco birria usually have their birria for lunch and dinner. And, while I lack a formal survey, I am nearly positive that everyone is happy that this version isn’t made with goat meat. Instead, my version of El Pollo Loco Shredded Beef Birria is made by braising a 2 to 3 pound chuck roast in a secret combination of peppers and spices for 3 hours, or until your beef is tender enough to shred with a couple forks.
Strain the braising sauce left in the pan to make the delicious consommé, then use this shredded beef on tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or whatever sounds good. Add some cilantro and chopped onion to the consommé and serve it on the side for dipping, just like they do at the restaurant chain.
Here’s an easy secret recipe for a great coleslaw that’s as good, if not better, than the world-famous cole slaw from KFC (which I hacked here). And making a home copy with this exclusive original secret formula is about as easy as it gets.
To make my Dickie’s Barbecue Pit coleslaw recipe, you won’t have to mince the cabbage as fine as you would for some of the other clones. For this hack, thin-slice the cabbage first, then give those slices a medium chop and you're good to go. A medium head of cabbage will give you around 8 cups chopped—the perfect amount for this recipe.
After you mix in the dressing, let the finished slaw sit in your refrigerator for at least an hour so that the flavor develops and improves, and be sure to give it a good stir before you serve it. Your patience will be rewarded.
For another awesome Dickie's clone, check out my copycat of the chain's original BBQ sauce here.
Domino’s oven-baked starter, which debuted in early 2023, reveals a great way to transform a boring bag of potato tots into a dish with pizzazz. The pizza chain’s new Loaded Tots are built with a delicious pile of crispy potato tots, topped with cheese, a secret sauce, and other good stuff that I probably should have been stacking on potato tots years ago.
For my Domino’s Loaded Tots recipe, I picked the two bestsellers of the three versions offered at Domino’s for you to clone: Philly Cheesesteak and Cheddar Bacon. The Philly Cheesesteak version includes onion, green pepper, steak, and Alfredo sauce, and the Bacon Cheddar is topped with crispy crumbled bacon and garlic Parmesan sauce. Which one will you be making?
Once you decide, simply arrange a couple of dozen cooked tots on a baking sheet and smother them with the mozzarella/cheddar cheese blend, a few toppings, and the secret sauce hack, then bake for just 8 minutes until it’s melty and magnificent.
Find more of my Domino's copycat recipes here.
A dish traditionally made with pork is redesigned for chicken in this Mexican chain’s limited-time-only sweet-and-spicy variation. All the key ingredients for good al pastor are here: pineapple, lime, achiote, and morita chipotle peppers, which come together to make a bright orange sauce used here for basting marinated chicken thighs.
The TV commercial for Chipotle’s new offering claims the morita peppers are seared and shows wild flames dancing around a pan filled with fresh green and red peppers. That is perhaps not an accurate depiction of the preparation process considering that morita peppers are made by smoking red jalapeños, not green ones. And smoked jalapeños do not look like fresh jalapeños, so I'm not sure what's going on there.
Regardless of the confusing clues in the TV ad, to make my Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor recipe, you'll want to find dry morita peppers, then remove the seeds and toast the peppers in your oven before making the secret sauce. Baste the sauce on your chicken just before it's done cooking, then chop it up and use it to make delicious tacos, burritos, salads, and bowls.
The chain’s popular appetizer brings three secret recipes together in one dish: the pretzels, the beer cheese, and the honey Dijon mustard dip. And I’ve got original hacks for all three formulas that will make enough for lots of bellies.
Bavarian pretzels are traditionally bathed in a lye solution before they’re baked to give them a dark shiny brown skin. Food-grade lye, when cooked, is safe to eat, but it’s not an ingredient usually found at the corner food store. So, to make my Applebee’s Beer Pub Pretzels recipe more convenient, I’m opting for a baking soda bath to darken these pretzels. They don’t have the same shine as lye-bathed pretzels, but if you use enough baking soda, your pretzels will come out beautifully caramel brown, just like the real thing.
For my Applebee’s Beer Cheese Dip recipe, I had to come up with a good way to melt white cheddar, which can be tricky since it’s hard to find mild (softer) white cheddar. Most white cheddar I found was either sharp or extra sharp, and when I made a sauce using a roux, the finished product came out much too grainy. On my next attempt, I tried a different approach by melting a chunk of Velveeta Queso Blanco in some milk before adding the shredded white cheddar. Thanks to sodium citrate, a cheese melting aid that’s in Velveeta, the sauce came out smooth as silk, and I was thrilled.
After your pretzels and beer cheese are done, mix up the easy honey Dijon mustard dipping sauce in a small bowl, and you’re ready to serve a gang of pretzel lovers with 12 Bavarian pretzel sticks and plenty of beer cheese and mustard sauce for dipping.
Check out more of my cool copycat appetizers here.
The sweet bacon and onion sauce often used to dress up steaks and burgers is now a fantastic wing topper in this addictive new appetizer from the 215-unit West Coast chain. I've hacked the secret bacon jam recipe here along with a special 2-step cooking process so that you can make perfect wings with great flavor all the way through.
My BJ’s Bacon Jam Wings copycat recipe starts by brining the wings, then baking them with moist heat to simulate the special CVap commercial moist ovens BJ’s uses to cook ribs and wings. When you’re ready to serve the dish, the wings are fried until crispy, tossed with the addictive bacon jam, and served with celery and ranch dressing on the side.
After you polish off your first pile of wings, you should have plenty of bacon jam left over for more wings or as a flavorful spread on burgers.
Find more incredible copycat recipes from BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse here.
The secret recipe for BJ’s great fall-off-the-bone ribs requires a specialty moist oven called a CVap, made specifically for commercial kitchens, with a price tag in the thousands of dollars. This controlled vapor oven cooks food with moist heat to braise meats, like ribs, so they're fork-tender. If you want to make ribs like that at home, but don’t have a CVap in your kitchen (or if yours is currently in the shop) you’ll need to incorporate a similar technique using a standard conventional oven. And that’s where I can help.
For my BJ’s Root Beer Glazed Ribs recipe, I first made a hack of the Big Poppa’s rub the chain uses to season the ribs, then I cooked the seasoned ribs on a rack over water mixed with liquid smoke. The liquid smoke infuses the ribs with smoke flavor, and the water in the pan will keep the ribs from drying out. Once the ribs are cooled, they are sliced, sauced, and reheated in a super-hot oven to simulate the pizza oven used at BJ’s.
When buying your ribs, pick the smallest rack of ribs with the least meat to better resemble the real recipe. Also, you’ll want to plan ahead for this recipe since the ribs take several hours to bake and chill before they’re finished in the hot oven before serving. Because of that long slow-bake time, you’ll want to start this dish early in the day, or even the day before.
Find more of my B.J.'s copycat recipes here.
This is my go-to salsa at Chipotle, so it was only a matter of time before I tackled a hack for the famous secret recipe. And now that I can make it at home with just 7 ingredients and about 20 minutes of prep, this salsa replaces several grocery store brands I was previously loyal to.
The process for my Chipotle red chili Salsa recipe is simple: roast tomatillos, Fresno peppers, and garlic under your broiler for a few minutes, then purée everything in a blender with vinegar and seasoning. The trick is to not over-blend the mixture. Once the tomatillos are added, purée the mixture until no chunks of tomatillo are visible, but stop blending while you can still see tomatillo seeds in the sauce.
Add this great-tasting salsa to anything that needs a hit of hotness—tacos, burritos, salads, and bowls. Just know that it's a hack of Chipotle’s spiciest salsa, so be ready for the boom.
In April 2020, restaurant chains in the U.S. closed their dining rooms due to the Covid-19 epidemic and needed a way to stay connected with their customers. Chipotle’s solution was to have corporate chef Chad Brauze “reveal” the chain’s secret recipe for the guacamole on the corporate Instagram account, which was picked up by the news and then re-posted on the Today Show website.
Chains have shared versions of their secret recipes on news shows in the past, but I’m usually skeptical of the recipes since I’ve rarely found that any of those formulas are the actual restaurant versions. More often than not, one or more ingredients are eliminated or substituted so that your final product is close, but not exact. And that's what Chipotle did.
Chef Chad's Instagram cooking video from his home kitchen is a good guacamole recipe, but it’s not Chipotle’s guacamole recipe. The formula includes most of the ingredients you would need for a perfect hack—but it’s missing one: lemon juice. According to Chipotle’s website, and cooks at the restaurant, Chipotle adds lemon juice in addition to lime juice to its famous guacamole.
With this information and a heaping sample of the authentic guac, I tweaked Chef Chad’s formula to make my Chipotle Guacamole copycat recipe more like the real one, which is made fresh several times a day at the restaurant. Even with the additional acid (lemon juice) in the mix to preserve the color, this guacamole is best if eaten within several hours of making it while it’s still bright green.
In the Fall of 2022, Chipotle debuted Garlic Guajillo Steak, a variation of the chain’s classic steak made with a new secret seasoning starring the fruity and slightly smokey flavor of dry guajillo peppers, and, surprisingly, prepared using a gourmet French slow-cooking technique.
After an outbreak of E. coli bacteria at Chipotle infected 53 people in nine states, the chain changed the way it cooks steak. Rather than cooking the beef entirely on a Plancha, or flat griddle, Chipotle now pre-cooks the steaks with the sous vide method wherein vacuum-packed seasoned beef is cooked slowly in swirling, heated water. This cooking technique not only eliminates any potentially harmful bacteria before the beef is grilled, but it will also speed up the seasoning process and help tenderize tougher cuts.
But you shouldn't worry if you don’t have a sous vide setup. My Chipotle Garlic Guajillo Steak recipe will also work by simply chilling the seasoned steak overnight in a zip-top bag and later cooking it off in a heavy pan or on a hot griddle. After slicing the cooked steak, toss it with some freshly squeezed lime juice and fresh cilantro, and use it as you see fit for tacos, burritos, bowls, and salads.
If you prefer chicken, head over to my clone recipe for Chipotle's Pollo Asado.
Many fast food chains have offered French toast sticks over the years, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Sonic, Roy Rogers, and Jack in the Box, but Burger King was first to introduce the morning finger food way back in 1985, and if staying power is any indication of preference, then BK is most deserving of this new top secret recipe.
Burger King French Toast Sticks are a perfect fast food item, since they come pre-battered and par-fried, and workers just need to toss a few frozen sticks into the fryer next to the French fries for 3 or 4 minutes, and they’re ready to go, along with a handy dipper pack of maple-flavored syrup.
But no deep-frying is necessary here for my French toast sticks recipe. Instead, you’ll cook your quartered and battered white bread slices in a combination of butter and oil in a sauté pan for a couple of minutes per side, or until the sticks are nicely browned. Serve them with a side of warm maple syrup, and you can even add a dusting of powdered sugar on top if you want to get fancy about it.
Next time you make breakfast, mix things up with some of these as a sweet, easy-to-eat starter.
Find recipes for more of your favorite items from Burger King here.
In 2021, Chili’s added a new burger to its menu lineup of Big Mouth Burgers, and this one comes with a big saucy secret.
Chili's Secret Sauce Burger is simple in construction with a soft brioche bun, a huge ½-pound patty, sliced lettuce, and American cheese. It’s also got sautéed onion piled on it, which sets this burger recipe apart from typical fast food fare, but it’s the secret sauce that makes this big burger rock.
The sauce used on this burger is the same sauce the chain initially created for Chili’s Big Mouth Chicken Sandwich—a formula that appears to be inspired by the popular chicken sandwich sauce made famous at Chick-fil-A. You can make my Chili's Secret Sauce recipe revealed here in just a couple of minutes with a simple combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey, and mustard, plus a little turmeric to add a golden tint.
As for the burger patties, get ground chuck that has a fat content of at least 20%, or grind your own. As the burgers cook, press down on them with a spatula to release the melting fat like they do in the restaurant. This will trigger the Maillard reaction that browns the meat and adds a flavorful crust to your burgers, so your homemade Chili's Secret Sauce Burgers will taste just as good as the original.
Find more of your favorite recipes for Chili's famous dishes here.
On weekends, hungry patrons at The Cheesecake Factory are treated to a special menu of brunch selections where this thick-sliced, caramelized French toast is a stand-out. A plate comes with four battered bread slices, each browned on one side, then dusted with powdered sugar, and served with warm maple-butter syrup.
I obtained virtually no helpful prep tips from the servers in the restaurant, so I was left to deduce my copycat recipe from a simple inspection of the real thing once I got my take-out order home. I eventually settled on a batter that combines the same ingredients you'd find in crème brûlée: eggs, cream (in the half-and-half), sugar, and vanilla.
After lightly browning one battered side of each thick bread slice, the other side is battered and then sprinkled with a light coating of sugar. When the sugared bread is turned over onto the hot pan, the sugar cooks until browned, re-creating the taste experience of a traditional torched crème brûlée dessert.
Now, using my exclusive Cheesecake Factory Bruléed French Toast recipe, you can have great brunch food any day of the week without having to wait for a table, and without shelling out nearly 20 bucks for a plate of battered bread.
Find your favorite cheesecake, appetizer, and entrée recipes from Cheesecake Factory here.
Chick-fil-A’s popular Frosted Lemonade is a delicious, blended combination of lemonade and the chain’s trademarked Icedream soft serve product. Just like Dairy Queen’s famous soft serve, Icedream looks and tastes like ice cream, but it contains considerably less butterfat since it’s made with milk, rather than cream.
For my Chick-fil-A Frosted Lemonade recipe though, cream-less ice cream is not a necessity. Regular ice cream works just fine here, although light ice cream, which is usually made with a milk base (Blue Bell Vanilla Light Ice Cream is one example), also makes a great clone.
Give the fresh lemonade you make here a little time to chill in your freezer before adding it to your blender with the other ingredients. In a matter of seconds, when all the ice is crushed, you’ll have two frosty 16-ounce drinks that taste just like the real deal, but at a mere fraction of the cost.
Searching for a great fried calamari recipe from a large chain to hack, I finally landed on Carrabba’s popular appetizer, with two dipping sauces, including the chain's top secret Ricardo Sauce.
I like this preparation because it's super simple, with a two-stage breading process that calls for just egg whites to moisten the calamari before it gets dropped into the seasoned flour. The egg whites will give the breading a light texture and prevent your calamari from browning as it would with any milk or egg yolk in the mix. Browning is just fine for other fried calamari dishes, but a hack for Carrabba’s version needs to produce crispy calamari with a tender crunch and light golden color.
A good Carrabba’s Calamari recipe will also need to include both dipping sauces, so hacks for the chain’s marinara sauce and famous Ricardo Sauce recipes are here. Ricardo Sauce is a creamy lemon butter sauce with added red bell peppers, pepperoncini, and crushed red peppers, and this exclusive TSR formula will give you the absolute best results of any recipe that exists in the known universe.
I've hacked a ton of dishes from Carrabba's. Check to see if I hacked your favorites here.
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.