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- KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Coleslaw
KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Coleslaw
If you've ever seen a clone recipe for KFC Coleslaw it probably looks like this. This replica Colonel Sanders coleslaw recipe has become one of the all-time most shared recipes on the intraweb. Here's the original secret formula I created from scratch in 1993 for my first book, Top Secret Recipes, to clone the world's best coleslaw.
I've cloned a ton of stuff from KFC. See if I hacked your favorites here.
Source: Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.
- 8 cups finely chopped cabbage (about 1 head)
- 1/4 cup shredded carrot (1 medium carrot)
- 2 tablespoons minced onion
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used Best Foods / Hellmann's)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
1. Be sure cabbage and carrots are chopped up into very fine pieces (about the size of rice).
2. Combine the mayonnaise, sugar, milk, buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and beat until smooth.
3. Add the cabbage, carrots, and onion, and mix well.
4. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, stir, then serve.
Serves 10 to 12.
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Starbucks Almond CroissantRead more
The plain butter croissant at Starbucks is perfectly golden brown, flakey, buttery, and delicious, and if you add almond filling and top it off with a pile of sliced almonds you have one of the chain’s most popular pastries.
Making croissants takes time and patience since the dough must be rested, and rolled, and folded a number of times to create dozens of buttery layers that good croissants flaunt. The dough behaves best when the process is stretched out over three days, with two overnight rests in the refrigerator to relax and ferment. Patience will be rewarded since the long rests develop better flavor and the dough becomes easier to work, although it is possible to make a batch of Starbucks Almond Croissants in one day over a stretch of about 7½ hours if you really want to.
The dough for traditional croissants is made by enclosing a flat block of butter in the dough, then rolling it out and folding it over several times. This laminating process will create paper-thin chewy layers inside and golden brown flakiness on the outside.
As for the filling and topping, I found that they could be easily hacked with pudding mix and ground almonds. A little cornstarch is used to thicken the filling so that it doesn’t melt into the croissant dough or squirt out as the croissant bakes.
Doesn't a warm gingerbread latte or macchiato sound awesome right about now? Find all my Starbucks copycat recipes here.
McDonald's Bacon, Egg & Cheese McGriddlesRead more
It was the creator of Pizza Hut’s Stuffed Crust Pizza who came up with the idea to cook bits of maple syrup into small pancakes for a new sweet-and-savory breakfast sandwich offering from the world’s #1 fast food chain. Tom Ryan’s idea became a reality in 2003 when the McGriddles—with maple-flavored griddle cake buns—debuted on McDonald’s breakfast menu, and the sandwich is still selling like hotcakes today.
To make four homemade McGriddles, you’ll first need to produce eight perfectly round griddle cakes that are infused with sweet maple bits. Recipes that instruct you to make hard candy from maple syrup for this hack will fail to tell you that the shattered shards of hard candy don't completely melt when the griddle cakes are cooked resulting in a distinct crunch not found in the real McDonald’s product. Also, breaking the hard maple candy into small uniform chunks is both difficult and messy. My solution was to make a flavorful maple gummy puck that could be neatly petite diced and sprinkled into the batter as it cooks.
Just be sure to use maple flavoring rather than maple extract for the maple gummy. Maple flavoring has a more intense flavor than the extract, and the dark brown caramel coloring will make your maple bits look like pancake syrup. You’ll also need one or two 3½-inch rings to make griddle cakes that are the perfect size for your clones.
This recipe duplicates the bacon version of the sandwich, but you can replace the bacon with a patty made from breakfast sausage for the sausage version, or just go with egg and cheese.
Get more of my McDonald's copycat recipes here.
Coca-Cola Classic CokeRead more
Although the drink is 99 percent sugar water, that other 1 percent is the key to the drink's unique taste. The tangy citrus flavors, from lime juice, citrus oils, and citric acid (today the citric acid has been replaced with phosphoric acid), was used by pharmacist John Pemberton to overcome the inherent unpleasant bitterness of cocaine and caffeine. Even after removing the cocaine from the drink, it was still necessary to conceal the ghastly flavor of kola nut and coca leaf extract from the taste buds with the sweet, tangy syrup.
To make an accurate clone of Coca-Cola at home, I started with the medicinal ingredient, probably just as John did. But rather than harvesting kola nuts, we have the luxury of access to caffeine pills found in any grocery store or pharmacy. One such brand is Vivarin, but it is yellow in color with a thick coating and it tastes much too bitter. NoDoz, however, is white and less bitter, with a thinner coating. Each NoDoz tablet contains 200 milligrams of caffeine, and a 12-ounce serving Coke has 46 milligrams in it. So, if we use 8 NoDoz tablets that have been crushed into powder with a mortar and pestle (or in a bowl using the back of a spoon) we get 44 milligrams of caffeine in a 12-ounce serving, or 36 milligrams in each of the 10-ounce servings we make with my Coke recipe.
Finding and adding the caffeine is the easy part. You'll probably have more trouble obtaining Coke's crucial flavoring ingredient: cassia oil. I was hoping to leave such a hard-to-get ingredient out of my Coca-Cola recipe, but I found it impossible. The unique flavor of the Coke absolutely requires the inclusion of this Vietnamese cinnamon oil (usually sold for aromatherapy), but only a very small amount. You'll find the cassia oil in a health food store (I used the brand Oshadhi), along with the lemon oil and orange oil. The yield of this recipe had to be cranked up to 44 10-ounce servings since these oils are so strong—just one drop is all you'll need. Find them in bottles that allow you to measure exactly one drop if you can. If the oils don't come in such a bottle, buy eyedroppers at a drug store. Before you leave the health food store, don't forget the citric acid.
My recipe, because of the old-fashioned technique of adding the syrup to soda water, creates a clone of Coke as it would taste coming out of a fountain machine. That Coke is usually not as fizzy as the bottled stuff. But if you add some ice to a glass of bottled Coke, and them some of this cloned version, the bubbles will settle down, and you'll discover how close the two are. You can keep the syrup in a sealed container in the fridge until you are ready to mix each drink with soda water.
Because subtle differences in flavor can affect the finished product, be sure to measure your ingredients very carefully. Use the flat top edge of a butter knife to scrape away the excess sugar and citric acid from the top of the measuring cup and teaspoon, and don't estimate on any of the liquid ingredients.
Create more of your favorite drinks at home with more recipes here.
Source: Top Secret Recipes: Sodas, Smoothies, Spirits & Shakes by Todd Wilbur.
Applebee's Spinach & Artichoke DipRead more
When I saw a recent Mashed.com poll where most people picked the spinach & artichoke dip as their favorite appetizer on the Applebee’s menu, I realized I haven’t yet cracked the recipe, and immediately got to work.
I've hacked many spinach & artichoke dips over the years, but this one is different with a blend of Italian cheese in the mix. Thankfully, grocery stores usually have bags of pre-blended shredded Italian cheese, to make things easy. With that cheese blend, plus some additional Asiago and Parmesan, we've got a spot-on match to Applebee's Spinach & Artichoke Dip.
No need to defrost the frozen spinach ahead of time—that will be taken care of when it steams in your microwave. Add the steamed spinach to the cheese and other ingredients in a saucepan with the trimmed artichoke hearts, and when it’s hot, sprinkle on some more Parm, brown it under your broiler, and bust out the chips.
Check out my recipe for Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos and more here.
Del Taco TamalesRead more
This 600-unit Mexican fast food chain celebrates the holidays each year with delicious little $2 corn husk-wrapped pork tamales made from a traditional recipe for authentic south-of-the-border taste. The only problem is when the holidays go away, so do these tasty tamales. And that's why we bust out this Top Secret Recipe.
Making authentic tamales is not difficult, but it does take time. The pork requires a braise for several hours to get it fork-tender, and the wrapped tamales will take around 2 hours to steam until they're done.
My Del Taco tamale recipe is inspired by traditional tamale recipes that include a braising sauce for the pork made from rehydrated guajillo peppers. To coax out more flavor, I chose to first toast the peppers before adding them to the liquid. And rather than using lard in the masa dough, I found a combination of vegetable shortening and butter to be a more flavorful alternative.
Steam all 24 of tamales until they are fully cooked, and store those you can’t eat in your freezer for several weeks. Steam the frozen tamales for 20 to 30 minutes, and they’ll taste as good as fresh.
How about a cold margarita to wash down those tamales? Find your favorite famous drink recipes here.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
Wendy's Seasoned PotatoesRead more
Reviewers of Wendy’s tasty seasoned potatoes point out that the skin-on slices stay crispy even when cool. That tells us the breading is most likely made with a non-wheat flour blend, an assumption confirmed by the website ingredients list for the potatoes where nary a gram of wheat flour is included. Yep, these seasoned potatoes are gluten-free.
Wendy’s uses a blend of food starches plus rice flour for the breading on their version, but my tests confirmed that cornstarch is all you’ll need for a great clone of Wendy's seasoned potatoes. The secret process starts by coating the potato slices with the dry breading mix, which contains salt. The salt in the blend will draw water out of the potatoes, magically transforming the dry breading into a wet batter in about 20 minutes.
When all the breading is wet, the potatoes go into the oil for partial frying. After resting a bit, they get dropped in again until golden brown and crispy. And, thanks to the cornstarch, these potatoes will stay crispy, even when they’re completely cool. Pretty cool right? Give my Wendy's seasoned potatoes recipe a try.
This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).
Cracker Barrel Buttermilk BiscuitsRead more
A great buttermilk biscuit isn’t hard to make. This is good news if you're serving hundreds each day as they do at this popular Southern kitchen chain. But a simple recipe such as this one is also a blessing when you need to whip up a modest batch at home for your hungry gang of biscuit fanatics, and it's an added bonus if they taste as good as the famous biscuits from Cracker Barrel.
The secret to tender, flakey biscuits like you get at the restaurant chain is using a lower-gluten self-rising flour such as White Lily; a staple for Southern biscuit recipes. A bit of shortening in the mix will help tenderize the finished product, as will a light mixing hand. Overmixing the dough may toughen your biscuits, so mix the dough gently and only as much as you have to.
If you don’t use White Lily flour and go with a heavier self-rising flour such as Gold Medal, take note that you may have to add a couple of tablespoons more buttermilk to the dough to loosen it up. Good biscuit dough should be soft, but not sticky.
After making these Cracker Barrel biscuits from scratch, try home versions of Cracker Barrel hash brown casserole, buttermilk pie, meatloaf, and more.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
IHOP Swedish CrepesRead more
Menu Description: “Four delicate crepes topped with sweet-tart lingonberries and lingonberry butter.”
Good crepes should be soft in the middle, crispy around the edges, buttery, custardy, a bit sweet, and slightly salty, and there are many ways to achieve all this. But to make crepes like those served at IHOP, the formula needs to be specific.
Over two days I made dozens of crepes with minor adjustments to all seven ingredients until I finally settled on the version here that best mirrors the look and taste of the delicious IHOP Swedish Crepes. You'll get ten tasty crepes using a 10-inch non-stick skillet, and the recipe is very easy.
Top them with my simple formula here for the lingonberry butter using bottled lingonberries and softened butter, and now your IHOP Swedish Crepe recipe hack is complete. If you like crepes, you’ll definitely love these.
I cloned a ton of items from IHOP. See if I hacked your favorite here.
Domino's Chocolate Lava Crunch CakesRead more
A traditional “molten” cake or “lava” cake is baked at a high temperature for a short time so that the outside of the cake is fully cooked, but the batter at the center stays unset and gooey. Domino’s lava cakes are different with pure fudge topping hidden in the middle rather than cake batter. The little dessert is delicious, with a crunchy exterior and two forms of chocolate in one bite, but it presents some challenges, such as how to fully enclose soft fudge in the center of a small cake without holes, and how to keep the fudge from disappearing into the cake batter as it bakes.
Since there are no holes or seams detected on the cakes, the filling needs to be loaded into the cakes before baking. I thought about freezing the fudge in disk shapes and then concealing those into the middle of a muffin cup of cake batter, but the fudge doesn’t freeze solid in a home freezer. It just gets really cold and really sticky, and it's much too messy to work with.
Going back to the drawing board, I found the clue I needed on Domino's website. The list of ingredients for the lava cakes includes “cake crumbs” and “cookie crumbs” along with butter, eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla, and cocoa. This suggests that crumbs of pre-baked cake and cookies could be combined with the other ingredients to make firmer cake “dough” rather than runny cake batter. The soft fudge could then be spooned onto the bottom of the uncooked mini cakes, topped with more dough, and baked.
After baking the little cakes with this new technique there is no detectable seam, and the fudge inside gets warm and gooey and oozes out when you eat it, just like the real thing. Serve these up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and watch the fun when everyone takes a bite.
My Domino's chocolate lava crunch cake recipe makes 12 cakes, and I'm adding a bunch of step photos so yours will come out perfect. You can chill any leftovers for serving later with the reheating instructions I'm including at the end.
Shakey's Mojo PotatoesRead more
Sherwood Johnson survived a case of malaria while serving in World War II, which left him with some residual nerve damage and a new nickname: Shakey. Despite his affliction, Shakey Johnson was still able to bang out toe-tapping Dixieland jazz on the piano night after night in the pizza parlor he opened in Sacramento in 1954, where live jazz accompanied the thin crust pizza and cold pitchers of beer.
Shakey’s became the first franchised pizza restaurant in the U.S., and by 1974 the chain had 500 stores across the U.S. The #1 dish is clearly the made-to-order pizza, but the chain’s trademarked crispy battered potato slices are a close runner-up and a perfect tasty subject to hack.
Recipes that claim complete pancake mix is the secret breading ingredient in Mojo Potatoes fail to observe that pancake mix contains sugar, and there is no noticeable sweetness in the breading of the Mojos. I also decided that dry breading wouldn't work since in my tests the paprika failed to bloom and give the coating a perfect hue like it does when the mixture is wet.
I eventually settled on a simple wet batter made with seasoned salt, flour, and little cornstarch for crunch to best match the flavor, crispiness, and red/orange tint of the real thing from America’s first pizza chain. Use this original technique, and these handy step photos, to make extra crispy potatoes the Shakey's way.
There's your appetizer, now what's for dinner? Find clones for some of your favorite famous entrées here.
Panda Express Chow MeinRead more
I got lucky on the day I picked up a box of chow mein from this huge Chinese chain because they had just run out. This meant that I could watch from the sidelines as they whipped up a fresh batch in a giant wok over a high flame in the completely visible kitchen, and I was able to take plenty of mental notes. The whole dish took just a few minutes for the enthusiastic chef to prepare, and before I knew it I was out the door with a huge box of hot chow mein ready for hacking.
Just like the real Panda Express Chow Mein, the beauty in this re-creation is its simplicity. There are only seven ingredients, and the prep work is low-impact. I used dry chow mein noodles (also called Chinese stir fry noodles) which are easy to find and cheap, and dark soy sauce to get that great caramel color. And if you don’t have a wok for this, a large skillet with sloped sides for tossing will work just fine.
This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).
You might also like my #1 recipe of 2020, Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce.
Chick-fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken SandwichRead more
This chain’s not-spicy original chicken sandwich which debuted in 1964 was the first chicken sandwich introduced to America by a fast food chain, and it put Chick-fil-A on the map. By diversifying the menu with new products such as this kicked-up version of the famous sandwich, the chain grew over the years to become the #1 chicken restaurant in the nation, and this sandwich is now one of the most popular picks on the menu board.
The secrets for a good clone of the Chick-fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich lie in the brine and the breading. I recently obtained some insider intel confirming the long-standing rumor that pickle juice is the brine. I hadn’t called for it in my prior Chick-fil-A clones because the listed ingredients for the sandwich didn’t include it. I’m not sure why that is, but my latest test versions with the pickle juice were noticeably better, so now it’s in there. You should also know that MSG is an important ingredient in both the brine and breading, so don’t leave that out if you want the best clone.
Use this special trick to get three perfect sandwich-size cutlets out of each chicken breast, and then give the chicken a nice 4-hour brine. Your patience will be rewarded with one of the best chicken sandwich hacks to come out of a home kitchen.
Now, check out my version of Chick-fil-A Mac and Cheese!
Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew ChickenRead more
This popular chain wrangles a wide variety of dishes and cooking styles day after day with consistently high quality. From pasta to burgers to tacos, from salads to pancakes to beautiful cheesecakes for dessert, there is something for everyone at the Cheesecake Factory.
The thorough menu's Asia-inspired plates include Thai, Korean, and Chinese dishes, but one that consistently stands out is this excellent Mandarin-style spicy chicken entrée, served over your choice of white or brown rice.
The secret of the great flavor is in the sauce, which has now been hacked for you in my Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew recipe below. Plus, I’ll walk you through the process of creating perfect crispy chicken from scratch using juicy chicken tenderloins.
If you’d like to save time, you can bake up some pre-cooked breaded chicken tenders and focus all your efforts on the amazing sauce. Tips on that shortcut can be found below in the Tidbits.
This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).
Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s Hand-Breaded Chicken & Waffle SandwichRead more
In the midst of the chicken sandwich wars of 2019-2021, Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s) debuted a simple chicken and waffle sandwich that is surprisingly good. Crispy chicken breast is doused with maple butter sauce and sandwiched between two Belgian waffle buns for a sweet-and-savory handful of fab.
To clone the sandwich at home, the chicken gets brined for great flavor and juiciness like the real thing, then it’s cooked until perfectly golden brown and crispy. The maple butter sauce is easy to hack with just three ingredients and a mixer.
The biggest secret I reveal is how to make Belgian waffles with one flat side just like the real sandwich using a standard waffle iron and a piece of folded aluminum foil. Those exclusive tricks are here plus plenty of helpful step photos so your homemade Carl's Jr. chicken & waffle sandwich will come out perfect.
Find more of my copycat Carl's Jr. recipes here.
Gatorade Orange Sports DrinkRead more
Researchers at University of Florida’s College of Medicine developed Gatorade in 1965 when the head coach of the Florida Gators football team requested a specially designed drink that could replace lost fluids during hot weather games. With players pounding the new sports drink, the Gators went on to take their first Orange Bowl victory in 1967 against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. When the head coach of the Yellow Jackets was asked why his team lost, he said, “We didn’t have Gatorade. That made the difference.” Later that year, Gatorade became the official drink of the NFL.
The secret to making Gatorade at home is not just about getting the flavor right but also about locating a simple source of the drink’s important supplemental ingredients, potassium and dextrose. Potassium (along with salt) replaces electrolytes that are lost when you sweat to ensure proper functioning of your brain and organs. I discovered that a good source of potassium is Morton’s salt substitute, which is made with potassium chloride. Most supermarkets should have it stocked near the salt.
Dextrose, on the other hand, is a natural sugar that absorbs quickly into your body to restore glycogen in muscles lost during physical activity. Bodybuilders and athletes use it during and after games and workouts to speed up recovery and stimulate muscle growth. Luckily, I was able to find the perfect product that added just the right amount of dextrose to 64 ounces of water and that also came in the perfect orange flavor: Willy Wonka Pixy Stix. Find the large 1-ounce size in the giant plastic straw, and grab two. I found them online for 50 cents each.
For my Gatorade recipe below, you'll dump all the ingredients into a 64-ounce pitcher of water, stir to dissolve, and in just a few minutes you’ll have the same taste and energy benefits of one of the two original flavors of Gatorade, but at about half the price.
Find more recipes for more famous drinks here.
Source: Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step by Todd Wilbur.
Domino's Cheeseburger PizzaRead more
Domino’s new specialty pizza with seasoned ground beef, onions, tomatoes, and three kinds of cheese will shock your mouth. Even though this pie is more cheese than burger, the secret ketchup-mustard sauce hidden beneath it all makes each mouthful taste like you’re biting into a flat cheeseburger. The only thing missing is pickles.
Before getting to work on the ketchup-mustard sauce, ground beef, and blend of cheeses, I slightly tweaked the Domino’s pizza dough hack from Step-by-Step. The dough here calls for high-gluten flour, which you can find online, to create the same chewiness in the dough as the real thing. But don’t worry if you can’t find high-gluten flour, just increase the bread flour to 25 ounces (4½ cups).
The unusual combination of American, provolone, and Cheddar cheese is not what you’d expect on a pizza, but for this particular pie you won’t miss the mozzarella. You’ll need to dice the American and provolone since they usually come sliced and are too soft to shred. Stack everything on your custom dough, bake until the cheese browns, and it’s ready to devour. My Domino's Cheeseburger Pizza recipe makes two large pizzas, so there should be more than enough for your crew.
You might also like my recipe for Domino's Crispy Bacon & Tomato Specialty Chicken.
Church's Chicken Honey Butter BiscuitsRead more
It took more than good chicken for the small fried chicken shack in San Antonio, Texas to blow up into an international fried chicken superstar with over 1000 units in 35 countries. Thanks to these biscuits—so good they trademarked the name—hungry mouths have more than one reason for a quick Church’s run.
No need for a biscuit cutter to make Church's Chicken Honey Butter Biscuits at home since these are drop biscuits you form by hand. But it is recommended to use a silicone baking pad if you have one to keep the bottoms as light as possible.
Brush on the honey butter the moment the biscuits come out of the oven, and when they cool they’ll have glistening tops just like the real ones.
Now, what's for dinner? Check here for cool copycat recipes for famous entrees.
Domino's Chicken Taco PizzaRead more
If you like pizza, and you like chicken tacos, you’re going to love this recipe for Domino's Chicken Taco Pizza. Domino’s figured out how to combine grilled chicken, three kinds of cheese, green pepper, onion, and tomato onto a hand-tossed crust brushed with a secret seasoning blend so that each bite tastes like a taco.
The secret seasoning is a big part of the secret so that hack is here, along with the secret blend of cheese, and how to make a chewy pizza chain-style crust, including the garlic spread that gets brushed on at the end
The dough recipe is based on the Domino’s Cheese Pizza hack that I revealed on my show Top Secret Recipe and in Step-by-Step. It includes high-gluten flour for extra bite, but if you can’t find that you can increase the bread flour to 25 ounces (4½ cups), and your pizzas will still come out great.
Domino's is creating killer new appetizers. Check out my clone recipes here.
Cracker Barrel Baked Apple DumplinRead more
One of the best choices you will make in life is having this dish for dessert when you’re at Cracker Barrel. They call it a “dumplin” but it’s just a little streusel-covered apple pie, served up hot in its own small baking dish with two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream on top, and drizzled with warm apple/caramel sauce—it's good stuff. Take a bite and you may notice the apples inside taste like Cracker Barrel’s Fried Apples side dish, so we'll use my previous hack for that part to bring it all together.
My Cracker Barrel Baked Apple Dumplin recipe makes two small pies that serve up to four. Check out more of my cool copycat recipes from Cracker Barrel here.
Kobe Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse Shrimp (Yum Yum) SauceRead more
For years, I’ve been hearing about a delicious seafood dipping sauce at Japanese steakhouses called "shrimp sauce" or "yum yum sauce." Research revealed many independent Japanese steakhouses with "the best sauce," but it was the name of an 11-unit chain called Kobe Ichiban in Central Florida that came up most often.
When I next found myself in Orlando, Florida presenting some cooking demos at a home show, I dropped in on Kobe Ichiban for dinner and there it was: the light orange creamy dipping "yummy" sauce that everyone was raving about. It was sweet and sour and salty and creamy, and it tasted amazing on the shrimp—as well as on everything else.
I poured some into some small plastic storage bags I had with me (always come prepared!), then popped them into a cooler for the long trip back to Las Vegas, where, in the underground lab, a clone for this much-requested delicious dipping sauce was finally completed. Now, you can enjoy homemade Yum Yum Sauce anytime.
Find more of my copycat recipes for famous sauces here.
Red Robin Burnin' Love BurgerRead more
Menu Description: “Fried jalapeno coins, house-made-salsa, pepper-Jack, lettuce, tomatoes, and chipotle aioli.”
This 570-unit full-service chain has a sizeable menu, but it’s the thick 1/3-pound gourmet hamburgers, like this boomin’ bestseller, that bring in the crowds. And if you’re a burger lover who enjoys burgers that bite back, this recipe for Red Robin Burnin' Love hamburger is for you.
To assemble your own version of this big beauty, I’ll first show you (with photos) how to make perfect crispy jalapeno coins and a simple chipotle aioli. The seasoning formula for the beef patty that I’m including here is an updated and improved version of the secret sprinkle I hacked years ago, but this time we’ll use easier-to-find ingredients.
Once you’ve prepped these components, it’s time to kick up the flames and grill some burgers. Top your burgers with pepper-Jack cheese, and assemble everything on sesame seed buns along with salsa, lettuce, and tomato. Then open wide.
Look here for more of your favorite dishes from Red Robin, Yummm.
Olive Garden Chicken and Shrimp CarbonaraRead more
Menu Description: “Sauteed seasoned chicken, shrimp, and spaghetti tossed in a creamy sauce with bacon and roasted red peppers.”
Re-creating this top entrée from Olive Garden allowed me to come up with an easy way to assemble a delicious carbonara from scratch. Traditional carbonara sauce in Italy is usually made with guanciale and sometimes pancetta. But in America and other English-speaking countries carbonara is typically made with bacon, as is this one served at Olive Garden, so that’s what we’ll do for our clone.
Many traditional carbonara recipes also call for egg, but Olive Garden makes the carbonara sauce for this dish in a different, and much simpler, way: they combine bits of bacon with their classic alfredo sauce which I cloned long ago. In this tweaked version of that sauce, the bacon flavors the sauce while it simmers resulting in a perfect match.
The red pepper gets roasted in your oven, and the chicken and shrimp are sautéed on the stovetop. Put it all together, and you've got four generous servings of Olive Garden Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara with that fabulous sauce, and an impressive dinner for your hungry carbonara cravers.
Find more of your favorite Olive Garden copycat recipes here.
Domino's Sweet Mango Habanero SauceRead more
This is the hottest of Domino’s dipping sauce offerings, and many would say it’s the best. The big sweet-and-sour flavors hit you first right out of the gate, then the habanero creeps in to remind your mouth which ingredient is the boss.
Sure, habanero is in the name, but there are actually several peppers at work here including jalapeno and red bell, and three juices: mango, orange, and lime. For your clone, everything gets pureed in the blender until smooth. When your Domino's Sweet Mango Habanero sauce has cooled, use it as a dip or baste for chicken fingers, nuggets, wings, coconut shrimp, salmon, and pizza (yes, pizza!). Give it a try with my Domino's pizza copycat recipes here.
Come for the great flavor, but stay for the heavenly heat of my simple and delicious original recipe for Domino's Sweet Mango Habanero sauce. Includes handy step photos.
Domino's Crispy Bacon & Tomato Specialty ChickenRead more
I imagine a chef at Domino's in the middle of the development kitchen, surrounded by all the toppings they use on pizza, experimenting with new combinations of these ingredients, trying to come up with something delicious that isn't pizza. And then this dish happens: crispy chicken topped with garlic-Parmesan sauce, Cheddar-mozzarella cheese, bacon, tomato, and baked until gooey.
Now, you can make your own Domino's Crispy Bacon & Tomato Specialty Chicken appetizer, and to make it simple, you'll start with crispy chicken strips or popcorn chicken from the freezer section.
All the assembly instructions are here including an original, and simple, hack for the garlic-Parmesan sauce that gets drizzled over the chicken before adding all the other good stuff.
Build your dish on a strip of parchment paper, just like the restaurant does, and bake it until the cheese is bubbly. Now you have a cool new thing to make with frozen crispy chicken strips.
You may also want to try the Domino's Pizza hack I created for my TV show in my book Top Secret Recipes: Step-by-Step.
Chick-fil-A Zesty Apple Cider VinaigretteRead more
The country’s largest chicken chain offers some of the best choices for salad dressings you’ll find at any fast food restaurant. But good luck sweet-talking your order-taker into floating you a few extra packets of this great fruity vinaigrette to use on your home salads—they are under strict orders to be stingy. And that could be why you’re here.
Apple cider vinegar, pineapple juice, honey, lemon juice, and lime juice are just a few of the secret ingredients that make the Chick-fil-A Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette so great. Another secret you'll find here is xanthan gum, a natural thickener often used as an emulsifier to hold salad dressing together so that it doesn’t need shaking. You can find xanthan online or at Whole Foods, and you won't need much.
Now, how about some Chick-fil-A Mac & Cheese or a chicken sandwich? Check out more Chick-fil-A copycat recipes here.
Burger King French Toast SandwichRead more
The sweet-and-savory breakfast sandwich made with two slices of French toast first appeared on the Burger King menu in 2019, but it was just for a limited time. In 2021, BK brought the breakfast sandwich back, and this time it came with a new ingredient: buttery maple spread. The first version of the Burger King French Toast sandwich was good, but the sequel with the new maple spread is great, so that's what I've copied here.
The hack here for the buttery maple spread is just three ingredients, and it will chill out in your fridge while you make the easy French toast. Find small, thin slices of white bread for that. Sara Lee makes a loaf of bread called Delightful that works great.
The real French toast sandwiches come with either sausage, bacon, or ham, so pick your favorite and insert it between the egg and cheese. If your ingredients cool down as you are prepping, just pop each assembled sandwich into your microwave for about 15 seconds prior to serving for perfectly warmed French toast and gooey melted cheese.
Check out more of my Burger King copycat recipes here.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
Jack Link's Original Beef JerkyRead more
Using his grandfather’s old recipes for sausage and smoked meats, Jack Link created his first kippered beef sticks in Wisconsin in 1986, and they quickly became a popular snack throughout the state. But that wasn’t enough for Jack, so he invested in a packaging machine to expand into other markets, and eventually—with the help of a successful Sasquatch-themed marketing campaign—Jack Link’s became the #1 jerky brand in the country.
Beef jerky is usually made in a dehydrator designed to circulate air around the food at a low temperature. The temperature for drying beef jerky in a dehydrator is typically 130 to 140 degrees, which is a lower temperature than you can reach with a conventional home oven. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use our home oven to make a perfectly acceptable beef jerky hack that tastes like Jack’s. And even though Jack uses a smoker for his beef jerky, you won’t need one to give your jerky a similar smoky flavor.
The pineapple juice in the marinade is an important part of the taste, but its primary contribution is a unique enzyme that helps break down the proteins in the tough cut of meat to tenderize it. Soy sauce and beef bouillon contribute to the umami savoriness of the jerky, and liquid hickory smoke is used in my Jack Link's Original Beef Jerky recipe as a quick way to add the smoky flavor.
The marinating takes 24 hours and the oven drying takes between 6 to 8 hours, so get the sliced beef into the bath in the morning, and you’ll be munching on homemade Jack Link's beef jerky by dinnertime the next day. And to help you out, I'm including step photos.
Find more cool recipes for your favorite snacks here.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Vanilla Ice BlendedRead more
Starbucks’ Frappuccino, the most famous blended coffee drink in the world, is actually a clone of this blended concoction invented at the California-based chain, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. In the mid-80s, a store manager at the Westwood, California location mixed diet drink powder with ice, milk, and coffee in a blender and was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it was. They tweaked the recipe to include the chain’s chocolate powder instead of the diet powder, and a new hit product was born.
To make a clone of the popular Coffee Bean vanilla ice blended, we must first make the secret flavoring powder that starts with a base of dry coffee creamer. I recommend using superfine sugar (Baker’s sugar) and superfine salt (popcorn salt) if you can find them. The fine crystals will dissolve better in the cold drink. You’ll also need vanilla extract powder, which can be found online.
Once your secret powder is made, measure 1/3 cup of it into a blender with ice, cold espresso, and milk, and blend on high until smooth. In a matter of just a few minutes, you will have a 16-ounce re-creation of the original blended coffee drink now served at 1,200 Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations in 30 countries.
Craving something tasty to eat with this? Check out my hack for these copycat Starbucks petite vanilla scones.
Brach's Candy CornRead more
It’s America’s #1 candy corn brand and the clear winner in taste tests, but just what is it that we’re tasting when we munch on this iconic Halloween candy? If you’re thinking about popcorn when you eat it, you’re on the right track. There is a dominating butter flavor and plenty of salt in there, but you’re also getting hit with notes of vanilla, honey, and the subtle nuttiness of sesame oil. Yes, sesame oil; like the stuff that's in Chinese food. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Fortunately, this flavor profile means we can use all real ingredients to flavor our candy hack. Real butter and butter extract, real vanilla extract, real honey, and real sesame oil will give us the perfect blend of flavors for our knockoff. I’m also adding the pleasant gumminess of gelatin to soften the final product. But flavor and texture are only part of the secret. Our fake candy corn should also look like real candy corn.
I was probably tapping into my childhood days of forming and slicing Play-Doh when I shaped my tri-colored ribbons of candy into flat rings and sliced those rings into wedges with a sharp knife. This technique gave me perfect little triangles that looked legit, even when placed right next to the real thing. I kept going, playing with my candy dough, forming it and slicing it, until I had 135 beautiful home-grown corns of candy, along with some highly edible misshapen scraps that somehow ended up in my mouth.
With my exclusive Brach's Candy Corn recipe below, you can make this iconic candy at home, plus I've included a bunch of handy step pics, so your homemade candy corn comes out perfect.
I've hacked a lot of famous candy over the years. See if I copied your favorites here.
Panda Express Firecracker Chicken BreastRead more
It’s not always on the menu at the huge Chinese take-out chain, but when this spicy special offering makes a limited-time-only appearance, I’m there. When it’s not on the menu, no problem, you can make my recipe for Panda Express Firecracker Chicken in no time.
This dish owes its great flavor to black bean paste, which is full of umami savoriness, just like soy sauce, so it enhances the taste of everything around it. You'll have a good laugh when you notice most recipes attempt to hack this dish with canned black beans. That's ridiculous, since black bean paste is a traditional Asian flavoring ingredient made with fermented soybeans, not with black beans like the kind you get in your burrito at Chipotle.
Plan ahead to brine your chicken breast for a couple of hours so that it's moist and flavorful. This is an important step for a spot-on hack.
Find more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here.
Applebee's Chicken Wonton TacosRead more
Menu Description: “A deliciously different way to taco. Tangy grilled chicken, sweet Asian chile sauce and dumpling sauce stuffed into crispy wonton shells and topped with a crunchy slaw and cilantro mix.”
Re-creating Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos requires cloning four parts; none of which are difficult: Grilled chicken, coleslaw, secret dumpling sauce, and the crispy wonton shell to hold all of it together. For the chicken, we’ll grill a couple of thighs and chop them up. Then we’ll use bottled sweet chili sauce—usually found in your grocery store where Asian foods are parked—to punch up the flavor.
The coleslaw is easy with a dressing that’s only five ingredients. The slaw is best when it has some time to sit and wilt a bit, so plan ahead for the best flavor. You can slice the cabbage yourself, but a coleslaw kit that’s a combo of sliced cabbage and shredded carrots is a big time-saver. Just measure out 4 cups of the cabbage blend and mix it with the minced cilantro and dressing.
Wonton taco shells are not a thing you can usually find in stores, so we’ll make our own using wonton wrappers and a skillet of hot oil. When the oil is hot, add a wonton wrapper and use tongs to fold it over diagonally as it fries until it’s crispy on both sides. It takes less than a minute to fry each wonton taco shell, and you’ll get better at it as you go. Just be sure to leave plenty of room in the taco for the delicious fillings to come.
Try my Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos recipe below, and find more copycat recipes from Applebee's here.
Starbucks Sugar Plum Cheese DanishRead more
Sweetened cream cheese and spiced plum jam are nestled in the center of this flakey seasonal pastry from the famous coffeehouse chain, and you can make a home copy of Starbucks Sugar Plum Danish using these delicious secrets.
As with croissants, the dough is rolled and folded several times with a block of butter in the middle to create dozens of flakey layers. I found that this yeast dough tastes better and is easier to work with if the process is spread out over three days, but you can complete a perfectly fine batch of these in just one day if you want to bang it out.
The dough made here will fit perfectly into the six cups of a jumbo-size muffin pan to make Danishes that are not as wide and a bit taller than the real ones, but they’ll still taste the same. Get plum jam for the filling, add a few spices to it for seasonal flair, and spoon it over the sweetened cheese. After an hour of proofing, bake your Danishes in a hot oven until they’re golden brown.
Enjoy the full Starbucks experience with your favorite coffee drink! Find more recipes here.TRANSLATE with xEnglishTRANSLATE with
California Pizza Kitchen Roasted Garlic Chicken PizzaRead more
Menu Description: “Sweet caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, slivered scallions, and cracked black pepper.”
Grill a chicken breast, caramelize half an onion, slow-roast a whole head of garlic, and you’ll have the key ingredients for assembling two amazing clones of the chain’s famous sauce-less Roasted Garlic Chicken Pizza.
You won’t miss the pizza sauce on this “white pizza” since the toppings bring bold flavor, and we don't want to upstage that great taste. Your homemade pizzas will just need a light brushing of olive oil to protect the dough.
CPK’s wood-fired stone ovens are cranked up to a rocket-hot 800 degrees Fahrenheit so pizzas bake in just 3 or 4 minutes. It's not likely you have one of those special ovens at home, but it's still possible to bake these copycat pizzas in a conventional oven in around 10 minutes. I recommend a pizza stone to help brown the bottom of your pizzas, but the recipe will even work fine without one.
Start your pizzas the day before you plan to eat them so that the dough can rise slowly overnight in your refrigerator. This slow, chilled rise produces fermentation that will ultimately give your crust a better texture and taste.
I'm including lots of step photos so your pizza will come out looking just like the real CPK roasted garlic chicken pizza. If you like this one, click here to see if I cloned your favorite salads and appetizers from CPK.
Chick-fil-A Avocado Lime Ranch DressingRead more
This huge chicken chain offers seven delicious dressings to top three salad choices, and this is my current favorite of the bunch. The Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing is best on a Southwestern-style salad like the one on Chick-fil-A’s menu with mixed greens, black beans, corn, spicy chicken, and tortilla strips on top. But it’ll work on just about any mixed greens salad or burrito bowl you come up with at home, or use it as a dip for chicken fingers, taquitos, and Southwestern eggrolls.
For a good home clone, be sure to smash the avocado until no chunks remain and let the dressing sit for at least an hour before you use it so the dried herbs, onion, and garlic can rehydrate and the flavors can bloom.
Click here for more of my Chick-fil-A copycat recipes.
California Pizza Kitchen Carne Asada PizzaRead more
Menu Description: Tender marinated steak, fire-roasted poblanos, cilantro pesto, yellow onions, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack and fresh cilantro. Served with housemade salsa verde.
One of California Pizza Kitchen’s most popular “globally-inspired” pizzas is this fabulous pie topped with strips of marinated flank steak, cilantro pesto, and fire-roasted poblano pepper. I broke it down and hacked all the parts for you—including the awesome salsa verde that goes on top—so that you can assemble two beautiful pizzas that look and taste like the real thing.
Sometimes deliciousness requires patience, so be sure to plan this clone one day in advance to allow your dough to properly proof and the steak to fully marinate. You can also prep the pesto, salsa verde, and roasted poblano one day in advance so that when it comes time to make pizzas the next day, you just need to cook the carne asada, build the pizzas, and bake.
Find more of my California Pizza Kitchen hacks here.
Chipotle Queso BlancoRead more
Social media shredded Chipotle’s first queso dip which debuted in 2017, calling it “gritty,” “bland,” “watered-down,” and “a crime against cheese.” Chipotle was in desperate need of a re-do.
In early 2020, after months and months of test-marketing an improved cheesy dip recipe in Dallas, Detroit, and San Diego, the Mexican chain introduced Queso Blanco to the entire U.S., and this time the reviews were much better.
Chipotle claims their new formula contains exactly 13 ingredients, including 2 kinds of cheese and 3 different chile peppers. With cornstarch as the thickening agent, the preparation starts by making a white sauce with milk and cream. When the cheese is fully melted and smooth, the veggies go in, and in about 10 minutes it’s ready to serve.
Use my Chipotle Queso Blanco copycat recipe as a dip with tortilla chips or as a topping on your copycat Chipotle carne asada or carnitas tacos and barbacoa burritos. Find all my Chipotle recipes here.
Chipotle Carne AsadaRead more
Chipotle’s popular limited offering is a good example of how straightforward and flavorful carne asada can be. It’s not overly mysterious since Chipotle is transparent about the ingredients used for the restaurant's entire menu—53 ingredients in all—but identifying those is only the beginning of the process. There was still plenty of work to do in establishing ratios and settling on an ideal preparation method.
Carne asada is almost always made with flank steak or skirt steak. A server at Chipotle told me they use skirt steak, which is surprising since that is the tougher of the two cuts. Perhaps she was wrong about that? Flank steak also has a better flavor than skirt steak, so I'm recommending flank here. Just be sure not to marinate it for more than 2 days or the acid in the marinade may toughen your steak and you certainly don't want that.
After you grill it, slice the meat across the grain and use it in burritos, tacos, bowls, or as a Southwest-style salad topper.
My Chipotle carne asada recipe was our #5 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4).
Original Pancake House Buttermilk PancakesRead more
They may not be as intriguing as the German Pancakes, 49’er Flap Jacks, or the other specialty hotcakes at Original Pancake House, but if pancake skills of any chain are best judged by how they put together a stack of old-fashioned buttermilks, then this chain is at the top of the game.
The first step to making a perfect clone of these delicious flapjacks is to use clarified butter on your skillet or flat grill to keep the pancakes from sticking. This method will add better flavor to your pancakes than using a flavorless oil, and it’s how the Original Pancakes House makes their pancakes. So we'll do the same in my Original Pancake House Buttermilk Pancakes recipe below.
When you’ve got your clarified butter ready, the rest is a cinch. Mix the batter, measure 1/3-cup portions onto a hot pan or griddle greased with the butter, cook the pancakes until golden brown on both sides, then serve up a stack with whipped butter and warm maple syrup on the side.
Try my Original Pancake House Dutch baby and apple pancake recipes here.
Walker's ShortbreadRead more
Joseph Walker used only the best ingredients to make the famous pure butter shortbread recipe he created in 1898 at his Bakery in Aberlour, Scotland. More than a century later Walker's is one of the bestselling shortbreads in the world and it’s still made with the same four quality ingredients: flour, butter, sugar, and salt.
But just knowing the ingredients still leaves you a long trip away from great shortbread—a fact that’s best confirmed by giving any other copycat recipe a try. If a recipe calls for all-purpose flour and/or standard granulated sugar and salt, you’re destined for disappointment.
The secret ingredient in a perfect Walker's Shortbread cookie is pastry flour. It has less gluten than all-purpose flour and will produce a tender bite mirroring the original cookies, but it still provides a stable structure that won’t spread out when baked. My favorite pastry flour is Bob’s Red Mill.
There is no leavening in these cookies (that’s why they're called shortbread), so the sugar and salt are whipped into the butter until it’s fluffy which works in air bubbles that provide a lift to your shortbread when baked. Standard sugar and salt grains won’t easily dissolve in the butter, so I'm using superfine sugar here (baker’s sugar) and superfine salt (popcorn salt) to produce perfect shortbread with a clean bite that’s free of any detectable sugar or salt granules.
Click here for more great recipes for your favorite famous treats.
Original Pancake House 49'er Flap JacksRead more
These flat, crepe-like flapjacks are reminiscent of the hotcakes eaten by miners during the California Gold Rush of 1849, and they're also a signature dish at the Original Pancake House chain. These beauties are thin, slightly chewy, somewhat sweet, and so big they cover your entire plate. And a home hack is one of the easiest things you’ll ever cook. Because morning food shouldn’t be complicated.
Making my Original Pancake House 49'er pancake recipe is a simple matter of mixing up a thin pancake batter and cooking it in a pan coated with clarified butter. Clarified butter has the milk solids removed, so it won’t brown, and I’ll show you how to make it in the first step. The Original Pancake House uses clarified butter, so we should do the same.
Swirl the batter in the butter to the edges of your pan, cook it for a couple of minutes, then flip it over and cook it for another minute. Stack the warm flapjacks on a plate and serve them with soft butter and maple syrup on the side.
Also, check out my version of the Original Pancake House Apple Pancake for a decadent cinnamon apple-filled delight.
Olive Garden Five Cheese Ziti al FornoRead more
Menu Description: “A baked blend of Italian cheeses, pasta, and our signature five-cheese marinara.”
Creating a recipe for Olive Garden’s famous baked ziti would not be possible without a perfect clone of the chain’s popular five-cheese marinara sauce. I started with my previous recipe of the plain marinara for Olive Garden’s Chicken Parmigiana and enhanced it with the addition of five kinds of Italian cheese and heavy cream.
Determining which five types of cheese are in a prepared sauce is tough without some insider assistance, so before cooking I focused my efforts on convincing a server to ask the chef for the list…and I got it! The blend of cheese used here in the sauce comes straight from the kitchen of my local Olive Garden. When you taste it, you’ll know the intel was legit.
After the sauce is added to the pasta it’s topped with a cheese-and-breadcrumb mix called “ziti topping,” then it’s browned under a salamander (for the restaurant version) or a broiler (for your version). The result is a beautiful dish with great sauce and a cheesy topping that should satisfy even the pickiest baked ziti fanatics.
I've cloned a ton of dishes from Olive Garden. See if I hacked your favorite here.
T.G.I. Friday's Cajun Shrimp and Chicken PastaRead more
Menu Description: “Sauteed chicken, shrimp, red bell peppers in a spicy Cajun Alfredo sauce, Parmesan-Romano and fettuccine. Served with a warm garlic breadstick.”
In 1997, I published a clone recipe for T.G.I Friday’s Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta because it was one of the chain’s most popular dishes at the time. But as the years pass and menus get tweaked, old food favorites are decommissioned to make way for fresh, new ideas. Sometimes the new dishes are twists on old favorites, as is this improved version of the classic Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta, which now includes extra-large shrimp and a better spicy alfredo sauce.
My T.G.I. Friday's Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta recipe starts with a quick brine for moist, flavorful chicken. Prep the chicken and creamy sauce in one pan; the shrimp, bell pepper, and garlic in another.
When you’re ready to serve the dish, toss the sauce with the pasta, then plate it and top it with minced parsley and you've got a perfect restaurant-style hack.
There's a lot more T.G.I. Friday's clone recipes over here.
Panera Bread Creamy Tomato SoupRead more
It’s a good thing that Panera’s delicious tomato soup is made with pear tomatoes so we can use canned San Marzano-style tomatoes for a quick and easy hack, and we’ll pump up the tomato flavor with added tomato paste.
Other recipes will call for some form of broth here, but the broth is unnecessary, and it's not in the real thing so a good clone recipe wouldn't include it. There is plenty of flavorful liquid in the canned tomatoes, and we’ll sculpt the final flavor with herbs and spices, sugar, and lemon juice.
You can buy premade croutons to use on top of your soup, but I’ve also included an easy hack to make black pepper croutons from focaccia or ciabatta bread, just like those you get at the restaurant.
Check here for more of my Panera Bread copycat recipes.
Olive Garden Shrimp ScampiRead more
A comparison of several shrimp scampi recipes reveals a variety of subtle differences in the way each chef makes the classic Italian dish, but the underlying technique is almost always the same: create a sauce, add the shrimp, dump the pasta into the pan, toss, and serve. But if you want to make the fantastic Olive Garden shrimp scampi, you’ll need to follow some very specific secret steps.
Many other shrimp scampi recipes start with garlic and onions, but you’ll only need garlic for this version. You’ll also be adding tomato to the dish along with chopped asparagus spears to bring some color to the dish and set it apart from traditional scampi recipes. Other methods usually don’t call for cream in the sauce, but Olive Garden uses it in their version so you'll do the same in this hack, and you'll be glad you did. The cream thickens the sauce so that it better coats the shrimp and pasta.
My exclusive Olive Garden shrimp scampi recipe makes 2 large dinner-size portions but can be divided into 3 to 4 smaller lunch-size servings.
Find more of your favorite Olive Garden copycat recipes here.
Cracker Barrel MeatloafRead more
The Southern-themed chain famous for its gift shops filled with made-in-America products and delicious homestyle food is also known to have a particularly good meatloaf. This dish ranks high in popularity, right up there with the Chicken ‘n Dumplins and the Hash Brown Casserole, so a good Cracker Barrel Meatloaf recipe is long overdue.
Making meatloaf is easy. What’s hard is making it taste like the meatloaf at Cracker Barrel which is tender and juicy, and flavored with onion, green pepper, and tomato. I sought to turn out a moist and tender loaf of meat, and one that’s not dry and tough, but my first attempts were much too dense. I wasn’t happy about that, but my dog was thrilled.
After playing around with the eggs-to-breadcrumbs-to-milk ratios and being careful to use gentle hands when combining everything and pressing it into the loaf pan, the final batch was a winner and I get to pass it along to you.
It's best to use a meatloaf pan here which has an insert that lets the fat drip to the bottom, away from the meat. A regular loaf pan will still work, but you’ll want to pour off the fat in the pan before slicing.
Satisfy your Cracker Barrel cravings with more of my copycat recipes here.
Cracker Barrel Buttermilk PieRead more
Not having ever lived in the southern US my experience with this dessert was about as minimal as it gets. The first buttermilk pie I tasted was at Cracker Barrel and I was immediately hooked on the sweetened vanilla custard with its distinct, but not overwhelming, tang from the buttermilk and lemon juice, balanced with a sweet garnish of strawberries and whipped cream. It’s a versatile dessert that is as well-suited for summertime get-togethers as it is for traditional southern winter holiday meals.
Now I’ve tasted over a dozen variations of this decades-old favorite—all but one of them coming out of my own oven—on my quest to discover the best way to make Cracker Barrel’s popular dessert. And finally, I hacked it.
The beauty of my Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pie recipe is its simplicity: you’ll need just a handful of common ingredients, a whisk, and an unbaked pie shell. You can make your own pie shell using your favorite recipe or buy a frozen unbaked crust at the supermarket to save time. My pie shell was made by Marie Callender’s and it was delicious.
Whisk together the filling in stages as described here, pour it into your pie shell, and bake it starting on the lowest rack so that the bottom of the pie gets browned. If you have a convection oven, this is a good time to use it so you’re sure to get even browning on top.
After about an hour your pie will be done, and when it cools, it's slicing time.
Find more of my Cracker Barrel copycat recipes here.
Pepperidge Farm Chesapeake Dark Chocolate Pecan CookiesRead more
The Chesapeake brand of cookies from Pepperidge Farm are crispy cookies with a light crunch and filled with various chunks of chocolate and nutty bits. One of the most popular choices features big chunks of dark chocolate along with pecan bits, and it can be duplicated at home with a few twists to one of my chocolate chip cookie recipes.
To make a crispy cookie that’s tender and not tough, I’ve replaced some of the butter with shortening, replaced one egg with an egg white, and tweaked the baking powder/baking soda ratio.
Nestle makes a 10-ounce bag of oversized dark chocolate chips that are delicious and work nicely for this clone. If you can’t find those, you can chop up a couple of your favorite dark chocolate bars into small chunks and add those to the mix.
When the cookies are cool, they should be lightly crispy and filled with flavor, just like the original Pepperidge Farm Chesapeake cookies. Store them in a covered container in a dry spot.
Try more famous copycat cookies and brownie recipes here.
Qdoba 3-Cheese QuesoRead more
There are many acceptable ways to formulate good queso, but to make this specific queso the ingredients must be correct, and most copycat recipes seem to get it wrong. A few recipes get one of the peppers and two of the cheeses right, but pretty much every recipe out there is a bit of a mess that I will now save you from.
Quesos can be made with a variety of cheeses that include queso fresco, asadero, and Muenster, but this particular queso includes a cheese you probably didn’t expect: Swiss. That cheese is slow to melt, so we’ll shred it first, along with the Jack. And you won't need to gum up the queso with flour or cornstarch by making a roux because the white American cheese in the mix contains sodium citrate or sodium phosphate—additives that help the cheese melt smoothly and stay that way.
Authors of recipes that call for tomatoes in this dish haven’t looked closely. Those are red bell peppers and they are roasted, peeled, and seeded along with the poblano and jalapeños before they are diced and added to the cheese sauce. The sauce cooks on low heat, never bubbling, so that it stays smooth and creamy.
When done, your queso might seem thin in the pan, but it will thicken as it cools to a perfect consistency for dipping tortilla chips, or as a topping for tacos and burrito bowls.
My Qdoba 3-cheese queso recipe was our #2 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).
Hooters 3 Mile Island Chicken WingsRead more
It’s not the hottest sauce at the famous Florida-based chain. That honor goes to the sauce they call “911” with heat so hot it overwhelms the flavor. This thick red sauce is the second fieriest choice on the menu, and it delivers both big heat you can handle and great flavor you can taste.
Now you can make your own version of this super spicy secret sauce at home by cooking a combination of cayenne pepper sauce, jalapeño, Tabasco, and a couple of other ingredients until thick.
When your homemade Hooters wings are a crispy golden brown, toss them in the beautifully thickened sauce, and serve up your pile of wings with a stack of napkins and cold drinks on deck to help put out the fire.
Try my Hooters 3-Mile Island chicken wings recipe below, and try more of my Hooters copycat recipes here.
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.