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Pal's Sauce Burger

Pal's Sauce Burger

Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
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Here's a simple, great-tasting burger from a small yet beloved Tennessee-based hamburger chain famous for its quirky buildings, tasty food, and "Sudden Service." Established in 1956 by Pal Barger, this twenty-one-unit fast-service chain accepted the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award from President George W. Bush and has performed admirably in markets with bigger chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. The signature sandwich from this little drive-thru comes slathered with a simple sauce—a combination of ketchup, mustard and relish—that makes quick production of scores of these tasty burgers a breeze when the line of cars grows long, as it often does. 

Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

Get This

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  • 1/8 pound ground beef
  • 1 small sesame seed bun
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon sweet pickle relish
  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 drop hickory-flavored liquid smoke
  • Pinch seasoned salt
Do This

1. Pat out the ground beef until it's about the same diameter as the bun. If you like, you can freeze this patty ahead of time to help keep the burger from falling apart when you cook it.

2. Brown or toast the faces of the top and bottom bun halves in a skillet or on a griddle over medium heat.

3. When the buns have browned, cook the hamburger patty in the hot pan or on the griddle. Lightly salt the meat.

4. Combine the ketchup, relish, mustard, liquid smoke, and seasoned salt in a small bowl.

5. When the meat is cooked, place the patty on the face of the bottom half of the bun.

6. Spread the sauce on the face of the top half of the bun, turn it over onto the meat. Eat.

Makes 1 burger.

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    Exclusive signed copy. America's best copycat recipes! Save money and amaze your friends with all-new culinary carbon copies from the Clone Recipe King!

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  • Score: 4.60 (votes: 5)
    Panda Express Chow Mein

    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.

    Find more of your favorite Panda Express copycat recipes like fried rice and firecracker chicken here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chick-fil-A Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette

    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.  

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Panda Express Fried Rice

    A popular staple of any Chinese chain is fried rice, so it better be good, and the version served at Panda Express most certainly is. Here's my easy Panda Express Fried Rice recipe for when you need a stress-free, low-cost side for your entrées. But I do suggest that you cook the white rice several hours or even a day or two before you plan to make the finished dish. I found that the cooked rice called for in this recipe works best when it's cold. 

    As for a shortcut, bagged frozen peas and carrots will save you from the hassle of petite-dicing carrots since the carrots in those bags are the perfect size to produce an identical clone. And they're already cooked. 

    Now, how about some Honey Walnut Shrimp, or Beijing Beef to go with that rice? Find all my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cracker Barrel Meatloaf

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Pizza Hut Meaty Marinara Pasta

    One of two pasta dishes currently on the pizza giant’s menu, the Meaty Marinara Pasta was first introduced in a 2008 April Fool’s publicity stunt when Pizza Hut claimed it was changing its name to “Pasta Hut.” No one fell for the prank but they did fall for the pasta, and that's why the Tuscani Creamy Chicken Alfredo Pasta and Meaty Marinara Pasta have been on the menu ever since. The sauce is the big secret here; it's simple and classic, but customized to produce a marinara with that distinct Pizza Hut taste. And the recipe will make more than enough pasta to go around.

    My Pizza Hut Meaty Marinara Pasta recipe is an easy one. After browning the seasoned beef you add it to the sauce, simmer the sauce until thick, then spread it over one pound of rotini pasta in a baking dish in two layers so that every bite is filled with flavor. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the top and melt it until golden brown under your broiler. Boom! No one can resist. You rule.

    This simple and inexpensive meal will feed eight, and leftovers keep well in the fridge for a couple of days.

    Find more of my Pizza Hut recipes here.  

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  • Not rated yet
    P.F. Chang's Chicken in Soothing Lettuce Wraps (TV)

    While seeking out information to help make the ultimate hack of these lettuce wraps for my TV show Top Secret Recipe, I talked to Eric Justice, V.P. of Culinary Development at P.F. Chang's China Bistro who informed me that the restaurant uses a jet cooker stovetop with a high flame to cook food quickly. Jet cookers that blast out powerful 185,000 BTU flames can be found in restaurant supply stores, but I created a clone recipe requiring only the heat provided by most standard home stovetops (a gas flame stove is best).

    I also found out that a well-seasoned wok is preferable for this recipe, but it is also possible to produce a close re-creation of these famous lettuce wraps even without one. If you don't have a wok, use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet and get it nice and hot. You'll also want to track down the right ingredients: black mushroom soy sauce contributes the dark caramel color to the lettuce wrap filling, and it's best to use Lee Kum Kee brand of hoisin sauce and oyster sauce just as the restaurant does. And finally, Shaoxing rice cooking wine, a secret I learned from Cecilia (Mama) Chiang.

    Heat up your wok (or large skillet) until it smokes and keep the ingredients moving around in the pan so that nothing scorches. This is the recipe that fooled all three judges in a blind taste test on my CMT show.

    Find more of my P.F.Chang's copycat recipes here

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step by Todd Wilbur. 

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  • Score: 4.67 (votes: 3)
    Einstein Bros. Bagels Twice-Baked Hash Brown

    I’m not sure why Einstein Bros. claims there are just four cheeses in the new Twice-Baked Hash Brown when the ingredients clearly list six kinds of cheese, plus cream cheese. Regardless, the shredded Asiago, Romano, Parmesan, provolone, and mozzarella listed there can be found combined in an “Italian Blend” at many supermarkets, making for an easy start to our home clone. And don’t just be thinking about breakfast for these cheesy potatoes. They work great as a side for any meal.

    In the detailed description of the new item, Einstein Bros. claims the hash browns contain two kinds of schmears, which is true, but a little misleading because one of them is just plain cream cheese. The other is onion-and-chive cream cheese, which we can make from scratch. We’ll combine those two shmears into one blend by doubling the cream cheese added to our onion-and-chive schmear formula.

    Mix everything together and load the ingredients into a standard 12-cup muffin pan with circles of parchment paper cut out to fit into the bottom of the 12 cups. Without these parchment circles, the hash browns may stick and break when they’re released. You can also use paper muffin cups, if you don’t mind the less crispy, ridged sides.

    Bake them the first time for 30 minutes, then cool and store. Now you have a dozen servings of cheesy hash brown potatoes that are easy to finish off by baking them a second time until crispy. These Einstein Bros. Twice Baked Hash Browns are great served with breakfast, or for dinner as your starchy side alongside beef, chicken, lamb, and many other savory entrees.      

    You can also make homemade Einstein Bros bagels, sandwiches, and shmears. See if I hacked your favorites here.

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  • Not rated yet
    BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse Honey Sriracha Brussels Sprouts

    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.  

    Now, how about a bowl of famous chili or a Pizookie from Bj's Brewhouse?

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  • Not rated yet
    Hattie B's Nashville Hot Chicken

    It’s hard to say exactly when Nashville hot chicken was born, but most agree the Prince family of Prince’s Chicken in Nashville, Tennessee can take credit for the dish’s creation. Today there are over two dozen different hot chicken restaurants in Nashville and the popularity of the dish is still growing. The 70-year-old recipe from Prince’s may be the original, but the fastest-growing Nashville hot chicken chain in the country right now is a much newer concept called Hattie B’s.

    Several years ago, Nick Bishop and his son, also Nick Bishop, observed the growth of Nashville hot chicken concepts and wanted a piece of the action. They opened the first Hattie B’s in Nashville in 2012, and business was good. Today there are six Hattie B’s in three southern states and one in Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where I was able to get my hands on a fresh sample of the real thing without taking a round trip flight to Tennessee.    

    At the Vegas Hattie B’s I sat at the food counter close to the fryer and watched the chicken being made, which provided some useful intel for my clone. I learned that the fried chicken drenched in the spicy oil paste is the “medium” heat level chicken. For the “hot” chicken an additional dry seasoning blend is sprinkled on the basted chicken.

    The oily paste is what makes Nashville chicken special, so I made sure to obtain a sample of the sauce in a small cup for later study. Most of the ingredients were predictable—paprika, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, sugar, and lots of cayenne—but the oil had an unusual taste to it. I recalled reading that the oil used for traditional Nashville hot chicken comes out of the fryer after several batches of chicken have been fried in it. When the chicken fries in the oil it contributes tasty flavors that make the fat a great base for the spicy baste.

    So, to properly replicate Hattie B's Nashville Hot Chicken at home, wait for at least one batch of chicken to cook in the oil, then carefully remove a cup, let it cool a bit, and whisk the spices into it.

    Now, what delicious side dishes are you going to make? Click here to see my recipes. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions

    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.   

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Outback Steakhouse Toowoomba Steak

    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 Outback Steakhouse Toowoomba sauce over grilled tenderloin filets (or salmon filets) for an easy way to elevate your entrée. This recipe will make enough for four servings.

    If you love Outback Steakhouse, check out my other clone recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese

    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 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).

    And browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Outback Steakhouse Firecracker Salmon

    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.

    Find recipes for more of your favorite Outback dishes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Panera Bread Baked Potato Soup

    Since Panera Bread makes all its ingredients known, it's not hard to find out that there’s no chicken broth in the original recipe, yet every copycat recipe I located online calls for chicken broth, as well as other ingredients clearly not found in Panera's version. Unlike those other recipes, I use the same or similar ingredients to those listed on the company’s website in my Panera Bread Potato Soup recipe.

    One of the ingredients in the soup, according to the posted list, is yeast extract. This tasty ingredient adds an MSG-like savoriness to Panera’s soup, and we can duplicate it by using nutritional yeast—often called "nooch"—now found in many stores, including Whole Foods. A little bit of nooch will provide the umami deliciousness that replaces chicken broth or bouillon.

    Panera keeps its soup gluten-free by thickening it with a combination of rice flour and cornstarch, rather than wheat flour. I’ve included those ingredients as well so that your clone is similarly gluten-free. Use the steps below and in about an hour you’ll have 8 servings of a soup that is a culinary doppelganger to Panera Bread's Baked Potato soup, and at a mere fraction of the cost.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Panera Bread Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

    Other recipes I’ve seen that claim to duplicate the fabulous flavor of this popular soup do not make good clones, yet the long grain and wild rice mix that many of these recipes call for is a great way to get the exact amount of rice you need in a perfect blend. Just be sure not to use the flavor packet that comes with those rice kits, or you won’t get a good clone of the Panera original. Toss out that blend (or you can use it elsewhere; see Tidbits) and use my recipe below to make a better flavoring for the soup.

    Thanks to Panera Bread's policy of completely transparent ingredients, I discovered a surprising ingredient or two (wow, cabbage!), and was able to craft the best Panera Bread Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup recipe you’ll find.

    Click here for more of my Panera Bread copycat recipes. 

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  • Not rated yet
    Shake Shack ShackBurger

    Several puzzles had to be solved to make a satisfying hack of the signature sandwich from the rapidly expanding New York chain. First, our burger must include a spot-on facsimile of the secret ShackSauce. I got a sample of the sauce from one of our Las Vegas Shake Shacks and determined the seven common ingredients, including pickle juice, to combine for a great shack sauce recipe.

    Second, the burger must be made with a special ground mix of four different cuts of beef and the patties need to be cooked the right way. I tested many combinations of meat until I landed on a flavorful blend of chuck, brisket, skirt steak, and short ribs. If you don't have a meat grinder at home, you can have your butcher grind these for you. At the restaurant, the ground beef blend is formed into ¼-pound pucks that are smashed onto the grill with a metal press. Grab a strong spatula and heat up a heavy skillet.

    And third, you'll need some soft, buttered and toasted potato buns to hold it all together. Shake Shack uses Martin's rolls, which are not cut all the way through, allowing the buns to be hinged open for loading. If you can’t find Martin’s, any soft potato rolls will do.

    Use these secrets and follow the easy steps below, and soon you’ll be biting into a perfect re-creation of Shake Shack Shackbuger. The famous cheeseburger that helped this chain grow from a single food cart in New York City to over 162 stores.

    Try my Shake Shack vanilla custard and vanilla milkshake recipes here.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unleashed by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 3.00 (votes: 2)
    Wendy's Chocolate Frosty (Improved)

    It may look like it's all chocolate, but Wendy's founder Dave Thomas thought that a purely chocolate frozen dairy dessert would overpower his burger and fries, so he mixed chocolate with vanilla to create his signature ultra-thick shake, and in 1969, the Frosty was born.

    My first crack at this iconic treat was revealed in a copycat recipe I published 25 years ago in my first book "Top Secret Recipes" that called for mixing milk with Nestle Quik and vanilla ice cream in a blender. Tasty? Sure, it was. But the finished product was too runny, and the flavor wasn't perfect. That's why I recently holed myself up in the lab and created a new improved Wendy's Frosty recipe that you churn in a home ice cream maker until thick and creamy, and it now tastes just like the real thing.

    Unlike my previous recipe, which relied on premade ice cream and a drink mix, the scratch ingredients I used here allowed me to make small adjustments in flavor for a better match, and an ice cream maker is the perfect way to produce a thick, creamy consistency. So far, this is the best hack I've come up with to duplicate the treat that tests have shown is up to twice as thick as other famous desserts in a cup, including Dairy Queen's Blizzard and McDonald's McFlurry

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Wendy's Vanilla Frosty

    For 50 years, the Frosty at Wendy's came in only one flavor: chocolate. But in 2006, after repeated customer requests, the new Vanilla Frosty debuted nationwide. Like its chocolate counterpart, the Vanilla Frosty is a super-thick milkshake that has the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Don't even attempt to get it through the straw they serve it with unless you feel the urge to collapse a lung. That's why they also give you a spoon. Start there.

    And, just as with my improved Classic Chocolate Frosty hack, you must make my copycat Wendy's Vanilla Frosty in a home ice cream maker to get the same thick and creamy consistency as the real thing. Sure, other Frosty clones might taste okay, but if it ain't thick like this one, it ain't a good hack.

    I've cloned a ton of Wendy's recipes. See if I hacked your favorite here.

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  • Score: 4.00 (votes: 2)
    KFC Nashville Hot Chicken

    It was only a matter of time before the spicy fried chicken made famous in Nashville, Tennessee at shops like Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B's would find its way into the mainstream. A dish this good is never contained forever, and KFC became the first fast food chain to give the recipe national exposure. A test run of the new spicy chicken in Pittsburgh was the most successful product test in KFC's recent history.

    The original dish from Nashville is made with crispy fried chicken that's doused with a top-secret spicy chili sauce and served on sliced white bread with dill pickles on top. KFC's version is served with just pickles, no bread (a biscuit on the side instead), and is made by soaking the chain's Extra Crispy Fried Chicken with the oily chili sauce from a squirt bottle. Since there isn't any water in the sauce, just oil, the chicken stays crispy, regardless of how much sauce is applied.

    To make a home version of KFC Nashville Hot Chicken, you first need to prepare the chicken, either using my hack for KFC Extra Crispy Chicken, or by baking or frying some of the pre-breaded chicken pieces you can find frozen in just about every grocery store. While the chicken cooks, make the sauce and pour it into a squirt bottle or spouted measuring cup. Apply it to your chicken when it's done (shake it or stir it first!), then top it with dill pickle slices.          

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheddar's Monte Cristo

    Menu Description: "Smoked ham, smoked turkey, two cheeses, battered and fried until golden with raspberry preserves and dusted with powdered sugar."

    When pondering casual chains with the best Monte Cristo sandwiches, two come to mind: Bennigan's and Cheddar's recipes. At each chain the sandwich is built with turkey, ham, and cheese, then it’s battered and fried, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with raspberry preserves for dipping. It probably sounds strange if you've never had one, but Monte Cristo alums know it all tastes pretty darn great together. I hacked Bennigans' version years ago for my cookbook Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2, and recently, on a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, I was able to get my hands on Cheddars' signature version of this famous sandwich.

    I planned for the mission by bringing along a cooler of ice so that I could get a fresh sample safely back home. Once I was back in the lab in Vegas, I subjected the sandwich to a series of tasty tests, burned through several versions of batter, and eventually assembled this new Cheddar's Monte Cristo copycat recipe that I think is even better than my previous Bennigan's hack. The better batter is the big secret here—it's light and crispy and perfectly golden brown, and the sandwich features two kinds of cheese, both white and yellow American. Will this be the best Monte Cristo you've ever had? You’re about to find out.

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  • Not rated yet
    P.F. Chang's Banana Spring Rolls

    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.

    Click here for more amazing copycat recipes from P.F. Chang's.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Panera Bread Vegetarian Summer Corn Chowder

    Panera’s top soup pick in the summer is a creamy vegetarian chowder that’s full of flavor and easy to copy at home once you know an important flavor secret. I started my hack using a vegetable broth, since that’s what 

    Panera’s top soup pick in the summer is a creamy vegetarian chowder that’s full of flavor and easy to copy at home once you know an important flavor secret. I started my hack using a vegetable broth, since that’s what all the other “copycats” call for, but I found its strong vegetable flavor dominated the soup, so I quickly bailed on that plan.

    Starting over, I referred to the soup’s ingredients posted online by Panera Bread and noticed there is no broth in the soup, which means every copycat recipe online is wrong. I didn’t want to make the same mistake in my Panera Bread Vegetarian Summer Corn Chowder recipe, but without the broth my soup would be lacking some important flavor components, and that’s no good either.

    In many soup recipes, the broth or stock is important for the umami quality provided by the yeast extract added to the product. Yeast extracts are one of the many ways food manufacturers add an MSG flavor-enhancing effect without adding MSG. Panera does in fact list “yeast extract” as one of the ingredients in the soup, so I needed to find a readily available ingredient that would provide the same savory quality.

    Enter nutritional yeast—or “nooch” as it’s often called—a flakey, nutrient-packed, vegan ingredient that’s growing quickly in popularity thanks to the savory, cheesy flavor it adds to a variety of foods (it’s great on popcorn). Nooch is also popular with vegans and vegetarians since it’s fortified with vitamin B12, an essential nutrient that's mainly found in animal-sourced foods.

    Now, with nooch in there, along with yellow corn, red-skin potatoes, poblano peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and other tasty things, no broth is required. Just give your Panera Bread Vegetarian Summer Corn Chowder some water and a little patience.

    Find more of your favorite Panera Bread recipes here

     

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Benihana Hibachi Chicken and Steak

    When 20-year old Rocky Aoki came to New York City from Japan with his wrestling team in 1959 he was convinced it was the land of opportunity. Just five years later he used $10,000 he had saved plus another $20,000 that he borrowed to open a Benihana steakhouse on the West Side of Manhattan. His concept of bringing the chefs out from the back of the kitchen to prepare the food in front of customers on a specially designed hibachi grill was groundbreaking. The restaurant was such a smashing success that it paid for itself within 6 months. 

    The most popular items at the restaurant are the Hibachi Chicken and Hibachi Steak, which are prepared at your table on an open hibachi grill. But, since most home kitchens are not fitted with an hibachi grill, you'll have to improvise. You will likely have to use two pans for this Benihana hibachi chicken and steak recipe; one for the meat and mushrooms, and the other for the remaining vegetables. And since many of today's cooking surfaces are coated with scratchable, nonstick coatings, we won't be slicing the meat and vegetables while they are sizzling on the hot cooking surface as the Benihana chefs do.

    Grab my clone recipes for the Ginger and Mustard Dipping Sauces here

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Famous Dave's Smoked Salmon Spread

    Menu Description: "Our own hickory-smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and chipotle peppers makes this a spread worth swimming upstream for. Served with fire-grilled flatbread."

    Famous Dave's is famous for making pork ribs so good you forget you're wearing the embarrassing bib. But before you get your face smeared with BBQ sauce, you may want to kick off your meal with this popular choice from the chain's appetizer column. Start with 4 ounces of the best smoked salmon you can find—it should be very smoky if you want to duplicate the same taste of the original. If you can't find salmon that's smoky enough, I found that adding a little hickory liquid smoke to the mix works perfectly to flavor the spread so that it tastes like Dave's version. You'll end up with twice the amount of spread as the original which makes this a great appetizer for a small party. You can even prepare the flatbread ahead of time, then wrap it up in foil and reheat it in the oven before serving.

    If you're craving some ribs, try my clone recipes for Chili's Baby Back Ribs, Roadhouse Grill Baby Back Ribs, or Tony Roma's World Famous Ribs.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur. 

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  • Score: 4.87 (votes: 15)
    LongHorn Steakhouse Prairie Dust

    Peruse a menu at one of the 270-unit LongHorn Steakhouses located throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and you'll find this seasoning blend on battered onion petals, spicy fried shrimp, pork chops, and steaks. Just combine these eight common ingredients in the comfort of your home, and you will have quickly cloned a versatile seasoned salt that can be added to everything that needs flavor, from steaks to chicken to seafood. It's also good sprinkled over eggs, burgers, even popcorn.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 7)
    Fleming's Prime Steakhouse Chipotle Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese

    I've never met a macaroni & cheese I didn't like. But there are a few restaurants that push this common side dish to a higher level. I've had mac & cheese made with three or four cheeses, and some that come drizzled with truffle oil. I've had mac & cheese with green pepper in it, and onion, and parsley, and bacon—it all works for me. But at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse, it's about the chipotle. The smoky jalapeño flavor sets this one apart from others, and makes this one of the top side dishes at the upscale steakhouse chain.

    For our clone, we'll start with a cheese sauce made with smoked cheddar. There's some minced jalapeño and green onion in there, plus a little ground chipotle pepper. A nice finishing touch comes from the breadcrumb topping that's made with Japanese breadcrumbs, or panko, which is flavored with more ground chipotle. The pasta shape used at Fleming's is called cellentani, which looks like long corkscrews. You could also use cavatappi pasta which are shorter corkscrews, or just go for the traditional elbow macaroni which can found pretty much anywhere.

    Find more copycat recipes from Fleming's Steakhouse here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Chili's Cajun Ribeye

    Menu Description: "12 oz. ribeye steak seasoned with Cajun spices and topped with roasted herb jus and spicy Cajun butter."

    Three secret formulas must be hacked before we can consider this dish a complete culinary carbon copy of Chili's signature Cajun Ribeye. The Cajun seasoning, the herb jus and the Cajun butter comprise the flavorful hat trick that earns this dish its signature-item status. We'll make each component from scratch and everything is pretty easy. Sprinkle the seasoning on the steak before it's grilled, and then add the jus and herb butter just before serving. That's it. Rustle up some ribeyes from your favorite butcher, and fire up the grill. Once you've assembled these three simple secret recipes below, you're just minutes away from an impressive, flavor-filled steak.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.81 (votes: 16)
    Islands Tortilla Soup

    The entire process for making this soup which Islands serves in "bottomless bowls" takes as long as 3 hours, but don't let that discourage you. Most of that time is spent waiting for the chicken to roast (up to 90 minutes -- although you can save time by using a precooked chicken, see Tidbits) and letting the soup simmer (1 hour). The actual work involved is minimal -- most of your time is spent chopping the vegetable ingredients. This recipe produces soup with an awesome flavor and texture since you'll be making fresh chicken stock from the carcass of the roasted chicken. As for the fried tortilla strip garnish that tops the soup, you can go the hard way or the easy way on that step. The hard way makes the very best Islands tortilla soup recipe and it's really not that hard: Simply slice corn tortillas into strips, fry the strips real quick, then toss the fried strips with a custom seasoning blend. The easy way is to grab a bag of the new habanero-flavored Doritos, which happen to be similar in spiciness to the strips used at the restaurant. Simply crumble a few of these chips over the top of your bowl of soup, and dive in.

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  • Score: 4.62 (votes: 13)
    Hot Dog on a Stick Hot Dog on a Stick

    One hot summer day in 1946 Dave Barham was inspired to dip a hot dog into his mother's cornbread batter, then deep fry it to a golden brown. Dave soon found a quaint Santa Monica, California location near the beach to sell his new creation with mustard on the side and a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade. For a perfect clone of Hot Dog On A Stick, be sure you find the shorter turkey hot dogs, not "bun-length". In this case, size does matter. Snag some of the disposable wood chopsticks from a local Chinese or Japanese restaurant next time you're there and start dipping.

    Update 5/3/17: If your hot dogs are browning too fast, turn the temperature of the oil down to 350 degrees. And rather than using chopsticks, thick round skewer sticks (corn dog skewers) found in houseware stores and online will work much better.

    Now, how about a tall glass of Hot Dog On A Stick Lemonade?

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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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.

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