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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.

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    The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Vanilla Ice Blended

    Starbucks’ Frappuccino, the most famous blended coffee drink in the world, is actually a clone of this blended concoction invented at the California-based chain, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. In the mid-80s, a store manager at the Westwood, California location mixed diet drink powder with ice, milk, and coffee in a blender and was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it was. They tweaked the recipe to include the chain’s chocolate powder instead of the diet powder, and a new hit product was born.

    To make a clone of the popular Coffee Bean vanilla ice blended, we must first make the secret flavoring powder that starts with a base of dry coffee creamer. I recommend using superfine sugar (Baker’s sugar) and superfine salt (popcorn salt) if you can find them. The fine crystals will dissolve better in the cold drink. You’ll also need vanilla extract powder, which can be found online.

    Once your secret powder is made, measure 1/3 cup of it into a blender with ice, cold espresso, and milk, and blend on high until smooth. In a matter of just a few minutes, you will have a 16-ounce re-creation of the original blended coffee drink now served at 1,200 Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations in 30 countries.

    Craving something tasty to eat with this? Check out my hack for these copycat Starbucks petite vanilla scones.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Orville Redenbacher's Movie Theater Butter Popcorn

    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 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".

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    Hardee's 1/4-Pound Hamburger

    In 1975 Hardee's opened its 1,000th restaurant. The 2,000th unit was opened in 1983, and shortly after that, in 1988, the 3,000th unit opened its doors. This pattern of expansion has continued: a new Hardee's restaurant now opens on the average of one each workday. With the acquisition of the Roy Rogers chain in 1990, Hardee's neared the 4,000-unit mark, ringing up system-wide sales of more than $3 billion. This is a chain that has come a long way since its first menu in 1961, which contained only eight items, including fifteen-cent hamburgers and ten-cent soft drinks.

    As part of its continuing effort to offer nutrition-conscious customers a range of menu choices, Hardee's was one of the first of the "Big Four" burger chains to switch to low-calorie mayonnaise for its sandwiches. 

    Source: Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 10)
    Emeril's Original Essence

    On his Food Network TV show Emeril Lagasse mentions "Essence" almost as much as "Bam!" and "Kick it up a notch!" He claims to put his special spice blend on "everything but ice cream." He suggests using it all your meats, veggies and pasta, and combining it with oil to use as a marinade. If you can't get your hands on the version that's sold in the bottle here's how to whip up a quick clone at home. (This recipe I created to clone the taste of the bottled product found in stores is different from the recipe in Emeril's cookbooks.)

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    El Pollo Loco Spanish Rice Fat-Free

    Here's a hack for a dish served with your chicken from El Pollo Loco. We cut the fat in this version, but still get Spanish rice that still has all of the flavor of the original side. Be sure to use converted rice, and not the instant stuff. 

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–3/4 cup
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–187 (Original–155)
    Fat per serving–0g (Original–4g)

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.25 (votes: 4)
    El Pollo Loco Salsa
    Along with your order from this 250-unit Western U.S. chain, comes a delicious, yet simple to clone, fat-free salsa. If you don’t have a food processor, never fear. You can also make the salsa by hand with a large, sharp knife and some steady-handed chopping. Keep your head down and watch the fingers.

    Nurtrition facts:
    Serving size–1oz
    Total servings–8
    Calories per serving–6
    Fat per serving–0g 
     
    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur. 
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    El Pollo Loco Pinto Beans Fat-Free

    This is a simple little recipe that is healthy and delicious. Along with your chicken order from this fast-growing West Coast chain, comes your choice of side orders. Pinto beans is the most popular choice. But the real thing has some fat that you won't need to include in this light version. And this recipe will give you pintos that taste just like the original, along with a little heat from finely minced jalapeno peppers. Spoon some of these beans into a tortilla along with chicken. Or maybe just serve them on the side.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–1/2 cup
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–96 (Original–145)
    Fat per serving–0g (Original–3g)

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.71 (votes: 14)
    El Pollo Loco Flame-Broiled Chicken

    El Pollo Loco, or "The Crazy Chicken," has been growing like mad since it crossed over the border into the United States from Mexico. Francisco Ochoa unknowingly started a food phenomenon internacional in 1975 when he took a family recipe for chicken marinade and opened a small roadside restaurante in Gusave, Mexico. He soon had 90 stores in 20 cities throughout Mexico. The first El Pollo Loco in the United States opened in Los Angeles in December 1980 and was an immediate success. It was only three years later that Ochoa got the attention of bigwigs at Dennys, Inc., who offered him $11.3 million for his U.S. operations. Ochoa took the deal, and El Pollo Loco grew from 17 to more than 200 outlets over the following decade.

    Pair my El Pollo Loco Flame Broiled Chicken recipe below with my copycat recipes for El Pollo Loco avocado salsa, pinto beans, Spanish rice, and bbq black beans.

    Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    El Pollo Loco Flame Broiled Chicken Reduced-Fat

    This young chain of Mexican-style chicken outlets has had much success with its formula since the first store opened in the U.S. in 1980. Your order of chicken comes straight off of an open-flame grill, where it has been slowly roasting for around 45 minutes. The chicken is grilled whole, butterfly-style, and before it’s boxed up for carry-out, cooks take a sharp hatchet to it in dramatic fashion. A couple of whacks and you’re on your way with several pieces of very tasty and tender double-marinated chicken. 

    For this recipe, instead of butter-flying the whole chicken, we will prepare precut pieces. Then, to save on fat grams, as soon as it’s cooked, we’ll remove the skin. At the restaurant you’re served flour or corn tortillas to wrap around the chicken that you strip from the bone.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–2 pieces
    Total servings–2
    Calories per serving–220 (Original–270)
    Fat per serving–8.5g (Original–14.5g)

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.77 (votes: 22)
    El Pollo Loco Creamy Cilantro Dressing

    Sliced chicken breast, romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, tortilla strips, and cotija cheese make up El Pollo Loco's Caesar Salad, but it is the fantastic creamy cilantro dressing recipe that gets the raves. Simply combine the basic ingredients in my El Pollo Loco Creamy Cilantro Dressing recipe in a blender, and you'll soon have more than one cup of the delicious dressing cloned and ready to pour over any of your home salad creations.

    You can also make El Pollo Loco Flame Broiled Chicken, pinto beans, Spanish rice and more. Find my copycat recipes here

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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    El Pollo Loco Burritos Low-Fat

    In 1992, to meet the needs of its expanding cutomer base, El Pollo Loco added several different burrio selections to its menu. The burrito combinations were designed to be assembled with several prepared products the chain had been serving from the start. Here are TSR low-fat versions of four of the most popular burritos. The fat savings are significant, since the beans and rice are now fat-free, and the recipes use fat-free tortillas and fat-free shredded cheddar cheese. You may also want to add a salsa of your choice to these burritos. Try my recipes for El Pollo Loco Spanish rice, pinto beans, and skinless chicken.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–1 burrito
    Total servings–1
    Calories per serving–339 (Original–482)
    Fat per serving–1g (Original–15g)

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.57 (votes: 14)
    El Pollo Loco BBQ Black Beans

    If you like traditional BBQ beans, you've got to love El Pollo Loco's sweet-and-spicy variation with black beans. The light smokiness in this clone comes from bacon fat, then cayenne pepper and green chiles give the beans a Southwestern flavor that's perfect on burritos or as a delicious side. The prep is a breezer, since you conveniently combine two 15-ounce cans of black beans with the other secret ingredients in a saucepan and just let it simmer for an hour or so. When the beans are soft and the mixture is thick, on with the eating.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 13)
    El Pollo Loco Avocado Salsa

    This creamy green sauce is available at the salsa bar at each of the 389 El Pollo Loco outlets located throughout the western United States, and folks are going crazy over it. The problem is, you can only get it in small quantities at the restaurant, and once you taste a little there you're going to want a lot more of it at home. Use a food processor to mix this one up (everything but the cilantro and onion goes in there) and prepare for a delicious, spicy concoction that you can pour over your favorite homemade Mexican-style dishes, from taco salads to fajitas. Big props go out to Pancho Ochoa, who opened his first roadside chicken stand in Guasave, Mexico in 1975. Today Pancho's El Pollo Loco is the number one quick-service, flame-broiled chicken chain in America.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Einstein Bros. Cream Cheese Shmear

    These Einstein's bagel schmear recipes are very easy to make, and if you would like yours to firm up more after mixing in the ingredients, just pop the finished spread (in a microwave safe bowl) for a minute of two, stir, cover, and chill completely. Use these spreads with bagels of your choice.

    Click here for more of your favorite copycat recipes from Einstein Bros. 

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  • Score: 4.67 (votes: 3)
    Einstein Bros. Bagels Twice-Baked Hash Brown

    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.

    Mix everything together and 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 entrees.      

    You can also make homemade Einstein Bros bagels, sandwiches, and shmears. See if I hacked your favorites here.

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  • Score: 4.75 (votes: 4)
    Einstein Bros. Bagels Santa Fe Egg Sandwich

    If your crew likes food with a little kick, and they're into breakfast sandwiches, grab some of your favorite bagels and give this clone a go. The jalapeño salsa cream cheese used here is made with only four ingredients, and the rest of the recipe is even easier: cook up some turkey sausage patties in a skillet and prepare each serving of scrambled eggs in a small bowl in the microwave so they fit perfectly on the bagels. For the turkey sausage, I used Wampler brand which comes in 1-pound tubes, but you can also use small turkey breakfast links—just squeeze the sausage out of the casings and form your patties (ditch the casings). You can also use pork sausage if you like.

    Still hungry? Check out my recipe for Einstein Bros. Bagels Twice Baked Hash Browns

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 3.67 (votes: 3)
    Einstein Bros. Bagels Bagels

    According to legend, in 1683 a Jewish baker shaped dough into the form of a riding stirrup to honor King Sobieski of Poland, a skilled horseman who had saved the Austrian people from Turkish invaders. Three hundred years later, this Boulder, Colorado chain is the biggest seller of what has become Americas favorite bagel brand. Since the first Einstein Bros. Bagel store opened in 1995, the chain has quickly expanded into 38 states. Today there are around 450 Einstein Bros. Bagel stores serving 16 varieties of the chewy bread snack. The company also owns Noah's Bagels, giving them another 140 stores. Each company has its own style of bagel, but both brands often win awards in local bagel contests. The company strives to open a new Einstein Bros. or Noah's somewhere in the country each business day.

    Here are clone recipes for three of the chains most popular bagels plain, everything, and jalapeno. You'll notice the special ingredient that sets these bagels apart from others is molasses. That gives the bagels a sweet flavor as well as a slightly dark tint.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–1 bagel
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–Plain 337, Everything 356, Jalapeno 340
    Fat per serving–Plain 1g, Everything 2g, Jalapeno 1g

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur. 

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  • Score: 4.33 (votes: 15)
    Dunkin' Donuts Donuts

    As he worked long, hard days at a shipyard in Hingham, Massachusetts, during World War II, William Rosenberg was struck with an idea for a new kind of food service. As soon as the war ended, Rosenberg started Industrial Luncheon Services, a company that delivered fresh meals and snacks to factory workers. When Rosenberg realized that most of his business was in coffee and donuts, he quit offering his original service. He found an old awning store and converted it into a coffee-and-donut shop called The Open Kettle. This name was soon changed to the more familiar Dunkin' Donuts, and between 1950 and 1955 five more shops opened and thrived. The company later spread beyond the Boston area and has become the largest coffee-and-donut chain in the world.

    Today, Dunkin' Donuts offers fifty-two varieties of donuts in each shop, but the most popular have always been the plain glazed and chocolate-glazed yeast donuts.

    Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 3.78 (votes: 18)
    Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Coolatta

    Add vanilla, hazelnut, almond and chocolate to coffee, milk, sugar and ice in a blender and you get a hack of Dunkin' Donuts' hit frozen coffee drink. Torani makes hazelnut syrup that's perfect for this recipe—you'll find it near the coffee in your market or in a bar supply outlet. Your drink will come out lighter in color than the real thing—the real recipe may include caramel coloring to darken the drink. This Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Coolatta recipe makes one 24-ounce serving which is called "medium" at the store—or you can split the recipe into two more modest 12-ounce servings.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.94 (votes: 18)
    DoubleTree Hotel Chocolate Chip Cookies

    When you check in at one of more than 250 hotels run by this U.S. chain, you are handed a bag from a warming oven that contains two soft and delicious chocolate chip cookies. This is a tradition that began in the early 80s using a recipe from a small bakery in Atlanta. All of the cookies are baked fresh every day on the hotel premises. The chain claims to give out about 29,000 cookies every day. 

    Raves for the cookies from customers convinced the hotel chain to start selling tins of the cookies online.  But if you've got an insatiable chocolate chip cookie urge that can't wait for a package to be delivered, you'll want to try my DoubleTree Hotel Chocolate Chip cookie recipe below. Just be sure to get the cookies out of the oven when they are barely turning brown so that they are soft and chewy in the middle when cool. 

    Now that you're in the swing of things, try baking more famous cookies from my recipes here.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

    Update 4/10/20: In April, Hilton Hotels released the actual recipe for the DoubleTree Hotels Signature Cookie for the first time. You can view that recipe and compare it to this clone recipe I created in 2002. I got pretty close!

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    Domino's Sweet Mango Habanero Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Find more of your favorites from Domino's here

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    Domino's Large Cheese Pizza Reduced-Fat and Calories

    The culinary development team at Domino's spent 2 years of trial-and-error testing to create a new version of the chain's original signature crust. The end result was a more flavorful crust with a top secret garlic spread brushed on after the pizza baked. While hacking Domino's new pizza for my TV show I discovered several secrets for making a great home clone of the famous pizza including a cold rise for the dough and a special blend of canned tomatoes for the sauce.

    Now I've taken my recipe from the Top Secret Recipe show and tweaked it for Dr. Oz so that the finished pizza is a lower-calorie, lower-fat version the world-famous Domino's cheese pie. You'll want to plan ahead for this recipe since the best way to make commercial-quality dough is to let it rise very slowly in the refrigerator—2 days seems to work great. If you don't have that much time, at least let the dough rise overnight. And if you want the bottom of the crust to look just like the chain's version, find a 14-inch perforated or mesh pizza pan online or at a restaurant supply store. These pans make a huge difference in the finished product, although a standard pizza pan will also produce fine pizza. And if you have a choice, the finely shredded (fancy) mozzarella cheese works best here.

    Original (slice)       Todd's (slice)
    305 calories          185 calories
    13g fat                   3g fat

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Domino's Crispy Bacon & Tomato Specialty Chicken

    I imagine a chef at Domino's in the middle of the development kitchen, surrounded by all the toppings they use on pizza, experimenting with new combinations of these ingredients, trying to come up with something delicious that isn't pizza. And then this dish happens: crispy chicken topped with garlic-Parmesan sauce, Cheddar-mozzarella cheese, bacon, tomato, and baked until gooey.  

    Now, you can make your own Domino's Crispy Bacon & Tomato Specialty Chicken appetizer, and to make it simple, you'll start with crispy chicken strips or popcorn chicken from the freezer section. 

    All the assembly instructions are here including an original, and simple, hack for the garlic-Parmesan sauce that gets drizzled over the chicken before adding all the other good stuff.

    Build your dish on a strip of parchment paper, just like the restaurant does, and bake it until the cheese is bubbly. Now you have a cool new thing to make with frozen crispy chicken strips.    

    You may also want to try the Domino's Pizza hack I created for my TV show in my book Top Secret Recipes: Step-by-Step  

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    Cheesecake Factory Thai Coconut-Lime Chicken

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

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

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

    Check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.

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

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

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

    Find more of your favorites from Domino's here

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    Carrabba's Traditional Cannoli

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

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

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

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

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

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    Applebee's Spinach & Artichoke Dip

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

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

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

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

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    Del Taco Tamales

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

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

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

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

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

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    Chick-fil-A Peppermint Chip Milkshake

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

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

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

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

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    Domino's Sweet Mango Habanero Sauce

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

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

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

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

    A great buttermilk biscuit isn’t hard to make. This is good news if you're serving hundreds each day as they do at this popular Southern kitchen chain. But a simple recipe such as this one is also a blessing when you need to whip up a modest batch at home for your hungry gang of biscuit fanatics, and it's an added bonus if they taste as good as the famous biscuits from Cracker Barrel. 

    The secret to tender, flakey biscuits like you get at the restaurant chain is using a lower-gluten self-rising flour such as White Lily; a staple for Southern biscuit recipes. A bit of shortening in the mix will help tenderize the finished product, as will a light mixing hand. Overmixing the dough may toughen your biscuits, so mix the dough gently and only as much as you have to.

    If you don’t use White Lily flour and go with a heavier self-rising flour such as Gold Medal, take note that you may have to add a couple of tablespoons more buttermilk to the dough to loosen it up. Good biscuit dough should be soft, but not sticky.

    After making these Cracker Barrel biscuits from scratch, try home versions of Cracker Barrel hash brown casserolebuttermilk piemeatloaf, and more.

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    Cracker Barrel Biscuit Beignets

    The delicious beignets Cracker Barrel creates with the chain's famous buttermilk biscuit formula are unlike traditional beignets in that they start with such a tangy dough. But once you add all the sweet stuff—cinnamon-sugar, powdered sugar, and butter-nut sauce—the saltiness is offset, resulting in a perfect harmony of great flavor.

    The dough here is a tweaked version of my hack for Cracker Barrel's Buttermilk Biscuits, but unlike that dough where we strive for flakiness in the finished product, this dough won't call for a light stirring hand. Instead, you should give this dough a decent beating in the mixing bowl to tighten it up so that it resists oil absorption when deep-fried.

    Along with all the steps and step photos for a great copycat of Cracker Barrel biscuit beignets, I’m also including my new hack for a delicious butter-nut dipping sauce that tastes just like what the chain serves, except this one is made with real butter. 

    Find more of your favorite Cracker Barrel dishes here

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    Applebee's Riblets

    Ever wonder where Riblets come from?

    "Riblets" is Applebee’s trademarked name for button ribs or rib tips (as they are called at Walmart), which is a short cut trimmed from the back end of pork spareribs, packed with lots of connective tissue. And that's a good thing because, after 3 to 4 hours of braising, that connective tissue will break down, producing fork-tender meat that slips off the bone. Of the cooking methods I tried for my version of Applebee's Riblets recipe, which included steaming, slow-roasting, and smoking; braising made the most tender, flavorful ribs—even before the sauce went on. 

    For the braising formula, I found that chicken broth infused with liquid smoke creates tender ribs that taste as if they came out of a smoker. Finish off the braised ribs on your grill and baste them with the original TSR hack below that clones Applebee’s honey barbecue sauce, or use your favorite bottled sauce. 

    And if you'd like to serve these riblets with almond rice pilaf as they do in the restaurant, you can find my clone recipe here on the site.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Domino's Chocolate Lava Crunch Cakes

    A traditional “molten” cake or “lava” cake is baked at a high temperature for a short time so that the outside of the cake is fully cooked, but the batter at the center stays unset and gooey. Domino’s lava cakes are different with pure fudge topping hidden in the middle rather than cake batter. The little dessert is delicious, with a crunchy exterior and two forms of chocolate in one bite, but it presents some challenges, such as how to fully enclose soft fudge in the center of a small cake without holes, and how to keep the fudge from disappearing into the cake batter as it bakes.

    Since there are no holes or seams detected on the cakes, the filling needs to be loaded into the cakes before baking. I thought about freezing the fudge in disk shapes and then concealing those into the middle of a muffin cup of cake batter, but the fudge doesn’t freeze solid in a home freezer. It just gets really cold and really sticky, and it's much too messy to work with.

    Going back to the drawing board, I found the clue I needed on Domino's website. The list of ingredients for the lava cakes includes “cake crumbs” and “cookie crumbs” along with butter, eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla, and cocoa. This suggests that crumbs of pre-baked cake and cookies could be combined with the other ingredients to make firmer cake “dough” rather than runny cake batter. The soft fudge could then be spooned onto the bottom of the uncooked mini cakes, topped with more dough, and baked.

    After baking the little cakes with this new technique there is no detectable seam, and the fudge inside gets warm and gooey and oozes out when you eat it, just like the real thing. Serve these up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and watch the fun when everyone takes a bite.

    My Domino's chocolate lava crunch cake recipe makes 12 cakes, and I'm adding a bunch of step photos so yours will come out perfect. You can chill any leftovers for serving later with the reheating instructions I'm including at the end.

    Find more of your favorite Domino's copycat recipes here.

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    Applebee's Oreo Cookie Milkshake

    This delicious made-to-order oreo cookie milkshake was one of several items cut from the menu in 2020 when the pandemic brought the dine-in restaurant business to a crawl. But in June 2021 when the song “Fancy Like” from country singer Walker Hayes, which mentions the milkshake by name, went viral on TikTok, Applebee’s brought back the shake to satisfy the increased demand.

    Now you can make your own Applebee's Oreo Cookie Milkshake without leaving home with this simple hack that requires just a few ingredients and a blender. Start by getting the ice cream smooth in the blender with the milk before adding in the Oreo pieces so that you don’t make the Oreo cookie crumbs too small. You want a few little bits in there for crunch, but they shouldn’t be big enough to clog the straw. Add some whipped cream on top with some Oreo crumbs and you’ve just made enough for two 12-ounce shakes.

    As the song goes, “We fancy like Applebee’s on a date night, got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake.” Now that you’ve got your Oreo shake, how about a Bourbon Street steak

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Chick-fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich

    This chain’s not-spicy original chicken sandwich which debuted in 1964 was the first chicken sandwich introduced to America by a fast food chain, and it put Chick-fil-A on the map. By diversifying the menu with new products such as this kicked-up version of the famous sandwich, the chain grew over the years to become the #1 chicken restaurant in the nation, and this sandwich is now one of the most popular picks on the menu board.

    The secrets for a good clone of the Chick-Fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich lie in the brine and the breading. I recently obtained some insider intel confirming the long-standing rumor that pickle juice is the brine. I hadn’t called for it in my prior Chick-fil-A clones because the listed ingredients for the sandwich didn’t include it. I’m not sure why that is, but my latest test versions with the pickle juice were noticeably better, so now it’s in there. You should also know that MSG is an important ingredient in both the brine and breading, so don’t leave that out if you want the best clone.

    Use this special trick to get three perfect sandwich-size cutlets out of each chicken breast, and then give the chicken a nice 4-hour brine. Your patience will be rewarded with one of the best chicken sandwich hacks to come out of a home kitchen. 

    Now, check out my version of Chick-fil-A Mac and Cheese!

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    Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken

    This popular chain wrangles a wide variety of dishes and cooking styles day after day with consistently high quality. From pasta to burgers to tacos, from salads to pancakes to beautiful cheesecakes for dessert, there is something for everyone at the Cheesecake Factory.

    The thorough menu's Asia-inspired plates include Thai, Korean, and Chinese dishes, but one that consistently stands out is this excellent Mandarin-style spicy chicken entrée, served over your choice of white or brown rice.

    The secret of the great flavor is in the sauce, which has now been hacked for you in this recipe. Plus, I’ll walk you through the process of creating perfect crispy chicken from scratch using juicy chicken tenderloins.

    If you’d like to save time, you can bake up some pre-cooked breaded chicken tenders and focus all your efforts on the amazing sauce. Tips on that shortcut can be found below in the Tidbits.    

    If you like this recipe for Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew chicken, you'll want to check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.

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    Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s Hand-Breaded Chicken & Waffle Sandwich

    In the midst of the chicken sandwich wars of 2019-2021, Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s) debuted a simple chicken and waffle sandwich that is surprisingly good. Crispy chicken breast is doused with maple butter sauce and sandwiched between two Belgian waffle buns for a sweet-and-savory handful of fab.     

    To clone the sandwich at home, the chicken gets brined for great flavor and juiciness like the real thing, then it’s cooked until perfectly golden brown and crispy. The maple butter sauce is easy to hack with just three ingredients and a mixer.

    The biggest secret I reveal is how to make Belgian waffles with one flat side just like the real sandwich using a standard waffle iron and a piece of folded aluminum foil. Those exclusive tricks are here plus plenty of helpful step photos so your homemade Carl's Jr. chicken & waffle sandwich will come out perfect.

    Find more of my copycat Carl's Jr. recipes 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 clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

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