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Margaritaville Volcano Nachos copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

Margaritaville Volcano Nachos

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Menu Description: “Topped with chili, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, jalapenos, tomato and scallions.”

This giant pile of nachos lives up to its name, and these are by far the best nachos I have ever had at any casual chain. The secret is in the stacking of the ingredients. You start with a layer of yellow corn tortilla chips and then spoon on some creamy, slightly spicy nacho cheese. I found that Tostitos makes the perfect cheese for this: Tostitos Salsa Con Queso. More chips go on top, then more cheese, then more chips followed by chili and a shredded cheese blend. 

For my Margaritaville Volcano Nachos recipe, you can use premade chili that can be found in the deli section of your grocery store, where the soups are sold. After the nachos are baked and the cheese is melted, diced tomato, green onion, sour cream, guacamole and jalapeño slices are added on top, and the party can now erupt. 

Now, how about some Margaritaville Key Lime Pie for dessert? 

Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
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  • Not rated yet
    Five Guys Cajun Fries

    When I first attempted making this Five Guys Cajun Fries recipe using large, unpeeled russet potatoes I had just picked up at the grocery store, the fries came out of the oil looking miserably discolored and had an unpleasant soggy texture. They were dark brown and soft, rather than light brown and crispy like the amazing fries from Five Guys. I was sure to properly prep the fries by soaking them in water to wash away excess starch, then par-frying them at a low temperature, allowing them to cool, then frying them again at a higher temperature. But my initial results were a failure, and then I got distracted.

    Over the next two weeks, I got busy with other recipes and neglected my unused potatoes. When I went back to the potatoes, I noticed they had become much softer and looked like they were about to sprout. Not wanting to let them go to waste, I cut the potatoes and fried them, and I was shocked to see how different they looked from my earlier batch. Rather than soggy and limp, these fries came out golden brown and crispy from tip to tip. Do old potatoes make better fries?

    I remembered that Five Guys stacks bags of the potatoes used for the fries in the restaurant, and I wondered if I could see dates on those bags. I dashed back over to the restaurant and, sure enough, the potatoes were dated. The bags at one end of the stack were just one day old, and the bags closest to the kitchen were eight days old. I later discovered that Five Guys use specific Idaho potatoes because they are denser than other russets. I knew I couldn't get those special potatoes, but I discovered that I could still make crispy, more flavorful fries like Five Guys if I just let common russet potatoes sit out for a week or so before slicing and frying them.

    Just as in the restaurant, the potatoes in this hack are fried twice, then you'll sprinkle them with the Cajun seasoning as soon as they came out of the oil. At Five Guys, they salt the fries first and then add Cajun seasoning, but I’ve included all the salt you’ll need in the secret seasoning mix below to eliminate that additional salting step.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Taco Bell Shredded Chicken Soft Taco

    In November 2020, Taco Bell said “adios” to several classic items from their menu including Mexican Pizza—one of my long-time favorites—and anything with shredded chicken in it, including the chicken soft taco. But teary goodbyes from fans of the tasty spiced chicken can be avoided if we have a good (and easy) recipe to craft a duplicate at home. Since the fast Mexican chain announced the changes several months in advance, I had time to work up a good hack before the tacos were gone forever.

    After cooking the chicken several ways, I settled on poaching the fillets in chicken broth, which kept them moist and added great umami flavor. When the chicken cooled, I shredded it, and added it to a sauce seasoned with spices and lime juice, and flavored with Knorr tomato chicken bouillon. 

    As the sauce thickens it will reduce and infuse the chicken with flavor, just like the original Taco Bell shredded chicken, then it’s ready for you to use on tacos, burritos, salads, or whatever. And don't forget the hot sauce

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    T.G.I. Friday's Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta

    Menu Description: “Sauteed chicken, shrimp, red bell peppers in a spicy Cajun Alfredo sauce, Parmesan-Romano and fettuccine. Served with a warm garlic breadstick.”  

    In 1997, I published a clone recipe for T.G.I Friday’s Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta because it was one of the chain’s most popular dishes at the time. But as the years pass and menus get tweaked, old food favorites are decommissioned to make way for fresh, new ideas. Sometimes the new dishes are twists on old favorites, as is this improved version of the classic Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta, which now includes extra-large shrimp and a better spicy alfredo sauce.  

    My T.G.I. Friday's Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta recipe starts with a quick brine for moist, flavorful chicken. Prep the chicken and creamy sauce in one pan; the shrimp, bell pepper, and garlic in another.

    When you’re ready to serve the dish, toss the sauce with the pasta, then plate it and top it with minced parsley and you've got a perfect restaurant-style hack.

    There's a lot more T.G.I. Friday's clone recipes over here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Dole Dole Whip

    The real Dole Whip is a non-dairy dessert that includes artificial flavoring, a small amount of real pineapple juice, and more gums than a candy store. Everything in this Hawaiian ice cream is combined in a powdered form including the pineapple juice in 4.4-pound bags that are sold to soft-serve machine operators at fairs, sporting events, and amusement parks. On the back of the Dole Whip mix are instructions to dissolve the powder in 2 gallons of cold tap water, then immediately pour the syrup into a soft serve machine and hit the switch.  

    Up until now, almost all recipes that claim to reproduce Dole Whip—including one shared by Disneyland during the coronavirus outbreak—include ice cream, to make what is supposed to be a "non-dairy" dessert one that is quite full of dairy. The results you get from these recipes may be tasty, but they are nothing like Dole Whip because Dole Whip is sorbet and sorbet isn't made with ice cream.

    One thing that makes Dole Whip special is its creamy consistency, which may lead some people to believe it has dairy in it. Dole Whip creates this thickness with the assistance of six different natural gums and gels: cellulose gum, xanthan gum, locust bean gum, guar gum, karaya gum, and pectin. In addition, there is a small amount of coconut fat solids in the mix to help simulate the fat found in dairy.

    For my Dole Whip recipe, I limited the gels to two that are easy to find: unflavored gelatin and pectin. When these two ingredients are heated, then cooled, they form a gel similar to what’s in the real Dole Whip, and the result is a thick-and-creamy consistency. Another trick often used to help thicken sorbets is the use of viscous corn syrup to replace much of the sugar. Corn syrup will give the sorbet body and it helps tone down the acidic pineapple juice.

    But the best part of this recipe, unlike the real thing, is that it contains all-natural ingredients and it's mostly made of real Dole pineapple juice, plus a little tangerine juice to round out the flavor and enrich the color. This homemade Dole Whip is ridiculously easy to make (you'll need an ice cream maker) and fans of the real thing will love it. Plus, now you can have this DIY Dole Whip whenever you want—no amusement park required.

    Click here for more of my hacks of delicious desserts and sweet treats. 

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  • Not rated yet
    BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse Honey Sriracha Brussels Sprouts

    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.  

    Now, how about a bowl of famous chili or a Pizookie from Bj's Brewhouse?

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Chili's Original Chili

    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.

    Check here more of my Chili's copycat recipes.

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  • Not rated yet
    Wingstop Lemon Pepper Wings

    The Wingstop menu offers nearly a dozen flavor variations of fried chicken wings, including original hot buffalo-style, parmesan garlic, and mango habanero, but it’s the lemon pepper wings that get the most raves. And even though they’re referred to as “dry rub” wings on the menu, the secret to a perfect Wingstop lemon pepper wings recipe is in the wet baste that goes on first.

    The lemon pepper won’t stick to the wings without making them wet, and that’s where the sauce, or baste, comes in. The baste is easy to make by clarifying butter and combining it with oil to prevent the butter from solidifying, then adding lemon pepper and salt.

    I obtained a sample of Wingstop’s lemon pepper seasoning and took a few stabs at cloning the blend from scratch, but ultimately decided the task was a time-waster when pre-blended lemon pepper is so easy to find. I compared Wingstop’s lemon pepper with the blends from McCormick and Lawry’s—each is slightly different than what Wingstop uses. McCormick’s is lemonier than Wingstop’s blend, and Lawry’s version is chunkier and less lemony, but either blend is close enough to deliver a satisfying clone.

    After the wings are fried, baste them with the sauce below and sprinkle them with your favorite lemon pepper. Now you've made copycat Wingstop's Lemon Pepper Wings like a pro.

    Find my recipes for Wingstop's original and parmesan-garlic wings here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Bojangles' Buttermilk Biscuits

    There’s one copycat recipe for these famous biscuits that’s posted and shared more than any other, and it’s downright awful. The dough is formulated with self-rising flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, shortening, and buttermilk, and many complain that the recipe creates dough that’s much too loose and the resulting biscuits are a complete disaster. Yet there the recipe remains on blogs and boards all over the interweb for unsuspecting home cloners such as yourself to waste time on. But that won’t happen anymore, because I have made a good copycat Bojangles' buttermilk biscuits recipe that works the way it should, guaranteeing you’ll get amazing golden buttermilk biscuits that look and taste just like a trained Bojangles’ pro made them.

    In addition to the obvious overuse of buttermilk, the popular recipe I found online has many problems. The author gets it right when calling for self-rising flour, which is flour containing salt and a leavening agent (aka baking powder), but why would the copycat Bojangles biscuit recipe be designed to use self-rising flour and then add additional leaving? Well, it probably wouldn’t. Biscuits are job number 1 for self-rising flour, and the leavening in there is measured for that use, so there’s no need to add more. If you were planning to add your own leavening, you’d probably start with all-purpose flour, which has no leavening in it. And let's just be clear: baking powder tastes gross, so we want to add as little as possible, not more than necessary.

    It’s also important to handle the dough the same way that workers at Bojangles’ do. They make biscuits there every 20 minutes and there are plenty of YouTube videos showing the preparation technique. In a nutshell, the dough is mixed by hand (in the restaurant they use their hands because the quantity is so large, but for this recipe use a mixing spoon), then it’s folded over a few times on a floured countertop before it’s rolled out. This gentle handling of the dough prevents the gluten in the flour from toughening and adds layers, so your biscuits come out of the oven tender and flakey.

    For the best results, find White Lily flour. This self-rising flour is low in gluten and makes unbelievably fluffy biscuits. If you use another self-rising brand, you’ll still get great biscuits, but the gluten level will likely be higher, the biscuits will be tougher, and you’ll probably need more buttermilk. Head down to the Tidbits below for details on that.

    And I noticed another thing most copycat Bojangles biscuit recipes get wrong. For biscuits that are beautifully golden brown on the top and bottom, you’ll want to bake them on a silicone baking mat (or parchment paper) at 500 degrees F. Yes, 500 degrees. That may seem hot, but this high temp works well with self-rising flour, and in 12 to 15 minutes the biscuits will be perfectly browned.

    Counterintuitively, it’s the lower temperatures that end up burning the biscuits, while the higher temperature cooks them just right. At lower temps the biscuits must stay in the oven longer to cook through, which exposes the surfaces to more heat, and they end up too dark on the outside, especially the bottom. For even better results, if you have a convection setting on your oven, use that and set the temp to 475 degrees F. Your biscuits will look like they came straight from the drive-thru.

    Find more tasty Bojangles' copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions

    For many years this entrée has been a top menu choice at Maggiano's, the 54-unit Italian chain from Brinker, the same company that operates Chili’s Grill & Bar. The $30 restaurant dish consists of three 2½-ounce tenderloin steaks, swimming in a fantastic balsamic cream sauce with sliced portabello mushrooms—but a home version of Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions is only seven easy steps away, and it won't hit you in the wallet as hard as the pricey original.

    Cracking this dish required a perfect hack of the sauce, and that came quickly after obtaining some very reliable information from my incredibly helpful server/informant at a Las Vegas Maggiano’s. Let’s call him Skippy.

    According to Skippy, the balsamic cream sauce is as simple as mixing a sweet balsamic glaze with the chain’s creamy Alfredo sauce. So, I first got a sample of Maggiano’s Alfredo sauce and figured out how to replicate it. Once that was done, I measured increments of balsamic glaze into the Alfredo sauce until the color and flavor matched the original. The rest of the recipe was easy.

    This recipe will make two servings of the Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions and includes preparation for the tenderloins and sauce. If you’d like to complete the dish the way it’s served at the restaurant (as in the photo), add some garlic mashed potatoes on the side, using my hack for Olive Garden Garlic Mashed Potatoes.   

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Pei Wei Wei Better Orange Chicken

    This 220-unit downscaled version of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro targets the lunch crowd with a smaller menu that features bento boxes, bowls, and small plates. Obviously, a clone is needed for this one, stat.

    The name “Wei Better Orange Chicken” is a competitive callout to Panda Express's signature orange chicken, which is made with pre-breaded and frozen chicken. Pei Wei claims its orange chicken is prepared each day from scratch with chicken that is never frozen, so we’ll craft our clone the same way. But rather than assemble the dish in a wok over a high-flame fast stove like they do at the restaurant, we’ll prepare the sauce and chicken separately, then toss them with fresh orange wedges just before serving.

    By the way, Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken goes very well with white or brown rice, so don’t forget to make some.

    This recipe was our #4 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), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese

    Braised Beef Pasta Menu Description: “Slow-simmered meat sauce with tender braised beef and Italian sausage, tossed with ruffled pappardelle pasta and a touch of alfredo sauce—just like Nonna’s recipe.”

    It’s a mistake to assume that a recipe posted to a restaurant chain’s website is the real recipe for the food served there. I’ve found this to be the case with many Olive Garden recipes, and this one is no exception. A widely circulated recipe that claims to duplicate the chain’s classic Bolognese actually originated on Olive Garden’s own website, and if you make that recipe you’ll be disappointed when the final product doesn’t even come close to the real deal. I won’t get into all the specifics of the things wrong with that recipe (too much wine, save some of that for drinking!), but at first glance it’s easy to see that a few important ingredients found in traditional Bolognese sauces are conspicuously missing, including milk, basil, lemon, and nutmeg.

    I incorporated all those missing ingredients into my Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese recipe, tweaked a few other things, and then tested several methods of braising the beef so that it comes out perfectly tender: covered, uncovered, and a combo. The technique I settled on was cooking the sauce covered for 2 hours, then uncovered for 1 additional hour so that the sauce reduces and the beef transforms into a fork-flakeable flavor bomb. Yes, it comes from Olive Garden, but this Bolognese is better than any I’ve had at restaurants that charge twice as much, like Rao’s where the meat is ground, not braised, and they hit you up for $30.  

    As a side note, Olive Garden’s menu says the dish comes with ruffled pappardelle pasta, but it’s actually mafaldine, a narrower noodle with curly edges (shown in the top right corner of the photo). Pappardelle, which is the traditional pasta to serve with Bolognese, is a very wide noodle with straight edges, and it’s more familiar than mafaldine, so perhaps that’s why the menu fudges this fact. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which pasta you choose. Just know that a wide noodle works best. Even fettuccine is good here.

    For the little bit of alfredo sauce spooned into the middle of the dish, I went with a premade bottled sauce to save time. You can also make this from scratch if you like (I’ve got a great hack for Olive Garden’s Alfredo Sauce), but it’s such a small amount that premade sauce in either a chilled tub from the deli section or in a bottle off the shelf works great here.

    This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).

    And browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Thomas' English Muffins

    Samuel Bath Thomas immigrated from England to New York City and opened his first bakery there in 1880. That is where Thomas created skillet bread that would one day become the famous muffins known for their craggy texture when split in half. This hack for Thomas’ English Muffins uses a special kneading process to give the muffins the "nooks and crannies" they are famous for, making craters in the finished bread to better hold on to melted butter and jam.

    I have seen several recipes that claim to re-create these muffins, but none produce the large air pockets that a proper Thomas' English Muffin recipe requires, in addition to great flavor and a perfectly cooked interior. To ensure proper nooks and crannies and muffins that are cooked all the way through, I've included some important steps.

    The dough you'll make here is like a ciabatta dough in that it is very wet. So rather than kneading the dough, you stretch and fold it over several times on a well-oiled surface. Then, when the portioned-out dough has proofed on baking sheets for another 1½ to 2 hours, you par-bake the muffins.

    After baking, the muffins are cooked on a griddle or in a pan until dark brown on both sides, then they must cool. This is the hardest part. The muffins will be too soft to open for at least four hours, and now you have to fight off the temptation to eat one. It’s hard, I know. The muffins smell great and you’ve waited all this time, but resist for now and your patience will be rewarded.

    When the muffins have had their rest, split them with a fork and toast them as you would any English muffin.

    Check out all my top secret recipes for famous bread here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 6)
    Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

    A requirement of any visit to Chicago is eating at least one slice of deep dish pizza in the city that perfected it. Deep dish pizza quickly became a Chicago staple after Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened the first Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and served a hearty new style of pizza constructed in a high-rimmed cake pan. The yeast crust was tender and flakey, like a pastry, and the cheese was layered under the sauce so that it wouldn’t burn in a hot oven for the long cooking time.

    While researching a home hack of this now-iconic recipe, I discovered an unexpected technique that I hadn’t seen in other deep dish recipes. Employees told me the pizza crusts are partially cooked each morning to cut down on the wait time for customers. Before the restaurant opens each day, cooks press the dough into a pan and then sprinkle it with a little shredded cheese. The shells are then partially baked and set aside. Later, when an order comes in, the pizza is built into one of the par-baked crusts and finished off. This way customers get their food faster, and the tables turn over quicker.

    Copying that delicious, flakey crust was the task that took me the longest. After two weeks of baking, I finally settled on a formula that was a mash-up of yeast dough and pie crust and made a perfectly tender deep dish crust, with great flavor that exactly mimicked the original. If you like Uno, you'll love this! 

    Regarding the cheese: be sure your cheese is at room temperature, not cold, or it may not melt all the way through. Also, it’s best if you buy cheese by the block and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is dusted with cornstarch so that the shreds don’t stick together in the bag, and it won’t melt as smoothly as cheese you shred by hand.

    My Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza recipe will make enough sauce for two pizzas. I just thought you should know that in case you get the urge to make another deep dish after this one disappears.

    This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Hooters Daytona Beach Style Wings

    Hooters debuted a new flavor and style of their famous chicken wings in 2013 with the introduction of Daytona Beach Style Wings—naked wings (not breaded) that are fried, sauced, and grilled. The new menu item was a sales success, eclipsing the famous buffalo-style wings the chain had become known for, making it imperative that we have a delicious and accurate Hooters Daytona Beach style wings copycat recipe. And now we do.

    To build an identical home version of Hooters Daytona Wings, you’ll first need to make a knockoff of the delicious Daytona sauce to brush over the wings. It’s a combination of barbecue sauce and the same cayenne sauce used to coat traditional buffalo wings, plus a few other important ingredients that make the sauce special—and things you won’t find in other hacks—like Worcestershire sauce and minced jalapeños. The wings are coated, grilled for just a minute on each side, then sauced again for maximum flavor. Stack the napkins close by and get something tall to drink, because these messy wings are guaranteed to deliver a super-spicy kick to your food hole.

    Find more of my Hooters copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Hooters Original Style Wings

    Menu Description: "The one and only! The style we invented over 30 years ago; they're breaded by hand, tossed in your choice of wing sauce and served by your favorite Hooters girl."

    When I first hacked this recipe back in 1997 for the book Top Secret Restaurant Recipes, Hooters wings looked different than they do today. The chain used to leave the pointy end of the wing attached to the middle piece, or “flat,” which, frankly, is unnecessary because there is very little meat on the tip segment. Today the chain serves wings like everyone else, with drumettes and flats completely separated, and delivered by waitresses in the same bright orange shorts as when the chain started in 1983.

    One thing that wasn't available to me back then was the opportunity to examine the chain’s packaging for the lists of ingredients on signature items like sauces and breading. Today, since they sell these items as retail products, I can take advantage of labeling laws that require ingredients to be clearly listed and see what really goes into these recipes. Using that new information, I’ve made a few small tweaks to improve my Hooters Wings recipe from over 20 years ago, including two versions of the kickass wing sauce—medium and hot—for your wing-devouring pleasure.

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  • Score: 4.58 (votes: 43)
    Buffalo Wild Wings Buffalo Wings and Sauces

    Menu Description: "Here they are in all their lip-smacking, award-winning glory: Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings spun in your favorite signature sauce."

    Since Buffalo, New York was too far away, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery satisfied their overwhelming craving in 1981 by opening a spicy chicken wing restaurant close to home in Kent, Ohio. With signature sauces and a festive atmosphere, the chain has now evolved from a college campus sports bar with wings to a family restaurant with over 300 units. While frying chicken wings is no real secret—simply drop them in hot shortening for about 10 minutes—the delicious spicy sauces make the wings special. There are 12 varieties of sauce available to coat your crispy chicken parts at the chain, and I'm presenting clones for the more traditional flavors. These sauces are very thick, almost like dressing or dip, so we'll use an emulsifying technique that will ensure a creamy final product where the oil won't separate from the other ingredients. Here is the chicken wing cooking and coating technique, followed by clones for the most popular sauces: Spicy Garlic, Medium and Hot. The sauce recipes might look the same at first, but each has slight variations make your sauce hotter or milder by adjusting the level of cayenne pepper. You can find Frank's pepper sauce by the other hot sauces in your market. If you can't find that brand, you can also use Crystal Louisiana hot sauce.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.81 (votes: 47)
    Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls

    In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.

    Make delicious homemade Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls at home with my recipe below, or try my improved recipe here, which I perfected with the help of Cinnabon HQ.

    Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Not rated yet
    Carrabba's Traditional Cannoli

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Not rated yet
    Pizza Hut Spicy Lover's Pizza

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

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

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

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes

    Reviewers of Wendy’s tasty seasoned potatoes point out that the skin-on slices stay crispy even when cool. That tells us the breading is most likely made with a non-wheat flour blend, an assumption confirmed by the website ingredients list for the potatoes where nary a gram of wheat flour is included. Yep, these seasoned potatoes are gluten-free.

    Wendy’s uses a blend of food starches plus rice flour for the breading on their version, but my tests confirmed that cornstarch is all you’ll need for a great clone of Wendy's seasoned potatoes. The secret process starts by coating the potato slices with the dry breading mix, which contains salt. The salt in the blend will draw water out of the potatoes, magically transforming the dry breading into a wet batter in about 20 minutes.

    When all the breading is wet, the potatoes go into the oil for partial frying. After resting a bit, they get dropped in again until golden brown and crispy. And, thanks to the cornstarch, these potatoes will stay crispy, even when they’re completely cool.

    Find more of your favorite Wendy's copycat recipes here

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  • Not rated yet
    P.F. Chang's Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

    Use my recipe for P.F. Chang’s incredible Kung Pao sauce and toss it with fried Brussels sprouts, peanuts, and Thai chilies and you get one of this Chinese bistro’s most popular new starters. And now, with this exclusive Top Secret Recipe, you'll have possibly one of your new favorite ways to serve Brussels sprouts. 

    You’ll get a half cup of the secret kung pao sauce—that will be enough to sauce 1 pound of Brussels sprouts in 2 separate batches.

    Oven baking, like other "hackers" recommend, will not give you the crispy texture of the original. These must be deep-fried. Even though you’ll be frying 8 ounces of Brussels sprouts at a time, you’ll want a wide-mouthed pan like a large saucepot, Dutch oven, or a deep fryer so that you don’t crowd the Brussels sprouts. Also, they will spatter for about 30 seconds when they first hit the oil, so a lid or a spatter guard will definitely come in handy.

    Once the oil is hot and the sauce is made, it takes just 5 minutes to get this delish dish on your table.      

    Have you decided on an entrée to serve with this? There are a lot more P.F. Chang's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Pei Wei Pad Thai

    If you’re ranking Pad Thai served at U.S. chains, Pei Wei’s tasty take on the dish comes in at the top. The secret sauce is perfectly sweet, sour, salty, and lightly spicy, and the chicken is moist, tender, and filled with great flavor.

    To duplicate Pei Wei Pad Thai at home, you'll first brine the chicken so it doesn't dry out as white meat tends to do. The secret marinade here includes fish sauce; Thailand's MSG. When soaked in the salty sauce the natural aminos contribute fantastic umami goodness to the chicken, and when you cook it with moist heat as described in the steps below it will come out fork-tender and juicy.

    The noodles at Pei Wei are thin, so grab the skinniest rice noodles on the shelf. Then prepare them for stir fry by steeping them in a bowl of hot water rather than in a pan of boiling water on the stovetop as may be suggested on the package. When they're done, give the noodles a rinse under cold water and they’ll hold until you need them. 

    This hack will make two large meal-size entrées—just like you get at the restaurant—which can easily be split into four more modest side servings. And I've included a bunch of step photos to help you along so you can serve a picture-perfect dish.

    Check out my recipe for Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken here

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  • Not rated yet
    Domino's Cheeseburger Pizza

    Domino’s new specialty pizza with seasoned ground beef, onions, tomatoes, and three kinds of cheese will shock your mouth. Even though this pie is more cheese than burger, the secret ketchup-mustard sauce hidden beneath it all makes each mouthful taste like you’re biting into a flat cheeseburger. The only thing missing is pickles.

    Before getting to work on the ketchup-mustard sauce, ground beef, and blend of cheeses, I slightly tweaked the Domino’s pizza dough hack from Step-by-Step. The dough here calls for high-gluten flour, which you can find online, to create the same chewiness in the dough as the real thing. But don’t worry if you can’t find high-gluten flour, just increase the bread flour to 25 ounces (4½ cups).

    The unusual combination of American, provolone, and Cheddar cheese is not what you’d expect on a pizza, but for this particular pie you won’t miss the mozzarella. You’ll need to dice the American and provolone since they usually come sliced and are too soft to shred. Stack everything on your custom dough, bake until the cheese browns, and it’s ready to devour. My Domino's Cheeseburger Pizza recipe makes two large pizzas, so there should be more than enough for your crew.

    You might also like my recipe for Domino's Crispy Bacon & Tomato Specialty Chicken.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Olive Garden Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara

    Menu Description: “Sauteed seasoned chicken, shrimp, and spaghetti tossed in a creamy sauce with bacon and roasted red peppers.”

    Re-creating this top entrée from Olive Garden allowed me to come up with an easy way to assemble a delicious carbonara from scratch. Traditional carbonara sauce in Italy is usually made with guanciale and sometimes pancetta. But in America and other English-speaking countries carbonara is typically made with bacon, as is this one served at Olive Garden, so that’s what we’ll do for our clone.

    Many traditional carbonara recipes also call for egg, but Olive Garden makes the carbonara sauce for this dish in a different, and much simpler, way: they combine bits of bacon with their classic alfredo sauce which I cloned long ago. In this tweaked version of that sauce, the bacon flavors the sauce while it simmers resulting in a perfect match.

    The red pepper gets roasted in your oven, and the chicken and shrimp are sautéed on the stovetop. Put it all together, and you've got four generous servings of Olive Garden Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara with that fabulous sauce, and an impressive dinner for your hungry carbonara cravers.

    Find more of your favorite Olive Garden copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Chick-fil-A Chicken Tortilla Soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Panda Express Fried Rice

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

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

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

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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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