THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor

Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
Reviews: 1
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A dish traditionally made with pork is redesigned for chicken in this Mexican chain’s limited-time-only sweet-and-spicy variation. All the key ingredients for good al pastor are here: pineapple, lime, achiote, and morita chipotle peppers, which come together to make a bright orange sauce used here for basting marinated chicken thighs.

The TV commercial for Chipotle’s new offering claims the morita peppers are seared and shows wild flames dancing around a pan filled with fresh green and red peppers. That is perhaps not an accurate depiction of the preparation process considering that morita peppers are made by smoking red jalapeños, not green ones. And smoked jalapeños do not look like fresh jalapeños, so I'm not sure what's going on there.

Regardless of the confusing clues in the TV ad, to make my Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor recipe, you'll want to find dry morita peppers, then remove the seeds and toast the peppers in your oven before making the secret sauce. Baste the sauce on your chicken just before it's done cooking, then chop it up and use it to make delicious tacos, burritos, salads, and bowls.

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  • 1/2 cup canned chipotle with adobo sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • ...
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Reviews
Tom
May 5, 2023, 18:13
Wish I could give six stars! This had fantastic flavor and was better than Chipotle. I will be making this again many times whenever we want a burrito or bowl. The pineapple juice wasn’t too strong and gave it just the right balance with the heat and smokiness of the morita peppers. Thank you so much for figuring this one out!

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce

    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 sauce for yourself using my easy Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce copycat 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).

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    You might also like my recipes for Rao's Bolognese sauce and Rao's Meatballs here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    Chipotle Pollo Asado

    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).

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  • Score: 4.50 (votes: 2)
    Rao's Traditional Meatballs

    Tweaking a classic recipe with a few special prep tricks leaked to me by a server was the key to developing this spot-on hack for the famous meatballs from the iconic 125-year-old Italian dining room. With just two locations in the U.S. (Los Angeles and New York), sinking your fork into a fresh meatball at the restaurant requires quite a trip for most people, but my Rao's Traditional Meatballs recipe, refined through multiple batches, will make you a meatball master in your own kitchen, producing ten 5½-ounce meatballs that look and taste like the real thing.

    Fortunately, I could squeeze in a reservation at the Las Vegas Rao’s location a few weeks before it closed its doors forever at Caesar’s Palace in late November 2021. While there, I made sure to ask my server for any information about the recipe, and was informed about the secret two-step process described in this hack to create giant meatballs that are cooked through, but so moist that they practically crumble when cut with a fork.

    Rao’s has shared a meatball recipe in the past, but don’t be fooled. That recipe produces decent meatballs, but they are not the same as what’s served in the restaurant. If you want to make meatballs that taste like the classic original, use my Rao's meatballs recipe below.

    And when they're done, top the meatballs with your favorite marinara or use my hack here to re-create Rao’s famous sauce.

    This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 4.67 (votes: 6)
    Panda Express Chow Mein

    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).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Church's Chicken Original and Spicy Fried Chicken

    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.

    This recipe was my #1 most popular of 2023. Check out the other most popular unlocked recipes of the year: IKEA Swedish Meatballs (#2), Chipotle Guacamole (#3), Subway Cookies (#4), IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chipotle Carne Asada

    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).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 6)
    Olive Garden Lasagna Classico

    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).

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  • Score: 3.00 (votes: 2)
    El Pollo Loco Shredded Beef Birria

    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.

    Pair my El Pollo Shredded Beef Birria copycat recipe below with my copycat recipes for El Pollo Loco avocado salsa, pinto beans, Spanish rice, and bbq black beans.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso

    There are many acceptable ways to formulate good queso, but to make this specific queso the Qdoba way, 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 either 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 copycat 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).

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  • Not rated yet
    Chipotle Guacamole

    In April 2020, restaurant chains in the U.S. closed their dining rooms due to the Covid-19 epidemic and needed a way to stay connected with their customers. Chipotle’s solution was to have corporate chef Chad Brauze “reveal” the chain’s secret recipe for the guacamole on the corporate Instagram account, which was picked up by the news and then re-posted on the Today Show website.

    Chains have shared versions of their secret recipes on news shows in the past, but I’m usually skeptical of the recipes since I’ve rarely found that any of those formulas are the actual restaurant versions. More often than not, one or more ingredients are eliminated or substituted so that your final product is close, but not exact. And that's what Chipotle did.

    Chef Chad's Instagram cooking video from his home kitchen is a good guacamole recipe, but it’s not Chipotle’s guacamole recipe. The formula includes most of the ingredients you would need for a perfect hack—but it’s missing one: lemon juice. According to Chipotle’s website, and cooks at the restaurant, Chipotle adds lemon juice in addition to lime juice to its famous guacamole.

    With this information and a heaping sample of the authentic guac, I tweaked Chef Chad’s formula to make my Chipotle Guacamole copycat recipe more like the real one, which is made fresh several times a day at the restaurant. Even with the additional acid (lemon juice) in the mix to preserve the color, this guacamole is best if eaten within several hours of making it while it’s still bright green.

    This recipe was our #3 most popular of 2023. Check out the other most popular unlocked recipes of the year: Church's Chicken Original and Spicy Fried Chicken (#1), IKEA Swedish Meatballs (#2), Subway Cookies (#4), IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast (#5).

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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. 

    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).

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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. 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).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Maggiano's Famous Rigatoni "D"

    “D” was chef David Di Gregorio’s nickname at the first Maggiano’s, which opened in Chicago, Illinois in 1991, and he’s the guy who developed the best-selling pasta dish on the menu. 

    Maggiano’s Famous Rigatoni “D” is a genuinely great dish that anyone can copy if they use the exclusive top secret techniques revealed here. After many trials and several errors, I finally replicated the amazing creamy marsala sauce by reducing two full bottles of inexpensive marsala wine down to just one-half cup of intensely flavored liquid. The alcohol cooks out, the mushrooms contribute their savory umami goodness, and after about an hour-and-a-half you have the perfect flavoring solution for your cream sauce.     

    The other mushrooms in the dish are served unsliced, so make sure they’re small enough to eat in one bite. Sometimes it’s tough to find 40 small mushrooms, so feel free to use your choice of white (button) or brown (cremini) mushrooms for this recipe. They are the same mushroom species with only minor differences (white mushrooms are a cultivated mutation of the brown ones), so either will work. But, if you have a choice, go with creminis since they tend to have a slightly deeper flavor.

    Try my Maggiano's Rigatoni "D" copycat recipe today, and complete the meal with my Maggiano's Vera's Lemon Cookies recipe here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 9)
    Texas Roadhouse Rolls & Cinnamon Butter

    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).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Cheesecake Factory Orange Chicken

    With delicious versions on the menus at Panda Express, Pei Wei, and P.F. Chang’s, the orange chicken space is certainly competitive (click on the brands for my recipes). That’s why it’s so impressive that The Cheesecake Factory serves up one of the best orange chicken entrées of any chain, including chains that specialize in Chinese food.

    For this easy entrée hack, I’ve included a recipe for breading and frying the chicken yourself, but you may prefer to bake or fry pre-breaded frozen chicken strips or nuggets and toss them in the sauce you make here. The sauce is the big secret in this recipe, and the version I’ve whipped up for you has just the right amount of sweet, sour, and spicy to match the real thing.

    Add some rice and stir-fry vegetables, and you’ll have two large Cheesecake Factory-size entrées with this hack, or you can split it into four more modest portions.   

    Try my Cheesecake Factory Orange Chicken copycat recipe below, and check here for some great dessert ideas.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken

    This popular chain wrangles a wide variety of dishes and cooking styles day after day with consistently high quality. From pasta to burgers to tacos, from salads to pancakes to beautiful cheesecakes for dessert, there is something for everyone at the Cheesecake Factory.

    The diverse menu's Asia-inspired plates include Thai, Korean, and Chinese dishes, but one that consistently stands out is this excellent Mandarin-style spicy chicken entrée, served over your choice of white or brown rice.

    The secret of the great flavor is the sauce, which has now been hacked for you in my Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew recipe below. Plus, I’ll walk you through the process of creating perfect crispy chicken from scratch using juicy chicken tenderloins.

    Alternatively, if you’d like to save time, you can bake up some pre-cooked breaded chicken tenders and focus all your efforts on making the amazing sauce. Tips on that chicken shortcut can be found below in the Tidbits.

    This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    IKEA Swedish Meatballs

    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. 

    This recipe was my #2 most popular of 2023. Check out the other most popular unlocked recipes of the year: Church's Chicken Original and Spicy Fried Chicken (#1), Chipotle Guacamole (#3), Subway Cookies (#4), IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast (#5).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

    Read more
  • Not rated yet
    Applebee's Brew Pub Pretzels & Beer Cheese Dip

    The chain’s popular appetizer brings three secret recipes together in one dish: the pretzels, the beer cheese, and the honey Dijon mustard dip. And I’ve got original hacks for all three formulas that will make enough for lots of bellies.

    Bavarian pretzels are traditionally bathed in a lye solution before they’re baked to give them a dark shiny brown skin. Food-grade lye, when cooked, is safe to eat, but it’s not an ingredient usually found at the corner food store. So, to make my Applebee’s Beer Pub Pretzels recipe more convenient, I’m opting for a baking soda bath to darken these pretzels. They don’t have the same shine as lye-bathed pretzels, but if you use enough baking soda, your pretzels will come out beautifully caramel brown, just like the real thing.

    For my Applebee’s Beer Cheese Dip recipe, I had to come up with a good way to melt white cheddar, which can be tricky since it’s hard to find mild (softer) white cheddar. Most white cheddar I found was either sharp or extra sharp, and when I made a sauce using a roux, the finished product came out much too grainy. On my next attempt, I tried a different approach by melting a chunk of Velveeta Queso Blanco in some milk before adding the shredded white cheddar. Thanks to sodium citrate, a cheese melting aid that’s in Velveeta, the sauce came out smooth as silk, and I was thrilled.

    After your pretzels and beer cheese are done, mix up the easy honey Dijon mustard dipping sauce in a small bowl, and you’re ready to serve a gang of pretzel lovers with 12 Bavarian pretzel sticks and plenty of beer cheese and mustard sauce for dipping.

     Check out more of my cool copycat appetizers here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Chipotle Carnitas

    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).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Domino's Loaded Tots

    Domino’s oven-baked starter, which debuted in early 2023, reveals a great way to transform a boring bag of potato tots into a dish with pizzazz. The pizza chain’s new Loaded Tots are built with a delicious pile of crispy potato tots, topped with cheese, a secret sauce, and other good stuff that I probably should have been stacking on potato tots years ago.

    For my Domino’s Loaded Tots recipe, I picked the two bestsellers of the three versions offered at Domino’s for you to clone: Philly Cheesesteak and Cheddar Bacon. The Philly Cheesesteak version includes onion, green pepper, steak, and Alfredo sauce, and the Bacon Cheddar is topped with crispy crumbled bacon and garlic Parmesan sauce. Which one will you be making?  

    Once you decide, simply arrange a couple of dozen cooked tots on a baking sheet and smother them with the mozzarella/cheddar cheese blend, a few toppings, and the secret sauce hack, then bake for just 8 minutes until it’s melty and magnificent.

    Find more of my Domino's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Pei Wei Wei Better Orange Chicken

    This 220-unit downscaled version of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro targets the lunch crowd with a smaller menu that features bento boxes, bowls, and small plates. Obviously, a clone is needed for this one, stat.

    The name “Wei Better Orange Chicken” is a competitive callout to Panda Express's signature orange chicken, which is made with pre-breaded and frozen chicken. Pei Wei claims its orange chicken is prepared each day from scratch with chicken that is never frozen, so we’ll craft our clone the same way. But rather than assemble the dish in a wok over a high-flame fast stove like they do at the restaurant, we’ll prepare the sauce and chicken separately, then toss them with fresh orange wedges just before serving.

    By the way, Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken goes very well with white or brown rice, so don’t forget to make some.

    This recipe was our #4 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), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Subway Cookies

    The chewy, fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies sold at Subway are baked daily at the sandwich shop with frozen dough pucks provided by Otis Spunkmeyer. So, I guess you could say that this copycat recipe for several of Subway’s most popular cookies is also a clone of several of Otis Spunkmeyer’s most popular cookies.

    Perhaps the biggest secret revealed here is the butter/oil blend. Most cookie recipes call for just softened butter as the fat component, but that can add too much butter flavor. According to the ingredients list for these cookies, they contain a blend of oil and butter, which worked best as a 2-to-1 ratio of butter to oil after baking through a number of test batches. This fat blend helped improve the texture with crispier edges and a chewier middle, and the butter flavor was perfectly muted. Also, just one egg is added here—most cookie recipes like this add two—to make the cookies less cakey.

    Below you'll find my Subway cookies copycat recipes for Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip, and White Chip Macadamia Nut. I'll show you how to form the dough into pucks that can be frozen and either baked right away or saved for several weeks so that you can serve a batch of freshly baked cookies in just 20 minutes, with minimal effort, whenever you like.

    This recipe was my #4 most popular of 2023. Check out the other most popular unlocked recipes of the year: Church's Chicken Original and Spicy Fried Chicken (#1), IKEA Swedish Meatballs (#2), Chipotle Guacamole (#3), IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast (#5).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Jason's Deli Irish Potato Soup

    Traditional Irish potato soup—a simple formula made with potatoes, onions, stock, and cream—gets an upgrade with cheddar cheese, carrots, green onions, and sour cream in Jason’s Deli's delicious take on the classic recipe. These improvements make a great soup that's still easy to make, but it also may be the best-tasting potato soup I’ve ever hacked.

    The secret to this soup recipe is that it starts life as a cheddar cheese sauce, which may worry you if you’ve ever made cheese sauce that wound up “grainy." But that won’t happen here if you're sure to use mild or medium cheddar cheese. Older (sharper) cheddar contains less water and doesn’t melt as well as younger cheese, so the first important step is to choose your cheddar wisely.    

    Also, shred your own cheese. Pre-shredded cheese won’t melt as well, since shredded cheese is usually drier and often dusted with cornstarch to keep the shreds from clumping. For my Jason's Deli Irish Potato Soup recipe below, I highly recommend that you shred your own cheese to get the best results. 

    After an hour or so of simmering, you’ll have eight beautiful bowls of soup, all topped with cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon before serving, just like the real thing.  

    Find more amazing copycat soup recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

    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).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chipotle Garlic Guajillo Steak

    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.

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  • Not rated yet
    McDonald's Chicken McNuggets

    When dippable tempura-battered chicken chunks made their debut at select McDonald’s restaurants in 1981, America couldn’t get enough…literally. Supply chain issues prevented the burger chain from meeting high demand in all markets for many months, and it wasn’t until two years after the McNuggets were first introduced that they were finally available at every McDonald’s in the country.

    The famous finger food was invented by McDonald’s first executive chef, Rene Arend, who discovered that reconstituted chicken blended with flavor enhancers, enrobed with tempura batter, and deep-fried until golden brown, made a simple, portable snack. The chicken was formed into four “B” shapes designed for dipping—the bell, the bow-tie, the ball, and the boot—and served along with child-friendly dipping sauces such as ranch and barbecue, so the breakout finger food product became a huge winner with kids.

    To make a home version that looks and tastes like McNuggets I dissected a real one and discovered that the chicken in the middle is coated twice: once with dry, seasoned breading, and then once more with wet batter before frying. The chicken in McNuggets is puréed not ground, and the best way to prepare it is with a food processor. “Ground” chicken in grocery stores is often puréed, then pushed through a die to look more appealing in the package, similar to how ground beef is presented. For my Chicken McNugget recipe below, it's best to use a home food processor, but if you don’t have one, ground chicken from your butcher will work.

    If I had to identify a secret ingredient in this hack it would be Knorr chicken bouillon powder. It contains many of the same ingredients found in real Chicken McNuggets, so once you get that crucial flavoring component, you’re well on your way to an amazing knockoff of an iconic American food.

    This recipe was our #5 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Not rated yet
    Taco Bell Grilled Cheese Dipping Taco

    Taco Bell chefs worked for two years perfecting the birria-inspired shredded beef introduced nationwide in the summer of 2023 for the chain’s new Grilled Cheese Dipping Taco. According to a company press release, the new beef is slow-braised in spices, then it’s loaded into a white corn tortilla that’s freshly fried each day, with melted cheese inside the taco and more cheese grilled onto the outside.

    For my Taco Bell Grilled Cheese Dipping Taco copycat recipe, you’ll slow-braise the beef like they do at the restaurant, but with a slimmed-down formula that won’t require you to chop vegetables as is called for in most birria recipes. One 2-pound chuck roast is all you’ll need to make enough tender shredded beef for at least 18 tacos. I’ve also got a great copycat formula here for the creamy jalapeno sauce that’s drizzled over the beef once it’s loaded into a freshly fried white corn tortilla.

    After adding the sauce, a 3-cheese blend is added to the taco, more cheese is grilled onto one side of the shell in a hot pan, then it’s served with two sauces for dipping: nacho cheese sauce and the chain’s signature red sauce, which you can make from scratch with the easy recipe I’m including as well so you can get the full flavor effect of the real deal.

    If shredded chicken is your thing, check out my Taco Bell Shredded Chicken Soft Taco copycat recipe here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Yard House Miguel's Queso Dip

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Panda Express SweetFire Chicken Breast

    It’s not a regular menu item at Panda Express, so if the chain’s great SweetFire Chicken Breast isn’t available at a restaurant near you, you can use my Panda Express SweetFire Chicken Breast recipe below to get your fix. 

    I've worked up a simple hack here for the sweet-and-spicy sauce that gets poured over the crispy chicken chunks, and I’m also including a breading technique for perfect bite-size portions of crispy chicken. Add some onions, red bell pepper, and pineapple chunks, and you’ve just made a spot-on copy of the popular limited dish.

    Find more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Pei Wei Pad Thai

    If you’re ranking Pad Thai served at U.S. chains, Pei Wei’s tasty take on the dish comes in at the top. The secret sauce is perfectly sweet, sour, salty, and lightly spicy, and the chicken is moist, tender, and filled with great flavor.

    To duplicate Pei Wei Pad Thai at home, you'll first brine the chicken so it doesn't dry out as white meat tends to do. The secret marinade here includes fish sauce; Thailand's MSG. When soaked in the salty sauce the natural aminos contribute fantastic umami goodness to the chicken, and when you cook it with moist heat as described in the steps below it will come out fork-tender and juicy.

    The noodles at Pei Wei are thin, so grab the skinniest rice noodles on the shelf. Then prepare them for stir fry by steeping them in a bowl of hot water rather than in a pan of boiling water on the stovetop as may be suggested on the package. When they're done, give the noodles a rinse under cold water and they’ll hold until you need them. 

    This hack will make two large meal-size entrées—just like you get at the restaurant—which can easily be split into four more modest side servings. And I've included a bunch of step photos to help you along so you can serve a picture-perfect dish.

    Check out my recipe for Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Marie Callender's Chocolate Satin Pie

    Like the French Silk Pie that took first prize at the 1951 Pillsbury Bake-Off contest, Marie Callender’s Chocolate Satin Pie features a creamy chocolate mouse in an Oreo cookie crust and it's one of the most requested pies on the menu. The pie has become so popular that a frozen version is available in most supermarkets, but I found that version to be smaller and less delicious than the pies you get from the restaurant, so it's the fresh Marie Callender's Chocolate Satin Pie that I'm cloning here with this recipe.

    For the chocolate cookie crust, you'll just need to scrape the filling from 24 Oreo cookies, then grind or pound them down to fine crumbs. After adding butter and baking it, the crust is cooled and then loaded up with the smooth chocolate mousse filling, made with real dark chocolate, cream, and eggs, just like the original. After that, just chill until firm.

    When the filling has set in your refrigerator, top your taste-alike Marie Callender's Chocolate Satin Pie with homemade whipped cream (that recipe is here too), and some chocolate sprinkles, and no one will ever suspect it’s not the real deal.

    Find more of your favorite Marie Callender's recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Cheesecake Factory Chicken Piccata

    Menu Description: “Sautéed chicken breast with lemon sauce, mushrooms, and capers. Served with angel hair pasta.”

    A great chicken piccata doesn’t have to be complicated, and this fantastic take on the lemony dish from the Cheesecake Factory is a perfect example.

    Since the sauce is the key to the great taste of this entrée, I made sure to get a sample on the side for later analysis when I requested my to-go order from the restaurant. While waiting, I asked the server what was in the sauce and she listed some obvious ingredients—lemon, wine, butter, cream—and then she mentioned garlic and shallots. When I got home, I rinsed the sauce through a mesh strainer to discover how much garlic and shallot were in the sauce, but there was no physical evidence of either solid ingredient left behind in the strainer.

    I made a batch of the sauce without garlic and shallot, and it tasted flat. So on the next batch, I added the garlic and shallot back in, then strained out the solid ingredients after they contributed their goodness to the sauce. The result was noticeably better.

    After adding mushrooms and capers to the new lemon sauce, I spooned it over sautéed chicken cutlets and was rewarded with a fantastic homemade version of this amazing dish, which you can now copy at home using my Cheesecake Factory Chicken Piccata recipe below.

    Check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Outback Steakhouse Baked Potato Soup

    Menu Description: “Creamy potato soup topped with melted cheese, bacon, and green onions.”

    It’s not called baked potato soup because the potatoes in it are baked. It’s called baked potato soup because it’s topped with shredded cheese, bacon, and green onion, and it tastes like a loaded baked potato. Other hacky hacks for this recipe miss that point and add over an hour to the preparation process by preheating an oven and baking the potatoes, all while hungry stomachs are growling on the sidelines. My version skips that part by adding the raw potatoes directly into the pot with the other ingredients, where they cook in 20 minutes, and the soup is ready to eat in less time than other recipes take just to get the potatoes done.

    Also, other clones add way too much flour to thicken the soup—¾ cup! Sure, flour is good at thickening, but it doesn’t add any flavor, so I found a better way. For my Outback Baked Potato Soup copycat recipe, I ended up using just a little flour to make the roux, then later thickening the soup mostly with dehydrated potato flakes, which are used to make quick mashed potatoes. The flakes not only do a great job of thickening the soup, but they also add more delicious potato flavor to the pot, just like the original soup.

    Top your finished soup with shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, and green onion, and every spoonful will taste like a fully decked-out baked potato.

    This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Cracker Barrel Meatloaf

    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 copycat 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. 

    Satisfy your Cracker Barrel cravings with more of my copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast

    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.

    This recipe was my #5 most popular of 2023. Check out the other most popular unlocked recipes of the year: Church's Chicken Original and Spicy Fried Chicken (#1), IKEA Swedish Meatballs (#2), Chipotle Guacamole (#3), Subway Cookies (#4).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chick-fil-A Frosted Lemonade

    Chick-fil-A’s popular Frosted Lemonade is a delicious, blended combination of lemonade and the chain’s trademarked Icedream soft serve product. Just like Dairy Queen’s famous soft serve, Icedream looks and tastes like ice cream, but it contains considerably less butterfat since it’s made with milk, rather than cream.

    For my Chick-fil-A Frosted Lemonade recipe though, cream-less ice cream is not a necessity. Regular ice cream works just fine here, although light ice cream, which is usually made with a milk base (Blue Bell Vanilla Light Ice Cream is one example), also makes a great clone.

    Give the fresh lemonade you make here a little time to chill in your freezer before adding it to your blender with the other ingredients. In a matter of seconds, when all the ice is crushed, you’ll have two frosty 16-ounce drinks that taste just like the real deal, but at a mere fraction of the cost.

    Try more of my Chick-fil-A copycat recipes like their famous chicken sandwich here

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  • Not rated yet
    Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue Sauce

    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.

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  • Not rated yet
    P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken

    I'm not sure why it took me so long to clone this dish, considering that it was my daughter's favorite thing to eat at P.F. Chang's when she was a kid. I recently tackled it and created a spot-on copy of the chain's signature sweet-and-sour honey sauce, and in the process found some new intel that improved on my earlier version of the chain's crispy chicken which I had already hacked for a different P.F. Chang's recipe. The dish came together beautifully on the plate, and it cleared the final taste test by earning an enthusiastic thumbs-up from my now-grown little girl.

    Since P.F. Chang’s sells a version of this dish in the freezer aisle of my local grocery store, I was able to improve my chicken batter formula by extracting some good info from the ingredients listed on the product box. Based on this new information, I added more cornstarch to the batter along with corn flour and egg whites for a much better, crispier coating.

    The sauce in my P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken copycat recipe is sweetened with honey and sugar, soured by wine and rice vinegar, and thickened with cornstarch and gelatin powder to create a flavorful finishing glaze that sticks to the crispy chicken like the real thing. In the restaurant, the chicken is served over a bed of fried maifun rice sticks so I’ve included prep notes for that in the Tidbits, but you may prefer to forego that step and serve the chicken over or alongside cooked white or brown rice.

    Check out more of my P.F. Chang's clone recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Rao's Homemade Bolognese Sauce

    The family recipes of Rao’s Italian restaurant have been enjoyed for over 125 years, but it’s only been since 1992 (starting with the marinara sauce) that the chain has been selling the ultra-popular bottled sauces under the Rao’s Homemade label, which is on track to become a billion-dollar company.

    One of the many popular sauces now available from Rao’s Homemade is the Bolognese sauce, a blend of tomatoes, veggies, crumbled meatballs, and pancetta. Like my Rao’s Marinara Sauce clone recipe, this hack starts with canned San Marzano tomatoes with the famous red, white, and green San Marzano label. Those are true San Marzano tomatoes grown in the San Marzano region of Italy, and they are superior to other San Marzano-style canned tomatoes in my local grocery stores, many of which aren’t from Italy.

    I would suspect that the meatballs crumbled into Rao’s Bolognese sauce are the famous Rao’s meatballs, which Rao’s sells in the restaurants and frozen food aisles, and which I hacked here. For my Rao’s Bolognese Sauce recipe, you’ll need ½ cup of crumbled meatballs using either this top secret recipe, or a bag of frozen Italian meatballs found in most stores. Obviously, my Rao’s meatball hack will give you the best ingredients for this recipe, but I found that the frozen meatballs still work great, as long as they’re good meatballs. This sauce will only be as good as the meatballs you choose.

    The slow simmer marries the flavors, and after about an hour you’ll have a great Bolognese to spoon over tagliatelle, tortellini, gnocchi, or whatever you want.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 7)
    Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos

    Menu Description: “A deliciously different way to taco. Tangy grilled chicken, sweet Asian chile sauce and dumpling sauce stuffed into crispy wonton shells and topped with a crunchy slaw and cilantro mix.”

    Re-creating Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos requires cloning four parts; none of which are difficult: grilled chicken, coleslaw, secret dumpling sauce, and the crispy wonton shell to hold it all together. For the chicken, we’ll grill a couple of thighs and chop them up. Then we’ll use bottled sweet chili sauce—usually found in your grocery store where Asian foods are parked—to punch up the flavor.

    The coleslaw is easy with a dressing that has only five ingredients, and it’s best when it has some time to sit and marinate. You can slice the cabbage yourself, but a coleslaw kit that’s a combo of sliced cabbage and shredded carrots is a big time-saver. Just measure out 4 cups of the cabbage blend and mix it with the minced cilantro and dressing.  

    Wonton taco shells are not a thing you can usually find in stores, so we’ll make our own using wonton wrappers and a skillet of hot oil. When the oil is hot, add a wonton wrapper and use tongs to fold it over diagonally as it fries until it’s crispy on both sides. It takes less than a minute to fry each wonton taco shell, and you’ll get better as you go. Just be sure to leave plenty of room in the shell for the delicious fillings to come.

    Try my Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos recipe below, and find more copycat recipes from Applebee's here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream

    If I told you that Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream was formulated generations ago on a dairy farm in the rolling hills of Denmark, you’d probably believe me. It sounds true because that’s precisely what Rueben Mattus wanted you to think when he created his new ice cream brand in 1960. In the Bronx in New York City.

    Mattus used a marketing technique called “foreign branding.” To set his brand apart from others, Mattus created the impression that his new ice cream was an exotic, special recipe made with hard-to-obtain ingredients. To come up with the name, Mattus sat at his kitchen table in the mornings blurting out non-sensical words until he eventually landed on one that sounded Danish: Häagen-Dazs. The word is meaningless, it’s not Dutch, and it even includes an umlaut, which doesn’t exist in the Danish alphabet.

    While the name may suggest a fancy, complicated recipe for ice cream, the Häagen-Dazs label is one of the simplest and cleanest you'll find for any major ice cream brand. There are just five very ordinary ingredients and nothing else: cream, skim milk, cane sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract. And those will be the ingredients we’ll use in our hack.

    To create my Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream copycat recipe, I played with the ratios through many batches until I finally honed in on the right combination for a perfect French vanilla ice cream, prepared like custard, but with less egg, and just enough butterfat to re-create the smooth mouthfeel of the original.

    Cook your ice cream base with the simple instructions, then get it cold and into an ice cream maker. After 30 minutes of churning grab a spoon, because you'll have a heaping quart of the best homemade ice cream you’ve ever tasted, and it's best when served a little soft.

    Try using your freshly made ice cream in one of my famous shake recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions

    For many years this entrée has been a top menu choice at Maggiano's, the 54-unit Italian chain from Brinker, the same company that operates Chili’s Grill & Bar. The $30 restaurant dish consists of three 2½-ounce tenderloin steaks, swimming in a fantastic balsamic cream sauce with sliced portabello mushrooms—but a home version is only six easy steps away, and it won't hit you in the wallet as hard as the pricey original.

    Cracking this dish required a perfect hack of the balsamic cream sauce, and that came quickly after obtaining some very reliable information from my incredibly helpful server/informant at a Las Vegas Maggiano’s. Let’s call him Skippy.

    According to Skippy, the balsamic cream sauce is as simple as mixing a sweet balsamic glaze with the chain’s creamy Alfredo sauce. So, I first got a sample of Maggiano’s Alfredo sauce and figured out how to replicate it. Once that was done, I measured increments of balsamic glaze into the Alfredo sauce until the color and flavor matched the original. The rest of the recipe was easy.

    My recipe will make two servings and includes preparation for the tenderloins and sauce. If you’d like to complete the dish the way it’s served at the restaurant (as in the photo), add some garlic mashed potatoes on the side, using my hack for Olive Garden Garlic Mashed Potatoes.   

    Try my Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions copycat recipe below, find more of my Maggiano's copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak

    It finally happened. I recently created a new clone recipe for Cracker Barrel's Country Fried Steak only to realize much later that I had already cloned it eight years before in my book, Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step. But I'm okay with the unplanned re-do because the final result turned out to be a more accurate re-creation, making several improvements on my first hack from many moons ago. 

    Most chicken-fried steak recipes, including my previous Cracker Barrel Country Fried Steak copycat recipe, call for cube steak—round steak that’s been scored in a butcher’s tenderizer—which isn’t always as tender as you may like it to be. Connective tissue that remains intact will make some bites too chewy, yet if the steak is over-tenderized it will fall apart when cooked.

    To ensure that every bite is perfectly tender, my solution is to avoid cube steak altogether and start with lean ground beef, as with recipes for Salisbury steak or Hamburg steak. Forming the ground beef into steaks and then freezing them so they hold together makes the breading and cooking process easy, and when served, every bite of the finished product is guaranteed to be fork-tender. 

    Of course, this iconic clone recipe wouldn’t be complete without a spot-on hack for the famous sawmill gravy that gets spooned over the top. I’m including a fresh hack for the gravy that improves on my original recipe, and it's super easy to make with just six ingredients.

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel recipes here.

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    Chipotle Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa

    This is my go-to salsa at Chipotle, so it was only a matter of time before I tackled a hack for the famous secret recipe. And now that I can make it at home with just 7 ingredients and about 20 minutes of prep, this salsa replaces several grocery store brands I was previously loyal to.

    The process for my Chipotle red chili Salsa recipe is simple: roast tomatillos, Fresno peppers, and garlic under your broiler for a few minutes, then purée everything in a blender with vinegar and seasoning. The trick is to not over-blend the mixture. Once the tomatillos are added, purée the mixture until no chunks of tomatillo are visible, but stop blending while you can still see tomatillo seeds in the sauce.

    Add this great-tasting salsa to anything that needs a hit of hotness—tacos, burritos, salads, and bowls. Just know that it's a hack of Chipotle’s spiciest salsa, so be ready for the boom.

    You could also use this great salsa on Chipotle's famous barbacoa, carnitas, carne asada, or pollo asado. Find all of those recipes and more here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Chick-fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich

    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!

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    Gino's East Deep Dish Pizza

    It's rumored that the secret ingredient in the signature crust of a Gino’s East Deep Dish Pizza is cornmeal, but that suspicion is incorrect. The dough’s yellow color makes it looks like cornbread, and it has a softer quality than most doughs, but these qualities come from other not-so-secret ingredients that have nothing to do with corn.

    When three friends—Sam Levine, Fred Bartoli, and George Loverde—opened their pizza joint just off the Miracle Mile in Chicago, Illinois in 1966, they hired talented pizza chef Alice Mae Redmond, who came up with a special dough recipe that included a "secret" conditioner. Today, Gino's ships boxes of frozen pizzas across the country and is required by law to list all the ingredients on the package. So, of course, I ordered a few of those pizzas and discovered that the "secret" dough additive is cream of tartar, and the dough's yellow tint comes from beta-carotene, a natural source of yellow. On those boxes, I also discovered zero cornmeal. 

    For a great deep dish crust at home, you'll need to start your dough 1 to 2 days in advance. A slow, chilled rise will improve the quality and taste of your finished crust to more closely match the characteristics of the real thing. I include cream of tartar here, just like in the original dough, and simple yellow food coloring to add the proper tint.

    My Gino's East Deep Dish Pizza recipe makes a plain cheese pizza, but if you want toppings (sausage, pepperoni, bacon, onions, mushrooms, peppers, etc.), arrange them on top of the cheese before applying the sauce.

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    Panda Express Firecracker Chicken Breast

    It’s not always on the menu at the huge Chinese take-out chain, but when this spicy special offering makes a limited-time-only appearance, I’m there. When it’s not on the menu, no problem, you can use my Panda Express Firecracker Chicken copycat recipe and make it at home in no time. 

    This dish owes its great flavor to black bean paste, which is full of umami savoriness, just like soy sauce, so it enhances the taste of everything around it. You'll have a good laugh when you notice most recipes attempt to hack this dish with canned black beans. That's ridiculous, since black bean paste is a traditional Asian flavoring ingredient made with fermented soybeans, not with black beans like the kind you get in your burrito at Chipotle.

    Plan ahead to brine your chicken breast for a couple of hours so that it's moist and flavorful. This is an important step for a spot-on hack.

    Find more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 6)
    Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese

    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).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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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 copycat recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

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