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Necco Candy Butttons
The majority of paper I ingested as a kid most likely came from eating these crunchy candy dots of flavored sugar. Peeling the buttons off the strips was never an entirely pure candy experience since there were always several buttons removed with haste that came with a bonus layer of paper stuck to the underside. And perhaps part of the candy’s charm was making a game out of attaining a clean, paper-free button removal.
Candy Buttons or Candy Dots were created in the 1930s when an engineer at Cumberland Valley Company in New York created a machine to produce tiny dots of flavored sugar onto strips of paper. Necco bought Cumberland Valley in 1980 and became the sole manufacturer of the colorful candy strips until the company declared bankruptcy in 2018, and the famous candies, including Necco Wafers, Sweethearts, and Clark Bar, were sold off to the highest bidders. Candy buttons almost became a dead food, but fortunately, the product was resurrected when it was purchased by Cincinnati-based Doscher’s Candies, and today candy buttons are alive and well.
A strip of the original pastel-colored candy buttons includes a combination of cherry, lemon, and lime flavors, but you can make your homemade Necco candy buttons in any flavor or color you like with this recipe using the same ingredients as the real deal. For flavoring, find the popular LorAnn candy flavoring oils and add one bottle to the pan as the candy is cooling. Get some coated butcher paper and cut it into 11x2-inch strips (or any size you want, really), and use the back end of a skewer to place your dots on the paper. After a couple of days of drying the candy will be crunchy just like the original, and with coated paper, the sugar should make a clean release for a paperless burst of sweet nostalgia.
The recipe will make at least 1000 candy buttons, but I’m not sure of the exact amount since I only got through about half of the pan of candy syrup to determine yield when my sanity came into question. Don’t feel obligated to use up the whole pan of candy for your buttons. For three different flavors of buttons on each strip like the original, you'll need to make three batches of candy.
Click here for more of my copycat recipes of famous candy.
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon dry gelatin powder
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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.
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).
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.
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.
Domino's Chocolate Lava Crunch CakesRead more
A traditional “molten” cake or “lava” cake is baked at a high temperature for a short time so that the outside of the cake is fully cooked, but the batter at the center stays unset and gooey. Domino’s lava cakes are different with pure fudge topping hidden in the middle rather than cake batter. The little dessert is delicious, with a crunchy exterior and two forms of chocolate in one bite, but it presents some challenges, such as how to fully enclose soft fudge in the center of a small cake without holes, and how to keep the fudge from disappearing into the cake batter as it bakes.
Since there are no holes or seams detected on the cakes, the filling needs to be loaded into the cakes before baking. I thought about freezing the fudge in disk shapes and then concealing those into the middle of a muffin cup of cake batter, but the fudge doesn’t freeze solid in a home freezer. It just gets really cold and really sticky, and it's much too messy to work with.
Going back to the drawing board, I found the clue I needed on Domino's website. The list of ingredients for the lava cakes includes “cake crumbs” and “cookie crumbs” along with butter, eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla, and cocoa. This suggests that crumbs of pre-baked cake and cookies could be combined with the other ingredients to make firmer cake “dough” rather than runny cake batter. The soft fudge could then be spooned onto the bottom of the uncooked mini cakes, topped with more dough, and baked.
After baking the little cakes with this new technique there is no detectable seam, and the fudge inside gets warm and gooey and oozes out when you eat it, just like the real thing. Serve these up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and watch the fun when everyone takes a bite.
My Domino's chocolate lava crunch cake recipe makes 12 cakes, and I'm adding a bunch of step photos so yours will come out perfect. You can chill any leftovers for serving later with the reheating instructions I'm including at the end.
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).
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).
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
McDonald's Chicken McNuggetsRead more
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).
Walker's ShortbreadRead more
Joseph Walker used only the best ingredients to make the famous pure butter shortbread recipe he created in 1898 at his Bakery in Aberlour, Scotland. More than a century later Walker's is one of the bestselling shortbreads in the world and it’s still made with the same four quality ingredients: flour, butter, sugar, and salt.
But just knowing the ingredients still leaves you a long trip away from great shortbread—a fact that’s best confirmed by giving any other copycat recipe a try. If a recipe calls for all-purpose flour and/or standard granulated sugar and salt, you’re destined for disappointment.
The secret ingredient in a perfect Walker's Shortbread cookie is pastry flour. It has less gluten than all-purpose flour and will produce a tender bite mirroring the original cookies, but it still provides a stable structure that won’t spread out when baked. My favorite pastry flour is Bob’s Red Mill.
There is no leavening in these cookies (that’s why they're called shortbread), so the sugar and salt are whipped into the butter until it’s fluffy which works in air bubbles that provide a lift to your shortbread when baked. Standard sugar and salt grains won’t easily dissolve in the butter, so I'm using superfine sugar here (baker’s sugar) and superfine salt (popcorn salt) to produce perfect shortbread with a clean bite that’s free of any detectable sugar or salt granules.
Click here for more great recipes for your favorite famous treats.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
Applebee's Spinach & Artichoke DipRead more
When I saw a recent Mashed.com poll where most people picked the spinach & artichoke dip as their favorite appetizer on the Applebee’s menu, I realized I haven’t yet cracked the recipe, and immediately got to work.
I've hacked many spinach & artichoke dips over the years, but this one is different with a blend of Italian cheese in the mix. Thankfully, grocery stores usually have bags of pre-blended shredded Italian cheese, to make things easy. With that cheese blend, plus some additional Asiago and Parmesan, we've got a spot-on match to Applebee's Spinach & Artichoke Dip.
No need to defrost the frozen spinach ahead of time—that will be taken care of when it steams in your microwave. Add the steamed spinach to the cheese and other ingredients in a saucepan with the trimmed artichoke hearts, and when it’s hot, sprinkle on some more Parm, brown it under your broiler, and bust out the chips.
Check out my recipe for Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos and more here.
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.
Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous CrabfriesRead more
Waiting for a plane in Philadelphia isn’t so bad if your gate is near the airport location of this 20-unit crab house and sports bar chain where weather delay frustrations melt away over a cold beer, a Philly cheesesteak, and a bucket of Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries.
Crabfries, despite the name, do not have any crab on them. When the first Chickie’s & Pete’s opened its doors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1977, the restaurant served crab only in the summer. While brainstorming off-season uses for the seafood seasoning, founder Pete Ciarrocchi sprinkled some over crinkle-cut fries, served them with a side of secret cheese dipping sauce, and the most popular dish at his crab house was born.
The beauty of this Chickie’s & Pete’s Crabfries recipe is its simplicity since you’ll need to prepare only two things, and they’re both easy: the secret crab seasoning and the secret cheese sauce. Since the chain’s cheese sauce is also used on their cheesesteak sandwiches, I surmised that a combination of the two easy-melting cheeses most commonly used on Philly cheesesteaks—white American and Cheez Whiz—would make a sauce with the taste and color of the restaurant version. This smooth sauce goes great with the fries, and it also puts the "Philly" into your next homemade cheesesteak.
Once your cheese sauce is done and your seasoning is mixed, cook up a bag of crinkle-cut fries following the directions on the package, toss them with the seasoning, and serve immediately with the warm cheese sauce on the side.
Find more famous french fry recipes from KFC, Taco Bell, and McDonald's here.
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.
Cracker Barrel Buttermilk BiscuitsRead more
A great buttermilk biscuit isn’t hard to make. This is good news if you're serving hundreds each day as they do at this popular Southern kitchen chain. But a simple recipe such as this one is also a blessing when you need to whip up a modest batch at home for your hungry gang of biscuit fanatics, and it's an added bonus if they taste as good as the famous biscuits from Cracker Barrel.
The secret to tender, flakey biscuits like you get at the restaurant chain is using a lower-gluten self-rising flour such as White Lily; a staple for Southern biscuit recipes. A bit of shortening in the mix will help tenderize the finished product, as will a light mixing hand. Overmixing the dough may toughen your biscuits, so mix the dough gently and only as much as you have to.
If you don’t use White Lily flour and go with a heavier self-rising flour such as Gold Medal, take note that you may have to add a couple of tablespoons more buttermilk to the dough to loosen it up. Good biscuit dough should be soft, but not sticky.
After making these Cracker Barrel biscuits from scratch, try home versions of Cracker Barrel hash brown casserole, buttermilk pie, meatloaf, and more.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.
Carrabba's Traditional CannoliRead more
Menu Description: “Two crisp pastry shells stuffed with sweet ricotta and chocolate chip filling, topped with pistachios and powdered sugar.”
For great traditional cannoli, one need not look any further than a nearby Carrabba’s Italian Grill. The cannoli there are exactly what you want cannoli to be: a crunchy shell that isn’t soggy or too thick, packed with sweetened ricotta cheese filling that’s smooth and not grainy. And with that classic crunchy/creamy combination comes a hint of cinnamon lingering in the background to complete the traditional taste of a legit cannoli.
To make Carrabba's cannoli at home, you’ll need 8 cannoli tubes to form the shells. After wrapping circles of dough around these 5-inch long metal tubes, they get deep-fried for a few minutes resulting in shells that are perfectly golden brown.
As for the filling, it needs to be smooth if you want a good clone, so try to find ricotta cheese that isn’t too grainy. We’ll first strain the cheese overnight so that most of the liquid runs off for a thicker filling, but if your cheese is still grainy run the filling through a food processor until the cheese is smooth before folding in the whipped cream. Now that’s good cannoli.
Click here for more of your favorite dishes from Carrabba's.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
McDonald's Strawberry and Creme PieRead more
Tiny apple pies have been a signature dessert on the McDonald’s menu for decades, but the chain upped its pie game recently with a tasty new treat featuring a duo of fillings in a flaky, lightly-iced crust. And no one has developed a good hack...until now.
To duplicate these personal McDonald's Strawberry and Crème pies at home, I’ve created a new crust formula and filled it with thickened, puréed frozen strawberries next to a sweetened cream cheese filling. You'll find everything you'll need in my McDonald's Strawberry and Cream Pie recipe below.
To apply the perfect amount of filling, you can convert small plastic storage bags into mini piping bags by snipping off a corner. Squeeze the fillings onto the dough, then seal up the pies, brush them with light icing, and pop them in the oven. This recipe makes ten pies, which is a good thing because everyone who watches you make these will want one.
Find my McDonald's Apple Pie recipe in "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step".
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!
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.
Olive Garden Shrimp ScampiRead more
A comparison of several shrimp scampi recipes reveals a variety of subtle differences in the way each chef makes the classic Italian dish, but the underlying technique is almost always the same: create a sauce, add the shrimp, dump the pasta into the pan, toss, and serve. But if you want to make the fantastic Olive Garden shrimp scampi, you’ll need to follow some very specific secret steps.
Many other shrimp scampi recipes start with garlic and onions, but you’ll only need garlic for this version. You’ll also be adding tomato to the dish along with chopped asparagus spears to bring some color to the dish and set it apart from traditional scampi recipes. Other methods usually don’t call for cream in the sauce, but Olive Garden uses it in their version so you'll do the same in this hack, and you'll be glad you did. The cream thickens the sauce so that it better coats the shrimp and pasta.
My exclusive Olive Garden shrimp scampi recipe makes 2 large dinner-size portions but can be divided into 3 to 4 smaller lunch-size servings.
Find more of your favorite Olive Garden copycat recipes here.
Outback Steakhouse Twisted RibsRead more
Creative chefs at Outback Steakhouse have transformed the chain’s fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs into a fantastic appetizer by adding crispy Bloomin’ Onion breading, sweet barbecue sauce, and a drizzle of Bloomin’ Onion dipping sauce. I reverse-engineered the Outback Twisted Ribs recipe thanks to a kind server who let me take some home with sauces on the side, and now you can copy every twisted bit of it yourself with this exclusive hack.
Outback’s ribs are smoked, but we’ll duplicate the taste without a smoker using a liquid smoke brine. This marinade will not only add flavor to the ribs, but it will also help keep the meat moist and juicy when cooked twice. Tweaked hacks for my Bloomin’ Onion breading and dipping sauce are here to complete your twisted appetizer, and you'll also get my new easy way to knock off the chain’s tasty house-made spicy pickles that come on the side. Plus, I'm including a batch of step-by-step photos so your dish will come out picture-perfect.
Brush your ribs with Sweet Baby Ray's Original barbecue sauce since it tastes similar to what Outback uses, or use your favorite barbecue sauce, and you'll have a messy, but insanely delicious and exclusive new finger food favorite for your hungry crew.
Check out more of my Top Secret Recipes for Outback Steakhouse favorites here.
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
Church's Chicken Honey Butter BiscuitsRead more
It took more than good chicken for the small fried chicken shack in San Antonio, Texas to blow up into an international fried chicken superstar with over 1000 units in 35 countries. Thanks to these biscuits—so good they trademarked the name—hungry mouths have more than one reason for a quick Church’s run.
No need for a biscuit cutter to make Church's Chicken Honey Butter Biscuits at home since these are drop biscuits you form by hand. But it is recommended to use a silicone baking pad if you have one to keep the bottoms as light as possible.
Brush on the honey butter the moment the biscuits come out of the oven, and when they cool they’ll have glistening tops just like the real ones.
Now, what's for dinner? Check here for cool copycat recipes for famous entrees.
Bojangles' Bo's Special SauceRead more
Bojangles’ was founded in 1977 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and today the 750-unit chain is famous throughout the southeastern U.S. for its juicy fried chicken, fluffy buttermilk biscuits, and Cajun dirty rice.
And just like McDonald’s, Bo’s has a special sauce that’s pretty famous too. It’s arguably much better than McDonald’s Big Mac sauce, especially if you like the flavors of horseradish and roasted red bell pepper. The lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and sugar team up for the appropriate sweet-and-sour notes found in any decent special sauce, and the herbs add a nice finish you don’t get with other sandwich sauces. You might also like to know that my Bo's special sauce recipe is made without the high-fructose corn syrup that’s listed as the third ingredient in the real thing.
Mix everything in a bowl and park it in the fridge for a spell so the flavors can mingle, then use the sauce as you see fit on sandwiches made with fried chicken, grilled chicken, and roast beef, or as a dip for chicken fingers and nuggets.
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.
Del Taco TamalesRead more
This 600-unit Mexican fast food chain celebrates the holidays each year with delicious little $2 corn husk-wrapped pork tamales made from a traditional recipe for authentic south-of-the-border taste. The only problem is when the holidays go away, so do these tasty tamales. And that's why we bust out this Top Secret Recipe.
Making authentic tamales is not difficult, but it does take time. The pork requires a braise for several hours to get it fork-tender, and the wrapped tamales will take around 2 hours to steam until they're done.
My Del Taco tamale recipe is inspired by traditional tamale recipes that include a braising sauce for the pork made from rehydrated guajillo peppers. To coax out more flavor, I chose to first toast the peppers before adding them to the liquid. And rather than using lard in the masa dough, I found a combination of vegetable shortening and butter to be a more flavorful alternative.
Steam all 24 of tamales until they are fully cooked, and store those you can’t eat in your freezer for several weeks. Steam the frozen tamales for 20 to 30 minutes, and they’ll taste as good as fresh.
How about a cold margarita to wash down those tamales? Find your favorite famous drink recipes here.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s Hand-Breaded Chicken & Waffle SandwichRead more
In the midst of the chicken sandwich wars of 2019-2021, Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s) debuted a simple chicken and waffle sandwich that is surprisingly good. Crispy chicken breast is doused with maple butter sauce and sandwiched between two Belgian waffle buns for a sweet-and-savory handful of fab.
To clone the sandwich at home, the chicken gets brined for great flavor and juiciness like the real thing, then it’s cooked until perfectly golden brown and crispy. The maple butter sauce is easy to hack with just three ingredients and a mixer.
The biggest secret I reveal is how to make Belgian waffles with one flat side just like the real sandwich using a standard waffle iron and a piece of folded aluminum foil. Those exclusive tricks are here plus plenty of helpful step photos so your homemade Carl's Jr. chicken & waffle sandwich will come out perfect.
Find more of my copycat Carl's Jr. 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.
Cracker Barrel Baked Apple DumplinRead more
One of the best choices you will make in life is having this dish for dessert when you’re at Cracker Barrel. They call it a “dumplin” but it’s just a little streusel-covered apple pie, served up hot in its own small baking dish with two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream on top, and drizzled with warm apple/caramel sauce—it's good stuff. Take a bite and you may notice the apples inside taste like Cracker Barrel’s Fried Apples side dish, so we'll use my previous hack for that part to bring it all together.
My Cracker Barrel Baked Apple Dumplin recipe makes two small pies that serve up to four. Check out more of my cool copycat recipes from Cracker Barrel here.
California Pizza Kitchen Roasted Garlic Chicken PizzaRead more
Menu Description: “Sweet caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, slivered scallions, and cracked black pepper.”
Grill a chicken breast, caramelize half an onion, slow-roast a whole head of garlic, and you’ll have the key ingredients for assembling two amazing clones of the chain’s famous sauce-less Roasted Garlic Chicken Pizza.
You won’t miss the pizza sauce on this “white pizza” since the toppings bring bold flavor, and we don't want to upstage that great taste. Your homemade pizzas will just need a light brushing of olive oil to protect the dough.
CPK’s wood-fired stone ovens are cranked up to a rocket-hot 800 degrees Fahrenheit so pizzas bake in just 3 or 4 minutes. It's not likely you have one of those special ovens at home, but it's still possible to bake these copycat pizzas in a conventional oven in around 10 minutes. I recommend a pizza stone to help brown the bottom of your pizzas, but the recipe will even work fine without one.
Start your pizzas the day before you plan to eat them so that the dough can rise slowly overnight in your refrigerator. This slow, chilled rise produces fermentation that will ultimately give your crust a better texture and taste.
I'm including lots of step photos so your pizza will come out looking just like the real CPK roasted garlic chicken pizza. If you like this one, click here to see if I cloned your favorite salads and appetizers from CPK.
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).
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.
Bush's Country Style Baked BeansRead more
In the Bush’s Beans commercials, Duke, the family golden retriever, wants to sell the secret family recipe, but the Bush family always stops him. The dog is based on the Bush family’s real-life golden retriever, and the campaign, which began in 1995, made Bush’s the big dog of the canned baked beans market practically overnight. Their confidential baked beans formula is considered one of the top 10 biggest recipe secrets in the U.S.
Bush Brothers & Company had been canning a variety of fruits and vegetables for over 60 years when, in 1969, the company created canned baked beans using a cherished recipe from a family matriarch. Sales jumped from 10 thousand cases in the first year to over 100 thousand cases in 1970. And just one year later sales hit a million cases. Today Bush’s makes over 80 percent of the canned baked beans sold in the U.S., and the secret family recipe remains a top food secret, despite Duke’s attempts. A replica of the original recipe book—without the original recipe in it (drat!)—is on display at the company's visitor center in Chestnut Hill, Tennessee.
I chose to hack the “Country Style” version of Bush’s Beans because I don’t think the Original flavor has enough, uh, flavor. Country Style is similar to Original, but richer, with more brown sugar. My recipe for Bush's Country Style baked beans starts by soaking dry small white beans in a brine overnight. The salt in the water helps to soften the skins, but don’t soak them for more than 14 hours or the skins may begin to fall off. You can skip this step if you've got a fancy Instant Pot using my directions below.
My first versions tasted great but lacked the deep brown color of the real Bush’s beans, which include caramel coloring—an ingredient that can be hard to find on its own. I eventually discovered that the “browning” sauce, Kitchen Bouquet, will add the dark caramel color needed to our home version of the beans so that they’ll look just like the real thing.
This recipe was our #5 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#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.
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.