California Pizza Kitchen Grilled Eggplant Cheeseless Pizza
When PepsiCo shelled out $100 million for a 67 percent share of the trendy pizza chain back in 1992, founders Lawrence Flax and Richard Rosenfield thought they had it made. Unfortunately, the company behind Pizza Hut found expanding the more upscale eatery an unfamiliar struggle. The company expanded too quickly, and as costs began to dwarf sales figures, fresh ingredients were replace with cheaper frozen products. Customers noticed and sales took a nosedive. By 1996, PepsiCo decided to bail out.
The following year, PepsiCo's share of the chain was picked up by New York investment firm Rosser, Sherrill and Co. Fresh ingredients returned to the kitchens, and the size of the pizzas was increased without adjusting the price. Sales once again blossomed, and the chain was on its way back to turning its first profit since 1991.
Here's a great pizza to clone if you need to take a little time off from delicious-yet-fat-filled mozzarella cheese. With the marinated, grilled eggplant and tasty honey-wheat dough, you won't even miss that gooey white stuff. Be sure to start this one a day before you plan to eat it. The dough needs that long to rise in the fridge for just the right California Pizza Kitchen-like taste.
Serving size–3 slices
Calories per serving–380
Fat per serving–8g
Source: Low-Fat Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3/4 teaspoon yeast
- 2/3 cup bread flour
- 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 eggplant, sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
- 1/4 medium red onion, sliced into thin rings (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh cilantro
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped into thin strips
- 1/3 cup reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes, sliced into strips (see Tidbits)
- Fat-free vinaigrette
1. Prepare the pizza dough by combining the water with the honey and yeast in a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir until the yeast is dissolved, then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes until the surface turns foamy. Sift the flours and salt together in a medium bowl. Make a depression in the flour and pour the olive oil and yeast mixture into it. Use a fork or spoon to stir the liquid, gradually drawing in more flour as you stir, until all the ingredients are combined. At this point you will have to use your hands to blend the dough until it is smooth and to form it into a ball. Knead the dough with the heels of your hands on lightly floured surface for 10 minutes or until the texture of the dough is smooth and elastic. Form the dough back into a ball, coat it lightly with oil, and place it in a clean bowl covered with plastic wrap. Keep the dough in a warm place for about 2 hours to allow the dough to double in size. Punch the dough down and put it back into the covered bowl and into the refrigerator overnight. Take the dough from the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before you plan to build the pizza so that the dough can warm up to room temperature.
2. When you're ready to make your pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, now's the time to use it.
3. Preheat barbecue grill to high temperature.
4. Combine the soy sauce with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and cumin in a small bowl.
5. Brush the entire surface of each eggplant slice with this soy sauce mixture. Make sure you have some left over.
6. Grill the eggplant slices for 2 to 3 minutes per side, then remove them from the grill to cool.
7. On a lightly floured surface, form the pizza dough into a circle with an approximately 10-inch diameter. Be sure to form a lip around the edge.
8. Brush the top surface of the pizza dough with the remaining soy sauce mixture.
9. Arrange the red onion slices over the pizza dough.
10. The eggplant slices go on the pizza next, then toss the pizza into the oven on a pizza pan, or directly onto a pizza stone. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the crust is light brown and crispy. Pop any bubbles in the crust that may form as the pizza bakes.
11. Remove the pizza from the oven and sprinkle cilantro over the top.
12. Slice the pizza into 6 even slices with a sharp pizza wheel.
13. Sprinkle the thinly chopped spinach over the top of the pizza.
14. Sprinkle the sun-dried tomato strips over the top.
15. Serve pizza with the optional vinaigrette on the side.
Makes 1 10-inch pizza
Tidbits: Heat a couple cups of water to boiling in the microwave. Add 6 to 8 sun-dried tomato slices to the water and let them sit for about 1/2 hour. Remove the slices and drain on paper towels until you need them.
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Menu Description: "Chunks of Fresh Avocado, Sun-Dried Tomato, Red Onion and Cilantro Deep Fried in a Crisp Chinese Wrapper."
In 1995, Forbes Magazine named The Cheesecake Factory in its list of the 200 best small companies in America. At more than 90 stores now, The Cheesecake Factory plans to continue growing at a rate of about 11 new restaurants per year, and still does not franchise.
The avocado egg rolls are one of the most popular appetizers on the menu at the Cheesecake Factory, and it's not hard to see why. The combination of avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, and the cilantro-tamarind sauce makes this one of the tastiest appetizers I've had at any restaurant chain.
The trickiest part of my Cheesecake Factory avocado egg rolls recipe might be finding the tamarind pulp at your market. It's a brown, sticky pulp that looks like puréed prunes, and can be found in the spice section or near the ethnic foods—or try a Middle Eastern market. The pulp sometimes contains the large seeds of the fruit, so be sure to remove them before measuring. If you can't find the tamarind paste, you can get by substituting smashed raisins or prunes.
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 great Olive Garden breadstick hack 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 Olive Garden breadstick copycat recipe.
Menu Description: "With vanilla ice cream and sticky bun caramel sauce."
I've been searching for the restaurant chain with the best bread pudding recipe, and I think I've found it here at Gordon Biersch. This small, yet growing, microbrewery chain serves great beer, awesome pizza, and a bread pudding that is downright amazing. It could be described as what would materialize out the other side if Jeff Goldblum threw an apple pie, some bread pudding and a cinnamon roll into his teleportation machine from "The Fly," and everything came out the other side combined into a single awesome dessert. The sautéed apples laid into the middle of the bread pudding make other bread puddings I eat now seem like they're missing something. And the homemade caramel sauce, with just a little brown sugar thrown into our clone version, adds a sticky bun flavor you'll have dreams about. No matter how big your dinner feast was, everyone will still somehow find room for this.
The original at the restaurant is baked in a deep pan, and the pudding is sliced and served on its side, so for my Gordon Biersch Warm Apple Bread Pudding recipe you'll want to use the biggest loaf pan you can find. I used a 3-inch deep 10x5-inch loaf pan, and it was full. If your pan is smaller, you may have to leave a bit out. The pudding will swell up out of the pan as it cooks, but it will shrink back down as it cools. Fun to watch. You may want to make this the day before so that the bread pudding can set up in the fridge. When you are ready to serve, nuke a serving for 1 minute until warm, then add the sauce and ice cream and a handful of pecans. It appears the restaurant chain uses egg bread in the pudding, but Texas Toast thick-sliced white bread may be easier to find, and it works just as well.
Menu Description: "Fire-roasted chicken breast topped with mushrooms, prosciutto and our Florio Marsala wine sauce."
To create my Carrabba's Chicken Marsala recipe, I ordered the dish to go, with the sauce on the side, so that I could separately analyze each component. After some trial and error in the underground lab, I found that re-creating the secret sauce from scratch is easy enough with a couple small cans of sliced mushrooms, a bit of prosciutto, some Marsala wine, shallots, garlic and a few other good things.
Cooking the chicken requires a very hot grill. The restaurant chain grills chicken breasts over a blazing real wood fire, so crank your grill up high enough to get the flames nipping at your cluckers (not a euphemism). If your grill has a lid, keep it open, so you can watch for nasty flare-ups.
Menu Description: "Applewood smoked bacon, grilled chicken and Mozzarella cheese, hearth baked, then topped with Roma tomatoes, chilled chopped lettuce tossed in mayonnaise and fresh sliced avocados."
There's no better way to clone the great pizzas from this creative chain than to start with dough made from scratch. Since the best way to re-create commercial-style pizza dough at home is to use the same slow-rising technique the pros use, you're going to have to plan ahead at least 24 hours. This is the length of time it will take for the gluten in the flour to work its magic while resting comfortably in your refrigerator. And, if you've got the patience, 48 hours is even better.
Once the dough is ready to go, you should bake your pizzas—my CPK California Club Pizza recipe makes two—on a pre-heated pizza stone in your oven. If you don't already have one, you can find one of the round or rectangular stones in just about any housewares store. This cooking method is the absolute best way to produce an evenly baked finished product with a texture and taste that mirrors the amazing pies CPK whips out of rocket-hot brick pizza ovens.
Source Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
Menu Description: "Shredded napa cabbage, chilled grilled chicken breast, julienne cucumbers, edamame, crispy wontons, peanuts, cilantro, julienne carrots, red cabbage and scallions tossed with a lime-cilantro dressing. Topped with crispy rice sticks and Thai peanut dressing."
You can plan ahead for my delicious copycat California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) Thai Crunch salad recipe by first grilling the chicken and chilling it, then preparing the cilantro-lime dressing and the peanut sauce in advance. The menu description says that the salad is topped with "crispy rice sticks," but they look to me like crispy bean threads, cooked in a flash when dropped into hot oil for a few seconds. The crispy wontons are made from frying thinly sliced wonton wrappers in the same hot oil.
For the edamame (soybeans), look in the frozen food section, and if they're still in their pods, be sure to take them out before measuring and tossing them into the salad. Once you've got everything chilled and chopped, building each dish is a breeze, and you'll have four huge dinner-size salads that will each be enough for an entire meal.
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).
“Don’t call them fries,” says KFC about its popular side made with sliced, skin-on russet potatoes. What sets these potatoes apart from all the others is the secret breading made with a similar seasoning blend to the one used for Colonel's Original Recipe Fried Chicken. To achieve the proper crispiness, the potatoes are par-fried, frozen, then fried again until golden brown.
One important ingredient that completes the flavor is MSG. Monosodium glutamate is a food additive derived from glutamic acid, which is an important amino acid found in abundance in nature, food, and in you right now. Over the last 60 years of study and use, MSG has not only been found harmless in normal amounts, but tests have shown glutamate to be a chemical messenger that benefits gut health, immunity, and brain functions such as memory and learning. In addition to all of that, it imparts a unique savoriness that enhances flavors in other ingredients and makes your food taste amazing. Using MSG in your food is, literally, smart cooking.
Another important ingredient is ground Tellicherry black pepper, a select black pepper from India. Winston Shelton, a friend of Harland Sanders who invented the first high-volume pressure fryers for KFC, confirmed this. Shelton recalled seeing the ingredient when Sanders showed him the secret formula for the fried chicken seasoning he had scribbled on a piece of paper.
While we were shooting the first episode of my TV Show, Top Secret Recipe, Winston pulled me aside and whispered to me that Tellicherry pepper is crucial to creating the unique KFC aftertaste. It was a great tip, and fortunately, we caught that moment on camera and you can see it in the show. Later, I conducted a side-by-side taste test with common black pepper and Tellicherry black pepper and discovered Winston was right. If you want the best taste for your copycat KFC Potato Wedges, you'll need Tellicherry pepper, which you can find online and in some food stores. Be sure to grind it fine before using it.
For my KFC Potato Wedges recipe, just two russet potatoes are all it takes to make the equivalent of a large serving of fried potato wedges, which will be enough for at least four people.
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 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).
Menu Description: "Chopped lettuce, basil, salami, chilled roast turkey breast, diced tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese tossed in our herb-mustard Parmesan vinaigrette topped with scallions."
It's the delicious herb-mustard Parmesan vinaigrette that makes this salad so good. And since freshly made dressings are way better than anything you'll buy in a store, here's a great recipe for vinaigrette that you can use either on the CPK Original chopped salad here, or on any salad you assemble with ingredients on hand. After heating up these vinaigrette ingredients for a couple of minutes, let the mixture cool, and then drizzle a thin stream of olive oil into the dressing as you blend it with an electric mixer on high speed. This will create an emulsion to thicken the vinaigrette and hold all the ingredients together even as the dressing chills.
Menu Description: "Introduced in our first restaurant in 1985. With barbecued chicken, sliced red onion, cilantro, and smoked Gouda cheese."
In 1985, attorneys Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield traded in their private practice, which included defending mob bosses and union officials, for a specialty pizza chain. These two "amateur chefs" say they were influenced by Wolfgang Puck, whose Spago restaurant in Los Angeles was the first to create pizza with unusual toppings. Now they have developed a niche somewhere between gourmet food and traditional Italian-style pizzas, creating what one magazine described as "designer pizza at off-the-rack prices." In addition to the pastas, soups, and salads, California Pizza Kitchen offers dozens of unique pizza creations that reflect the current trends in dining. When Cajun food was in style, the Cajun chicken pizza was a top seller; today that item has been replaced with Southwestern and Thai pizza varieties. As the menu explains, the Barbecued Chicken Pizza was one of the first pizzas served at California Pizza Kitchen. Decades later it remains one of the top-selling pizza creations.
You can use this CPK BBQ chicken pizza recipe to make your pizza with pre-made or packaged dough, but I highly recommend taking the time to make the dough yourself. You'll find that it's well worth the little bit of extra work.
Who needs meat when you can make a pizza taste like this without it? It's grilled veggies and mozzarella cheese stacked on a great clone for the chain's tasty honey-wheat dough. With regular mozzarella cheese, the total fat for three slices comes in at around nineteen grams, which is still much less than you'd get from, say, the pepperoni-topped variety tipping the scales at about fifteen grams per slice. Just remember to prepare your dough a day before you plan to make the pizza. This way you'll get the best consistency in the final product. And one heck of a better clone.
Serving size–3 slices
Calories per serving–632
Fat per serving–19g
Source: Low-Fat Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
Menu Description: "Our creamy cheesecake with chunks of white chocolate and swirls of imported seedless raspberries throughout. Baked in a chocolate crust and finished with white chocolate shavings and whipped cream."
Use my Cheesecake Factory White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake recipe below to make a home version of the cheesecake that many claim is the best they've ever had. Raspberry preserves are the secret ingredient that is swirled into the cream cheese that's poured into a crumbled chocolate cookie crust. Yum. No wonder this cheesecake is the number one pick from the chain's massive list of cheesecake choices.
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.
In March 2020, Wendy’s entered the fast food breakfast wars with 18 new items, and the star that emerged from the bunch is a bacon-lover’s dream. The Breakfast Baconator help lead Wendy’s to morning meal sales success in the midst of a pandemic, as other fast feeders, like McDonald’s, struggled in the a.m.
Wendy's substantial sunrise sandwich is made with a square (of course) sausage patty, a fried egg, 2 slices of American cheese, and 6 halved bacon slices. That's good right there, but when you slather Wendy's delicious top secret Swiss cheese sauce onto a brioche bun, you've got something really special. And filling. All the building instructions are here in my Wendy's Breakfast Baconator recipe, including an easy hack for the Swiss cheese sauce using just 4 ingredients!
One of the ingredients—Swiss cheese Singles—is what allows us to make a smooth, non-gritty sauce. If you can’t find Singles, use any other brand of Swiss cheese “product” that contains sodium citrate. That’s the secret ingredient that helps make the sauce so creamy.
Menu Description: “Four buttermilk pancakes layered with vanilla sauce and dulce de leche caramel sauce. Crowned with whipped topping.”
Re-creating this pancake version of Mexico’s mucho moist tres leches cake boils down to mastering two easy sauces: dulce de leche caramel and a vanilla sauce.
For the dulce de leche we’ll use a can of sweetened condensed milk, as do many traditional recipes. But I found that undiluted condensed milk produced caramel with an unpleasant canned-milk aftertaste. To improve the flavor, I first combined the condensed milk with whole milk, then cooked it down in a water bath the same way. The caramel sitting in the bottom of the pan was smooth and creamy, it tasted much better, and the process was as simple as it gets.
Turning to the vanilla sauce, I expected a basic formula at IHOP flavored with just vanilla extract, but I was pleasantly surprised to see real vanilla bean seeds in there. I excitedly added the seeds of a whole vanilla bean to our clone, in addition to the vanilla extract. But that’s not all the flavor we need for a match. I taste some butterscotch in there as well, so I’m including a little butterscotch flavoring in the final formula. If butterscotch isn’t your thing, feel free to replace that flavoring with an equal amount of vanilla extract.
Use my IHOP Mexican Tres Leches pancake recipe below, put it all together, and you have a cool home version to enjoy anytime.
Check out more of your favorite recipes from IHOP right here.
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 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).
Menu Description: "Lightly fried Brussels sprouts tossed in Big Poppa Smokers Desert Gold seasoning with sweet sriracha crema."
Brussels sprouts have been exploding on chain restaurant menus in recent years, and the best I've tasted are served as starters. The cruciferous wonders are usually roasted or fried, then dressed with a sauce meant to override the sprouts' inherent bitterness. And when they’re done right, those Brussels sprouts will be the most memorable dish at the table.
BJ’s preparation technique of choice for Brussels sprouts is to fry them, then sprinkle them with a lemony seasoning blend by Big Poppa Smokers just before they get drizzled with sweet sriracha crema. For the seasoning, there’s no need to buy the real thing since I’ve come up with an easy hack. And the sriracha crema copycat couldn’t be simpler, with just four ingredients.
My BJ's Honey Sriracha Brussels Sprouts recipe makes a share plate appetizer-size serving for 2 to 4 people, but you'll have enough seasoning and sauce here for a bigger serving (such as a side dish) if you just add more sprouts.
Braised and shredded pork shoulder is a staple of Mexican cuisine that Chipotle prepares with a simple blend of flavors, and a surprising ingredient you may not have expected: juniper berries. Once you track those down (they’re easy to find online), the berries are combined with thyme and bay leaves in a braising liquid that will transform your own pork roast into an easily shreddable thing of beauty in under 3 hours. Then you can use your Chipotle carnitas clone on tacos, in burritos, or in a bowl over rice and beans just like they do in the restaurant.
When picking your pork roast, try to find one without too much fat. If your roast has a thick cap of fat on it, trim off the excess. You want some fat in your braising liquid, but if the cap of fat is too thick, it may not fully render down and you’ll get chunks of fat in the shred.
It’s often assumed that the pork butt is from the rear end of the pig, even though cuts from the back region already have a name: ham. The pork butt, also known as a Boston butt, is cut from the other end, the upper shoulder of the pig. It’s called a “butt” because in pre-Revolutionary War New England the roasts were stored and transported in barrels called “butts”, and the confusing name stuck.
This recipe was our #5 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce (#1), Olive Garden Lasagna Classico (#2), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4).
My new favorite caramel corn is from Popcornopolis. Its caramel coating is lighter in color and flavor than the dark molasses-heavy caramel coating on old-school caramel corn, like Cracker Jack. The flavor is more buttery, like butter toffee, with just a hint of molasses knocking at the back door.
To create my Popcornopolis caramel corn recipe I worked with several versions of butter toffee candy, adding light brown sugar to bring in the molasses, and after several attempts finally landed on just the right combination of ingredients to best duplicate the flavor, color, and texture of the real thing.
You'll want a candy thermometer for this recipe for the best results, but if you don't have one you can estimate when the candy is done by using the time cue in the steps.
Vanilla is added at the end, so we don't cook out the flavor. You'll also add a little baking soda at the end, which will react with the acid in the molasses and create tiny air bubbles so the hardened candy has a more tender bite to it.
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.
There’s one copycat recipe for these famous biscuits that’s posted and shared more than any other, and it’s downright awful. The dough is formulated with self-rising flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, shortening, and buttermilk, and many complain that the recipe creates dough that’s much too loose and the resulting biscuits are a complete disaster. Yet there the recipe remains on blogs and boards all over the interweb for unsuspecting home cloners such as yourself to waste time on. But that won’t happen anymore, because I have made a good copycat Bojangles' buttermilk biscuits recipe that works the way it should, guaranteeing you’ll get amazing golden buttermilk biscuits that look and taste just like a trained Bojangles’ pro made them.
In addition to the obvious overuse of buttermilk, the popular recipe I found online has many problems. The author gets it right when calling for self-rising flour, which is flour containing salt and a leavening agent (aka baking powder), but why would any copycat Bojangles biscuit recipe be designed to use self-rising flour and then add additional leaving? Well, it probably wouldn’t. Biscuits are job number 1 for self-rising flour, and the leavening in there is measured for that use, so there’s no need to add more. If you were planning to add your own leavening, you’d probably start with all-purpose flour, which has no leavening in it. And let's just be clear: baking powder tastes gross, so we want to add as little as possible, not more than necessary.
It’s also important to handle the dough the same way that workers at Bojangles’ do. They make biscuits there every 20 minutes, and there are plenty of YouTube videos showing the preparation technique. In a nutshell, the dough is mixed by hand (in the restaurant they use their hands because the quantity is so large, but for this recipe use a mixing spoon), then it’s folded over a few times on a floured countertop before it’s rolled out. This gentle handling of the dough prevents the gluten in the flour from toughening and adds layers, so your biscuits come out of the oven tender and flakey.
For the best results, find White Lily flour. This self-rising flour is low in gluten and makes unbelievably fluffy biscuits. If you use another self-rising brand, you’ll still get great biscuits, but the gluten level will likely be higher, the biscuits will be tougher, and you’ll probably need more buttermilk. Head down to the Tidbits below for details on that.
And I noticed another thing most copycat Bojangles biscuit recipes get wrong. For biscuits that are beautifully golden brown on the top and bottom, you’ll want to bake them on a silicone baking mat (or parchment paper) at 500 degrees F. Yes, 500 degrees. That may seem hot, but this high temp works well with self-rising flour, and in 12 to 15 minutes the biscuits will be perfectly browned.
Counterintuitively, it’s the lower temperatures that end up burning the biscuits, while the higher temperature cooks them just right. At lower temps the biscuits must stay in the oven longer to cook through, which exposes the surfaces to more heat, and they end up too dark on the outside, especially the bottom. For even better results, if you have a convection setting on your oven, use that and set the temp to 475 degrees F. Your biscuits will look like they came straight from the drive-thru.
Try my Bojangles' Buttermilk Biscuits copycat recipe below, and find more tasty Bojangles' copycat recipes here.
For many years this entrée has been a top menu choice at Maggiano's, the 54-unit Italian chain from Brinker, the same company that operates Chili’s Grill & Bar. The $30 restaurant dish consists of three 2½-ounce tenderloin steaks, swimming in a fantastic balsamic cream sauce with sliced portabello mushrooms—but a home version of Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions is only seven easy steps away, and it won't hit you in the wallet as hard as the pricey original.
Cracking this dish required a perfect hack of the sauce, and that came quickly after obtaining some very reliable information from my incredibly helpful server/informant at a Las Vegas Maggiano’s. Let’s call him Skippy.
According to Skippy, the balsamic cream sauce is as simple as mixing a sweet balsamic glaze with the chain’s creamy Alfredo sauce. So, I first got a sample of Maggiano’s Alfredo sauce and figured out how to replicate it. Once that was done, I measured increments of balsamic glaze into the Alfredo sauce until the color and flavor matched the original. The rest of the recipe was easy.
This recipe will make two servings of the Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions and includes preparation for the tenderloins and sauce. If you’d like to complete the dish the way it’s served at the restaurant (as in the photo), add some garlic mashed potatoes on the side, using my hack for Olive Garden Garlic Mashed Potatoes.
Here’s a hack that might help when you feel like doing something special with those steaks in the fridge. Or maybe you have salmon fillets in there? Doesn’t matter, this recipe works great on both. And it also makes a great pasta sauce.
The secret Toowoomba sauce is a variation on alfredo sauce that Outback served over pasta at one time. These days the sauce is only used to top steak and salmon at the restaurant, but you can also use it on just about any type of pasta.
In my early batches of the sauce, I noticed that if the shrimp are added at the beginning they get too tough. To solve that problem, I sautéed the seasoned shrimp separately, then added them closer to the end, and they came out perfect.
Spoon your homemade Toowoomba sauce over grilled tenderloin filets (or salmon filets) for an easy way to elevate your entrée. My Outback Steakhouse Toowoomba sauce recipe will make enough for four servings.
Braised Beef Pasta Menu Description: “Slow-simmered meat sauce with tender braised beef and Italian sausage, tossed with ruffled pappardelle pasta and a touch of alfredo sauce—just like Nonna’s recipe.”
It’s a mistake to assume that a recipe posted to a restaurant chain’s website is the real recipe for the food served there. I’ve found this to be the case with many Olive Garden recipes, and this one is no exception. A widely circulated recipe that claims to duplicate the chain’s classic Bolognese actually originated on Olive Garden’s own website, and if you make that recipe you’ll be disappointed when the final product doesn’t even come close to the real deal. I won’t get into all the specifics of the things wrong with that recipe (too much wine, save some of that for drinking!), but at first glance it’s easy to see that a few important ingredients found in traditional Bolognese sauces are conspicuously missing, including milk, basil, lemon, and nutmeg.
I incorporated all those missing ingredients into my Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese copycat recipe, tweaked a few other things, and then tested several methods of braising the beef so that it comes out perfectly tender: covered, uncovered, and a combo. The technique I settled on was cooking the sauce covered for 2 hours, then uncovered for 1 additional hour so that the sauce reduces and the beef transforms into a fork-flakeable flavor bomb. Yes, it comes from Olive Garden, but this Bolognese is better than any I’ve had at restaurants that charge twice as much, like Rao’s where the meat is ground, not braised, and they hit you up for $30.
As a side note, Olive Garden’s menu says the dish comes with ruffled pappardelle pasta, but it’s actually mafaldine, a narrower noodle with curly edges (shown in the top right corner of the photo). Pappardelle, which is the traditional pasta to serve with Bolognese, is a very wide noodle with straight edges, and it’s more familiar than mafaldine, so perhaps that’s why the menu fudges this fact. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which pasta you choose. Just know that a wide noodle works best. Even fettuccine is good here.
For the little bit of Alfredo sauce spooned into the middle of the dish, I went with a premade bottled sauce to save time. You can also make this from scratch if you like (I’ve got a great hack for Olive Garden’s Alfredo Sauce), but it’s such a small amount that premade sauce in either a chilled tub from the deli section or in a bottle off the shelf works great here.
This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).
If you like sweet with a little bit of heat, and if you like salmon, then you'll love my Outback Steakhouse Firecracker Salmon recipe.
Grilled salmon is brushed with the restaurant's top secret Firecracker Sauce and then it's topped with simple-to-make mango salsa. Those fabulous formulas are all here, and I’ll also show you how to cook the salmon the same way the restaurant does for a perfectly awesome kitchen clone.
Samuel Bath Thomas immigrated from England to New York City and opened his first bakery there in 1880. That is where Thomas created skillet bread that would one day become the famous muffins known for their craggy texture when split in half. This hack for Thomas’ English Muffins uses a special kneading process to give the muffins the "nooks and crannies" they are famous for, making craters in the finished bread to better hold on to melted butter and jam.
I have seen several recipes that claim to re-create these muffins, but none produce the large air pockets that a proper Thomas' English Muffin recipe requires, in addition to great flavor and a perfectly cooked interior. To ensure proper nooks and crannies and muffins that are cooked all the way through, I've included some important steps.
The dough you'll make here is like a ciabatta dough in that it is very wet. So rather than kneading the dough, you stretch and fold it over several times on a well-oiled surface. Then, when the portioned-out dough has proofed on baking sheets for another 1½ to 2 hours, you par-bake the muffins.
After baking, the muffins are cooked on a griddle or in a pan until dark brown on both sides, then they must cool. This is the hardest part. The muffins will be too soft to open for at least four hours, and now you have to fight off the temptation to eat one. It’s hard, I know. The muffins smell great and you’ve waited all this time, but resist for now and your patience will be rewarded.
When the muffins have had their rest, split them with a fork and toast them as you would any English muffin.
Check out all my top secret recipes for famous bread here.
As you can probably guess, KFC's Extra Crispy Tenders are chicken tenderloins coated with the same delicious breading as KFC’s Extra Crispy Chicken. These tenders come in servings of two, three, six, or twelve, with your choice of dipping sauces on the side including buffalo, barbecue, and the new Finger Lickin' Good Sauce.
To duplicate these chicken fingers at home, we’ll resort to a similar prep technique to the one used for the Extra Crispy Chicken: the chicken is brined for 2 hours to give it more flavor and juiciness, then the tenders are double-breaded for an extra-crunchy coating.
An important secret revealed in this breading recipe is the use of a specific type of ground black pepper. For the best copy of KFC Extra Crispy Tenders, you'll want to use Tellicherry black pepper, which is premium black pepper ground from mature peppercorns that have had time to develop more flavor. The unique aftertaste of KFC chicken is attributed to this special spice, so it’s worth the time to track it down.
Tellicherry black pepper costs a little more than the younger, more common black pepper, but if you want a good clone of the famous crispy fried chicken, it’s an essential ingredient. Be sure to grind the pepper fine before adding it.
Try my KFC Extra Crispy Tenders recipe below, and pair it with my super popular KFC Coleslaw recipe.
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.
Barney's Beanery, the self-proclaimed "third oldest restaurant in Los Angeles," has a long history of celebrity patrons dropping by for a hot bowl of chili and a beer or three. John "Barney" Anthony opened the first Barney's Beanery in Berkley, California in 1920, and seven years later relocated the restaurant to its current location on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Barney's soon became a popular watering hole for film stars from the 1920s and '30s, such as Clara Bow, Clark Gable, and John Barrymore. In the '50s and '60s Lou Costello was a regular, and so were Donald O'Connor, Charles Bukowski, and Dennis Hopper. Jim Morrison and his Doors bandmates were frequent customers since the offices of their record label, Elektra, were nearby. Janis Joplin was said to have had a drink there the night she died. The Brat Pack of the '80s—Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe, John Cusack, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore—would often come in to play pinball and video games. And Quentin Tarantino wrote most of his screenplay for Pulp Fiction while sitting at his favorite booth at Barney's.
This original chili was a favorite of Peter Falk's character on Columbo, who ate it often at the restaurant on the TV show. But the show wasn't filmed at the actual location. The Barney’s Colombo viewers saw on their TV was a sound-stage replica.
I found the secret to the flavor in Barney's chili comes from two chili powders that were popular in the West over 100 years ago, around the time Barney's first opened: Gebhardt and Mexene. Chili powders were new at that time, and there were very few on the market, so it's highly likely these ingredients were used in the recipe that made Barney's Beanery famous. Find those two chili powders, and follow my Barney's Beanery classic chili copycat recipe below to properly duplicate this Hollywood classic at home.
Nothing finishes a meal in the islands better than traditional rum cake. And the 37-unit island-themed Bahama Breeze chain knows how to do rum cake right with a mini Bundt-style serving, topped with ice cream, and smothered in three delicious sauces. It's no less than pure paradise for your mouth.
At the restaurant, they bake this single-serving cake in a mini Bundt cake pan, but if you don't have one of those you can use a jumbo muffin pan, or use small cake pans and slice the cake before serving.
What makes this rum cake presentation special are the sauces: a rum sauce that soaks into the cake, a vanilla sauce that’s spooned onto the bottom of the plate, and the delicious raisin butterscotch sauce that oozes over the top and down the sides of the ice cream and cake. Of course, all these amazing sauces are hacked here for your food-cloning pleasure, and they're a breeze to make.
Combine all the flavors in one bite, and you'll experience one of the best rum cakes you've ever tasted.
Find more of my copycat Bahama Breeze recipes here.
The Cheesecake Factory’s autumnal dessert offering is a clever mashup of pecan pie and pumpkin cheesecake in a traditional flakey pie crust. At first glance, I thought duplicating The Cheesecake Factory Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake recipe would be easy, but I found it surprisingly tricky to hack since all the components in the cheesecake follow different baking rules.
The first step was to design a crust that could withstand being cooked three times. After a few tests, I came up with a recipe that produces a hardy dough that can be par-baked, then baked again two more times while maintaining flakiness.
The next step was to thicken the pecan filling before adding it to the cheesecake pan. My first version skipped this step and pecan filling soaked through the crust and through the springform pan onto the bottom of the oven, where a charred, dark stain remains to this day.
Cooking the pecan filling before it goes into the cheesecake will thicken it so it won't soak through the crust and wind up dirtying your oven. After the filling cools for 45 minutes, you can build a cheesecake on top of it.
Add the cheesecake filling right up to the top of the crust. If you do a good job making the top edge of the crust even all the way around, the cheesecake filling will fit perfectly.
I'm sharing two ways to make the delicious finishing caramel sauce that goes over the top. The easy way is to simply combine walnuts with your favorite caramel sauce and pour it over a slice. But the best way is to make the sauce from scratch using the recipe I've included here. It's only a few ingredients, it's not too hard, and you'll love the results.
Pour the sauce over the top, add a dollop of whipped cream, and you'll have produced a finished slice of Cheesecake Factory Pumpkin Pecan cheesecake that looks—and tastes—like it was made by a pro.
You might also like my Marie Callender's Pumpkin Pie recipe here.
A requirement of any visit to Chicago is eating at least one slice of deep dish pizza in the city that perfected it. Deep dish pizza quickly became a Chicago staple after Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened the first Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and served a hearty new style of pizza constructed in a high-rimmed cake pan. The yeast crust was tender and flakey, like a pastry, and the cheese was layered under the sauce so that it wouldn’t burn in a hot oven for the long cooking time.
While researching a home hack of this now-iconic recipe, I discovered an unexpected technique that I hadn’t seen in other deep dish recipes. Employees told me the pizza crusts are partially cooked each morning to cut down on the wait time for customers. Before the restaurant opens each day, cooks press the dough into a pan and then sprinkle it with a little shredded cheese. The shells are then partially baked and set aside. Later, when an order comes in, the pizza is built into one of the par-baked crusts and finished off. This way customers get their food faster, and the tables turn over quicker.
Copying that delicious, flakey crust was the task that took me the longest. After two weeks of baking, I finally settled on a formula that was a mash-up of yeast dough and pie crust and made a perfectly tender deep dish crust, with great flavor that exactly mimicked the original. If you like Uno, you'll love this!
Regarding the cheese: be sure your cheese is at room temperature, not cold, or it may not melt all the way through. Also, it’s best if you buy cheese by the block and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is dusted with cornstarch so that the shreds don’t stick together in the bag, and it won’t melt as smoothly as cheese you shred by hand.
My Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza copycat recipe will make enough sauce for two pizzas. I just thought you should know that in case you get the urge to make another deep dish after this one disappears.
This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).
The Cheesecake Factory’s latest decadent dessert goes extreme with America’s favorite cookie. You’ll find Oreos in the middle of the cheesecake, in the cookie mousse layer, pressed onto the edge, sprinkled on the whipped cream, and even up on top where an Oreo wafer crowns each slice. In fact, I’ve designed my copycat Cheesecake Factory Oreo cheesecake recipe to use every Oreo in a standard size-package—all 36 of them!
This beautiful cheesecake starts with a chocolate cake layer, topped with a layer of chocolate buttercream icing, followed by a no-bake cheesecake layer, Oreo cookie mousse, and more chocolate icing. It’s a chocolate lover’s—and Oreo lover’s—dream, and not surprisingly, one of Cheesecake Factory’s best sellers.
When creating your own version of this dessert masterpiece at home, be sure to use a 10-inch springform pan. This is a big cheesecake, so you'll get 12 large slices out of it. The restaurant charges around 56 bucks for a whole cheesecake this big, but thankfully, you can use my Cheesecake Factory Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake copycat recipe for a homemade version will cost you much less than that.
The crispy banana spring rolls are just one delicious component of this signature dessert—it also comes with a big scoop of coconut-pineapple ice cream for an extraordinary flavor combo. The perfect mash-up of the warm spiced banana and the sweet tropical ice cream is why this is the number one dessert at the restaurant, and no other copycat recipe I’ve seen provides methods for you to make both parts at home.
The bananas are wrapped in spring roll dough and fried, but first they are rolled in sugar and seasoned with Chinese five-spice, which is a blend of anise, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger that you can find in most big food stores.
The ice cream hack is made by combining your favorite vanilla ice cream with toasted coconut bits, coconut extract, and real pineapple in a frozen bowl. Chains such as Cold Stone Creamery mix chunks into ice cream in a similar way—on a frozen slab of stone—so that the ice cream doesn’t melt while mixing.
I’m also sharing with you an easy way to make the vanilla bean sauce from scratch, because there’s nothing better than fresh when it comes to vanilla sauce. For the caramel sauce, just pick your favorite from the many delicious bottled sauces available, and try to get one that comes in a squirt bottle so your dish looks great.
Bring it all together, and you’ll have a beautiful hack of P.F. Chang's Banana Spring Rolls, with enough for four people to share.
Menu Description: “Northern Spy apples baked in a pastry crust topped with vanilla ice cream and a caramel drizzle.”
The most important component of a good crostata, or Italian baked tart, is a great crust. When cloning this top Olive Garden dessert, that's where I first focused my efforts, baking dozens of slightly different unfilled sugared crusts. Thankfully, flour is cheap. Once I had an easy, yet still delicious and flakey crust that was as good, if not better, than the real thing, I turned to the filling.
Olive Garden uses Northern Spy apples in the crostata, which are somewhat tart, firm apples often used in pies. But they are hard to find. If you can’t find Northern Spy apples, the much more common Granny Smith apples work just fine here. As for chopping the apples, I noted that the apple pieces in the real crostata have no uniformity—the apples appear to be sliced, then those slices are coarsely chopped, resulting in a mixture of small and large apple pieces. We'll do the same here.
After your crostatas have been baked to a golden brown, top each one with a scoop of ice cream and drizzle some caramel sauce over the top for a beautiful dessert no one will have the power to resist.
My Olive Garden Warm Apple Crostada copycat recipe makes four crostatas, which is enough for eight people to share. If you have crostatas left over, they can be stored in a covered container for a couple of days, then reheated under a broiler until hot just before serving.
Want some more of my Olive Garden clone recipes? I've got a bunch right here.
Good things come in small packages - just like these hit scones that have been a staple Starbucks favorite for years.
Unlike many scones that end up too dry and tasteless, these miniature scones are moist and full of great vanilla flavor. They’re deliciously sweet and creamy, with real vanilla bean in both the dough and the glaze. Want to make some great scones? Make my Starbucks Petite Vanilla Bean scones recipe.
The delicious Cheesecake Factory Pork Belly Sliders appetizer features four little sandwiches, each packing big flavor. Smoked pork belly is slathered with barbecue sauce, then stacked on soft slider buns with spicy sauce, creamy coleslaw, and crispy fried pickles. Smoked pork belly is the star, so you’ll either smoke some yourself using a smoker or use your grill with the technique described in the Tidbits below. For my Cheesecake Factory Pork Belly Sliders copycat recipe, you'll need around 10 ounces of pork belly to get 6 ounces when smoked, or 1½ ounces per sandwich.
The coleslaw is easy, the spicy sauce is easy, the barbecue sauce is premade (bottled), and the fried pickles are a simple exercise in breading and frying that anyone can master. After the pork belly is perfectly smoked and fall-apart tender, stack everything on your favorite toasted soft slider rolls and let the devouring begin.
The problem with adding sauce to fried food is that the wet sauce makes the crunchy fried food not so crunchy. Panda Express manages to keep the crispy beef in Beijing Beef crispy even though it may be sitting for over 20 minutes in the sauce on its way to a hungry you. My early attempts at hacking my favorite dish at the massive Chinese food chain all resulted in gummy, soggy beef pieces that were more like flat dumplings than the delicious, crunchy strips of joy they were meant to be.
Then finally, on one batch, I decided to fry the coated beef for much longer than I intuitively felt it should be cooked, resulting in dark browning on the cornstarch coating and an even darker piece of meat beneath it. I anticipated a beef jerky experience, but when I took a bite, I found it to be delicious! It wasn’t tough and chewy as I expected it to be. And when this seemingly overcooked beef was stirred into the sauce, it stayed crispy until served, just like the real thing. Now, with the soggy beef problem solved, we’ve finally got a great Panda Express Beijing Beef copycat recipe.
Try more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here.
You probably think the dark chocolaty stuff that looks like dark chocolate on a dark chocolate Kind nut bar is all chocolate, but it mostly isn’t. There is chocolate in there, but chicory root is listed third in the ingredients list, right after peanuts and almonds and way before cocoa, so the dark chocolate is actually a chocolate-flavored coating made mostly with chicory root fiber. Curiously, older labels list “chocolate-flavored coating” as the second ingredient, but newer labels don’t.
Chicory is the root of the endive plant, and it’s beloved in New Orleans, where it’s combined with coffee drinks because its taste is so similar to coffee. Chicory also happens to taste a lot like chocolate, and it’s cheaper than chocolate, and that’s probably why it’s used here.
But just because Kind uses chicory, doesn’t mean we have to. For my Kind Bar copycat recipe, you'll use real chocolate in the form of melting wafers you can find in most stores. I used Ghirardelli brand because it tastes great, but any easy-to-melt, dippable dark chocolate will do.
The bars are stuck together with honey and agave syrup heated to 260 degrees F, or the hard ball stage. The sticky mixture is pressed into a 10x5-inch loaf pan, cooled, and sliced into 8 bars. The bottoms are dipped in the pure chocolate, and more is drizzled over the top. About 30 minutes later, when the chocolate sets up, your homemade Kind bars are ready to eat.
Do you like dipping things in chocolate? Check out more of my candy and snack copycat recipes here.
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 my 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 of hours in a salt and MSG solution. This will make the chicken moist all 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 stove top 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 sauté 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.
You might also like my copycat recipes for KFC's signature sauces and sides. Find all of my KFC copycat recipes here.
Source: "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step" by Todd Wilbur
Menu Description: "Our marinated chicken breast coated with Parmesan cheese and crunchy panko breadcrumbs, lightly pounded and pan fried to a golden brown. Served with white cheddar mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli and topped with a lemon Chardonnay butter sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and Parmesan cheese."
This re-creation lays out a great way to prepare that 4-pack of chicken breasts you dropped into your shopping cart. While you're at the market, head down the aisle where the Asian foods are parked and pick up some Japanese breadcrumbs, also called "panko" breadcrumbs. Combining these coarse breadcrumbs with shredded Parmesan cheese makes a crispy breading for the chicken that doesn't even need a sauce to taste good. Still, the lemony Chardonnay butter sauce used at the restaurant is cloned here too, so you'll have the complete flavor experience. You'll want to plan ahead a bit for this dish since the chicken fillets will need to marinate in the brine solution for 2 to 3 hours. This dish goes great with the clone recipe for BJ's White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
The world's most famous theme restaurant pays tribute to the birthplace of Elvis Presley with this chicken finger appetizer dish, and two great mustard-based dipping sauces. I was a fan of the original version of this appetizer served around ten years ago before they changed the name to Tupelo Chicken Tenders and replaced the apricot dipping sauce with hickory barbecue sauce. With this recipe you can now re-create the classic original version.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
Menu Description: "Here they are in all their lip-smacking, award-winning glory: Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings spun in your favorite signature sauce."
Since Buffalo, New York was too far away, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery satisfied their overwhelming craving in 1981 by opening a spicy chicken wing restaurant close to home in Kent, Ohio. With signature sauces and a festive atmosphere, the chain has now evolved from a college campus sports bar with wings to a family restaurant with over 300 units. While frying chicken wings is no real secret—simply drop them in hot shortening for about 10 minutes—the delicious spicy sauces make the wings special. There are 12 varieties of sauce available to coat your crispy chicken parts at the chain, and I'm presenting clones for the more traditional flavors. These sauces are very thick, almost like dressing or dip, so we'll use an emulsifying technique that will ensure a creamy final product where the oil won't separate from the other ingredients. Here is the chicken wing cooking and coating technique, followed by clones for the most popular sauces: Spicy Garlic, Medium and Hot. The sauce recipes might look the same at first, but each has slight variations make your sauce hotter or milder by adjusting the level of cayenne pepper. You can find Frank's pepper sauce by the other hot sauces in your market. If you can't find that brand, you can also use Crystal Louisiana hot sauce.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
Menu Description: "Nearly world-famous. Often imitated, hardly ever duplicated."
"Hooters is to chicken wings what McDonald's is to hamburgers," claims promotional material from the company. True, the six fun-loving Midwestern businessmen who started Hooters in Clearwater, Florida, on April Fool's Day in 1983 chose a classic recipe for chicken wings as their signature item. But while some might say it's the buffalo wings that are their favorite feature of the restaurant, others say it's the restaurant chain's trademark Hooters girls—waitresses casually attired in bright orange short-shorts and skin tight T-shirts.
Today there are over 375 Hooters across the United States serving more than 200 tons of chicken wings every week. The original dish can be ordered in 10-, 20-, or 50-piece servings; or if you want to splurge, there's the "Gourmet Chicken Wing Dinner" featuring 20 wings and a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, for only $125. To further enhance the Hooters experience when you serve these messy wings, throw a whole roll of paper towels on the table, rather than napkins, as they do in the restaurants.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
Menu Description: "Our appetizing cheese dip with seasoned beef. Served with warm tostada chips."
Take your chips for a dip in this chili queso that comes to your table in a small cast iron skillet along with a big bowl of tortilla chips. A popular recipe that's been circulating calls for combining Velveeta with Hormel no-bean chili. Sure, it's a good start, but there's more to Chili's spicy cheese dip than that. Try my Chili's Skillet Queso recipe below that includes a few other key ingredients. After about 20 minutes you'll have a great taste alike dip for picnic, party, or game time.
Since McDonald's doesn't sell onion rings, these crunchy, golden hoops from the world's number two restaurant chain are the most popular onion rings in the world. There are more than 12,000 Burger Kings in 61 countries these days, and after French fries, onion rings are the second-most popular companion to the chain's signature Whopper sandwich. Check out how simple it is to clone a whopping four dozen onion rings from one onion, using this triple-breading process. When frying, trans fat-free vegetable shortening makes for the best Burger King Onion Rings recipe, but you can get by fine using vegetable oil if that's the way you want to go.. (For a great dipping sauce—similar to Outback's Bloomin' Onion sauce—check out my clone recipe for Burger King's Zesty Onion Ring Dipping Sauce.)
Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
In the 1970's, food conglomerate General Mills expanded its growing restaurant business. A research team was organized to study the market, and to conduct interviews with potential customers on what they want in a restaurant. Seven years later, in 1982, the first Olive Garden restaurant opened its doors in Orlando, Florida. Today it is the number one Italian restaurant chain in the country with over 470 stores.
One of the all-time favorites at Olive Garden is the Italian salad dressing served on the bottomless house salad that comes with every meal. The dressing was so popular that the chain sells the dressing by the bottle "to go." You won't need to buy a bottle, though. With my Olive Garden Italian salad dressing copycat recipe, you can make your own version that tastes just like the original, and it's way cheaper.
The secret to thickening this dressing is to use dry pectin, a natural ingredient often used to thicken jams and jellies. Pectin can be found in most stores in the aisle with baking and cooking supplies, or near the canning items.
Complete the experience with bottomless Olive Garden Breadsticks.
Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
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.