Disclosure: I received a sample of this cookbook for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience using the book. I was not financially compensated for this post.
One of the things I love about being an independent blogger is having the ability to try new things and share my experience of them with others. Some of my favorite things to review are new cookbooks and recipes! If you follow @fabeveryday on social media, you know that I cook dinner for my family just about every night. Thus I am always looking for new recipes. If you are like me and looking for new recipes to try for your family, Todd Wilbur’s new Top Secret Recipes cookbook is the best $21 you can spend. Your family will thank you, as mine sure did as I tested these recipes over the last few weeks!
Todd is a famous “food hacker,” acclaimed for his deadly accurate copycat recipes. The book boasts having cracked the code for recipes like KFC’s Original Recipe Chicken, IKEA’s Swedish Meatballs, and McDonald’s Big Mac. Those three alone made the cookbook worth a try, but as I looked through the 125 recipe options in the book, there were tons that I could not wait to test. I ended up testing 13 recipes total, and loved every single one. I have detailed reviews, including photos, of each recipe I tried below.
Overall I can say that almost every one I tried was spot-on with the flavor of the original restaurant version. Several of them were actually better than the restaurant version – the flavor was right on, but the fact that they were homemade with fresh ingredients somehow made them seem even better than the original!
Todd Wilbur’s Top Secret Recipes Cookbook review
Legal Sea Foods New England Clam Chowder
My first every homemade clam chowder was surprisingly easy thanks to the author’s detailed instructions and step-by-step photos. This was creamy and savory, just like the original, which I love to get when I’m traveling to Boston. I didn’t serve them with oyster crackers or some crusty bread to dip, but I would recommend trying it that way if you make this.
McDonald’s Big Mac
I was so excited to try this Big Mac! The recipe included everything you need to make the imitation, from how to make the special sauce and how to cut the bun! This is one that was shockingly accurate in flavor, but actually better than the original in my opinion. It had the flavors and essence of a Big Mac from McDonald’s, but with a fresher, more “real” flavor, being that it was completely homemade with fresh — not previously frozen or mystery — ingredients. With this recipe you can also see the author’s attention to getting it just right – he even had recommendations on how to cut the patties into the exact size, and how to make the bread softer (like it had been packed in a box steaming itself before serving).
The Capital Grille Lobster Mac ‘N’ Cheese
I’ve actually never had this recipe at the restaurant, so I can’t compare the copycat to the original. However, I can say that this was a delicious, creamy mac ‘n’ cheese recipe that was relatively easy to make. I also appreciate that the author included tips on getting the presentation just right. I also had enough leftover cheese and dry pasta to make this twice. The second time I substituted the lobster for bacon. Great idea, if I don’t say so myself (because, when is bacon ever a bad idea?).
IKEA Swedish Meatballs
This girl is a big fan of IKEA, and I frequently visit their café to get their Swedish Meatballs. The recipe in the cookbook included the meatballs and the creamy gravy. Once again, this was amazingly accurate in flavor and texture. This is definitely one I will be doing again.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Cilantro-Lime Brown Rice
Arguably my favorite thing about Chipotle is the cilantro rice. Therefore, I had to try this one. Again, spot-on. There were no leftovers of this one!
KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken
Along with the Big Mac, the Original Recipe Chicken was my most anticipated recipe from the book. I think part of the key is the brining, but the author also seems to have unlocked the 11 secret ingredients (or at least 11 that taste exactly like it when combined)! The seasoning blend tasted dead on. I do feel that mine turned out a bit saltier than the original, and perhaps this is from the brining process. I like salt, so this was fine, but it did seem saltier than the KFC version.
Marie Callender’s Cornbread
Fun Fab Everyday fact: I worked at Marie Callender’s for six years in high school and college. In fact, I met my husband and my lifelong best friends working at the flagship Callender’s restaurant on Wilshire in LA. So, obviously, I had to try this recipe for Marie Callender’s cornbread and honey butter. Unfortunately, this wasn’t exactly right. This was an amazing cornbread recipe that I will definitely make again, but something about the texture wasn’t quite the same as Marie’s.
Jack in the Box Beef Taco
Anyone else eat a lot of these at Jack in the Box in the college days? Two tacos for a buck… can’t beat it! These took a bit more prep than some of the other recipes, but it was worth it. They tasted exactly like the Jack in the Box version. Yum!! Greasy, but yum!
Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion
Both the Bloomin’ Onion and the recipe for its dipping sauce was pretty dang accurate. My oldest son even went to town on it, scraping the plate for crunchy crumbs afterwards. I appreciate how the author describes the process the restaurant has for cutting the onions, but then gives us his hack to do it at home.
Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich
My husband has always said that he felt the key to Chick-Fil-A chicken is that it’s fried in peanut oil. He is right… it sure is! I think the other key is the brining process for making the chicken filet. Super good, and definitely gave us our Chick-Fil-A fix.
McDonald’s Baked Apple Pie
I don’t feel like mine looked exactly like the restaurant’s version, but the taste was exactly right. It also felt good that they were baked and not fried.
Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Cane’s Sauce
We absolutely LOVE both the chicken fingers and the Cane’s Sauce at Raising Cane’s. I was doubtful that this recipe could be matched, but both my husband and I agree that the recipes for both the chicken strips and the Cane’s Sauce were spot on. The tenderness and juiciness of the chicken tenders, the consistency and texture of the breading, and even the “secret” Cane’s Sauce made this meal 100% accurate. Seriously, it was like eating fresh takeout from Raising Cane’s. Mind was blown.
IHOP Original Buttermilk Pancakes
This was a fun one, since my older son’s favorite restaurant is IHOP, and since the Original Buttermilk Pancakes is all he orders when we go there. My husband and I felt that the recipe was perfect. My discerning-IHOP-fan son loved them, but said they still tasted homemade as opposed to restaurant-made. I think it was because of the texture and thickness of how I made them versus the restaurant that made him feel this way. The flavor, however, seemed just right to me.
If you like restaurant food, but would rather save the money and have more control over your ingredients, this cookbook is for you. Not only are the hacks incredibly accurate as-is, but also, making them at home gives you the option to substitute healthier ingredients if the high amount of calories in restaurant food disturbs you. I will repeat several of these, and will enjoy experimenting with some substitutions (can’t eat Big Macs every week, after all!). Click here to purchase your own copy of the Top Secret Recipes cookbook on Amazon.
What are your favorite restaurant meal hacks? Comment below or hit me up on social media to let me know!