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I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For over 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

This Week's Big Secrets

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Show: 24

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  • Not rated yet
    KFC Buffalo Ranch Sauce

    The dipping sauce mashup that KFC debuted in late 2022 combines a smooth and creamy ranch sauce with the sour heat of cayenne pepper sauce. You might expect that a homemade version is as simple as combining ranch dressing with Frank’s RedHot in a bowl, but that did not result in a good clone.

    Creating my KFC Buffalo Ranch Sauce recipe from scratch was the way to go. It takes less than 10 minutes to combine these 12 ingredients in a bowl, and after 30 minutes in the fridge, you’ll have ¾ cup of the new sauce for dipping your tenders and nuggets, or as a spread on crispy chicken sandwiches.

    The color of this sauce will not be as bright orange as the real one, which is colored with paprika and annatto extractives. If you want your sauce to be more orange like the original, add the optional red and yellow food coloring as specified in the recipe to brighten it up.

    I've cloned a lot of other stuff from KFC. See if I hacked your favorites here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chipotle Garlic Guajillo Steak

    In the Fall of 2022, Chipotle debuted Garlic Guajillo Steak, a variation of the chain’s classic steak made with a new secret seasoning starring the fruity and slightly smokey flavor of dry guajillo peppers, and, surprisingly, prepared using a gourmet French slow-cooking technique.

    After an outbreak of E. coli bacteria at Chipotle infected 53 people in nine states, the chain changed the way it cooks steak. Rather than cooking the beef entirely on a Plancha, or flat griddle, Chipotle now pre-cooks the steaks with the sous vide method wherein vacuum-packed seasoned beef is cooked slowly in swirling, heated water. This cooking technique not only eliminates any potentially harmful bacteria before the beef is grilled, but it will also speed up the seasoning process and help tenderize tougher cuts.

    But you shouldn't worry if you don’t have a sous vide setup. My Chipotle Garlic Guajillo Steak recipe will also work by simply chilling the seasoned steak overnight in a zip-top bag and later cooking it off in a heavy pan or on a hot griddle. After slicing the cooked steak, toss it with some freshly squeezed lime juice and fresh cilantro, and use it as you see fit for tacos, burritos, bowls, and salads.

    If you prefer chicken, head over to my clone recipe for Chipotle's Pollo Asado.

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  • Not rated yet
    Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que Cracked Out Deviled Eggs

    The West Coast barbecue chain introduced these creative deviled eggs with the eye-catching name as a limited-time-only offer, but sales were so good that Lucille’s Cracked Out Deviled Eggs is now a permanent fixture on the menu.

    For this dish, the deviled egg yolks are combined with a blend of bacon, green onion, red bell pepper, and the chain’s delicious barbecue blend, then arranged on crispy onion straws with seasoned chicken cracklings poked down into the top of each egg. These tasty deviled eggs are unlike any you've had before and all the secrets you need to make a perfect copy at home are "cracked" for you here, including my newly hacked recipe for the delicious onion straws.

    Two chicken thighs will provide enough skin for you to make plenty of the cracklings, and I’ll give you all the prep details in the recipe below, along with a couple of good ways to hard cook your eggs. If you steam your eggs as described, and if they’re fresh, you’ll have no ugly green ring around the yolk and the shells will practically fall off.

    Find more of your favorite famous appetizer recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Burger King French Toast Sticks

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chili's Secret Sauce Burger

    In 2021, Chili’s added a new burger to its menu lineup of Big Mouth Burgers, and this one comes with a big saucy secret.

    Chili's Secret Sauce Burger is simple in construction with a soft brioche bun, a huge ½-pound patty, sliced lettuce, and American cheese. It’s also got sautéed onion piled on it, which sets this burger recipe apart from typical fast food fare, but it’s the secret sauce that makes this big burger rock.

    The sauce used on this burger is the same sauce the chain initially created for Chili’s Big Mouth Chicken Sandwich—a formula that appears to be inspired by the popular chicken sandwich sauce made famous at Chick-fil-A. You can make my Chili's Secret Sauce recipe revealed here in just a couple of minutes with a simple combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey, and mustard, plus a little turmeric to add a golden tint.

    As for the burger patties, get ground chuck that has a fat content of at least 20%, or grind your own. As the burgers cook, press down on them with a spatula to release the melting fat like they do in the restaurant. This will trigger the Maillard reaction that browns the meat and adds a flavorful crust to your burgers, so your homemade Chili's Secret Sauce Burgers will taste just as good as the original.

    Find more of your favorite recipes for Chili's famous dishes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Terry Ho's Spicy Yum Yum Sauce

    The most famous recipe from Terry Ho’s Hibachi Express chain of fast casual Japanese restaurants located in Georgia and Alabama is the secret orange sauce served alongside every meal. In 2012, Terry bottled his famous Yum Yum sauce, claiming on the label that it’s “the best sauce ever” and is “good on everything.”

    I chose to hack the kicked-up spicier version of the sauce since it had more character than the milder original version, but if this version is too hot for your taste, reduce or eliminate the cayenne pepper and pepper sauce.

    Use my Terry Ho's Spicy Yum Yum Sauce recipe below to easily make the sauce at home. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, and then let it rest in your refrigerator. After about 30 minutes, you’ll have a cup of the delicious creamy stuff to use on shrimp, chicken, steak, or whatever you want.

    Find more of my copycat recipes for famous sauces here.  

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  • Not rated yet
    P.F. Chang's Fire-Braised Short Ribs

    Good short ribs should practically melt in your mouth, and my P.F. Chang’s Fire-Braised Short Ribs recipe below will produce flavor-pumped short ribs that will do just that. Just as in the restaurant, these sliced boneless short ribs sit on a bed of pineapple fried rice and come with a side of the sweet-and-savory Asian braising sauce to pour over the top. If you dig short ribs, you're going to love this dish.

    To craft the 30-dollar entrée at home (but for much less) the short ribs are braised for 3 hours in a secret liquid made with Chinese cooking wine, garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and a few other key ingredients. The cooked short ribs are then chilled, sliced, and seared while being doused with the robust braising liquid for a perfect burst of flavor.

    When you arrange the sliced short ribs on the pineapple fried rice made with the Top Secret Recipe I’m including below, and sprinkle the plate with some micro sprouts, you’ll have created a dish that looks and tastes just like the fabulous original restaurant version, but at a mere fraction of the cost.

    You'll find a lot more P.F. Chang's copycat recipes over here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Cheesecake Factory Bruléed French Toast

    On weekends, hungry patrons at The Cheesecake Factory are treated to a special menu of brunch selections where this thick-sliced, caramelized French toast is a stand-out. A plate comes with four battered bread slices, each browned on one side, then dusted with powdered sugar, and served with warm maple-butter syrup.

    I obtained virtually no helpful prep tips from the servers in the restaurant, so I was left to deduce my copycat recipe from a simple inspection of the real thing once I got my take-out order home. I eventually settled on a batter that combines the same ingredients you'd find in crème brûlée: eggs, cream (in the half-and-half), sugar, and vanilla.

    After lightly browning one battered side of each thick bread slice, the other side is battered and then sprinkled with a light coating of sugar. When the sugared bread is turned over onto the hot pan, the sugar cooks until browned, re-creating the taste experience of a traditional torched crème brûlée dessert.  

    Now, using my exclusive Cheesecake Factory Bruléed French Toast recipe, you can have great brunch food any day of the week without having to wait for a table, and without shelling out nearly 20 bucks for a plate of battered bread.

    Find your favorite cheesecake, appetizer, and entrée recipes from Cheesecake Factory here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chick-fil-A Frosted Lemonade

    Chick-fil-A’s popular Frosted Lemonade is a delicious, blended combination of lemonade and the chain’s trademarked Icedream soft serve product. Just like Dairy Queen’s famous soft serve, Icedream looks and tastes like ice cream, but it contains considerably less butterfat since it’s made with milk, rather than cream.

    For my Chick-fil-A Frosted Lemonade recipe though, cream-less ice cream is not a necessity. Regular ice cream works just fine here, although light ice cream, which is usually made with a milk base (Blue Bell Vanilla Light Ice Cream is one example), also makes a great clone.

    Give yourself a little time for the fresh lemonade to chill in your freezer before adding it to your blender with the other ingredients. In a matter of seconds, when all the ice is crushed, you’ll have two frosty 16-ounce drinks that taste just like the real deal, but at a mere fraction of the cost.

    Try more of my Chick-fil-A copycat recipes like their famous chicken sandwich here

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  • Not rated yet
    Carrabba's Calamari and Ricardo Sauce

    Searching for a great fried calamari recipe from a large chain to hack, I finally landed on Carrabba’s popular appetizer, with two dipping sauces, including the chain's top secret Ricardo Sauce.

    I like this preparation because it's super simple, with a two-stage breading process that calls for just egg whites to moisten the calamari before it gets dropped into the seasoned flour. The egg whites will give the breading a light texture and prevent your calamari from browning as it would with any milk or egg yolk in the mix. Browning is just fine for other fried calamari dishes, but a hack for Carrabba’s version needs to produce crispy calamari with a tender crunch and light golden color.

    A good Carrabba’s Calamari recipe will also need to include both dipping sauces, so hacks for the chain’s marinara sauce and famous Ricardo Sauce recipes are here. Ricardo Sauce is a creamy lemon butter sauce with added red bell peppers, pepperoncini, and crushed red peppers, and this exclusive TSR formula will give you the absolute best results of any recipe that exists in the known universe.

    I've hacked a ton of dishes from Carrabba's. Check to see if I hacked your favorites here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Panda Express SweetFire Chicken Breast

    It’s not a regular menu item at Panda Express, so if the chain’s great SweetFire Chicken Breast isn’t available at a restaurant near you, you can use my Panda Express SweetFire Chicken Breast recipe below to get your fix. 

    I've worked up a simple hack here for the sweet-and-spicy sauce that gets poured over the crispy chicken chunks, and I’m also including a breading technique for perfect bite-size portions of crispy chicken. Add some onions, red bell pepper, and pineapple chunks, and you’ve just made a spot-on copy of the popular limited dish.

    Find more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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  • Not rated yet
    Maggiano's Famous Rigatoni "D"

    “D” was chef David Di Gregorio’s nickname at the first Maggiano’s, which opened in Chicago, Illinois in 1991, and he’s the guy who developed the best-selling pasta dish on the menu. 

    Maggiano’s Famous Rigatoni “D” is a genuinely great dish that anyone can copy if they use the exclusive top secret techniques revealed here. After many trials and several errors, I finally replicated the amazing creamy marsala sauce by reducing two full bottles of inexpensive marsala wine down to just one-half cup of intensely flavored liquid. The alcohol cooks out, the mushrooms contribute their savory umami goodness, and after about an hour-and-a-half you have the perfect flavoring solution for your cream sauce.     

    The other mushrooms in the dish are served unsliced, so make sure they’re small enough to eat in one bite. Sometimes it’s tough to find 40 small mushrooms, so feel free to use your choice of white (button) or brown (cremini) mushrooms for this recipe. They are the same mushroom species with only minor differences (white mushrooms are a cultivated mutation of the brown ones), so either will work. But, if you have a choice, go with creminis since they tend to have a slightly deeper flavor.

    Try my Maggiano's Rigatoni "D" recipe today, and complete the meal with my Maggiano's Vera's Lemon Cookies recipe here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Yard House Nashville Hot Chicken

    This hit entrée at the 80-unit Yard House brings crispy Nashville hot chicken together with house-made sweet potato pancakes and honey hot sauce syrup on one beautiful plate, and now you can re-create that gorgeous entrée at home with these exclusive secrets, right down to the crispy sage leaves on top.

    In my version of Yard House's Nashville Chicken recipe, the crispy chicken is brined to make it moist and juicy on the inside, and just before serving it gets tossed with the Nashville hot sauce for a perfect re-creation of the plate's main attraction. The honey hot sauce is a simple concoction of five ingredients, and the pancakes are simplified by using canned sweet potatoes rather than fresh ones that require an additional cooking step. 

    Bring it all together for four impressive plates, and be sure to serve ‘em up with something tall and cold to drink. 

    Find my famous cocktail recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Thai Coconut-Lime Chicken

    Menu Description: “Tender pieces of chicken. Snow peas, shiitake mushrooms, onions, and garlic in a Thai coconut-curry sauce with cashews and pineapple. Served with white rice.”

    Sautéed white meat chicken comes swimming in the chain’s magical coconut-lime curry sauce, served alongside a bed of rice, with stir-fried vegetables, and topped with pineapple relish, cashews, and toasted coconut. The Cheesecake Factory captures great Thai flavors in this striking entrée from the restaurant chain’s specialty menu selections, and you can re-create the Cheesecake Factory Thai-Coconut Lime Chicken dish at home, with this exclusive recipe that I’ve sleuthed out down to every delicious detail.

    The star of the show is the mouthwatering coconut-lime curry sauce that brings together the traditional Thai combination of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors. The sauce brings in sour from lime and tamarind, sweet from honey, salt from fish sauce, and spicy heat from red pepper flakes. And if the sauce is cooked minimally after the parsley is added, the leafy herb will stay bright green for a beautiful and tasty dish that perfectly mirrors the original Cheesecake Factory Thai Coconut-Lime Chicken.

    Check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Outback Steakhouse Twisted Ribs

    Creative chefs at Outback Steakhouse have transformed the chain’s fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs into a fantastic appetizer by adding crispy Bloomin’ Onion breading, sweet barbecue sauce, and a drizzle of Bloomin’ Onion dipping sauce. I reverse-engineered the Outback Twisted Ribs recipe thanks to a kind server who let me take some home with sauces on the side, and now you can copy every twisted bit of it yourself with this exclusive hack.

    Outback’s ribs are smoked, but we’ll duplicate the taste without a smoker using a liquid smoke brine. This marinade will not only add flavor to the ribs, but it will also help keep the meat moist and juicy when cooked twice. Tweaked hacks for my Bloomin’ Onion breading and dipping sauce are here to complete your twisted appetizer, and you'll also get my new easy way to knock off the chain’s tasty house-made spicy pickles that come on the side. Plus, I'm including a batch of step-by-step photos so your dish will come out picture-perfect.

    Brush your ribs with Sweet Baby Ray's Original barbecue sauce since it tastes similar to what Outback uses, or use your favorite barbecue sauce, and you'll have a messy, but insanely delicious and exclusive new finger food favorite for your hungry crew.

    Check out more of my Top Secret Recipes for Outback Steakhouse favorites here.

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