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McDonald's Chicken McNuggets
When dippable tempura-battered chicken chunks made their debut at select McDonald’s restaurants in 1981, America couldn’t get enough…literally. Supply chain issues prevented the burger chain from meeting high demand in all markets for many months, and it wasn’t until two years after the McNuggets were first introduced that they were finally available at every McDonald’s in the country.
The famous finger food was invented by McDonald’s first executive chef, Rene Arend, who discovered that reconstituted chicken blended with flavor enhancers, enrobed with tempura batter, and deep-fried until golden brown, made a simple, portable snack. The chicken was formed into four “B” shapes designed for dipping—the bell, the bow-tie, the ball, and the boot—and served along with child-friendly dipping sauces such as ranch and barbecue, so the breakout finger food product became a huge winner with kids.
To make a home version that looks and tastes like McNuggets I dissected a real one and discovered that the chicken in the middle is coated twice: once with dry, seasoned breading, and then once more with wet batter before frying. The chicken in McNuggets is puréed not ground, and the best way to prepare it is with a food processor. “Ground” chicken in grocery stores is often puréed, then pushed through a die to look more appealing in the package, similar to how ground beef is presented. For my Chicken McNugget recipe below, it's best to use a home food processor, but if you don’t have one, ground chicken from your butcher will work.
If I had to identify a secret ingredient in this hack it would be Knorr chicken bouillon powder. It contains many of the same ingredients found in real Chicken McNuggets, so once you get that crucial flavoring component, you’re well on your way to an amazing knockoff of an iconic American food.
This recipe was our #5 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4).
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon Knorr chicken bouillon powder
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Rao's Traditional MeatballsRead more
Tweaking a classic recipe with a few special prep tricks leaked to me by a server was the key to developing this spot-on hack for the famous meatballs from the iconic 125-year-old Italian dining room. With just two locations in the U.S. (Los Angeles and New York), sinking your fork into a fresh meatball at the restaurant requires quite a trip for most people, but my Rao's Traditional Meatballs recipe, refined through multiple batches, will make you a meatball master in your own kitchen, producing ten 5½-ounce meatballs that look and taste like the real thing.
Fortunately, I could squeeze in a reservation at the Las Vegas Rao’s location a few weeks before it closed its doors forever at Caesar’s Palace in late November 2021. While there, I made sure to ask my server for any information about the recipe, and was informed about the secret two-step process described in this hack to create giant meatballs that are cooked through, but so moist that they practically crumble when cut with a fork.
Rao’s has shared a meatball recipe in the past, but don’t be fooled. That recipe produces decent meatballs, but they are not the same as what’s served in the restaurant. If you want to make meatballs that taste like the classic original, use my Rao's meatballs recipe below.
And when they're done, top the meatballs with your favorite marinara or use my hack here to re-create Rao’s famous sauce.
This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).
You might also like my #1 recipe of 2021, Panda Express Chow Mein.
Panda Express Chow MeinRead more
I got lucky on the day I picked up a box of chow mein from this huge Chinese chain because they had just run out. This meant that I could watch from the sidelines as they whipped up a fresh batch in a giant wok over a high flame in the completely visible kitchen, and I was able to take plenty of mental notes. The whole dish took just a few minutes for the enthusiastic chef to prepare, and before I knew it I was out the door with a huge box of hot chow mein ready for hacking.
Just like the real Panda Express Chow Mein, the beauty in this re-creation is its simplicity. There are only seven ingredients, and the prep work is low-impact. I used dry chow mein noodles (also called Chinese stir fry noodles) which are easy to find and cheap, and dark soy sauce to get that great caramel color. And if you don’t have a wok for this, a large skillet with sloped sides for tossing will work just fine.
This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).
You might also like my #1 recipe of 2020, Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce.
Rao's Homemade Marinara SauceRead more
Getting a table at the 123-year-old original Rao’s restaurant in New York City is next to impossible. The tables are “owned” by regulars who schedule their meals months in advance, so every table is full every night, and that’s the way it’s been for the last 38 years. The only way an outsider would get to taste the restaurant’s fresh marinara sauce is to be invited by a regular.
If that isn’t in the stars for you, you could buy a bottle of the sauce at your local market (if they even have it). It won't be fresh, and it's likely to be the most expensive sauce in the store, but it still has that great Rao's taste. An even better solution is to copy the Rao's Marinara sauce for yourself using this new and very easy recipe.
The current co-owner of Rao’s, Frank Pellegrino Jr., told Bon Appetit in 2015 that the famous marinara sauce was created by his grandmother many years ago, and the sauce you buy in stores is the same recipe served in his restaurants. The ingredients are common, but correctly choosing the main ingredient—tomatoes—is important. Try to find San Marzano-style whole canned tomatoes, preferably from Italy. They are a little more expensive than typical canned tomatoes, but they will give you some great sauce.
After 30 minutes of cooking, you’ll end up with about the same amount of sauce as in a large jar of the real thing. Your version will likely be just a little bit brighter and better than the bottled stuff, thanks to the fresh ingredients. But now you can eat it anytime you want, with no reservations, at a table you own.
This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Olive Garden Lasagna Classico (#2), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).
You might also like my #1 recipe of 2019, Texas Roadhouse Rolls.
Panda Express Fried RiceRead more
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.
This recipe was our #3 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), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).
Chipotle Pollo AsadoRead more
In 2022, for the first time in its 29-year history, Chipotle debuted a new style of grilled chicken, and it became an instant hit. At least it was at the Chipotle near me, where the Pollo Asado was ordered more than any other protein, according to servers there. But the new flavor is for a limited-time-only, and when it’s gone, my exclusive Chipotle Pollo Asado recipe may be the only way to satisfy your deep desire.
It appears that Chipotle’s new chicken is marinated in a vacuum meat tumbler similar to the way the Mexican chicken chain El Pollo Loco does it. I sure wish I had one of those awesome tumblers because they speed up and improve the marinating process, producing moist chicken packed with flavor all the way through. But those tumblers are expensive and bulky, and I have absolutely zero space left in my kitchen to store one. So, an overnight marinade, along with a bit of patience, must suffice.
The next day, grill your marinated chicken, chop it up, toss it with the secret citrusy sauce hacked here, add some fresh cilantro and lime juice, then use it as you see fit on burritos, tacos, salads, and bowls.
Try my Chipotle Pollo Asado recipe below and find more of my Chipotle recipes here.
This recipe was our #2 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).
Wendy's Seasoned PotatoesRead more
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. Pretty cool right? Give my Wendy's seasoned potatoes recipe a try.
This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).
Olive Garden Lasagna ClassicoRead more
Crafting an Olive Garden’s signature Lasagna Classico recipe became the perfect opportunity to create a beautiful multi-layered lasagna hack recipe that uses up the whole box of lasagna noodles and fills the baking pan all the way to the top. This Top Secret Recipe makes a lasagna that tips the scale at nearly 10 pounds and will feed hungry mouths for days, with every delicious layer copied directly from the carefully dissected Olive Garden original.
I found a few credible bits of intel in a video of an Olive Garden chef demonstrating what he claims is the real formula on a midday news show, but the recipe was abbreviated for TV and the chef left out some crucial information. One ingredient he conspicuously left out of the recipe is the secret layer of Cheddar cheese located near the middle of the stack. I wasn’t expecting to find Cheddar in lasagna, but when I carefully separated the layers from several servings of the original dish, there was the golden melted cheesy goodness in every slice.
This clone recipe will make enough for 8 big portions, but if you make slightly smaller slices this is easily enough food to fill twelve lasagna-loving bellies. If you like lasagna, you're going to love this version.
This recipe was our #2 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce (#1), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).
Texas Roadhouse RollsRead more
I never thought dinner rolls were something I could get excited about until I got my hand into the breadbasket at Texas Roadhouse. The rolls are fresh out of the oven and they hit the table when you do, so there’s no waiting to tear into a magnificently gooey sweet roll topped with soft cinnamon butter. The first bite you take will make you think of a fresh cinnamon roll, and then you can’t stop eating it. And when the first roll’s gone, you are powerless to resist grabbing for just one more. But it’s never just one more. It’s two or three more, plus a few extra to take home for tomorrow.
Discovering the secret to making rolls at home that taste as good as Texas Roadhouse Rolls involved making numerous batches of dough, each one sweeter than the last (sweetened with sugar, not honey—I checked), until a very sticky batch, proofed for 2 hours, produced exactly what I was looking for. You can make the dough with a stand mixer or a handheld one, the only difference being that you must knead the dough by hand without a stand mixer. When working with the dough add a little bit of flour at a time to keep it from sticking, and just know that the dough will be less sticky and more workable after the first rise.
Roll the dough out and measure it as specified here, and after a final proofing and a quick bake—plus a generous brushing of butter on the tops—you will produce dinner rolls that look and taste just like the best rolls I’ve had at any famous American dinner chain.
This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).
IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French ToastRead more
IHOP upped its French toast game in 2022 with the introduction of a new recipe that suggests your French toast is only as good as the bread you start with, and IHOP’s new Thick ‘N Fluffy French Toast starts with thick specialty artisan bread, rather than the more commonly used Texas toast white bread.
For my IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast recipe, you can use any thick-sliced bread from your bakery, but there are two national brands that work well: Nature’s Own Perfectly Crafted Thick-Sliced White Bread and Sara Lee Artisano. Either of those will do, but of the two, Nature’s Own is shaped more like IHOP’s version.
Adding vanilla and a little cinnamon to the easy batter will set these waffles apart from most others, and in no time, you’ll have 6 beautiful slices of French toast for a total of 3 servings. Dust them with a little powdered sugar, add some butter and maple syrup on the side, and it’s like you just opened a mini IHOP in your house.
Marie Callender's Chocolate Satin PieRead more
Like the French Silk Pie that took first prize at the 1951 Pillsbury Bake-Off contest, Marie Callender’s Chocolate Satin Pie features a creamy chocolate mouse in an Oreo cookie crust and it's one of the most requested pies on the menu. The pie has become so popular that a frozen version is available in most supermarkets, but I found that version to be smaller and less delicious than the pies you get from the restaurant, so it's the fresh Marie Callender's Chocolate Satin Pie that I'm cloning here with this recipe.
For the chocolate cookie crust, you'll just need to scrape the filling from 24 Oreo cookies, then grind or pound them down to fine crumbs. After adding butter and baking it, the crust is cooled and then loaded up with the smooth chocolate mousse filling, made with real dark chocolate, cream, and eggs, just like the original. After that, just chill until firm.
When the filling has set in your refrigerator, top your taste-alike Marie Callender's Chocolate Satin Pie with homemade whipped cream (that recipe is here too), and some chocolate sprinkles, and no one will ever suspect it’s not the real deal.
Find more of your favorite Marie Callender's recipes here.
Chipotle Carne AsadaRead more
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).
King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet RollsRead more
A recipe for Portuguese sweet bread inspired the soft rolls that became a big hit at Robert Tiara's Bakery & Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii in the 1950s. It wasn’t long before Robert changed the name of his thriving business to King’s Hawaiian, and in 1977 the company opened its first bakery on the mainland, in Torrance, California, to make the now-famous island sweet rolls sold in stores across the U.S.
King’s Hawaiian Rolls are similar to Texas Roadhouse Rolls in that they are both pillowy, sweet white rolls, so it made sense to dig out my Texas Roadhouse Rolls clone recipe and use it as a starting point. These new rolls had to be slightly softer and sweeter, so I made some adjustments and added a little egg for color. And by baking the dough in a high-rimmed baking pan with 24 dough balls placed snugly together, I ended up with beautiful rolls that rose nicely to the occasion, forming a tear-apart loaf just like the original King's Hawaiian Rolls, but with clean ingredients, and without the dough conditioners found in the packaged rolls.
Use my King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls recipe for sandwiches, sliders, or simply warmed up and slathered with soft European butter.
This recipe was our #3 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), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).
Maggiano's Famous Rigatoni "D"Read more
“D” was chef David Di Gregorio’s nickname at the first Maggiano’s, which opened in Chicago, Illinois in 1991, and he’s the guy who developed the best-selling pasta dish on the menu.
Maggiano’s Famous Rigatoni “D” is a genuinely great dish that anyone can copy if they use the exclusive top secret techniques revealed here. After many trials and several errors, I finally replicated the amazing creamy marsala sauce by reducing two full bottles of inexpensive marsala wine down to just one-half cup of intensely flavored liquid. The alcohol cooks out, the mushrooms contribute their savory umami goodness, and after about an hour-and-a-half you have the perfect flavoring solution for your cream sauce.
The other mushrooms in the dish are served unsliced, so make sure they’re small enough to eat in one bite. Sometimes it’s tough to find 40 small mushrooms, so feel free to use your choice of white (button) or brown (cremini) mushrooms for this recipe. They are the same mushroom species with only minor differences (white mushrooms are a cultivated mutation of the brown ones), so either will work. But, if you have a choice, go with creminis since they tend to have a slightly deeper flavor.
Try my Maggiano's Rigatoni "D" recipe today, and complete the meal with my Maggiano's Vera's Lemon Cookies recipe here.
Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue SauceRead more
Brothers Dave and Larry Raymond came up with a top secret recipe for barbecue sauce that was so good they entered it in Chicago’s Rib Fest barbecue competition in the late ‘80s. The fourth time they entered, in 1985, they took home the 2nd place trophy. By the following year, they were selling bottles of their now-famous sauce in stores, and the brand became a huge success.
The brothers sold their $30-million-a-year sauce business in 2005, and the brand kept growing. By 2008, Sweet Baby Ray’s was America's #2 best-selling barbecue sauce.
Now, with my Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue Sauce recipe, you can make 2 cups of a taste-alike sauce with mostly common ingredients plus pineapple juice, celery salt, and tamarind paste to help nail down the familiar award-winning taste.
Try other famous copycat sauce recipes here.
Gino's East Deep Dish PizzaRead more
It's rumored that the secret ingredient in the signature crust of a Gino’s East Deep Dish Pizza is cornmeal, but that suspicion is incorrect. The dough’s yellow color makes it looks like cornbread, and it has a softer quality than most doughs, but these qualities come from other not-so-secret ingredients that have nothing to do with corn.
When three friends—Sam Levine, Fred Bartoli, and George Loverde—opened their pizza joint just off the Miracle Mile in Chicago, Illinois in 1966, they hired talented pizza chef Alice Mae Redmond, who came up with a special dough recipe that included a "secret" conditioner. Today, Gino's ships boxes of frozen pizzas across the country and is required by law to list all the ingredients on the package. So, of course, I ordered a few of those pizzas and discovered that the "secret" dough additive is cream of tartar, and the dough's yellow tint comes from beta-carotene, a natural source of yellow. On those boxes, I also discovered zero cornmeal.
For a great deep dish crust at home, you'll need to start your dough 1 to 2 days in advance. A slow, chilled rise will improve the quality and taste of your finished crust to more closely match the characteristics of the real thing. I include cream of tartar here, just like in the original dough, and simple yellow food coloring to add the proper tint.
My Gino's East Deep Dish Pizza recipe makes a plain cheese pizza, but if you want toppings (sausage, pepperoni, bacon, onions, mushrooms, peppers, etc.), arrange them on top of the cheese before applying the sauce.
Chick-fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken SandwichRead more
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!
Qdoba 3-Cheese QuesoRead more
There are many acceptable ways to formulate good queso, but to make this specific queso the ingredients must be correct, and most copycat recipes seem to get it wrong. A few recipes get one of the peppers and two of the cheeses right, but pretty much every recipe out there is a bit of a mess that I will now save you from.
Quesos can be made with a variety of cheeses that include queso fresco, asadero, and Muenster, but this particular queso includes a cheese you probably didn’t expect: Swiss. That cheese is slow to melt, so we’ll shred it first, along with the Jack. And you won't need to gum up the queso with flour or cornstarch by making a roux because the white American cheese in the mix contains sodium citrate or sodium phosphate—additives that help the cheese melt smoothly and stay that way.
Authors of recipes that call for tomatoes in this dish haven’t looked closely. Those are red bell peppers and they are roasted, peeled, and seeded along with the poblano and jalapeños before they are diced and added to the cheese sauce. The sauce cooks on low heat, never bubbling, so that it stays smooth and creamy.
When done, your queso might seem thin in the pan, but it will thicken as it cools to a perfect consistency for dipping tortilla chips, or as a topping for tacos and burrito bowls.
My Qdoba 3-cheese queso recipe was our #2 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).
Popeyes Homestyle Mac & CheeseRead more
In late 2021, Popeyes debuted a new macaroni and cheese recipe made with cheddar, cream, and butter, and browned nicely on top like it was just pulled out of Mom’s home oven. After analyzing the real thing from Popeyes in my kitchen lab and experimenting with multiple batches, I was eventually able to reproduce the dish so the same great mac & cheese taste can now come out of your OWN home oven. And the best part: it's super easy to make. You'll like that.
I created my Popeyes Mac & Cheese recipe using the same ingredients used by the chain: cheddar cheese, whole milk, heavy cream, unsalted butter—all wholesome foods without any weird stuff. We'll make a quick roux for the cheese sauce using a little flour, and I’m also adding easy-melting American cheese into the mix for its keen ability to keep the sauce from becoming grainy, as cheddar-based sauces tend to do.
Combine the sauce with the pasta, brown the top under a broiler, and you just home-styled your way to a delicious mac & cheese masterpiece.
Get more cool Popeyes hacked recipes here.
Panda Express SweetFire Chicken BreastRead more
It’s not a regular menu item at Panda Express, so if the chain’s great SweetFire Chicken Breast isn’t available at a restaurant near you, you can use my Panda Express SweetFire Chicken Breast recipe below to get your fix.
I've worked up a simple hack here for the sweet-and-spicy sauce that gets poured over the crispy chicken chunks, and I’m also including a breading technique for perfect bite-size portions of crispy chicken. Add some onions, red bell pepper, and pineapple chunks, and you’ve just made a spot-on copy of the popular limited dish.
Find more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here.
Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew ChickenRead more
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 my Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew recipe below. 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.
This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).
Shakey's Mojo PotatoesRead more
Sherwood Johnson survived a case of malaria while serving in World War II, which left him with some residual nerve damage and a new nickname: Shakey. Despite his affliction, Shakey Johnson was still able to bang out toe-tapping Dixieland jazz on the piano night after night in the pizza parlor he opened in Sacramento in 1954, where live jazz accompanied the thin crust pizza and cold pitchers of beer.
Shakey’s became the first franchised pizza restaurant in the U.S., and by 1974 the chain had 500 stores across the U.S. The #1 dish is clearly the made-to-order pizza, but the chain’s trademarked crispy battered potato slices are a close runner-up and a perfect tasty subject to hack.
Recipes that claim complete pancake mix is the secret breading ingredient in Mojo Potatoes fail to observe that pancake mix contains sugar, and there is no noticeable sweetness in the breading of the Mojos. I also decided that dry breading wouldn't work since in my tests the paprika failed to bloom and give the coating a perfect hue like it does when the mixture is wet.
I eventually settled on a simple wet batter made with seasoned salt, flour, and little cornstarch for crunch to best match the flavor, crispiness, and red/orange tint of the real thing from America’s first pizza chain. Use this original technique, and these handy step photos, to make extra crispy potatoes the Shakey's way.
There's your appetizer, now what's for dinner? Find clones for some of your favorite famous entrées here.
Pei Wei Wei Better Orange ChickenRead more
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).
Applebee's RibletsRead more
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.
Five Guys Cajun FriesRead more
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.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
Pei Wei Pad ThaiRead more
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.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
Chili's Secret Sauce BurgerRead more
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.
Cheesecake Factory Chicken PiccataRead more
Menu Description: “Sautéed chicken breast with lemon sauce, mushrooms, and capers. Served with angel hair pasta.”
A great chicken piccata doesn’t have to be complicated, and this fantastic take on the lemony dish from The Cheesecake Factory is a perfect example.
Since the sauce is the key to the great taste of this entrée, I made sure to get a sample on the side for later analysis when I requested my to-go order from Cheesecake Factory. While waiting, I asked the server what was in the sauce and she listed some obvious ingredients—lemon, wine, butter, cream—and then she mentioned garlic and shallots. When I got home, I rinsed the sauce through a mesh strainer to discover how much garlic and shallot were in the sauce, but there was no physical evidence of either solid ingredient left behind in the strainer.
I made a batch of the sauce without garlic and shallot, and it felt flat. So on the next batch, I added the garlic and shallot back in, then strained out the solid ingredients after they contributed their goodness to the sauce. The result was noticeably better.
After adding mushrooms and capers to the new lemon sauce, I spooned it over sautéed chicken cutlets and was rewarded with a fantastic homemade version of this amazing dish, which you can now copy at home using my Cheesecake Factory Chicken Piccata recipe below.
Check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.
Burger King French Toast SticksRead more
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.
Maggiano's Mozzarella MarinaraRead more
Maggiano’s transforms a normally ho-hum finger food appetizer into a beautiful starter with thick breaded chunks of mozzarella topped with more melted mozzarella and a delicious top secret marinara sauce.
To make a dish at home that looks and tastes like the original, you'll just need to cut three slices off a 2-pound block of mozzarella. After breading the cheese using the technique here, let the mozzarella rest for a bit while you make the marinara so that the breading sticks better when the cheese chunks get fried.
My original Maggiano's Mozzarella Marinara recipe will produce three slices of crispy cheese, just like in the photo. And if you want a bigger serving, you’ll have enough breading and marinara to double up on the recipe for a total of six breaded cheese slices.
If you like Maggiano's, you'll also love my copycat recipe for Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions.
Outback Steakhouse Baked Potato SoupRead more
Menu Description: “Creamy potato soup topped with melted cheese, bacon, and green onions.”
It’s not called baked potato soup because the potatoes in it are baked. It’s called baked potato soup because it’s topped with shredded cheese, bacon, and green onion, and it tastes like a loaded baked potato. Other hacky hacks for this recipe miss that point and add over an hour to the preparation process by preheating an oven and baking the potatoes, all while hungry stomachs are growling on the sidelines. My version skips that part by adding the raw potatoes directly into the pot with the other ingredients, where they cook in 20 minutes, and the soup is ready to eat in less time than other recipes take just to get the potatoes done.
Also, other clones add way too much flour to thicken the soup—¾ cup! Sure, flour is good at thickening, but it doesn’t add any flavor, so I found a better way. I ended up using just a little flour to make the roux, then later thickening the soup mostly with dehydrated potato flakes, which are used to make quick mashed potatoes. The flakes not only do a great job of thickening the soup, but they also add more delicious potato flavor to the pot, just like the real Outback Baked Potato Soup.
Top your finished soup with shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, and green onion, and every spoonful will taste like a fully decked-out baked potato.
This recipe was our #4 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), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).
Chipotle Queso BlancoRead more
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.
Chick-fil-A Frosted LemonadeRead more
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 yourself a little time for the fresh lemonade 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.
Try more of my Chick-fil-A copycat recipes like their famous chicken sandwich here.
Bojangles' Dirty RiceRead more
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.
KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Chicken Pot Pie (Improved)Read more
KFC's Chicken Pot Pie is a classic. It's packed with lots of shredded white and dark meat chicken, potatoes, peas, and carrots; all of it swimming in a delicious creamy gravy and topped with a tantalizing flakey crust. It seems more like homemade food than fast food. And now it can be made at home better than ever before with this improved hack of my original recipe (found here). The crust now has a better flavor (more butter!), and the gravy tastes closer to the original with the addition of more spices.
You can make my KFC Chicken Pot Pie recipe using ramekins or small oven-safe baking dishes, or get some recyclable aluminum pot pie pans you can find in many supermarkets. Those pans are the perfect size for four single servings, and they make cleanup easy after the feast.
KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (Improved)Read more
To get their Extra Crispy Chicken so crispy, KFC breads the chicken two times. This double breading gives the chicken its ultra craggy exterior and extra crunch, which is a different texture than the less crispy original recipe fried chicken that’s breaded just once and pressure fried.
As with my KFC Original Fried Chicken recipe, we must first brine the chicken to give it flavor and moisture all the way through, like the real thing, then the chicken is double breaded and deep-fried until golden brown. KFC uses small chickens which cook faster, but small chickens can be hard to find. If your chicken parts are on the large side, they may not cook all the way through in the 12 to 15 minutes of frying I’m specifying here. To be sure your chicken is cooked, start frying with the thickest pieces, like the breasts, then park them in a 300-degree oven while you finish with the smaller pieces. This will keep the chicken warm and crispy, and more importantly, ensure that they are cooked perfectly all the way through.
On my CMT show Top Secret Recipe I chatted with Winston Shelton, a long-time friend of KFC founder Harland Sanders. Winston saw the Colonel's handwritten secret recipe for KFC Original Recipe chicken, and he told me one of the secret ingredients is Tellicherry black pepper. It's a more expensive, better-tasting black pepper that comes from the Malabar coast in India, and you should use it here if you can find it. Winston pulled me aside and whispered this secret to me when he thought we were off-camera, but our microphones and very alert cameramen caught the whole thing, and we aired it.
I first published my KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken recipe in Even More Top Secret Recipes, but recently applied some newly acquired secrets and tips to make this much-improved recipe of one of the most familiar fried chicken recipes in the world.
My KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken recipe below was our #2 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).
Cracker Barrel Biscuit BeignetsRead more
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.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
Applebee's Chicken Wonton TacosRead more
Menu Description: “A deliciously different way to taco. Tangy grilled chicken, sweet Asian chile sauce and dumpling sauce stuffed into crispy wonton shells and topped with a crunchy slaw and cilantro mix.”
Re-creating Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos requires cloning four parts; none of which are difficult: Grilled chicken, coleslaw, secret dumpling sauce, and the crispy wonton shell to hold all of it together. For the chicken, we’ll grill a couple of thighs and chop them up. Then we’ll use bottled sweet chili sauce—usually found in your grocery store where Asian foods are parked—to punch up the flavor.
The coleslaw is easy with a dressing that’s only five ingredients. The slaw is best when it has some time to sit and wilt a bit, so plan ahead for the best flavor. You can slice the cabbage yourself, but a coleslaw kit that’s a combo of sliced cabbage and shredded carrots is a big time-saver. Just measure out 4 cups of the cabbage blend and mix it with the minced cilantro and dressing.
Wonton taco shells are not a thing you can usually find in stores, so we’ll make our own using wonton wrappers and a skillet of hot oil. When the oil is hot, add a wonton wrapper and use tongs to fold it over diagonally as it fries until it’s crispy on both sides. It takes less than a minute to fry each wonton taco shell, and you’ll get better at it as you go. Just be sure to leave plenty of room in the taco for the delicious fillings to come.
Try my Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos recipe below, and find more copycat recipes from Applebee's here.
Jason's Deli Irish Potato SoupRead more
Traditional Irish potato soup—a simple formula made with potatoes, onions, stock, and cream—gets an upgrade with cheddar cheese, carrots, green onions, and sour cream in Jason’s Deli's delicious take on the classic recipe. These improvements make a great soup that's still easy to make, but it also may be the best-tasting potato soup I’ve ever hacked.
The secret to this soup recipe is that it starts life as a cheddar cheese sauce, which may worry you if you’ve ever made cheese sauce that wound up “grainy." But that won’t happen here if you're sure to use mild or medium cheddar cheese. Older (sharper) cheddar contains less water and doesn’t melt as well as younger cheese, so the first important step is to choose your cheddar wisely.
Also, shred your own cheese. Pre-shredded cheese won’t melt as well, since shredded cheese is usually drier and often dusted with cornstarch to keep the shreds from clumping. For my Jason's Deli Irish Potato Soup recipe below, I highly recommend that you shred your own cheese to get the best results.
After an hour or so of simmering, you’ll have eight beautiful bowls of soup, all topped with cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon before serving, just like the real thing.
Find more amazing copycat soup recipes here.
Chipotle Garlic Guajillo SteakRead more
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.
Cracker Barrel MeatloafRead more
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.
Satisfy your Cracker Barrel cravings with more of my copycat recipes here.
Jack Link's Original Beef JerkyRead more
Using his grandfather’s old recipes for sausage and smoked meats, Jack Link created his first kippered beef sticks in Wisconsin in 1986, and they quickly became a popular snack throughout the state. But that wasn’t enough for Jack, so he invested in a packaging machine to expand into other markets, and eventually—with the help of a successful Sasquatch-themed marketing campaign—Jack Link’s became the #1 jerky brand in the country.
Beef jerky is usually made in a dehydrator designed to circulate air around the food at a low temperature. The temperature for drying beef jerky in a dehydrator is typically 130 to 140 degrees, which is a lower temperature than you can reach with a conventional home oven. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use our home oven to make a perfectly acceptable beef jerky hack that tastes like Jack’s. And even though Jack uses a smoker for his beef jerky, you won’t need one to give your jerky a similar smoky flavor.
The pineapple juice in the marinade is an important part of the taste, but its primary contribution is a unique enzyme that helps break down the proteins in the tough cut of meat to tenderize it. Soy sauce and beef bouillon contribute to the umami savoriness of the jerky, and liquid hickory smoke is used in my Jack Link's Original Beef Jerky recipe as a quick way to add the smoky flavor.
The marinating takes 24 hours and the oven drying takes between 6 to 8 hours, so get the sliced beef into the bath in the morning, and you’ll be munching on homemade Jack Link's beef jerky by dinnertime the next day. And to help you out, I'm including step photos.
Find more cool recipes for your favorite snacks here.
Starbucks Double Chocolate BrownieRead more
If you worship chocolate, this simple-to-make recipe of Starbucks' famous fudgy brownie is a blessing. The brownie is made with a double dose of chocolate—unsweetened cocoa and milk chocolate—and the top is sprinkled with chunks of dark chocolate. The result is a moist, chewy brownie made with a perfect blend of chocolate. And it tastes like heaven.
Prep your pan with a sling made from parchment paper. Slice the parchment long so that it fits into the bottom of the pan with each of the ends hanging over the top of the pan. I use two small binder clips to hold the paper in place so that it doesn’t fold into the pan during baking. When the brownies have cooled, remove the clips, grab the overhanging paper, and lift the brownies cleanly out of the pan to be sliced.
Olive Garden ZeppoliRead more
Traditional Italian doughnuts are often made with soft choux dough dropped by a spoon into the oil, resulting in light and crispy puff pastries. Others—like what Olive Garden serves—are made with tighter dough for a finished product that is more substantial, like beignets. That's the pastry you'll be making here, and it's pretty darn easy, once you know the secret dough formula.
In Italy, Zeppoles (Olive Garden changed the spelling a bit) are often filled with fruit or jelly and always come dusted with granulated or powdered sugar. In this case, Olive Garden's Zeppolis are unfilled with dipping sauce on the side, and they're tossed in extra-fine granulated sugar (baker’s sugar).
At the restaurant, you get a plate of warm Zeppolis with your choice of raspberry sauce or chocolate sauce. But why choose? My Olive Garden Zeppolis recipe here makes 2 dozen pillowy pastries, which you can serve with both raspberry and chocolate dipping sauces, or with any sweet sauce you like.
Outback Steakhouse Butter CakeRead more
To experience butter cake which harkens back to the original creation that debuted in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1930s, you’ll want to try Outback’s take on the great American dessert, or at least a good hack of it. The butter cake served at the steakhouse chain is sliced sheet cake just like the first butter cakes from nearly a century ago, but Outback improves on the original formula by adding a butter cookie crust and presenting the dish with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.
The formulas to perfectly re-create every layer are here in my Outback Steakhouse Butter Cake recipe below. You'll first par-bake the sugar cookie crust, then the cake batter and gooey layer are added, and the cake is baked until the top is golden brown. The cake gets sliced into triangles and arranged beautifully on serving plates with the toppings for a grand total of 10 impressive servings.
Many of the most popular online recipes for butter cake, including one by Paula Deen, call for yellow cake mix, but that won’t do if we want the best clone of the real thing. You’ll make this recipe completely from scratch, and you’ll be glad you did—the higher-quality, great-tasting cake created here is everything box mixes want to be when they grow up.
Find more of your favorite Outback Steakhouse copycat recipes here.
Domino's Loaded TotsRead more
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.
Chipotle CarnitasRead more
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).
Wolfgang Puck Chinois Chicken SaladRead more
This iconic Chinese chicken salad, born at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois restaurant in Santa Monica, California, can also be found on menus at other Puck dining rooms, including Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill and Wolfgang Puck Player’s Locker, both in Las Vegas.
It's a decades-old secret recipe that is often imitated but never duplicated since no knockoff I've found includes all the ingredients necessary to create the signature taste. In my underground lab, I sat down with my “to-go” salad (dressing on the side, of course) and meticulously deconstructed it by separating all the ingredients into small bowls. After working for about 45 minutes with the tweezers, I had separate piles of napa cabbage, various greens including frisée, radicchio, shredded carrot, and another shredded root vegetable that I have yet to see anyone include in their so-called “hack”: daikon radish.
In my Wolfgang Puck Chinois Chicken Salad recipe below I’ll show you how to make the perfect blend of greens (including another secret ingredient that recipes miss), and the ultimate way to clone the famous dressing. I’ve also got easy hacks for perfect candied sesame cashews and crunchy wontons to sprinkle on top, plus I’m including a handful of step photos to ensure that your salad comes out perfect.
Chipotle Tomatillo-Red Chili SalsaRead more
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.
You could also use this great salsa on Chipotle's famous barbacoa, carnitas, carne asada, or pollo asado. Find all of those recipes and more 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.
Domino's Loaded Tots
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