California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) Southwestern Burrito Pizza
Menu Description: "With grilled chicken breast marinated in lime and herbs, Southwestern black beans, fire-roasted mild chilis, sweet white onions and Cheddar cheese. Served with green tomatillo salsa and sour cream."
California Pizza Kitchen uses imported Italian wood-fired ovens to bake the specialty pizzas. These ovens reach temperatures over 800 degrees F, allowing the pizzas to cook in just three minutes. This technique keeps ingredients from drying out so that the pizzas don't require as much cheese as in traditional recipes.
Most of us don't have wood-burning pizza ovens in our kitchens, so I have designed my California Pizza Kitchen Southwestern Burrito Pizza recipe to work in a conventional oven with a minimum of cheese. If you have a pizza stone, use it. If you have a hard time finding tomatillos (they look like small green tomatoes with a thin papery skin and are found in the produce section) you can use canned green salsa.
You have the option of using a store-bought crust or instant pizza dough, but I can't say enough about making the dough yourself from my recipe here. You just have to plan ahead, making the dough one day before you plan to bake the pizza. This way, the dough will get to rest and will rise slowly in the refrigerator—a great technique the pros use.
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees F)
- 3/4 teaspoon yeast
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 cup bread flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 10-inch par-baked crust (like Boboli),
- pre-made pizza dough or dough mix
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 skinless chicken breast
- 3/4 cup canned refried black beans
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup sliced white onion
- 1 whole can mild green chili
- 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Tomatillo Salsa (Optional)
- 3/4 cup chopped tomatillos (about 4)
- 3 whole canned mild green chilis (4-ounce can)
- 1/4 fresh jalapeno
- 2 tablespoons chopped onion
- Pinch salt
On the Side
- Sour cream
1. If you are making a homemade crust, start the dough one day before you plan to serve the pizza. In a small bowl or measuring cup dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let it sit for 5 minutes until the surface of the mixture turns foamy. Sift together the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Make a depression in the flour and pour in the olive oil and yeast mixture. Use a fork to stir the liquid, gradually drawing in more flour as you stir, until all the ingredients are combined. When you can no longer stir with a fork, use your hands to form the dough into a ball. Knead the dough with the heels of your hands on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes, or until the texture of the dough is smooth. Form the dough back into a ball, coat it lightly with oil, and place it into a clean bowl covered with plastic wrap. Keep the bowl in a warm place for about 2 hours to allow the dough to double in size. Punch down the dough and put it back into the covered bowl and into your refrigerator overnight. Take the dough from the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before you plan to build the pizza so that the dough can warm up to room temperature.
2. Make the marinade by combining the lime juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper flakes in a blender or in a small bowl with an electric mixer for only 5 seconds or so, just until the ingredients are well combined.
3. Cut the chicken into bite-size cubes, then marinate the chicken breast in the lime mixture for at least 2 hours.
4. When the chicken has marinated, heat up a small skillet with the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil over high heat. Cook the chicken in the pan for 2 to 4 minutes or until it is cooked through.
5. Mix the black beans with the water and cayenne pepper.
6. Form the dough into a ball and roll out on a floured surface until very thin and 10 inches in diameter. Put your pizza on a baking sheet or pizza pan. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
7. Spread the black bean mixture evenly over the crust.
8. Now arrange the chicken evenly over the black beans.
9. Spread the onions over the chicken.
10. Take the chili pepper and carefully slice it in half, crossways. Then slice the two halves into very thin strips. Sprinkle the chili over the onions.
11. Spread the Monterey Jack over the pizza.
12. Top it off with the Cheddar.
13. Cook the pizza for 12 to 15 minutes or until the crust begins to turn brown.
14. While the pizza cooks, combine all the ingredients for the tomatillo salsa in a food processor or blender. Run on low speed for about 15 seconds.
15. When the pizza is done, remove it from the oven and immediately make 4 even cuts through the middle, creating 8 slices of pizza. Serve with tomatillo sauce and sour cream on the side.
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Menu Description: "Spicy, shredded beef, braised with our own chipotle adobo, cumin, cloves, garlic and oregano."
The original Mexican dish barbacoa was traditionally prepared by cooking almost any kind of meat goat, fish, chicken, or cow cheek meat, to name just a few, in a pit covered with leaves over low heat for many hours, until tender. When the dish made its way into the United States via Texas the word transformed into "barbecue" and the preparation changed to incorporate above-ground techniques such as smoking and grilling.
The good news is that we can re-create the beef barbacoa that Chipotle has made popular on its ginormous burritos without digging any holes in our backyard or tracking down a local source for fresh cow faces. After braising about 30 pounds of chuck roasts, I finally discovered that the secret to making perfect barbacoa is a taste-alike adobo sauce that fills your roast with flavor as it slowly cooks to a fork-tender delicacy on your stovetop over 5 to 6 hours.
Part of the secret for great adobo sauce is toasting whole cumin seeds and cloves and then grinding them in a coffee grinder (measure the spices after grinding them). Since the braising process takes so long, start early in the day and get ready for a big dinner, because I've also included clones here for Chipotle's pico de gallo, pinto beans, and delicious cilantro-lime rice to make your burritos complete. You can add your choice of cheese, plus guacamole and sour cream for a super-deluxe clone version.
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.
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).
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 copycat 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).
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.
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.
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.
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
It was the creator of Pizza Hut’s Stuffed Crust Pizza who came up with the idea to cook bits of maple syrup into small pancakes for a new sweet-and-savory breakfast sandwich offering from the world’s #1 fast food chain. Tom Ryan’s idea became a reality in 2003 when the McGriddles—with maple-flavored griddle cake buns—debuted on McDonald’s breakfast menu, and the sandwich is still selling like hotcakes today.
To make four homemade McGriddles, you’ll first need to produce eight perfectly round griddle cakes that are infused with sweet maple bits. Recipes that instruct you to make hard candy from maple syrup for this hack will fail to tell you that the shattered shards of hard candy don't completely melt when the griddle cakes are cooked, resulting in a distinct crunch not found in the real McDonald’s product. Also, breaking the hard maple candy into small, uniform chunks is both difficult and messy. My solution was to make a flavorful maple gummy puck that could be neatly petite diced and sprinkled into the batter as it cooks.
Just be sure to use maple flavoring rather than maple extract for the maple gummy. Maple flavoring has a more intense flavor than the extract, and the dark brown caramel coloring will make your maple bits look like pancake syrup. You’ll also need one or two 3½-inch rings to make griddle cakes that are the perfect size for your clones.
My McDonald's McGriddles copycat recipe duplicates the bacon version of the sandwich, but you can replace the bacon with a patty made from breakfast sausage for the sausage version, or just go with egg and cheese.
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).
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).
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).
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 copycat 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).
Menu Description: "Introduced in our first restaurant in 1985. With barbecued chicken, sliced red onion, cilantro, and smoked Gouda cheese."
In 1985, attorneys Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield traded in their private practice, which included defending mob bosses and union officials, for a specialty pizza chain. These two "amateur chefs" say they were influenced by Wolfgang Puck, whose Spago restaurant in Los Angeles was the first to create pizza with unusual toppings. Now they have developed a niche somewhere between gourmet food and traditional Italian-style pizzas, creating what one magazine described as "designer pizza at off-the-rack prices." In addition to the pastas, soups, and salads, California Pizza Kitchen offers dozens of unique pizza creations that reflect the current trends in dining. When Cajun food was in style, the Cajun chicken pizza was a top seller; today that item has been replaced with Southwestern and Thai pizza varieties. As the menu explains, the Barbecued Chicken Pizza was one of the first pizzas served at California Pizza Kitchen. Decades later it remains one of the top-selling pizza creations.
You can use this CPK BBQ chicken pizza recipe to make your pizza with pre-made or packaged dough, but I highly recommend taking the time to make the dough yourself. You'll find that it's well worth the little bit of extra work.
Birria was invented over 400 years ago when an increasing goat population became a problem for residents of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Their solution: eat them.
But goat meat can be tough and gamey, so a low and slow braising method was developed to make the meat tender and tasty. A broth flavored with chili peppers and spices was combined with the meat in a covered pot which was then buried in the ground with hot coals. Early the next day, the braised birria is ready to eat, which is why the dish became a traditional Mexican breakfast food.
But customers at El Pollo Loco birria usually have their birria for lunch and dinner. And, while I lack a formal survey, I am nearly positive that everyone is happy that this version isn’t made with goat meat. Instead, my version of El Pollo Loco Shredded Beef Birria is made by braising a 2 to 3 pound chuck roast in a secret combination of peppers and spices for 3 hours, or until your beef is tender enough to shred with a couple forks.
Strain the braising sauce left in the pan to make the delicious consommé, then use this shredded beef on tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or whatever sounds good. Add some cilantro and chopped onion to the consommé and serve it on the side for dipping, just like they do at the restaurant chain.
Vanilla custard and whipped cream make up the delicious “double cream” that tops this ultra-popular blueberry pie from the West Coast chain that is most famous for its homestyle pies. Finally, I got the chance to give this great dessert the hack it deserves—from what I've seen, no other "copycat" recipe even comes close.
For my Marie Callender’s Double Cream Blueberry Pie recipe, it was important that the custard be creamy but not too runny, so in addition to cornstarch, I’ve included just enough gelatin in the mix to stabilize the filling, but not so much that it becomes rubbery. The blueberry filling, made with frozen blueberries, needs only cornstarch to thicken it because there is also apple in the filling which contributes pectin, a natural thickening gel. Just be sure to dice your apple very small before cooking it so that the pieces will soften and work well with the frozen blueberries.
There’s no need to make the crust from scratch when you can use an unbaked 9-inch pie shell in the frozen food aisle—preferably the one made by Marie Callender’s—but any brand will do.
Then, to finish your pie, the gelatin steps up again, stabilizing the whipped cream topping so that it holds its shape for as long as it takes to eat the whole pie. Which probably won't be long at all.
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.
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.
In November 2020, Taco Bell said “adios” to several classic items from their menu including Mexican Pizza—one of my long-time favorites—and anything with shredded chicken in it, including the chicken soft taco. But teary goodbyes from fans of the tasty spiced chicken can be avoided if we have a good (and easy) recipe to craft a duplicate at home. Since the fast Mexican chain announced the changes several months in advance, I had time to work up a good hack before the tacos were gone forever.
After cooking the chicken several ways, I settled on poaching the fillets in chicken broth, which kept them moist and added great umami flavor. When the chicken cooled, I shredded it, and added it to a sauce seasoned with spices and lime juice, and flavored with Knorr tomato chicken bouillon.
As the sauce thickens it will reduce and infuse the chicken with flavor, just like the original Taco Bell shredded chicken, then it’s ready for you to use on tacos, burritos, salads, or whatever. And don't forget the hot sauce!
The Southern-themed chain famous for its gift shops filled with made-in-America products and delicious homestyle food is also known to have a particularly good meatloaf. This dish ranks high in popularity, right up there with the Chicken ‘n Dumplins and the Hash Brown Casserole, so a good Cracker Barrel Meatloaf recipe is long overdue.
Making meatloaf is easy. What’s hard is making it taste like the meatloaf at Cracker Barrel which is tender and juicy, and flavored with onion, green pepper, and tomato. I sought to turn out a moist and tender loaf of meat, and one that’s not dry and tough, but my first attempts were much too dense. I wasn’t happy about that, but my dog was thrilled.
After playing around with the eggs-to-breadcrumbs-to-milk ratios and being careful to use gentle hands when combining everything and pressing it into the loaf pan, the final batch was a winner and I get to pass it along to you.
It's best to use a meatloaf pan here which has an insert that lets the fat drip to the bottom, away from the meat. A regular loaf pan will still work, but you’ll want to pour off the fat in the pan before slicing.
Over the years I've hacked a bunch of items from Chili's menu, including their Fajitas, Baby Back Ribs, Salsa, Chili Queso, Southwestern Eggrolls, Chicken Crispers, Boneless Wings, and more, but it wasn’t until recently that I got the chance to create a recipe for the Chili's award-winning Original Chili. Why it took so long, I have no idea.
The chili served at Chili’s is a Texas-style con carne recipe, which traditionally means no beans and no tomato. You won’t find any beans in this recipe or chunks of tomato, but their chili does have a tomato base to boost flavor, so I’m adding that into the mix by including one 6-ounce can of tomato paste. As it turns out, that small can is just the right amount.
The preparation technique for my Chili's Original chili copycat recipe is simple: brown the beef, drain off the fat, then add some of the fat back to the empty pan to sauté the onions and peppers in. When those are done, you add the beef back to the pan along with the remaining ingredients and simmer for 1½ hours. That will be just long enough to braise the beef and tenderize it, and to thicken the chili to a perfect consistency.
When the chili’s done, top each serving with a cheddar/pepper Jack blend, and some crispy tortilla bits. Then pass out the spoons.
Braised and shredded pork shoulder is a staple of Mexican cuisine that Chipotle prepares with a simple blend of flavors, and a surprising ingredient you may not have expected: juniper berries. Once you track those down (they’re easy to find online), the berries are combined with thyme and bay leaves in a braising liquid that will transform your own pork roast into an easily shreddable thing of beauty in under 3 hours. Then you can use your Chipotle carnitas clone on tacos, in burritos, or in a bowl over rice and beans just like they do in the restaurant.
When picking your pork roast, try to find one without too much fat. If your roast has a thick cap of fat on it, trim off the excess. You want some fat in your braising liquid, but if the cap of fat is too thick, it may not fully render down and you’ll get chunks of fat in the shred.
It’s often assumed that the pork butt is from the rear end of the pig, even though cuts from the back region already have a name: ham. The pork butt, also known as a Boston butt, is cut from the other end, the upper shoulder of the pig. It’s called a “butt” because in pre-Revolutionary War New England the roasts were stored and transported in barrels called “butts”, and the confusing name stuck.
This recipe was our #5 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce (#1), Olive Garden Lasagna Classico (#2), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4).
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).
Braised Beef Pasta Menu Description: “Slow-simmered meat sauce with tender braised beef and Italian sausage, tossed with ruffled pappardelle pasta and a touch of alfredo sauce—just like Nonna’s recipe.”
It’s a mistake to assume that a recipe posted to a restaurant chain’s website is the real recipe for the food served there. I’ve found this to be the case with many Olive Garden recipes, and this one is no exception. A widely circulated recipe that claims to duplicate the chain’s classic Bolognese actually originated on Olive Garden’s own website, and if you make that recipe you’ll be disappointed when the final product doesn’t even come close to the real deal. I won’t get into all the specifics of the things wrong with that recipe (too much wine, save some of that for drinking!), but at first glance it’s easy to see that a few important ingredients found in traditional Bolognese sauces are conspicuously missing, including milk, basil, lemon, and nutmeg.
I incorporated all those missing ingredients into my Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese copycat recipe, tweaked a few other things, and then tested several methods of braising the beef so that it comes out perfectly tender: covered, uncovered, and a combo. The technique I settled on was cooking the sauce covered for 2 hours, then uncovered for 1 additional hour so that the sauce reduces and the beef transforms into a fork-flakeable flavor bomb. Yes, it comes from Olive Garden, but this Bolognese is better than any I’ve had at restaurants that charge twice as much, like Rao’s where the meat is ground, not braised, and they hit you up for $30.
As a side note, Olive Garden’s menu says the dish comes with ruffled pappardelle pasta, but it’s actually mafaldine, a narrower noodle with curly edges (shown in the top right corner of the photo). Pappardelle, which is the traditional pasta to serve with Bolognese, is a very wide noodle with straight edges, and it’s more familiar than mafaldine, so perhaps that’s why the menu fudges this fact. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which pasta you choose. Just know that a wide noodle works best. Even fettuccine is good here.
For the little bit of Alfredo sauce spooned into the middle of the dish, I went with a premade bottled sauce to save time. You can also make this from scratch if you like (I’ve got a great hack for Olive Garden’s Alfredo Sauce), but it’s such a small amount that premade sauce in either a chilled tub from the deli section or in a bottle off the shelf works great here.
This recipe was our #3 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), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).
It’s about time I hacked one of Starbucks all-time bestselling baked snacks. For my recipe, I settled on a blend of both baking powder and baking soda for a good crumb and dark crust that perfectly resembles the original. And I decided it best to go big on the dark brown sugar, not only for flavor but also because the extra molasses in the darker brown sugar triggers a helpful leavening boost from the baking soda. It’s also important to know that an accurate clone must have both walnuts and pecans in the mix, because that’s what’s really in it, according to the official Starbucks website ingredients info. All other copycats I saw got it wrong when it came to the nut blend, so if you want a true knock-off, try my Starbucks Banana Bread copycat recipe below.
When 20-year old Rocky Aoki came to New York City from Japan with his wrestling team in 1959 he was convinced it was the land of opportunity. Just five years later he used $10,000 he had saved plus another $20,000 that he borrowed to open a Benihana steakhouse on the West Side of Manhattan. His concept of bringing the chefs out from the back of the kitchen to prepare the food in front of customers on a specially designed hibachi grill was groundbreaking. The restaurant was such a smashing success that it paid for itself within 6 months.
The most popular items at the restaurant are the Hibachi Chicken and Hibachi Steak, which are prepared at your table on an open hibachi grill. But, since most home kitchens are not fitted with a hibachi grill, you'll have to improvise. It's best to use two pans for my Benihana hibachi chicken and steak copycat recipe below; one for the meat and mushrooms, and the other for the remaining vegetables. And since many of today's cooking surfaces are coated with scratchable, nonstick coatings, we won't be slicing the meat and vegetables while they are sizzling on the hot cooking surface as the Benihana chefs do.
Grab my clone recipes for the Ginger and Mustard Dipping Sauces here!
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
Menu Description: "Here they are in all their lip-smacking, award-winning glory: Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings spun in your favorite signature sauce."
Since Buffalo, New York was too far away, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery satisfied their overwhelming craving in 1981 by opening a spicy chicken wing restaurant close to home in Kent, Ohio. With signature sauces and a festive atmosphere, the chain has now evolved from a college campus sports bar with wings to a family restaurant with over 300 units. While frying chicken wings is no real secret—simply drop them in hot shortening for about 10 minutes—the delicious spicy sauces make the wings special. There are 12 varieties of sauce available to coat your crispy chicken parts at the chain, and I'm presenting clones for the more traditional flavors. These sauces are very thick, almost like dressing or dip, so we'll use an emulsifying technique that will ensure a creamy final product where the oil won't separate from the other ingredients. Here is the chicken wing cooking and coating technique, followed by clones for the most popular sauces: Spicy Garlic, Medium and Hot. The sauce recipes might look the same at first, but each has slight variations make your sauce hotter or milder by adjusting the level of cayenne pepper. You can find Frank's pepper sauce by the other hot sauces in your market. If you can't find that brand, you can also use Crystal Louisiana hot sauce.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
Menu Description: "Chicken breast, mushrooms, artichokes, capers & smoked prosciutto in lemon butter with pasta."
Mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and prosciutto in a creamy lemon butter sauce surround sautéed chicken breasts and angel hair pasta for this unique and satisfying take on a traditional dish. This clone ranks in the top three most requested copycat recipes on my hit list from the 227-unit Romano's Macaroni Grill. The successful Italian chain is part of the Brinker group of restaurants that controls several other high-profile casual eateries including Border Mexican Grill, Maggiano's, and Chili's.
In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.
Use my Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls copycat recipe below to make delicious homemade Cinnabon, or try my improved recipe here, which I perfected with the help of Cinnabon HQ.
Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
Menu Description: "Made from scratch in our kitchens using fresh Grade A Fancy Russet potatoes, fresh chopped onion, natural Colby cheese and spices. Baked fresh all day long."
In the late sixties, Dan Evins was a Shell Oil "jobber" looking for a new way to market gasoline. He wanted to create a special place that would arouse curiosity, and would pull travelers off the highways. In 1969 he opened the first Cracker Barrel just off Interstate 40 in Lebanon, Tennessee, offering gas, country-style food, and a selection of antiques for sale. Today there are over 529 stores in 41 states, with each restaurant still designed as a country rest stop and gift store. In fact, those stores which carry an average of 4,500 different items apiece have made Cracker Barrel the largest retailer of American-made finished crafts in the United States.
Those who know Cracker Barrel love the restaurant for its delicious home-style breakfasts. This casserole, made with hash brown-sliced potatoes, Colby cheese, milk, beef broth, and spices, is served with many of the classic breakfast dishes at the restaurant. My Cracker Barrel Hash Brown Casserole recipe is designed for a skillet that is also safe to put in the oven (so no plastic handles). If you don't have one of those, you can easily transfer the casserole to a baking dish after it is done cooking on the stove.
Menu Description: "Quickly-cooked steak with scallions and garlic."
Beef lovers go crazy over this one at P.F. Chang's. Flank steak is cut into bite-sized chunks against the grain, then it's lightly dusted with potato starch, flash-fried in oil, and doused with an amazing sweet soy garlic sauce. The beef comes out tender as can be, and the simple sauce sings to your taste buds.
I designed my P.F. Chang's Mongolian Beef recipe using a wok, but if you don't have one, a sauté pan will suffice. You may need to add more oil to the pan to cover the beef in the flash-frying step.
P. F. Chang's secret sauce is what makes this dish so good, and it's versatile. If you don't dig beef, you can substitute with chicken. Or you can brush it on grilled salmon.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
Jerrico, Inc., the parent company for Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes, got its start in 1929 as a six-stool hamburger stand called the White Tavern Shoppe. Jerrico was started by a man named Jerome Lederer, who watched Long John Silver's thirteen units dwindle in the shadow of World War II to just three units. Then, with determination, he began rebuilding. In 1946 Jerome launched a new restaurant called Jerry's and it was a booming success, with growth across the country. Then he took a chance on what would be his most successful venture in 1969, with the opening of the first Long John Silver's Fish 'n Chips. The name was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In 1991 there were 1,450 Long John Silver Seafood Shoppes in thirty-seven states, Canada, and Singapore, with annual sales of more than $781 million. That means the company holds about 65 percent of the $1.2 billion quick-service seafood business.
These days, it seems there are less and less Long John Silver restaurants. Good thing you can follow my Long John Silver's Batter-Dipped Fish copycat recipe below and enjoy that same great flavor at home.
Make my Islands French Fries copycat recipe for the classic fish 'n chips experience.
Source: Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
Re-creating this popular frozen ice pop is more than just mixing sugar and cocoa into skim milk and freezing it with a stick in the middle. In addition to the great chocolate taste, a Fudgsicle copycat recipe wouldn't be right if it didn't have the same creamy–and not at all icy–texture of the original.
So how do we hack that? We'll use a little gelatin in the mix plus some fat-free half-and-half, which contains carrageenan a natural thickener found in the real fudge bars that improves the texture and helps prevent the formation of ice crystals.
For my Fudgsicle Fudge Bars copcyat recipe, simply combine the ingredients below in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, then pour the creamy mixture into an ice pop mold. When the pops are semisolid, add the sticks. A few hours later, you'll have seven or eight perfect fudge pops with the same great taste and mouthfeel as the famous original product.
If the chef who created this creamy queso dip was willing to put his name on it, you figure it’s got to be good queso. For his hit appetizer, Yard House executive chef Miguel Mata blends three cheeses with roasted poblano pepper and a custom red sauce made with guajillo and chipotle peppers. That tasty sauce, hacked here for the first time, gives the queso its special flavor and heat, and this recipe-within-the-recipe will produce enough sauce for several batches of queso dip, or to use any way you want. Yard House serves the killer red sauce on this queso and on their chicken nachos.
To make my Miguel’s Queso Dip copycat recipe you'll need Velveeta queso blanco, a white cheese that melts easily in your microwave or on the stove. After loading the melted queso blanco into a shallow dish with the poblano and secret red sauce, top it with shredded pepper Jack and cheddar, broil until bubbly, and serve with corn tortilla chips and flour tortillas on the side for dipping.
This dip might make you thirsty. In that case, you can find some of my famous cocktail recipes here.
The secret recipe for BJ’s great fall-off-the-bone ribs requires a specialty moist oven called a CVap, made specifically for commercial kitchens, with a price tag in the thousands of dollars. This controlled vapor oven cooks food with moist heat to braise meats, like ribs, so they're fork-tender. If you want to make ribs like that at home, but don’t have a CVap in your kitchen (or if yours is currently in the shop) you’ll need to incorporate a similar technique using a standard conventional oven. And that’s where I can help.
For my BJ’s Root Beer Glazed Ribs recipe, I first made a hack of the Big Poppa’s rub the chain uses to season the ribs, then I cooked the seasoned ribs on a rack over water mixed with liquid smoke. The liquid smoke infuses the ribs with smoke flavor, and the water in the pan will keep the ribs from drying out. Once the ribs are cooled, they are sliced, sauced, and reheated in a super-hot oven to simulate the pizza oven used at BJ’s.
When buying your ribs, pick the smallest rack of ribs with the least meat to better resemble the real recipe. Also, you’ll want to plan ahead for this recipe since the ribs take several hours to bake and chill before they’re finished in the hot oven before serving. Because of that long slow-bake time, you’ll want to start this dish early in the day, or even the day before.
Find more of my B.J.'s copycat recipes here.
IHOP upped its French toast game in 2022 with the introduction of a new recipe that suggests your French toast is only as good as the bread you start with, and IHOP’s new Thick ‘N Fluffy French Toast starts with thick specialty artisan bread, rather than the more commonly used Texas toast white bread.
For my IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast recipe, you can use any thick-sliced bread from your bakery, but there are two national brands that work well: Nature’s Own Perfectly Crafted Thick-Sliced White Bread and Sara Lee Artisano. Either of those will do, but of the two, Nature’s Own is shaped more like IHOP’s version.
Adding vanilla and a little cinnamon to the easy batter will set these waffles apart from most others, and in no time, you’ll have 6 beautiful slices of French toast for a total of 3 servings. Dust them with a little powdered sugar, add some butter and maple syrup on the side, and it’s like you just opened a mini IHOP in your house.
In the Fall of 2022, Chipotle debuted Garlic Guajillo Steak, a variation of the chain’s classic steak made with a new secret seasoning starring the fruity and slightly smokey flavor of dry guajillo peppers, and, surprisingly, prepared using a gourmet French slow-cooking technique.
After an outbreak of E. coli bacteria at Chipotle infected 53 people in nine states, the chain changed the way it cooks steak. Rather than cooking the beef entirely on a Plancha, or flat griddle, Chipotle now pre-cooks the steaks with the sous vide method wherein vacuum-packed seasoned beef is cooked slowly in swirling, heated water. This cooking technique not only eliminates any potentially harmful bacteria before the beef is grilled, but it will also speed up the seasoning process and help tenderize tougher cuts.
But you shouldn't worry if you don’t have a sous vide setup. My Chipotle Garlic Guajillo Steak recipe will also work by simply chilling the seasoned steak overnight in a zip-top bag and later cooking it off in a heavy pan or on a hot griddle. After slicing the cooked steak, toss it with some freshly squeezed lime juice and fresh cilantro, and use it as you see fit for tacos, burritos, bowls, and salads.
If you prefer chicken, head over to my clone recipe for Chipotle's Pollo Asado.
Fried rice is one of life’s simple pleasures, but add kimchi, edamame, mushrooms, tender short rib, and a wasabi-mayo drizzle, and you’ve just elevated a common dish to something truly special. That’s why P.F. Chang’s new Short Rib Fried Rice is so popular. And that’s why it needed to be cloned, ASAP.
As with my recipe for P.F. Chang’s Fire-Braised Short Ribs, you’ll make a tasty braising liquid with Chinese cooking wine, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, green onions, and garlic, to pour over your short ribs before they slow-cook in your oven for 3 hours.
When you're ready to serve the dish, dice the cooled short ribs, then sear them and add them to the rice along with all the other ingredients in a hot pan or wok over high heat.
Plate the rice, drizzle wasabi-mayo sauce over the top, sprinkle on some fresh chopped green onions, and serve up a spot-on clone of the hit dish, and possibly the best fried rice you’ve ever crafted.
Try my P.F. Chang's Short Rib Fried Rice recipe below, and find more popular P.F. Chang's copycat recipes here.
On weekends, hungry patrons at The Cheesecake Factory are treated to a special menu of brunch selections where this thick-sliced, caramelized French toast is a stand-out. A plate comes with four battered bread slices, each browned on one side, then dusted with powdered sugar, and served with warm maple-butter syrup.
I obtained virtually no helpful prep tips from the servers in the restaurant, so I was left to deduce my copycat recipe from a simple inspection of the real thing once I got my take-out order home. I eventually settled on a batter that combines the same ingredients you'd find in crème brûlée: eggs, cream (in the half-and-half), sugar, and vanilla.
After lightly browning one battered side of each thick bread slice, the other side is battered and then sprinkled with a light coating of sugar. When the sugared bread is turned over onto the hot pan, the sugar cooks until browned, re-creating the taste experience of a traditional torched crème brûlée dessert.
Now, using my exclusive Cheesecake Factory Bruléed French Toast recipe, you can have great brunch food any day of the week without having to wait for a table, and without shelling out nearly 20 bucks for a plate of battered bread.
Find your favorite cheesecake, appetizer, and entrée recipes from Cheesecake Factory here.
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).
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.
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 copycat 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.
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.
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 to 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 in the brine. I hadn’t called for it in my prior Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich copycat recipe 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 slicing 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 Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich hacks to ever come out of a home kitchen.
Now, check out my version of Chick-fil-A Mac and Cheese!
On the list of inspirational American food success stories is the small fried chicken restaurant George W. Church opened across the street from the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas in 1952. In the years since Church's Chicken exploded into a monster chicken chain with over 1000 restaurants in 35 countries.
The truth is, no chain would grow that big without good food. George's special homestyle fried chicken formula was his secret recipe to success, and as far as I can tell, nobody has properly hacked it. Until now.
The ingredient list for this crispy chicken is smaller than what you might find in “The Colonel’s” kitchen, which is good because you won’t have to go out and buy 11 herbs and spices. Much of the flavoring in this chicken recipe develops during the brining process, which also has the added benefit of keeping the chicken moist and juicy inside. I discovered that Church’s marinates their chicken for 12 hours, so I worked backward and designed a brine that would do its job in exactly half a day.
For my Church's Fried Chicken copycat recipe, you'll need to plan ahead to give your chicken time to marinate. But that's a good thing—your patience will be rewarded with the down-home taste of delicious fried chicken, just like what grandma used to make.
And here's some more good news: this hack includes two recipes! I've created a Church's copycat recipe for the original recipe fried chicken, along with instructions for duplicating the spicy version if you're in the mood to pump up your jam.
Now, how about some side dishes?
Menu Description: “A baked blend of Italian cheeses, pasta, and our signature five-cheese marinara.”
Creating my Olive Garden’s famous baked ziti copycat recipe would not be possible without a perfect clone of the chain’s popular five-cheese marinara sauce. I started with my previous recipe of the plain marinara for Olive Garden’s Chicken Parmigiana and enhanced it with the addition of five kinds of Italian cheese and heavy cream.
Determining which five types of cheese are in a prepared sauce is tough without some insider assistance, so before cooking I focused my efforts on convincing a server to ask the chef for the list…and I got it! The blend of cheese used here in the sauce comes straight from the kitchen of my local Olive Garden. When you taste it, you’ll know the intel was legit.
After the sauce is added to the pasta it’s topped with a cheese-and-breadcrumb mix called “ziti topping,” then it’s browned under a salamander (for the restaurant version) or a broiler (for your version). The result is a beautiful dish with great sauce and a cheesy topping that should satisfy even the pickiest baked ziti fanatics.
I've cloned a ton of dishes from Olive Garden. See if I hacked your favorite here.
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.
I've always known IKEA as a giant global furniture chain, but before researching these tasty little balls of meat, I wasn't aware that IKEA is also one of the world's largest food retailers. And at the very top of the list of the most popular menu items at the stores' cafeteria-style IKEA Restaurant & Bistro, are the Swedish Meatballs, which are consumed at a rate of 150 million each year.
The chain's secret Swedish meatballs are moist and delicious and come smothered in a cream sauce, with a side of lingonberry jam. But there's no need to work your way through the giant rat maze of furniture that is the ingenious layout of each store to get to the cafeteria when you can now duplicate them at home with my IKEA Swedish Meatball copycat recipe below, and very little effort.
The secret is to use ground beef that is 20 percent fat and a food processor to puree all of the ingredients. If you don't have a food processor, a blender works, too. Form the balls with a 1 1/4-inch dough scoop or teaspoon measure, and keep your hands thoroughly moistened to prevent the meat mixture from sticking.
After you make the meatballs, you'll probably want to make the secret cream sauce that goes over the top, and that recipe is here, too.
Now, what's for dessert?
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 Wingstop lemon pepper wings copycat recipe 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 homemade Wingstop's Lemon Pepper Wings like a pro.
Find my copycat recipes for Wingstop's original and Parmesan-garlic wings here.
For over 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original copycat recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.