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El Pollo Loco BBQ Black Beans copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

El Pollo Loco BBQ Black Beans

Score: 4.54 (votes: 13)
Reviews: 13
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If you like traditional BBQ beans, you've got to love El Pollo Loco's sweet-and-spicy variation with black beans. The light smokiness in this clone comes from bacon fat, then cayenne pepper and green chiles give the beans a Southwestern flavor that's perfect on burritos or as a delicious side. 

The prep for my El Pollo Loco BBQ black beans recipe is a breezer, since you conveniently combine two 15-ounce cans of black beans with the other secret ingredients in a saucepan and just let it simmer for an hour or so. When the beans are soft and the mixture is thick, on with the eating.

Find more famous El Pollo Loco recipes here.

Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Two 15-ounce cans black beans (with liquid)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
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Reviews
Howard Turner
Aug 19, 2014, 22:00
This recipe was a real eye opener! Here in the UK, we don't see many (any) BBQ black bean recipes and boy does this live up to the reviews. I've made these countless times now and it always comes out the same, although I generally use a high simmer heat for the 90 minutes. The point is to boil off the liquid to concentrate the flavours. So to those who've failed to make this recipe just needed to keep the heat going!
DeNise
Nov 3, 2007, 22:00
This is one of my daughters favorite dishes at this restr. Yes it calls for a lot of water, I worried about that but followed the recipe. It DOES boil down and ticken up. They were right on to the restr. beans!! Everyone who eats them says they are wonderful. I use them now often instead of re-fried beans. Excellent!!!

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  • Score: 4.73 (votes: 15)
    El Pollo Loco Flame-Broiled Chicken

    El Pollo Loco, or "The Crazy Chicken," has been growing like mad since it crossed over the border into the United States from Mexico. Francisco Ochoa unknowingly started a food phenomenon internacional in 1975 when he took a family recipe for chicken marinade and opened a small roadside restaurante in Gusave, Mexico. He soon had 90 stores in 20 cities throughout Mexico. The first El Pollo Loco in the United States opened in Los Angeles in December 1980 and was an immediate success. It was only three years later that Ochoa got the attention of bigwigs at Dennys, Inc., who offered him $11.3 million for his U.S. operations. Ochoa took the deal, and El Pollo Loco grew from 17 to more than 200 outlets over the following decade.

    Pair my El Pollo Loco Flame Broiled Chicken recipe below with my copycat recipes for El Pollo Loco avocado salsa, pinto beans, Spanish rice, and bbq black beans.

    Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 13)
    El Pollo Loco Avocado Salsa

    This creamy green sauce is available at the salsa bar at each of the 389 El Pollo Loco outlets located throughout the western United States, and folks are going crazy over it. The problem is, you can only get it in small quantities at the restaurant, and once you taste a little there you're going to want a lot more of it at home. Use a food processor to mix this one up (everything but the cilantro and onion goes in there) and prepare for a delicious, spicy concoction that you can pour over your favorite homemade Mexican-style dishes, from taco salads to fajitas. Big props go out to Pancho Ochoa, who opened his first roadside chicken stand in Guasave, Mexico in 1975. Today Pancho's El Pollo Loco is the number one quick-service, flame-broiled chicken chain in America.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.77 (votes: 22)
    El Pollo Loco Creamy Cilantro Dressing

    Sliced chicken breast, romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, tortilla strips, and cotija cheese make up El Pollo Loco's Caesar Salad, but it is the fantastic creamy cilantro dressing recipe that gets the raves. Simply combine the basic ingredients in my El Pollo Loco Creamy Cilantro Dressing recipe in a blender, and you'll soon have more than one cup of the delicious dressing cloned and ready to pour over any of your home salad creations.

    You can also make El Pollo Loco Flame Broiled Chicken, pinto beans, Spanish rice and more. Find my copycat recipes here

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.78 (votes: 18)
    Chipotle Barbacoa Burrito

    Menu Description: "Spicy, shredded beef, braised with our own chipotle adobo, cumin, cloves, garlic and oregano."
     
    The original Mexican dish barbacoa was traditionally prepared by cooking almost any kind of meat goat, fish, chicken, or cow cheek meat, to name just a few, in a pit covered with leaves over low heat for many hours, until tender. When the dish made its way into the United States via Texas the word transformed into "barbecue" and the preparation changed to incorporate above-ground techniques such as smoking and grilling.

    The good news is that we can re-create the beef barbacoa that Chipotle has made popular on its ginormous burritos without digging any holes in our backyard or tracking down a local source for fresh cow faces. After braising about 30 pounds of chuck roasts, I finally discovered the perfect Chipotle Mexican Grill barbacoa burrito copycat recipe with a taste-alike adobo sauce that fills your roast with flavor as it slowly cooks to a fork-tender delicacy on your stovetop over 5 to 6 hours.

    Part of the secret for great adobo sauce is toasting whole cumin seeds and cloves and then grinding them in a coffee grinder (measure the spices after grinding them). Since the braising process takes so long, start early in the day and get ready for a big dinner, because I've also included clones here for Chipotle's pico de gallo, pinto beans, and delicious cilantro-lime rice to make your burritos complete. You can add your choice of cheese, plus guacamole and sour cream for a super-deluxe clone version. 

    If you prefer chicken burritos, head on over to my clone recipe for Qdoba Grilled Adobo Chicken

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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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.

    Find more of your favorite Panda Express copycat recipes like fried rice and firecracker chicken here.

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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 Rao's Marinara sauce for yourself using this new and very easy recipe.

    The current co-owner of Rao’s, Frank Pellegrino Jr., told Bon Appetit in 2015 that the famous marinara sauce was created by his grandmother many years ago, and the sauce you buy in stores is the same recipe served in his restaurants. The ingredients are common, but correctly choosing the main ingredient—tomatoes—is important. Try to find San Marzano-style whole canned tomatoes, preferably from Italy. They are a little more expensive than typical canned tomatoes, but they will give you some great sauce.

    After 30 minutes of cooking, you’ll end up with about the same amount of sauce as in a large jar of the real thing. Your version will likely be just a little bit brighter and better than the bottled stuff, thanks to the fresh ingredients. But now you can eat it anytime you want, with no reservations, at a table you own.

    This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Olive Garden Lasagna Classico (#2), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).

    You might also like my #1 recipe of 2019, Texas Roadhouse Rolls.

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  • Score: 4.97 (votes: 33)
    P.F. Chang's Mongolian Beef

    Menu Description: "Quickly-cooked steak with scallions and garlic."

    Beef lovers go crazy over this one at P.F. Chang's. Flank steak is cut into bite-sized chunks against the grain, then it's lightly dusted with potato starch, flash-fried in oil, and doused with an amazing sweet soy garlic sauce. The beef comes out tender as can be, and the simple sauce sings to your taste buds. 

    I designed my P.F. Chang's Mongolian Beef recipe using a wok, but if you don't have one, a sauté pan will suffice. You may need to add more oil to the pan to cover the beef in the flash-frying step. 

    P. F. Chang's secret sauce is what makes this dish so good, and it's versatile. If you don't dig beef, you can substitute with chicken. Or you can brush it on grilled salmon.

    I've cloned some of the best dishes from P.F. Chang's. Click here to see if I coped your favorite.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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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: 4.38 (votes: 8)
    Olive Garden Breadsticks

    Anyone who loves Olive Garden is probably also a big fan of the bottomless basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks served before each meal at the huge Italian casual chain. My guess is that the breadsticks are proofed, and then sent to each restaurant where they are baked until golden brown, brushed with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt. Getting the bread just right for a good Olive Garden breadstick recipe was tricky—I tried several different amounts of yeast in all-purpose flour, but then settled on bread flour to give these breadsticks the same chewy bite as the originals. The two-stage rising process is also a crucial step in this much requested homemade Olive Garden breadstick recipe. Also check out our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    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: 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 your copycat Chipotle carne asada across the grain and use it in burritos, tacos, bowls, or as a Southwest-style salad topper.

    Click here for more of my Chipotle copycat recipes. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 8)
    P.F. Chang's Chang's Spicy Chicken

    Menu Description: "Lightly-dusted, stir-fried in a sweet Szechwan sauce."

    The delicious sweet-and-spicy secret sauce is what makes this dish one of P. F. Chang's top picks. Once the sauce is finished, all you have to do is sauté your chicken and combine. You'll want to cook up some white or brown rice, like at the restaurant. If you can't find straight chili sauce for my P.F. Chang's spicy chicken recipe, the more common chili sauce with garlic in it will work just as well.

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

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 8)
    Taco Bell Mexican Pizza

    Hope your crew is hungry because this recipe makes four Mexican Pizzas like those served at the Bell: seasoned ground beef and refried beans are sandwiched between two crispy flour tortillas, topped with melted cheddar cheese, salsa, diced tomato, and chopped green onion. Slice it like a pizza and serve it with a smile. Prepare to blow your diners away with my Taco Bell Mexican pizza recipe if they're at all familiar with the real thing.

    Make some Diablo, hot, or mild sauce for that authentic Taco Bell experience.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.96 (votes: 24)
    Boston Market Meatloaf

    In the early 90's Boston Chicken was rockin' it. The home meal replacement chain's stock was soaring and the lines were filled with hungry customers waiting to sink their teeth into a serving of the chain's delicious rotisserie chicken. The chain was so successful with chicken, the company quickly decided it was time to introduce other entrée selections, the first of which was a delicious barbecue sauce-covered ground sirloin meatloaf. 

    Offering the other entrées presented the company with a dilemma: what to do about the name. The bigwigs decided it was time to change the name to Boston Market, to reflect a wider menu. That meant replacing signs on hundreds of units and retooling the marketing campaigns. That name change, plus rapid expansion of the chain and growth of other similar home-style meal concepts, sent the company into a tailspin. By 1988, Boston Market's goose was cooked, and the company filed for bankruptcy. Soon McDonald's stepped in to purchase the company, with the idea of closing many of the stores for good, and slapping Golden Arches on the rest. But that plan was scrapped when, after selling many of the under-performing Boston Markets, the chain began to fly once again.  Within a year of the acquisition Boston Market was profitable, and those meals with the home-cooked taste are still being served at over 700 Boston Market restaurants across the country.

    Use my Boston Market Meatloaf recipe below to copy the same flavor of that first non-chicken dish, a delicious barbecue sauce-covered ground sirloin meatloaf. You might also like to try my Boston Market side-dish recipes here.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Cheesecake Factory Key Lime Cheesecake

    Just 15 minutes after the very first Cheesecake Factory opened in Beverly Hills back in 1978, the lines began forming. These guys know how to make a dang good cheesecake! 

    Here's my recipe for Cheesecake Factory's Key Lime Cheesecake. A yummy twist on Key lime pie. Since Key limes and Key lime juice can be hard to find, I decided to use standard lime juice, which can be purchased bottled or squeezed fresh. If you can find Key lime juice, bear in mind that Key limes are more tart, so you'll need only half as much juice. You'll also need a springform pan. If you don't have one, you can use two 9-inch pie pans and make two smaller cheesecakes.

    Try more of my Cheesecake Factory hacks here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Marsala

    Menu Description: “Creamy marsala wine sauce with mushrooms over grilled chicken breasts, stuffed with Italian cheeses and sundried tomatoes. Served with garlic mashed potatoes.”

    My Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Marsala recipe includes a marsala sauce that even marsala sauce haters will like. My wife is one of those haters, but when she tried this sauce, her eyes lit up, and she begged for more. That’s great, now I won’t have to eat alone.

    Not only is Olive Garden's delicious marsala sauce hacked here (and it’s easy to make), you’ll also get the copycat recipe for the chain's awesome Italian cheese stuffing that goes between the two pan-cooked chicken fillets. Build it, sauce it, serve it. The presentation is awesome, and the flavor will soothe your soul.

    Try this dish paired with my recent clone of Olive Garden’s Garlic Mashed Potatoes for the complete Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Marsala experience.

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  • Score: 4.58 (votes: 43)
    Buffalo Wild Wings Buffalo Wings and Sauces

    Menu Description: "Here they are in all their lip-smacking, award-winning glory: Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings spun in your favorite signature sauce."

    Since Buffalo, New York was too far away, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery satisfied their overwhelming craving in 1981 by opening a spicy chicken wing restaurant close to home in Kent, Ohio. With signature sauces and a festive atmosphere, the chain has now evolved from a college campus sports bar with wings to a family restaurant with over 300 units. While frying chicken wings is no real secret—simply drop them in hot shortening for about 10 minutes—the delicious spicy sauces make the wings special. There are 12 varieties of sauce available to coat your crispy chicken parts at the chain, and I'm presenting clones for the more traditional flavors. These sauces are very thick, almost like dressing or dip, so we'll use an emulsifying technique that will ensure a creamy final product where the oil won't separate from the other ingredients. Here is the chicken wing cooking and coating technique, followed by clones for the most popular sauces: Spicy Garlic, Medium and Hot. The sauce recipes might look the same at first, but each has slight variations make your sauce hotter or milder by adjusting the level of cayenne pepper. You can find Frank's pepper sauce by the other hot sauces in your market. If you can't find that brand, you can also use Crystal Louisiana hot sauce.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.78 (votes: 27)
    Chili's Chicken Enchilada Soup

    Chili's Chicken Enchilada soup happens to be one of the chains most raved-about items, and the subject of many a recipe search here on the site. Part of the secret in crafting your clone is the addition of masa harina—a corn flour that you'll find in your supermarket near the other flours, or where all the Mexican foodstuffs are stocked.

    Complete your meal with more of my Chili's copycat recipes here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 6)
    Baja Fresh Salsa Baja

    You won't find freezers, can openers, or microwave ovens at this national Mexican food chain. Since 1990 Baja Fresh has been serving up great food, made fresh with each order. As you're waiting for your food to come out, that's when you hit up the salsa bar, where you'll find several varieties of delicious fresh salsa, from hot to mild, ready to be spooned into little tubs that you can take to your table or to your car. One of the most popular selections is called Salsa Baja—its medium spiciness, smoky flavor, and deep black color make the salsa unique and mysterious. That is, until now, since I've got a Top Secret formula for you right here. But the recipe wasn't as easy to create as I first thought. I figured the tomatoes would have to be extremely blackened over a hot grill, but I wasn't sure how to get them dark enough to turn the salsa black without the tomatoes getting all mushy and falling apart on the barbecue.

    So, I went back to Baja Fresh before they opened to peer through the window to see if I could catch some hot salsa production action. I waited and waited. After several hours as the lunch rush was beginning to wind down and no fresh salsa was in the pipeline, it was time for extreme measures to get things moving. I went in and ordered 30 tubs of Salsa Baja to go, and that did it. I ended up with a big bag filled with 2 gallons of salsa (thankfully they poured those 8-ounce portions into bigger bowls), and the restaurant went immediately into "salsa red alert" to replenished the now-dwindling salsa reserve. It was perfect. As I was grabbing my bag of salsa, a dude come out from the kitchen with a huge box of tomatoes and placed them all on the grill. I ordered a giant Diet Pepsi and parked myself at a close table to watch the process. That's when I discovered the secret. For super-charred tomatoes they start with firm, chilled tomatoes, that aren't too big or too ripe. I also found out that the tomatoes must start roasting on the grill with the stem-side down. Crafting the rest of my Baja Fresh Salsa Baja recipe was simple...

    Find more cool dips and salsa recipes here.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 7)
    Texas Roadhouse Rolls

    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: 3)
    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).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Taco Bell Chalupa Supreme

    I’m not sure when it happened, but it appears Taco Bell recently changed its seasoned beef recipe. I hacked the recipe several years ago for the book TSR Step-by-Step, and I recall the recipe had much more oat filler, so that’s how I cloned it. Taco Bell came under fire in 2011 for the significant amount of oats in the recipe that the chain was listing as “spices,” and after that, Taco Bell was more transparent about ingredients. But somewhere along the way it appears the company tweaked the recipe to include less filler and more flavor, so I decided I had to create a new Top Secret Recipe for the beef.

    My Taco Bell Chalupa Supreme recipe makes a duplicate of the beef currently served at Taco Bell. If you want to turn it into a Chalupa—which the restaurant makes by deep frying the flatbread used for Gorditas—the instructions are here. But you can also use this new, improved beef hack for anything you’re copying, whether it's tacos, burritos, Enchiritos, Mexican Pizzas, or a big pile of nachos.

    The secret ingredient in our hack is Knorr tomato bouillon. This flavor powder adds many ingredients found in the original recipe and provides the umami savoriness that’s required for a spot-on clone of the famous seasoned ground beef. To get the right flavor, you need to find "Knorr Tomato Bouillon with Chicken Flavor" powder, in a jar. Not the bouillon cubes.

    Smother your creation in mild, hot or diablo sauce. Try all my Taco Bell copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    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 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).

    And browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 10)
    Cheesecake Factory Thai Lettuce Wraps

    Menu Description: "Create your own Thai lettuce rolls! Satay chicken strips, carrots, bean sprouts, coconut curry noodles and lettuce leaves with three delicious spicy Thai sauces—peanut, sweet red chili and tamarind-cashew."

    Cheesecake Factory's #1 appetizer is finally fauxed, and I've got every secret component for an impressive knockoff here in one recipe: delicious duplicates of the three amazing dipping sauces, perfect sweet-and-sour cucumber slices, and an easy coconut curry marinade clone for the chicken that also doubles as a sauce for the noodles. 

    Get ready to blow everyone away when you unveil this build-it-yourself Cheesecake Factory Thai Lettuce wraps recipe at the table. The final dish will serve twice as many people as the restaurant version, and you'll most likely have enough leftover sauces to serve it again if you want to get more chicken.

    Click here for more amazing Cheesecake Factory copycat recipes.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.81 (votes: 47)
    Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls

    In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.

    Make delicious homemade Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls at home with my recipe below, or try my improved recipe here, which I perfected with the help of Cinnabon HQ.

    Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.71 (votes: 7)
    Panda Express Mandarin (Bourbon) Chicken

    Here's a dish from a rapidly growing Chinese food chain that should satisfy anyone who loves the famous marinated bourbon chicken found in food courts across America. The sauce is the whole thing here, and it's quick to make using my Panda Express Mandarin Chicken recipe below. You'll make the sauce right on your stove-top, then fire up the barbecue or indoor grill for the chicken. Then, whip up a little white rice to serve on the side. 

    Panda Express - now 370 restaurants strong - is the fastest-growing Asian food chain in the world. You'll find these tasty little quick-service food outlets in supermarkets, casinos, sports arenas, college campuses, and malls across the country passing out free samples for the asking. 

    You might also want try my Panda Express Honey Walnut Shrimp Recipe.

    Source: "Even More Top Secret Recipes" by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.00 (votes: 1)
    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, this is the copycat recipe you want.

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    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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  • Not rated yet
    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 thorough menu's Asia-inspired plates include Thai, Korean, and Chinese dishes, but one that consistently stands out is this excellent Mandarin-style spicy chicken entrée, served over your choice of white or brown rice.

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

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

    If you like this recipe for Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew chicken, you'll want to check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 9)
    Cheesecake Factory Miso Salmon

    Menu Description: "Fresh salmon marinated in miso and baked. Served with a delicious miso sauce, snow peas and white rice."

    Presented beautifully on top of white rice and surrounded by sake butter sauce is a baked salmon fillet that tastes like candy. Miso is a salty fermented soy bean paste that combines well with sweet brown sugar and sake for a syrupy marinade that makes salmon taste so good that even salmon haters will devour it. Look for red miso in a refrigerator in your market. You can also find it in Asian markets and some health food stores. After cooking up your marinade, you should allow the salmon fillets to soak in it for up to six hours, so start this dish early in the day and plan to scarf out at dinnertime. The cool presentation starts by pressing cooked rice into a lightly greased 5-inch ramekin or small cake pan, and then turning it out onto the center of your serving plate. Add a moat of sake reduction sauce, a few steamed snow pea pods, and you will have re-created a dish that looks and tastes exactly like the number one fish dish at The Factory.

    Click here for more of your favorite recipes from Cheesecake Factory.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
     

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  • Score: 4.91 (votes: 11)
    HoneyBaked Ham Glaze

    By sneaking around to the back of a HoneyBaked Ham store I witnessed the glazing process through an open door. The hams are delivered to each of the 300 HoneyBaked outlets already smoked, but without the glaze. It is only when the ham gets to your local HoneyBaked store that a special machine thin-slices the tender meat in a spiral fashion around the bone. Then, one at a time, each ham is then coated with the glaze—a blend that is similar to what might be used to make pumpkin pie. This sweet coating is then caramelized with a blowtorch by hand until the glaze bubbles and melts, turning golden brown. If needed, more of the coating is added to the HoneyBaked Glazed Ham, and the blowtorch is fired up until the glaze is just right. It's this careful process that turns the same size ham that costs 20 dollars in a supermarket into one that customers gladly shell out 3 to 4 times as much to share during the holiday season.

    For this HoneyBaked Ham glaze copycat recipe, we will re-create the glaze that you can apply to a smoked/cooked bone-in ham of your choice. Look for a ham that is pre-sliced. Otherwise you'll have to slice it yourself with a sharp knife, then the glaze will be applied. To get the coating just right you must use a blowtorch. Get the kind that is used for creme brulee from almost any kitchen supply store. They're usually pretty cheap. And don't worry—I didn't leave out an ingredient. No honey is necessary to re-create this flavorful glaze.

    Now, what's for dessert?

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.59 (votes: 51)
    Soup Nazi's Mexican Chicken Chili

    In Zagat's 1995 New York City Restaurant Survey, Le Cirque 2000, one of the city's most upscale restaurants, received a 25 rating out of a possible 30. In the same guide, Al "The Soup Nazi" Yeganeh's Soup Kitchen International scored an impressive 27. That put the Soup Nazi's eatery in 14th place among the city's best restaurants for that year.

    It was common to see lines stretching around the corner and down the block as hungry patrons waited for their cup of one of five daily hot soup selections. Most of the selections changed every day, but of the three days that I was there, the Soup Nazi's Mexican Chicken Chili recipe was always on the menu. The first two days, it was sold out before I got to the front of the line. But on the last day, I got lucky: "One extra-large Mexican Chicken Chili, please." Hand over money, move to the extreme left. 

    Here is my recipe for what has become one of the Soup Nazi's most popular culinary masterpieces. If you like, you can substitute turkey breast for the chicken to make turkey chili, which was the soup George Costanza ordered on the show.

    Update 1/9/17: Replace the 10 cups of water with 8 cups of chicken broth for a shorter simmer time and better flavor. I also like using El Pato tomato sauce (recipe calls for 1/2 cup) for a bit more heat. 

    Find more of my Soup Nazi hacks here.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    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.

    You might also like my clone recipe for Qdoba Grilled Adobo Chicken.

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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: 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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    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 all of it together. For the chicken, we’ll grill a couple of thighs and chop them up. Then we’ll use bottled sweet chili sauce—usually found in your grocery store where Asian foods are parked—to punch up the flavor.

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

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

    I've cloned a lot of dishes from Applebee's. See if I hacked your favorites here

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  • Not rated yet
    Chipotle Queso Blanco

    Social media shredded Chipotle’s first queso dip which debuted in 2017, calling it “gritty,” “bland,” “watered-down,” and “a crime against cheese.” Chipotle was in desperate need of a re-do.

    In early 2020, after months and months of test-marketing an improved cheesy dip recipe in Dallas, Detroit, and San Diego, the Mexican chain introduced Queso Blanco to the entire U.S., and this time the reviews were much better.

    Chipotle claims their new formula contains exactly 13 ingredients, including 2 kinds of cheese and 3 different chile peppers. With cornstarch as the thickening agent, the preparation starts by making a white sauce with milk and cream. When the cheese is fully melted and smooth, the veggies go in, and in about 10 minutes it’s ready to serve.

    Use Chipotle Queso as a dip with tortilla chips or as a topping on your copycat Chipotle carne asada or carnitas tacos and barbacoa burritos. Find all my Chipotle recipes here

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  • Not rated yet
    Panera Bread Creamy Tomato Soup

    It’s a good thing that Panera’s delicious tomato soup is made with pear tomatoes so we can use canned San Marzano-style tomatoes for a quick and easy hack, and we’ll pump up the tomato flavor with added tomato paste.

    Other recipes will call for some form of broth here, but the broth is unnecessary, and it's not in the real thing so a good clone recipe wouldn't include it. There is plenty of flavorful liquid in the canned tomatoes, and we’ll sculpt the final flavor with herbs and spices, sugar, and lemon juice.

    You can buy premade croutons to use on top of your soup, but I’ve also included an easy hack to make black pepper croutons from focaccia or ciabatta bread, just like those you get at the restaurant. 

    Check here for more of my Panera Bread copycat recipes. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso

    There are many acceptable ways to formulate good queso, but to make this specific queso the ingredients must be correct, and most copycat recipes seem to get it wrong. A few recipes get one of the peppers and two of the cheeses right, but pretty much every recipe out there is a bit of a mess that I will now save you from.

    Quesos can be made with a variety of cheeses that include queso fresco, asadero, and Muenster, but this particular queso includes a cheese you probably didn’t expect: Swiss. That cheese is slow to melt, so we’ll shred it first, along with the Jack. And you won't need to gum up the queso with flour or cornstarch by making a roux because the white American cheese in the mix contains sodium citrate or sodium phosphate—additives that help the cheese melt smoothly and stay that way. 

    Authors of recipes that call for tomatoes in this dish haven’t looked closely. Those are red bell peppers and they are roasted, peeled, and seeded along with the poblano and jalapenos 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 Qdoba 3-cheese 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.

    Find my recipes for Qdoba Adobo Chicken and Habanero Salsa here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    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).

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  • Not rated yet
    Qdoba Grilled Adobo Chicken

    The 729-unit chain did not start its life as Qdoba. When the Mexican food chain was first founded by Robert Miller and Anthony Hauser in Denver, Colorado in 1995, it was called Zuma Mexican Grill, named after a friend’s cat. As it turned out, a restaurant in Boston had that same name and threatened to sue, so the partners changed the name to Z-Teca. It wasn’t long before two different restaurants threatened to sue for that name—Z’Tejas in Arizona and Azteca in Washington—and the partners were forced to change the name yet again. This time they called their restaurant Qdoba, a completely made-up name that was unlikely to be used by anyone else.           

    A signature item and consistent top seller is this marinated adobo chicken, offered as a main ingredient in most of the chain’s selections. Make this chicken by marinating thigh meat for a couple of days in the secret adobo sauce (a worker there told me they let it soak for up to 8 days), then grill and chop. Use your copycat Qdoba chicken in burritos, tacos, bowls, on nachos, and in tortilla soup.

    I bet your craving some Qdoba Fiery Habanero Salsa right about now. Get my recipe here

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  • Score: 4.50 (votes: 2)
    Panera Bread Cinnamon Crunch Scone

    After the success of Panera Bread’s Cinnamon Crunch Bagels, the popular sandwich chain went back into the development kitchen and came out with these incredible scones, filled with the same crunchy cinnamon drops found in the bagels and drizzled with cinnamon icing.

    When first released, these scones were cut as triangles and frosted, but in 2018 the shape was changed to more “rustic”-shaped round blobs with drizzled or piped icing on top. I like to hack the newest version, so my Panera Bread Cinnamon Crunch Scones recipe here re-creates that scone.

    These are cream scones, so cream is the main wet ingredient that holds the dough together—but keep the dough crumbly as you mix it, and try not to compress it much, or you risk making the final product too dense. The best way to form the scones is to use both hands and shape the dough like you’re making a loose snowball. Then use one hand to place the dough onto the baking sheet and form it into a rough dome shape. The scones will flatten and spread out a little bit as they bake, creating the same rustic shape as the original.

    Try my Panera Bread Cinnamon Crunch Bagel recipe here.

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  • Score: 4.00 (votes: 2)
    KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Nashville Hot Chicken

    It was only a matter of time before the spicy fried chicken made famous in Nashville, Tennessee at shops like Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B's would find its way into the mainstream. A dish this good is never contained forever, and KFC became the first fast food chain to give the recipe national exposure. A test run of the new spicy chicken in Pittsburgh was the most successful product test in KFC's recent history.

    The original dish from Nashville is made with crispy fried chicken that's doused with a top-secret spicy chili sauce and served on sliced white bread with dill pickles on top. KFC's version is served with just pickles, no bread (a biscuit on the side instead), and is made by soaking the chain's Extra Crispy Fried Chicken with the oily chili sauce from a squirt bottle. Since there isn't any water in the sauce, just oil, the chicken stays crispy, regardless of how much sauce is applied.

    To make a home version of KFC Nashville Hot Chicken, you first need to prepare the chicken, either using my KFC Extra Crispy Chicken recipe included below, or by baking or frying some of the pre-breaded chicken pieces you can find frozen in just about every grocery store. While the chicken is brining, make the sauce and pour it into a squirt bottle or spouted measuring cup. Apply it to your chicken when it's done (shake it or stir it first!), then top it with dill pickle slices.  

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Panda Express Beijing Beef

    The problem with adding sauce to fried food is that the wet sauce makes the crunchy fried food not so crunchy. Panda Express manages to keep the crispy beef in Beijing Beef crispy even though it may be sitting for over 20 minutes in the sauce on its way to a hungry you. My early attempts at hacking my favorite dish at the massive Chinese food chain all resulted in gummy, soggy beef pieces that were more like flat dumplings than the delicious, crunchy strips of joy they were meant to be.

    Then finally, on one batch, I decided to fry the coated beef for much longer than I intuitively felt it should be cooked, resulting in dark browning on the cornstarch coating and an even darker piece of meat beneath it. I anticipated a beef jerky experience, but when I took a bite, I found it to be delicious! It wasn’t tough and chewy as I expected it to be. And when this seemingly overcooked beef was stirred into the sauce, it stayed crispy until served, just like the real thing. Now, with the soggy beef problem solved, we’ve finally got a good hack for Panda Express Beijing Beef.

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  • Score: 4.71 (votes: 24)
    Bonefish Grill Bang Bang Shrimp

    Menu Description: "Tender, crispy wild gulf shrimp tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce."

    Bonefish Grill proudly refers to this appetizer as the "house specialty." And why not, it's an attractive dish with bang-up flavor, especially if you like your food on the spicy side. The heat in my Bonefish Grill Bang Bang Shrimp recipe comes from the secret sauce blend that's flavored with chili garlic sauce, also known as sambal. You can find this bright red sauce where the Asian foods are in your market—and while you're there, pick up some rice vinegar. Once the sauce is made, you coat the shrimp in a simple seasoned breading, fry them to a nice golden brown, toss them gently in the sauce, and then serve them up on a bed of mixed greens to hungry folks who, hopefully, have a cool drink nearby to mellow the sting.

    You might also like my recipes for Bonefish Grill's Saucy Shrimp and Citrus Herb Vinaigrette.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.89 (votes: 44)
    Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Soup

    For two years after the first Olive Garden restaurant opened in 1982, operators were still tweaking the restaurant's physical appearance and the food that was served. Even the tomato sauce was changed as many as 25 times. It's that sort of dedication that creates fabulous dishes like this popular soup. It blends the flavors of potatoes, kale, and Italian sausage in a slightly spicy chicken and cream broth. 

    How about creating your own bottomless Olive Garden House Salad and Breadsticks? Find more of my Olive Garden clone recipes here!

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chipotle Chipotle-Honey Vinaigrette

    Steve Ellis used his Culinary Institute of America training to develop a simple menu for the first Chipotle Mexican Grill he opened in 1993 near the University of Denver. Today Chipotle has grown to more than 700 units, and the chain continues to serve a relatively limited selection (compared to other Mexican chains) of burritos, tacos, and salads that are made-to-order, with unprocessed and hormone-free ingredients. 

    Just as when ordering a burrito or taco, you get to choose the meat, beans, salsa, and cheese that will top your romaine lettuce salad. The finishing touch is an amazing house dressing that's made fresh every day. It's sweet, it's tangy, it's smoky, and it's packing some heat. It's also a quick recipe to duplicate with just a blender and a dozen common ingredients, including ground chipotle chile, which you can usually find near the ground cayenne. After you whip up my Chipotle Mexican Grill Chipotle-Honey Vinaigrette recipe below, let it chill out in the fridge for an hour or two. If you do, you'll have a perfect flavor match and enough dressing for at least 10 salads.

    Now, how about making Chipotle's famous barbacoa, carnitas, carne asada or pollo asado? Find all of those recipes and more here.

    Now, how about making Chipotle's famous barbacoa, carnitas, carne asada or pollo asado? Find all of those recipes and more here

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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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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