THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
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.

This Week's Big Secrets

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    Jack in the Box Smashed Jack Burger & Boss Sauce

    In 2024, Jack-in-the-Box introduced the chain’s best-reviewed burger, the Smashed Jack, with a ¼-pound “smashed-inspired” burger, grilled onions, and a new secret sauce. A press release from Jack-in-the-Box claimed that consumers in a taste test picked the new Smashed Jack as the best burger compared to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King burgers.

    You may have guessed that “smashed-inspired” means that these burgers aren’t prepared like burgers that are smashed with a press or heavy spatula on the grill—a process that triggers the Maillard reaction when amino acids and sugars are browned to give food a flavorful crust. But Jack-in-the-Box created a secret shortcut for speed and consistency that still gives the burgers that crust and the appearance of smashing without relying on cooks to actually smash them.

    For my Jack-in-the-Box Smashed Jack copycat recipe, we’ll smash the burger for real, but we’ll start with a knockoff of the new Boss Sauce, which gets its smokey flavor from just a little bit of liquid smoke. Once that sauce is done, it’s time to cook the burger patty, which I found is best copied with ground Angus beef. Use a press or heavy spatula to press down on the burger as it cooks to create a browned crust on both sides of the patty.

    After the burger is flipped, grilled onions are stacked on top, followed by American cheese. Then, the burger is finished with thick pickles and lots of your copycat Boss Sauce. This recipe shows you how to make one burger, but you’ll have enough leftover secret sauce to make several more.

    If you're a fan of Jack in the Box Jumbo Jack or any of Jack's Shakes, or their famous tacos, click here for my clone recipes.

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  • Not rated yet
    Marie Callender's Fresh Strawberry Pie

    Every March through November, Marie Callender’s sells fresh strawberry pies made with the chain’s signature flakey crust piled high with whole strawberries tossed in a sweet glaze and finished with a crown of whipped cream.

    The pies are made-to-order to ensure the freshness of the berries, but the glaze that’s added to the beautiful berries tastes like the everyday goopy red stuff found in grocery store produce sections that’s usually made with corn syrup and other crud, and no natural fruit. For my Marie Callender’s Fresh Strawberry Pie copycat recipe, I set out to improve the glaze by making it with real strawberry puree, hoping to get a tastier finished product. Thankfully, it worked out. The new glaze was vibrant and fruity; it transformed into a nice gel and didn’t upstage the strawberries. This small change makes a strawberry pie that’s even better than the original.

    I designed the glaze to use frozen strawberries, so it’s quick and easy, and I’m also including scratch recipes here for the whipped cream and pie crust. You can buy each of these pre-made to speed up your build, but taking a little time to make the whipped cream and/or crust from scratch will absolutely be worth the extra effort. Also, I slightly tweaked my previous Marie Callender’s pastry formula to make it more closely match the current pie crust served at the chain.

    Try my Marie Callender's Fresh Strawberry Pie copycat recipe below, and find more of my Marie Callender's pie 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.

    Find more copycat recipes for famous sauces 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)
    Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa

    In March 2024, Taco Bell debuted the Cantina Chicken menu, featuring 2 types of tacos, a burrito, a quesadilla, and a chicken bowl, each starring the chain’s new slow-roasted chicken. The Mexican chain also introduced avocado salsa made with peppers, tomatillos, lime, cilantro, and avocado as a companion to the latest items. But unlike all the other hot sauces, extra packets of the new sauce cost 20 cents each. And the 2½ teaspoons of salsa they hold doesn’t go very far. But 3½ cups sure does.

    For my Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa copycat recipe, I found there was no need to go through the extra time-consuming step of roasting fresh tomatillos and peppers when canned ingredients worked so great. The avocado, lime juice, and cilantro will be fresh, and the dry ingredients, namely the onion and garlic, will rehydrate nicely as the salsa rests.

    The first ingredient in Taco Bell’s version is oil, but for our purposes, we can reduce the ratio. Taco Bell chefs most likely add all that oil to their salsa to prevent the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown, thereby extending its shelf life. The oil has the same function in my version, but I call for ½ cup, which is much less percentage-wise than the real thing. The oil will indeed extend the life of your salsa, but feel free to reduce the amount substantially if you plan to eat the salsa within a couple of days and prefer to avoid the added fat.

    Followed as written, this recipe makes 3 1/2 cups of salsa or the equivalent of 67 Taco Bell blister packs. 

    Try more of my Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes

    A great buttermilk pancake recipe will produce fluffy, tangy, and slightly sweet pancakes—the same qualities as the popular pancakes served at Cracker Barrel restaurants nationwide. But Cracker Barrel’s flapjacks have a secret ingredient that sets the chain’s morning stack apart from other restaurants. And this Top Secret Recipe will reveal it.

    To create my Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes copycat recipe, I first purchased a box of the chain’s pancake mix at the restaurant’s store to examine the list of ingredients on the package. In the list were the ingredients you'd expect, like wheat flour, sugar, salt, and leavening. But there was also a surprise: yellow corn flour. When added to the mix in the right ratio, the yellow corn flour contributed great cornbread-like flavor and gave the pancakes a unique crumbly texture that many seem to love.

    Does this special ingredient produce buttermilk pancakes which are superior to a more traditional recipe? It's easy to find out. Once you have corn flour and just a handful of other common ingredients, it takes just minutes to produce enough pancakes for you and everyone else to get a taste and decide if these are indeed the best buttermilk pancakes in the biz.

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Charms Blow Pop

    The fruity lollipop with gum inside is Charms' bestselling product, but the cool combo candy was the brainchild of a different candy company. Thomas T. Tidwell of Triple T Co. invented and patented his method for encasing gum inside candy in the 1960s, and sold his new lollipop, Triple Treat, for a short time. In 1973, Tidwell sold the product idea to the Charms Candy Company who renamed it Blow Pop, and for over 50 years the famous pop has been enjoyed by millions of happy mouths.

    I’m not privy to the details of Tidwell’s method, but I can see by the vertical seam on a real Blow Pop that it's probably made by sealing two halves of the pop together, one half with gum and one half without. I tried various silicone lollipop molds for my Charms Blow Pop copycat recipe with little success and decided instead to create a technique using half of a slightly altered cake pop mold. I first poured half of the pop into the molds, added the gum on a stick, and when it hardened I removed it, poured the other half of the candy into the mold, and added the hardened first half on top. When all was set, I had perfectly spherical pops with seams just like the original. And it didn’t seem to bother anyone that my pops were more than twice as big as the real thing.

    I designed my recipe to call for 1 dram of LorAnn Oils which you can find online. The original Blow Pops come in five flavors, and I’ve got four of them for you here: cherry, grape, watermelon, and sour apple. I also made a batch of cinnamon pops just for fun and added those instructions to the Tidbits below. Real Blow Pops don’t come in cinnamon flavor, but after tasting these, you might wish they did.

    Click here to make more famous candy at home. 

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  • Not rated yet
    Starbucks Pink Drink

    Many new food product ideas emerge from corporate test kitchens, but Starbucks’ Pink Drink was born on social media. That’s where customers learned to request coconut milk in their order of the chain’s strawberry-acai refreshers drink, and when they gave it a good shake it turned pink. That was in 2016. When high demand persisted for the “secret menu” item, Starbucks added the Pink Drink to its permanent menu one year later, in 2017.

    You'll have no trouble creating my Starbucks Pink Drink copycat recipe as long as you procure a bottle of the strawberry acai flavor of Dr. Smoothie Refreshers. This lightly caffeinated concentrated drink mix can be found online in 46-ounce bottles and will be enough to make 11 (16-ounce) Pink Drink clones. You’ll also need coconut milk, preferably one that isn’t too thick or chunky (Goya brand is good), and freeze-dried strawberries.

    Finish the drink by shaking everything together in a shaker with ice, then pour the pink goodness into a 16-ounce glass and consume with glee.

    Find more of my Starbucks copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie

    For a delicious slice of your favorite iconic American pie, Marie Callender’s is the place to go. The chain serves tasty breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees, but it's mostly famous for great homestyle pies, and the classic coconut cream pie is no exception. Like many other pies I’ve hacked from Marie Callender's (Pumpkin Pie, Double Cream Blueberry Pie, Chocolate Satin Pie), the Coconut Cream Pie is sold in your store’s freezer section. But none of these frozen pies are as good as a fresh one you make from scratch. 

    The filling for my Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie copycat recipe takes just 10 minutes to make, and if you use a premade pie crust, this becomes a very low-impact recipe. I recommend you make the whipped cream topping from scratch using the recipe here that will produce much better whipped cream than anything from a can, and it's also quick. The most time-consuming step is making the dollops of whipped cream that cover the top of the pie, but even that’s pretty fun.

    If you’d like to make your pie crust from scratch, I’m including a recipe from my previous Marie Callender’s pie hacks. It’ll add time to your build, but the extra effort will be worth it.

    Try more of my Marie Callender's copycat recipes here.

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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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  • 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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  • Not rated yet
    Bonefish Grill Imperial Dip

    It’s creamy and cheesy and doesn’t skimp on shrimp and scallops. Bonefish Grill’s Imperial Dip might very well be the best seafood dip at any chain, and after several visits in the early evening to take advantage of the Happy Hour price, I got even happier when I could construct a great clone.

    Sitting at the bar allowed me to chat up the server and obtain several helpful preparation tips. That’s when I discovered that shrimp stock is the secret to the dip’s great taste. And that’s why my Bonefish Grill Imperial Dip copycat recipe starts with an easy way to make your own stock with the shells harvested from the shrimp that goes in the dip.

    After sautéing the shrimp and scallops, it takes just minutes to prepare a sauce with the shrimp stock, cream, and cheese. Then, everything is combined and poured into a cast iron skillet. After a quick broil to brown the top, you’ll have a great match to the real thing, except your version will be three times bigger.

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

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  • Not rated yet
    McDonald's Mambo Sauce

    One of two new sauces McDonald’s debuted in late 2023 is inspired by the famous Washington D.C.-area sauce originally offered at chicken wing restaurants and Chinese takeout joints in the 1960s. The sweet, sour, and spicy mambo sauce—also called mumbo sauce—is used as a dip for all kinds of finger foods including fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, French fries, and eggrolls.

    But McDonald’s only offered the sauce in small blister packs, which were available for about a month. So, if we want to bring back the great flavor of the limited-time-only sauce we'll need a handy home hack. Fortunately, I got my mitts on enough of the sauce before it went away to whip up this exclusive knockoff.

    My McDonald's Mambo Sauce copycat recipe is super easy, requires only common ingredients, and will make 1½ cups of the versatile stuff you can use for dipping anything that needs to be perked up.

    You might also like my clones for McDonald's sweet and spicy jam, hot mustard, sweet and sour, honey mustard, and Szechuan dipping sauces. Find all my McDonald's copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Raising Cane's Sauce

    This chicken finger chain makes a big deal out of its "secret" dipping sauce recipe, even requiring employees to sign a confidentiality agreement to protect any details about the recipe. As far as I can tell, it's a very simply recipe made with just a handful of pretty obvious ingredients. All you do is mix everything together and let it sit for a bit in the fridge. This may not be the exact recipe the chain uses, but it tastes the same, and that's all that matters. 

    Get the full recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step".

    You might also like my bottled Chicken Tender Sauce, inspired by the sauce at Zaxby's and Raising Cane's.

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  • Not rated yet
    Nothing Bundt Cakes White Chocolate Raspberry Cake

    While sharing a Bundt cake one day in 1997, amateur bakers and close friends Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz realized they could do better. After much experimentation, the duo discovered a batter that produced a moist, delicious cake, which was a huge improvement over the dense, dry cake usually associated with Bundts. But they weren’t done yet.

    The next step was to decide how to best frost their new Bundt cake. Traditionally, Bundt cakes are glazed by drizzling warm icing over the top, which drips down the sides and dries there. But the pair didn’t want to use glaze. They had a cream cheese icing they thought tasted better than any glaze, but it took some time to figure out how to apply it. They eventually settled on frosting their Bundts with large piped vertical ropes, so the icing looks like it’s dripping down the outside of the cake.

    To make a Bundt cake that matches the moistness and crumb of the real Nothing Bundt Cake, it’s important to start with the right flour. The cake has more bite to it than one made with only cake flour, but it isn’t as tough as one made with all-purpose flour. That’s why I settled on pastry flour, like the one from Bob’s Red Mill. Pastry flour contains more protein than cake flour, but not as much as all-purpose flour, so it works perfectly here. If you can’t find pastry flour, no need to worry. I’ve got a way for you to hack it by combining cake flour with all-purpose flour in a 2-to-1 ratio.

    The raspberry puree is made from scratch using frozen raspberries and it’s swirled into the batter before the cake goes into the oven. While the cake cools you can make the cream cheese buttercream icing. Get a 1A tip, which is a wide, circular tip for a pastry bag or gun, to make ropes of icing over the top and down the sides of the cake all the way around, just like the original.

    Get this recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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