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T.G.I. Friday's Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

T.G.I. Friday's Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta

Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
Reviews: 2
  • $0.79
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Menu Description: "Fettuccine tossed with sauteed chicken, mushrooms, onions and red and green peppers in Friday's own spicy, tomato Creole sauce." 

This dish is a bit like jambalaya except the rice has been replaced with pasta.

Use a large pan for this recipe, and note that for the chicken stock or broth, you can also use a chicken bouillon cube dissolved in boiling water. This recipe makes two large restaurant-size portions, but could easily serve a family of four.

Try my improved version of the classic Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta here, which now includes extra-large shrimp and a better spicy alfredo sauce.  

Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced (1 cup)
  • ...
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Reviews
Susan Jones
Mar 24, 2013, 22:00
This is a super recipe. It is my family's favorite supper. We have used both fresh and canned tomatoes...both are yummy!
karen
Mar 21, 2013, 22:00
This dish was really great, it had tons of flavor and felt so healthy VS the pastas with heavy cream sauces. This was loaded with vegetables and juicy bites of chicken. It's a winner!

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
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  • Score: 4.67 (votes: 6)
    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.

    This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).

    You might also like my #1 recipe of 2020, Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce

    Getting a table at the 123-year-old original Rao’s restaurant in New York City is next to impossible. The tables are “owned” by regulars who schedule their meals months in advance, so every table is full every night, and that’s the way it’s been for the last 38 years. The only way an outsider would get to taste the restaurant’s fresh marinara sauce is to be invited by a regular.

    If that isn’t in the stars for you, you could buy a bottle of the sauce at your local market (if they even have it). It won't be fresh, and it's likely to be the most expensive sauce in the store, but it still has that great Rao's taste. An even better solution is to copy the Rao's Marinara sauce for yourself using this new and very easy recipe.

    The current co-owner of Rao’s, Frank Pellegrino Jr., told Bon Appetit in 2015 that the famous marinara sauce was created by his grandmother many years ago, and the sauce you buy in stores is the same recipe served in his restaurants. The ingredients are common, but correctly choosing the main ingredient—tomatoes—is important. Try to find San Marzano-style whole canned tomatoes, preferably from Italy. They are a little more expensive than typical canned tomatoes, but they will give you some great sauce.

    After 30 minutes of cooking, you’ll end up with about the same amount of sauce as in a large jar of the real thing. Your version will likely be just a little bit brighter and better than the bottled stuff, thanks to the fresh ingredients. But now you can eat it anytime you want, with no reservations, at a table you own.

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

    You might also like my #1 recipe of 2019, Texas Roadhouse Rolls.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes

    Reviewers of Wendy’s tasty seasoned potatoes point out that the skin-on slices stay crispy even when cool. That tells us the breading is most likely made with a non-wheat flour blend, an assumption confirmed by the website ingredients list for the potatoes where nary a gram of wheat flour is included. Yep, these seasoned potatoes are gluten-free.

    Wendy’s uses a blend of food starches plus rice flour for the breading on their version, but my tests confirmed that cornstarch is all you’ll need for a great clone of Wendy's seasoned potatoes. The secret process starts by coating the potato slices with the dry breading mix, which contains salt. The salt in the blend will draw water out of the potatoes, magically transforming the dry breading into a wet batter in about 20 minutes.

    When all the breading is wet, the potatoes go into the oil for partial frying. After resting a bit, they get dropped in again until golden brown and crispy. And, thanks to the cornstarch, these potatoes will stay crispy, even when they’re completely cool. Pretty cool right? Give my Wendy's seasoned potatoes recipe a try.

    This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).

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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: 5)
    T.G.I. Friday's Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta

    Menu Description: “Sauteed chicken, shrimp, red bell peppers in a spicy Cajun Alfredo sauce, Parmesan-Romano and fettuccine. Served with a warm garlic breadstick.”  

    In 1997, I published a clone recipe for T.G.I Friday’s Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta because it was one of the chain’s most popular dishes at the time. But as the years pass and menus get tweaked, old food favorites are decommissioned to make way for fresh, new ideas. Sometimes the new dishes are twists on old favorites, as is this improved version of the classic Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta, which now includes extra-large shrimp and a better spicy alfredo sauce.  

    My T.G.I. Friday's Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta recipe starts with a quick brine for moist, flavorful chicken. Prep the chicken and creamy sauce in one pan; the shrimp, bell pepper, and garlic in another.

    When you’re ready to serve the dish, toss the sauce with the pasta, then plate it and top it with minced parsley and you've got a perfect restaurant-style hack.

    There's a lot more T.G.I. Friday's clone recipes over here

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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. 

    This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).

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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: 7)
    Texas Roadhouse Rolls

    I never thought dinner rolls were something I could get excited about until I got my hand into the breadbasket at Texas Roadhouse. The rolls are fresh out of the oven and they hit the table when you do, so there’s no waiting to tear into a magnificently gooey sweet roll topped with soft cinnamon butter. The first bite you take will make you think of a fresh cinnamon roll, and then you can’t stop eating it. And when the first roll’s gone, you are powerless to resist grabbing for just one more. But it’s never just one more. It’s two or three more, plus a few extra to take home for tomorrow.

    Discovering the secret to making rolls at home that taste as good as Texas Roadhouse Rolls involved making numerous batches of dough, each one sweeter than the last (sweetened with sugar, not honey—I checked), until a very sticky batch, proofed for 2 hours, produced exactly what I was looking for. You can make the dough with a stand mixer or a handheld one, the only difference being that you must knead the dough by hand without a stand mixer. When working with the dough add a little bit of flour at a time to keep it from sticking, and just know that the dough will be less sticky and more workable after the first rise.

    Roll the dough out and measure it as specified here, and after a final proofing and a quick bake—plus a generous brushing of butter on the tops—you will produce dinner rolls that look and taste just like the best rolls I’ve had at any famous American dinner chain.

    This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Pei Wei Wei Better Orange Chicken

    This 220-unit downscaled version of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro targets the lunch crowd with a smaller menu that features bento boxes, bowls, and small plates. Obviously, a clone is needed for this one, stat.

    The name “Wei Better Orange Chicken” is a competitive callout to Panda Express's signature orange chicken, which is made with pre-breaded and frozen chicken. Pei Wei claims its orange chicken is prepared each day from scratch with chicken that is never frozen, so we’ll craft our clone the same way. But rather than assemble the dish in a wok over a high-flame fast stove like they do at the restaurant, we’ll prepare the sauce and chicken separately, then toss them with fresh orange wedges just before serving.

    By the way, Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken goes very well with white or brown rice, so don’t forget to make some.

    This recipe was our #4 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), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).

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  • Not rated yet
    Panda Express Firecracker Chicken Breast

    It’s not always on the menu at the huge Chinese take-out chain, but when this spicy special offering makes a limited-time-only appearance, I’m there. When it’s not on the menu, no problem, you can make my recipe for Panda Express Firecracker Chicken in no time. 

    This dish owes its great flavor to black bean paste, which is full of umami savoriness, just like soy sauce, so it enhances the taste of everything around it. You'll have a good laugh when you notice most recipes attempt to hack this dish with canned black beans. That's ridiculous, since black bean paste is a traditional Asian flavoring ingredient made with fermented soybeans, not with black beans like the kind you get in your burrito at Chipotle.

    Plan ahead to brine your chicken breast for a couple of hours so that it's moist and flavorful. This is an important step for a spot-on hack.

    Find more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Olive Garden Five Cheese Ziti al Forno

    Menu Description: “A baked blend of Italian cheeses, pasta, and our signature five-cheese marinara.”

    Creating a recipe for Olive Garden’s famous baked ziti would not be possible without a perfect clone of the chain’s popular five-cheese marinara sauce. I started with my previous recipe of the plain marinara for Olive Garden’s Chicken Parmigiana and enhanced it with the addition of five kinds of Italian cheese and heavy cream.  

    Determining which five types of cheese are in a prepared sauce is tough without some insider assistance, so before cooking I focused my efforts on convincing a server to ask the chef for the list…and I got it! The blend of cheese used here in the sauce comes straight from the kitchen of my local Olive Garden. When you taste it, you’ll know the intel was legit.

    After the sauce is added to the pasta it’s topped with a cheese-and-breadcrumb mix called “ziti topping,” then it’s browned under a salamander (for the restaurant version) or a broiler (for your version). The result is a beautiful dish with great sauce and a cheesy topping that should satisfy even the pickiest baked ziti fanatics.

    I've cloned a ton of dishes from Olive Garden. See if I hacked your favorite here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Outback Steakhouse Baked Potato Soup

    Menu Description: “Creamy potato soup topped with melted cheese, bacon, and green onions.”

    It’s not called baked potato soup because the potatoes in it are baked. It’s called baked potato soup because it’s topped with shredded cheese, bacon, and green onion, and it tastes like a loaded baked potato. Other hacky hacks for this recipe miss that point and add over an hour to the preparation process by preheating an oven and baking the potatoes, all while hungry stomachs are growling on the sidelines. My version skips that part by adding the raw potatoes directly into the pot with the other ingredients, where they cook in 20 minutes, and the soup is ready to eat in less time than other recipes take just to get the potatoes done.

    Also, other clones add way too much flour to thicken the soup—¾ cup! Sure, flour is good at thickening, but it doesn’t add any flavor, so I found a better way. I ended up using just a little flour to make the roux, then later thickening the soup mostly with dehydrated potato flakes, which are used to make quick mashed potatoes. The flakes not only do a great job of thickening the soup, but they also add more delicious potato flavor to the pot, just like the real Outback Baked Potato Soup.

    Top your finished soup with shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, and green onion, and every spoonful will taste like a fully decked-out baked potato.

    This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Chipotle Pollo Asado

    In 2022, for the first time in its 29-year history, Chipotle debuted a new style of grilled chicken, and it became an instant hit. At least it was at the Chipotle near me, where the Pollo Asado was ordered more than any other protein, according to servers there. But the new flavor is for a limited-time-only, and when it’s gone, my exclusive Chipotle Pollo Asado recipe may be the only way to satisfy your deep desire.

    It appears that Chipotle’s new chicken is marinated in a vacuum meat tumbler similar to the way the Mexican chicken chain El Pollo Loco does it. I sure wish I had one of those awesome tumblers because they speed up and improve the marinating process, producing moist chicken packed with flavor all the way through. But those tumblers are expensive and bulky, and I have absolutely zero space left in my kitchen to store one. So, an overnight marinade, along with a bit of patience, must suffice. 

    The next day, grill your marinated chicken, chop it up, toss it with the secret citrusy sauce hacked here, add some fresh cilantro and lime juice, then use it as you see fit on burritos, tacos, salads, and bowls.

    Try my Chipotle Pollo Asado recipe below and find more of my Chipotle recipes here

    This recipe was our #2 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).

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  • Score: 4.00 (votes: 1)
    Rao's Traditional Meatballs

    Tweaking a classic recipe with a few special prep tricks leaked to me by a server was the key to developing this spot-on hack for the famous meatballs from the iconic 125-year-old Italian dining room. With just two locations in the U.S. (Los Angeles and New York), sinking your fork into a fresh meatball at the restaurant requires quite a trip for most people, but my Rao's Traditional Meatballs recipe, refined through multiple batches, will make you a meatball master in your own kitchen, producing ten 5½-ounce meatballs that look and taste like the real thing.

    Fortunately, I could squeeze in a reservation at the Las Vegas Rao’s location a few weeks before it closed its doors forever at Caesar’s Palace in late November 2021. While there, I made sure to ask my server for any information about the recipe, and was informed about the secret two-step process described in this hack to create giant meatballs that are cooked through, but so moist that they practically crumble when cut with a fork.

    Rao’s has shared a meatball recipe in the past, but don’t be fooled. That recipe produces decent meatballs, but they are not the same as what’s served in the restaurant. If you want to make meatballs that taste like the classic original, use my Rao's meatballs recipe below.

    And when they're done, top the meatballs with your favorite marinara or use my hack here to re-create Rao’s famous sauce.

    This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken (#4), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).

    You might also like my #1 recipe of 2021, Panda Express Chow Mein.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Shakey's Mojo Potatoes

    Sherwood Johnson survived a case of malaria while serving in World War II, which left him with some residual nerve damage and a new nickname: Shakey. Despite his affliction, Shakey Johnson was still able to bang out toe-tapping Dixieland jazz on the piano night after night in the pizza parlor he opened in Sacramento in 1954, where live jazz accompanied the thin crust pizza and cold pitchers of beer.

    Shakey’s became the first franchised pizza restaurant in the U.S., and by 1974 the chain had 500 stores across the U.S. The #1 dish is clearly the made-to-order pizza, but the chain’s trademarked crispy battered potato slices are a close runner-up and a perfect tasty subject to hack.

    Recipes that claim complete pancake mix is the secret breading ingredient in Mojo Potatoes fail to observe that pancake mix contains sugar, and there is no noticeable sweetness in the breading of the Mojos. I also decided that dry breading wouldn't work since in my tests the paprika failed to bloom and give the coating a perfect hue like it does when the mixture is wet.

    I eventually settled on a simple wet batter made with seasoned salt, flour, and little cornstarch for crunch to best match the flavor, crispiness, and red/orange tint of the real thing from America’s first pizza chain. Use this original technique, and these handy step photos, to make extra crispy potatoes the Shakey's way.

    There's your appetizer, now what's for dinner? Find clones for some of your favorite famous entrées here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew Chicken

    This popular chain wrangles a wide variety of dishes and cooking styles day after day with consistently high quality. From pasta to burgers to tacos, from salads to pancakes to beautiful cheesecakes for dessert, there is something for everyone at the Cheesecake Factory.

    The thorough menu's Asia-inspired plates include Thai, Korean, and Chinese dishes, but one that consistently stands out is this excellent Mandarin-style spicy chicken entrée, served over your choice of white or brown rice.

    The secret of the great flavor is in the sauce, which has now been hacked for you in my Cheesecake Factory Spicy Cashew recipe below. Plus, I’ll walk you through the process of creating perfect crispy chicken from scratch using juicy chicken tenderloins.

    If you’d like to save time, you can bake up some pre-cooked breaded chicken tenders and focus all your efforts on the amazing sauce. Tips on that shortcut can be found below in the Tidbits.    

    This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2022. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Traditional Meatballs (#1), Chipotle Pollo Asado (#2), Wendy's Seasoned Potatoes (#3), McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chipotle Carne Asada

    Chipotle’s popular limited offering is a good example of how straightforward and flavorful carne asada can be. It’s not overly mysterious since Chipotle is transparent about the ingredients used for the restaurant's entire menu—53 ingredients in all—but identifying those is only the beginning of the process. There was still plenty of work to do in establishing ratios and settling on an ideal preparation method.

    Carne asada is almost always made with flank steak or skirt steak. A server at Chipotle told me they use skirt steak, which is surprising since that is the tougher of the two cuts. Perhaps she was wrong about that? Flank steak also has a better flavor than skirt steak, so I'm recommending flank here. Just be sure not to marinate it for more than 2 days or the acid in the marinade may toughen your steak and you certainly don't want that.

    After you grill it, slice the meat across the grain and use it in burritos, tacos, bowls, or as a Southwest-style salad topper.

    My Chipotle carne asada recipe was our #5 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Qdoba 3-Cheese Queso (#2), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4).

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  • Score: 4.74 (votes: 27)
    Cracker Barrel Hash Brown Casserole

    Menu Description: "Made from scratch in our kitchens using fresh Grade A Fancy Russet potatoes, fresh chopped onion, natural Colby cheese and spices. Baked fresh all day long."

    In the late sixties, Dan Evins was a Shell Oil "jobber" looking for a new way to market gasoline. He wanted to create a special place that would arouse curiosity, and would pull travelers off the highways. In 1969 he opened the first Cracker Barrel just off Interstate 40 in Lebanon, Tennessee, offering gas, country-style food, and a selection of antiques for sale. Today there are over 529 stores in 41 states, with each restaurant still designed as a country rest stop and gift store. In fact, those stores which carry an average of 4,500 different items apiece have made Cracker Barrel the largest retailer of American-made finished crafts in the United States.

    Those who know Cracker Barrel love the restaurant for its delicious home-style breakfasts. This casserole, made with hash brown-sliced potatoes, Colby cheese, milk, beef broth, and spices, is served with many of the classic breakfast dishes at the restaurant. My Cracker Barrel Hash Brown Casserole recipe is designed for a skillet that is also safe to put in the oven (so no plastic handles). If you don't have one of those, you can easily transfer the casserole to a baking dish after it is done cooking on the stove.

    Love Cracker Barrel? Check out my other clone recipes here.

    Source Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

     

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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 Cheesecake Factory. 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 felt 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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  • Not rated yet
    Five Guys Cajun Fries

    When I first attempted making this Five Guys Cajun Fries recipe using large, unpeeled russet potatoes I had just picked up at the grocery store, the fries came out of the oil looking miserably discolored and had an unpleasant soggy texture. They were dark brown and soft, rather than light brown and crispy like the amazing fries from Five Guys. I was sure to properly prep the fries by soaking them in water to wash away excess starch, then par-frying them at a low temperature, allowing them to cool, then frying them again at a higher temperature. But my initial results were a failure, and then I got distracted.

    Over the next two weeks, I got busy with other recipes and neglected my unused potatoes. When I went back to the potatoes, I noticed they had become much softer and looked like they were about to sprout. Not wanting to let them go to waste, I cut the potatoes and fried them, and I was shocked to see how different they looked from my earlier batch. Rather than soggy and limp, these fries came out golden brown and crispy from tip to tip. Do old potatoes make better fries?

    I remembered that Five Guys stacks bags of the potatoes used for the fries in the restaurant, and I wondered if I could see dates on those bags. I dashed back over to the restaurant and, sure enough, the potatoes were dated. The bags at one end of the stack were just one day old, and the bags closest to the kitchen were eight days old. I later discovered that Five Guys use specific Idaho potatoes because they are denser than other russets. I knew I couldn't get those special potatoes, but I discovered that I could still make crispy, more flavorful fries like Five Guys if I just let common russet potatoes sit out for a week or so before slicing and frying them.

    Just as in the restaurant, the potatoes in this hack are fried twice, then you'll sprinkle them with the Cajun seasoning as soon as they came out of the oil. At Five Guys, they salt the fries first and then add Cajun seasoning, but I’ve included all the salt you’ll need in the secret seasoning mix below to eliminate that additional salting step.

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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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Popeyes Cajun Rice

    Popeyes offers two sides with rice: the ultra-popular Red Beans and Rice, which I previously cloned here, and this rice made Cajun-style with ground beef and spices.

    The real recipe at the chain most likely includes chicken gizzard, but that ingredient is not always easy to find outside of buying a whole uncooked chicken that includes a bag of giblets tucked inside. So I set out to design my Popeyes Cajun Rice recipe without that ingredient, and the results were great.

    The secret to the fabulous taste, after all, is not found in the gizzard, but in the flavors contributed by the “holy trinity” of green pepper, onion, and celery salt; accentuated by the ground thyme and oregano.

    If you’re making rice tonight, bump it up to something special with just a little extra work for delicious results.

    Can't get enough Popeyes? Find all of my recipes here

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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 jalapeños before they are diced and added to the cheese sauce. The sauce cooks on low heat, never bubbling, so that it stays smooth and creamy.

    When done, your queso might seem thin in the pan, but it will thicken as it cools to a perfect consistency for dipping tortilla chips, or as a topping for tacos and burrito bowls.

    My Qdoba 3-cheese queso recipe was our #2 most popular in 2021. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Panda Express Chow Mein (#1), Panda Express Fried Rice (#3), Outback Baked Potato Soup (#4), Chipotle Carne Asada (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Chipotle Carnitas

    Braised and shredded pork shoulder is a staple of Mexican cuisine that Chipotle prepares with a simple blend of flavors, and a surprising ingredient you may not have expected: juniper berries. Once you track those down (they’re easy to find online), the berries are combined with thyme and bay leaves in a braising liquid that will transform your own pork roast into an easily shreddable thing of beauty in under 3 hours. Then you can use your Chipotle carnitas clone on tacos, in burritos, or in a bowl over rice and beans just like they do in the restaurant.

    When picking your pork roast, try to find one without too much fat. If your roast has a thick cap of fat on it, trim off the excess. You want some fat in your braising liquid, but if the cap of fat is too thick, it may not fully render down and you’ll get chunks of fat in the shred.

    It’s often assumed that the pork butt is from the rear end of the pig, even though cuts from the back region already have a name: ham. The pork butt, also known as a Boston butt, is cut from the other end, the upper shoulder of the pig. It’s called a “butt” because in pre-Revolutionary War New England the roasts were stored and transported in barrels called “butts”, and the confusing name stuck.

    This recipe was our #5 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), King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (#3), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Marsala

    Menu Description: “Creamy marsala wine sauce with mushrooms over grilled chicken breasts, stuffed with Italian cheeses and sundried tomatoes. Served with garlic mashed potatoes.”

    My Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Marsala recipe includes a marsala sauce that even marsala sauce haters will like. My wife is one of those haters, but when she tried this sauce, her eyes lit up, and she begged for more. That’s great, now I won’t have to eat alone.

    Not only is Olive Garden's delicious marsala sauce hacked here (and it’s easy to make), you’ll also get the copycat recipe for the chain's awesome Italian cheese stuffing that goes between the two pan-cooked chicken fillets. Build it, sauce it, serve it. The presentation is awesome, and the flavor will soothe your soul.

    Try this dish paired with my recent clone of Olive Garden’s Garlic Mashed Potatoes for the complete Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Marsala experience.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Starbucks Banana Nut Bread

    It’s about time for Top Secret Recipes to hack one of Starbucks all-time bestselling baked snacks. For this banana bread knock-off, I settled on a blend of both baking powder and baking soda for a good crumb and dark crust that perfectly resembles the original. And I decided it best to go big on the dark brown sugar, not only for flavor but also because the extra molasses in the darker brown sugar triggers a helpful leavening boost from the baking soda. It’s also important to know that an accurate clone must have both walnuts and pecans in the mix, because that’s what’s really in it, according to the official Starbucks website ingredients info. All other copycats I saw got it wrong when it came to the nut blend, so if you want a true knock-off, this is the Starbucks Banana Bread recipe to bake.   

    I've cloned a ton of drinks and treats from Starbucks. See if I hacked your favorite here.      

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Bush's Country Style Baked Beans

    In the Bush’s Beans commercials, Duke, the family golden retriever, wants to sell the secret family recipe, but the Bush family always stops him. The dog is based on the Bush family’s real-life golden retriever, and the campaign, which began in 1995, made Bush’s the big dog of the canned baked beans market practically overnight. Their confidential baked beans formula is considered one of the top 10 biggest recipe secrets in the U.S.

    Bush Brothers & Company had been canning a variety of fruits and vegetables for over 60 years when, in 1969, the company created canned baked beans using a cherished recipe from a family matriarch. Sales jumped from 10 thousand cases in the first year to over 100 thousand cases in 1970. And just one year later sales hit a million cases. Today Bush’s makes over 80 percent of the canned baked beans sold in the U.S., and the secret family recipe remains a top food secret, despite Duke’s attempts. A replica of the original recipe book—without the original recipe in it (drat!)—is on display at the company's visitor center in Chestnut Hill, Tennessee.

    I chose to hack the “Country Style” version of Bush’s Beans because I don’t think the Original flavor has enough, uh, flavor. Country Style is similar to Original, but richer, with more brown sugar. My recipe for Bush's Country Style baked beans starts by soaking dry small white beans in a brine overnight. The salt in the water helps to soften the skins, but don’t soak them for more than 14 hours or the skins may begin to fall off. You can skip this step if you've got a fancy Instant Pot using my directions below. 

    My first versions tasted great but lacked the deep brown color of the real Bush’s beans, which include caramel coloring—an ingredient that can be hard to find on its own. I eventually discovered that the “browning” sauce, Kitchen Bouquet, will add the dark caramel color needed to our home version of the beans so that they’ll look just like the real thing.

    This recipe was our #5 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), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4).

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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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries

    Waiting for a plane in Philadelphia isn’t so bad if your gate is near the airport location of this 20-unit crab house and sports bar chain where weather delay frustrations melt away over a cold beer, a Philly cheesesteak, and a bucket of Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries.

    Crabfries, despite the name, do not have any crab on them. When the first Chickie’s & Pete’s opened its doors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1977, the restaurant served crab only in the summer. While brainstorming off-season uses for the seafood seasoning, founder Pete Ciarrocchi sprinkled some over crinkle-cut fries, served them with a side of secret cheese dipping sauce, and the most popular dish at his crab house was born.

    The beauty of this Chickie’s & Pete’s Crabfries recipe is its simplicity since you’ll need to prepare only two things, and they’re both easy: the secret crab seasoning and the secret cheese sauce. Since the chain’s cheese sauce is also used on their cheesesteak sandwiches, I surmised that a combination of the two easy-melting cheeses most commonly used on Philly cheesesteaks—white American and Cheez Whiz—would make a sauce with the taste and color of the restaurant version. This smooth sauce goes great with the fries, and it also puts the "Philly" into your next homemade cheesesteak.

    Once your cheese sauce is done and your seasoning is mixed, cook up a bag of crinkle-cut fries following the directions on the package, toss them with the seasoning, and serve immediately with the warm cheese sauce on the side.

    Find more famous french fry recipes from KFC, Taco Bell, and McDonald's here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Applebee's Riblets

    Ever wonder where Riblets come from?

    "Riblets" is Applebee’s trademarked name for button ribs or rib tips (as they are called at Walmart), which is a short cut trimmed from the back end of pork spareribs, packed with lots of connective tissue. And that's a good thing because, after 3 to 4 hours of braising, that connective tissue will break down, producing fork-tender meat that slips off the bone. Of the cooking methods I tried for my version of Applebee's Riblets recipe, which included steaming, slow-roasting, and smoking; braising made the most tender, flavorful ribs—even before the sauce went on. 

    For the braising formula, I found that chicken broth infused with liquid smoke creates tender ribs that taste as if they came out of a smoker. Finish off the braised ribs on your grill and baste them with the original TSR hack below that clones Applebee’s honey barbecue sauce, or use your favorite bottled sauce. 

    And if you'd like to serve these riblets with almond rice pilaf as they do in the restaurant, you can find my clone recipe here on the site.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Pei Wei Pad Thai

    If you’re ranking Pad Thai served at U.S. chains, Pei Wei’s tasty take on the dish comes in at the top. The secret sauce is perfectly sweet, sour, salty, and lightly spicy, and the chicken is moist, tender, and filled with great flavor.

    To duplicate Pei Wei Pad Thai at home, you'll first brine the chicken so it doesn't dry out as white meat tends to do. The secret marinade here includes fish sauce; Thailand's MSG. When soaked in the salty sauce the natural aminos contribute fantastic umami goodness to the chicken, and when you cook it with moist heat as described in the steps below it will come out fork-tender and juicy.

    The noodles at Pei Wei are thin, so grab the skinniest rice noodles on the shelf. Then prepare them for stir fry by steeping them in a bowl of hot water rather than in a pan of boiling water on the stovetop as may be suggested on the package. When they're done, give the noodles a rinse under cold water and they’ll hold until you need them. 

    This hack will make two large meal-size entrées—just like you get at the restaurant—which can easily be split into four more modest side servings. And I've included a bunch of step photos to help you along so you can serve a picture-perfect dish.

    Check out my recipe for Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken here

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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: 5)
    Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos

    Menu Description: “A deliciously different way to taco. Tangy grilled chicken, sweet Asian chile sauce and dumpling sauce stuffed into crispy wonton shells and topped with a crunchy slaw and cilantro mix.”

    Re-creating Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos requires cloning four parts; none of which are difficult: Grilled chicken, coleslaw, secret dumpling sauce, and the crispy wonton shell to hold all of it together. For the chicken, we’ll grill a couple of thighs and chop them up. Then we’ll use bottled sweet chili sauce—usually found in your grocery store where Asian foods are parked—to punch up the flavor.

    The coleslaw is easy with a dressing that’s only five ingredients. The slaw is best when it has some time to sit and wilt a bit, so plan ahead for the best flavor. You can slice the cabbage yourself, but a coleslaw kit that’s a combo of sliced cabbage and shredded carrots is a big time-saver. Just measure out 4 cups of the cabbage blend and mix it with the minced cilantro and dressing.  

    Wonton taco shells are not a thing you can usually find in stores, so we’ll make our own using wonton wrappers and a skillet of hot oil. When the oil is hot, add a wonton wrapper and use tongs to fold it over diagonally as it fries until it’s crispy on both sides. It takes less than a minute to fry each wonton taco shell, and you’ll get better at it as you go. Just be sure to leave plenty of room in the taco for the delicious fillings to come.  

    I've cloned a lot of dishes from Applebee's. See if I hacked your favorites here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Olive Garden Chicken Parmigiana

    Menu Description: “Two lightly fried parmesan-breaded chicken breasts are smothered with Olive Garden’s homemade marinara sauce and melted Italian cheeses. We serve our Chicken Parmigiana with a side of spaghetti for dinner.”

    Chicken parmigiana is a forever favorite, and it’s not a difficult dish to whip up at home. But for it to taste like the Olive Garden signature entree, we’ll need to take some very specific steps.

    Olive Garden’s chicken is salty and moist all the way through, so we must first start by brining the chicken. Give yourself an extra hour for this important marinating step. The marinara sauce used on the chicken is an Olive Garden specialty and no bottled sauce compares, so we’ll make our own from scratch using canned crushed tomatoes and the formula below.

    While the sauce cooks, filling your house with its intoxicating aroma, the chicken is breaded and browned. When the marinara is done, top the chicken with the sauce and mozzarella and stick it under your hot broiler until bubbling.

    Hopefully, everyone at your house is hungry, because the Olive Garden dinner portion is two chicken fillets, and my Olive Garden Chicken Parmigiana recipe will yield a total of four 2-piece servings. Add a small serving of spaghetti on the side, topped with more of the delicious sauce, and you'll have a perfect match to the restaurant plate.

    Can't get enough Olive Garden? Click here for more of your favorite copycat recipes. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Panda Express Beijing Beef

    The problem with adding sauce to fried food is that the wet sauce makes the crunchy fried food not so crunchy. Panda Express manages to keep the crispy beef in Beijing Beef crispy even though it may be sitting for over 20 minutes in the sauce on its way to a hungry you. My early attempts at hacking my favorite dish at the massive Chinese food chain all resulted in gummy, soggy beef pieces that were more like flat dumplings than the delicious, crunchy strips of joy they were meant to be.

    Then finally, on one batch, I decided to fry the coated beef for much longer than I intuitively felt it should be cooked, resulting in dark browning on the cornstarch coating and an even darker piece of meat beneath it. I anticipated a beef jerky experience, but when I took a bite, I found it to be delicious! It wasn’t tough and chewy as I expected it to be. And when this seemingly overcooked beef was stirred into the sauce, it stayed crispy until served, just like the real thing. Now, with the soggy beef problem solved, we’ve finally got a good hack for Panda Express Beijing Beef.

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  • Score: 4.87 (votes: 15)
    Olive Garden Chicken Scampi

    Menu Description: "Chicken breast tenderloins sauteed with bell peppers, roasted garlic and onions in a garlic cream sauce over angel hair."

    This chicken scampi dish is a big favorite of Olive Garden regulars. Chicken tenderloins are lightly breaded and sautéed along with colorful bell peppers and chopped red onion. Angel hair pasta is tossed into the pan along with a healthy dose of fresh scampi sauce. 

    The sauce is really the star, so you might think about doubling the recipe. If you're cooking for two, you can prepare my Olive Garden Chicken Scampi recipe for the table in one large skillet, saving the remaining ingredients for another meal. If you're making all four servings at once, you need two skillets. If you can't find fresh chicken tenderloins (the tender part of the chicken breast), you can usually find bags of them in the freezer section. 

    Find more delicious recipes for Olive Garden's most famous dishes here

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.73 (votes: 15)
    El Pollo Loco Flame-Broiled Chicken

    El Pollo Loco, or "The Crazy Chicken," has been growing like mad since it crossed over the border into the United States from Mexico. Francisco Ochoa unknowingly started a food phenomenon internacional in 1975 when he took a family recipe for chicken marinade and opened a small roadside restaurante in Gusave, Mexico. He soon had 90 stores in 20 cities throughout Mexico. The first El Pollo Loco in the United States opened in Los Angeles in December 1980 and was an immediate success. It was only three years later that Ochoa got the attention of bigwigs at Dennys, Inc., who offered him $11.3 million for his U.S. operations. Ochoa took the deal, and El Pollo Loco grew from 17 to more than 200 outlets over the following decade.

    Pair my El Pollo Loco Flame Broiled Chicken recipe below with my copycat recipes for El Pollo Loco avocado salsa, pinto beans, Spanish rice, and bbq black beans.

    Source: More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Not rated yet
    Yard House Nashville Hot Chicken

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

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

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

    Find my famous cocktail recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue Sauce

    Brothers Dave and Larry Raymond came up with a top secret recipe for barbecue sauce that was so good they entered it in Chicago’s Rib Fest barbecue competition in the late ‘80s. The fourth time they entered, in 1985, they took home the 2nd place trophy. By the following year, they were selling bottles of their now-famous sauce in stores, and the brand became a huge success.

    The brothers sold their $30-million-a-year sauce business in 2005, and the brand kept growing. By 2008, Sweet Baby Ray’s was America's #2 best-selling barbecue sauce.

    Now, with my Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue Sauce recipe, you can make 2 cups of a taste-alike sauce with mostly common ingredients plus pineapple juice, celery salt, and tamarind paste to help nail down the familiar award-winning taste.

    Try other famous copycat sauce recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Cracker Barrel Biscuit Beignets

    The delicious beignets Cracker Barrel creates with the chain's famous buttermilk biscuit formula are unlike traditional beignets in that they start with such a tangy dough. But once you add all the sweet stuff—cinnamon-sugar, powdered sugar, and butter-nut sauce—the saltiness is offset, resulting in a perfect harmony of great flavor.

    The dough here is a tweaked version of my hack for Cracker Barrel's Buttermilk Biscuits, but unlike that dough where we strive for flakiness in the finished product, this dough won't call for a light stirring hand. Instead, you should give this dough a decent beating in the mixing bowl to tighten it up so that it resists oil absorption when deep-fried.

    Along with all the steps and step photos for a great copycat of Cracker Barrel biscuit beignets, I’m also including my new hack for a delicious butter-nut dipping sauce that tastes just like what the chain serves, except this one is made with real butter. 

    Find more of your favorite Cracker Barrel dishes 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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  • 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 my King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls recipe 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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  • Not rated yet
    American Coney Island Chili Dogs

    Over a century ago, Detroit, Michigan became the Coney Island chili dog capital of the world, even though Coney Island is nowhere near there. Greek immigrants who entered the U.S. through Ellis Island adapted a recipe for the hot dogs they ate while visiting Coney Island, New York, on their way to the Midwest. When they settled in southern Michigan, many opened restaurants to sell their clones of the food they ate when they first got to America, turning New York-style Coney Dogs into a Midwest phenomenon.

    Two of the most famous Coney Island restaurants in Detroit are Lafayette Coney Island and its next-door neighbor, American Coney Island. The two buildings were originally one building with a single restaurant inside, built by brothers Gus and Bill Keros in 1915. But somewhere along the way the brothers had a falling out and split the restaurant in half, right down the middle, and it stayed that way. Today, the two Coney Island restaurants are under different ownership, but they still remain next-door rivals.

    I decided the best Coney dog to hack is from American Coney Island, not only because of the restaurant’s deep history, but also because I was able to order the chili dogs shipped to my house in a kit. That’s always good news, since shipped foods must list ingredients, and I get to see exactly what’s in the chili. Built the traditional way, a typical Detroit Coney Island chili dog features a natural-casing hot dog in a soft white bun, smothered in chili sauce, drizzled with mustard, and topped with a pile of diced sweet onion. The kit came with everything I needed, including the tub of chili with clearly-labeled ingredients that I was counting on.

    With the help of that information, I was able to create a thick, flavorful chili sauce that you can use on your favorite hot dogs to make a delicious clone of American Coney Island Chili Dogs. Crushed soda crackers thicken the chili, and extra beef fat adds a smooth quality that mimics the famous 100-year-old American Coney Island chili recipe.

    The chili must simmer for four hours to properly tenderize the meat, so plan your Coney dog cloning adventure accordingly.

    Try making your other favorite condiments at home, like ketchup or mustard, with my copycat recipes here

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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: 4.75 (votes: 4)
    Cheesecake Factory Cajun Jambalaya Pasta

    Menu Description: "Our most popular dish! Shrimp and Chicken Sauteed with Onions, Peppers and Tomatoes in a Very Spicy Cajun Sauce. All on top of Fresh Fettuccine."

    The Cheesecake Factory's founder, David Overton, says it was his unfamiliarity with the restaurant business that contributed to the company's success. In an interview with Nation's Restaurant News David says, "We did not know anything about running restaurants. We just knew that people valued fresh foods. In some ways our naivete helped us because we didn't know what you are not supposed to do."

    I think we all know it helps to serve good food and that's an area in which the Cheesecake Factory excels. The pastas and salads top the list of big sellers, but it's the Cajun Jambalaya Pasta that holds the pole position, according to the menu description of this dish. Jambalaya is a spicy Creole dish that usually combines a variety of ingredients including tomatoes, onions, peppers, and some type of meat with rice. Rather than the traditional rice, the Cheesecake Factory has designed its version to include two types of fettuccine—an attractive mix of standard white noodles and spinach-flavored noodles. 

    This recipe makes 2 huge portions, like those served in the restaurant. It's probably enough food for a family of four.

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature  cheesecakes here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.78 (votes: 18)
    Chipotle Barbacoa Burrito

    Menu Description: "Spicy, shredded beef, braised with our own chipotle adobo, cumin, cloves, garlic and oregano."
     
    The original Mexican dish barbacoa was traditionally prepared by cooking almost any kind of meat goat, fish, chicken, or cow cheek meat, to name just a few, in a pit covered with leaves over low heat for many hours, until tender. When the dish made its way into the United States via Texas the word transformed into "barbecue" and the preparation changed to incorporate above-ground techniques such as smoking and grilling.

    The good news is that we can re-create the beef barbacoa that Chipotle has made popular on its ginormous burritos without digging any holes in our backyard or tracking down a local source for fresh cow faces. After braising about 30 pounds of chuck roasts, I finally discovered the perfect Chipotle Mexican Grill barbacoa burrito copycat recipe with a taste-alike adobo sauce that fills your roast with flavor as it slowly cooks to a fork-tender delicacy on your stovetop over 5 to 6 hours.

    Part of the secret for great adobo sauce is toasting whole cumin seeds and cloves and then grinding them in a coffee grinder (measure the spices after grinding them). Since the braising process takes so long, start early in the day and get ready for a big dinner, because I've also included clones here for Chipotle's pico de gallo, pinto beans, and delicious cilantro-lime rice to make your burritos complete. You can add your choice of cheese, plus guacamole and sour cream for a super-deluxe clone version. 

    If you prefer chicken burritos, head on over to my clone recipe for Qdoba Grilled Adobo Chicken

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked 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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