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In Denver, Frank's is Out, Barbecue is In

In Denver, Frank's is Out, Barbecue is In


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Out goes the unique Denver restaurant, in its place comes barbecue

It’s never a happy occasion to report on restaurant openings in Denver. But they say that when God closes a door, he opens a window, and in this case that’s true if both the door and the window are restaurants. According to Denver Westword, as of yesterday the unique local restaurant known as Frank’s Kitchen is permanently out of business. It was a sudden closing, as the not-yet-three-year-old establishment, run by husband and wife Frank and Dina Berta, had become rather popular around the Whittier neighborhood. Recently, there were even plans for a bunch of new events at Frank’s after a well-attended car show.

But the tough news was posted by Dina Berta on the restaurant’s blog, Frank’s Kitchen Diary. Going through the process for obtaining a beer and wine license, they came to the realization that “frankly, we’re tired and did not want to keep going…this was no longer what we wanted to do with our lives.” So they listed the restaurant on Craigslist, and now it’s been sold.

Virginia restaurateur “Jammin’” Joe Van Dyke now plans to open a barbecue joint in its place, to open later this summer. The loss of an eatery like Frank’s with such a comfortable atmosphere and wide range of offerings, from banh mi to teriyaki turkey burgers, is unfortunate. But we remain hopeful that Van Dyke’s new place will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the late Kitchen, and thrive from there to serve Whittier well.


The Ten Best Barbecue Joints in Metro Denver &mdash and What You Should Order

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Looking for more current barbecue recommendations? Here's our list of the ten best barbecue joints in Denver as of March 7, 2019 &mdash or keep reading for our 2016 picks.

Today is National Barbecue Day, and if you&rsquore like us, the mere mention of the word "barbecue" triggers drooling. Fortunately, Denver&rsquos barbecue scene has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, so there&rsquos a little something for everyone when you're hunting for smokehouse favorites. But there have been some shakeups in recent months, and we've had to say goodbye to some of our personal best: For starters, Owlbear Barbecue closed its original location at Finn&rsquos Manor earlier this spring, but will almost certainly return to our list once it reopens at 2826 Larimer Street later this year. And Globe Hall changed ownership in February, losing its original pit master and driving force. With those changes in mind, here are the ten best barbecue spots in metro Denver (in alphabetical order), and what you should order when you get there.

Boney's Smokehouse BBQ
1543 Champa Street
303-825-9900

Boney's is one of the few joints that can do the culinary bus tour of the country's top barbecue regions without falling flat on any one item. Juicy pulled pork splashed with vinegar-based sauce brings North Carolina to mind, while ribs backed by something a little sweeter and more tomatoey veers in the direction of Memphis. The mix-and-match approach might frustrate purists, but the key is to sample the sauces first and then decide what suits your fancy. Whatever you order, though, the flavors of the meats definitely stand on their own, so going naked is always an option.

What you should order: The Pig-a-Dilly sandwich, with pulled pork, fried pickles and coleslaw. Ask for it "Whole Hog" style, which piles on slices of spicy hot link for an extra buck.


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Now, he’s taking that pit-master-as-teacher mentality one step further with his first book, which comes out May 11. Weeknight Smoking on Your Traeger and Other Pellet Grills explores grilling and smoking as everyday cooking methods, rather than hobbies relegated to the weekend. Alongside classics like ribs and brisket, the book includes recipes for sandwiches, lamb chops, burgers, tacos, seafood, side dishes, desserts, and more.

“People buy a Traeger or a smoker and really, at first, it’s for one or two dishes,” says McKenzie, who teaches K-5 STEM classes at Antelope Ridge Elementary, part of the Cherry Creek School District. “They think, ‘I’m going to buy it for ribs, brisket, those longer cooks.’ And this is really to show people that you can cook every day on it. You can cook any type of food on it. You have this tool that you can cook so much food with and really impress your family and friends.”

McKenzie, a seventh-generation Coloradan, got his first wood pellet grill after he and his wife, Isabel, moved into their Centennial house five years ago. They started with some of the barbecue basics—dishes like ribs and brisket—before experimenting with other types of foods, including steaks and pasta. Initially, the Instagram account was a little joke between husband and wife. “My wife was tired of me showing pictures that I took of all the food,” McKenzie says.

Weeknight Smoking On Your Traeger And Other Pellet Grills. Photo courtesy of Adam McKenzie

But eventually, the account took on a life of its own—as it turns out, people were hungry (pun intended) for barbecue content. In May 2017, McKenzie posted a steak-slicing video that went viral and quickly racked up more than 25,000 views. His follower count grew from less than 1,000 to more than 10,000 by August 2017 and has been growing steadily ever since. Today, McKenzie has more than 212,000 Instagram followers.

McKenzie still tries to post a steak-slicing video every Saturday but, food porn aside, much of his content centers around making barbecue more approachable. “I’m not a trained chef. I’m a normal person,” he says. “You can really just cook great food at home. When I was growing up, we didn’t eat at home a lot—we went out to eat a lot. And I didn’t even make a lot of food at home until about 10 years ago or so, so it’s fun to be able to show people all this great food that you can cook with a grill at home.”

McKenzie’s followers have long been asking him to write a cookbook, but he usually just shrugged off their requests. Then, out of the blue, Massachusetts-based Page Street Publishing Co. reached out to see if McKenzie wanted to collaborate on a cookbook. Despite his busy schedule, McKenzie decided to go for it, writing and testing more than 60 recipes for the book. In October, Page Street sent a photographer to McKenzie’s house for an intensive weeklong photoshoot that involved cooking and staging every recipe. His friends and family members came over to help out and make some of the dishes. “We cooked from about 8 in the morning to about 8 at night, which was really fun and really crazy at the same time,” he says. “Definitely cooking for the holidays is easy after that adventure.”

Along with sending the cookbook out into the world, McKenzie and his wife are excited to welcome twins soon, which means there might be more kid-friendly recipes popping up on his Instagram feed, too.

Inspired to try smoking and grilling yourself? Aside from a pellet grill or smoker, McKenzie recommends investing in a good meat thermometer—and staying patient during your cooks. “People really want to know a specific time with cooking, but when it comes to meat, you really want to go off the temperature,” he says. “Every piece of meat is different. Just because one brisket takes eight hours doesn’t mean the next brisket is going to take eight hours. We joke that the food’s done when the food’s done.”

Pre-order McKenzie’s book from online booksellers or pick it up at select local retail stores specializing in home barbecue equipment after May 11. If you can’t wait, check out the recipe he shared with 5280 below for a sneak peak:

Smoked Pork Ribs

People often cook spareribs and baby backs on the Traeger with the 3-2-1 method—smoke for three hours, wrap for two hours and sauce and smoke for one hour—for a total of about six hours of cook time. McKenzie prefers this quicker version, which produces equally amazing results in a little less time. There are lots of ways to cook ribs, but this technique has been the clear winner at his dinner table. Other than trimming and squaring the spareribs, the procedure for cooking both types of ribs is the same (about 4.5 hours), but baby backs will cook about 30 minutes faster.

Ingredients:
2 racks of ribs (baby backs weigh about 2 lbs. per rack, while spareribs weigh closer to 4 lbs. per rack)
1⁄2 cup hot sauce
1 cup pork rub, such as Double Smoke by Spiceology
1⁄2 cup apple juice
1⁄2 cup agave syrup
1⁄2 cup raw sugar
8 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 cup barbecue sauce, such as Head Country’s Original
Equipment:
Cherry wood pellets
Boning knife (for spareribs)
Pastry brush
Spray bottle
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Digital probe thermometer

  1. If you’re cooking spareribs, use a sharp boning knife to trim each rack of spareribs to a more uniform shape. Trim the end bones off to leave 10 bones remaining and square the meat on the long sides to be straighter and more even.
  2. Preheat your Traeger grill to 225 degrees and turn on the Super Smoke feature if your grill has it.
  3. For both types of ribs, pull the silver skin membrane off the back of each rack. Use a small piece of paper towel to help you grip the skin on one edge and pull it off toward you. Then generously coat the ribs on both sides with hot sauce. Sprinkle the ribs liberally with the rub all over and allow them to sweat on the counter for about 15 minutes as your grill heats up.
  4. Place the seasoned ribs on the grill, meat side up, and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. This should take about 2.5 hours. During the cook, pour the apple juice into a spray bottle. When checking the internal temperature, check how the ribs look too. If they appear dry during this part of the cook, use the spray bottle to spritz them with some apple juice.
  5. Prepare a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil to wrap each rack of the ribs in. On each double layer of foil, drizzle one quarter of the agave, sprinkle with one quarter of the sugar, and arrange one quarter of the butter pats. Once the ribs reach the first benchmark temperature, remove them from the grill and place them on the prepared foil, meat side down on the agave, sugar, and butter. Top each rack of ribs with another quarter of the agave, sugar, and butter pats, then wrap tightly in the foil. Keep the ribs meat side down in the foil wrap and then return the ribs to the grill to continue cooking. Increase the grill temperature to 275 degrees and cook for about 1.5 hours until the ribs reach an internal temperature of 204 degrees.
  6. Remove the ribs from the grill and allow them to rest for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the ribs from the foil, and slice them into individual ribs. Serve with the barbecue sauce on the side.

Fast Hack: You can sauce your ribs before serving (rather than serving the sauce on the side) by glazing them when the internal temperature reaches about 195 degrees. If opting for sauced ribs, open the foil, carefully turn the ribs meat side up (leaving them nestled in the foil) and glaze with a 50/50 combination of your favorite barbecue sauce and a grilling glaze such as Grill Candy by BurntOut BBQ. Return the foil packages to the grill, with the aluminum foil open, for about 15 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 204 degrees. The resulting shiny coating on the ribs adds another dimension of flavor.


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— Spicy Thai Steaks a la Plancha. Here, you get a twofer – main and salad – that are marinated and dressed with the ingredients we know and love in Thai cuisine: ginger, fresh mint, lime juice, toasted sesame oil and more. Choose strip steaks that are not so thick (3/4 inch at most), and they’ll cook in under 10 minutes. (P.S.: It’s not all that spicy, so feel free to ramp up the ingredients to suit your tastes.)

— Grilled Tofu With Ginger-Cilantro Sauce. We can see serving this lots of ways – appetizer, side, main course with a salad. The sauce has a little kick, thanks to jalapeño and a touch of fresh ginger. Make sure you start with an extra-firm tofu, and allow time to press out extra moisture.

— Coca-Cola Smoked Beef Tenderloin. If you are up to the tasks of monitoring time and temperature (because overcooking an expensive piece of meat would be a cryin’ shame), this is a splurge worthy of sharing with your dearest carnivores. The marinade lends the subtlest sweetness and a rich mahogany color to the exterior. You should have enough left over for next-day sandwiches, which would be the envy of your lunchmates.

— Squash and Rice Pudding. You’ll pop this in the oven, not on the grill. Bring this rich and savory baked side dish (or meatless main) to a gathering where lean meats and vegetables are being grilled, and we guarantee it will disappear. We liked it served warm or cold.

Grilled Pork Tenderloins with Tomato and Greens Ragu

The sweetness of this quick-simmered sauce pairs beautifully with the salty heartiness of the pork.

You’ll need an instant-read thermometer for monitoring the meat. The recipe calls for canned tomatoes but in peak season, we recommend using fresh.

Serve this on a big platter, family-style.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley (may substitute dried marjoram)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic (a.k.a. garlic powder)
  • 2 whole pork tenderloins (about 1 pound each), trimmed of silverskin and excess fat
  • Vegetable oil, as needed
  • Fresh tarragon leaves, for serving (optional)
  • Flaky sea salt (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 5 packed cups fresh greens, such as spinach, escarole or turnip
  • Two 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes, preferably no-salt-added (may substitute 4 to 6 medium-size ripe tomatoes, diced)

For the pork: Stir together the garlic salt, black pepper, dried parsley, dried oregano and garlic powder in a small bowl, then use it to rub all over the tenderloins. Let them sit at room temperature while you preheat the grill.

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat. Preheat to high (450 to 500 degrees). Rub the seasoned tenderloins lightly with oil, then place them on direct-heat side of the grill. Close the lid and cook for about 6 minutes per side, trying to turn them only once.

Move them to the indirect-heat side of the grill. At this point, use the thermometer to begin checking their internal temperature, which should register in the 140- to 145-degree range (lightly pink at the center). This round of cooking should take about 8 minutes. Transfer them to a plate cover loosely with aluminum foil and let them rest for 10 minutes, while you make the ragu.

For the ragu: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until softened, then add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for about a minute, then stir in the greens (you may need to do this in two batches) cook for a few minutes until they begin to wilt.

Reduce the heat to medium-low add the diced tomatoes, stirring to incorporate. Cook for 10 minutes, then taste and add more black pepper, as needed.

While the ragu finishes cooking, cut the tenderloins into 1/4-inch thick slices, arranging them on a platter as you work. Spoon some of the warm ragu over them, sprinkle lightly with fresh tarragon and flaky sea salt, if desired, and pass the remaining ragu at the table.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 6, using no-salt-added tomatoes): 260 calories, 33 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 600 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

(Adapted from “Southern Smoke: Barbecue Traditions and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today,” by Matthew Register. Harvard Common Press, 2019.)

Hot Pulled Oyster Mushrooms

Here, seasoned mushrooms are smoked, tossed in a vinegary hot sauce and then smoked briefly for a second time.

Using two forks is the easiest way to shred/pull the mushrooms. If you don’t have a perforated pan, you can make one by poking holes in the bottom of a disposable aluminum roasting pan, or use a wire-mesh basket.

Apple or pecan wood chips are good to use here soak them for 30 minutes before you use them.

We’re showing them on buns with shredded lettuce and pickled onions use the condiments and toppings you like best.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds oyster mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered mustard
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Toasted buns, for serving

Separate the layers of the oyster mushrooms by pulling each one from the main body or stem. Further break down the larger layers by shredding them into strips. Place in a bowl, then add the salt, brown sugar, the paprika, if using, the powdered mustard and black pepper, tossing to coat the mushrooms evenly. Let them sit while you prepare your grill or smoker the mushrooms will express moisture and get a bit sticky at this point, and that’s okay.

Prepare your smoker or grill for indirect heat. Preheat to 225 degrees. (About 10 minutes before you begin to cook on your grill, drain the chips and place them on the coals.)

Place the seasoned mushrooms in your large perforated pan or basket. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the grill or smoker, with a drip pan underneath. Close the lid and smoke for about 1 hour. The mushrooms should be a little softer and starting to break down after 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, water, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, just until the sugar has dissolved, then turn off the heat.

Add the smoked mushrooms to the pan and toss to coat thoroughly. This will purge them of most of their gritty spice rub. Use a slotted spoon to lift them out, discard that liquid, then return the coated mushrooms to their same steamer pan. Re-cover and smoke for another 15 minutes.

Serve warm, on the toasted buns.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.

(Adapted from “Smoked: One Man’s Journey to Find Incredible Recipes, Standout Pitmasters and the Stories Behind Them,” by Ed Randolph. YC Media, 2019.)

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Pickled White Barbecue Sauce

One of the best things about this recipe, from the editor of UK BBQ Mag, is that it does not serve a crowd. But it’s easily scalable, if that’s what you need to do. There’s no marinating, and the dish comes together fairly quickly.

He prefers using boneless chicken thighs because their skin cooks up crisper, and because they lie flatter and cook more evenly than bone-in.

You’ll need a thermometer for monitoring the chicken.

Serve with pickles on the side.

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
  • Vegetable oil or cooking oil spray
  • 2 teaspoons dry rub seasoning blend for grilled meats or poultry seasoning blend (your choice)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good-quality mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 pickled gherkins, finely chopped, plus 1 tablespoon of their jarred liquid
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 medium clove garlic, mashed to a paste
  • 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish (white)
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely ground or cracked black pepper
  • Generous pinch fine sea salt

For the chicken: Prepare the grill for direct heat. Preheat to medium-high (375 degrees).

Lightly coat the chicken thighs with oil, then rub the seasoning blend all over them (meat and skin). Place on the grill, skin sides down close the lid and cook for about 10 minutes, so the fat renders a bit and the skin becomes crisp. Turn them over close the lid and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until their internal temperature registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

While the chicken is cooking, make the sauce: Stir together the mayonnaise, vinegar, chopped gherkins and their juice, mustard, sugar, garlic, horseradish, pepper and the pinch of salt in a medium bowl, until well incorporated.

Serve the chicken thighs with a drizzle of the pickled white barbecue sauce, and more for passing at the table.

Nutrition (using half the sauce): Calories: 570 Total Fat: 51 g Saturated Fat: 11 g Cholesterol: 145 mg Sodium: 420 mg Carbohydrates: 4 g Sugars: 2 g Protein: 25 g.

(Adapted from “Food and Fire: Create Bold Dishes With 65 Recipes to Cook Outdoors,” by Marcus Bawdon. Cico Books, 2019.)

Potato and Prosciutto Packets

Here, Yukon Gold potatoes are paired with salty prosciutto and creamy goat cheese in a classic and easy example of foil-packet cooking.

MAKE AHEAD: The packets can be assembled and refrigerated several hours in advance.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces)
  • 4 ounces plain goat cheese

Prepare a grill for direct heat: Preheat to medium-high (375 degrees). Cut 4 sheets of aluminum foil that are at least 14 inches long.

Meanwhile, toss the potatoes with the oil, rosemary and a few pinches of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl until evenly coated.

Spray the dull side of each sheet of foil with cooking oil spray. Place equal amounts of the seasoned potatoes on each sheet, creating a mound at the center. Lay a slice of prosciutto over each mound. Top each with a few dollops of goat cheese, then seal each packet by bringing together the long sides and folding their edges over together, twice. Fold in each short end, twice, leaving enough room inside for some air to circulate.

Place the packets on the grill grate close the lid and cook for about 35 minutes, using tongs to rotate them every 10 minutes. Transfer the packets to a rimmed baking sheet the potatoes are done when you can pierce them easily with a fork.

Nutrition | Per serving: 330 calories, 14 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

(Adapted from “The Backyard Fire Cookbook,” by Linda Ly. Harvard Common Press, 2019.)

Spicy Thai Strip Steaks a la Plancha

The flavor of this steak — a.k.a. top sirloin, New York strip, Kansas City strip — comes alive with the use of a hot metal griddle, called a plancha. The recipe includes a salad with complementary flavors in its dressing.

We found these not overly spicy, so feel free to ramp up amount of the crushed red pepper flakes.

MAKE AHEAD: The steaks need to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature.

Ingredients

For the steaks and marinade

  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or mirin
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (may substitute vegetable oil)
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • One 1 1/2 peeled fresh ginger root, grated (1 tablespoon)
  • 4 strip steaks (about 10 ounces each and 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick), fat trimmed to 1/4-inch or less
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 limes)
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or as needed
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 12 to 15 ounces (6 cups) mesclun/mixed salad greens
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced English (seedless) cucumber
  • 1/3 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/3 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

For the steaks and marinade: Whisk together the soy sauce, the Shaoxing wine or mirin, the grapeseed oil, garlic and ginger in a 13-by-9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish until well incorporated. Add the steaks in a single layer, turning to coat them all over. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, turning the steaks another time or two.

For the dressing: Combine the fish sauce, the 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil, brown sugar, lime juice, shallot, cilantro, mint and crushed red pepper flakes in a liquid measuring cup, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Taste, and add more crushed red pepper flakes, as needed. Let this sit while you grill the meat.

Prepare the grill for direct heat: Preheat to high (450 to 550 degrees). Place your large cast-iron griddle on the grill, close the lid and allow 10 to 15 minutes for the griddle to get very, very hot.

Open the lid and place the steaks on the griddle, spacing them at least an inch apart. Discard the remaining marinade. Close the lid and grill for 5 to 7 minutes (medium-rare 125 to 130 degrees), turning them halfway through. Transfer the steak to a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes.

When you’re ready to serve, thinly slice the meat against (across) the grain, on a slight diagonal. Arrange the slices on a platter. Re-stir the dressing, then spoon all but a tablespoon of it over the meat.

Add the tablespoon of toasted sesame oil to what’s left of the dressing, whisking to blend them.

Toss together the salad greens, cucumber slices, carrot and bean sprouts in a serving bowl. Pour the sesame oil-dressing over the top and toss to coat.

Serve the salad alongside the steak, with lime wedges.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.

(Adapted from “Weber’s Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius,” by Jamie Purviance. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.)

Grilled Tofu with Ginger-Cilantro Sauce

Tofu soaks in this bright and zesty sauce, and picks up those impressive grill marks in minutes.

Serve with rice or rice noodles and a salad.

Ingredients

  • 2 packed cups cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • One 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, finely grated (1 teaspoon)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 scallions (green parts only), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 14 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into 12 equal pieces

Prepare the grill for direct heat: Preheat to medium (325 to 350 degrees).

Meanwhile, combine the cilantro, 1/4 cup of the oil, jalapeño, ginger, lime juice and scallion greens in a blender puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of blender jar as needed. Taste, and season lightly with salt and pepper, or as needed.

Use the remaining tablespoon of oil to brush the tofu pieces, then season each piece lightly with salt and pepper. Place them on the grill close the lid and cook for a total of 4 to 6 minutes, using tongs to turn them over halfway through. The tofu should have nice grill marks.

Transfer to a serving plate brush generously with the ginger-cilantro sauce or spoon half of it on top. Pass the remaining sauce at the table.

NOTE: To press excess moisture from the tofu, wrap the block in paper towel or a clean dish towel. Place a plate on top, then a weight, such as a 28-ounce can of tomatoes. Let it sit for about 1 hour, and up to 4 hours. (This method is not recommended for soft tofu.)

Nutrition | Per serving: 290 calories, 13 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 60 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

(Adapted from “Martha Stewart’s Grilling: 125+ Recipes for Gatherings Large and Small.” Clarkson Potter, 2019.)

Coca-Cola Smoked Beef Tenderloin

This is a showstopper, as delicate as it is flavorful. So be careful not to overcook it.

You’ll need thermometer for monitoring the meat.

Soak your oak wood chips for 30 minutes before you use them.

MAKE AHEAD: The meat needs to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight.

Ingredients

  • One 2 3/4- to 3-pound beef tenderloin roast
  • 2 cups beef broth, preferably low-sodium
  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 12 ounces plain Coca-Cola (do not use Diet Coke or Coke Zero)

Use paper towels to pat the meat dry all over. Stir together the broth, vinegar, brown sugar and Coke in an aluminum/smoker-friendly pan that is deep enough for the meat to be submerged (or you can use a gallon-size resealable zip-top bag). Add the tenderloin and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight. (If your pan does not allow for total submersion, turn the roast every hour.)

When you are ready to cook, prepare your smoker or grill (for indirect heat). Preheat to 275 degrees. (About 10 minutes before you begin to cook on your grill, drain the chips and place them on the coals.)

Discard the marinade, clean the pan and return the meat to it. Place in your grill or smoker and close the lid. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat registers 155 degrees (medium-rare) on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer the tenderloin to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch slices for serving.

Nutrition | Per serving (with low sodium beef broth): 460 calories, 46 g protein, 40 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 125 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 39 g sugar

(Adapted from “BBQ&A With Myron Mixon: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Barbecue,” with Kelly Alexander. Abrams, 2019.)

Squash and Rice Pudding

This savory rendition of a rice pudding was inspired by a recipe from the early 1900s. The combination of summer squash, fresh basil and oregano, sour cream and heavy cream makes it a rich-tasting, worthy and unusual side for grilled meats and vegetables.

We liked it served cold, too.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds yellow squash, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 5 1/2 cups water, or more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 cups white long-grain rice (uncooked)
  • 2 cups regular or low-fat sour cream (do not use nonfat)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, plus more for optional garnish
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano, plus more for optional garnish
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, or more as needed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the squash and cook for 15 minutes, or until tender enough to qualify as slightly mushy. Let it cool in the pan do not drain off its released liquid/juices.

Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt and the rice. Once the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 18 minutes, or until the rice is tender. (If it isn’t quite done and pot seems dry, add more water and keep cooking the rice, as needed.)

Transfer the just-cooked rice to a 2-quart casserole dish. Stir in the cooked squash and its juices, then add the sour cream, heavy cream, basil, oregano, the remaining teaspoon of salt and the pepper, folding gently until well incorporated. Cover tightly with aluminum foil bake (middle rack) for 20 minutes, then uncover and continue to bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or just until some browned spots appear.

Nutrition | Per serving: 590 calories, 9 g protein, 68 g carbohydrates, 31 g fat, 21 g saturated fat, 120 mg cholesterol, 320 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar

(Adapted from “Southern Smoke: Barbecue Traditions and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today,” by Matthew Register. Harvard Common Press, 2019.)


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But the main idea behind the indirect method is to cook the food much more slowly than usual on the “cooler” side of the grill. As the adage has it in the circles of Q-dom, “Low and slow is the way to go.”

The indirect method is indispensable for meats such as pork shoulder or beef brisket that require long, slow cooking (which is why they are both, to a lamentable degree, so often so poorly prepared when cooks use the conventional, direct-heat method).

But it also is terrific for foods that we normally cook in the direct method, such as steaks or chops. Placing them on the slow side allows the necessary cooking to be done, of course, but also imbues the food with even more of the deliciousness of aroma and smoky flavor that everyone wants.

Below are some tested Denver Post staff recipes for your summer grilling.

Foolproof Ribs with Barbecue Sauce

From “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust,” by Ina Garten

As a fan of the BC, I was hoping this recipe would become my standard cooking method for ribs on the barby. It’s simple, and makes for a tender, juicy, fall-off-the-bone rack.

And if you like a tart, vinegary barbecue sauce — and plenty of it — to slather on the ribs, this recipe is for you.

But while others in the office raved about these, I’m going to risk the wrath of barbecue purists and stick to my old, easy-but-foolproof method (recipe follows). Sorry, Ina. — Barbara Ellis

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds Danish baby back ribs (4 racks) or St. Louis ribs (2 racks)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 recipe BC Barbecue Sauce (follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Place the ribs on the sheet pan meat side up and sprinkle them with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Pour the barbecue sauce generously on each rack and cover the ribs loosely with foil. Bake for 1 1/2 hours for baby backs and 1 3/4 hours for St. Louis ribs, until the meat is very tender when tested with a fork. As soon as the ribs are out of the oven, spread them generously with additional barbecue sauce. Grill right away or refrigerate to grill later.

Place the ribs on an grill rack prepared with grilling spray ribs-side-down and close the lid grill for 5 minutes. Turn the ribs meat-side-down, put the lid back on and grill for another 4 to 5 minutes until nicely browned. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve with extra barbecue sauce on the side.

BC Barbecue Sauce

From “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust,” by Ina Garten

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 cup (10 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili powder, cumin and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Use the sauce immediately or pour into a covered container and refrigerate.

Easy (But Foolproof) Barbecue Ribs

Sprinkle a healthy amount of any good store-bought rub (I use Emeril’s Rib Rub) all over a rack or two of good-quality ribs trimmed of excess fat. Letting it sit in the rub overnight is best, but I’ve also done it with just an hour or two and they’ve still come out pretty good. (Alternately, sprinkle the rub on and freeze them, then thaw in the fridge before cooking.) Wrap in foil and bake in the oven at 300 degrees for 2 hours or so. Remove from foil and grill over direct heat for 4-5 minutes on each side to brown. Slather with your favorite barbecue sauce (mine is Sweet Baby Ray’s) and grill for another 4-5 minutes on each side to caramelize. — Barbara Ellis

Grilled Portobello Burgers

Recipe from Bill St John serves 6

Ingredients

  • 6 medium to large cremini or portobello mushrooms
  • 6 egg-based (brioche) hamburger buns or rolls
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  • Several grinds of black pepper
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Several pinches herbes de Provence, crushed in palm of hand
  • Leaves of romaine lettuce

Choose mushroom caps larger than the diameter of the buns, to allow for anywhere from 25-50 percent shrinkage from the heat of the grill. De-stem the mushrooms (use them later for stocks or broths) and brush or quickly rinse away any noticeable growing medium from them. Slice the buns or rolls crosswise along their equators leaving a slight “hinge” just before slicing all the way through.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the lettuce leaves, to a small bowl and mix together well. Just before grilling, liberally brush the mushroom caps on both sides with the flavored oil.

Grill the caps on both sides until they have released much of their water and are beginning to darken well and turn “meaty,” taking care not to blacken or burn them. Set them aside. Briefly toast the insides of the breads atop the grill. Layer the caps onto the buns and top with the lettuce leaves. Serve with any number of possible condiments or sauces.

Marinated Beef Teriyaki

My sister in New Hampshire has been making this for more than 30 years it’s a never-fail marinade for most cuts of beef. — Barbara Ellis

Ingredients

  • Sirloin tip steak, or flank steak
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup cooking sherry (or drinking sherry)
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) minced garlic (jarred OK)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 5 tablespoons sugar

Mix all together until the sugar dissolves. Pour over meat and let marinate for 3-4 hours (overnight OK for thicker cuts) before grilling. Use a grilling thermometer and cook to rare (140 degrees). Take off the heat, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Beer Can Chicken

I’m a big beer fan, so anytime I can cook with beer, I go for it. I first heard of the beer can chicken concept in high school, when one day my father came home with a book called “A Man, a Can, a Plan.” I can’t remember if a beer can chicken recipe was in this book, but certainly we were inspired by it and at some point made a delicious beer can chicken in the oven. This version, my fiance and I developed after finding the amazing and incredibly versatile Epicurious 4-3-2-1 spice rub online. The beer basically steams the inside of the chicken, and imparts some extra flavor, keeping the meat moist inside as the hot coals in the grill char the outside of the chicken. It’s a beautiful combination. I usually use the Upslope’s Brown Ale, because that’s what my dad picked out for us when we made this recipe together a few years back. — Patrick Traylor

  • One whole chicken
  • One 12-ounce can beer or soda (half to drink, half for the bird)
  • Dry rub:
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cayenne

Mixed Cut-up Grilled Vegetables

Recipe from Bill St John serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 small orange- or garnet-fleshed yam or sweet potato
  • 1 medium Asian eggplant (or small “French”)
  • 1 yellow summer squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 sweet onion (such as Vidalia), peeled and cut into eighths
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • Several grinds of black pepper
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Several pinches herbes de Provence, crushed in palm of hand
  • Quarters of fresh lemon

You will need a grilling basket or pan for this recipe it will hold the vegetable pieces on the grill and over the heat, keeping them from falling through the grating.

Peel the yam or sweet potato and cut it into 3/4-inch squares blanch these in quickly simmering water for 15 minutes, drain and add to a large bowl. Cut the remaining vegetables into uniform-sized pieces, but no larger than 1-inch across or square, adding the pieces to the bowl. Add the remaining ingredients except the lemon and toss well.

Place the grilling basket or pan over the grill’s grates and add the contents of the bowl, stir quickly, and replace or lower the grill’s hood.

Flip or toss the vegetables every 5 minutes until they are charred, caramelized or cooked through to your liking. Transfer to a platter or plates and sprinkle with squeezes of lemon juice.

Grilled Mexican Street Corn

  • 4 ears of corn
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 lime
  • Red chili powder

Cole Slaw

  • 5 cups shredded green and red cabbages, with peeled, shredded carrot, daikon and sweet-crisp red-skinned apple
  • For the dressing:
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar or honey
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Several grinds black pepper, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds

Watermelon Agua Fresca

A friend made this summery drink in a clear pitcher with an infuser (for the mint) and brought it to a recent book club meeting. It was a hit: so refreshing (and beautiful). It’s also versatile: You can put a lemon-lime soda in it instead of sugar for sweetening or vodka to make it boozy. Be sure to blend well to avoid chunks of watermelon thunking into the glass as you pour, and thin with more water if it’s too thick. — Barbara Ellis

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cubed and seeded watermelon
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup (or less) white sugar, to taste (I only used about 1/4 cup and it was sweet enough)
  • 4 slices lime
  • 24 fresh mint leaves
  • ice

Puree the watermelon and water in a blender until smooth. Add sugar to taste. Cut the lime slices in half. Place a half lime slice into each of 8 glasses along with 3 mint leaves. Crush with a cocktail muddler, then fill each glass with ice. Pour in the watermelon agua fresca, and stir before serving. (Variation: Muddle the mint slightly and put it into the pitcher’s infuser, then pour the pureed watermelon into the pitcher. You can also put slices of lime into the pitcher, or line the sides of it with limes for a visual treat.)


5. Nuvegan Cafe, College Park, Maryland

Nuvegan Cafe is a 100 percent vegan cafe, with raw and organic options, and is serving up barbecue in the Washington, DC area.

This restaurant doesn’t only serve barbecue food. There are many options on the menu for those of us who are craving something smokey and grilled! You could try the barbecue tofu with rice, which is wheat-free, or the vegan barbecue roast with rice, which is soy-free. Try pairing either one of these options with macaroni and cheese and collard greens, and you will be good to go! If you can’t make it to the Washington DC area, try out these BBQ Seitan Ribs With Homemade Barbecue Sauce.

Nuvegan Cafe has two locations, both located in the Washington DC area. One is located at 8150 Baltimore Ave College Park, Maryland 20740, and the other is at 2928 Georgia Avenue Washington, D.C. 20001. Both are open everyday, and even offer brunch on Sunday morning, starting at 10:00 AM.


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!

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

To make a home clone of this top entrée from T.G.I. Friday’s start with a quick brine for moist, flavorful chicken. Prep the chicken and creamy sauce in one pan the shrimp, bell pepper, and garlic in another.

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

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

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.

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.

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: "Tender, crispy wild gulf shrimp tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce."

Bonefish Grill proudly refers to this appetizer as the "house specialty." And why not, it's an attractive dish with bang-up flavor, especially if you like your food on the spicy side. The heat in this Bang Bang Shrimp recipe comes from the secret sauce blend that's flavored with chili garlic sauce, also known as sambal. You can find this bright red sauce where the Asian foods in your market—and while you're there, pick up some rice vinegar. Once the sauce is made, you coat the shrimp in a simple seasoned breading, fry them to a nice golden brown, toss them gently in the sauce, and then serve them up on a bed of mixed greens to hungry folks who, hopefully, have a cool drink nearby to mellow the sting.

You might also like my recipes for Bonefish Grill's Saucy Shrimp and Citrus Herb Vinaigrette.

Menu Description: "In cream sauce, topped with melted sharp cheddar."

There are many ways to order potatoes from the Ruth's Chris menu including steak fries, julienne fries, shoestring fries, cottage fries, Lyonnaise, baked and au gratin.

Here's a traditional, classic recipe for the delicious side dish inspired by the Ruth's Chris creation. You may use less of the cream and milk mixture in your version depending on the size baking dish you use and the size of your potatoes. Stop adding the creamy mixture in your version when it is level with the sliced potatoes in the baking dish. Be sure to use a casserole dish that has a lid for the first stage of baking.

Click here for more of my copycat recipes from Ruth's Chris Steak House.

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).

The 729-unit chain did not start its life as Qdoba. When the Mexican food chain was first founded by Robert Miller and Anthony Hauser in Denver, Colorado in 1995, it was called Zuma Mexican Grill, named after a friend’s cat. As it turned out, a restaurant in Boston had that same name and threatened to sue, so the partners changed the name to Z-Teca. It wasn’t long before two different restaurants threatened to sue for that name—Z’Tejas in Arizona and Azteca in Washington—and the partners were forced to change the name yet again. This time they called their restaurant Qdoba, a completely made-up name that was unlikely to be used by anyone else.

A signature item and consistent top seller is this marinated adobo chicken, offered as a main ingredient in most of the chain’s selections. Make this chicken by marinating thigh meat for a couple of days in the secret adobo sauce (a worker there told me they let it soak for up to 8 days), then grill and chop. Use the flavorful chicken in burritos, tacos, bowls, on nachos, and in tortilla soup.

I bet your craving some Qdoba Fiery Habanero Salsa right about now. Get my recipe here.

Menu Description: "A smaller, but equally tender filet. the tenderest corn-fed Mid-western beef. So tender it practically melts in your mouth."

This is the signature item for the Ruth's Chris chain. It's a delicious filet mignon that comes to your table sizzling hot and so tender you can cut it with a fork. If you want to prepare filets the Ruth's Chris way you first need some prime corn-fed filets, which can be found in specialty meat markets or through mail-order outlets such as Omaha Steaks. Prime is your best choice, but the technique will still work with other grades of beef.

This recipe duplicates the petite filet on the Ruth's Chris menu, since the larger filet is so big—about 14 ounces. Ruth's Chris uses a special broiler which reaches temperatures as high as 1800 degrees F. It's likely you don't have such an oven, so you can use a conventional oven set on high broil, with the rack inches away from the heat source. If you have a gas oven, watch for flame-ups from spattering. If you begin to get flames, move the rack to a lower level. Also, you will need ceramic oven-safe plates to serve the sizzling steak on.

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.

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).

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.

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).

This delicious crispy chicken in a citrusy sweet-and-sour chicken is the most popular dish at the huge Chinese take-out chain. Panda Express cooks all of its food in woks. If you don't have one of those, you can use a heavy skillet or a large saute pan.

For decades, Carl’s Jr. has effectively cornered the market on fried zucchini at major fast food chains by serving a great crispy breaded version that’s flavorful all the way through. Now you can make zucchini that tastes just as good, as long as you know the secret step that other fried zucchini recipes miss. It makes all the difference.

The secret is a brine. I found that this fried zucchini tastes best when it takes a salted water bath before breading. In 60 minutes, the salt in the brine is absorbed by the zucchini, spreading good flavor all the way through. After the brine, the zucchini is rinsed, coated twice with flour and once with seasoned breadcrumbs, and fried to a beautiful golden brown.

I’m giving you a couple choices here. You can make the recipe all the way through and serve it immediately, or if you want to serve it later, you can par-fry the zucchini and freeze it for several days. After that, when an occasion arises, a couple minutes is all it takes to finish off the dish and serve it. This recipe makes enough for a small gathering, but you can easily cut it in half for a more intimate hang.

Click here for more amazing Carl's Jr. copycat recipes.

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.

KFC's Chicken Pot Pie is a classic. It's packed with lots of shredded white and dark meat chicken, potatoes, peas, and carrots all of it swimming in a delicious creamy gravy and topped with a tantalizing flakey crust. It seems more like homemade food than fast food. And now it can be made at home better than ever before with this improved hack of my original recipe. The crust now has a better flavor (more butter!), and the gravy tastes closer to the original with the addition of more spices.

You can make these in ramekins or small oven-safe baking dishes, or get some recyclable aluminum pot pie pans you can find in many supermarkets. Those pans are the perfect size for four single servings, and they make cleanup easy after the feast.

Find more of my KFC copycat 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).

And browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

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

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

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

Also check out my clone recipe for Pizza Hut Tuscani Creamy Chicken Alfredo Pasta.

Imagine a giant soft sugar cookie with sweetened cream cheese on top and served warm as if it just came out of the oven and you have California Pizza Kitchen's Butter Cake, a delectable dessert described on the menu with five simple words: “Trust us…just try it.”

This dessert is an easy one to prep in the restaurant since the cakes are made ahead of time and chilled until ordered. Once an order comes in the cake is zapped for a minute in the microwave, then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and surrounded by dollops of whipped cream. You can prepare yours this way at home as well—make your cakes in advance, then chill them until dessert time. Or, you can serve the cakes right after they come out of the oven. Either way works.

The construction is an easy one—you’ll need four 4-inch cake pans, or ramekins, or anything you can bake in that is 4-inches across. To make the batter I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and it worked great, but a hand-held granny mixer also works.

I think you're gonna love this one. Trust me. just hack it.

Find more amazing CPK copycat recipes here.

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.

Three components must be mastered to properly hack this top menu pick at the country’s largest fast Chinese chain: candied nuts, honey sauce, and perfectly battered shrimp. For the candied walnuts, I came up with a technique using the oven, which means there’s no candy thermometer required and it’s a no-brainer. For the sauce, you just whisk the ingredients together in a bowl.

To make your shrimp look like the shrimp at Panda Express, you don’t want them tightly curled up when they fry. You can keep them from curling by pinching the tail end of each shrimp after it has been floured and dipping it into the batter headfirst. When you pull it out, the weight of the batter will help unfurl the shrimp a bit, and if you then lower it slowly into the oil it will mostly stay that way.

When all the shrimp have been fried, bake them in the oven so that they are crispy and warm, then toss the shrimp and the nuts in the sweet honey sauce and serve.

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.

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.

If you feel like diving into a pile of wings with big flavor and no heat, you'll love this hack of a top pick at Wingstop. At the restaurant, these wings are deliciously doused with a buttery garlic Parmesan baste and then sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese. A home clone is easy when you toss crispy wings in this hack of the top secret baste and top them with a snowfall of good Parmesan cheese.

To duplicate the baste, you clarify a stick of butter, then add a little oil so that the butter doesn’t solidify. Parmesan cheese, garlic, and salt are mixed in, then the sauce is set aside to cool and thicken.

Once the wings are fried to a golden brown, toss them with the baste in a bowl, then grab the grated Parm and make it snow.

Check out my other Wingstop clone recipes here.

One of the most-loved treats at the Maggiano's Little Italy restaurant chain are the crescent-shaped lemon cookies served at the end of your meal. The cookies are soft, chewy, and coated with a bright lemon icing, and it’s impossible to eat just one.

Well, now you can eat as many as you like because this knockoff recipe makes five dozen lemony taste-alike cookies. And you won’t have to worry about getting a crescent cookie cutter to get the shapes right. First, cut out a circle using a round 2-inch biscuit cutter, then use the cutter to slice a chunk out of the round, making a crescent.

You might also like my copycat recipe for Maggiano's Beef Tenderloin Medallions.

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.

Menu Description: “Grilled chicken topped with a lemon garlic butter sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, and capers.”

For many years this traditional chicken dish has been a top choice at the nation’s largest Italian restaurant chain, and a Top Secret Recipes hack is long overdue. Brined chicken breast fillets are grilled and topped with a lemon butter sauce made with garlic, sundried tomatoes, and capers in this copycat clone that will fool even the biggest Olive Garden fans.

Two large chicken breasts get sliced into four fillets here, so you’ll have either four lunch-size portions or two double-sized dinner meals. And if you need even more servings, you can easily double up the recipe.

In the Tidbits, I’ve added a quick recipe for the optional side of Parmesan-crusted zucchini served with the actual dish if you want to make an even more authentic clone.

Craving more dishes from Olive Garden? Check out my 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real Dole Whip is a non-dairy dessert that includes artificial flavoring, a small amount of real pineapple juice, and more gums than a candy store. Everything in this Hawaiian ice cream is combined in a powdered form including the pineapple juice in 4.4-pound bags that are sold to soft-serve machine operators at fairs, sporting events, and amusement parks. On the back of the Dole Whip mix are instructions to dissolve the powder in 2 gallons of cold tap water, then immediately pour the syrup into a soft serve machine and hit the switch.

Up until now, almost all recipes that claim to reproduce Dole Whip—including one shared by Disneyland during the coronavirus outbreak—include ice cream, to make what is supposed to be a "non-dairy" dessert one that is quite full of dairy. The results you get from these recipes may be tasty, but they are nothing like Dole Whip because Dole Whip is sorbet and sorbet isn't made with ice cream.

One thing that makes Dole Whip special is its creamy consistency, which may lead some people to believe it has dairy in it. Dole Whip creates this thickness with the assistance of six different natural gums and gels: cellulose gum, xanthan gum, locust bean gum, guar gum, karaya gum, and pectin. In addition, there is a small amount of coconut fat solids in the mix to help simulate the fat found in dairy.

For this hack, I limited the gels to two that are easy to find: unflavored gelatin and pectin. When these two ingredients are heated, then cooled, they form a gel similar to what’s in the real Dole Whip, and the result is a thick-and-creamy consistency. Another trick often used to help thicken sorbets is the use of viscous corn syrup to replace much of the sugar. Corn syrup will give the sorbet body and it helps tone down the acidic pineapple juice.

But the best part of this Dole Whip copycat recipe, unlike the real thing, is that it contains all-natural ingredients and it's mostly made of real Dole pineapple juice, plus a little tangerine juice to round out the flavor and enrich the color. This homemade Dole Whip is ridiculously easy to make (you'll need an ice cream maker) and fans of the real thing will love it. Plus, now you can have this DIY Dole Whip whenever you want—no amusement park required.

Click here for more hacks of delicious desserts and sweet treats.

Menu Description: “Lightly fried, topped with smoked paprika + bacon candy.”

Hard-boiled egg whites are breaded and fried until crispy, then filled with the creamy yolk mixture, sprinkled with smoked paprika, and topped with the best thing that ever topped a deviled egg: bacon candy!

We'll start with my preferred way to hard-boil the eggs, to get beautifully yellow yolks with no grey tint to them. Those bright yellow yolks are removed and flavored, then spooned back into the crispy breaded whites.

I'm also including my hack for cloning two slices of the chain's great brown sugar candied bacon. If you want to make extra bacon candy to munch on check out my recipe for Lazy Dog's Bacon Candy appetizer and you’ll get five slices of bacon candy. That’s two for these deviled eggs, and three for you to eat and share.

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

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

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

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

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

In the Summer of 2020, to the dismay of many fans, KFC stopped selling the famous potato wedges that had been on the menu for decades and replaced them with battered French fries.

Like the wedges, these fries are coated with a flavorful batter, but the seasoning used on the fries is a different blend than what was used on the wedges. Are these new fries better than the classic wedges? That depends. Some may prefer the rare treat of fast food skin-on wedges, while others may prefer the crispiness of these new fries. Some don’t care and just want a clone, so here you go.

The hack here is simplified by using par-fried French fries found in the freezer section of your store. After coating the fries with this clone of the seasoned breading, spray them with water, then fry them for 3 to 4 minutes. That’s it. Be sure to have a clean squirt bottle filled with water to transform the breading into a thin batter giving your finished product the same crispy coating as the original.

KFC’s new fries are coated with a blend that includes onion, celery, and carrot powder. It’s easy to find onion powder in most supermarkets, but I had to go online to find celery and carrot juice powders. The blend of vegetable powders adds great flavor, but if you want to omit the celery and carrot powders and just use onion powder, the recipe will still make delicious copycat fries.

Click here for my KFC Original Chicken recipe or search for your favorites 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.


Franklin Barbecue’s Housemade Sausages Are In The Works

Franklin Barbecue will soon be serving housemade sausage, as Aaron Franklin revealed to KERA, the North Texas NPR affiliate, this week. The barbecue hero has all the equipment set up, but he’s still perfecting the process. Currently, Franklin sells specially made pre-cooked sausages from Texas Sausage. He previously told Eater that the recipe would remain the same, but the casing would be different. During his radio conversation with Think’s Krys Boyd, he geeked out over firewood, regional barbecue, and temperatures. Here are his eight best lines from the interview.

When the popularity of the line inevitably came up, Franklin talked about how it happened all on its own. It was "not intentional" at all, he said. As for the ban, "things have gotten ugly in the past," and he wanted the community of the line refocus on staying respectful and considerate. "Our number one goal with that place is just to make sure every person leaves and just had the greatest time," he explained.

Franchising Franking Barbecue is still out of the question. "We can’t replicate what we do," he said. "It’s a special thing, it’s great that it’s that way, but it’s going to stay that way."

His ideal barbecue serving would be "a piece of white bread in my hand with a chunk of meat on it," and nothing else. "We don’t need no stinkin’ sides," he added.

While he doesn’t prefer drowning barbecue in sauce, "sometimes, it’s nice for the dipping," he explained, which explains his retail barbecue sauce bottles.

Franklin is still humble despite all of his accolades and awards, including that James Beard medal this year. "Yeah, it’s great, but we don’t pay much attention to it," he said. "We keep our heads down."

Rather than using purposefully-cut firewood, Franklin prefers to use already-fallen trees, "dregs from droughts" from the previous year. There’s already a "carbon footprint issue" with barbecue, so he’d rather "reduce, reuse" and not cut down trees. The quality of the wood, though, isn’t always consistent. On Mondays, three giant trucks come to Franklin Barbecue full of wood.

Despite the quality of the cuts of meat he receives, he’ll still work with it. "A cow gave its life for that," he said. You have to cook it.

Out of context quote: "I like my barbecue to taste like barbecue."


Michigan has two famous dogs. Detroit is home of the Detroit Coney Dog, and the northern suburb of Rochester is the home of Leader Dogs for the Blind.

The Detroit Coney Dog is a hot dog with heart. Literally. It’s the beef heart that makes the difference. That’s the secret ingredient in the pasty chili sauce that crowns the wiener. Leader Dogs is also a heart-warmer. They raise and train hundreds of guide dogs for the blind every year. I have raised five puppies for them and given them their initial training.

The Detroit Coney Dog was created by a Greek sheepherder, Constantine “Gust” Keros in 1917. Soon after clearing Ellis Island he went to Coney Island and tasted a hot dog. Then he went to Detroit to seek his fortune on the auto assembly line. He didn’t speak English, so he swept floors until he could afford a popcorn cart, and eventually he opened American Coney Island where he served hot dogs like the one he tasted on Coney Island.

Legend has it that one day a customer asked him to ladle some of his homemade chili onto the hot dog, and the rest is history.

The prototypic Detroit Coney Dog is a pork and beef frank with natural casing, often made by Koegel, top loaded with mustard, then a chili made mostly from beef hearts, and crowned with chopped onions. No beans in the chili. It is served all around the state in restaurants called Coney Islands. No ketchup, and never any cheese. You want that, get a Cincinatti Coney.

If you are in Detroit, check out the original American Coney Island founded by Gust and Lafayette Coney Island founded by his brother, both in downtown Detroit, right next door to each other. If you stand out front looking like you’re trying to make up your mind, the staff of one or the other may come out and drag you in. When you order, to get the real deal, make like a Buddhist monk and ask for “one with everything”.

My favorite Coney Island is Walt’s, founded in 1936 in Pontiac and now located in nearby Waterford, about midway between Detroit and Flint. The coneys are good, but the atmosphere is great. They have a drive-thru, but you really should go inside. It really is an island of hot doggery, a small building in a big parking lot with great kitchy decorations and mighty fine malted milks, crinkle fries, and of course, sloppy Coneys. The photos here are taken at Walt’s.

It is interesting that, with hundreds of Coney Islands in Michigan, there are only two manufacturers that I know of selling frozen Coney Chili, ready to use. Most Coney Islands have their own recipe. Since Gust and many other Coney owners were Greek or Macedonian, theirs has an unmistakable Old World flair to the recipes, with things like cinnamon and oregano.

The Flint Coney. There are two sub-styles of Michigan Coney Chili, Detroit and Flint, the main difference being that the original Detroit style, created by Gust, has a lot of ground beef heart and is pasty in texture while the Flint style is not as wet and occasionally has has ground hot dogs in there. That’s right, ground hot dogs!

Here’s a recipe for a classic Detroit Coney Dog that I call The Leader Dog in honor of the amazing other dog place in Michigan, just a few miles away. They train guide dogs for the blind, a service I know well since I have raised several puppies for them. Click the link to learn more.


Colorado’s First 100% Sober Bar Is Now Open in Jefferson Park

Do you ever feel like you have to drink to be social or feel pressure to drink at events when you don’t want to? Whether you are sober or sober-curious, Denver has a new option for you. Awake offers a completely sober bar experience to give the sober and sober-curious a 100% non-alcoholic place to gather, socialize and truly connect without the pressure and temptation of alcohol.

There are only a handful of sober bars in the country, but the few that exist are paving the way for others by normalizing the concept. Sans Bar in Austin believes that real connection happens when people are sober and has the motto, “Stay social. Stay sober.” Awake owners — husband and wife Christy and Billy Wynne — believe similarly. “It’s a radical notion that you can be social and not drink. Part of what we want to do is to change that,” said Billy.

Christy and Billy began their sober journey when they were living abroad in Provence, France — a region famous for its rosé wine. “We joke that we are the only people who ever quit drinking while living in Provence,” said Christy. Prior to moving to Provence, Christy practiced integrative medicine as a physician assistant in Denver. “I saw a lot of women hitting a wall with hormones. My intuition was screaming at me and I knew that alcohol was the driving problem,” she said. While living in Provence, she had a lot more time to be contemplative and dive head first into the topic. She quit drinking, wrote an article on the harmful effects of alcohol on the human body, and shortly after, Billy followed suit. “A lot of guidelines are now saying that no amount of alcohol is safe to drink. We are starting to see the same trend that we saw in tobacco years ago,” Christy said.

Upon moving back to Denver, the couple remained sober and Christy had received a lot of great feedback from her article. She started her own coaching business — Dance Yourself Clean Coaching — to help women find freedom in their relationship with alcohol through self-care. “We began to see the trend of non-alcoholic spirits in Europe and knew it had huge potential here,” Christy explained. “We are very focused on creating a sense of welcomeness and we’ve noticed a real outpouring of people who support it,” said Billy. While there aren’t many 100% sober bars yet, Billy and Christy believe that once they start to pop up, there will be an outpouring of people who love the concept. “People have been coming out of the woodwork letting us know they are so happy and excited to have a place like this,” Christy said.

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Awake doesn’t only operate as a bar, it operates as a non-alcoholic liquor store and coffee shop as well. In the morning you can order coffee from Queen City coffee and pastries from Aspen Baking Company as well as purchase non-alcoholic spirits, wine and beer. In the afternoon, Awake turns into a bar where guests can gather and form connections without the pressure and buzz that alcohol creates.

At the bar, you can order beer, wine, spirits and mocktails like a margarita, gin and tonic and Manhattan — all non-alcoholic. Christy and Billy stock the bar and “liquor store” with products from the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Australia to create a vast array of options — some that have a taste similar to alcohol and some that don’t.

Awake also has a charitable component to the business. Two percent of all sales and 20% of profits will go to charity partners like Florence Crittenton Services, Housed Working and Healthy and more. “Our primary purpose is to serve the community — everyone on the spectrum from sober to sober curious. Working with these organizations inspires what we do every day,” said Billy.

Whether you’re sober or interested in trying out one of Awake’s alcohol-free cocktails, you’ll be welcomed with open arms. You might even prefer the alcohol-free environment to a traditional bar.


Watch the video: I HATE FACEBOOK (May 2022).