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Side Dishes

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    KFC Potato Wedges

    “Don’t call them fries,” says KFC about its popular side made with sliced, skin-on russet potatoes. What sets these potatoes apart from all the others is the secret breading made with a similar seasoning blend to the one used for Colonel's Original Recipe Fried Chicken. To achieve the proper crispiness, the potatoes are par-fried, frozen, then fried again until golden brown.

    One important ingredient that completes the flavor is MSG. Monosodium glutamate is a food additive derived from glutamic acid, which is an important amino acid found in abundance in nature, food, and in you right now. Over the last 60 years of study and use, MSG has not only been found harmless in normal amounts, but tests have shown glutamate to be a chemical messenger that benefits gut health, immunity, and brain functions such as memory and learning. In addition to all of that, it imparts a unique savoriness that enhances flavors in other ingredients and makes your food taste amazing. Using MSG in your food is, literally, smart cooking.

    Another important ingredient is ground Tellicherry black pepper, a select black pepper from India. Winston Shelton, a friend of Harland Sanders who invented the first high-volume pressure fryers for KFC, confirmed this. Shelton recalled seeing the ingredient when Sanders showed him the secret formula for the fried chicken seasoning he had scribbled on a piece of paper.

    While we were shooting the first episode of my TV Show, Top Secret Recipe, Winston pulled me aside and whispered to me that Tellicherry pepper is crucial to creating the unique KFC aftertaste. It was a great tip, and fortunately, we caught that moment on camera and you can see it in the show. Later, I conducted a side-by-side taste test with common black pepper and Tellicherry black pepper and discovered Winston was right. If you want the best taste for your copycat KFC Potato Wedges, you'll need Tellicherry pepper, which you can find online and in some food stores. Be sure to grind it fine before using it.

    For my KFC Potato Wedges recipe, just two russet potatoes are all it takes to make the equivalent of a large serving of fried potato wedges, which will be enough for at least four people.

    Get more of my KFC copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 4.88 (votes: 8)
    Chick-fil-A Mac & Cheese

    The new Mac & Cheese at Chick-fil-A is baked fresh every day, and the recipe is more complex than you might expect from a fast food chicken chain. According to the official list of ingredients, the formula includes several different kinds of cheese including Parmesan, Romano, and award-winning hard cheese from Wisconsin called BellaVitano. The BellaVitano cheese adds a subtle nuttiness to the mix and all three hard cheeses contribute big umami flavor that nicely complements the blend of white and yellow cheddars.

    Those five kinds of cheese combine to make a great flavor, but the blend would melt into a greasy mess if it weren’t for the assistance of one more ubiquitous cheese: American. The benefit of American cheese—which makes up for its lack of flavor—is found in the sodium citrate it contains. This natural sodium salt is an emulsifier that keeps the fat in the cheese from separating (and it also happens to be useful in preventing kidney stones!). By first melting several slices of American cheese in the milk we don’t need to make a roux to create a perfectly smooth cheese sauce.

    As for cooking the macaroni, here’s another secret: don’t follow the directions on the box for al dente pasta, because you don’t want the pasta to be al dente, or slightly tough. You want to cook the elbow macaroni for 20 minutes so that it absorbs as much water as possible. This will ensure that the pasta won’t suck up liquid in the cheese sauce when they are combined, and the sauce will maintain a perfectly creamy consistency.      

    If you like my copycat Chick-fil-A mac and cheese recipe, click here for more Chick-fil-A clone recipes.

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  • Not rated yet
    Carl's Jr. Fried Zucchini

    For decades, Carl’s Jr. has effectively cornered the market on fried zucchini at major fast food chains by serving a great crispy breaded version that’s flavorful all the way through. Now you can make zucchini that tastes just as good, as long as you know the secret step that other fried zucchini recipes miss. It makes all the difference.

    The secret is a brine. I found that this fried zucchini tastes best when it takes a salted water bath before breading. In 60 minutes, the salt in the brine is absorbed by the zucchini, spreading good flavor all the way through. After the brine, the zucchini is rinsed, coated twice with flour and once with seasoned breadcrumbs, and fried to a beautiful golden brown.

    I’m giving you a couple choices here. You can make the recipe all the way through and serve it immediately, or if you want to serve it later, you can par-fry the zucchini and freeze it for several days. After that, when an occasion arises, a couple minutes is all it takes to finish off the dish and serve it. My Carl's Jr. Fried Zucchini recipe makes enough for a small gathering, but you can easily cut it in half for a more intimate hang.

    Click here for more amazing Carl's Jr. copycat recipes. 

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  • Score: 4.67 (votes: 3)
    Einstein Bros. Bagels Twice-Baked Hash Brown

    I’m not sure why Einstein Bros. claims there are just four cheeses in the new Twice-Baked Hash Brown when the ingredients clearly list six kinds of cheese, plus cream cheese. Regardless, the shredded Asiago, Romano, Parmesan, provolone, and mozzarella listed there can be found combined in an “Italian Blend” at many supermarkets, making for an easy start to our home clone. And don’t just be thinking about breakfast for these cheesy potatoes. They work great as a side for any meal.

    In the detailed description of the new item, Einstein Bros. claims the hash browns contain two kinds of schmears, which is true, but a little misleading because one of them is just plain cream cheese. The other is onion-and-chive cream cheese, which we can make from scratch. We’ll combine those two shmears into one blend by doubling the cream cheese added to our onion-and-chive schmear formula.

    Follow my Einstein Bros. twice baked hash brown recipe below, and mix everything together. Then, load the ingredients into a standard 12-cup muffin pan with circles of parchment paper cut out to fit into the bottom of the 12 cups. Without these parchment circles, the hash browns may stick and break when they’re released. You can also use paper muffin cups, if you don’t mind the less crispy, ridged sides.

    Bake them the first time for 30 minutes, then cool and store. Now you have a dozen servings of cheesy hash brown potatoes that are easy to finish off by baking them a second time until crispy. These Einstein Bros. Twice Baked Hash Browns are great served with breakfast, or for dinner as your starchy side alongside beef, chicken, lamb, and many other savory entrées.      

    You can also make homemade Einstein Bros bagels, sandwiches, and shmears. See if I hacked your favorites here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Popeyes Cajun Rice

    Popeyes offers two sides with rice: the ultra-popular Red Beans and Rice, which I previously cloned here, and this rice made Cajun-style with ground beef and spices.

    The real recipe at the chain most likely includes chicken gizzard, but that ingredient is not always easy to find outside of buying a whole uncooked chicken that includes a bag of giblets tucked inside. So I set out to design my Popeyes Cajun Rice recipe without that ingredient, and the results were great.

    The secret to the fabulous taste, after all, is not found in the gizzard, but in the flavors contributed by the “holy trinity” of green pepper, onion, and celery salt; accentuated by the ground thyme and oregano.

    If you’re making rice tonight, bump it up to something special with just a little extra work for delicious results.

    Can't get enough Popeyes? Find all of my recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Secret Recipe Fries

    In the Summer of 2020, to the dismay of many fans, KFC stopped selling the famous potato wedges that had been on the menu for decades and replaced them with battered French fries.

    Like the wedges, these fries are coated with a flavorful batter, but the seasoning used on the fries is a different blend than what was used on the wedges. Are these new fries better than the classic wedges? That depends. Some may prefer the rare treat of fast food skin-on wedges, while others may prefer the crispiness of these new fries. Some don’t care and just want a clone, so here you go.

    My recipe for KFC Secret Fries is simplified by using par-fried French fries found in the freezer section of your store. After coating the fries with this clone of the seasoned breading, spray them with water, then fry them for 3 to 4 minutes. That’s it. Be sure to have a clean squirt bottle filled with water to transform the breading into a thin batter giving your finished product the same crispy coating as the original.

    KFC’s new fries are coated with a blend that includes onion, celery, and carrot powder. It’s easy to find onion powder in most supermarkets, but I had to go online to find celery and carrot juice powders. The blend of vegetable powders adds great flavor, but if you want to omit the celery and carrot powders and just use onion powder, the recipe will still make delicious copycat fries.

    Click here for my KFC Original Chicken recipe or search for your favorites here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Panda Express Fried Rice

    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. 

    Now, how about some Honey Walnut Shrimp, or Beijing Beef to go with that rice? Find all my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cracker Barrel Fried Apples

    This sweet side dish is so popular Cracker Barrel sells jars of it in the gift shop. But no need to buy it there when an easy Top Secret Recipe will provide a hot, fresh batch any time you want. This prep is simple because you don’t need to peel the apples. Just slice and cook them with the peels on until the apples are tender just like the original Cracker Barrel fried apples, then eat them straight up or as a tasty topping on ice cream. 

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Five Guys Cajun Fries

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Shakey's Mojo Potatoes

    Sherwood Johnson survived a case of malaria while serving in World War II, which left him with some residual nerve damage and a new nickname: Shakey. Despite his affliction, Shakey Johnson was still able to bang out toe-tapping Dixieland jazz on the piano night after night in the pizza parlor he opened in Sacramento in 1954, where live jazz accompanied the thin crust pizza and cold pitchers of beer.

    Shakey’s became the first franchised pizza restaurant in the U.S., and by 1974 the chain had 500 stores across the U.S. The #1 dish is clearly the made-to-order pizza, but the chain’s trademarked crispy battered potato slices are a close runner-up and a perfect tasty subject to hack.

    Recipes that claim complete pancake mix is the secret breading ingredient in Mojo Potatoes fail to observe that pancake mix contains sugar, and there is no noticeable sweetness in the breading of the Mojos. I also decided that dry breading wouldn't work since in my tests the paprika failed to bloom and give the coating a perfect hue like it does when the mixture is wet.

    I eventually settled on a simple wet batter made with seasoned salt, flour, and little cornstarch for crunch to best match the flavor, crispiness, and red/orange tint of the real thing from America’s first pizza chain. Use this original technique, and these handy step photos, to make extra crispy potatoes the Shakey's way.

    There's your appetizer, now what's for dinner? Find clones for some of your favorite famous entrées here.

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  • Not rated yet
    P.F. Chang's Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

    Use my recipe for P.F. Chang’s incredible Kung Pao sauce and toss it with fried Brussels sprouts, peanuts, and Thai chilies and you get one of this Chinese bistro’s most popular new starters. And now, with this exclusive Top Secret Recipe, you'll have possibly one of your new favorite ways to serve Brussels sprouts. 

    You’ll get a half cup of the secret kung pao sauce—that will be enough to sauce 1 pound of Brussels sprouts in 2 separate batches.

    Oven baking, like other "hackers" recommend, will not give you the crispy texture of the original. These must be deep-fried. Even though you’ll be frying 8 ounces of Brussels sprouts at a time, you’ll want a wide-mouthed pan like a large saucepot, Dutch oven, or a deep fryer so that you don’t crowd the Brussels sprouts. Also, they will spatter for about 30 seconds when they first hit the oil, so a lid or a spatter guard will definitely come in handy.

    Once the oil is hot and the sauce is made, it takes just 5 minutes to get this delish dish on your table.      

    Have you decided on an entrée to serve with this? There are a lot more P.F. Chang's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes

    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.

    Find more of your favorite Wendy's copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Popeyes Homestyle Mac & Cheese

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries

    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.

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  • Not rated yet
    Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que Cracked Out Deviled Eggs

    The West Coast barbecue chain introduced these creative deviled eggs with the eye-catching name as a limited-time-only offer, but sales were so good that Lucille’s Cracked Out Deviled Eggs is now a permanent fixture on the menu.

    For this dish, the deviled egg yolks are combined with a blend of bacon, green onion, red bell pepper, and the chain’s delicious barbecue blend, then arranged on crispy onion straws with seasoned chicken cracklings poked down into the top of each egg. These tasty deviled eggs are unlike any you've had before and all the secrets you need to make a perfect copy at home are "cracked" for you here, including my newly hacked recipe for the delicious onion straws.

    Two chicken thighs will provide enough skin for you to make plenty of the cracklings, and I’ll give you all the prep details in the recipe below, along with a couple of good ways to hard cook your eggs. If you steam your eggs as described, and if they’re fresh, you’ll have no ugly green ring around the yolk and the shells will practically fall off.

    Find more of your favorite famous appetizer recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Bojangles' Dirty Rice

    Bojangles’ signature Cajun rice is always a big seller at the 750-unit fried chicken chain, and a hack has been on my hit list for years now. When I recently found myself in Huntsville, Alabama, I stopped at Bojangles’ and filled up my travel cooler with tubs of dirty rice and buttermilk biscuits and smuggled them safely back to the underground lab in Vegas.

    Dirty rice gets its dirty look from the chunks of pork sausage (made from the patties used on the breakfast biscuit sandwiches), and the ground green herbs found in the traditional, and top secret, Cajun seasoning blend. For my Bojangles' dirty rice recipe below, I started with the seasoning, and since I couldn’t see any large herb leaf pieces, I made sure to crush the dried parsley in the palm of my hand before adding it. I figured oregano and thyme would be in there, but they should be in ground form to contribute the proper green “dirtiness” to the rice.

    Flavors in Cajun cooking are often created with what’s known as “the holy trinity,” a combination of onion, celery, and bell pepper. The celery salt in the Cajun seasoning brings the celery flavor to the dish. Adding green onion and red bell pepper to the rice completes the trinity. Be sure to finely mince the red bell pepper before sweating it in the butter with the green onion. And keep the heat medium/low when you cook the pepper and green onion to prevent the butter from burning.

    As for the rice, I found converted to work best since it’s less starchy and tends not to be as sticky. Converted rice has been parboiled in its husk, so it’s also a healthier option than regular white rice, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. If you can’t find converted rice (Uncle Ben’s is a good one), you can also use long-grain white rice.

    Check out more of my Bojangles copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 4.75 (votes: 4)
    Olive Garden Garlic Mashed Potatoes

    Garlic mashed potatoes are a great side for many entrees, especially when the mashed potatoes are as creamy and flavorful as those at Olive Garden. In our hack, the cloves of peeled garlic are boiled with the potatoes. When the potatoes get passed through a potato ricer (or mashed) the softened garlic cloves go along for the ride and get mashed up too. This way you’re guaranteed to get the perfect amount of flavorful garlic in every bite.

    I settled on cream as the dairy here after my attempts using milk and half-and-half resulted in thin and runny potatoes. I found that cream adds the perfect thickness and smooth richness to the mashers, and it made the closest duplicate to Olive Garden Garlic Mashed Potatoes. 

    This side goes great with our Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Marsala copycat recipe.

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  • Score: 4.70 (votes: 20)
    McDonald's French Fries

    They're the world's most famous French fries, responsible for one-third of all U.S. French fry sales, and many say they're the best. These fried spud strips are so popular that Burger King even changed its own recipe to better compete with the secret formula from Mickey D's. One-quarter of all meals served today in American restaurants come with fries; a fact that thrills restaurateurs since fries are the most profitable menu item in the food industry. 

    Proper preparation steps were developed by McDonald's to minimize in-store preparation time, while producing a fry that is soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. My McDonald's French Fries recipe requires a two-step frying process to replicate the same qualities: the fries are par-fried, frozen, then fried once more to crispy just before serving. Be sure to use a slicer to cut the fries for a consistent thickness (1/4-inch is perfect) and for a cooking result that will make them just like the real thing. As for the rumor that you must soak the fries in sugar water to help them turn golden brown, I also found that not to be necessary. If the potatoes have properly developed, they contain enough sugar on their own to make a good clone with great color.

    Now, how about a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder to go with those fries? Click here for a list of all my McDonald's copycat recipes.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.74 (votes: 27)
    Cracker Barrel Hash Brown Casserole

    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.

    Love Cracker Barrel? Check out my other clone recipes here.

    Source Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

     

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  • Score: 3.00 (votes: 4)
    KFC Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

    My KFC mashed potatoes and gravy recipe duplicates the tasty tan stuff that's poured over fluffy mashed potatoes at the Colonel's chain of restaurants. And since the original recipe contains MSG (as does their chicken), this mash potato & gravy sauce clone was designed with that "secret" ingredient. You may choose to leave out the MSG, which is a natural amino acid found in vegetables and other foods, but your clone won't taste like the real thing without it. 

    Try more of my KFC copycat recipes here.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.88 (votes: 8)
    Applebee's Almond Rice Pilaf

    You're grilling some steaks or baking some chicken and don't know what to serve on the side? Try out this simple clone for a dish that's served along with several of Applebee's entrees. Since the recipe requires converted rice because instant rice is gross, you have to plan ahead about 25 minutes to give the rice time to cook. It's worth the wait. The secret to an authentic, great-tasting rice pilaf is sauteing the uncooked rice kernels in butter first, before adding the liquid—in this case chicken broth. Then, as the rice is cooking, you have plenty of time to saute the almonds, celery, and onions that are tossed into the rice at the end.

    Want some more of my Applebee's recipes? I've got a bunch right here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.18 (votes: 28)
    Benihana Japanese Fried Rice

    The talented chefs at Benihana cook food on hibachi grills with flair and charisma, treating the preparation like a tiny stage show. They juggle salt and pepper shakers, trim food with lightning speed, and flip the shrimp and mushrooms perfectly onto serving plates or into their tall chef's hat.

    One of the side dishes that everyone seems to love is the fried rice. At Benihana this dish is prepared by chefs with precooked rice on open hibachi grills, and is ordered a la cart to complement any Benihana entrée, including Hibachi Steak and Chicken. I like when the rice is thrown onto the hot hibachi grill and seems to come alive as it sizzles and dances around like a bunch of little jumping beans. Okay, so I'm easily amused.

    My Benihana Japanese fried rice recipe will go well with just about any Japanese entrée, and can be partially prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until the rest of the meal is close to done.

    Re-create more of your favorite dishes from Benihana here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.83 (votes: 312)
    KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Coleslaw

    If you've ever seen a clone recipe for KFC Coleslaw it probably looks like this. This replica Colonel Sanders coleslaw recipe has become one of the all-time most shared recipes on the intraweb. Here's the original secret formula I created from scratch in 1993 for my first book, Top Secret Recipes, to clone the world's best coleslaw.

    I've cloned a ton of stuff from KFC. See if I hacked your favorites here.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 3.89 (votes: 18)
    Popeyes Red Beans and Rice

    I first created the clone for this Cajun-style recipe back in 1994 for the second TSR book, More Top Secret Recipes, but I've never been overjoyed with the results. After convincing a Popeyes manager to show me the ingredients written on the box of red bean mixture, I determined the only way to create an accurate recipe is to include an important ingredient omitted from the first version: pork fat. Emeril Lagasse—a Cajun food master—says, "pork fat rules," and it does. 

    We could get the delicious smoky fat from rendering smoked ham hocks, but that takes too long. The easiest way is to cook 4 or 5 pieces of bacon, save the cooked bacon for another recipe (or eat it!), then use 1/4 cup of the fat for my Popeyes Red Beans and rice recipe below. As for the beans, find red beans (they're smaller than kidney beans) in two 15-ounce cans. If you're having trouble tracking down red beans, red kidney beans will be a fine substitute.

    Can't get enough Popeyes? Find all of my recipes here

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Not rated yet
    Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que Cracked Out Deviled Eggs

    The West Coast barbecue chain introduced these creative deviled eggs with the eye-catching name as a limited-time-only offer, but sales were so good that Lucille’s Cracked Out Deviled Eggs is now a permanent fixture on the menu.

    For this dish, the deviled egg yolks are combined with a blend of bacon, green onion, red bell pepper, and the chain’s delicious barbecue blend, then arranged on crispy onion straws with seasoned chicken cracklings poked down into the top of each egg. These tasty deviled eggs are unlike any you've had before and all the secrets you need to make a perfect copy at home are "cracked" for you here, including my newly hacked recipe for the delicious onion straws.

    Two chicken thighs will provide enough skin for you to make plenty of the cracklings, and I’ll give you all the prep details in the recipe below, along with a couple of good ways to hard cook your eggs. If you steam your eggs as described, and if they’re fresh, you’ll have no ugly green ring around the yolk and the shells will practically fall off.

    Find more of your favorite famous appetizer recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Popeyes Homestyle Mac & Cheese

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes

    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.

    Find more of your favorite Wendy's copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Shakey's Mojo Potatoes

    Sherwood Johnson survived a case of malaria while serving in World War II, which left him with some residual nerve damage and a new nickname: Shakey. Despite his affliction, Shakey Johnson was still able to bang out toe-tapping Dixieland jazz on the piano night after night in the pizza parlor he opened in Sacramento in 1954, where live jazz accompanied the thin crust pizza and cold pitchers of beer.

    Shakey’s became the first franchised pizza restaurant in the U.S., and by 1974 the chain had 500 stores across the U.S. The #1 dish is clearly the made-to-order pizza, but the chain’s trademarked crispy battered potato slices are a close runner-up and a perfect tasty subject to hack.

    Recipes that claim complete pancake mix is the secret breading ingredient in Mojo Potatoes fail to observe that pancake mix contains sugar, and there is no noticeable sweetness in the breading of the Mojos. I also decided that dry breading wouldn't work since in my tests the paprika failed to bloom and give the coating a perfect hue like it does when the mixture is wet.

    I eventually settled on a simple wet batter made with seasoned salt, flour, and little cornstarch for crunch to best match the flavor, crispiness, and red/orange tint of the real thing from America’s first pizza chain. Use this original technique, and these handy step photos, to make extra crispy potatoes the Shakey's way.

    There's your appetizer, now what's for dinner? Find clones for some of your favorite famous entrées here.

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  • Not rated yet
    P.F. Chang's Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

    Use my recipe for P.F. Chang’s incredible Kung Pao sauce and toss it with fried Brussels sprouts, peanuts, and Thai chilies and you get one of this Chinese bistro’s most popular new starters. And now, with this exclusive Top Secret Recipe, you'll have possibly one of your new favorite ways to serve Brussels sprouts. 

    You’ll get a half cup of the secret kung pao sauce—that will be enough to sauce 1 pound of Brussels sprouts in 2 separate batches.

    Oven baking, like other "hackers" recommend, will not give you the crispy texture of the original. These must be deep-fried. Even though you’ll be frying 8 ounces of Brussels sprouts at a time, you’ll want a wide-mouthed pan like a large saucepot, Dutch oven, or a deep fryer so that you don’t crowd the Brussels sprouts. Also, they will spatter for about 30 seconds when they first hit the oil, so a lid or a spatter guard will definitely come in handy.

    Once the oil is hot and the sauce is made, it takes just 5 minutes to get this delish dish on your table.      

    Have you decided on an entrée to serve with this? There are a lot more P.F. Chang's copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Five Guys Cajun Fries

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cracker Barrel Fried Apples

    This sweet side dish is so popular Cracker Barrel sells jars of it in the gift shop. But no need to buy it there when an easy Top Secret Recipe will provide a hot, fresh batch any time you want. This prep is simple because you don’t need to peel the apples. Just slice and cook them with the peels on until the apples are tender just like the original Cracker Barrel fried apples, then eat them straight up or as a tasty topping on ice cream. 

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Panda Express Fried Rice

    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. 

    Now, how about some Honey Walnut Shrimp, or Beijing Beef to go with that rice? Find all my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Secret Recipe Fries

    In the Summer of 2020, to the dismay of many fans, KFC stopped selling the famous potato wedges that had been on the menu for decades and replaced them with battered French fries.

    Like the wedges, these fries are coated with a flavorful batter, but the seasoning used on the fries is a different blend than what was used on the wedges. Are these new fries better than the classic wedges? That depends. Some may prefer the rare treat of fast food skin-on wedges, while others may prefer the crispiness of these new fries. Some don’t care and just want a clone, so here you go.

    My recipe for KFC Secret Fries is simplified by using par-fried French fries found in the freezer section of your store. After coating the fries with this clone of the seasoned breading, spray them with water, then fry them for 3 to 4 minutes. That’s it. Be sure to have a clean squirt bottle filled with water to transform the breading into a thin batter giving your finished product the same crispy coating as the original.

    KFC’s new fries are coated with a blend that includes onion, celery, and carrot powder. It’s easy to find onion powder in most supermarkets, but I had to go online to find celery and carrot juice powders. The blend of vegetable powders adds great flavor, but if you want to omit the celery and carrot powders and just use onion powder, the recipe will still make delicious copycat fries.

    Click here for my KFC Original Chicken recipe or search for your favorites here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Popeyes Cajun Rice

    Popeyes offers two sides with rice: the ultra-popular Red Beans and Rice, which I previously cloned here, and this rice made Cajun-style with ground beef and spices.

    The real recipe at the chain most likely includes chicken gizzard, but that ingredient is not always easy to find outside of buying a whole uncooked chicken that includes a bag of giblets tucked inside. So I set out to design my Popeyes Cajun Rice recipe without that ingredient, and the results were great.

    The secret to the fabulous taste, after all, is not found in the gizzard, but in the flavors contributed by the “holy trinity” of green pepper, onion, and celery salt; accentuated by the ground thyme and oregano.

    If you’re making rice tonight, bump it up to something special with just a little extra work for delicious results.

    Can't get enough Popeyes? Find all of my recipes here

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  • Score: 4.67 (votes: 3)
    Einstein Bros. Bagels Twice-Baked Hash Brown

    I’m not sure why Einstein Bros. claims there are just four cheeses in the new Twice-Baked Hash Brown when the ingredients clearly list six kinds of cheese, plus cream cheese. Regardless, the shredded Asiago, Romano, Parmesan, provolone, and mozzarella listed there can be found combined in an “Italian Blend” at many supermarkets, making for an easy start to our home clone. And don’t just be thinking about breakfast for these cheesy potatoes. They work great as a side for any meal.

    In the detailed description of the new item, Einstein Bros. claims the hash browns contain two kinds of schmears, which is true, but a little misleading because one of them is just plain cream cheese. The other is onion-and-chive cream cheese, which we can make from scratch. We’ll combine those two shmears into one blend by doubling the cream cheese added to our onion-and-chive schmear formula.

    Follow my Einstein Bros. twice baked hash brown recipe below, and mix everything together. Then, load the ingredients into a standard 12-cup muffin pan with circles of parchment paper cut out to fit into the bottom of the 12 cups. Without these parchment circles, the hash browns may stick and break when they’re released. You can also use paper muffin cups, if you don’t mind the less crispy, ridged sides.

    Bake them the first time for 30 minutes, then cool and store. Now you have a dozen servings of cheesy hash brown potatoes that are easy to finish off by baking them a second time until crispy. These Einstein Bros. Twice Baked Hash Browns are great served with breakfast, or for dinner as your starchy side alongside beef, chicken, lamb, and many other savory entrées.      

    You can also make homemade Einstein Bros bagels, sandwiches, and shmears. See if I hacked your favorites here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Tommy Bahama Island Slaw

    A relaxed island look that feels like you’re always at the beach is the vibe that helped grow the Tommy Bahama clothing brand into a worldwide 160-store retail chain. But Tommy Bahama is more than just a kick-back clothes boutique. Eighteen of those stores also feature a Tommy Bahama Restaurant and Bar, which serves a great menu of island-inspired grub including killer Mai Tais and da bomb coconut shrimp (which they claim is “world-famous,” here’s the recipe and it’s legit).

    Alongside many of the chain’s dishes, including the World-Famous Coconut Shrimp, is Tommy Bahama’s famous island slaw. But unlike the coconut shrimp, the restaurant doesn’t share the coleslaw recipe, and I found no other recipe that worked. I did find a helpful tip or two (soaking the red onions in water for 20 minutes to mellow them), but the finished products were disappointing. So I headed to the kitchen lab for some experimenting, and I came up with a dressing that worked well when tossed with nearly a whole head of cabbage, plus onions and cilantro, and then allowed to sit in the fridge for a bit.

    The addition of the crunchy wonton strips at the end is a big part of what makes the Tommy Bahama's island coleslaw so good. But don’t mix them in too early or they get soggy. I prefer to leave them out of the coleslaw and mix in a fresh handful just before serving. You can make the crunchy wonton strips yourself with some wonton wrappers, oil, and the directions in the Tidbits below.

    I'll bet you're craving a Mai Tai right about now. Try my version of Trader Vic's here

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  • Not rated yet
    Carl's Jr. Fried Zucchini

    For decades, Carl’s Jr. has effectively cornered the market on fried zucchini at major fast food chains by serving a great crispy breaded version that’s flavorful all the way through. Now you can make zucchini that tastes just as good, as long as you know the secret step that other fried zucchini recipes miss. It makes all the difference.

    The secret is a brine. I found that this fried zucchini tastes best when it takes a salted water bath before breading. In 60 minutes, the salt in the brine is absorbed by the zucchini, spreading good flavor all the way through. After the brine, the zucchini is rinsed, coated twice with flour and once with seasoned breadcrumbs, and fried to a beautiful golden brown.

    I’m giving you a couple choices here. You can make the recipe all the way through and serve it immediately, or if you want to serve it later, you can par-fry the zucchini and freeze it for several days. After that, when an occasion arises, a couple minutes is all it takes to finish off the dish and serve it. My Carl's Jr. Fried Zucchini recipe makes enough for a small gathering, but you can easily cut it in half for a more intimate hang.

    Click here for more amazing Carl's Jr. copycat recipes. 

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  • Score: 4.88 (votes: 8)
    Chick-fil-A Mac & Cheese

    The new Mac & Cheese at Chick-fil-A is baked fresh every day, and the recipe is more complex than you might expect from a fast food chicken chain. According to the official list of ingredients, the formula includes several different kinds of cheese including Parmesan, Romano, and award-winning hard cheese from Wisconsin called BellaVitano. The BellaVitano cheese adds a subtle nuttiness to the mix and all three hard cheeses contribute big umami flavor that nicely complements the blend of white and yellow cheddars.

    Those five kinds of cheese combine to make a great flavor, but the blend would melt into a greasy mess if it weren’t for the assistance of one more ubiquitous cheese: American. The benefit of American cheese—which makes up for its lack of flavor—is found in the sodium citrate it contains. This natural sodium salt is an emulsifier that keeps the fat in the cheese from separating (and it also happens to be useful in preventing kidney stones!). By first melting several slices of American cheese in the milk we don’t need to make a roux to create a perfectly smooth cheese sauce.

    As for cooking the macaroni, here’s another secret: don’t follow the directions on the box for al dente pasta, because you don’t want the pasta to be al dente, or slightly tough. You want to cook the elbow macaroni for 20 minutes so that it absorbs as much water as possible. This will ensure that the pasta won’t suck up liquid in the cheese sauce when they are combined, and the sauce will maintain a perfectly creamy consistency.      

    If you like my copycat Chick-fil-A mac and cheese recipe, click here for more Chick-fil-A clone recipes.

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I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

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.

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