THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Hot & Spicy Wings copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Hot & Spicy Wings

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If you like chicken wings with a strong, spicy punch that doesn't overwhelm the great flavor, these are the wings for you. The Colonel's new extra-crispy chicken wings don’t rely on a zesty sauce for heat because it’s built into the delicious extra-crispy breading. And by soaking the wings in a chili brine, you'll get great flavor that goes through to the bone.

The secret ingredient in my KFC Hot & Spicy Wings copycat recipe is ground habanero pepper, which you can find online. For wings as hot as the originals, you'll need this ground pepper to add to the breading and the brine.

Another secret to re-creating the KFC experience is to let the fried wings rest in a warm, but not hot, oven for at least 20 minutes before serving as soon as they're done frying. An oven set to 250 degrees simulates the holding station at the restaurant where fried chicken pieces rest until an order comes in. This simple step is a crucial one for crispy wings that taste just like the real deal.

How about some famous coleslaw or wedge potatoes? Check out my collection of KFC clone recipes here.

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  • 9 ounces (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground habanero pepper
  • ...
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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: 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: 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).

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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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    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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  • 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: 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).

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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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    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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    The Old Spaghetti Factory Rich Meat Sauce

    Since 1969, The Portland, Oregon-based Old Spaghetti Factory has been filling bellies with a comfort food menu full of fabulous pasta choices, and this signature meat sauce has been the sauce of choice at the 43-unit chain for more than five decades.

    To reverse-engineer the sauce for my Old Spaghetti Factory Rich Meat Sauce copycat recipe, I started by rinsing the original sauce in a wire mesh strainer to see what secrets could be revealed. Once the solids were visible, I noted the size and ratios of ground beef, onion, celery, and garlic, and I also noticed that there were no bits of tomato left behind. This meant the tomato was puréed, but rather than using canned tomato purée, I opted for richer tomato paste. Lemon juice helped match the zing of the original, and I rounded out the flavor with just a bit of sugar.

    This recipe will make 3½ cups of meat sauce, which is enough for several huge plates of pasta. Use it on spaghetti as they do at the restaurant, or whatever pasta shape you prefer.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor

    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 copycat 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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    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).

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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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  • 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: 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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  • Not rated yet
    See's Candies Chocolate Walnut Fudge

    Fudge can be finicky. It's created by combining hot candy syrup with chocolate, which can result in a grainy mess if the chocolate seizes and gets clumpy. This undesirable situation can be avoided by closely monitoring the temperature, but even then your chocolate could still lock up, and your fudge will be ruined. I couldn't let that happen in my recipe re-creation of the famous fudge from the 100-year-old West Coast candy chain. 

    For my See's Chocolate Walnut Fudge copycat recipe, I made over 56 pounds of fudge on my quest to develop a recipe that works every time, even if the chocolate seizes. And in most of my batches, it usually did. So I came up with a secret trick: reserve a little cream for later, then after the hot candy syrup is mixed with the chocolate and the chocolate begins to seize, send the cream to the rescue and the fudge will become smooth, as if by magic. 

    Stir in some walnuts, then pour the fudge into a wax paper-lined pan, and when it cools, you'll have over 3 1/2 pounds of thick fudge that tastes just like the real thing. That's more than $110 of fudge if you buy it at the candy store!

    Fans of the cinnamon lollipop will love my See's Cinnamon Lollypop recipe here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Chicken Marsala and Mushrooms

    Menu Description: “Chicken breast sautéed with fresh mushrooms in a rich Marsala wine sauce. Served over bow tie pasta.”            

    Unlike the creamy Marsala sauce served at many restaurant chains (as with Olive Garden’s Stuffed Chicken Marsala), the sauce served at The Cheesecake Factory is rich and dark with an unctuous concentration of flavor seemingly created by a thorough reduction.

    For my Cheesecake Factory Chicken Marsala and Mushrooms copycat recipe, you'll reduce lightly seasoned marsala wine and chicken broth to less than one-quarter of its original volume. Once reduced, your cloned sauce is strained to remove the herbs, then butter and lemon are added, along with a browning sauce such as Kitchen Bouquet to match the deep color of the original.

    Browned mushrooms are added to the sauce, then it's all spooned over sautéed chicken cutlets arranged on a huge bed of farfalle pasta. Hope you're hungry, because this recipe makes two huge Cheesecake Factory-size servings. If it's too much for two of you, the dish can easily be portioned into three or four more modest servings.

    Find more of your favorite dishes from Cheesecake Factory hacked here

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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).

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

    Read more
  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane

    Fans of Cheesecake Factory’s Steak Diane don’t seem to care that the dish isn’t a traditional take on the classic dish. The restaurant chain’s version is indeed served with mushrooms and medallions of beef tenderloin just like the old-school recipe, but you won’t find any Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cognac, or cream that one would expect in a true Steak Diane. Instead, the chain douses steak with the same Madeira sauce served with its Chicken Madeira entrée, and it's delicious.

    I hacked the chain’s Chicken Madeira many years ago in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 but was happy for the chance to go back and improve the great sauce. After some fiddling, I came up with an improved formula that calls for less wine and uses a more thorough reduction to intensify the flavors. When shopping for ingredients for my Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane copycat recipe, it's okay to pick the least expensive Madeira wine on the shelf. Just know that Madeira wines have different characteristics, so your final flavor may slightly vary from the restaurant version.

    For your tenderloins, start with thick steaks, since you’ll be slicing the portions in half through the middle, making them thinner. You’ll need 7 to 8 small steak portions to be sliced in half for 14 to 16 medallions. 

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Red Lobster Walt's Favorite Shrimp

    Many identify Red Lobster as the restaurant that serves free cheesy Cheddar Bay Biscuits with every meal, but the chain has another claim to fame as the first chain to make popcorn shrimp a thing.

    Introduced in 1974, Walt’s Favorite Shrimp is butterflied, breaded, and lightly fried, making the crustaceans a simple-to-eat finger food. But there’s more to my Red Lobster Walt’s Favorite Shrimp copycat recipe than simply breading and frying a pound of large shrimp. First, we’ll need to add flavor to the shrimp with a brine. And instead of using a salt brine, I found that a brine of concentrated chicken bouillon worked wonders for flavoring the shrimp all the way through.

    After brining the shrimp give them three coats of flour and one with breadcrumbs, then it takes just a minute or so until they’re golden brown and crispy, and ready to serve with a side of cocktail sauce.

    Find more of my Red Lobster copycat recipes here.

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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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  • 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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Portillo's Chocolate Cake

    I can confirm that the secret recipe for Portillo’s Chocolate Cake is as simple as adding a cup of mayonnaise, a cup of water, and three eggs to a box of chocolate cake mix and baking it in two 9-inch pans at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. The frosting on the cake is the kind you find in the baking aisle in tubs for $2. That's it.

    The recipe I've described would cost around $6 to make at home, and yet you'll pay $75 to have a frozen version of the real Portillo's cake delivered to your house. I know this because I did it. It was the easiest way to confirm my suspicions about the recipe. And sure enough, the cake packaging listed ingredients one would find in just about every box of grocery store cake mix: diglycerides, dicalcium phosphate, and propylene glycol. 

    Perhaps you prefer not to pay $75 for a cake you can make at home for 6 bucks. I get that. Maybe you also want chocolate cake that's not made with boxed cake mix because it’s, well, boxed cake mix. Same here. So, I wondered if I could make a similarly moist mayonnaise chocolate cake just like Portillo's, but this time from scratch, with wholesome ingredients in both the cake and the icing. Thankfully, after baking over a dozen different cakes I finally came up with a recipe that tastes like Portillo's Chocolate Cake but without the hard-to-spell additives found in the real thing.

    And if mayonnaise sounds like an unusual ingredient for a cake, fear not. Practically everything in it benefits your cake batter. The blend of eggs and fat helps keep the cake fluffy and moist, salt and sugar add flavor, as do the vinegar and lemon juice which also assist with the leavening process to produce a tall cake with a light crumb. You could say mayonnaise is the perfect ingredient.

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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: 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: 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).

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

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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 and 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, and 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)
    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).

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chick-fil-A Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich

    Chick-fil-A becomes the first fast food chain to feature pimento cheese—a traditional Southern spread made with cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos—on a sandwich. The chain’s Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich features a regular or spicy crispy chicken breast fillet­ stacked on sliced jalapeños, then drizzled with honey and topped with a healthy portion of their exclusive pimento cheese formula.

    For the chicken fillet, I was able to use my previous Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich copycat recipe, but the chain’s excellent pimento cheese spread is a new creation that needed to be hacked from scratch. Rinsing the real spread through a strainer revealed some hidden secrets, including tiny bits of green pepper, which I copied by adding a small amount of minced jalapeño.

    The chicken requires four hours to brine, and that’s a good time to make the pimento cheese so it can rest for a bit to improve its color and flavor. The recipe included here is for the original chicken fillet, but if you prefer the kicked-up spicy version of the sandwich, I’ve got the tweak for that variation down in the Tidbits.

    Try my Chick-fil-A Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich copycat recipe below, and find more of my Chick-fil-A copycat recipes here.

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

    A popular staple of any Chinese chain is fried rice, so it better be good, and the version served at Panda Express most certainly is. Here's my easy Panda Express Fried Rice recipe for when you need a stress-free, low-cost side for your entrées. But I do suggest that you cook the white rice several hours or even a day or two before you plan to make the finished dish. I found that the cooked rice called for in this recipe works best when it's cold. 

    As for a shortcut, bagged frozen peas and carrots will save you from the hassle of petite-dicing carrots since the carrots in those bags are the perfect size to produce an identical clone. And they're already cooked. 

    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).

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken Breast

    Menu Description: “Honey Sesame Chicken Breast is made with thin, crispy strips of all-white meat chicken tossed with fresh-cut string beans, and crisp yellow bell peppers in a sizzling hot wok with our new delicious honey sauce and topped off with sesame seeds.”

    The limited-time-only availability of this entrée is unfortunate for those who claim it as their top choice at America’s biggest fast Chinese chain. But now, with my Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken Breast copycat recipe, you can make your own homemade version anytime you want, and it won’t matter if the real one's yanked off the menu.

    The success of this clone depends almost entirely on how good the sauce is. The sauce needs to be sweet, but when I used too much honey the honey flavor overpowered the dish, so it was clear that some of the sweetness would have to come from sugar. Eventually, I found the right balance for a good sauce hack: sweet, salty, and sour, with a light back-end hit of red pepper.

    For the batter, I tweaked the coating in my hack for Panda Express Honey Walnut Shrimp, increasing the yield of the batter, so you won’t run out.

    After your sauce is done and the chicken is finished, build the dish by tossing green beans, yellow bell peppers, and crispy chicken in a wok or large sauté pan with the sauce, then spoon it over rice, and grab some chopsticks.

    Click here for more of my Panda Express copycat recipes. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Fudgsicle Original Fudge Bars

    Re-creating this popular ice pop is more than mixing sugar and cocoa into skim milk and freezing it with a stick in the middle. In addition to the great chocolate taste, a Fudgsicle copycat recipe wouldn't be right if it didn't have the same creamy and not-at-all-icy–texture of the original.

    So how do we hack that? We'll use a little gelatin in the mix plus some fat-free half-and-half, which contains carrageenan a natural thickener found in the real fudge bars that improves the texture and helps prevent the formation of ice crystals. 

    For my Fudgsicle Fudge Bars copycat recipe, combine the ingredients below in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, then pour the creamy mixture into an ice pop mold. When the pops are semisolid, add the sticks. A few hours later, you'll have seven or eight perfect fudge pops with the same great taste and mouthfeel as the famous original product.

    Find more of my cool snack copycat recipes here.

    Source: "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step" by Todd Wilbur.

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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: 1)
    KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (Improved)

    To get their Extra Crispy Chicken so crispy, KFC breads the chicken two times. This double breading gives the chicken its ultra craggy exterior and extra crunch, which is a different texture than the less crispy original recipe fried chicken that’s breaded just once and pressure fried.

    As with my KFC Original Fried Chicken recipe, we must first brine the chicken to give it flavor and moisture all the way through, like the real thing, then the chicken is double breaded and deep-fried until golden brown. KFC uses small chickens which cook faster, but small chickens can be hard to find. If your chicken parts are on the large side, they may not cook all the way through in the 12 to 15 minutes of frying I’m specifying here. To be sure your chicken is cooked, start frying with the thickest pieces, like the breasts, then park them in a 300-degree oven while you finish with the smaller pieces. This will keep the chicken warm and crispy, and more importantly, ensure that they are cooked perfectly all the way through.

    On my CMT show Top Secret Recipe I chatted with Winston Shelton, a long-time friend of KFC founder Harland Sanders. Winston saw the Colonel's handwritten secret recipe for KFC Original Recipe chicken, and he told me one of the secret ingredients is Tellicherry black pepper. It's a more expensive, better-tasting black pepper that comes from the Malabar coast in India, and you should use it here if you can find it. Winston pulled me aside and whispered this secret to me when he thought we were off-camera, but our microphones and very alert cameramen caught the whole thing, and we aired it.

    I first published my KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken recipe in Even More Top Secret Recipesbut recently applied some newly acquired secrets and tips to make this much-improved recipe of one of the most familiar fried chicken recipes in the world. 

    My improved KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken copycat recipe below was our #2 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), 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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  • 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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog

    Online taste tests and reviews routinely mention Farmland Fresh, Darigold, and Southern Comfort as America's best egg nog brands. And of the three, Southern Comfort, a brand famously known for fruit-flavored whiskey, often takes the top spot with its delicious “traditional” egg nog. Which, ironically, contains no booze.

    But the first egg nog, invented in medieval Britain, was quite intoxicating. It was a warm drink made with milk and sherry, and thickened with plenty of egg yolks. That’s a much different beverage experience than today’s branded egg nog, often served cold. And the cartons of egg nog from your market are now made with non-traditional ingredients such as corn syrup, and much of the egg yolk has been replaced with cheaper and longer-lasting natural gums, like carrageenan and guar gum.

    But, for my Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog copycat recipe, we'll turn back the clock and make egg nog more traditionally, with plenty of real egg yolks to thicken the batch, and no gums or corn syrup. My easy recipe will give you around 36 ounces of fresh homemade egg nog. And it’s up to you to add any booze.

    Make more fun, famous drinks with my recipes 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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  • 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)
    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).

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi

    This top entrée pick from Cheesecake Factory is a classic dish, but its preparation is far from traditional, and perhaps that's why it's so popular.

    The creamy scampi sauce is flavored with a handful of whole roasted garlic cloves, plus shallot, basil, and tomato. The shrimp are lightly battered and fried until golden, then arranged upright around the plate to keep their crunching coats from sogging.

    In addition to all the secrets you’ll need to assemble two servings of my Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi copycat recipe, I’ve also included a cool technique for easily roasting the garlic cloves in just 15 to 20 minutes, and you won’t even need to peel the cloves. After your garlic cools, the skins will slip right off.

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes 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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  • Not rated yet
    Wolfgang Puck Chinois Chicken Salad

    This iconic Chinese chicken salad, born at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois restaurant in Santa Monica, California, can also be found on menus at other Puck dining rooms, including Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill and Wolfgang Puck Player’s Locker, both in Las Vegas.

    It's a decades-old secret recipe that is often imitated but never duplicated, since no knockoff I've found includes all the ingredients necessary to create the signature taste. In my underground lab, I sat down with my “to-go” salad (dressing on the side, of course) and meticulously deconstructed it by separating all the ingredients into small bowls. After working for about 45 minutes with the tweezers, I had separate piles of napa cabbage, various greens including frisée, radicchio, shredded carrot, and another shredded root vegetable that I have yet to see anyone include in their so-called “hack”: daikon radish.

    In my Wolfgang Puck Chinois Chicken Salad copycat recipe below, I’ll show you how to make the perfect blend of greens (including another secret ingredient that recipes miss), and the ultimate way to clone the famous dressing. I’ve also got easy hacks for perfect candied sesame cashews and crunchy wontons to sprinkle on top, plus I’m including a handful of step photos to ensure that your salad comes out perfect.

    Find more famous salad copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 4.00 (votes: 2)
    KFC Chicken Pot Pie (Improved)

    KFC's Chicken Pot Pie is a classic. It's packed with lots of shredded white and dark meat chicken, potatoes, peas, and carrots; all of it swimming in a delicious creamy gravy and topped with a tantalizing flakey crust. It seems more like homemade food than fast food. And now it can be made at home better than ever before with this improved hack of my original recipe (found here). The crust now has a better flavor (more butter!), and the gravy tastes closer to the original with the addition of more spices.

    You can make my KFC Chicken Pot Pie copycat recipe using ramekins or small oven-safe baking dishes, or get some recyclable aluminum pot pie pans you can find in many supermarkets. Those pans are the perfect size for four single servings, and they make cleanup easy after the feast.

    Find more of my KFC copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Manwich Original Sloppy Joe Sandwich

    Loose meat sandwiches were born in Iowa in 1926 when Maid-Rite started selling burgers made with ground beef that isn’t pressed into patties. These sandwiches quickly became a Midwest phenomenon, and they were often served with a spoon to scoop up the loose meat that would inevitably fall out. This dry and crumbly characteristic of the loose meat sandwich might be why, in 1930, a chef named Joe, as legend has it, created a tomato-based sauce, possibly with ketchup, which he mixed into the loose ground beef. Joe’s new sandwich had more flavor than its drier cousin, and the loose meat stayed in the bun.

    Sloppy Joes became a common restaurant and diner menu choice for decades, with the sandwiches selling for as little as 10 cents. In 1969, Hunts brought Sloppy Joes home with the introduction of the first canned Sloppy Joe sauce that, when added to 1 pound of browned ground beef, made enough filling to feed a family of four. It was easy, and it was cheap.

    The original sauce lists corn syrup as the second ingredient, but for my Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce copycat recipe, I chose to avoid corn syrup and even ketchup and instead built the sauce with ketchup ingredients, including tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, and spices. My version is also easy and cheap and tastes like the real thing, but because it’s fresher, it tastes a little bit better.

    Find more of my copycat recipes for iconic sandwiches here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Burger King French Toast Sticks

    Many fast food chains have offered French toast sticks over the years, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Sonic, Roy Rogers, and Jack in the Box, but Burger King was first to introduce the morning finger food way back in 1985, and if staying power is any indication of preference, then BK is most deserving of this new top secret recipe.

    Burger King French Toast Sticks are a perfect fast food item, since they come pre-battered and par-fried, and workers just need to toss a few frozen sticks into the fryer next to the French fries for 3 or 4 minutes, and they’re ready to go, along with a handy dipper pack of maple-flavored syrup.

    But no deep-frying is necessary here for my French toast sticks copycat recipe. Instead, you’ll cook your quartered and battered white bread slices in a combination of butter and oil in a sauté pan for a couple of minutes per side, or until the sticks are nicely browned. Serve them with a side of warm maple syrup, and you can even add a dusting of powdered sugar on top if you want to get fancy about it.

    Next time you make breakfast, mix things up with some of these as a sweet, easy-to-eat starter.  

    Find recipes for more of your favorite items from Burger King here.  

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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: 1)
    Outback Steakhouse Spicy Jammin' Meatloaf

    You may never use traditional meatloaf toppings again once you taste how Outback Steakhouse kicks up its ground steak meatloaf entrée. Ketchup and barbecue sauce seem like mundane toppers after you taste these clones of the chain’s amazing Fresno chili jam and creamy peppercorn sauce—one sweet, the other savory—that take your meatloaf to the next level.

    The Fresno chili jam presented the biggest hacking challenge of the two sauces. I had to work through several batches to find the perfect ratio of red bell peppers to Fresno chilies to tone the heat down to an edible level. Also, I was not expecting tomato juice. My first batches left that ingredient out until I returned to Outback, where my helpful server provided valuable intel.

    At the restaurant, this meatloaf is pre-baked and chilled. When an order comes in, a couple of slices are seared in a sauté pan or on a flat grill until browned and hot, then they’re topped with the two warmed sauces and served. You can use the same trick in my Outback Spicy Jammin' Meatloaf recipe below: make the meatloaf in advance of the meal, then just slice what you need and sear it before serving.

    Find copycat recipes for more of your favorite Outback dishes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Olive Garden Shrimp Scampi

    A comparison of several shrimp scampi recipes reveals a variety of subtle differences in the way each chef makes the classic Italian dish, but the underlying technique is almost always the same: create a sauce, add the shrimp, dump the pasta into the pan, toss, and serve. But if you want to make the fantastic Olive Garden shrimp scampi, you’ll need to follow some very specific secret steps.

    Many other shrimp scampi recipes start with garlic and onions, but you’ll only need garlic for this version. You’ll also be adding tomato to the dish along with chopped asparagus spears to bring some color to the dish and set it apart from traditional scampi recipes. Other methods usually don’t call for cream in the sauce, but Olive Garden uses it in their version so you'll do the same in this hack, and you'll be glad you did. The cream thickens the sauce so that it better coats the shrimp and pasta.

    My exclusive Olive Garden shrimp scampi copycat recipe makes 2 large dinner-size portions but can be divided into 3 to 4 smaller lunch-size servings.

    Find more of your favorite Olive Garden copycat recipes here.

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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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