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Welcome. You just found copycat recipes for all of your favorite famous foods! Bestselling author and TV host Todd Wilbur shows you how to easily duplicate the taste of iconic dishes and treats at home. Find all the best restaurant recipes from P..F.Chang's to Tony Roma's here. New recipes added every week.
- P.F. Chang's
- Panda Express
- Panera Bread
- Papa John's
- Pei Wei
- Perkins Family Restaurants
- Pizza Hut
- Pizzeria Uno
- Planet Hollywood
- Rainforest Cafe
- Red Lobster
- Red Robin
- Roadhouse Grill
- Romano's Macaroni Grill
- Ruby Tuesday
- Ruth's Chris
- Serendipity 3
- Shake Shack
- Simon Kitchen & Bar
- Sonic Drive-In
- Soup Nazi's
- Steak 'N Shake
- Stuart Anderson's Black Angus
- Swiss Chalet
- T.G.I. Friday's
- Taco Bell
- Texas Roadhouse
- Tommy Bahama
- Tony Roma's
- Trader Vic's
Panera Bread Broccoli Cheddar SoupRead more
The easy-melting, individually-wrapped Kraft Cheddar Singles are the perfect secret ingredient to copy this cheesy broccoli cheddar soup served at this top soup stop. In my Panera Bread Broccoli Cheddar Soup recipe, fresh broccoli is first steamed, then diced into little bits before you combine it with chicken broth, half-and-half, shredded carrot, and onion. Now you're just 30 minutes away from soup spoon go-time.
Click here for more of my copycat Panera Bread recipes.
Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.
T.G.I. Friday's Tuscan Spinach DipRead more
Menu Description: "Parmesan and Romano cheeses blended with spinach, artichokes and sautéed onions & peppers. Served with Friday's red & white tortilla chips."
Many casual chains have their own version of spinach artichoke dip somewhere on the appetizer menu, but one of the most popular versions is found at this huge national chain.
For our homemade version, well use marinated artichoke hearts to contribute the slightly acidic flavor found in the original. My T.G.I. Friday's Tuscan Spinach Dip recipe below uses a stove top preparation, but you can also prepare a version of this dip entirely in your microwave using the technique at the bottom in Tidbits.
You'll find a ton of recipes for T.G.I. Friday's best dishes here.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
Panda Express Beijing BeefRead more
The problem with adding sauce to fried food is that the wet sauce makes the crunchy fried food not so crunchy. Panda Express manages to keep the crispy beef in Beijing Beef crispy even though it may be sitting for over 20 minutes in the sauce on its way to a hungry you. My early attempts at hacking my favorite dish at the massive Chinese food chain all resulted in gummy, soggy beef pieces that were more like flat dumplings than the delicious, crunchy strips of joy they were meant to be.
Then finally, on one batch, I decided to fry the coated beef for much longer than I intuitively felt it should be cooked, resulting in dark browning on the cornstarch coating and an even darker piece of meat beneath it. I anticipated a beef jerky experience, but when I took a bite, I found it to be delicious! It wasn’t tough and chewy as I expected it to be. And when this seemingly overcooked beef was stirred into the sauce, it stayed crispy until served, just like the real thing. Now, with the soggy beef problem solved, we’ve finally got a good hack for Panda Express Beijing Beef.
Starbucks Petite Vanilla Bean SconesRead more
Good things come in small packages - just like these hit scones that have been a staple Starbucks favorite for years.
Unlike many scones that end up too dry and tasteless, these miniature scones are moist and full of great vanilla flavor. They’re deliciously sweet and creamy, with real vanilla bean in both the dough and the glaze. Want to make some great scones? Make my Starbucks Petite Vanilla Bean scones recipe.
Panda Express Honey Walnut ShrimpRead more
Three components must be mastered to properly hack this top menu pick at the country’s largest fast Chinese chain: candied nuts, honey sauce, and perfectly battered shrimp. For the candied walnuts, I came up with a technique using the oven, which means there’s no candy thermometer required and it’s a no-brainer. For the sauce, you just whisk the ingredients together in a bowl.
To make your shrimp look like the shrimp at Panda Express, you don’t want them tightly curled up when they fry. You can keep them from curling by pinching the tail end of each shrimp after it has been floured and dipping it into the batter headfirst. When you pull it out, the weight of the batter will help unfurl the shrimp a bit, and if you then lower it slowly into the oil it will mostly stay that way.
When all the shrimp have been fried, bake them in the oven so that they are crispy and warm, then toss the shrimp and the nuts in the sweet honey sauce and serve. You'll swear you're eating Panda Express Honey Walnut Shrimp straight from the restaurant.
Starbucks Iced Lemon Loaf Cake (Improved)Read more
Several years ago, when this moist, lemony frosted pound cake used to be called "Lemon Loaf," it was discontinued from the coffee house chain along with the banana and pumpkin flavors, and customers were outraged. The "Loafies" (my word for them) protested and demanded that the beloved sweet loaves be returned to their rightful pastry display case, and in early 2014, the treat was brought back.
Today, Starbucks Iced Lemon Loaf Cake (its new name), is made by the bakery chain La Boulange that Starbucks acquired in 2012, and it is a little different than the one I cloned years ago. So, I headed back down into the underground lab for a re-hack of this loaf cake, which will now produce a better lemon loaf that is bigger, moister, less oily, more buttery, and tastier than the previous version. If Starbucks ever ditches your Lemon Loaf again Loafies, I've got your back.
Get the full recipe in Todd Wilbur's "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" cookbook.
Panera Bread Blueberry SconeRead more
A great cream scone should include just enough cream to help the dough stick together, but not so much that the inside of the scone is gooey. And the perfect amount of butter is required to keep the scone from being either too tough, or too flakey, like pie crust. After two dozen attempts, I believe I’ve found the right ratios that will give you tender, nicely-browned scones with juicy blueberries buried inside—and very little blue dough from blueberry juice, just like the real thing.
I tested my Panera Bread Blueberry Scone recipe with every type of blueberry—fresh, frozen, dry, and rehydrated—and found that frozen worked best. After baking, these berries had the same flavor and texture as those in the original scone, so I have to assume that Panera also uses frozen berries. The secret is to first rinse and blot the berries dry before adding them to the dough. If you mix the dough properly, it should be crumbly so that you can easily integrate the juicy berries into every portion of dough. Just don’t squeeze too hard when you form the dough, or the berries may pop and you’ll be seeing blue.
Get this recipe in "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" exclusively on Amazon.com.
Panera Bread Cinnamon Crunch BagelRead more
Panera Bread’s product information pages refer to a long proofing time when describing the sour characteristic of the chain’s phenomenal bagels, but there is no mention of how long. After several weeks of trying different approaches to proofing these cinnamon bit–filled bagels, I decided the best solution was to form the bagels and proof them overnight in the cold. The next day the bagels came out of the refrigerator not much bigger, but after sitting for several hours at room temperature they more than doubled in size and had a light sourdough flavor like the original Panera Bread bagels.
The cinnamon drops that go into the bagel were also tricky. I needed to come up with a way to make bits of cinnamon/sugar that were crunchy, but not so hard as to break a tooth. I found the best way was to make oven-cooked cinnamon candy bound with cornstarch and milk and tenderized with oil. This sugar mixture is baked in a loaf pan until no longer bubbling, then cooled and shattered into tiny pieces. When the candy is broken up, much of it gets pulverized into dust, which you separate from the crumbs with a sieve. The crumbs are the cinnamon drops used in the bagel, and the cinnamon/sugar powder is used to dust the tops of the bagels just before baking.
I also found that kettling (boiling the bagels) with just a tablespoon of sugar in the water produced a browner bagel than kettling with no sugar, so that’s the technique I’m sharing here in my Panera Bread Cinnamon Crunch Bagel recipe. Some techniques call for malt in the water, but sugar works just fine and makes the perfectly shiny, blistered crust you see in the photo.
Panera Bread has amazing soups too! See if I hacked your favorite here.
Starbucks Banana Nut BreadRead more
It’s about time for Top Secret Recipes to hack one of Starbucks all-time bestselling baked snacks. For this banana bread knock-off, I settled on a blend of both baking powder and baking soda for a good crumb and dark crust that perfectly resembles the original. And I decided it best to go big on the dark brown sugar, not only for flavor but also because the extra molasses in the darker brown sugar triggers a helpful leavening boost from the baking soda. It’s also important to know that an accurate clone must have both walnuts and pecans in the mix, because that’s what’s really in it, according to the official Starbucks website ingredients info. All other copycats I saw got it wrong when it came to the nut blend, so if you want a true knock-off, this is the Starbucks Banana Bread recipe to bake.
I've cloned a ton of drinks and treats from Starbucks. See if I hacked your favorite here.
Roscoe's Chicken and WafflesRead more
Forty-five years ago, chicken and waffles sounded like an unusual combination to most people, but not to Herb Hudson. He loved the dish so much when he lived in Harlem, New York, where it was created, that he brought it west in 1975 to Long Beach, California, and turned the concept into a chain of seven legendary Los Angeles restaurants that were successful for decades.
But Roscoe’s has recently fallen on hard times. Eater.com reported in January 2018 that the chain had declared bankruptcy and owed $27 million. Snoop Dogg, known over the years for claiming Roscoe’s as his favorite restaurant, told TMZ that he was going to buy the chain and call it Snoop Dogg’s Chicken ‘N Waffles. That deal never happened.
I’m not sure what’s in the cards for Roscoe’s, but I thought it might be a good idea to head out to the Roscoe’s on Gower in LA and do a little hacking, and the sooner, the better. Once there, I ordered plenty of extra chicken and waffles to go, popped them into the cooler, then headed back to Vegas and got to work.
The chicken at Roscoe’s is Southern-style, which usually means the chicken is soaked in buttermilk, but several workers there insisted that wasn’t the case. So instead, I brined the chicken in a simple salt solution and was pleased to discover that it tasted like theirs. By peeking into the kitchen I observed that Roscoe’s chicken is pan-fried, which is a very Southern thing to do with chicken, so we’ll do the same with our chicken clone. My waiter claimed they use canola oil.
As for the waffles, they’re made special with a secret combination of spices added to the batter. I noted a strong taste of cinnamon and vanilla, with just a dash of nutmeg. To be sure, I confirmed these three ingredients with a very helpful server from another table who was proud to talk about the recipe, and even high-fived me when I called out the correct secret ingredients.
Try my Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles recipes below, and find more 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).
Panda Express Fortune CookiesRead more
I like making fortune cookies because it means I get to write fortunes. My fortunes are sometimes ridiculous (“No matter what, be sure you don’t…ah, never mind. Have a cookie.”), sometimes sarcastic (“Wow, you broke a cookie! Have you been working out?”), and sometimes paradoxical (“These cookies are filled with lies.”). But’s let’s face it, the fortune isn't the best part. What matters most is that the cookie tastes good.
Contrary to popular belief, fortune cookies are not from China. They don’t even serve them in China. Fortune cookies are an American invention, created either in San Francisco or Los Angeles in the early 1900s—the exact origin is in dispute. Originally, I set out to clone the best-selling fortune cookie in the U.S., called Golden Bowl, made by Wonton Foods. But I found out that I don’t like those cookies. They're thin and tasteless and have an unnatural orange tint to them. Instead, I chose to hack the thicker, tastier, golden brown Panda Express fortune cookies.
Fortune cookies start their life looking like pancake batter. The batter is formed into 3-inch circles that, when baked, become thin cookies. These are pliable when warm and crispy when cool—so you’ll need to work fast when forming them. Because they’re so thin, it’s best to bake the cookies on a silicone pad or nonstick foil. You can also use parchment paper, but it tends to ripple from the moisture of the batter, and that ripple shows up on the surface of the cookies.
I suggest baking just three or four cookies at a time so that they'll all be warm and pliable while you add the fortunes and shape them. And if you're very fortunate, you can find a helpful someone to assist you with that part, so you'll be able to make more cookies faster.
Starbucks Bacon and Gruyere Sous Vide Egg BitesRead more
In January of 2017, Starbucks perfected slow-cooked sous vide–style egg snacks that can be prepped and served quickly by the baristas at any location. To speed up service, Starbucks makes the egg pucks ahead of time, then freezes and ships them to the coffee stores where they are defrosted and reheated in blazing-hot convection ovens.
Sous vide refers to the method of cooking food sealed in bags or jars at a low, consistent temperature for a long time. This technique creates food that’s softer in texture and less dried out than food cooked with other, faster methods. Cooks who use sous vide will often vacuum pack their food in bags and use special machines to regulate temperature. But you won’t need an expensive machine like that for my Starbucks Bacon and Gruyère Sous Vide Egg Bites recipe—just some 8-ounce canning jars and a blender.
The secret to duplicating the smooth texture starts with blending the cheeses very well until no lumps remain. Rub some of the cheese mixture between your fingers to make sure it’s smooth before you pour it into the jars. It’s also important to monitor the temperature of the water. Try to keep it between 170 and 180 degrees F so that your eggs are neither too tough nor too soft. It’s best to use a cooking thermometer for this, but if you don’t have one, the right temperature is just below where you see tiny bubbles rising to the surface. Also, if you hear the jars jiggling in the water, that’s their way of telling you the water is a bit too hot.
You might also like my version of Starbucks Egg White and Roasted Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg Bites.
Starbucks Egg White and Roasted Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg BitesRead more
The same slow-cooking technique is used to copy this yolk-less companion to the Bacon & Gruyere Sous Vide Egg Bites, but instead of bacon, the Starbucks Egg White and Roasted Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg Bites come with roasted red pepper, green onion, and spinach.
Because there is no yolk, a little rice flour is used to help hold everything together. I suspect Starbucks chose rice flour to keep the product gluten-free, even though most people really don’t mind a little gluten, and gluten does a much better job of binding. I include the rice flour here but you can substitute with all-purpose wheat flour if gluten isn't a concern, and if you don’t feel like buying a whole bag of rice flour just to use 2 teaspoons out of it.
To get the same smooth texture in your egg bites as Starbucks, be sure to blend the mixture until no bits of cheese can be felt when you rub some between your fingers. My Starbucks Sous Vide Egg Bites recipe tastes best with full-fat cottage cheese, but you can still use low-fat cottage cheese if you feel like trimming some of the fat.
Check out my other clone recipes for your favorite Starbucks drinks and baked goods here.
Popeyes Chicken SandwichRead more
When Popeyes debuted its new crispy chicken sandwich on August 12, 2019, the company was not prepared for the eruption of social media video posts comparing the new sandwich to Chick-fil-A’s classic chicken sandwich. As a result of the apparently unplanned instant viral campaign in which Popeyes almost always emerges as the winner, customers swarmed the stores and waited in long lines to try the now-famous sandwich. The buzz continued to build day by day, and just two weeks after its debut, the sandwich had sold out—a full month ahead of schedule.
But sold out or not, you don’t need Popeyes to get the great taste combo of the crispy buttermilk breaded chicken breast, soft buttered brioche bun, mayo, and pickles. Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on several of the sandwiches before they were gone and cranked out a Popeyes Chicken Sandwich copycat recipe, so you can now learn to make the Popeyes fried chicken sandwich any time you want. With these new tricks you’ll be able to make crispy chicken at home that’s flavorful, juicy, and tender, just like Popeyes, coated in a thick golden breading with the same light crunch.
The secret to moist, tasty chicken is to brine it for several hours in a spicy mixture of buttermilk, pepper sauce, salt, and MSG. The buttermilk is slightly acidic, so it will help tenderize the chicken without making it too tough like harsher acids, while the salt enhances the flavor (as does the MSG) and keeps the chicken juicy. The MSG (monosodium glutamate) is an amino acid with a salt-like flavor that at one time was thought to be unhealthy, but is now considered an important culinary additive. Popeyes uses it in their chicken because it provides an essential savory flavor called “umami,” and you cannot make an accurate clone without it.
To imitate the light, crispy breading of Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, we’ll use baking powder in the flour. The baking powder forms bubbles in the flour when the chicken cooks so that the breading is tender and crispy, rather than crusty and dense. I found that self-rising flour works great since it conveniently has just the right amount of baking powder and salt already added. But don't use a low-protein self-rising flour like White Lily. That brand is awesome for biscuits, but its low gluten content makes it not stick well on chicken breasts. I used Gold Medal self-rising flour, and it worked great. If all-purpose flour is all you’ve got, that can work as well. I’ve put measurements for using all-purpose flour, plus baking powder and salt, in the Tidbits below.
If you'd like to kick up your Popeyes Chicken Sandwich copycat recipe, clone the spicier version by replacing the plain mayo with my easy hack for Popeyes Spicy Mayonnaise.
Click here for more of my copycat recipes for Popeye's famous dishes.
Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cold BrewRead more
America’s biggest coffee-house chain has come up with another way to sell us a seasonal pumpkin drink, and this one is pretty damn good. Cold brew coffee is mixed with vanilla syrup and ice, then a pumpkin spice flavored cream is layered on top. If it's in a clear glass, you'll see the creamy topping slowly sinking to the bottom like a lava lamp, and the color of the drink will change to a light autumn brown.
To make our own Starbucks pumpkin cream cold brew drink at home, we'll start by making the secret pumpkin spice syrup from my Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe posted here, but this time I’m adding an extra tablespoon of pumpkin. You’ll have plenty of this syrup left over to make several more drinks.
The rest of my Starbucks pumpkin cream cold brew recipe is easy: Grab your favorite cold brew coffee and mix it with some vanilla syrup (like this one from Torani). The cream topping is made by mixing cream with 2% milk in a blender, just until thick. After adding the pumpkin syrup, you pour the topping over your coffee and top it off with pumpkin spice.
You've just hacked Starbucks pumpkin cream cold brew. Now, how about making some of their famous pastries?
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.
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).
Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken BreastRead more
Menu Description: “Honey Sesame Chicken Breast is made with thin, crispy strips of all-white meat chicken tossed with fresh-cut string beans, crisp yellow bell peppers in a sizzling hot wok with our new delicious honey sauce and topped off with sesame seeds.”
The limited-time-only availability of this entree is unfortunate for those who claim it as their top choice at America’s biggest fast Chinese chain. But now, with this Top Secret Recipe, you can make your own Panda Express honey sesame chicken breast anytime you want, and it won’t matter when the real one goes away.
The success of this clone depends almost entirely on how good the sauce is. The sauce needs to be sweet, but when I used too much honey the honey flavor overpowered the dish, so it was clear that some of the sweetness would have to come from sugar. Eventually, I found the right balance for a good sauce hack: sweet, salty, and sour, with a light back-end hit of red pepper.
For the batter, I tweaked the coating in my hack for Panda Express Honey Walnut Shrimp, increasing the yield of the batter, so you won’t run out.
After your sauce is done and the chicken is finished, build the dish by tossing green beans, yellow bell peppers and crispy chicken in a wok or large sauté pan with the sauce, then spoon it over rice, and grab some chopsticks.
Get the full recipe in "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" exclusively on Amazon.com.
Popeyes Spicy MayonnaiseRead more
The ridiculously popular crispy chicken sandwich at Popeyes comes with your choice of regular mayonnaise or kicked-up spicy mayonnaise. Fortunately, I was able to hack the sandwich before it sold out just a couple weeks after its debut (get the recipe here), but that recipe includes just plain mayonnaise. I knew I had to create a Popeyes spicy mayonnaise recipe, and I’m glad I did. Popeyes chicken sandwich with regular mayonnaise is crazy good, but with spicy mayonnaise, that sandwich is great.
You can use this sauce on a variety of sandwiches and burgers, or as a dip for chicken fingers, nuggets, and fried shrimp.
Check out my other Popeyes clone recipes for their famous red beans and rice, buttermilk biscuits and fried chicken.
P.F. Chang's Chicken in Soothing Lettuce Wraps (TV)Read more
While seeking out information to help make the ultimate hack of these lettuce wraps for my TV show Top Secret Recipe, I talked to Eric Justice, V.P. of Culinary Development at P.F. Chang's China Bistro who informed me that the restaurant uses a jet cooker stovetop with a high flame to cook food quickly. Jet cookers that blast out powerful 185,000 BTU flames can be found in restaurant supply stores, but I created a clone recipe requiring only the heat provided by most standard home stovetops (a gas flame stove is best).
I also found out that a well-seasoned wok is preferable for this recipe, but it is also possible to produce a close re-creation of these famous lettuce wraps even without one. If you don't have a wok, use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet and get it nice and hot. You'll also want to track down the right ingredients: black mushroom soy sauce contributes the dark caramel color to the lettuce wrap filling, and it's best to use Lee Kum Kee brand of hoisin sauce and oyster sauce, just as the restaurant does. And finally, Shaoxing rice cooking wine, a secret I learned from Cecilia (Mama) Chiang.
Heat up your wok (or large skillet) until it smokes, and keep the ingredients moving around in the pan so that nothing scorches.
I hope you'll try my P.F. Chang's lettuce wraps recipe below. It fooled all three judges in a blind taste test on my CMT show. You can find more of my P.F.Chang's copycat recipes here.
Source: Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step by Todd Wilbur.
Pizza Hut Meaty Marinara PastaRead more
One of two pasta dishes currently on the pizza giant’s menu, the Meaty Marinara Pasta was first introduced in a 2008 April Fool’s publicity stunt when Pizza Hut claimed it was changing its name to “Pasta Hut.” No one fell for the prank but they did fall for the pasta, and that's why the Tuscani Creamy Chicken Alfredo Pasta and Meaty Marinara Pasta have been on the menu ever since. The sauce is the big secret here; it's simple and classic, but customized to produce a marinara with that distinct Pizza Hut taste. And the recipe will make more than enough pasta to go around.
My Pizza Hut Meaty Marinara Pasta recipe is an easy one. After browning the seasoned beef, you add it to the sauce, simmer the sauce until thick, then spread it over one pound of rotini pasta in a baking dish in two layers so that every bite is filled with flavor. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the top and melt it until golden brown under your broiler. Boom! No one can resist. You rule.
This simple and inexpensive meal will feed eight, and leftovers keep well in the fridge for a couple of days.
Find more of my Pizza Hut recipes here.
Panera Bread Creamy Tomato SoupRead more
It’s a good thing that Panera’s delicious tomato soup is made with pear tomatoes so we can use canned San Marzano-style tomatoes for a quick and easy hack, and we’ll pump up the tomato flavor with added tomato paste.
Other recipes will call for some form of broth here, but the broth is unnecessary, and it's not in the real thing so a good clone recipe wouldn't include it. There is plenty of flavorful liquid in the canned tomatoes, and we’ll sculpt the final flavor with herbs and spices, sugar, and lemon juice.
You can buy premade croutons to use on top of your soup, but I’ve also included an easy hack to make black pepper croutons from focaccia or ciabatta bread, just like those you get at the restaurant.
Check here for more of my Panera Bread copycat recipes.
Popeyes Cajun RiceRead more
Popeyes offers two sides with rice: the ultra-popular Red Beans and Rice, which I previously cloned here, and this rice made Cajun-style with ground beef and spices.
The real recipe at the chain most likely includes chicken gizzard, but that ingredient is not always easy to find outside of buying a whole uncooked chicken that includes a bag of giblets tucked inside. So I set out to design my Popeyes Cajun Rice recipe without that ingredient, and the results were great.
The secret to the fabulous taste, after all, is not found in the gizzard, but in the flavors contributed by the “holy trinity” of green pepper, onion, and celery salt; accentuated by the ground thyme and oregano.
If you’re making rice tonight, bump it up to something special with just a little extra work for delicious results.
Can't get enough Popeyes? Find all of my recipes here.
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Steak 'N Shake The Original Double 'N Cheese SteakburgerRead more
Rather than adding any seasoning, including salt and pepper, to their classic Steakburgers, Steak 'N Shake solely relies on the Maillard reaction for flavor. This is the browning that occurs when amino acids and sugars combine with high heat. I was able to peek into the grilling station at the restaurant to see cooks squashing ground beef "pucks" flat onto the hot grill to trigger the fast browning process. This was good information, but no amount of spying into the kitchen provided me with any information about which cuts of beef are used to make those burgers.
The term "Steakburger" doesn't tell us much, since practically any cut of beef can be a steak until it's ground up, and there are conflicting reports about which cuts up beef are used. One article I found states that the burgers are made with chuck, rib-eye, and brisket, while another claims it's a combination of ground round, sirloin, and T-bone steaks. A waiter at the restaurant told me it's all from porterhouse steak, which is both strip and tenderloin.
Completely confused by my research, I decided to bust out the meat grinder and taste test all three combinations, plus several others. My tests paid off. Follow my Steak 'N Shake Double 'N Cheese Steakburger recipe, and you'll have a perfect match to the eighty-year old Midwest original.
Get the full recipe in Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step by Todd Wilbur.
Steak 'N Shake Classic Genuine ChiliRead more
Examining the list of ingredients on a can of this 500-unit Midwestern chain's chili reveals a traditional chili con carne formula with beans as the only vegetable ingredient. There is no tomato sauce in the recipe, as stated by Internet copycats. Nor is there any chocolate or cola in the mix, as some recipes claim.
Rinsing a portion of the chili through a wire mesh strainer reveals both small bits and large chunks of tender meat in the chili. But, what kind of met is it? Well, considering the significant amount of fat floating on top of the chili and the tenderness of the chunks, I concluded that it's most likely an inexpensive, heavily marbled cut that braises well. Most likely chuck. Get 8 ounces ground up, and another 8 ounces that you slice into bite-sized chunks. The flour and the cornstarch are added to my Steak 'N Shake chili recipe to simulate modified food starch, and the dry beef bouillon punches up the flavor along with all the spices. After a two-hour simmer, serve this chili in a bowl on its own, or with shredded cheese and onion on top, or on top of spaghetti noodles in traditional Midwestern style.
Get the full recipe in Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step by Todd Wilbur.
P.F. Chang's Fire-Braised Short RibsRead more
Good short ribs should practically melt in your mouth, and my P.F. Chang’s Fire-Braised Short Ribs recipe below will produce flavor-pumped short ribs that will do just that. Just as in the restaurant, these sliced boneless short ribs sit on a bed of pineapple fried rice and come with a side of the sweet-and-savory Asian braising sauce to pour over the top. If you dig short ribs, you're going to love this dish.
To craft the 30-dollar entrée at home (but for much less) the short ribs are braised for 3 hours in a secret liquid made with Chinese cooking wine, garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and a few other key ingredients. The cooked short ribs are then chilled, sliced, and seared while being doused with the robust braising liquid for a perfect burst of flavor.
When you arrange the sliced short ribs on the pineapple fried rice made with the Top Secret Recipe I’m including below, and sprinkle the plate with some micro sprouts, you’ll have created a dish that looks and tastes just like the fabulous original restaurant version, but at a mere fraction of the cost.
For a great side, try this hack for P.F. Chang's Short Rib Fried Rice, and get more P.F. Chang's copycat recipes here.
P.F. Chang's Short Rib Fried RiceRead more
Fried rice is one of life’s simple pleasures, but add kimchi, edamame, mushrooms, tender short rib, and a wasabi-mayo drizzle, and you’ve just elevated a common dish to something truly special. That’s why P.F. Chang’s new Short Rib Fried Rice is so popular. And that’s why it needed to be cloned, ASAP.
As with my recipe for P.F. Chang’s Fire-Braised Short Ribs, you’ll make a tasty braising liquid with Chinese cooking wine, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, green onions, and garlic, to pour over your short ribs before they slow-cook in your oven for 3 hours.
When you're ready to serve the dish, dice the cooled short ribs, then sear them and add them to the rice along with all the other ingredients in a hot pan or wok over high heat.
Plate the rice, drizzle wasabi-mayo sauce over the top, sprinkle on some fresh chopped green onions, and serve up a spot-on clone of the hit dish, and possibly the best fried rice you’ve ever crafted.
Try my P.F. Chang's Short Rib Fried Rice recipe below, and find more popular P.F. Chang's copycat 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.
Pizza Hut Spicy Lover's PizzaRead more
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.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
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.
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.
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.
Popeyes Megan Thee Stallion Hottie SauceRead more
In a 2021 collaboration with female rap artist Megan Thee Stallion, Popeyes created a popular dipping sauce with a feisty kick for dunking your nuggets and strips, or for slathering over a crispy chicken sandwich. The chicken chain’s limited edition Hottie Sauce is a sweet-and-sour combo with a base of tangy cayenne pepper sauce. It’s sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, and honey and freckled with delicious Aleppo peppers. The sauce is filled with big flavor and appears to be a huge success for the chain since they have been running out of it at some locations.
My Popeyes Megan Thee Stallion Hottie Sauce recipe is easy, so you’ll have no trouble being thee cloner of over one cup of this spirited sauce just as soon as you get your hands on some tasty dried Aleppo pepper flakes, which you can find online.
When I went back to Popeyes a week later to load up on more sauce, they informed that it was sold out. So, if you like to use this sauce on your crispy chicken, you may really need this recipe. But don't stop there, you can also make a homemade version of Popeye's Chicken Sandwich here.
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.
P.F. Chang's Kung Pao Brussels SproutsRead more
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.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
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.
Red Robin Burnin' Love BurgerRead more
Menu Description: “Fried jalapeno coins, house-made-salsa, pepper-Jack, lettuce, tomatoes, and chipotle aioli.”
This 570-unit full-service chain has a sizeable menu, but it’s the thick 1/3-pound gourmet hamburgers, like this boomin’ bestseller, that bring in the crowds. And if you’re a burger lover who enjoys burgers that bite back, this recipe for Red Robin Burnin' Love hamburger is for you.
To assemble your own version of this big beauty, I’ll first show you (with photos) how to make perfect crispy jalapeno coins and a simple chipotle aioli. The seasoning formula for the beef patty that I’m including here is an updated and improved version of the secret sprinkle I hacked years ago, but this time we’ll use easier-to-find ingredients.
Once you’ve prepped these components, it’s time to kick up the flames and grill some burgers. Top your burgers with pepper-Jack cheese, and assemble everything on sesame seed buns along with salsa, lettuce, and tomato. Then open wide.
Look here for more of your favorite dishes from Red Robin, Yummm.
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.