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Olive Garden Is Entering the Food Truck Business Starting This Month in New York City

Olive Garden Is Entering the Food Truck Business Starting This Month in New York City



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Olive Garden is getting trendy with the launch of a food truck fleet designed to promote its new breadstick sandwiches

Welcome, Olive Garden, to the great American food truck fleet.

We didn’t see that coming. The Italian-American casual chain restaurant will be embarking upon a cross-country food truck tour starting in New York City this month. The seven-week tour will hit 19 different cities across the country, as Olive Garden tries to tout their new “Signature Breadstick Bun Sandwiches.”

You can also get the breadstick sandwiches at any non-mobile Olive Garden location: they come in Italian meatball and chicken parmigiana varieties. The “Breadstick Nation” tour will make stops in Florida, Arizona, and Utah later this month.

“We’re always looking for new ways to reach and engage our most loyal fans,” Jose Duenas, executive vice president of marketing for Olive Garden, said in a news release. “Not only are we giving guests more ways to enjoy our most iconic menu item, we’re making it easy for our guests to try our Signature Breadstick Bun Sandwiches.”


The Olive Garden Is Open, but Marilyn Hagerty Isn’t Eating There

At 94, the author of a North Dakota restaurant review that became an internet sensation is still at work. In the pandemic, though, she’s had to make a few changes.

North Dakota’s most famous restaurant critic has been eating at home lately. It’s not that there’s nowhere to go in and around Grand Forks, where she lives and writes. Her governor, Doug Burgum, has allowed restaurants and bars to stay open even though the state has had the third-highest death rate from Covid-19 over the past week.

It is not that Marilyn Hagerty is running out of steam at 94, either. She files three columns for The Grand Forks Herald each week, even though she has officially retired from the paper “two or three times,” as she puts it. She had already been retired for at least two decades when, in 2012, she wrote a column that chronicled the arrival of her town’s first Olive Garden.

Ms. Hagerty’s account, written in her usual style of valuing factual data above critical appraisal, sent the internet into convulsions. An overnight sensation in her 80s, she appeared twice on Anderson Cooper’s syndicated talk show and signed a book deal with Anthony Bourdain’s imprint.

Today she calls this whirlwind period “the time when I was viral.” That has a different ring this year, though, which is what led her to think twice about the wisdom of sticking to her usual busy dining calendar.

Ms. Hagerty has lived alone since the 1997 death of her husband, Jack Hagerty, who had been editor of the Herald. “She was going on as normal,” said her son, James R. Hagerty, until about a month ago, when she told him during a phone call that she had gone to a truck stop for breakfast. This was around the time that North Dakota’s Covid-19 outbreak was becoming the worst in the country.

“You know, that’s probably not a good idea,” he remembers saying.

“Well, we were all wearing masks,” she said.

“But you had to take the masks off to eat, right?”

After some familial back and forth, Ms. Hagerty decided to restrict her professional dining to takeout and delivery until going out in Grand Forks is safer.

For a restaurant critic in New York City, hearing about Ms. Hagerty’s experience of 2020 can be like glimpsing an alternate reality. Hundreds of New York restaurants have gone out of business this year, from places with national reputations like Blue Smoke and Uncle Boons to scruffy neighborhood coffee shops that looked as if they might return until the day a “For Rent” sign appeared in the window.

In and around Grand Forks, though, Ms. Hagerty could not think of any restaurants killed off by the pandemic. She did know of one that was temporarily shut.

“The Ramada Inn has a cafe where they serve a very nice Sunday breakfast and that’s closed, but the bar in the Ramada Inn is open,” she said. “They are serving dinner in there.”

Of course, Grand Forks, a city of about 50,000 people, had fewer restaurants to begin with. One result of this is that Ms. Hagerty circles back to write about places she has already reviewed more frequently than is typical for her professional peers in larger cities. She has returned to take the temperature of the Olive Garden several times, most recently in February, when she ordered the same meal she had immortalized eight years earlier.

“Fettuccine Alfredo has 1,010 calories and is $12.99,” she wrote. “The salad was nicely chilled. But since there were only two black olives to be found, I asked for more.” In her original review, Ms. Hagerty had noted that the salad contained “several” olives, which seemed to satisfy her.

Her last indoor restaurant meal, before she agreed to stay home for a while, was also a return engagement: The Blue Moose Bar & Grill, a pub across the Red River in East Grand Forks, Minn.

What to Cook This Weekend

Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the weekend. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.

    • In this slow-cooker recipe for shrimp in purgatory, the spicy red pepper and tomato sauce develops its deep flavors over hours.
    • Deploy some store-bought green chutney in this quick, saucy green masala chicken. could be good for dinner, and some blueberry muffins for breakfast.
    • For dessert, watermelon granita? Or a poundcake with macerated strawberries and whipped cream?
    • And for Memorial Day itself? You know we have many, many recipes for that.

    Nathan Sheppard, one of the owners, said that when Ms. Hagerty shows up unannounced at the host stand, every 12 to 18 months or so, it does not kick up the kind of stir that you might have seen on TV or in a movie.

    “Usually one of the floor managers comes back and tells me, ‘Hey, Marilyn’s here,’” Mr. Sheppard said. “If she sees something negative, she’ll politely mention it, but she doesn’t Gordon Ramsay it and start throwing plates around and saying, ‘This ratatouille is garbage.’”

    Ms. Hagerty’s Blue Moose update approvingly noted the consistency of the cooking over time, but safety was clearly on her mind, too. Face coverings are required in all indoor public spaces in Minnesota, and Ms. Hagerty reported that the restaurant offered masks to customers who had forgotten theirs. Attention was paid to social distancing, too. “The Moose operates cautiously,” she wrote.

    A few Blue Moose customers have asked if they really had to wear a mask, Mr. Sheppard said, but not many, particularly now that Covid is a familiar presence in the area. “In March you still heard people talking about whether or not this is even real, because they don’t know anyone who has it,” he said. “Now everyone knows someone in their personal life who has it.”

    Some restaurant owners in North Dakota resisted masks until about a month ago, when Governor Burgum announced a one-month order mandating face coverings at indoor businesses. Ms. Hagerty recalled going to a Grand Forks tavern for hamburgers shortly before the governor’s action and being concerned by the number of unmasked customers milling around the bar. She and her dinner companions wore masks.

    “I was with two of my lady friends, and we’re not spring chickens,” she said. “They kind of looked at us funny, but that doesn’t bother me. I go everywhere.”

    While she is best known to outsiders for writing about the national chains that play a major role in the local dining scene, Ms. Hagerty has also written about places serving Thai, Vietnamese and Somali cuisine.


    I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

    For 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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    Anyone who loves Olive Garden is probably also a big fan of the bottomless basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks served before each meal at the huge Italian casual chain. My guess is that the breadsticks are proofed, and then sent to each restaurant where they are baked until golden brown, brushed with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt. Getting the bread just right for a good Olive Garden breadstick recipe was tricky—I tried several different amounts of yeast in all-purpose flour, but then settled on bread flour to give these breadsticks the same chewy bite as the originals. The two-stage rising process is also a crucial step in this much requested homemade Olive Garden breadstick recipe. Also check out our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe.

    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 sauce for yourself using this new and very easy hack.

    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.

    You might also like my #1 recipe of 2019, 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 the real ones 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 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. The bestseller on the menu is this orange chicken, which I have to say is pretty damn good orange chicken. 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, this dish goes very well with white or brown rice, so don’t forget to make some.

    Crafting a clone of Olive Garden’s signature Lasagna Classico 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.

    Browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

    Menu Description: "Delicate white cake and lemon cream filling with a vanilla crumb topping."

    To make this clone easy I've designed the recipe with white cake mix. I picked Betty Crocker brand, but any white cake mix you find will do. Just know that each brand (Duncan Hines, Pillsbury, etc.) requires slightly different measurements of additional ingredients (oil, eggs). Follow the directions on the box for mixing the batter, then pour it into 2 greased 9-inch cake pans and bake until done. The filling recipe is a no-brainer and the crumb topping is quick. When your Olive Garden lemon cream cake recipe is assembled, stick it in the fridge for a few hours, and soon you'll be ready to serve 12 slices of the hacked signature dessert.

    There are many acceptable ways to formulate good queso, but to make this specific queso the ingredients must be correct, and most copycat recipes seem to get it wrong. A few recipes get one of the peppers and two of the cheeses right, but pretty much every recipe out there is a bit of a mess that I will now save you from.

    Quesos can be made with a variety of cheeses that include queso fresco, asadero, and Muenster, but this particular queso includes a cheese you probably didn’t expect: Swiss. That cheese is slow to melt, so we’ll shred it first, along with the Jack. And you won't need to gum up the queso with flour or cornstarch by making a roux because the white American cheese in the mix contains sodium citrate or sodium phosphate—additives that help the cheese melt smoothly and stay that way.

    Authors of recipes that call for tomatoes in this dish haven’t looked closely. Those are red bell peppers and they are roasted, peeled, and seeded along with the poblano and jalapenos before they are diced and added to the cheese sauce. The sauce cooks on low heat, never bubbling, so that it stays smooth and creamy.

    When done, the 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.

    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 freshly cloned carnitas 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.

    The talented chefs at Benihana cook food on hibachi grills with flair and charisma, treating the preparation like a tiny stage show. They juggle salt and pepper shakers, trim food with lightning speed, and flip the shrimp and mushrooms perfectly onto serving plates or into their tall chef's hat.

    One of the side dishes that everyone seems to love is the fried rice. At Benihana this dish is prepared by chefs with precooked rice on open hibachi grills, and is ordered a la cart to complement any Benihana entree, including Hibachi Steak and Chicken. I like when the rice is thrown onto the hot hibachi grill and seems to come alive as it sizzles and dances around like a bunch of little jumping beans. Okay, so I'm easily amused.

    This Benihana Japanese fried rice recipe will go well with just about any Japanese entree and can be partially prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until the rest of the meal is close to done.

    For two years after the first Olive Garden restaurant opened in 1982, operators were still tweaking the restaurant's physical appearance and the food that was served. Even the tomato sauce was changed as many as 25 times. It's that sort of dedication that creates fabulous dishes like this popular soup. It blends the flavors of potatoes, kale, and Italian sausage in a slightly spicy chicken and cream broth.

    You've got the soup recipe, how about creating your own bottomless Olive Garden House Salad and Breadsticks? Find more of my Olive Garden clone recipes here!

    Menu Description: "Quickly-cooked steak with scallions and garlic."

    Beef lovers go crazy over this one at the restaurant. Flank steak is cut into bite-sized chunks against the grain, then it's lightly dusted with potato starch (in our case we'll use cornstarch), flash-fried in oil, and doused with an amazing sweet soy garlic sauce. The beef comes out tender as can be, and the simple sauce sings to your taste buds. I designed this recipe to use a wok, but if you don't have one a saute pan will suffice (you may need to add more oil to the pan to cover the beef in the flash-frying step). P. F. Chang's secret sauce is what makes this dish so good, and it's versatile. If you don't dig beef, you can substitute with chicken. Or you can brush it on grilled salmon.

    I've cloned a lot of the best dishes from P.F. Chang's. Click here to see if I coped your favorite.

    Menu Description: "The classic Italian dessert. A layer of creamy custard set atop espresso-soaked ladyfingers."

    In Italian, tiramisu means "pick me up" or "cheer me up." And when you taste the delicious combination of mascarpone cheese (sometimes referred to as Italian cream cheese), cream cheese, ladyfingers, espresso and Kahlua it will be hard not to smile. So get out your double boiler for the egg yolks (a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water will also do) and get some ladyfingers (ladyfingers are miniature cakes about the size of two fingers side-by-side). You can either make your own espresso, use extra strong coffee as a substitute, or, next time you're at Starbucks, order up a quadruple shot of espresso to go.

    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, but with clean ingredients, and without the dough conditioners found in the packaged rolls.

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

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

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

    This dish is a big favorite of Olive Garden regulars. Chicken tenderloins are lightly breaded and sauteed 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 this dish 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.

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

    This 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 hack 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 O.G. Stuffed Chicken Marsala experience.

    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 hack 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.

    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 this 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 my copycat recipes.

    In the 1970's, food conglomerate General Mills expanded its growing restaurant business. A research team was organized to study the market, and to conduct interviews with potential customers on what they want in a restaurant. Seven years later, in 1982, the first Olive Garden restaurant opened its doors in Orlando, Florida. Today it is the number one Italian restaurant chain in the country with over 470 stores.

    One of the all-time favorites at Olive Garden is the Italian salad dressing served on the bottomless house salad that comes with every meal. The dressing was so popular that the chain sells the dressing by the bottle "to go." You won't need to buy a bottle, though. With our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe you can make your own version that tastes just like the original, and it's way cheaper. The secret to thickening this dressing is to use dry pectin, a natural ingredient often used to thicken jams and jellies. Pectin can be found in most stores in the aisle with baking and cooking supplies or near the canning items.

    Now, what's for dinner? Check out all of my copycat entrées here.

    No one is sure exactly which restaurant invented toasted ravioli, but we do know the dish originated in St. Louis sometime in the 40s. Olive Garden's delicious take on the appetizer can be cloned with ease using one of several varieties of pre-made raviolis carried in just about any supermarket. It's best to use the fresher raviolis found in the refrigerated section, but you can also use frozen ones in this copycat toasted ravioli recipe you just have to let them thaw first before breading them. The original Olive Garden toasted ravioli recipe has a beefy inside, but you can use any ravioli that tickles your fancy including chicken, sausage, vegetarian, or cheese. As for the breading, find Progresso brand Italian style breadcrumbs. Contadina is another popular brand, but their version is much too salty for a good clone.

    Now you've got that appetizer going, what's for dinner? Try more of my Olive Garden copycat recipes here.

    To get their Extra Crispy Chicken so crispy KFC breads the chicken two times. This double breading gives the chicken its ultra craggy exterior and extra crunch, which is a different texture than the less crispy Original Recipe Chicken that’s breaded just once and pressure fried.

    As with my KFC Original Recipe hack, we must first brine the chicken to give it flavor and moisture all the way through, like the real thing, then the chicken is double breaded and deep fried until golden brown. KFC uses small chickens which cook faster, but small chickens can be hard to find. If your chicken parts are on the large side, they may not cook all the way through in the 12 to 15 minutes of frying I’m specifying here. To be sure your chicken is cooked, start frying with the thickest pieces, like the breasts, then park them in a 300-degree oven while you finish with the smaller pieces. This will keep the chicken warm and crispy, and more importantly, ensure that they are cooked perfectly all the way through.

    On my CMT show Top Secret Recipe I chatted with Winston Shelton, a long-time friend of KFC founder Harland Sanders. Winston saw the Colonel's handwritten secret recipe for the Original Recipe chicken, and he told me one of the secret ingredients is Tellicherry black pepper. It's a more expensive, better-tasting black pepper that comes from the Malabar coast in India, and you should use it here if you can find it. Winston pulled me aside and whispered this secret to me when he thought we were off-camera, but our microphones and very alert cameramen caught the whole thing, and we aired it.

    I first published this hack in Even More Top Secret Recipes, but recently applied some newly acquired secrets and tips to make this much-improved version of one of the most familiar fried chicken recipes in the world.

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

    In the early 90's Boston Chicken was rockin' it. The home meal replacement chain's stock was soaring and the lines were filled with hungry customers waiting to sink their teeth into a serving of the chain's delicious rotisserie chicken. So successful was the chain with chicken, that the company quickly decided it was time to introduce other entree selections, the first of which was a delicious barbecue sauce-covered ground sirloin meatloaf. But offering the other entrees presented the company with a dilemma: what to do about the name. The bigwigs decided it was time to change the name to Boston Market, to reflect a wider menu. That meant replacing signs on hundreds of units and retooling the marketing campaigns. That name change, plus rapid expansion of the chain and growth of other similar home-style meal concepts sent the company into a tailspin. By 1988, Boston Market's goose was cooked, and the company filed for bankruptcy. Soon McDonald's stepped in to purchase the company, with the idea of closing many of the stores for good, and slapping Golden Arches on the rest. But that plan was scrapped when, after selling many of the under-performing Boston Markets, the chain began to fly once again. Within a year of the acquisition Boston Market was profitable, and those meals with the home-cooked taste are still being served at over 700 Boston Market restaurants across the country.

    How about some of those famous Boston Market side-dishes to go with your copycat meatloaf recipe? I've cloned all the best ones here.

    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 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 usually 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.

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

    Finish off your meal with a famous entrée from Outback like Alice Springs Chicken, or Toowoomba Steak.

    For many years this entree 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 portobello mushrooms—but a home version of the signature dish 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 dish 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.

    Menu Description: "Parmesan, Romano and mozzarella cheese, clams and herb breadcrumbs baked in mushroom caps."

    Breadcrumbs, clams and three types of cheese are baked into white mushroom caps in this clone of a top pick from Olive Garden's appetizer menu. Mix all the stuffing ingredients together in a bowl, fill the mushroom caps, sprinkle on some minced red bell pepper, cover the mushrooms with a blanket of mozzarella cheese slices, and bake. After 15 minutes you'll have a great appetizer or hors d'oeuvre for 4 to 6 people—that's twice the serving size of the dish from the restaurant.

    Did you love this copycat Olive Garden stuffed mushrooms recipe? Check out more of my clone recipes here.

    The easy-melting, individually-wrapped Kraft Cheddar Singles are a perfect secret ingredient for this Panera Bread broccoli cheddar soup recipe that's served at this top soup stop. In this clone, fresh broccoli is first steamed, then diced into little bits before you combine it with chicken broth, half-and-half, shredded carrot, and onion. Now you're just 30 minutes away from soup spoon go-time.

    Click here for more of my copycat Panera Bread recipes.

    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. The recipe here 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.

    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 this new hack 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).


    I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

    For 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.

    Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!

    ($23.88 annually)*
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    Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!

    In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.

    Menu Description: "Our famous Original cheesecake recipe! Creamy and light, baked in a graham cracker crust. Our most popular cheesecake!"

    Oscar and Evelyn Overton's wholesale cheesecake company was successful quickly after it first started selling creamy cheesecakes like this clone to restaurant chains in the early 1970's. When some restaurants balked at the prices the company was charging for high-end desserts, Oscar and Evelyn's son David decided it was time to open his own restaurant, offering a wide variety of quality meal choices in huge portions, and, of course, the famous cheesecakes for dessert. Today the chain has over 87 stores across the country, and consistently ranks number one on the list of highest grossing single stores for a U.S. restaurant chain.

    Baking your cheesecakes in a water bath is part of the secret to producing beautiful cheesecakes at home with a texture similar to those sold in the restaurant. The water surrounds your cheesecake to keep it moist as it cooks, and the moisture helps prevent ugly cracking. You'll start the oven very hot for just a short time, then crank it down to finish. I also suggest lining your cheesecake pan with parchment paper to help get the thing out of the pan when it's done without a hassle.

    This recipe is so easy, even a 2-year old can make it. Check out the video.

    More amazing Cheesecake Factory copycat recipes here.

    Crafting a clone of Olive Garden’s signature Lasagna Classico 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.

    Browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

    In the early 90's Boston Chicken was rockin' it. The home meal replacement chain's stock was soaring and the lines were filled with hungry customers waiting to sink their teeth into a serving of the chain's delicious rotisserie chicken. So successful was the chain with chicken, that the company quickly decided it was time to introduce other entree selections, the first of which was a delicious barbecue sauce-covered ground sirloin meatloaf. But offering the other entrees presented the company with a dilemma: what to do about the name. The bigwigs decided it was time to change the name to Boston Market, to reflect a wider menu. That meant replacing signs on hundreds of units and retooling the marketing campaigns. That name change, plus rapid expansion of the chain and growth of other similar home-style meal concepts sent the company into a tailspin. By 1988, Boston Market's goose was cooked, and the company filed for bankruptcy. Soon McDonald's stepped in to purchase the company, with the idea of closing many of the stores for good, and slapping Golden Arches on the rest. But that plan was scrapped when, after selling many of the under-performing Boston Markets, the chain began to fly once again. Within a year of the acquisition Boston Market was profitable, and those meals with the home-cooked taste are still being served at over 700 Boston Market restaurants across the country.

    How about some of those famous Boston Market side-dishes to go with your copycat meatloaf recipe? I've cloned all the best ones here.

    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 the real ones 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.

    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 sauce for yourself using this new and very easy hack.

    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.

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

    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. The bestseller on the menu is this orange chicken, which I have to say is pretty damn good orange chicken. 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, this dish goes very well with white or brown rice, so don’t forget to make some.

    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, but with clean ingredients, and without the dough conditioners found in the packaged rolls.

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

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

    Menu Description: "Quickly-cooked steak with scallions and garlic."

    Beef lovers go crazy over this one at the restaurant. Flank steak is cut into bite-sized chunks against the grain, then it's lightly dusted with potato starch (in our case we'll use cornstarch), flash-fried in oil, and doused with an amazing sweet soy garlic sauce. The beef comes out tender as can be, and the simple sauce sings to your taste buds. I designed this recipe to use a wok, but if you don't have one a saute pan will suffice (you may need to add more oil to the pan to cover the beef in the flash-frying step). P. F. Chang's secret sauce is what makes this dish so good, and it's versatile. If you don't dig beef, you can substitute with chicken. Or you can brush it on grilled salmon.

    I've cloned a lot of the best dishes from P.F. Chang's. Click here to see if I coped your favorite.

    The first Auntie Anne's pretzel store opened in 1988 in the heart of pretzel country—a Pennsylvanian Amish farmers' market. Over 500 stores later, Auntie Anne's is one of the most requested secret clone recipes around, especially on the internet. Many of the copycat Auntie Anne's soft pretzel recipes passed around the Web require bread flour, and some use honey as a sweetener. But by studying the Auntie Anne's home pretzel-making kit in the secret underground laboratory, I've discovered a better solution for re-creating the delicious mall treats than any clone recipe out there. For the best quality dough, you just need all-purpose flour. And powdered sugar works great to perfectly sweeten the dough. Now you just have to decide if you want to make the more traditional salted pretzels, or the sweet cinnamon sugar-coated kind. Decisions, decisions.

    Anyone who loves Olive Garden is probably also a big fan of the bottomless basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks served before each meal at the huge Italian casual chain. My guess is that the breadsticks are proofed, and then sent to each restaurant where they are baked until golden brown, brushed with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt. Getting the bread just right for a good Olive Garden breadstick recipe was tricky—I tried several different amounts of yeast in all-purpose flour, but then settled on bread flour to give these breadsticks the same chewy bite as the originals. The two-stage rising process is also a crucial step in this much requested homemade Olive Garden breadstick recipe. Also check out our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe.

    Samuel Bath Thomas immigrated from England to New York City and opened his first bakery there in 1880. That is where Thomas created skillet bread that would one day become the famous muffins known for their craggy texture when split in half. This hack for Thomas’ English Muffins uses a special kneading process to give the muffins the "nooks and crannies" they are famous for, making craters in the finished bread to better hold on to melted butter and jam.

    I have seen several recipes that claim to re-create these muffins, but none produce the large air pockets that a proper clone requires, in addition to great flavor and a perfectly cooked interior. To ensure proper nooks and crannies and muffins that are cooked all the way through, I've included some important steps.

    The dough you'll make here is like a ciabatta dough in that it is very wet. So rather than kneading the dough, you stretch and fold it over several times on a well-oiled surface. Then, when the portioned-out dough has proofed on baking sheets for another 1½ to 2 hours, you par-bake the muffins.

    After baking, the muffins are cooked on a griddle or in a pan until dark brown on both sides, then they must cool. This is the hardest part. The muffins will be too soft to open for at least four hours, and now you have to fight off the temptation to eat one. It’s hard, I know. The muffins smell great and you’ve waited all this time, but resist for now and your patience will be rewarded.

    When the muffins have had their rest, split them with a fork and toast them as you would any English muffin.

    Check out all my top secret recipes for famous bread here.

    For many years this entree 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 portobello mushrooms—but a home version of the signature dish 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 dish 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.

    There are many acceptable ways to formulate good queso, but to make this specific queso the ingredients must be correct, and most copycat recipes seem to get it wrong. A few recipes get one of the peppers and two of the cheeses right, but pretty much every recipe out there is a bit of a mess that I will now save you from.

    Quesos can be made with a variety of cheeses that include queso fresco, asadero, and Muenster, but this particular queso includes a cheese you probably didn’t expect: Swiss. That cheese is slow to melt, so we’ll shred it first, along with the Jack. And you won't need to gum up the queso with flour or cornstarch by making a roux because the white American cheese in the mix contains sodium citrate or sodium phosphate—additives that help the cheese melt smoothly and stay that way.

    Authors of recipes that call for tomatoes in this dish haven’t looked closely. Those are red bell peppers and they are roasted, peeled, and seeded along with the poblano and jalapenos before they are diced and added to the cheese sauce. The sauce cooks on low heat, never bubbling, so that it stays smooth and creamy.

    When done, the 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.

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

    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 freshly cloned carnitas 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.

    Menu Description: "Here they are in all their lip-smacking, award-winning glory: Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings spun in your favorite signature sauce."

    Since Buffalo, New York was too far away, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery satisfied their overwhelming craving in 1981 by opening a spicy chicken wing restaurant close to home in Kent, Ohio. With signature sauces and a festive atmosphere, the chain has now evolved from a college campus sports bar with wings to a family restaurant with over 300 units. While frying chicken wings is no real secret—simply drop them in hot shortening for about 10 minutes—the delicious spicy sauces make the wings special. There are 12 varieties of sauce available to coat your crispy chicken parts at the chain, and I'm presenting clones for the more traditional flavors. These sauces are very thick, almost like dressing or dip, so we'll use an emulsifying technique that will ensure a creamy final product where the oil won't separate from the other ingredients. Here is the chicken wing cooking and coating technique, followed by clones for the most popular sauces: Spicy Garlic, Medium and Hot. The sauce recipes might look the same at first, but each has slight variations make your sauce hotter or milder by adjusting the level of cayenne pepper. You can find Frank's pepper sauce by the other hot sauces in your market. If you can't find that brand, you can also use Crystal Louisiana hot sauce.

    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 hack 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.

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

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

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

    The talented chefs at Benihana cook food on hibachi grills with flair and charisma, treating the preparation like a tiny stage show. They juggle salt and pepper shakers, trim food with lightning speed, and flip the shrimp and mushrooms perfectly onto serving plates or into their tall chef's hat.

    One of the side dishes that everyone seems to love is the fried rice. At Benihana this dish is prepared by chefs with precooked rice on open hibachi grills, and is ordered a la cart to complement any Benihana entree, including Hibachi Steak and Chicken. I like when the rice is thrown onto the hot hibachi grill and seems to come alive as it sizzles and dances around like a bunch of little jumping beans. Okay, so I'm easily amused.

    This Benihana Japanese fried rice recipe will go well with just about any Japanese entree and can be partially prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until the rest of the meal is close to done.

    To get their Extra Crispy Chicken so crispy KFC breads the chicken two times. This double breading gives the chicken its ultra craggy exterior and extra crunch, which is a different texture than the less crispy Original Recipe Chicken that’s breaded just once and pressure fried.

    As with my KFC Original Recipe hack, we must first brine the chicken to give it flavor and moisture all the way through, like the real thing, then the chicken is double breaded and deep fried until golden brown. KFC uses small chickens which cook faster, but small chickens can be hard to find. If your chicken parts are on the large side, they may not cook all the way through in the 12 to 15 minutes of frying I’m specifying here. To be sure your chicken is cooked, start frying with the thickest pieces, like the breasts, then park them in a 300-degree oven while you finish with the smaller pieces. This will keep the chicken warm and crispy, and more importantly, ensure that they are cooked perfectly all the way through.

    On my CMT show Top Secret Recipe I chatted with Winston Shelton, a long-time friend of KFC founder Harland Sanders. Winston saw the Colonel's handwritten secret recipe for the Original Recipe chicken, and he told me one of the secret ingredients is Tellicherry black pepper. It's a more expensive, better-tasting black pepper that comes from the Malabar coast in India, and you should use it here if you can find it. Winston pulled me aside and whispered this secret to me when he thought we were off-camera, but our microphones and very alert cameramen caught the whole thing, and we aired it.

    I first published this hack in Even More Top Secret Recipes, but recently applied some newly acquired secrets and tips to make this much-improved version of one of the most familiar fried chicken recipes in the world.

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

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

    This 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 hack 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 O.G. Stuffed Chicken Marsala experience.

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

    Cayenne pepper and white pepper bring the heat to this crispy fried chicken hack.

    Did you like this recipe? Get your hands on my secret recipe for Popeyes Chicken Sandwich and other Popeyes dishes here.

    When you check in at one of more than 250 hotels run by this U.S. chain, you are handed a bag from a warming oven that contains two soft and delicious chocolate chip cookies. This is a tradition that began in the early 80s using a recipe from a small bakery in Atlanta. All of the cookies are baked fresh every day on the hotel premises. The chain claims to give out about 29,000 cookies every day. Raves for the cookies from customers convinced the hotel chain to start selling tins of the cookies online. But if you've got an insatiable chocolate chip cookie urge that can't wait for a package to be delivered, you'll want to try this cloned version. Just be sure to get the cookies out of the oven when they are barely turning brown so that they are soft and chewy in the middle when cool.

    Now that you're in the swing of things, try baking more famous cookies from my recipes here.

    Update 1/13/17: I like to drop the baking temperature to 325 degrees F for a chewier (better) cookie. Cook for about the same amount of time, 16 to 18 minutes.

    Update 4/10/20: In April, Hilton Hotels released the actual recipe for the DoubleTree Hotels Signature Cookie for the first time. You can open that recipe in another window to see how close the real recipe revealed in 2020 comes to this clone recipe I created in 2002.

    Here's a dish from a rapidly growing Chinese food chain that should satisfy anyone who loves the famous marinated bourbon chicken found in food courts across America. The sauce is the whole thing here, and it's quick to make right on your own stove-top. Just fire up the barbecue or indoor grill for the chicken and whip up a little white rice to serve on the side. Panda Express - now 370 restaurants strong - is the fastest-growing Asian food chain in the world. You'll find these tasty little quick-service food outlets in supermarkets, casinos, sports arenas, college campuses, and malls across the country passing out free samples for the asking.

    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. The recipe 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.

    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).

    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 this new hack 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.

    A requirement of any visit to Chicago is eating at least one slice of deep dish pizza in the city that perfected it. Deep dish pizza quickly became a Chicago staple after Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened the first Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and served a hearty new style of pizza constructed in a high-rimmed cake pan. The yeast crust was tender and flakey, like a pastry, and the cheese was layered under the sauce so that it wouldn’t burn in a hot oven for the long cooking time.

    While researching a home hack of this now-iconic recipe, I discovered an unexpected technique that I hadn’t seen in other deep dish recipes. Employees told me the pizza crusts are partially cooked each morning to cut down on the wait time for customers. Before the restaurant opens each day, cooks press the dough into a pan and then sprinkle it with a little shredded cheese. The shells are then partially baked and set aside. Later, when an order comes in, the pizza is built into one of the par-baked crusts and finished off. This way customers get their food faster, and the tables turn over quicker.

    Copying that delicious, flakey crust was the task that took me the longest. After two weeks of baking, I finally settled on a formula that was a mash-up of yeast dough and pie crust and made a perfectly tender deep dish crust, with great flavor that exactly mimicked the original. If you like Uno, you will love this.

    Regarding the cheese: be sure your cheese is at room temperature, not cold, or it may not melt all the way through. Also, it’s best if you buy cheese by the block and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is dusted with cornstarch so that the shreds don’t stick together in the bag, and it won’t melt as smoothly as cheese you shred by hand.

    This recipe will make enough sauce for two pizzas. I just thought you should know that in case you get the urge to make another deep dish after this one disappears.

    This recipe was our #4 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), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).

    “Don’t call them fries,” says KFC about its popular side made with sliced, skin-on russet potatoes. What sets these potatoes apart from all the others is the secret breading made with a similar seasoning blend to the one used for Colonel's Original Recipe Fried Chicken. To achieve the proper crispiness, the potatoes are par-fried, frozen, then fried again until golden brown.

    One important ingredient that completes the flavor is MSG. Monosodium glutamate is a food additive derived from glutamic acid, which is an important amino acid found in abundance in nature, food, and in you right now. Over the last 60 years of study and use, MSG has not only been found harmless in normal amounts, but tests have shown glutamate to be a chemical messenger that benefits gut health, immunity, and brain functions such as memory and learning. In addition to all of that, it imparts a unique savoriness that enhances flavors in other ingredients and makes your food taste amazing. Using MSG in your food is, literally, smart cooking.

    Another important ingredient is ground Tellicherry black pepper, a select black pepper from India. Winston Shelton, a friend of Harland Sanders who invented the first high-volume pressure fryers for KFC, confirmed this. Shelton recalled seeing the ingredient when Sanders showed him the secret formula for the fried chicken seasoning he had scribbled on a piece of paper.

    While we were shooting the first episode of my TV Show, Top Secret Recipe, Winston pulled me aside and whispered to me that Tellicherry pepper is crucial to creating the unique KFC aftertaste. It was a great tip, and fortunately, we caught that moment on camera and you can see it in the show. Later, I conducted a side-by-side taste test with common black pepper and Tellicherry black pepper and discovered Winston was right. If you want the best taste for your clone you'll need Tellicherry pepper, which you can find online and in some food stores. Be sure to grind it fine before using it.

    For this recipe, just two russet potatoes are all it takes to make the equivalent of a large serving of fried potato wedges, which will be enough for at least four people.


    I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

    For 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.

    Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!

    ($23.88 annually)*
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    Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!

    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 the real ones 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.

    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 sauce for yourself using this new and very easy hack.

    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.

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

    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 hack 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.

    Crafting a clone of Olive Garden’s signature Lasagna Classico 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.

    Browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

    In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.

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

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

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

    In the early 90's Boston Chicken was rockin' it. The home meal replacement chain's stock was soaring and the lines were filled with hungry customers waiting to sink their teeth into a serving of the chain's delicious rotisserie chicken. So successful was the chain with chicken, that the company quickly decided it was time to introduce other entree selections, the first of which was a delicious barbecue sauce-covered ground sirloin meatloaf. But offering the other entrees presented the company with a dilemma: what to do about the name. The bigwigs decided it was time to change the name to Boston Market, to reflect a wider menu. That meant replacing signs on hundreds of units and retooling the marketing campaigns. That name change, plus rapid expansion of the chain and growth of other similar home-style meal concepts sent the company into a tailspin. By 1988, Boston Market's goose was cooked, and the company filed for bankruptcy. Soon McDonald's stepped in to purchase the company, with the idea of closing many of the stores for good, and slapping Golden Arches on the rest. But that plan was scrapped when, after selling many of the under-performing Boston Markets, the chain began to fly once again. Within a year of the acquisition Boston Market was profitable, and those meals with the home-cooked taste are still being served at over 700 Boston Market restaurants across the country.

    How about some of those famous Boston Market side-dishes to go with your copycat meatloaf recipe? I've cloned all the best ones here.

    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 freshly cloned carnitas 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.

    The talented chefs at Benihana cook food on hibachi grills with flair and charisma, treating the preparation like a tiny stage show. They juggle salt and pepper shakers, trim food with lightning speed, and flip the shrimp and mushrooms perfectly onto serving plates or into their tall chef's hat.

    One of the side dishes that everyone seems to love is the fried rice. At Benihana this dish is prepared by chefs with precooked rice on open hibachi grills, and is ordered a la cart to complement any Benihana entree, including Hibachi Steak and Chicken. I like when the rice is thrown onto the hot hibachi grill and seems to come alive as it sizzles and dances around like a bunch of little jumping beans. Okay, so I'm easily amused.

    This Benihana Japanese fried rice recipe will go well with just about any Japanese entree and can be partially prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until the rest of the meal is close to done.

    To get their Extra Crispy Chicken so crispy KFC breads the chicken two times. This double breading gives the chicken its ultra craggy exterior and extra crunch, which is a different texture than the less crispy Original Recipe Chicken that’s breaded just once and pressure fried.

    As with my KFC Original Recipe hack, we must first brine the chicken to give it flavor and moisture all the way through, like the real thing, then the chicken is double breaded and deep fried until golden brown. KFC uses small chickens which cook faster, but small chickens can be hard to find. If your chicken parts are on the large side, they may not cook all the way through in the 12 to 15 minutes of frying I’m specifying here. To be sure your chicken is cooked, start frying with the thickest pieces, like the breasts, then park them in a 300-degree oven while you finish with the smaller pieces. This will keep the chicken warm and crispy, and more importantly, ensure that they are cooked perfectly all the way through.

    On my CMT show Top Secret Recipe I chatted with Winston Shelton, a long-time friend of KFC founder Harland Sanders. Winston saw the Colonel's handwritten secret recipe for the Original Recipe chicken, and he told me one of the secret ingredients is Tellicherry black pepper. It's a more expensive, better-tasting black pepper that comes from the Malabar coast in India, and you should use it here if you can find it. Winston pulled me aside and whispered this secret to me when he thought we were off-camera, but our microphones and very alert cameramen caught the whole thing, and we aired it.

    I first published this hack in Even More Top Secret Recipes, but recently applied some newly acquired secrets and tips to make this much-improved version of one of the most familiar fried chicken recipes in the world.

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

    Anyone who loves Olive Garden is probably also a big fan of the bottomless basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks served before each meal at the huge Italian casual chain. My guess is that the breadsticks are proofed, and then sent to each restaurant where they are baked until golden brown, brushed with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt. Getting the bread just right for a good Olive Garden breadstick recipe was tricky—I tried several different amounts of yeast in all-purpose flour, but then settled on bread flour to give these breadsticks the same chewy bite as the originals. The two-stage rising process is also a crucial step in this much requested homemade Olive Garden breadstick recipe. Also check out our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe.

    Menu Description: "Quickly-cooked steak with scallions and garlic."

    Beef lovers go crazy over this one at the restaurant. Flank steak is cut into bite-sized chunks against the grain, then it's lightly dusted with potato starch (in our case we'll use cornstarch), flash-fried in oil, and doused with an amazing sweet soy garlic sauce. The beef comes out tender as can be, and the simple sauce sings to your taste buds. I designed this recipe to use a wok, but if you don't have one a saute pan will suffice (you may need to add more oil to the pan to cover the beef in the flash-frying step). P. F. Chang's secret sauce is what makes this dish so good, and it's versatile. If you don't dig beef, you can substitute with chicken. Or you can brush it on grilled salmon.

    I've cloned a lot of the best dishes from P.F. Chang's. Click here to see if I coped your favorite.

    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. The bestseller on the menu is this orange chicken, which I have to say is pretty damn good orange chicken. 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, this dish goes very well with white or brown rice, so don’t forget to make some.

    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, but with clean ingredients, and without the dough conditioners found in the packaged rolls.

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

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

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

    By sneaking around to the back of a HoneyBaked Ham store I witnessed the glazing process through an open door. The hams are delivered to each of the 300 HoneyBaked outlets already smoked, but without the glaze. It is only when the ham gets to your local HoneyBaked store that a special machine thin-slices the tender meat in a spiral fashion around the bone. Then, one at a time, each ham is then coated with the glaze—a blend that is similar to what might be used to make pumpkin pie. This sweet coating is then caramelized with a blowtorch by hand until the glaze bubbles and melts, turning golden brown. If needed, more of the coating is added, and the blowtorch is fired up until the glaze is just right. It's this careful process that turns the same size ham that costs 20 dollars in a supermarket into one that customers gladly shell out 3 to 4 times as much to share during the holiday season.

    For this HoneyBaked Ham glaze copycat recipe, we will re-create the glaze that you can apply to a smoked/cooked bone-in ham of your choice. Look for a ham that is pre-sliced. Otherwise you'll have to slice it yourself with a sharp knife, then the glaze will be applied. To get the coating just right you must use a blowtorch. Get the kind that is used for creme brulee from almost any kitchen supply store. They're usually pretty cheap. And don't worry—I didn't leave out an ingredient. No honey is necessary to re-create this flavorful glaze.

    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 this new hack 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.

    “Don’t call them fries,” says KFC about its popular side made with sliced, skin-on russet potatoes. What sets these potatoes apart from all the others is the secret breading made with a similar seasoning blend to the one used for Colonel's Original Recipe Fried Chicken. To achieve the proper crispiness, the potatoes are par-fried, frozen, then fried again until golden brown.

    One important ingredient that completes the flavor is MSG. Monosodium glutamate is a food additive derived from glutamic acid, which is an important amino acid found in abundance in nature, food, and in you right now. Over the last 60 years of study and use, MSG has not only been found harmless in normal amounts, but tests have shown glutamate to be a chemical messenger that benefits gut health, immunity, and brain functions such as memory and learning. In addition to all of that, it imparts a unique savoriness that enhances flavors in other ingredients and makes your food taste amazing. Using MSG in your food is, literally, smart cooking.

    Another important ingredient is ground Tellicherry black pepper, a select black pepper from India. Winston Shelton, a friend of Harland Sanders who invented the first high-volume pressure fryers for KFC, confirmed this. Shelton recalled seeing the ingredient when Sanders showed him the secret formula for the fried chicken seasoning he had scribbled on a piece of paper.

    While we were shooting the first episode of my TV Show, Top Secret Recipe, Winston pulled me aside and whispered to me that Tellicherry pepper is crucial to creating the unique KFC aftertaste. It was a great tip, and fortunately, we caught that moment on camera and you can see it in the show. Later, I conducted a side-by-side taste test with common black pepper and Tellicherry black pepper and discovered Winston was right. If you want the best taste for your clone you'll need Tellicherry pepper, which you can find online and in some food stores. Be sure to grind it fine before using it.

    For this recipe, just two russet potatoes are all it takes to make the equivalent of a large serving of fried potato wedges, which will be enough for at least four people.

    Get more of my KFC copycat recipes here.

    For many years this entree 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 portobello mushrooms—but a home version of the signature dish 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 dish 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.

    A requirement of any visit to Chicago is eating at least one slice of deep dish pizza in the city that perfected it. Deep dish pizza quickly became a Chicago staple after Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened the first Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and served a hearty new style of pizza constructed in a high-rimmed cake pan. The yeast crust was tender and flakey, like a pastry, and the cheese was layered under the sauce so that it wouldn’t burn in a hot oven for the long cooking time.

    While researching a home hack of this now-iconic recipe, I discovered an unexpected technique that I hadn’t seen in other deep dish recipes. Employees told me the pizza crusts are partially cooked each morning to cut down on the wait time for customers. Before the restaurant opens each day, cooks press the dough into a pan and then sprinkle it with a little shredded cheese. The shells are then partially baked and set aside. Later, when an order comes in, the pizza is built into one of the par-baked crusts and finished off. This way customers get their food faster, and the tables turn over quicker.

    Copying that delicious, flakey crust was the task that took me the longest. After two weeks of baking, I finally settled on a formula that was a mash-up of yeast dough and pie crust and made a perfectly tender deep dish crust, with great flavor that exactly mimicked the original. If you like Uno, you will love this.

    Regarding the cheese: be sure your cheese is at room temperature, not cold, or it may not melt all the way through. Also, it’s best if you buy cheese by the block and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is dusted with cornstarch so that the shreds don’t stick together in the bag, and it won’t melt as smoothly as cheese you shred by hand.

    This recipe will make enough sauce for two pizzas. I just thought you should know that in case you get the urge to make another deep dish after this one disappears.

    This recipe was our #4 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), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).


    I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

    For 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.

    Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!

    ($23.88 annually)*
    Save $12 vs. monthly

    Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!

    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 the real ones 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.

    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 sauce for yourself using this new and very easy hack.

    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.

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

    To get their Extra Crispy Chicken so crispy KFC breads the chicken two times. This double breading gives the chicken its ultra craggy exterior and extra crunch, which is a different texture than the less crispy Original Recipe Chicken that’s breaded just once and pressure fried.

    As with my KFC Original Recipe hack, we must first brine the chicken to give it flavor and moisture all the way through, like the real thing, then the chicken is double breaded and deep fried until golden brown. KFC uses small chickens which cook faster, but small chickens can be hard to find. If your chicken parts are on the large side, they may not cook all the way through in the 12 to 15 minutes of frying I’m specifying here. To be sure your chicken is cooked, start frying with the thickest pieces, like the breasts, then park them in a 300-degree oven while you finish with the smaller pieces. This will keep the chicken warm and crispy, and more importantly, ensure that they are cooked perfectly all the way through.

    On my CMT show Top Secret Recipe I chatted with Winston Shelton, a long-time friend of KFC founder Harland Sanders. Winston saw the Colonel's handwritten secret recipe for the Original Recipe chicken, and he told me one of the secret ingredients is Tellicherry black pepper. It's a more expensive, better-tasting black pepper that comes from the Malabar coast in India, and you should use it here if you can find it. Winston pulled me aside and whispered this secret to me when he thought we were off-camera, but our microphones and very alert cameramen caught the whole thing, and we aired it.

    I first published this hack in Even More Top Secret Recipes, but recently applied some newly acquired secrets and tips to make this much-improved version of one of the most familiar fried chicken recipes in the world.

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

    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. The bestseller on the menu is this orange chicken, which I have to say is pretty damn good orange chicken. 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, this dish goes very well with white or brown rice, so don’t forget to make some.

    Crafting a clone of Olive Garden’s signature Lasagna Classico 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.

    Browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

    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 freshly cloned carnitas 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.

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

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

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

    “Don’t call them fries,” says KFC about its popular side made with sliced, skin-on russet potatoes. What sets these potatoes apart from all the others is the secret breading made with a similar seasoning blend to the one used for Colonel's Original Recipe Fried Chicken. To achieve the proper crispiness, the potatoes are par-fried, frozen, then fried again until golden brown.

    One important ingredient that completes the flavor is MSG. Monosodium glutamate is a food additive derived from glutamic acid, which is an important amino acid found in abundance in nature, food, and in you right now. Over the last 60 years of study and use, MSG has not only been found harmless in normal amounts, but tests have shown glutamate to be a chemical messenger that benefits gut health, immunity, and brain functions such as memory and learning. In addition to all of that, it imparts a unique savoriness that enhances flavors in other ingredients and makes your food taste amazing. Using MSG in your food is, literally, smart cooking.

    Another important ingredient is ground Tellicherry black pepper, a select black pepper from India. Winston Shelton, a friend of Harland Sanders who invented the first high-volume pressure fryers for KFC, confirmed this. Shelton recalled seeing the ingredient when Sanders showed him the secret formula for the fried chicken seasoning he had scribbled on a piece of paper.

    While we were shooting the first episode of my TV Show, Top Secret Recipe, Winston pulled me aside and whispered to me that Tellicherry pepper is crucial to creating the unique KFC aftertaste. It was a great tip, and fortunately, we caught that moment on camera and you can see it in the show. Later, I conducted a side-by-side taste test with common black pepper and Tellicherry black pepper and discovered Winston was right. If you want the best taste for your clone you'll need Tellicherry pepper, which you can find online and in some food stores. Be sure to grind it fine before using it.

    For this recipe, just two russet potatoes are all it takes to make the equivalent of a large serving of fried potato wedges, which will be enough for at least four people.

    Get more of my KFC copycat recipes here.

    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. Crushed soda crackers thicken the chili, and extra beef fat adds a smooth quality that mimics the famous 100-year-old recipe.

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

    And now if you're craving French fries, try my Mcdonald's Fries copycat recipe here.

    Samuel Bath Thomas immigrated from England to New York City and opened his first bakery there in 1880. That is where Thomas created skillet bread that would one day become the famous muffins known for their craggy texture when split in half. This hack for Thomas’ English Muffins uses a special kneading process to give the muffins the "nooks and crannies" they are famous for, making craters in the finished bread to better hold on to melted butter and jam.

    I have seen several recipes that claim to re-create these muffins, but none produce the large air pockets that a proper clone requires, in addition to great flavor and a perfectly cooked interior. To ensure proper nooks and crannies and muffins that are cooked all the way through, I've included some important steps.

    The dough you'll make here is like a ciabatta dough in that it is very wet. So rather than kneading the dough, you stretch and fold it over several times on a well-oiled surface. Then, when the portioned-out dough has proofed on baking sheets for another 1½ to 2 hours, you par-bake the muffins.

    After baking, the muffins are cooked on a griddle or in a pan until dark brown on both sides, then they must cool. This is the hardest part. The muffins will be too soft to open for at least four hours, and now you have to fight off the temptation to eat one. It’s hard, I know. The muffins smell great and you’ve waited all this time, but resist for now and your patience will be rewarded.

    When the muffins have had their rest, split them with a fork and toast them as you would any English muffin.

    Check out all my top secret recipes for famous bread here.

    For many years this entree 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 portobello mushrooms—but a home version of the signature dish 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 dish 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.

    I’m not sure when it happened, but it appears Taco Bell recently changed its seasoned beef recipe. I hacked the recipe several years ago for the book TSR Step-by-Step, and I recall the recipe had much more oat filler, so that’s how I cloned it. Taco Bell came under fire in 2011 for the significant amount of oats in the recipe that the chain was listing as “spices,” and after that, Taco Bell was more transparent about ingredients. But somewhere along the way it appears the company tweaked the recipe to include less filler and more flavor, so I decided I had to create a new Top Secret Recipe for the beef.

    This recipe makes a duplicate of the beef currently served at Taco Bell. If you want to turn it into a Chalupa—which the restaurant makes by deep frying the flatbread used for Gorditas—the instructions are here. But you can also use this new, improved beef hack for anything you’re copying, whether it's tacos, burritos, Enchiritos, Mexican Pizzas, or a big pile of nachos.

    The secret ingredient in our hack is Knorr tomato bouillon. This flavor powder adds many ingredients found in the original recipe and provides the umami savoriness that’s required for a spot-on clone of the famous seasoned ground beef. To get the right flavor, you need to find "Knorr Tomato Bouillon with Chicken Flavor" powder, in a jar. Not the bouillon cubes.

    Smother your creation in mild, hot or diablo sauce. Try all my Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

    A requirement of any visit to Chicago is eating at least one slice of deep dish pizza in the city that perfected it. Deep dish pizza quickly became a Chicago staple after Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened the first Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and served a hearty new style of pizza constructed in a high-rimmed cake pan. The yeast crust was tender and flakey, like a pastry, and the cheese was layered under the sauce so that it wouldn’t burn in a hot oven for the long cooking time.

    While researching a home hack of this now-iconic recipe, I discovered an unexpected technique that I hadn’t seen in other deep dish recipes. Employees told me the pizza crusts are partially cooked each morning to cut down on the wait time for customers. Before the restaurant opens each day, cooks press the dough into a pan and then sprinkle it with a little shredded cheese. The shells are then partially baked and set aside. Later, when an order comes in, the pizza is built into one of the par-baked crusts and finished off. This way customers get their food faster, and the tables turn over quicker.

    Copying that delicious, flakey crust was the task that took me the longest. After two weeks of baking, I finally settled on a formula that was a mash-up of yeast dough and pie crust and made a perfectly tender deep dish crust, with great flavor that exactly mimicked the original. If you like Uno, you will love this.

    Regarding the cheese: be sure your cheese is at room temperature, not cold, or it may not melt all the way through. Also, it’s best if you buy cheese by the block and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is dusted with cornstarch so that the shreds don’t stick together in the bag, and it won’t melt as smoothly as cheese you shred by hand.

    This recipe will make enough sauce for two pizzas. I just thought you should know that in case you get the urge to make another deep dish after this one disappears.

    This recipe was our #4 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), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).

    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, but with clean ingredients, and without the dough conditioners found in the packaged rolls.

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

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

    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. The recipe 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.

    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).

    Here’s a hack that might help when you feel like doing something special with those steaks in the fridge. Or maybe you have salmon fillets in there? Doesn’t matter, this recipe works great on both. And it also makes a great pasta sauce.

    The secret Toowoomba sauce is a variation on alfredo sauce that Outback served over pasta at one time. These days the sauce is only used to top steak and salmon at the restaurant, but you can also use it on just about any type of pasta.

    In my early batches of the sauce, I noticed that if the shrimp are added at the beginning they get too tough. To solve that problem, I sautéed the seasoned shrimp separately, then added them closer to the end, and they came out perfect.

    Spoon this clone of the Toowoomba sauce over grilled tenderloin filets (or salmon filets) for an easy way to elevate your entrée. This recipe will make enough for four servings.

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

    What started as a single food cart in Madison Square Park in New York City in 2000 has become one of America's fastest-growing food chains. In 2014, Shake Shack filed for its initial public offering of stock, and shares rose by 147 percent on the first day of trading. The chain’s success can be attributed to a simple menu of great food that makes any bad day better, including juicy flat-grilled burgers, thick shakes, and creamy frozen custard.

    Custard is made just like ice cream with many of the same ingredients, except custard has egg yolks in it for extra richness. Also, custards are made in ice cream machines with paddles that move slowly so minimal air is mixed in. Home ice cream makers work great for custard, and will churn out a thick, creamy finished product. Using the right ratio of cream to milk and just enough egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla, you can now make an identical hack of Shake Shack’s custard, which is great on its own or topped with syrups, fruit, and candy bits.

    And don’t forget that custards taste best when they’re fresh. Shake Shack serves the custard within a couple of hours of making it, so consume your copycat custard as quickly as you can after it’s churned.

    Find out how to duplicate the chain's famous Vanilla Milkshake by just adding milk using the recipe here, and re-create the juicy Shake Shake Burger with my hack here.

    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 this 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 my copycat recipes.

    As you can probably guess, KFC's Extra Crispy Tenders are chicken tenderloins coated with the same delicious breading as KFC’s Extra Crispy Chicken. These tenders come in servings of two, three, six, or twelve, with your choice of dipping sauces on the side including buffalo, barbecue, and the new Finger Lickin' Good Sauce.

    To duplicate these chicken fingers at home we’ll resort to a similar prep technique to the one used for the Extra Crispy Chicken: the chicken is brined for 2 hours to give it more flavor and juiciness, then the tenders are double-breaded for an extra-crunchy coating.

    An important secret revealed in this breading recipe is the use of a specific type of ground black pepper. For the best clone you want to use Tellicherry black pepper, which is premium black pepper ground from mature peppercorns that have had time to develop more flavor. The unique aftertaste of KFC chicken is attributed to this special spice, so it’s worth the time to track it down.

    Tellicherry black pepper costs a little more than the younger, more common black pepper, but if you want a good clone of the famous crispy fried chicken, it’s an essential ingredient. Be sure to grind the pepper fine before adding it.

    Korean chicken is famous for its extra crispy coating, and Bonchon’s recipe—especially the wings—is one of the best in the world. That chain's famous formula is why there are now over 340 Bonchon outlets in nine countries, including over one hundred in the US and more planned to open here in the near future.

    The biggest challenge when recreating Korean chicken wings is finding the perfect magical mixture for the batter that fries to a golden brown, and with tender crispiness that stays crunchy long after the wings have been brushed with the flavorful glaze.

    I knew that a traditional double-frying technique would help create the crunchy coating we needed, but it would take some trial-and-error to determine the best time splits. The wings are par-fried, rested, then fried again until done, but just how long to give each stage was yet to be determined since every recipe I found for Korean chicken used different times and temps. Some recipes even changed the temperature between frying steps, but I found those made the recipe too difficult to manage when frying multiple batches.

    I eventually settled on 350 degrees F with most of the frying done up front in the par-fry stage. A three-ingredient batter is all that’s needed for crispy golden-brown wings, and the soy garlic sauce is an easy hack that’s made quickly in your microwave oven. The spicy version is made by adding Korean red chili paste (gochujang) and Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru) to the soy garlic recipe. You can find these ingredients at Asian markets or online, and if you like your wings spicy you'll want to add these perky ingredients.

    Click here for more delicious appetizer recipes.

    There are many acceptable ways to formulate good queso, but to make this specific queso the ingredients must be correct, and most copycat recipes seem to get it wrong. A few recipes get one of the peppers and two of the cheeses right, but pretty much every recipe out there is a bit of a mess that I will now save you from.

    Quesos can be made with a variety of cheeses that include queso fresco, asadero, and Muenster, but this particular queso includes a cheese you probably didn’t expect: Swiss. That cheese is slow to melt, so we’ll shred it first, along with the Jack. And you won't need to gum up the queso with flour or cornstarch by making a roux because the white American cheese in the mix contains sodium citrate or sodium phosphate—additives that help the cheese melt smoothly and stay that way.

    Authors of recipes that call for tomatoes in this dish haven’t looked closely. Those are red bell peppers and they are roasted, peeled, and seeded along with the poblano and jalapenos before they are diced and added to the cheese sauce. The sauce cooks on low heat, never bubbling, so that it stays smooth and creamy.

    When done, the 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.

    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 hack 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.

    Like at Wendy’s, where unsold and broken burger patties provide the beef for their famous chili, Chick-fil-A gets the chicken for this delicious noodle soup by chopping up the leftover chicken used on their grilled chicken sandwiches. But grilling isn’t the first step to take when whipping up a home hack of this famous soup. First, you must brine the chicken to fill it with flavor and keep it juicy like the real thing. A couple of hours later, when the brining is done, it’s grilling go-time.

    The pasta shape Chick-fil-A uses in their soup is an uncommon one, and you might have a hard time finding it at your local market. It’s called mafalda corta (upper right in the photo), which is a miniature version of the ruffled-edge malfadine pasta used in my hack for Olive Garden Beef Bolognese. It also goes by the name “mini lasagna.” If you can’t find mafalda corta (I found it online), you can instead use your favorite small fancy pasta here, such as farfalle, rotini, fusilli, or whatever looks good at the store.

    Looking to make the popular Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich or their Mac & Cheese? Click here for more of my Chick-fil-A clone recipes.

    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 this new hack 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.

    There’s one copycat recipe for these famous biscuits that’s posted and shared more than any other, and it’s downright awful. The dough is formulated with self-rising flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, shortening, and buttermilk, and many complain that the recipe creates dough that’s much too loose and the resulting biscuits are a complete disaster. Yet there the recipe remains on blogs and boards all over the interweb for unsuspecting home cloners such as yourself to waste time on. But that won’t happen anymore, because I have made a good copycat Bojangles' buttermilk biscuits recipe that works the way it should, guaranteeing you’ll get amazing golden buttermilk biscuits that look and taste just like a trained Bojangles’ pro made them.

    In addition to the obvious overuse of buttermilk, the popular recipe I found online has many problems. The author gets it right when calling for self-rising flour, which is flour containing salt and a leavening agent (aka baking powder), but why would the copycat Bojangles biscuit recipe be designed to use self-rising flour and then add additional leaving? Well, it probably wouldn’t. Biscuits are job number 1 for self-rising flour, and the leavening in there is measured for that use, so there’s no need to add more. If you were planning to add your own leavening, you’d probably start with all-purpose flour, which has no leavening in it. And let's just be clear: baking powder tastes gross, so we want to add as little as possible, not more than necessary.

    It’s also important to handle the dough the same way that workers at Bojangles’ do. They make biscuits there every 20 minutes and there are plenty of YouTube videos showing the preparation technique. In a nutshell, the dough is mixed by hand (in the restaurant they use their hands because the quantity is so large, but for this recipe use a mixing spoon), then it’s folded over a few times on a floured countertop before it’s rolled out. This gentle handling of the dough prevents the gluten in the flour from toughening and adds layers, so your biscuits come out of the oven tender and flakey.

    For the best results, find White Lily flour. This self-rising flour is low in gluten and makes unbelievably fluffy biscuits. If you use another self-rising brand, you’ll still get great biscuits, but the gluten level will likely be higher, the biscuits will be tougher, and you’ll probably need more buttermilk. Head down to the Tidbits below for details on that.

    And I noticed another thing most copycat Bojangles biscuit recipes get wrong. For biscuits that are beautifully golden brown on the top and bottom, you’ll want to bake them on a silicone baking mat (or parchment paper) at 500 degrees F. Yes, 500 degrees. That may seem hot, but this high temp works well with self-rising flour, and in 12 to 15 minutes the biscuits will be perfectly browned.

    Counterintuitively, it’s the lower temperatures that end up burning the biscuits, while the higher temperature cooks them just right. At lower temps the biscuits must stay in the oven longer to cook through, which exposes the surfaces to more heat, and they end up too dark on the outside, especially the bottom. For even better results, if you have a convection setting on your oven, use that and set the temp to 475 degrees F. Your biscuits will look like they came straight from the drive-thru.


    Restaurants like Olive Garden and Applebee’s were in trouble even before the pandemic

    (CNN) — If you grew up in the 1990s, you might remember a trip to Olive Garden or Applebee’s as the highlight of your week.

    Those days are gone. Over the years, casual dining chains — known for table service, atmospheric dining rooms and long menus — lost their luster. And now, many are fighting for survival.

    Sizzler USA and Ruby Tuesday are among the many restaurants that have filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic. The Cheesecake Factory told its landlords in March that it wouldn’t be able to pay April rent at its 300 locations. (The company declined to provide an update on whether it has resumed rent payments.)

    Even major players like Olive Garden, Chili’s and Applebee’s have reported plunging sales in their most recent quarterly results.

    Overall, sales at casual dining chains fell by nearly 21% in 2020, according Black Box Intelligence, a data company that collects information from its restaurant industry clients. The broader industry, which includes fine dining, fast food and other types of restaurants, suffered a more modest sales decline of about 17%.

    Capacity limits on indoor dining have been a massive blow. Most casual dining chains don’t have drive-thrus. Before the pandemic, they didn’t offer or prioritize delivery. So when officials ordered restaurants to close their doors, sales dropped.

    Analysts predict that eventually, people will want to dine out again and return to casual dining restaurants. But when they do, they may find a different landscape: fewer players overall, with the sector’s biggest chains getting stronger, and smaller chains and independent restaurants within the category losing out.

    The writing on the wall

    The casual dining industry has been on shaky ground since the 2008 financial crisis, when many customers found the option too expensive — an Olive Garden entree can run about $20. Instead, they started visiting fast casual brands like Chipotle and Panera, which were more affordable and perceived as serving higher-quality food than fast food restaurants.

    “The recession really became sort of the accelerator of the fast casual industry,” said Sam Oches, editor of QSR magazine. “That really took the wind out of the sales of casual.”

    A few years later, casual dining restaurants faced a new challenge: Third-party delivery services like DoorDash and Grubhub, which were starting to gain traction, encouraged more consumers to order in rather than go out to eat.

    Casual dining chains, which have long advertised their restaurants as a place to visit and stay a while, were especially slow to join such services, which charge a commission that eats into profits.

    Because of the lack of a meaningful delivery option and competition from fast casual brands, interest in casual dining started to fade.

    “That segment of the restaurant landscape has essentially been in decline for the past 13, 14 years,” said Peter Saleh, restaurant analyst at BTIG. “It’s lost traffic almost every single year over that time.”

    Meanwhile, costs have kept up.

    “Think about a Cheesecake Factory. You’re talking about a 10,000-square-foot box,” Oches said. “You’re talking about many dozens of employees per restaurant, your labor costs are crazy. You’re talking about several pages of a menu, so your food costs are crazy,” he said. “Profit margins for these restaurants are very slim.”

    He said that “the writing was already on the wall before Covid that this was not really going to be a model of the future.”

    The big get bigger, the small go out of business

    Following the pandemic, casual dining restaurants could look different. Powerful brands will be stronger than they were before, according to industry analysts. And many local restaurants or small chains, which lack the resources larger rivals have, will go out of business.

    Darden, which owns chains like Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, should be in a particularly good spot when the pandemic ends, said Nicole Miller Regan, senior research analyst at Piper Sandler.

    “They will dominate in terms of market share because they have the biggest footprint,” she said. With over 1,800 locations, “they’re everywhere that a store closes,” she said. “They’re well positioned, just from literally being there … to pick up that share.”

    The restaurant chains that survive may open smaller locations that cater to pickup and delivery orders, said Melissa Wilson, principal at the market research firm Technomic. P.F. Chang’s, for example, opened a to-go location in Chicago in February, and expanded the concept into New York last year.

    Meanwhile, one restaurant is trying out a new model: An Applebee’s in Texarkana, Texas, will be the first US Applebee’s to have a drive-thru pickup window when construction wraps up this year. Applebee’s will see how the drive-thru performs “to determine whether pick-up windows should be included in future building design packages,” Scott Gladstone, vice president of strategy, said in an email.

    And to boost sales and test out other ways to reach people at home, some restaurant operators are experimenting with new brands that are available online only.

    Last year, Brinker International, the owner of Chili’s and Italian chain Maggiano’s, launched a site called It’s Just Wings where customers can order from a limited menu and have their food delivered via DoorDash. The items are prepared at Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants.

    Dine Brands, which owns Applebee’s, has launched a similar concept called Neighborhood Wings by Applebee’s.

    Others that cut down long menus for efficiency during the pandemic are unlikely to go back. Darden cut back menu items during the pandemic, slimming down offerings by up to 40% per brand.

    During a December earnings call, Darden CEO Eugene Lee said that a smaller menu required discipline. “We haven’t demonstrated that as an industry over the last 15 years, and we need to demonstrate that moving forward,” he said.

    CNN’s Jordan Valinsky contributed to this report.

    Coronavirus links

    • Indiana State Department of Health coronavirus information(includes phone number to state hotline)
    • Sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations in Indiana
    • WISH-TV coronavirus coverage
    • WISH-TV’s “Gr8 Comeback”
    • Original Indiana Back on Track plan
    • Revised Stage 3 of Indiana Back on Track plan(May 12-June 13)
    • Revised Stage 4 of Indiana Back on Track plan(June 12-July 3)
    • Governor’s order, July 1: Stage 4.5 of Indiana Back on Track plan
    • Governor’s order, Sept. 24: Revised Stage 5 of Indiana Back on Track plan
    • Governor’s order, Jan. 28, 2021: 11th renewal of statewide emergency
    • Governor’s order, Feb. 25, 2021: 12th renewal of statewide emergency
    • Indianapolis government’s COVID-19 Community Resources page
    • Gleaners Food Bank distribution sites in Indianapolis area, south central Indiana
    • Second Harvest of East Central Indiana “tailgate” food distribution sites
    • Food Finders distribution sites in west and north central Indiana
    • Coronavirus COVID-19 global cases map from John Hopkins University
    • CDC’s coronavirus page
    • Marion County Public Health Department coronavirus information
    • U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program
    • Indiana PPE Directory(for businesses, nonprofits and schools only)

    Indiana coronavirus timeline

    With information from the Indiana Department of Health through March 4, 2021, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.


    Valentine's deals, freebies continue

    Many of the deals and special items below were only available Friday, Feb. 14, at participating locations unless otherwise noted. But some continue Saturday and others through Sunday or beyond. To be on the safe side, check with your closest location before heading out.

    Applebee’s: The February drink of the month is the $1 Vodka Strawberry Lemonade, which is pink.

    Aroma Joe's: Get $2 rushes on Valentine's Day and the brand also has a special Lemon, Pineapple and Grape Rush for the holiday.

    Baskin-Robbins: Get $3 on cake purchases $15 or more through Friday online and with the mobile app using promo code BEMINE.

    Bob Evans: Friday through Sunday, upgrade a full-priced entrée to a three-course meal for $3 extra. With the dine-in only deal, you'll select any dinner entrée then add a soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

    Burger King: This is not a nationwide promotion and is only taking place at four select locations posted at www.bk.com. But scorned lovers in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston can bring in a printed photo of their ex to the restaurant's "breakup boxes" for a free Whopper. The fast-food chain also has offers nationwide on its mobile app.

    Burger King will give you a free Whopper on Valentine's Day if you bring in a picture of your ex to destroy. USA TODAY

    California Pizza Kitchen: Through Sunday, get the "Sweet Deal for Two" $35 special. Plus, for dining in through Sunday get a card with a buy-one-get-one-free offer on a return visit and chance to enter the California Wine Country Sweepstakes for a two-night stay in Sonoma, California.

    Carrabba’s Italian Grill: Through Sunday, Carrabba's has a four-course Surf & Turf dinner for two for $60.

    Carvel: Through Friday, get $2 off a pack of Lil' Hearts or a Chocolate Decadence Heart Cake or $3 off a sheet cake with a coupon posted at www.carvel.com/coupon.

    Chili's: There's a $25 meal for two Friday and the February Margarita of the Month is the Hearts on Fire ‘Rita, which costs $5.

    Wanna set some Hearts on Fire? You need passion, spontaneity, @LunazulTequila, @MakersMark, and some @FireballWhisky. This margarita is unexpected — like love at first sight. #MargGallerypic.twitter.com/3hQn2vwYvC

    — Chili's Grill & Bar (@Chilis) February 5, 2020

    Chuck E. Cheese: Through Friday, purchase any large pizza and get a free upgrade to an xlarge pizza.

    Cicis: Get a free kids buffet with purchase of an adult buffet, large drink and coupon Friday. Find the coupon at www.cicis.com.

    D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches: Get two medium sandwiches for $14 Friday through Sunday with code 7897 in restaurants and online.

    Del Taco: Get a free Breakfast Toasted Wrap Friday with any purchase with an offer on The Del App or an email coupon for Raving Fan eClub members.

    Dickey's Barbecue Pit: Through March 22, get two Two Meat Plates for $24.

    Firehouse Subs: After 4 p.m. Friday, get a free medium sub with a coupon and purchase of additional medium or large sub, chips and a drink.

    Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar: Through Saturday, Fleming's has a three-course Valentine’s Day menu. If you're not looking for a deal, there also is an "all-inclusive Valentine’s Day experience" called "Wine, Dine, & Sparkle" with the "three-course dinner for two, premium champagne and a special gift from luxury jewelry brand David Yurman." Prices range from $500 to $1,000.

    Fogo de Chão: From Thursday through Sunday, every couple that dines in gets a free dining card valid while supplies last for one lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch.

    Freebirds World Burrito: Dine in Friday and get free queso on top of any burrito, bowl, taco or salad or on the side.

    Golden Corral: Restaurants will serve prime rib and butterfly shrimp Friday and Saturday as part of the "endless dinner buffet."

    Hardee's: Use passcode “Say Cheese” and get a free Big Fried Cheese Frisco Breakfast Sandwich with the purchase of the sandwich during breakfast hours or a free Big Fried Cheese half-pound Angus Thickburger with the purchase of the same burger during lunch and dinner hours.

    Don't miss out on BOGO Heart-Shaped Pretzels! Download our app to get the deal. https://t.co/RexyBzRriX#PretzelLovepic.twitter.com/DpjqLS0C6t

    — Auntie Anne's (@AuntieAnnes) February 14, 2020

    Hard Rock Cafe: Through Monday, Hard Rock has a Sips and Sweets menu and Love at First Bite menu.

    Houlihan's: Get a four-course dinner for two for $50 Friday through Sunday.

    Ike's Love & Sandwiches: From Friday through Sunday, get any sandwich for $6 when you present a photo posted to Ike's Instagram page.

    Jack in the Box: Through Sunday, the chain has a few deals. If you have the app, you can get a free Chocolate Overload Cake, Cheesecake or five-piece Mini Churros with purchase. And if you’re part of the text or email club get buy-one-get-one shakes. Offers cannot be used in same transaction.

    Johnny Rockets: Through Sunday, get two burgers, two shakes and a starter for $30.

    Kolache Factory: Buy a kolache, get one free Friday when you say "Happy Valentine's Day." No coupon needed.

    Logan’s Roadhouse: Through Sunday enter for a chance Rock ’N’ Romance $10,000 Getaway contest by texting “LOVE” to 564267 or entering online at www.logansroadhouse.com/romance.

    Maggiano's Little Italy: Through Sunday, the restaurant will have a special “That’s Amore!” menu with a three-course prix fixe menu. Pricing varies by location.

    McAlister’s Deli: Kids eat free Friday for dine-in or carry out orders. Get up to two free kids’ meals per adult entrée purchase.

    McDonald's: The fast-food chain said it's trying to start a new tradition: Palentine’s Day. Through Monday, get $5 off a $15 purchase with McDelivery with DoorDash and promo code LOVEMCD in the DoorDash app.

    Moe's Southwest Grill: Get a free side of queso with a burrito purchase Friday when ordered through the restaurant's app.

    Morton's The Steakhouse: Through Sunday, there's a steak and lobster deal for $59 and other special items.

    Nékter Juice Bar: Sign up for the loyalty app Friday and get a buy-one-get-one free coupon for the 16-ounce Pink Flamingo Smoothie.

    O'Charley's Restaurant + Bar: The $39 Valentine’s Dine & Wine meal for two is available through Sunday.

    Piada Italian Street Food: Get a buy-one-get-one free deal Friday.

    If you're thinking about getting a dog for Valentine's Day, Coors Light will pay $100 toward the adoption fee for the first 1,000 dogs adopted. USA TODAY

    Pie Five Pizza: On Friday get two personal pizzas for $10.99 with a coupon code that will be posted on the restaurant's Facebook page.

    Pieology: Through Saturday, get free delivery on orders placed online or through the app. Pie Life members also can get a free upgrade to the new "anti-crust" Protein Style Chicken Base for the week.

    Postmates: The on-demand delivery service is partnering with 7-Eleven and Ben & Jerry's and through Sunday is giving away free pints of ice cream. With any 7-Eleven order, select your favorite flavor at checkout and use code "happyvday."

    QDOBA Mexican Eats: Get a free entrée with purchase of an entrée Friday when you share a kiss with "anyone or anything" Friday with the chain's “QDOBA for a Kiss” deal.

    Romano’s Macaroni Grill: Through Sunday, the chain has a Valentine's dinner for two that includes an appetizer to share, two entrees and choice of shared dessert for $45.

    Ruth Chris Steak House: Through Sunday, choose from a multi-course Porterhouse Dinner for Two or a Surf & Turf special. And through Saturday, get a $25 dining card to redeem on a dinner between Feb. 17 and March 29.

    Seasons 52: Couples who get engaged at the restaurant Friday get a free toast every time they dine for a year.

    Slice: Through end of month, new customers to the mobile app get $5 off their first order with code PIELOVER at more than 12,000 pizza restaurants.

    Sonic Drive-In: Through Sunday, get half-price shakes with promo code VALENTINE when ordering in the Sonic app. Limit five and not valid with other offers.

    Starbucks and Uber Eats: Through Feb. 20, get 14% off Starbucks orders over $14 on the Uber Eats app with promo code VDAYCOFFEE.

    Stewart's Shops: Get 50 cent ice cream cones Friday, no app or coupon needed.

    Taco Cabana: Through Friday, get any shareable menu item and a pitcher of beer for $12.99.

    TCBY: Get a buy-one-get-one free deal Friday.

    The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: From 2 p.m. to store closing Friday through Sunday, get a buy-one-get-one free special on beverages regular-sized or larger.

    TooJay's Deli: Through Sunday, TooJay's has a special Dinner for Too menu where two can eat for $25.99 with a coupon.

    Torchy's Tacos: Whether you are single or don't want to share your queso with your partner, the chain will have a special $3.60 Queso for One option Friday. There also will be drink specials from 3 to 6 p.m.

    Starting February 10, Red Lobster will be offering a "You're My Lobster" box for their Cheddar Bay Biscuits. (Photo: Courtesy of Red Lobster)

    UNO Pizzeria & Grill: The chain will have a three-course “Sweetheart Deal” menu this weekend. Prices vary.

    Villa Italian Kitchen: With the chain's loyalty app Friday, get cheese slices for $2.14.

    Waffle House: The chain is taking reservations for Valentine's Day where they will serve a a special menu that includes a T-bone dinner, waffles and more. Find participating locations and how to make reservations at www.wafflehouse.com.

    White Castle: Buy one breakfast slider, get one free Friday. Then for dinner, the restaurant hosts its annual Valentine’s Day dinner with hostess seating and tableside service. Reserve a table and learn more at www.whitecastle.com.

    Yogurtland: Get a free limited-edition giant red spoon with any $10 minimum purchase after 5 p.m. Friday.

    More deals: Many smaller chains and individual restaurants also are expected to offer savings Friday.


    With over $45 billion in sales in the U.S. alone, pizza is an unarguable staple across the country. And getting it delivered hot and fresh from the oven right to our door is definitely a perk. But pizza delivery is among the most dangerous jobs in America.

    “Delivery service drivers are among a group of occupations with the highest fatality rate in the United States. Undoubtedly, pizza delivery is a difficult profession, but it’s not just drivers who are in danger during a crash. Everyone on the road is a potential victim.” — Crosley Law

    Pizza delivery drivers are more likely to be in an accident since they are more inclined to speed and run red lights. This risk is compounded if a teen driver is delivering pizzas.

    If you deliver pizza for a business like Domino’s, for example, rather than working for a more broad-ranging or on-demand food delivery service like Grubhub or Uber Eats, how does it work?

    Will the restaurant cover you in the event of an accident or collision?

    If the driver uses his own car, is the pizza delivery restaurant responsible for reimbursing him for the cost of getting in an accident?

    These questions are of interest to both pizza delivery drivers and the employers they work for.

    The fact is that most pizza restaurants do not cover their delivery drivers. The majority only require their drivers to have a license and minimum auto insurance coverage, if that.

    Here’s what a nationwide survey of pizza restaurant owners uncovered:

    Eighty-four percent of pizza places across the U.S. don’t require their drivers to have more than minimum coverage, and 13 percent of those shops don’t care if you have any coverage at all.

    This is a troubling reality when just one accident could put you (and your beloved car) out of business permanently.

    What’s more concerning is that many pizza shop owners seem to have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to pizza delivery drivers.

    What does this mean for pizza delivery drivers?

    It means that the responsibility of getting adequate coverage for the job falls solely on the drivers.


    On anniversary of George Floyd’s death, Minneapolis reflects on how it’s been forever changed

    George Floyd’s death transformed lives around the world, but nowhere as profoundly as in Minneapolis.

    Relatives of Black men who died at the hands of Twin Cities police took to the streets, confronting officers in riot gear and demanding accountability. Businesses struggled to stay afloat as others were boarded up or burned. More than a dozen police officers resigned almost immediately hundreds more suffered post-traumatic stress.

    A year later, Minneapolis has rebounded. Tensions eased after a jury last month convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of murder. Many businesses shed their plywood armor.

    But Floyd’s death set many Twin Cities residents on an emotional journey that didn’t end with the trial. Some broke down, considered suicide, left jobs, lost employees, started nonprofits, led protests, had babies, visited or refused to visit the site where Floyd died.

    In the run-up to the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death on Tuesday, they expressed fear and frustration, disillusioned by an America that had failed to live up to its promise. But they also found reasons to feel hopeful.

    Chris Steward fought hard to stay a Minneapolis police officer, only to quit after Floyd’s death.

    In 2019, Steward — who had joined the department in 2006 — faced pressure from superiors to resign after he lost his left eye due to an infection following a medical procedure. Steward, 37, who had grown up wanting to be a police officer, initially refused to leave. He had spent four years on a neighborhood-directed patrol unit, building bridges with minority communities in the city’s northeast, where many residents wanted more police officers on their streets, not fewer.

    So he filed a lawsuit against the department alleging discrimination based on his disability. He qualified for the SWAT team and, a month before Floyd’s death, won a promotion to sergeant. Steward felt vindicated. He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder from years of working violent crimes but thought he could cope.

    Minneapolis is beginning to grapple with its racial injustices past and present amid the George Floyd protests.

    Then Floyd died, protests erupted, and Steward’s PTSD worsened. At the department’s 2nd Precinct, he supervised officers who felt constantly threatened. He was devastated when city leaders let protesters overrun the 3rd Precinct to the south, near where Floyd died.

    “That was a message to the extreme left that if we push with enough violence, we can take over certain aspects of society,” Steward said during an interview this week at his attorney’s office in the suburb of Eden Prairie.

    Driving to work from the suburban home he shared with his wife and 3-year-old daughter, Steward had flashbacks of “the riots” and tensed, palms sweating. He suffered nightmares. One day, he thought, “I’d rather eat my own gun than go to work.” He started planning to commit suicide.

    “I had to choose: my profession or my family and my well-being,” he said.

    Being a police officer was his identity. But he wanted to live. So before the end of June, he quit. He felt like he was abandoning north-side residents.

    “Due to what’s happened during the past year, a lot of those bridges have been burned,” he said.

    On the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, people march in Minneapolis and other cities to remember him and continue calling for social justice.

    Steward stopped watching the news last fall because it was too stressful, including coverage of the Chauvin trial (he had faith that there would be a conviction). He avoided traveling into Minneapolis, because it triggered his PTSD.

    When the U.S. Capitol was attacked Jan. 6, he was frustrated to hear national leaders condemn the insurrection.

    “Where was that anger when the 3rd Precinct was given up?” he asked.

    Steward, a self-described conservative, saw the insurrectionists as emboldened by the Minneapolis protests, with an attitude of “If they can get away with it, so can we.”

    “They were all wrong,” he said.

    Do cities defund departments and invest elsewhere, or should the status quo remain? The outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial could be decisive.

    Steward noted that crime has spiked in Minneapolis, as it did in the 1990s, when the city was derided as “Murderopolis.” There’s more than one carjacking a day. Shootings have more than doubled from this time last year, as have homicides — 31 so far, including three children fatally shot in recent weeks.

    Minneapolis police started the year with 817 officers but are down by 200. Steward’s former colleagues tell him morale is “nonexistent,” and they face a “fear of doing something wrong, even with the best of intentions” and that city leaders won’t back them up. Seeking help for mental health issues is stigmatized, he said.

    This spring, Steward welcomed a son. He has settled his lawsuit against the city for an undisclosed amount and started a nonprofit, Heroes Helping Heroes, that’s offering first responders camping, golf and fishing trips this summer to relieve PTSD.

    “Maybe we can normalize it and make it easier for people to get help,” he said.

    “Justin Teigen was brutally beaten to death here in the state of Minnesota and thrown inside of a trash dumpster Aug. 19, 2009,” Toshira Garraway told a crowd of several hundred who gathered Sunday at a memorial outside the downtown courthouse where Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd.

    Teigen, 24, was the fiancé of Garraway, who’s the mother of their now 15-year-old son. For years, Garraway has been demanding an independent investigation into how Teigen died after being chased by St. Paul police.

    “These are racially motivated murders. It doesn’t matter if you have on a police uniform, regular clothes or a Klu Klux Klan outfit,” Garraway shouted, her blond curls shaking as she pointed at the mayor, governor and Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, seated at the front of the crowd. “If you’re not for the people, you’re against the people.”

    Garraway, 35, has become a powerful voice since Floyd’s death. She has the ear of state Atty. Gen. Keith Ellison and other Democratic state lawmakers. After Teigen’s death, she started a nonprofit to aid fellow relatives of those killed by police, Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence. Now she’s a mainstay at Twin Cities protests. When 20-year-old Daunte Wright was fatally shot by a police officer last month in a suburb, Garraway left a protest she was leading and was soon at Wright’s mother’s side.

    At Sunday’s rally, Catie Wright greeted Garraway from where she sat in the back row, between Jamar Clark’s sister and Emmett Till’s cousin.

    It’s a club no one wants to join. These Black families have lost loved ones to police brutality. The Chauvin trial could bring justice.

    Garraway’s phone has been blowing up ahead of the memorials this week as relatives dealt with loss, activists pushed for police reforms and state legislators stalled. During a Zoom call last week, state Democrat legislative leaders questioned why Garraway had protested outside the suburban home of a Republican leader, a former corrections officer who has blocked votes on reforms in the Republican-controlled state Senate, including removing statutes of limitations on investigations into cases like Teigen’s. Garraway was unapologetic.

    “I did protest his house, because he’s sitting out there in Maple Grove twiddling his thumbs with his white privilege,” she said. “I’m not going to sit here and appease a privileged white man.”

    During the call, Garraway warned Democrats, who hold the statehouse and governor’s mansion, that if they don’t leverage their power to enact at least moderate police reforms, they put the community and police at risk.

    “This is exactly what happened when George Floyd was killed,” she said. “We have a space for another George Floyd to happen. By passing these laws, we remove that space.”

    Before the call ended, Garraway had texted fellow activists about plans to protest outside the conservative lawmaker’s church, too.

    She has felt frustrated but hopeful during the past year as public attention has focused on police brutality.

    “People that have not been affected, their eyes are opened now, they see it,” she said after the Zoom call over lunch at Olive Garden, where she often meets a mom from her group. “The community, to a degree, has come closer together to fight against this.”

    But it has also been exhausting to have to retell her story. Sometimes she gets off the phone with mothers in her group and doesn’t even realize she’s crying.

    “People look at me like an organizer. They forget I’m a human being who lost somebody,” she said. “I’m just so tired of explaining myself.”

    Tomme Beevas has a secret even his friends don’t know: He’s never been to George Floyd Square.

    “My spirit, my body, all of it is shaking thinking about going over there,” said Beevas, 41, laughing nervously and rattling his shoulder-length dreadlocks as he sat at a picnic table outside his Jamaican restaurant last week. He pictured himself at the site where Floyd was killed and thought he might collapse, overcome by grief. But he was determined to make the pilgrimage for the memorial “to honor the place that man was lynched.” When he arrived Tuesday, people were kneeling for nine minutes, the time Chauvin held Floyd down. Beevas joined them. “It was like a warm hug from a grandma,” he said, as he delivered food and tents to volunteers. “It shows what community is supposed to be about.”

    He pictures himself at the site where Floyd was killed and thinks he might collapse, overcome by grief. But he’s determined to make a pilgrimage Tuesday, “to honor the place that man was lynched.”

    Pimento Jamaican Kitchen & Rum Bar is about a mile and a half north of the square, but Beevas never boarded up during last year’s protests, even as surrounding storefronts did, because “boarding up would send the message that we were afraid.”

    “The community was there to protect and support us,” he said.

    After Beevas received online threats from white supremacists, he said, hundreds of volunteers patrolled his block the restaurant was never vandalized. In the days after Floyd’s death, Beevas converted the site into a “supply depot” that gave away about $1 million in donations, including kits for volunteer medics.

    “We switched from selling jerk chicken and Red Stripe [beer] to giving away baby formula and diapers,” he said.

    Beevas had moved to Minneapolis in 2006 from Washington, D.C. He opened his restaurant in 2013 after winning the Food Network show “Food Court Wars,” adding locations in St. Paul and U.S. Bank Stadium and a food truck. He went from a staff of 50 before the protests down to seven and has rebounded to about 20.

    After Floyd’s death, he held a summit with the mayor and other community leaders in the restaurant’s backyard and started Pimento Relief Services, a nonprofit corporation focused on economic, social and political “liberation.” That includes addressing food deserts in neighborhoods like his, lending to Black would-be business owners and fundraising for grass-roots political leaders. After Wright was killed, they fed thousands of local families and sponsored a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

    “This community can get it right. We have the resources and the brain power to make this a model for the whole country,” Beevas said, pausing to greet neighbors and employees.

    As hopeful as he is about Minneapolis’ future, Beevas still fears for his safety. He has a 4-year-old daughter and is expecting a son in July.

    “As a Black man getting ready to raise a Black boy in America, that terrifies me,” he said. “I live in a progressive neighborhood, have my master’s, yet I’m afraid to take out my trash at night. That’s the reality of America today. My life is at risk, and there’s nothing I can do to protect myself, and there’s nothing I can do to convince my wife that I can protect my child.”

    Last weekend, before conservatives held a rally for first responders at the Minnesota Capitol, opponents circulated posts online claiming it was a rally to “stand up for white people whose rights are being stolen.”

    The Twin Cities area has “become very divided” over police reform, said Marina Weddington, a volunteer police chaplain who spoke at the rally. “There’s a group that says we need all these things and a group that says, ‘Why?’”

    In her suburb, Weddington senses an “uneasiness,” especially among seniors.

    “There’s concern about, ‘Are you antifa? Are you Black Lives Matter? Why do you have to impose your beliefs on us?’” she said.

    Weddington, 67, retired after working for 45 years as a service manager for a phone company. A nondenominational Christian, she considers herself a right-wing Republican. The daughter of a single mother, she grew up in public housing and on welfare. She volunteered with the police as a way to repay the government.

    Her ex-husband and 37-year-old son are Black, and she recalled the racism they encountered when traveling on vacations in the South in the 1970s.

    “I lived through civil rights — what a difference!” she said. “Up until a year or so ago, things were great. Now there’s this dividing by race again.”

    Weddington said she’s upset to see movements to defund police and to rename schools like Bloomington’s Jefferson High. She’s encouraged when she sees people drop off cards, food and children’s drawings at the police station, “being more intentional about support for police.”

    She called Floyd’s death “horrendous” but wasn’t sure Chauvin received a fair trial, citing a protest at which U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters said, “We’ve got to get more confrontational.” Weddington wondered if jurors voted to convict out of fear that if they didn’t, they would be targeted by protesters.

    As the anniversary of Floyd’s death approached, she worried that protests might turn violent.

    “It concerns me for our officers. Are there going to be more attacks on officers, on buildings?” she asked.

    Much of her volunteer work involves responding to crime scenes and consoling those who have lost loved ones. She has worked with Protestant pastors but also with Catholic priests, a rabbi and an imam. And she has watched police de-escalate situations that could have turned violent.

    “People just need to start listening, hearing, be calm and not be triggered by an opposing view,” Weddington said, although she understands how hard that is in a region that’s still so wounded.

    “They watched their businesses burn, they watched their homes damaged, they watched the video of George Floyd, the police department burned,” she said. “I can’t imagine there was anyone who wasn’t traumatized.”

    After George Floyd died, Kelly Sherman-Conroy discovered that she had a new mission: training local pastors, many of them white, to become chaplains ministering to those traumatized, “to be culturally aware, to deescalate and to check their privilege.”

    Sherman-Conroy, 42, is minister of social justice and advocacy at a Twin Cities Lutheran church, a single mother pursuing her doctorate at a local seminary. She’s also Native American, Oglala Lakota, from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, where she remembers as a child meeting visiting Christian missionaries.

    “You can’t just send people in,” to communities traumatized by violence, she said, because, “their presence could cause more trauma.”

    Days after Floyd’s death, she trained the first 30 chaplains. Then she started holding daily trainings. Over the course of the year, she has trained 250 chaplains, most from the Twin Cities.

    “This was never meant to last a year, but clearly there’s a need for people who are leaders in communities of faith to do better,” Sherman-Conroy said over lunch last week at Midtown Global Market on Lake Street, where some nearby businesses damaged during last year’s protests were still boarded up.

    In trainings, Sherman-Conroy called chaplains out about white fragility, defensiveness and resistance to recognizing implicit biases. Some bailed after volunteering last summer, saying they had done enough, she said, but “I do see a difference in the chaplains who have withstood this time.”

    She’s seen some become aware of microaggressions and other behaviors they never noticed before. One woman who used to message her privately in solidarity after meetings now speaks up on her behalf.

    “This is the moment we’re at in our communities with white people,” Sherman-Conroy said. “What do you do now? Because you’re starting to be faced with your own biases, your own privilege, and it’s uncomfortable.”

    On Sunday, Sherman-Conroy helped lead an interfaith memorial service for Floyd at a local Lutheran church. On Tuesday, she planned to host “healing circles” at George Floyd Square. As she prepared, she thought about the Lakota term Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ — “all are related” — and how interconnected her community remains.


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