- New Recipes
- Sonic Drive-In Hickory Burger Reduced-Fat
Sonic Drive-In Hickory Burger Reduced-Fat
Driving through Louisiana in 1953, Troy Smith happened upon a cozy hamburger stand that had installed an intercom system to speed up ordering. Troy adapted the idea for his small chain of burger joints and hired nimble servers to bring the food out to customers quickly. The concept was a smash, with revenues for the chain doubling during the first week. Sonic was cashing in on the growing popularity of the automobile. Customers parked their cars in a stall, rolled down the window, and ordered from a speaker. The food was then brought to the car on a tray by a roller-skating carhop with extraordinary balance.
Today, Sonic has rejuvenated the carhop concept by serving customers the same way as in the '50s: with individual car stalls, speakers, and waitresses on wheels. The company is America's largest drive-in hamburger chain with more than two thousand units rolling in 1999.
Serving size–1 sandwich
Calories per serving–400 (Original–314)
Fat per serving–10.5g (Original–15.7g)
Source: Low-Fat Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
- 1/4 pound super lean ground beef (7% fat)
- 1 large plain white hamburger bun
- Fat-free butter-flavored spray
- Ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon Kraft Hickory BBQ Sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped white onion
- 1/3 cup chopped iceberg lettuce
1. Form the ground beef into a thin circle the same diameter as the bun. Cover with wax paper and freeze.
2. When ready to prepare the burger, preheat a large skillet or griddle pan over medium heat.
3. Spray a light coating of the butter spray over the face of the top and bottom bun. Brown the faces of the bun in the skillet, then remove them and set them aside.
4. Place the beef patty into the hot pan and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side until done.
5. As the patty cooks, build the burger by first spreading the BBQ sauce over the face of the bottom bun.
6. Sprinkle the chopped onion over the sauce.
7. Arrange the lettuce on the sandwich next.
8. When the beef is ready, stack it on top of the other condiments, and top off the sandwich with the top bun. If you'd like the buns warmer, microwave on high for 10 to 15 seconds.
Makes 1 burger.
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Annual TSR Club (Best Deal!)Read more
Save $12 vs. monthly
Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!
Sabra Classic HummusRead more
Every brand of hummus I've tried over the years has been just so-so in taste and texture, until I discovered Sabra. Now this ultra-smooth hummus—which has been rated number one in a blind taste test—is the only hummus in my fridge, unless I've made this clone. Hummus is an awesome snack as a dip for vegetables or pita chips, since it's rich in protein, soluble fiber, potassium, and Vitamin E. The secret to duplicating Sabra's smooth and creamy quality is to let your food processor work the stuff over for a solid 10 minutes. Also, when getting your Sabra hummus ingredients ready, don't use all of the liquid from the can of garbanzo beans or the hummus will end up too runny. Strain off the liquid first, then measure only 1/2 cup back into the food processor. Sabra uses canola and/or soybean oil, but you may think olive oil tastes better. Look for a jar of sesame tahini in the aisle where all the international foods are parked, and while you're there find the citric acid, which may also go by the name "sour salt." The clone below will not have the proper acidic bite without this secret ingredient, and citric acid also works as a preservative to help the leftover hummus stay fresh and tasty.
Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.
HoneyBaked Ham GlazeRead more
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 my 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 crème brûlée 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.
Hard Rock Cafe Pig SandwichRead more
Menu Description: "Select pork, hickory-smoked then hand-pulled, so it's tender and juicy. 'An old Southern delicacy' with our famous vinegar-based bar-b-que sauce. Served with fries, ranch beans and homemade coleslaw."
Take a big honkin' bite out of one of this, and you'll soon know why it's the Hard Rock Café's most popular sandwich. The pork is hickory smoked for 10 hours, but since we're impatient hungry people here, we'll use the techniques laid out in my Hard Rock Café pulled pork sandwich recipe below, and cut that cooking time to under 4 hours using a covered grill and carefully arranged charcoal; or by packaging your wood chips in foil to use on a gas grill. If you've got an actual smoker, you can certainly use it and go the full 10 hours.
You should try to make your cabbage a day ahead of time, so it has time to marinate.
Serve with Hard Rock cole slaw and baked beans on the side.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
Roadhouse Grill Baby Back RibsRead more
Menu Description: "Our award-winning Baby Back Ribs are slow-roasted, then basted with Jim Beam Bourbon BBQ Sauce and finished on our Mesquite grill."
When your crew bites into these baby backs they'll savor meat so tender and juicy that it slides right off the bone. The slow braising cooks the ribs to perfection, while the quick grilling adds the finishing char and smoky flavor. But the most important component to any decent rack of ribs is a sauce that's filled with flavor, and this version of Roadhouse Grill's award-wining sauce is good stuff. I ordered the ribs naked (without sauce) so that I could see if there was any detectable rub added before cooking and I didn't find anything other than salt and a lot of coarse black pepper. So that's the way I designed my Roadhouse Grill Baby Back Ribs recipe, and it works.
Now, how about a copycat Roadhouse Grill Roadhouse Rita to wash down those ribs.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
Popeyes Red Beans and RiceRead more
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 Popeyes Red Beans and Rice 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.
Rao's Homemade Marinara SauceRead more
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.
American Coney Island Chili Dogs (Detroit Coney Island Sauce)Read more
Over a century ago, Detroit, Michigan became the Coney Island chili dog capital of the world, even though Coney Island is nowhere near there. Greek immigrants who entered the U.S. through Ellis Island adapted a recipe for the hot dogs they ate while visiting Coney Island, New York, on their way to the Midwest. When they settled in southern Michigan, many opened restaurants to sell their clones of the food they ate when they first got to America, turning New York-style Coney Dogs into a Midwest phenomenon.
Two of the most famous Coney Island restaurants in Detroit are Lafayette Coney Island and its next-door neighbor, American Coney Island. The two buildings were originally one building with a single restaurant inside, built by brothers Gus and Bill Keros in 1915. But somewhere along the way the brothers had a falling out and split the restaurant in half, right down the middle, and it stayed that way. Today, the two Coney Island restaurants are under different ownership, but they still remain next-door rivals.
I decided the best Coney dog to hack is from American Coney Island, not only because of the restaurant’s deep history, but also because I was able to order the chili dogs shipped to my house in a kit. That’s always good news, since shipped foods must list ingredients, and I get to see exactly what’s in the chili. Built the traditional way, a typical Detroit Coney Island chili dog features a natural-casing hot dog in a soft white bun, smothered in chili sauce, drizzled with mustard, and topped with a pile of diced sweet onion. The kit came with everything I needed, including the tub of chili with clearly-labeled ingredients that I was counting on.
With the help of that information, I was able to create a thick, flavorful chili sauce that you can use on your favorite hot dogs to make a delicious clone of American Coney Island Chili Dogs. Crushed soda crackers thicken the chili, and extra beef fat adds a smooth quality that mimics the famous 100-year-old American Coney Island chili recipe.
The chili must simmer for four hours to properly tenderize the meat, so plan your Coney dog cloning adventure accordingly.
Try making your other favorite condiments at home, like ketchup or mustard, with my copycat recipes here.
Starbucks Banana Nut BreadRead more
It’s about time for Top Secret Recipes to hack one of Starbucks all-time bestselling baked snacks. For this banana bread knock-off, I settled on a blend of both baking powder and baking soda for a good crumb and dark crust that perfectly resembles the original. And I decided it best to go big on the dark brown sugar, not only for flavor but also because the extra molasses in the darker brown sugar triggers a helpful leavening boost from the baking soda. It’s also important to know that an accurate clone must have both walnuts and pecans in the mix, because that’s what’s really in it, according to the official Starbucks website ingredients info. All other copycats I saw got it wrong when it came to the nut blend, so if you want a true knock-off, this is the Starbucks Banana Bread recipe to bake.
I've cloned a ton of drinks and treats from Starbucks. See if I hacked your favorite here.
KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (Improved)Read more
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 Recipes, but 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 KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken 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).
Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q Cheese BiscuitsRead more
The barbecue at Jim N' Nick's is good food. But it's the irresistible mini cheese biscuits served with every meal that have become the signature specialty of this 40-store chain. The sweet little biscuits are made from scratch every day at each restaurant using the same wholesome ingredients I'm including here in my Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q Cheese Biscuits recipe.
A bag of dry mix can be purchased at the restaurant, but you’re still required to add eggs, butter, cheese, and milk, so why not just make the whole thing from scratch? It's much cheaper than buying the bag of mix, and the biscuits come out better when you use fresh buttermilk rather than relying on the powdered buttermilk included in the dry mix.
Use a mini muffin pan here to make your biscuits the same size as the originals or use a standard muffin pan, if that's all you've got, for bigger muffins. It will take a little longer to cook the larger biscuits (instructions are below), but they will still turn out as addictively delicious as the famous tiny restaurant originals.
Now, what's for dinner? Find recipes your favorite entrées here.
Olive Garden Dipping Sauces for BreadsticksRead more
Menu Description: "Freshly prepared alfredo or marinara sauce, served warm."
The soft breadsticks served at Olive Garden (here's my clone) taste awesome by themselves, but dunk them in one of these warm sauces and...fahgeddaboutit. You can use these clones as dipping sauces or pour them over the pasta of your choice to duplicate a variety of entree items available at the chain. Use the Alfredo sauce over Fettuccine and you get Fettuccine Alfredo. Pour the marinara sauce on Linguine and you've cloned Olive Garden's Linguine alla Marinara. Make up your own dishes adding sausage, chicken or whatever you have on hand for an endless variety of Italian grub.
Find more of your favorite copycat recipes from Olive Garden here.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
Olive Garden BreadsticksRead more
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.
Complete the bottomless experience with my Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
KFC Grilled ChickenRead more
It took chefs several years to develop what would eventually become KFC's most clucked about new product launch in the chain's 57-year history. With between 70 to 180 calories and four to nine grams of fat, depending on the piece, the new un-fried chicken is being called "KFC's second secret recipe," and "a defining moment in our brand's storied history" in a company press release. The secret recipe for the new grilled chicken is now stored on an encrypted computer flash drive next to the Colonel's handwritten original fried chicken recipe in an electronic safe at KFC company headquarters. Oprah Winfrey featured the chicken on her talk show and gave away so many coupons for free grilled chicken meals that some customers waited in lines for over an hour and half, and several stores ran out and had to offer rain checks. Company spokesperson Laurie Schalow told the Associated Press that KFC has never seen such a huge response to any promotion. "It's unprecedented in our more than 50 years," she said. "It beats anything we've ever done."
When I heard about all the commotion over this new secret recipe I immediately locked myself up in the underground lab with a 12-piece bucket of the new grilled chicken, plus a sample I obtained of the proprietary seasoning blend, and got right to work. After days of nibbling through what amounts to a small flock of hens, I'm happy to bring you this amazing cloned version of this fast food phenomenon so that you can now reproduce it in your own kitchen. Find the smallest chicken you can for this KFC grilled chicken copycat recipe, since KFC uses young hens. Or better yet save some dough by finding a small whole chicken and cut it up yourself. The secret preparation process requires that you marinate (brine) your chicken for a couple hours in a salt and MSG solution. This will make the chicken moist all of the way through and give it great flavor. After the chicken has brined, it's brushed with liquid smoke-flavored oil that will not only make the seasoning stick to the chicken, but will also ensure that the chicken doesn't stick to the pan. The liquid smoke in the oil gives the chicken a smoky flavor as if it had been cooked on an open flame barbecue grill.
The grilled chicken at KFC is probably cooked on ribbed metal plates in specially designed convection ovens to get those grill marks. I duplicated that process using an oven-safe grill pan, searing the chicken first on the stovetop to add the grill marks, then cooking the chicken through in the oven. If you don't have a grill pan or a grill plate, you can just sear the chicken in any large oven safe saute pan. If you have a convection function on your oven you should definitely use it, but the recipe will still work in a standard oven with the temperature set just a little bit higher. After baking the chicken for 20 minutes on each side, you're ready to dive into your own 8-piece bucket of delicious indoor grilled chicken that's as tasty as the fried stuff, but without all the fat.
Check out the video demonstration of this recipe.
Source: "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step" by Todd Wilbur
Applebee's Apple Walnut Chicken SaladRead more
Menu Description: "A masterwork of flavors. Grilled, marinated chicken breast crowns this fresh mix of delectable greens, crisp apples, rich crumbled blue cheese and sweet candied walnuts. Tossed in our tangy balsamic vinaigrette."
Sometimes I feel like a C.S.I. To re-create this salad, I ordered several to-go and then sat down with a magnifying glass and carefully picked out each of the bits and pieces and separated them into smaller bowls. Sure, this was tedious work, but it made it easy to measure out each ingredient for the most accurate Applebee's Apple Walnut Chicken Salad recipe.
Next, I cooked a ton of chicken, each with different versions of the marinade, until I found the one that worked. The smoky marinade for the chicken here is basically a brine that adds just the right amount of saltiness and flavor through osmosis, so be sure not to let the chicken soak longer than specified. Of course, the lead performer in any salad is the dressing, since it is responsible for much of what you taste. The tangy balsamic vinaigrette is delicious with honey, Dijon mustard, garlic, and tarragon in there. You can make an easy emulsion out of it with a hand mixer. The best part is that you'll end up with leftover vinaigrette that you can use to make a couple more meal-size salads, and then some. Case closed.
Find more of my salad knock-off recipes here.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
Starbucks Vanilla Almond BiscottiRead more
"Biscotti" is Italian for "twice baked." The dough is first baked as one giant rectangular cookie loaf, then the loaf is removed from the oven while it's still soft, and it's sliced. These slices are arranged on a baking sheet and cooked once again until crispy. That's how the cookies get their thin profile and crunchiness that makes them the perfect coffee-dunking pastry. These homemade biscotti cookies are actually best the next day after they completely dry out, as long as you live in a dry climate. If your weather is more humid, be sure to seal up the cookies in a tight container after they cool so that they stay crunchy.
Try my Starbucks Vanilla Almond Biscotti recipe below, and find more cool Starbucks copycat recipes here.
Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.
Popeyes Buttermilk BiscuitsRead more
In 2007 America's number one Cajun-style restaurant celebrated its 35th birthday with 1,583 stores worldwide. But Popeyes didn't start out with the name that most people associate with a certain spinach-eating cartoon character. When Al Copeland opened his first Southern-fried chicken stand in New Orleans in 1972, it was called Chicken On The Run. The name was later changed to Popeyes after Gene Hackman's character in the movie The French Connection. In addition to great spicy fried chicken, Popeyes serves up wonderful Southern-style buttermilk biscuits that we can now easily duplicate to serve with a variety of home cooked meals. The secret is to cut cold butter into the mix with a pastry knife so that the biscuits turn out flaky and tender just like the originals.
Source: "Top Secret Recipes Unlocked" by Todd Wilbur.
Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cheese MuffinRead more
This delicious fall offering arrives frozen to each Starbucks store and is thawed out just before opening in the morning. The pumpkin cream cheese muffins were especially popular in the fall of 2008. According to my local Starbucks manager, a memo fired off to all stores warned of a shortage in the product and that inventory in most states would be depleted before the holidays arrived. That was enough information to get me quickly working on a seriously great Starbucks pumpkin cream cheese muffin recipe, and here you go.
First, sweeten some cream cheese and get it back in the fridge to firm up. It's much easier to work into the top of the muffins when it's cold. The pumpkin seeds that are sprinkled on top of each muffin get candied in a large skillet with brown sugar and cinnamon. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper muffin cups, add the muffin batter and some cream cheese, top with the candied pumpkins seeds, and then bake. Soon you'll have a dozen fresh clones of the amazing muffins, and you'll always be prepared for the next pumpkin cream cheese muffin shortage.
See if I cloned more of your favorites from Starbucks here.
Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.
Buffalo Wild Wings Caribbean Jerk SauceRead more
This quickly growing chicken wing chain sells each of its 12 signature sauces in the restaurant because many of them work great as a baste or side sauce for a variety of home cooked masterpieces. The Caribbean Jerk sauce is a favorite for that reason (ranking at the top of the list with Spicy Garlic as the chain's best-seller), so I thought creating a Buffalo Wild Wings Caribbean Jerk Sauce recipe would be a useful clone that doesn't require you to fill up the fryer to make chicken wings. You can use this sauce on grilled chicken, pork, ribs, salmon or anything you can think of that would benefit from the sweet, sour and spicy flavors that come from an island-style baste.
Find more Buffalo Wild Wings copycat recipes here.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur
Waffle House WafflesRead more
Two friendly Atlanta, Georgia neighbors built the first Waffle House in 1955. With the dimpled breakfast hotcake as a signature item, the privately held chain grew into 20 Southern U.S. states. Today tasty food at rock-bottom prices, plus 24-hours-a-day service, makes Waffle House a regular stop for devoted customers any time of the day or night. And don't even think about referring to your server as a waitress—they're called "associates."
For the best clone of the 50-year-old secret waffle recipe, you should chill the batter overnight in the fridge, just as they do in each of the restaurants. But sometimes you can't wait. If you need instant gratification, my Waffle House waffle recipe still works if you make the waffles the same day. Wait for at least 15 to 20 minutes before using the batter so that it can thicken a bit. That'll give you time to dust off the waffle iron and heat it up.
How about some homemade Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage to go with those waffles? Check out my recipes for famous breakfast items here.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
Cinnabon Cinnamon RollsRead more
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.
Taco Bell Mexican PizzaRead more
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.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE withEnable collaborative features and customize widget: Bing Webmaster Portal
Jimmy Dean Breakfast SausageRead more
Before he became America's sausage king, Jimmy Dean was known for crooning the country hit "Big Bad John." That song came out in 1962 and sold more than 8 million copies. His singing success launched a television career on ABC with The Jimmy Dean Show, where Roy Clark, Patsy Cline, and Roger Miller got their big breaks. The TV exposure led to acting roles for Jimmy, as a regular on Daniel Boone, and in feature films, including his debut in the James Bond flick Diamonds are Forever. Realizing that steady income from an acting and singing career can be undependable, Jimmy invested his show-biz money in a hog farm. In 1968 the Jimmy Dean Meat Company developed the special recipe for sausage that has now become a household name. Today the company is part of the Sara Lee Corporation, and Jimmy retired as company spokesman in 2004.
My Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage recipe re-creates three varieties of the famous roll sausage that you form into patties and cook in a skillet. Use ground pork found at the supermarket—make it lean pork if you like—or grind some up yourself if you have a meat grinder.
Check out more of my famous breakfast food clone recipes here.
Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.
Wendy's Hot Chili SeasoningRead more
The little red packets of viscous hot sauce at the fast food giant have a cult following of rabid fans who will do whatever it takes to get their hands on large quantities. One such fan of the sauce commented online, "Are there any Wendy's employees or managers out there who will mail me an entire case of Hot Chili Seasoning? I swear this is not a joke. I love the stuff. I tip extra cash to Wendy's workers to get big handfuls of the stuff." Well, there's really no need to tip any Wendy's employees, because now you can make as much as you want in your own kitchen with my Wendy's Hot Chili Seasoning recipe below.
The ingredients listed on the real Hot Chili Seasoning are water, corn syrup, salt, distilled vinegar, natural flavors, xanthan gum, and extractives of paprika. We'll use many of those same ingredients for our clone, but we'll substitute gelatin for the xanthan gum (a thickener) to get the slightly gooey consistency right. For the natural flavor and color we'll use cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, and garlic powder, then filter the particles out with a fine wire-mesh strainer after they've contributed what the sauce needs.
My recipe makes 5 ounces of sauce— just the right amount to fit nicely into a used hot sauce bottle—and costs just pennies to make.
Try this hot seasoning on a homemade bowl of Wendy's Chili.
Popeyes Famous Fried ChickenRead more
Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken and Biscuits has become the third-largest quick-service chicken chain in the world in the twenty-two years since its first store opened in New Orleans in 1972. (KFC has the number-one slot, followed by Church's Chicken). Since then, the chain has grown to 813 units, with many of them overseas in Germany, Japan, Jamaica, Honduras, Guam, and Korea.
While making my Popeyes Fried Chicken recipe, I tested several spices and I found that the right blend of cayenne and white pepper bring the same heat as the original. Try my recipe below and see what you think.
You might also like to get your hands on my recipes for Popeyes Chicken Sandwich and Popeyes biscuits.
Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
Papa John's Dipping SaucesRead more
John Shnatter was only 23 years old when he used $1600 in start-up money to buy a pizza oven and have it installed in the broom closet of an Indiana tavern. John started delivering his hot, fresh pizzas, and in 1984, the first year of his business, he was selling 300 to 400 pizzas a week.
John keeps the Papa John's menu simple. You won't find salad or subs or chicken wings on his menu. The company just sells pizza, with side orders of breadsticks and cheeseticks made from the same pizza dough recipe. With each order of breadsticks or cheesesticks comes your choice of dipping sauces. I've got clones for all three of those tasty sauces—Special Garlic, Cheese, and Pizza. You can make your own breaksticks by making your favorite pizza dough, and slicing it into sticks. If you want cheesesticks, brush some of the Garlic Sauce on the dough, then sprinkle it with mozzarella cheese and bake. Slice the baked dough into sticks and use the dipping sauce of your choice.
Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Original Recipe Fried ChickenRead more
One of the most protected, discussed, and sought-after secret recipes in the food world is KFC's Original Recipe Fried Chicken. Long ago I published my first hack of the famous formula, but the recipe, which was based on research from "Big Secrets" author William Poundstone, includes only salt, pepper, MSG, and flour in the breading, and not the blend of eleven herbs and spices we have all heard about. The fried chicken made with my first recipe is good in a pinch, but it really needs several more ingredients to be a true clone.
That is why, over twenty years later, I was happy to get another crack at the secret when we shot the pilot episode for my CMT TV series Top Secret Recipe. In the show, I visited KFC headquarters, talked to friends of Harlan Sanders who had seen the actual recipe, and even checked out the Corbin, Kentucky, kitchen where Harland Sanders first developed his chicken recipe. During that four-day shoot I was able to gather enough clues about the secret eleven herbs and spices to craft my new KFC Fried chicken recipe—one that I believe is the closest match to the Colonel's secret fried chicken that anyone has ever revealed.
Source: Top Secret Recipes Step-By-Step by Todd Wilbur.
Ruby Tuesday Queso DipRead more
Menu Description: "Smooth and spicy cheese dip. Served with unlimited crisp tortilla chips."
Many who have tried the original say it's the best queso dip they've ever had, so I had to get on the case. Talking to a store manager, I found out that the dip is made with American cheese and a little Parmesan, but the rest of the ingredients were going to have to be determined in the underground lab. When I got down there—using the elevator hidden in a fake outhouse in the corner of a vacant lot—I immediately rinsed the dip in a strainer and discovered bits of spinach, onion and two kinds of peppers. The red pepper, which is responsible for the kick, appeared to be rehydrated dry peppers. It looks like they're red jalapeños, but since the red ones can be hard to find, I chopped up some red Fresno peppers and the dip tasted great—full of flavor with a nice spicy kick. When you're ready to try my Ruby Tuesday Queso Dip recipe, just be sure to remove the inner membranes and seeds from the peppers before you mince them up, or your cool dip may end up packing a lot of heat.
For those who like chili in your cheese dip, check out my copycat Chili's Chili Queso recipe here.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
Long John Silver's Batter-Dipped FishRead more
Jerrico, Inc., the parent company for Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes, got its start in 1929 as a six-stool hamburger stand called the White Tavern Shoppe. Jerrico was started by a man named Jerome Lederer, who watched Long John Silver's thirteen units dwindle in the shadow of World War II to just three units. Then, with determination, he began rebuilding. In 1946 Jerome launched a new restaurant called Jerry's and it was a booming success, with growth across the country. Then he took a chance on what would be his most successful venture in 1969, with the opening of the first Long John Silver's Fish 'n' Chips. The name was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In 1991 there were 1,450 Long John Silver Seafood Shoppes in thirty-seven states, Canada, and Singapore, with annual sales of more than $781 million. That means the company holds about 65 percent of the $1.2 billion quick-service seafood business.
These days, it seems there are less and less Long John Silver restaurants. Good thing you can follow my Long John Silver's Batter-Dipped Fish recipe below and enjoy that same great flavor at home.
Make my McDonald's French Fries recipe for the classic fish 'n chips experience.
Source: Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
Domino's Loaded TotsRead more
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.
Chipotle Chicken Al PastorRead more
A dish traditionally made with pork is redesigned for chicken in this Mexican chain’s limited-time-only sweet-and-spicy variation. All the key ingredients for good al pastor are here: pineapple, lime, achiote, and morita chipotle peppers, which come together to make a bright orange sauce used here for basting marinated chicken thighs.
The TV commercial for Chipotle’s new offering claims the morita peppers are seared and shows wild flames dancing around a pan filled with fresh green and red peppers. That is perhaps not an accurate depiction of the preparation process considering that morita peppers are made by smoking red jalapeños, not green ones. And smoked jalapeños do not look like fresh jalapeños, so I'm not sure what's going on there.
Regardless of the confusing clues in the TV ad, to make my Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor recipe, you'll want to find dry morita peppers, then remove the seeds and toast the peppers in your oven before making the secret sauce. Baste the sauce on your chicken just before it's done cooking, then chop it up and use it to make delicious tacos, burritos, salads, and bowls.
Applebee's Brew Pub Pretzels & Beer Cheese DipRead more
The chain’s popular appetizer brings three secret recipes together in one dish: the pretzels, the beer cheese, and the honey Dijon mustard dip. And I’ve got original hacks for all three formulas that will make enough for lots of bellies.
Bavarian pretzels are traditionally bathed in a lye solution before they’re baked to give them a dark shiny brown skin. Food-grade lye, when cooked, is safe to eat, but it’s not an ingredient usually found at the corner food store. So, to make my Applebee’s Beer Pub Pretzels recipe more convenient, I’m opting for a baking soda bath to darken these pretzels. They don’t have the same shine as lye-bathed pretzels, but if you use enough baking soda, your pretzels will come out beautifully caramel brown, just like the real thing.
For my Applebee’s Beer Cheese Dip recipe, I had to come up with a good way to melt white cheddar, which can be tricky since it’s hard to find mild (softer) white cheddar. Most white cheddar I found was either sharp or extra sharp, and when I made a sauce using a roux, the finished product came out much too grainy. On my next attempt, I tried a different approach by melting a chunk of Velveeta Queso Blanco in some milk before adding the shredded white cheddar. Thanks to sodium citrate, a cheese melting aid that’s in Velveeta, the sauce came out smooth as silk, and I was thrilled.
After your pretzels and beer cheese are done, mix up the easy honey Dijon mustard dipping sauce in a small bowl, and you’re ready to serve a gang of pretzel lovers with 12 Bavarian pretzel sticks and plenty of beer cheese and mustard sauce for dipping.
Check out more of my cool copycat appetizers here.
BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse Root Beer Glazed RibsRead more
The secret recipe for BJ’s great fall-off-the-bone ribs requires a specialty moist oven called a CVap, made specifically for commercial kitchens, with a price tag in the thousands of dollars. This controlled vapor oven cooks food with moist heat to braise meats, like ribs, so they're fork-tender. If you want to make ribs like that at home, but don’t have a CVap in your kitchen (or if yours is currently in the shop) you’ll need to incorporate a similar technique using a standard conventional oven. And that’s where I can help.
For my BJ’s Root Beer Glazed Ribs recipe, I first made a hack of the Big Poppa’s rub the chain uses to season the ribs, then I cooked the seasoned ribs on a rack over water mixed with liquid smoke. The liquid smoke infuses the ribs with smoke flavor, and the water in the pan will keep the ribs from drying out. Once the ribs are cooled, they are sliced, sauced, and reheated in a super-hot oven to simulate the pizza oven used at BJ’s.
When buying your ribs, pick the smallest rack of ribs with the least meat to better resemble the real recipe. Also, you’ll want to plan ahead for this recipe since the ribs take several hours to bake and chill before they’re finished in the hot oven before serving. Because of that long slow-bake time, you’ll want to start this dish early in the day, or even the day before.
Find more of my B.J.'s copycat recipes here.
Jason's Deli Irish Potato SoupRead more
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.
Jimmy Dean Pancakes and Sausage on a StickRead more
When Jimmy Dean debuted Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick in 2006, Jon Stewart held up a box on The Daily Show declaring it an example of how America continues “to push the envelope for what could technically be defined as food.” But the unusual—and apparently humorous—combination of salty breakfast sausage encased in sweet pancake batter, all on a stick, might surprise you. This innovative product probably tastes better than you expect—as good as eating maple pancakes with a side of sausage, but simultaneously and with one hand. In fact, this quirky treat became popular that other companies joined the party, and now several brands have their own versions in the freezer aisle.
As I worked on my Jimmy Dean Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick recipe I realized that there is no breakfast sausage you can buy that’s as big as the sausage used in the original. It's very long! So, for the best clone, I made the Jimmy Dean sausage from scratch using my Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage hack. That slightly tweaked recipe is included here along with everything you need to know to make dippable pancake batter than can be fried.
Alternatively, if you’d like to save some time, you can use frozen pre-made sausage, rather than making the sausage from scratch. The sausage won't taste like Jimmy Dean's, but the recipe will still work. I've got details on that in the Tidbits below.
After frying each of these breakfast snacks on a stick for 5 minutes, you can serve them right away, or you can freeze them and then heat them up later in a microwave minute, just like the real ones.
Check out more cool recipes for famous breakfast items here.
IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French ToastRead more
IHOP upped its French toast game in 2022 with the introduction of a new recipe that suggests your French toast is only as good as the bread you start with, and IHOP’s new Thick ‘N Fluffy French Toast starts with thick specialty artisan bread, rather than the more commonly used Texas toast white bread.
For my IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast recipe, you can use any thick-sliced bread from your bakery, but there are two national brands that work well: Nature’s Own Perfectly Crafted Thick-Sliced White Bread and Sara Lee Artisano. Either of those will do, but of the two, Nature’s Own is shaped more like IHOP’s version.
Adding vanilla and a little cinnamon to the easy batter will set these waffles apart from most others, and in no time, you’ll have 6 beautiful slices of French toast for a total of 3 servings. Dust them with a little powdered sugar, add some butter and maple syrup on the side, and it’s like you just opened a mini IHOP in your house.
Chipotle Garlic Guajillo SteakRead more
In the Fall of 2022, Chipotle debuted Garlic Guajillo Steak, a variation of the chain’s classic steak made with a new secret seasoning starring the fruity and slightly smokey flavor of dry guajillo peppers, and, surprisingly, prepared using a gourmet French slow-cooking technique.
After an outbreak of E. coli bacteria at Chipotle infected 53 people in nine states, the chain changed the way it cooks steak. Rather than cooking the beef entirely on a Plancha, or flat griddle, Chipotle now pre-cooks the steaks with the sous vide method wherein vacuum-packed seasoned beef is cooked slowly in swirling, heated water. This cooking technique not only eliminates any potentially harmful bacteria before the beef is grilled, but it will also speed up the seasoning process and help tenderize tougher cuts.
But you shouldn't worry if you don’t have a sous vide setup. My Chipotle Garlic Guajillo Steak recipe will also work by simply chilling the seasoned steak overnight in a zip-top bag and later cooking it off in a heavy pan or on a hot griddle. After slicing the cooked steak, toss it with some freshly squeezed lime juice and fresh cilantro, and use it as you see fit for tacos, burritos, bowls, and salads.
If you prefer chicken, head over to my clone recipe for Chipotle's Pollo Asado.
Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que Cracked Out Deviled EggsRead more
The West Coast barbecue chain introduced these creative deviled eggs with the eye-catching name as a limited-time-only offer, but sales were so good that Lucille’s Cracked Out Deviled Eggs is now a permanent fixture on the menu.
For this dish, the deviled egg yolks are combined with a blend of bacon, green onion, red bell pepper, and the chain’s delicious barbecue blend, then arranged on crispy onion straws with seasoned chicken cracklings poked down into the top of each egg. These tasty deviled eggs are unlike any you've had before and all the secrets you need to make a perfect copy at home are "cracked" for you here, including my newly hacked recipe for the delicious onion straws.
Two chicken thighs will provide enough skin for you to make plenty of the cracklings, and I’ll give you all the prep details in the recipe below, along with a couple of good ways to hard cook your eggs. If you steam your eggs as described, and if they’re fresh, you’ll have no ugly green ring around the yolk and the shells will practically fall off.
Find more of your favorite famous appetizer recipes here.
Chili's Secret Sauce BurgerRead more
In 2021, Chili’s added a new burger to its menu lineup of Big Mouth Burgers, and this one comes with a big saucy secret.
Chili's Secret Sauce Burger is simple in construction with a soft brioche bun, a huge ½-pound patty, sliced lettuce, and American cheese. It’s also got sautéed onion piled on it, which sets this burger recipe apart from typical fast food fare, but it’s the secret sauce that makes this big burger rock.
The sauce used on this burger is the same sauce the chain initially created for Chili’s Big Mouth Chicken Sandwich—a formula that appears to be inspired by the popular chicken sandwich sauce made famous at Chick-fil-A. You can make my Chili's Secret Sauce recipe revealed here in just a couple of minutes with a simple combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey, and mustard, plus a little turmeric to add a golden tint.
As for the burger patties, get ground chuck that has a fat content of at least 20%, or grind your own. As the burgers cook, press down on them with a spatula to release the melting fat like they do in the restaurant. This will trigger the Maillard reaction that browns the meat and adds a flavorful crust to your burgers, so your homemade Chili's Secret Sauce Burgers will taste just as good as the original.
Find more of your favorite recipes for Chili's famous dishes here.
Chipotle Pollo AsadoRead more
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).
Yard House Nashville Hot ChickenRead more
This hit entrée at the 80-unit Yard House brings crispy Nashville hot chicken together with house-made sweet potato pancakes and honey hot sauce syrup on one beautiful plate, and now you can re-create that gorgeous entrée at home with these exclusive secrets, right down to the crispy sage leaves on top.
In my version of Yard House's Nashville Chicken recipe, the crispy chicken is brined to make it moist and juicy on the inside, and just before serving it gets tossed with the Nashville hot sauce for a perfect re-creation of the plate's main attraction. The honey hot sauce is a simple concoction of five ingredients, and the pancakes are simplified by using canned sweet potatoes rather than fresh ones that require an additional cooking step.
Bring it all together for four impressive plates, and be sure to serve ‘em up with something tall and cold to drink.
Find my famous cocktail recipes here.
Cheesecake Factory Chicken PiccataRead more
Menu Description: “Sautéed chicken breast with lemon sauce, mushrooms, and capers. Served with angel hair pasta.”
A great chicken piccata doesn’t have to be complicated, and this fantastic take on the lemony dish from The Cheesecake Factory is a perfect example.
Since the sauce is the key to the great taste of this entrée, I made sure to get a sample on the side for later analysis when I requested my to-go order from Cheesecake Factory. While waiting, I asked the server what was in the sauce and she listed some obvious ingredients—lemon, wine, butter, cream—and then she mentioned garlic and shallots. When I got home, I rinsed the sauce through a mesh strainer to discover how much garlic and shallot were in the sauce, but there was no physical evidence of either solid ingredient left behind in the strainer.
I made a batch of the sauce without garlic and shallot, and it felt flat. So on the next batch, I added the garlic and shallot back in, then strained out the solid ingredients after they contributed their goodness to the sauce. The result was noticeably better.
After adding mushrooms and capers to the new lemon sauce, I spooned it over sautéed chicken cutlets and was rewarded with a fantastic homemade version of this amazing dish, which you can now copy at home using my Cheesecake Factory Chicken Piccata recipe below.
Check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.
McDonald's Strawberry and Creme PieRead more
Tiny apple pies have been a signature dessert on the McDonald’s menu for decades, but the chain upped its pie game recently with a tasty new treat featuring a duo of fillings in a flaky, lightly-iced crust. And no one has developed a good hack...until now.
To duplicate these personal McDonald's Strawberry and Crème pies at home, I’ve created a new crust formula and filled it with thickened, puréed frozen strawberries next to a sweetened cream cheese filling. You'll find everything you'll need in my McDonald's Strawberry and Cream Pie recipe below.
To apply the perfect amount of filling, you can convert small plastic storage bags into mini piping bags by snipping off a corner. Squeeze the fillings onto the dough, then seal up the pies, brush them with light icing, and pop them in the oven. This recipe makes ten pies, which is a good thing because everyone who watches you make these will want one.
Find my McDonald's Apple Pie recipe in "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step".
McDonald's Chicken McNuggetsRead more
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).
IHOP Chocolate Chocolate Chip PancakesRead more
A scoop of cocoa powder and a handful of chocolate chips are mixed into the chain’s famous buttermilk batter for a bold stack that is a chocoholic’s dream come true. And making a picture-perfect home hack with my IHOP Chocolate Chip Pancake recipe is about as easy as cooking can get.
Just before you serve up each stack, drizzle it with chocolate syrup and add more chips. Finish it up with a pile of whipped cream on top, and some warmed maple syrup on the side.
Popeyes Homestyle Mac & CheeseRead more
In late 2021, Popeyes debuted a new macaroni and cheese recipe made with cheddar, cream, and butter, and browned nicely on top like it was just pulled out of Mom’s home oven. After analyzing the real thing from Popeyes in my kitchen lab and experimenting with multiple batches, I was eventually able to reproduce the dish so the same great mac & cheese taste can now come out of your OWN home oven. And the best part: it's super easy to make. You'll like that.
I created my Popeyes Mac & Cheese recipe using the same ingredients used by the chain: cheddar cheese, whole milk, heavy cream, unsalted butter—all wholesome foods without any weird stuff. We'll make a quick roux for the cheese sauce using a little flour, and I’m also adding easy-melting American cheese into the mix for its keen ability to keep the sauce from becoming grainy, as cheddar-based sauces tend to do.
Combine the sauce with the pasta, brown the top under a broiler, and you just home-styled your way to a delicious mac & cheese masterpiece.
Get more cool Popeyes hacked recipes here.
Rao's Traditional MeatballsRead more
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).
You might also like my #1 recipe of 2021, Panda Express Chow Mein.
Gino's East Deep Dish PizzaRead more
It's rumored that the secret ingredient in the signature crust of a Gino’s East Deep Dish Pizza is cornmeal, but that suspicion is incorrect. The dough’s yellow color makes it looks like cornbread, and it has a softer quality than most doughs, but these qualities come from other not-so-secret ingredients that have nothing to do with corn.
When three friends—Sam Levine, Fred Bartoli, and George Loverde—opened their pizza joint just off the Miracle Mile in Chicago, Illinois in 1966, they hired talented pizza chef Alice Mae Redmond, who came up with a special dough recipe that included a "secret" conditioner. Today, Gino's ships boxes of frozen pizzas across the country and is required by law to list all the ingredients on the package. So, of course, I ordered a few of those pizzas and discovered that the "secret" dough additive is cream of tartar, and the dough's yellow tint comes from beta-carotene, a natural source of yellow. On those boxes, I also discovered zero cornmeal.
For a great deep dish crust at home, you'll need to start your dough 1 to 2 days in advance. A slow, chilled rise will improve the quality and taste of your finished crust to more closely match the characteristics of the real thing. I include cream of tartar here, just like in the original dough, and simple yellow food coloring to add the proper tint.
My Gino's East Deep Dish Pizza recipe makes a plain cheese pizza, but if you want toppings (sausage, pepperoni, bacon, onions, mushrooms, peppers, etc.), arrange them on top of the cheese before applying the sauce.
Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue SauceRead more
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 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.
Chick-fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken SandwichRead more
This chain’s not-spicy original chicken sandwich which debuted in 1964 was the first chicken sandwich introduced to America by a fast food chain, and it put Chick-fil-A on the map. By diversifying the menu with new products such as this kicked-up version of the famous sandwich, the chain grew over the years to become the #1 chicken restaurant in the nation, and this sandwich is now one of the most popular picks on the menu board.
The secrets for a good clone of the Chick-fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich lie in the brine and the breading. I recently obtained some insider intel confirming the long-standing rumor that pickle juice is the brine. I hadn’t called for it in my prior Chick-fil-A clones because the listed ingredients for the sandwich didn’t include it. I’m not sure why that is, but my latest test versions with the pickle juice were noticeably better, so now it’s in there. You should also know that MSG is an important ingredient in both the brine and breading, so don’t leave that out if you want the best clone.
Use this special trick to get three perfect sandwich-size cutlets out of each chicken breast, and then give the chicken a nice 4-hour brine. Your patience will be rewarded with one of the best chicken sandwich hacks to come out of a home kitchen.
Now, check out my version of Chick-fil-A Mac and Cheese!
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.
Monthly TSR Club
Domino's Loaded Tots