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

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

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

    After the wings are fried, baste them with the sauce below and sprinkle them with your favorite lemon pepper. Now you’ve made wings like a Wingstop pro.

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    If you feel like diving into a pile of wings with big flavor and no heat, you'll love this hack of a top pick at Wingstop. At the restaurant, these wings are deliciously doused with a buttery garlic Parmesan baste and then sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese. A home clone is easy when you toss crispy wings in this hack of the top secret baste and top them with a snowfall of good Parmesan cheese. 

    To duplicate the baste, you clarify a stick of butter, then add a little oil so that the butter doesn’t solidify. Parmesan cheese, garlic, and salt are mixed in, then the sauce is set aside to cool and thicken.

    Once the wings are fried to a golden brown, toss them with the baste in a bowl, then grab the grated Parm and make it snow.    

    Check out my other Wingstop clone recipes here.  

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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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    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. This is the recipe that fooled all three judges in a blind taste test on my CMT show.

    Find more of my P.F.Chang's copycat recipes here

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step by Todd Wilbur. 

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 2

    Korean chicken is famous for its extra crispy coating, and Bonchon’s recipe—especially the wings—is one of the best in the world. That chain's famous formula is why there are now over 340 Bonchon outlets in nine countries, including over one hundred in the US and more planned to open here in the near future. 

    The biggest challenge when recreating Korean chicken wings is finding the perfect magical mixture for the batter that fries to a golden brown, and with tender crispiness that stays crunchy long after the wings have been brushed with the flavorful glaze.

    I knew that a traditional double-frying technique would help create the crunchy coating we needed, but it would take some trial-and-error to determine the best time splits. The wings are par-fried, rested, then fried again until done, but just how long to give each stage was yet to be determined since every recipe I found for Korean chicken used different times and temps. Some recipes even changed the temperature between frying steps, but I found those made the recipe too difficult to manage when frying multiple batches.

    I eventually settled on 350 degrees F with most of the frying done up front in the par-fry stage. A three-ingredient batter is all that’s needed for crispy golden-brown wings, and the soy garlic sauce is an easy hack that’s made quickly in your microwave oven. The spicy version is made by adding Korean red chili paste (gochujang) and Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru) to the soy garlic recipe. You can find these ingredients at Asian markets or online, and if you like your wings spicy you'll want to add these perky ingredients.

    Click here for more delicious appetizer recipes. 

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    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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    Score: 3.67. Votes: 3

    Menu Description: "An Outback Ab-Original from Russell's Marina Bay."

    If you go to an Outback Steakhouse expecting exotic Aussie prairie food that someone like Crocodile Dundee would have enjoyed, you're gonna be a bit disappointed, mate. Except for a little Australia-themed paraphernalia on the walls, like boomerangs and pictures of kangaroos, the restaurant chain is about as "down under" as McDonald's is Scottish. The three founders, Tim Gannon, Chris Sullivan, and Bob Basham, are all U.S. boys. And the menu, which is about 60 percent beef, contains mainly American fare with cute Australian names like The Melbourne, Jackeroo Chops, and Chicken on the Barbie.

    The founders say they chose the Aussie themes because "Most Australians are fun-loving and gregarious people and very casual people. We thought that's exactly the kind of friendliness and atmosphere we want to have in our restaurants."

    In only six years, Outback Steakhouse has become the number one steakhouse chain—in part because of the Bloomin' Onion: a large, deep-fried onion sliced to look like a flower in bloom that was created by one of the restaurant's founders. What makes the appetizer so appealing besides its flowery appearance is the onion's crispy spiced coating, along with the delicious dipping sauce, cleverly presented in the center of the onion.

    The restaurant uses a special device to make the slicing process easier, but you can make the incisions with a sharp knife. It just takes a steady hand and a bit of care. This is how they did it in the early days of the chain.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 4.00. Votes: 1

    Menu Description: "Full-flavored jalapenos stuffed with cool cream cheese and deep-fried in a cracker-crumb coating. Served with sweet jalapeno jelly & sour cream."

    Red Robin was one of the first restaurant chains to serve No-Fire Peppers, an item which can be found on many restaurant menus today under a variety of different names. The cream cheese-filled, battered and fried jalapeno peppers are called "Poppers" by their creators at Anchor Foods, a restaurant food supply company which manufactures Poppers and a variety of other appetizers for sale to restaurant chains everywhere. According to Restaurant and Institutions magazine, Poppers were the #1 food item added to restaurant menus in 1995, with restaurants purchasing over 700 million of the little suckers.

    It's important when you make these that you allow time for them to freeze. The freezing stage in this Red Robin jalapeno coins recipe ensures that the breading stays on when the peppers are fried and prevents the cream cheese from oozing out too soon.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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