THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
Taco Bell Lava Sauce copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

Taco Bell Lava Sauce

Score: 4.17 (votes: 6)
Reviews: 6
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Sales erupted at Taco Bell when the chain introduced the new Volcano Taco in September 2008. A red corn tortilla shell filled with standard taco ingredients including spiced ground beef, lettuce, and cheese, is topped with a super-spicy cheese-based secret ingredient called Lava Sauce that makes this product one of the chain's most successful new menu items. When the Volcano Taco was removed from stores three months after its launch, internet groups quickly formed demanding the product's hasty return. Those campaigns worked. The Volcano taco returned to Taco Bell as a permanent menu item, along with a new burrito that also features the Lava Sauce.

But there's no need to go all the way to Taco Bell and beg for extra sauce if you want to spread the same spicy joy on your homemade Mexican-style creations. Get a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and use the powdered cheese inside to whip up your own Lava Sauce clone. Cayenne pepper cranks the sauce up to 800 Scoville units of heat compared to Taco Bell's Fire Sauce at 500 Scoville units, which makes this the hottest stuff you can get at the chain. Now, with this secret formula, you can adjust the heat up or down to your preference just by playing with the amount of cayenne you add. You can also make the sauce lower in fat by using reduced-fat mayo.

Get This

_main
  • 5 teaspoons powdered cheese (from 7.25 oz. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner)
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Pinch garlic powder
  • Pinch onion powder
Do This

1. Whisk water and vinegar into the powdered cheese in a medium bowl until a paste is formed.

2. Stir in the remaining ingredients, cover, and chill for several hours.

Makes 1/2 cup.

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Reviews
Sharisse Ponder
Oct 19, 2014, 22:00
We love spicy, and loved the volcano tacos Taco bell used to serve. Now we can have them all the time with this sauce! I have made it for company and they like it better than Taco Bell's!!
Jeremywise1313
Jan 14, 2012, 22:00
This recipe is the closest one I've found for this sauce....my suggestion would be using just a touch LESS than 1/4 tsp of cumin...Otherwise, I'd say it's decent!

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  • Not rated yet
    Dickey's Barbecue Pit Potato Salad

    America’s largest barbecue chain is famous for its great smoked meats. But Dickey’s Barbecue Pit also deserves a major shout-out for tasty potato salad that even potato salad haters will like. It’s sweet, sour, creamy, and speckled with just a bit of bell pepper and celery to make it interesting. And it’s easy to make a perfect copy at home with this handy Top Secret Recipe.

    For my Dickey’s Potato Salad copycat recipe, you’ll start by mixing a simple dressing and stir it into diced potatoes that cook in just 10 minutes. Add some minced red and green bell pepper—both cook al dente in under 5 minutes—plus a little minced celery, and your work is done. And you made it for much less than it would cost to buy the real thing.

    After it chills, give it a good stir, and your potato salad hack is ready for hungry mouths.

    Fans of Dickey's will also love my original BBQ sauce and coleslaw copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Dickey's Barbecue Pit Cabbage Slaw

    Here’s an easy secret recipe for a great coleslaw that’s as good, if not better, than the world-famous cole slaw from KFC (which I hacked here). And making a home copy with this exclusive original secret formula is about as easy as it gets.

    To make my Dickie’s Barbecue Pit coleslaw recipe, you won’t have to mince the cabbage as fine as you would for some of the other clones. For this hack, thin-slice the cabbage first, then give those slices a medium chop and you're good to go. A medium head of cabbage will give you around 8 cups chopped—the perfect amount for this recipe.

    After you mix in the dressing, let the finished slaw sit in your refrigerator for at least an hour so that the flavor develops and improves, and be sure to give it a good stir before you serve it. Your patience will be rewarded.

    For another awesome Dickie's clone, check out my copycat of the chain's original BBQ sauce here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Yard House Miguel's Queso Dip

    If the chef who created this creamy queso dip was willing to put his name on it, you figure it’s got to be good queso. For his hit appetizer, Yard House executive chef Miguel Mata blends three cheeses with roasted poblano pepper and a custom red sauce made with guajillo and chipotle peppers. That tasty sauce, hacked here for the first time, gives the queso its special flavor and heat, and this recipe-within-the-recipe will produce enough sauce for several batches of queso dip, or to use any way you want. Yard House serves the killer red sauce on this queso and on their chicken nachos.

    To make my Miguel’s Queso Dip copycat recipe you'll need Velveeta queso blanco, a white cheese that melts easily in your microwave or on the stove. After loading the melted queso blanco into a shallow dish with the poblano and secret red sauce, top it with shredded pepper Jack and cheddar, broil until bubbly, and serve with corn tortilla chips and flour tortillas on the side for dipping.

    This dip might make you thirsty. In that case, you can find some of my famous cocktail recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor

    A dish traditionally made with pork is redesigned for chicken in this Mexican chain’s limited-time-only sweet-and-spicy variation. All the key ingredients for good al pastor are here: pineapple, lime, achiote, and morita chipotle peppers, which come together to make a bright orange sauce used here for basting marinated chicken thighs.

    The TV commercial for Chipotle’s new offering claims the morita peppers are seared and shows wild flames dancing around a pan filled with fresh green and red peppers. That is perhaps not an accurate depiction of the preparation process considering that morita peppers are made by smoking red jalapeños, not green ones. And smoked jalapeños do not look like fresh jalapeños, so I'm not sure what's going on there.

    Regardless of the confusing clues in the TV ad, to make my Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor copycat recipe, you'll want to find dry morita peppers, then remove the seeds and toast the peppers in your oven before making the secret sauce. Baste the sauce on your chicken just before it's done cooking, then chop it up and use it to make delicious tacos, burritos, salads, and bowls.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Red Lobster Walt's Favorite Shrimp

    Many identify Red Lobster as the restaurant that serves free cheesy Cheddar Bay Biscuits with every meal, but the chain has another claim to fame as the first chain to make popcorn shrimp a thing.

    Introduced in 1974, Walt’s Favorite Shrimp is butterflied, breaded, and lightly fried, making the crustaceans a simple-to-eat finger food. But there’s more to my Red Lobster Walt’s Favorite Shrimp copycat recipe than simply breading and frying a pound of large shrimp. First, we’ll need to add flavor to the shrimp with a brine. And instead of using a salt brine, I found that a brine of concentrated chicken bouillon worked wonders for flavoring the shrimp all the way through.

    After brining the shrimp give them three coats of flour and one with breadcrumbs, then it takes just a minute or so until they’re golden brown and crispy, and ready to serve with a side of cocktail sauce.

    Find more of my Red Lobster copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    McDonald's Hotcakes

    With the invention of the Egg McMuffin in 1971, McDonald’s became the first fast food restaurant to open for breakfast, but only in select locations. The morning sandwich was so successful that in 1977 the chain went national with a full breakfast menu rollout, including scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, bacon, and these popular golden-brown hotcakes.

    Many pancake recipes require buttermilk for lift, but since the McDonald's original recipe doesn't use it, you won't need it here for this clone. And you won't miss it. My McDonald’s Hotcakes recipe still makes fluffy pancakes even without buttermilk, since the formula contains plenty of baking powder for a perfect rise and beautiful browning. It's a handy recipe to have on hand when you don't have any buttermilk in the fridge and you don't feel like dashing off to the market.

    Once your batter is mixed, measure ¼ cup into a heated nonstick pan, and in under 3 minutes you’ll have a perfect 4½-inch hotcake—the exact size of the original. This recipe makes 16 hotcakes, and you can freeze the leftovers, then easily reheat a stack for just 1 minute in your microwave whenever you need a quick a.m. belly filler.

    Find more cool breakfast copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Panda Express Sizzling Shrimp

    At the restaurant, onion, red bell pepper, broccolini, and extra-large shrimp are tossed with a new spicy sweet-and-sour sauce in Panda’s giant wok over ultra-high heat. But you won’t need a huge wok, or any wok at all for that matter, to make a home version of the new offering so that when this “limited-time-only” dish is long gone, you’ll still be able to experience its awesomeness.

    Once you make the secret sauce for my Panda Express Sizzling Shrimp recipe, most of the work is done. It only takes a few minutes to sauté everything over high heat until seared, then you toss in the secret sizzling sauce to coat, and it’s done.

    Serve this dish over white or brown rice, or with one of my popular clones here for Panda Express Fried Rice or Panda Express Chow Mein.

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  • Not rated yet
    Applebee's Brew Pub Pretzels & Beer Cheese Dip

    The chain’s popular appetizer brings three secret recipes together in one dish: the pretzels, the beer cheese, and the honey Dijon mustard dip. And I’ve got original hacks for all three formulas that will make enough for lots of bellies.

    Bavarian pretzels are traditionally bathed in a lye solution before they’re baked to give them a dark shiny brown skin. Food-grade lye, when cooked, is safe to eat, but it’s not an ingredient usually found at the corner food store. So, to make my Applebee’s Beer Pub Pretzels recipe more convenient, I’m opting for a baking soda bath to darken these pretzels. They don’t have the same shine as lye-bathed pretzels, but if you use enough baking soda, your pretzels will come out beautifully caramel brown, just like the real thing.

    For my Applebee’s Beer Cheese Dip recipe, I had to come up with a good way to melt white cheddar, which can be tricky since it’s hard to find mild (softer) white cheddar. Most white cheddar I found was either sharp or extra sharp, and when I made a sauce using a roux, the finished product came out much too grainy. On my next attempt, I tried a different approach by melting a chunk of Velveeta Queso Blanco in some milk before adding the shredded white cheddar. Thanks to sodium citrate, a cheese melting aid that’s in Velveeta, the sauce came out smooth as silk, and I was thrilled.

    After your pretzels and beer cheese are done, mix up the easy honey Dijon mustard dipping sauce in a small bowl, and you’re ready to serve a gang of pretzel lovers with 12 Bavarian pretzel sticks and plenty of beer cheese and mustard sauce for dipping.

     Check out more of my cool copycat appetizers here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Subway Cookies

    The chewy, fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies sold at Subway are baked daily at the sandwich shop with frozen dough pucks provided by Otis Spunkmeyer. So, I guess you could say that this copycat recipe for several of Subway’s most popular cookies is also a clone of several of Otis Spunkmeyer’s most popular cookies.

    Perhaps the biggest secret revealed here is the butter/oil blend. Most cookie recipes call for just softened butter as the fat component, but that can add too much butter flavor. According to the ingredients list for these cookies, they contain a blend of oil and butter, which worked best as a 2-to-1 ratio of butter to oil after baking through a number of test batches. This fat blend helped improve the texture with crispier edges and a chewier middle, and the butter flavor was perfectly muted. Also, just one egg is added here—most cookie recipes like this add two—to make the cookies less cakey.

    Below you'll find my Subway cookies copycat recipes for Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip, and White Chip Macadamia Nut. I'll show you how to form the dough into pucks that can be frozen and either baked right away or saved for several weeks so that you can serve a batch of freshly baked cookies in just 20 minutes, with minimal effort, whenever you like.

    This recipe was my #4 most popular of 2023. Check out the other most popular unlocked recipes of the year: Church's Chicken Original and Spicy Fried Chicken (#1), IKEA Swedish Meatballs (#2), Chipotle Guacamole (#3), IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast (#5).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse Root Beer Glazed Ribs

    The secret recipe for BJ’s great fall-off-the-bone ribs requires a specialty moist oven called a CVap, made specifically for commercial kitchens, with a price tag in the thousands of dollars. This controlled vapor oven cooks food with moist heat to braise meats, like ribs, so they're fork-tender. If you want to make ribs like that at home, but don’t have a CVap in your kitchen (or if yours is currently in the shop) you’ll need to incorporate a similar technique using a standard conventional oven. And that’s where I can help.

    For my BJ’s Root Beer Glazed Ribs recipe, I first made a hack of the Big Poppa’s rub the chain uses to season the ribs, then I cooked the seasoned ribs on a rack over water mixed with liquid smoke. The liquid smoke infuses the ribs with smoke flavor, and the water in the pan will keep the ribs from drying out. Once the ribs are cooled, they are sliced, sauced, and reheated in a super-hot oven to simulate the pizza oven used at BJ’s.

    When buying your ribs, pick the smallest rack of ribs with the least meat to better resemble the real recipe. Also, you’ll want to plan ahead for this recipe since the ribs take several hours to bake and chill before they’re finished in the hot oven before serving. Because of that long slow-bake time, you’ll want to start this dish early in the day, or even the day before.

    Find more of my B.J.'s copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chipotle Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa

    This is my go-to salsa at Chipotle, so it was only a matter of time before I tackled a hack for the famous secret recipe. And now that I can make it at home with just 7 ingredients and about 20 minutes of prep, this salsa replaces several grocery store brands I was previously loyal to.

    The process for my Chipotle red chili Salsa recipe is simple: roast tomatillos, Fresno peppers, and garlic under your broiler for a few minutes, then purée everything in a blender with vinegar and seasoning. The trick is to not over-blend the mixture. Once the tomatillos are added, purée the mixture until no chunks of tomatillo are visible, but stop blending while you can still see tomatillo seeds in the sauce.

    Add this great-tasting salsa to anything that needs a hit of hotness—tacos, burritos, salads, and bowls. Just know that it's a hack of Chipotle’s spiciest salsa, so be ready for the boom.

    You could also use this great salsa on Chipotle's famous barbacoa, carnitas, carne asada, or pollo asado. Find all of those recipes and more here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Jimmy Dean Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick

    When Jimmy Dean debuted Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick in 2006, Jon Stewart held up a box on The Daily Show declaring it an example of how America continues “to push the envelope for what could technically be defined as food.” But the unusual—and apparently humorous—combination of salty breakfast sausage encased in sweet pancake batter­, all on a stick, might surprise you. This innovative product probably tastes better than you expect—as good as eating maple pancakes with a side of sausage, but simultaneously and with one hand. In fact, this quirky treat became so popular that other companies joined the party, and now several brands have their own versions in the freezer aisle. 

    As I worked on my Jimmy Dean Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick copycat recipe, I realized that there is no breakfast sausage you can buy that’s as big as the sausage used in the original. It's very long! So, for the best clone, I made the Jimmy Dean sausage from scratch using my Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage hack. That slightly tweaked recipe is included here, along with everything you need to know to make dippable pancake batter that can be fried. 

    Alternatively, if you’d like to save some time, you can use frozen pre-made sausage, rather than making the sausage from scratch. The sausage won't taste like Jimmy Dean's, but the recipe will still work. I've got details on that in the Tidbits below.

    After frying each of these breakfast snacks on a stick for 5 minutes, you can serve them right away, or you can freeze them and then heat them up later in a microwave minute, just like the real ones.

    Check out more cool recipes for famous breakfast items here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chipotle Guacamole

    In April 2020, restaurant chains in the U.S. closed their dining rooms due to the Covid-19 epidemic and needed a way to stay connected with their customers. Chipotle’s solution was to have corporate chef Chad Brauze “reveal” the chain’s secret recipe for the guacamole on the corporate Instagram account, which was picked up by the news and then re-posted on the Today Show website.

    Chains have shared versions of their secret recipes on news shows in the past, but I’m usually skeptical of the recipes since I’ve rarely found that any of those formulas are the actual restaurant versions. More often than not, one or more ingredients are eliminated or substituted so that your final product is close, but not exact. And that's what Chipotle did.

    Chef Chad's Instagram cooking video from his home kitchen is a good guacamole recipe, but it’s not Chipotle’s guacamole recipe. The formula includes most of the ingredients you would need for a perfect hack—but it’s missing one: lemon juice. According to Chipotle’s website, and cooks at the restaurant, Chipotle adds lemon juice in addition to lime juice to its famous guacamole.

    With this information and a heaping sample of the authentic guac, I tweaked Chef Chad’s formula to make my Chipotle Guacamole copycat recipe more like the real one, which is made fresh several times a day at the restaurant. Even with the additional acid (lemon juice) in the mix to preserve the color, this guacamole is best if eaten within several hours of making it while it’s still bright green.

    This recipe was our #3 most popular of 2023. Check out the other most popular unlocked recipes of the year: Church's Chicken Original and Spicy Fried Chicken (#1), IKEA Swedish Meatballs (#2), Subway Cookies (#4), IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast (#5).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast

    IHOP upped its French toast game in 2022 with the introduction of a new recipe that suggests your French toast is only as good as the bread you start with, and IHOP’s new Thick ‘N Fluffy French Toast starts with thick specialty artisan bread, rather than the more commonly used Texas toast white bread.

    For my IHOP Thick 'N Fluffy French Toast recipe, you can use any thick-sliced bread from your bakery, but there are two national brands that work well: Nature’s Own Perfectly Crafted Thick-Sliced White Bread and Sara Lee Artisano. Either of those will do, but of the two, Nature’s Own is shaped more like IHOP’s version.

    Adding vanilla and a little cinnamon to the easy batter will set these waffles apart from most others, and in no time, you’ll have 6 beautiful slices of French toast for a total of 3 servings. Dust them with a little powdered sugar, add some butter and maple syrup on the side, and it’s like you just opened a mini IHOP in your house.

    This recipe was my #5 most popular of 2023. Check out the other most popular unlocked recipes of the year: Church's Chicken Original and Spicy Fried Chicken (#1), IKEA Swedish Meatballs (#2), Chipotle Guacamole (#3), Subway Cookies (#4).

    Check out this list of our most popular recipes of all-time.

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  • Not rated yet
    Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que County Fair Corn Pudding

    The menu at this 24-unit West Coast barbecue chain features everything you’d expect from a respectable barbecue chain, plus a few unique dishes that recently piqued my food hacker curiosity.

    One of the new premium sides is Lucille’s Country Fair Corn Pudding, which seems more like spoonbread than corn pudding custard, which would usually be made with more eggs and milk. But no matter what you call it, it’s really good stuff. After fiddling around with several variations I came up with a simple Lucille's County Corn Fair Pudding copycat recipe using canned or fresh yellow corn, eggs, milk, butter, and Jiffy corn muffin mix.

    Once it's out of the oven, the corn pudding is excellent on its own, but the dish isn’t complete until it’s topped with a scoop of the chain’s top secret whipped apple butter. It’s the same delicious butter you get with a side of sugar biscuits when you sit down at your table at the restaurant, and it’s a recipe eaters have been craving. So, I whipped up a Lucille's whipped apple butter recipe that I'm including for you here as well.  

    Want another cool clone? You might also like my recipe for Lucille's Cracked Out Deviled Eggs.    

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream

    If I told you that Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream was formulated generations ago on a dairy farm in the rolling hills of Denmark, you’d probably believe me. It sounds true and that’s precisely what Rueben Mattus wanted you to think when he created his new ice cream brand in 1960. In the Bronx in New York City.

    Mattus used a marketing technique called “foreign branding.” To set his brand apart from others, Mattus created the impression that his new ice cream was an exotic, special recipe made with hard-to-obtain ingredients. To come up with the name, Mattus sat at his kitchen table in the mornings blurting out non-sensical words until he eventually landed on one that sounded Danish: Häagen-Dazs. The word is meaningless, it’s not Dutch, and it even includes an umlaut, which doesn’t exist in the Danish alphabet.

    While the name may suggest a fancy, complicated recipe for ice cream, the Häagen-Dazs label is one of the simplest and cleanest you'll find for any major ice cream brand. There are just five very ordinary ingredients and nothing else: cream, skim milk, cane sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla extract. And those will be the ingredients we’ll use in our hack.

    To create my Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream copycat recipe, I played with the ratios through many batches until I finally honed in on the right combination for a perfect French vanilla ice cream, prepared like custard, but with less egg, and just enough butterfat to re-create the smooth mouthfeel of the original.

    Cook your ice cream base with the simple instructions, then get it cold and into an ice cream maker. After 30 minutes of churning grab a spoon, because you'll have a heaping quart of the best homemade ice cream you’ve ever tasted, and it's best when served a little soft.

    Try using your freshly made ice cream in one of my famous shake recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Cheesecake Factory Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

    The brunch served on Saturdays and Sundays at Cheesecake Factory restaurants across the country features an exclusive menu of specialty dishes that includes Bruléed French Toast, Fried Chicken & Waffles Benedict, Cinnamon Roll Pancakes, and this bright entrée featuring the chain’s buttermilk pancakes made with creamy ricotta cheese and finished with sweet-and-sour lemon glaze.

    My custom Cheesecake Factory Lemon Ricotta pancake recipe will give you 12 large pancakes, for 4 big servings, plus more than enough lemon glaze for each plate and plenty of maple-butter sauce to serve on the side. Finish off each impressive stack with sliced fresh strawberries, a spoonful of blueberries, a sprig of mint, some lemon zest, and a few taps of powdered sugar.

    With this Top Secret Recipe, brunch isn’t just for the weekend anymore.

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Bruléed French Toast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Find more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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  • Not rated yet
    Maggiano's Mozzarella Marinara

    Maggiano’s transforms a normally ho-hum finger food appetizer into a beautiful starter with thick breaded chunks of mozzarella topped with more melted mozzarella and a delicious top secret marinara sauce.

    To make a dish at home that looks and tastes like the original, you'll just need to cut three slices off a 2-pound block of mozzarella. After breading the cheese using the technique here, let the mozzarella rest for a bit while you make the marinara so that the breading sticks better when the cheese chunks get fried.

    My original Maggiano's Mozzarella Marinara recipe will produce three slices of crispy cheese, just like in the photo. And if you want a bigger serving, you’ll have enough breading and marinara to double up on the recipe for a total of six breaded cheese slices.

    If you like Maggiano's, you'll also love my copycat recipe for Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Din Tai Fung Kurobuta Pork Xiao Long Bao (Pork Soup Dumplings)

    The demand for cooking oil began to slump in Taiwan in the 1970s, and Yang Bing Yi’s cooking oil shop, called Din Tai Fung, was struggling. To help support his family of five children, Yang converted one side of his store into a dumpling shop and sold steamed soup dumplings for take-out. When the dumpling business became far more lucrative than the cooking oil business, Yang stopped selling oil and converted his dumpling business into a full-service restaurant, and eventually a chain of dumpling restaurants.

    The dumpling chain got a massive boost in 1993 when the New York Times named Din Tai Fung one of the top 10 restaurants in the world.  And now today, the chain has over 170 locations in 13 countries and serves a wide variety of Taiwanese food, but it’s the famous pork soup dumplings that bring the customers back.  

    The Kurobuta Pork Xiao Long Bao, or pork soup dumplings, at Din Tai Fung are exceptional in a couple of ways. For one thing, the pork comes from Kurobuta black pigs, which are known as Berkshire pigs here in the U.S. The meat from these pigs is very tender and flavorful, and when you include all the fat from the shoulder in the grind, the filling here will practically melt in your mouth. For the best clone, you’ll need to track down a shoulder of Berkshire pork and get it ground up without trimming off any of the fat cap.

    If you are familiar with the dumplings at Din Tai Fung, you know that they are beautiful. The dumplings are folded by masters who have trained for months, often making over a thousand dumplings until they are able to craft a perfect little pouch every time. The real Din Tai Fung dumplings have 18 pleats, pinched together with the thumb and forefinger of one hand as the other spins the pouch around. I’ve included instructions with step photos here in my Din Tai Fung pork soup dumplings recipe to help you, but perfect dumplings aren’t easy for beginners, so don’t worry if your xiao long bao don’t look as good as those made by the well-trained pros.

    I tested different flours for the wrappers and found that extra fine “00” flour, often used for pizza and pasta, worked best here. The fine grind of the flour made folding the dumplings an easier task, and the wrappers were better at absorbing moisture from the steam. If you have trouble finding “00” flour, you can substitute with bleached all-purpose flour. And when you measure the flour, use grams for the best results.

    I also found it easier to fold 22 dumplings with a Mai Tai. Here are some famous cocktail recipes to help you along.

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  • Not rated yet
    Yard House Nashville Hot Chicken

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

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

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

    Find my famous cocktail recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Cheesecake Factory Orange Chicken

    With delicious versions on the menus at Panda Express, Pei Wei, and P.F. Chang’s, the orange chicken space is certainly competitive (click on the brands for my recipes). That’s why it’s so impressive that The Cheesecake Factory serves up one of the best orange chicken entrées of any chain, including chains that specialize in Chinese food.

    For this easy entrée hack, I’ve included a recipe for breading and frying the chicken yourself, but you may prefer to bake or fry pre-breaded frozen chicken strips or nuggets and toss them in the sauce you make here. The sauce is the big secret in this recipe, and the version I’ve whipped up for you has just the right amount of sweet, sour, and spicy to match the real thing.

    Add some rice and stir-fry vegetables, and you’ll have two large Cheesecake Factory-size entrées with this hack, or you can split it into four more modest portions.   

    Try my Cheesecake Factory Orange Chicken copycat recipe below, and check here for some great dessert ideas.

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  • Not rated yet
    Outback Steakhouse Twisted Ribs

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

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

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

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Cheesecake Factory Chicken Piccata

    Menu Description: “Sautéed chicken breast with lemon sauce, mushrooms, and capers. Served with angel hair pasta.”

    A great chicken piccata doesn’t have to be complicated, and this fantastic take on the lemony dish from the Cheesecake Factory is a perfect example.

    Since the sauce is the key to the great taste of this entrée, I made sure to get a sample on the side for later analysis when I requested my to-go order from the restaurant. While waiting, I asked the server what was in the sauce and she listed some obvious ingredients—lemon, wine, butter, cream—and then she mentioned garlic and shallots. When I got home, I rinsed the sauce through a mesh strainer to discover how much garlic and shallot were in the sauce, but there was no physical evidence of either solid ingredient left behind in the strainer.

    I made a batch of the sauce without garlic and shallot, and it tasted flat. So on the next batch, I added the garlic and shallot back in, then strained out the solid ingredients after they contributed their goodness to the sauce. The result was noticeably better.

    After adding mushrooms and capers to the new lemon sauce, I spooned it over sautéed chicken cutlets and was rewarded with a fantastic homemade version of this amazing dish, which you can now copy at home using my Cheesecake Factory Chicken Piccata recipe below.

    Check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.

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    Carrabba's Traditional Cannoli

    Menu Description: “Two crisp pastry shells stuffed with sweet ricotta and chocolate chip filling, topped with pistachios and powdered sugar.”           

    For great traditional cannoli, one need not look any further than a nearby Carrabba’s Italian Grill. These cannoli are exactly what you want cannoli to be: a crunchy shell that isn’t soggy or too thick, packed with sweetened ricotta cheese filling that’s smooth and not grainy. And with that classic crunchy/creamy combination comes a hint of cinnamon lingering in the background to complete the traditional taste of a legit cannoli.

    To make my Carrabba's cannoli recipe, you’ll need 8 cannoli tubes to form the shells. After wrapping circles of dough around these 5-inch long metal tubes, they get deep-fried for a few minutes, resulting in shells that are perfectly golden brown.

    As for the filling, it needs to be smooth if you want a good clone, so try to find ricotta cheese that isn’t too grainy. We’ll first strain the cheese overnight so that most of the liquid runs off for a thicker filling, but if your cheese is still grainy, run the filling through a food processor until the cheese is smooth before folding in the whipped cream. Now that’s good cannoli.

    Click here for more of your favorite copycat recipes from Carrabba's.

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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 copycat recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

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