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Appetizers

You lucky devil. You just found copycat recipes for all of your favorite famous foods! Bestselling author and TV host Todd Wilbur shows you how to easily duplicate the taste of iconic dishes and treats at home. See if Todd hacked your favorite appetizers here. New recipes added every week

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    Spinach dips are a great finger food appetizer and just about every chain has its own version, but Cheddar's has one of the best in the business with a unique, slightly spicy southwestern twist. Four different kinds of cheese are used in this recipe: three are blended into the spinach, then mozzarella is melted over the top just before serving.

    And for speed, we’ll use a microwave oven to quickly defrost the box of frozen spinach so that you’ll have a delish spinach dip on the table in just 20 minutes.

    This way to more cool copycats from Cheddar's.

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    Menu Description: "Lightly fried Brussels sprouts tossed in Big Poppa Smokers Desert Gold seasoning with sweet sriracha crema."

    Brussels sprouts have been exploding on chain restaurant menus in recent years, and the best I've tasted are served as starters. The cruciferous wonders are usually roasted or fried, then dressed with a sauce meant to override the sprouts' inherent bitterness. And when they’re done right, those Brussels sprouts will be the most memorable dish at the table.

    BJ’s preparation technique of choice for Brussels sprouts is to fry them, then sprinkle them with a lemony seasoning blend by Big Poppa Smokers just before they get drizzled with sweet sriracha crema. For the seasoning, there’s no need to buy the real thing since I’ve come up with an easy hack. And the sriracha crema copycat couldn’t be simpler, with just four ingredients.

    This recipe makes a share plate appetizer-size serving for 2 to 4 people, but you'll have enough seasoning and sauce here for a bigger serving (such as a side dish) if you just add more sprouts.  

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

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    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 jalapenos 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, the 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.

    Find my recipes for Qdoba Adobo Chicken and Habanero Salsa here

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    Menu Description: “Bacon baked with brown sugar, crushed red pepper chili flakes, black pepper.”

    If you like candy and you like bacon it’s a sure bet that you’ll go crazy over bacon candy. Although the basic recipe of sugaring raw bacon and baking it until crispy is not at all complicated or secret, the variations of this simple formula are numerous. My goal was to try as many techniques as I could to figure out what works best, and then customize the recipe to duplicate the incredible bacon candy you’ll find on the appetizer menu at the fast-growing 44-unit Lazy Dog chain.

    Lazy Dog knows that really good bacon candy should be more than just sweet and salty, so chefs there sprinkle in some black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes to perk up the party. Thick cut bacon works best here, and you’ll need a rack for the bacon to rest on while it bakes so air can move around the slices. And do yourself a favor: line the baking sheet with foil for an easier cleanup of the inevitable greasy, sugary mess.

    This bacon candy is great on its own as a small appetizer, sprinkled with fresh parsley and served upright in a cup, just like in the restaurant. Or you can use the Bacon Candy as a garnish in this amazing hack for Lazy Dog Crispy Deviled Eggs

    Click here for more of my copycat appetizer recipes.

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    Menu Description: “Lightly fried, topped with smoked paprika + bacon candy.”

    Hard-boiled egg whites are breaded and fried until crispy, then filled with the creamy yolk mixture, sprinkled with smoked paprika, and topped with the best thing that ever topped a deviled egg: bacon candy! 

    We'll start with my preferred way to hard-boil the eggs, to get beautifully yellow yolks with no grey tint to them. Those bright yellow yolks are removed and flavored, then spooned back into the crispy breaded whites.

    I'm also including my hack for cloning two slices of the chain's great brown sugar candied bacon. If you want to make extra bacon candy to munch on check out my recipe for Lazy Dog's Bacon Candy appetizer and you’ll get five slices of bacon candy. That’s two for these deviled eggs, and three for you to eat and share.

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    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 this as a dip with tortilla chips or as a topping on your copycat Chipotle carne asada or carnitas tacos and barbacoa burritos. Find all my Chipotle recipes here

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 3

    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 this hit appetizer 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.  

    I've cloned a lot of dishes from Applebee's. See if I hacked your favorites here

     

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

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

    Now, you can make your own appetizer masterpiece, and to make it easy you'll start with crispy chicken strips or popcorn chicken from the freezer section. 

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

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

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

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    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.

     

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    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. The secret process starts by coating the potato slices with the dry breading mix, which contains salt. The salt in the blend will draw water out of the potatoes, magically transforming the dry breading into a wet batter in about 20 minutes.

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

    Find more of your favorite Wendy's copycat recipes here

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I'm Todd Wilbur,
Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

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