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Sonic Drive-In Hickory Burger Reduced-Fat copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

Sonic Drive-In Hickory Burger Reduced-Fat

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Driving through Louisiana in 1953, Troy Smith happened upon a cozy hamburger stand that had installed an intercom system to speed up ordering. Troy adapted the idea for his small chain of burger joints and hired nimble servers to bring the food out to customers quickly. The concept was a smash, with revenues for the chain doubling during the first week. Sonic was cashing in on the growing popularity of the automobile. Customers parked their cars in a stall, rolled down the window, and ordered from a speaker. The food was then brought to the car on a tray by a roller-skating carhop with extraordinary balance.

Today, Sonic has rejuvenated the carhop concept by serving customers the same way as in the '50s: with individual car stalls, speakers, and waitresses on wheels. The company is America's largest drive-in hamburger chain with more than two thousand units rolling in 1999.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size–1 sandwich
Total servings–1
Calories per serving–400 (Original–314)
Fat per serving–10.5g (Original–15.7g)

Source: Low-Fat Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

Get This

_main
  • 1/4 pound super lean ground beef (7% fat)
  • 1 large plain white hamburger bun
  • Fat-free butter-flavored spray
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Kraft Hickory BBQ Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chopped white onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped iceberg lettuce
Do This

1. Form the ground beef into a thin circle the same diameter as the bun. Cover with wax paper and freeze.

2. When ready to prepare the burger, preheat a large skillet or griddle pan over medium heat.

3. Spray a light coating of the butter spray over the face of the top and bottom bun. Brown the faces of the bun in the skillet, then remove them and set them aside.

4. Place the beef patty into the hot pan and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side until done.

5. As the patty cooks, build the burger by first spreading the BBQ sauce over the face of the bottom bun.

6. Sprinkle the chopped onion over the sauce.

7. Arrange the lettuce on the sandwich next.

8. When the beef is ready, stack it on top of the other condiments, and top off the sandwich with the top bun. If you'd like the buns warmer, microwave on high for 10 to 15 seconds.

Makes 1 burger.

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    The little red packets of viscous hot sauce at the fast food giant have a cult following of rabid fans who will do whatever it takes to get their hands on large quantities. One such fan of the sauce commented online, "Are there any Wendy's employees or managers out there who will mail me an entire case of Hot Chili Seasoning? I swear this is not a joke. I love the stuff. I tip extra cash to Wendy's workers to get big handfuls of the stuff." Well, there's really no need to tip any Wendy's employees, because now you can clone as much of Wendy's Hot Chili Seasoning as you want in your own kitchen with this Top Secret Recipe.

    The ingredients listed on the real Hot Chili Seasoning are water, corn syrup, salt, distilled vinegar, natural flavors, xanthan gum, and extractives of paprika. We'll use many of those same ingredients for our clone, but we'll substitute gelatin for the xanthan gum (a thickener) to get the slightly gooey consistency right. For the natural flavor and color we'll use cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, and garlic powder, then filter the particles out with a fine wire-mesh strainer after they've contributed what the sauce needs.

    My Wendy's Hot Chili Seasoning recipe makes 5 ounces of sauce— just the right amount to fit nicely into a used hot sauce bottle—and costs just pennies to make. 

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  • Score: 4.40 (votes: 5)
    Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken

    Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken and Biscuits has become the third-largest quick-service chicken chain in the world in the twenty-two years since its first store opened in New Orleans in 1972. (KFC has the number-one slot, followed by Church's Chicken). Since then, the chain has grown to 813 units, with many of them overseas in Germany, Japan, Jamaica, Honduras, Guam, and Korea.

    While making my Popeyes Fried Chicken recipe, I tested several spices and I found that the right blend of cayenne and white pepper bring the same heat as the original. Try my recipe below and see what you think. 

    You might also like to get your hands on my recipes for Popeyes Chicken Sandwich and Popeyes biscuits.

    Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 3.67 (votes: 3)
    Papa John's Dipping Sauces

    John Shnatter was only 23 years old when he used $1600 in start-up money to buy a pizza oven and have it installed in the broom closet of an Indiana tavern. John started delivering his hot, fresh pizzas, and in 1984, the first year of his business, he was selling 300 to 400 pizzas a week. 

    John keeps the Papa John's menu simple. You won't find salad or subs or chicken wings on his menu. The company just sells pizza, with side orders of breadsticks and cheeseticks made from the same pizza dough recipe. With each order of breadsticks or cheesesticks comes your choice of dipping sauces. I've got clones for all three of those tasty sauces—Special Garlic, Cheese, and Pizza. You can make your own breaksticks by making your favorite pizza dough, and slicing it into sticks. If you want cheesesticks, brush some of the Garlic Sauce on the dough, then sprinkle it with mozzarella cheese and bake. Slice the baked dough into sticks and use the dipping sauce of your choice. 

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.71 (votes: 17)
    KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Original Recipe Fried Chicken

    One of the most protected, discussed, and sought-after secret recipes in the food world is KFC's Original Recipe Fried Chicken. Long ago I published my first hack of the famous formula, but the recipe, which was based on research from "Big Secrets" author William Poundstone, includes only salt, pepper, MSG, and flour in the breading, and not the blend of eleven herbs and spices we have all heard about. The fried chicken made with my first recipe is good in a pinch, but it really needs several more ingredients to be a true clone. 

    That is why, over twenty years later, I was happy to get another crack at the secret when we shot the pilot episode for my CMT TV series Top Secret Recipe. In the show, I visited KFC headquarters, talked to friends of Harlan Sanders who had seen the actual recipe, and even checked out the Corbin, Kentucky, kitchen where Harland Sanders first developed his chicken recipe. During that four-day shoot I was able to gather enough clues about the secret eleven herbs and spices to craft my new KFC Fried chicken recipe—one that I believe is the closest match to the Colonel's secret fried chicken that anyone has ever revealed.

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Ruby Tuesday Queso Dip

    Menu Description: "Smooth and spicy cheese dip. Served with unlimited crisp tortilla chips."

    Many who have tried the original say it's the best queso dip they've ever had, so I had to get on the case. Talking to a store manager I found out that the dip is made with American cheese and a little Parmesan, but the rest of the ingredients were going to have to be determined in the underground lab. When I got down there—using the elevator hidden in a fake outhouse in the corner of a vacant lot—I immediately rinsed the dip in a strainer and discovered bits of spinach, onion and two kinds of peppers. The red pepper, which is responsible for the kick, appeared to be rehydrated dry peppers. It looks like they're red jalapenos, but since the red ones can be hard to find I chopped up some red Fresno peppers and the dip tasted great—full of flavor with a nice spicy kick. Just be sure to remove the inner membranes and seeds from the peppers before you mince them up, or your cool dip may end up packing a lot of heat.

    For those who like chili in your cheese dip, check out my copycat Chili's Chili Queso recipe here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.83 (votes: 6)
    Long John Silver's Batter-Dipped Fish

    Jerrico, Inc., the parent company for Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes, got its start in 1929 as a six-stool hamburger stand called the White Tavern Shoppe. Jerrico was started by a man named Jerome Lederer, who watched Long John Silver's thirteen units dwindle in the shadow of World War II to just three units. Then, with determination, he began rebuilding. In 1946 Jerome launched a new restaurant called Jerry's and it was a booming success, with growth across the country. Then he took a chance on what would be his most successful venture in 1969, with the opening of the first Long John Silver's Fish 'n' Chips. The name was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In 1991 there were 1,450 Long John Silver Seafood Shoppes in thirty-seven states, Canada, and Singapore, with annual sales of more than $781 million. That means the company holds about 65 percent of the $1.2 billion quick-service seafood business.

    These days, it seems there are less and less Long John Silver restaurants. Good thing you can follow my Long John Silver's Batter-Dipped Fish recipe below and enjoy that same great flavor at home. 

    Make my McDonald's French Fries recipe for the classic fish 'n chips experience.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Chick-fil-A Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich

    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!

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Church's Chicken Honey Butter Biscuits

    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.

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  • Not rated yet
    Red Robin Burnin' Love Burger

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Domino's Crispy Bacon & Tomato Specialty Chicken

    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  

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Burger King French Toast Sandwich

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    Jack Link's Original Beef Jerky

    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 this hack 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 copycat 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.

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  • Not rated yet
    McDonald's Bacon, Egg & Cheese McGriddles

    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.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Chick-fil-A Chicken Tortilla Soup

    For a great chicken tortilla soup that doesn’t skimp on chicken and comes packed with other goodies like two kinds of beans, corn, chiles, onion, celery, garlic, and cilantro you’ll want to make my recipe for Chick-fil-A’s hearty version. Their soup is not only surprisingly good for a fast food chain, but it could also stand up to tortilla soups from any full-service chain, and these preparation secrets will guide you through a spot-on at-home clone.

    For the white beans look for canned navy beans or small white beans. Cannellini beans and Great Northern beans are too big for a perfect clone, but if that's all you can find they’ll still work here.

    The chicken is made the same way as in my Top Secret Recipe for Chick-fil-A Southwest Chicken Salad—it’s brined for four hours to infuse it with flavor before it gets grilled. Keep that extra prep time in mind when planning your soup.

    Chick-fil-A uses natural roasted chicken flavor in their version, and we can do the same by using Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base found in many stores and online. That particular ingredient will give you the best clone, but if you can’t track it down you can also use regular bouillon cubes.

    Top your Chick-Fil-A chicken tortilla soup with fried tortilla strips sold in bags or just crumble some of your favorite tortilla chips over the top, and grab a spoon. 

    Chick-fil-A makes amazing chicken sandwiches and mac & cheese. Find more of my recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chick-fil-A Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing

    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. 

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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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  • Not rated yet
    It's Just Wings Smoked Wings & Sauces

    To help fill the void left by a lack of dine-in customers when the coronavirus pandemic struck the U.S. in early 2020, restaurant operators had to get creative. That spring and summer we saw a surge in ghost kitchens and virtual restaurants where all the food was prepared for delivery only. Ghost kitchens are kitchens without seating and minimal, if any, signage. Virtual restaurants are delivery-only services where food is prepared in established restaurant kitchens.

    It's Just Wings is a concept cooked up by Brinker, the team behind Chili’s and Maggiano’s, with a menu limited to wings in three styles—bone-in, boneless, and smoked—tossed in your choice of eight creative sauces or two dry rubs. Since I've already hacked a variety of traditional wings and boneless wings, I chose to clone It's Just Wings stand-out smoked wings which are prepared in the same pecan wood smoking ovens (called Combitherms) Chili’s uses to make baby back ribs. 

    The secret is to brine the chicken first, then blot it dry and rub the skin with oil to help make it crispy while it smokes. If you don’t have a smoker, you can smoke the wings on your grill by heating one side of the grill and placing the wings on the other side. Set wood chips or pellets in foil over the heated side, then close the lid.   

    I’ve included hack recipes for three of It's Just Wings most notable sauces: Honey Sriracha, Honey Chipotle, and Truffle Hot Sauce. Pick one (or more), toss your wings in it, and dive in. Or maybe you just want to go naked? These wings also taste great without any sauce at all.

    I've hacked a ton of famous fried chicken wings. See if I cloned your favorite here

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  • Not rated yet
    Panera Bread Creamy Tomato Soup

    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. 

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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: 1)
    Qdoba Fiery Habanero Salsa

    I’ve yet to taste a better habanero salsa at a quick-service Mexican chain than the one made daily at Qdoba Mexican Eats. Yes, it is very spicy, but the simple combo of fire-roasted habanero, tomatillo, and garlic is not as fiery as you might expect from a salsa that includes so much habanero in it.

    And that’s exactly what makes Qdoba Fiery Habanero Salsa so good. Because the habanero peppers are roasted, and the seeds are removed, you can enjoy the complex flavor of the habanero without your taste buds being numbed by the heat. A good salsa should enhance your food, not upstage it.

    You can roast the peppers in your oven or by holding them over the high flame of a gas stove with a skewer until the skins have charred to black. Resting the blackened peppers in a covered container for a few minutes will help to steam the skins, and they will wash off easily under cold water. 

    How about using this salsa to spice up some Qdoba Grilled Chicken Adobo? Ger my recipe here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Olive Garden Lasagna Classico

    Crafting an Olive Garden’s signature Lasagna Classico recipe became the perfect opportunity to create a beautiful multi-layered lasagna hack recipe that uses up the whole box of lasagna noodles and fills the baking pan all the way to the top. This Top Secret Recipe makes a lasagna that tips the scale at nearly 10 pounds and will feed hungry mouths for days, with every delicious layer copied directly from the carefully dissected Olive Garden original.

    I found a few credible bits of intel in a video of an Olive Garden chef demonstrating what he claims is the real formula on a midday news show, but the recipe was abbreviated for TV and the chef left out some crucial information. One ingredient he conspicuously left out of the recipe is the secret layer of Cheddar cheese located near the middle of the stack. I wasn’t expecting to find Cheddar in lasagna, but when I carefully separated the layers from several servings of the original dish, there was the golden melted cheesy goodness in every slice.

    This clone recipe will make enough for 8 big portions, but if you make slightly smaller slices this is easily enough food to fill twelve lasagna-loving bellies. If you like lasagna, you're going to love this version.

    This recipe was our #2 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce (#1), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso

    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 jalapenos 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 Qdoba 3-cheese 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.

    Find my recipes for Qdoba Adobo Chicken and Habanero Salsa here

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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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    IHOP Mexican Churro Pancakes

    Menu Description: “Four buttermilk pancakes layered with a fiesta of warm cinnamon spread, crunchy mini-churros and sweet cream cheese icing. Crowned with whipped topping.”         

    IHOP's creative Mexican churro pancake is cloned by starting with my hack for IHOP’s famous buttermilk pancakes from Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step. A fresh stack of these fluffy pancakes is then layered with the sweet cinnamon spread made with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

    Rather than making churros from scratch, we’ll save time by using frozen churros. I found some at Target and Walmart. Chop them into bite-size chunks and arrange them on top of the pancakes, then drizzle your stack with the homemade cream cheese icing recipe here, and prepare to accept your “oohs” and “ahhs.”

    Check out more of your favorite recipes from IHOP right here

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  • Not rated yet
    IHOP Mexican Tres Leches Pancakes

    Menu Description: “Four buttermilk pancakes layered with vanilla sauce and dulce de leche caramel sauce. Crowned with whipped topping.”

    Re-creating this pancake version of Mexico’s mucho moist tres leches cake boils down to mastering two easy sauces: dulce de leche caramel and a vanilla sauce.

    For the dulce de leche we’ll use a can of sweetened condensed milk, as do many traditional recipes. But I found that undiluted condensed milk produced caramel with an unpleasant canned-milk aftertaste. To improve the flavor, I first combined the condensed milk with whole milk, then cooked it down in a water bath the same way. The caramel sitting in the bottom of the pan was smooth and creamy, it tasted much better, and the process was as simple as it gets.

    Turning to the vanilla sauce, I expected a basic formula at IHOP flavored with just vanilla extract, but I was pleasantly surprised to see real vanilla bean seeds in there. I excitedly added the seeds of a whole vanilla bean to our clone, in addition to the vanilla extract. But that’s not all the flavor we need for a match. I taste some butterscotch in there as well, so I’m including a little butterscotch flavoring in the final formula. If butterscotch isn’t your thing, feel free to replace that flavoring with an equal amount of vanilla extract. 

    Put it all together, and you have a cool home version of IHOP Mexican Tres Leches Pancakes to enjoy anytime. 

    Check out more of your favorite recipes from IHOP right here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

    A recipe for Portuguese sweet bread inspired the soft rolls that became a big hit at Robert Tiara's Bakery & Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii in the 1950s. It wasn’t long before Robert changed the name of his thriving business to King’s Hawaiian, and in 1977 the company opened its first bakery on the mainland, in Torrance, California, to make the now-famous island sweet rolls sold in stores across the U.S.

    King’s Hawaiian Rolls are similar to Texas Roadhouse Rolls in that they are both pillowy, sweet white rolls, so it made sense to dig out my Texas Roadhouse Rolls clone recipe and use it as a starting point. These new rolls had to be slightly softer and sweeter, so I made some adjustments and added a little egg for color. And by baking the dough in a high-rimmed baking pan with 24 dough balls placed snugly together, I ended up with beautiful rolls that rose nicely to the occasion, forming a tear-apart loaf just like the original King's Hawaiian Rolls, but with clean ingredients, and without the dough conditioners found in the packaged rolls.

    Use these fluffy sweet rolls for sandwiches, sliders, or simply warmed up and slathered with soft European butter.

    This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce (#1), Olive Garden Lasagna Classico (#2), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chili's Original Chili

    Over the years I've hacked a bunch of items from Chili's menu, including their Fajitas, Baby Back Ribs, Salsa, Chili Queso, Southwestern Eggrolls, Chicken Crispers, Boneless Wings, and more, but it wasn’t until recently that I got the chance to create a recipe for the Chili's award-winning Original Chili. Why it took so long, I have no idea.

    The chili served at Chili’s is a Texas-style con carne recipe, which traditionally means no beans and no tomato. You won’t find any beans in this recipe or chunks of tomato, but their chili does have a tomato base to boost flavor, so I’m adding that into the mix by including one 6-ounce can of tomato paste. As it turns out, that small can is just the right amount.

    The preparation technique for my Chili's Original chili recipe is simple: brown the beef, drain off the fat, then add some of the fat back to the empty pan to sauté the onions and peppers in. When those are done, you add the beef back to the pan along with the remaining ingredients and simmer for 1½ hours. That will be just long enough to braise the beef and tenderize it, and to thicken the chili to a perfect consistency.

    When the chili’s done, top each serving with a cheddar/pepper Jack blend, and some crispy tortilla bits. Then pass out the spoons.

    Check here more of my Chili's copycat recipes.

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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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