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    I Made 7 Cult-Favorite Restaurant Recipes To See What Actually Works

    And yes, there are secret ingredients.

    Charlotte Gomez / BuzzFeed

    Hey, I'm Hannah from BuzzFeed's food team. I love to cook, I love to eat, and I spend a lot of time browsing Pinterest for recipe inspiration.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Recently, I’ve noticed a topic taking over my Pinterest feed has been chain restaurant copycat recipes— you know, recreations of popular foods from nationwide restaurants like McDonald's and Applebees.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Whether you want to save money or you just live far away from your favorite chain restaurant, these copycat recipes could be a total godsend.

    I started to wonder: Is it actually possible to recreate these restaurant favorites at home? And how do they stack up to the real things?

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    So I decided to test out some of the most popular copycat recipes on Pinterest. I made sure to choose dishes from restaurants with locations all around the country (or at least in most states). Then, I got cookin'.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    1. McDonald's McGriddle Breakfast Sandwich

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    To be totally honest, I don't go to McDonald's very often. But I have vivid memories from my childhood of road trips with my family. Our special treat was always breakfast at McDonald's, when we'd indulge in McGriddles, McMuffins, and even a few early morning McNuggets. In fact, my fiancé's guilty pleasure is still a McGriddle with a famous McDonald's hash brown. I found a recipe for homemade McGriddles on Thrillist, although TBH, the directions are pretty self-explanatory.

    Here's what you need:

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    The concept of a McGriddle is simple: It's a breakfast sandwich where two perfectly plump and circular pancakes serve as the bread. It's then filled with an egg, cheddar cheese, and either a sausage patty or bacon, but the icing on the cake is a drizzle of sweet maple syrup.

    Step one: Fry some bacon and make pancakes.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    My homemade McGriddle wasn't too challenging to make, but between frying up the bacon, making pancakes, and cooking the egg, it was a bit time consuming. But I used pre-made pancake mix to cut down on cooking time.

    Then, assemble all the cooked ingredients into a sandwich.

    Inside your two pancakes, place the over-easy (or scrambled) egg, crispy bacon, and cheddar cheese with a drizzle of maple syrup.

    Then, throw the sandwich back on the pan for a minute or two until everything is melted together.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I've gotta hand it to myself, the homemade McGriddle was pretty damn good and the flavors were very similar to the real thing. The biggest difference was the pancakes. McDonald's were thick and perfectly shaped, and they really kept the fillings together perfectly. My pancakes, on the other hand, were a bit flimsy and thin.

    The egg in my creation, on the other hand, tasted much better. I'm always a bit turned off by McDonald's eggs. They have a strange texture and don't seem natural. The homemade egg made the entire breakfast sandwich taste much higher quality and fresher.

    The winner: It's a tie

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    If you're craving this indulgent breakfast sandwich, try making it at home. It honestly tasted delicious and all the flavors were the same, but the quality of all the ingredients was way better.

    Get the recipe.

    2. Panera Bread Broccoli Cheddar Soup

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Have you ever tried to quickly grab a weekday lunch at Panera Bread? Because I have, and in Manhattan, Panera is a zoo. Honestly, you'd think people are waiting for the hottest new restaurant opening in town. I ended up waiting 30 minutes for my express order. Clearly, Panera is doing something right. And the most talked about recipe on Pinterest is undoubtedly their famous broccoli cheddar soup. I like vegetables, I like soup, and I love cheese, so sign me up. I found a highly rated copycat recipe on Genius Kitchen and got right to it.

    Here's what you need:

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I'm sort of a soup fiend during the cooler months, and it's one of my favorite portable work lunches. And I also find that homemade soup is one of the most delicious and comforting meals. Not to mention you can make a big batch, freeze it, and have endless meals for cheap. But could I make a soup that rivals Panera's?

    This recipe is simple and it comes together really quickly.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    You basically make a roux with butter and flour, add the chicken broth, then the veggies and half and half, and finally the cheese. You let everything cook for about 20 minutes until the soup thickens and the veggies are soft.

    You could purée it for a smoother texture, or leave it chunky with pieces of broccoli and carrots.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    As you'd expect of something loaded with cheese and cream, this soup was really tasty. I puréed my soup, but in retrospect I actually prefer the chunky consistency, which is more similar to Panera's version.

    The winner: Panera Bread

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Overall, I preferred Panera's soup to my homemade version. First of all, my soup was too thick. The Panera soup tasted just as rich, but the consistency is more like broth than cream. If I were to try making this again, I would use less half and half. I would either use more chicken broth or try adding non-fat milk to the mix.

    Get the recipe.

    3. IKEA Swedish Meatballs

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    Oooh, IKEA, you wonderful, giant, Swedish store full of treasures. Some people make the trek to IKEA for furniture...but others go for the meatballs. And for many people like me, getting to IKEA isn't easy. Living in NYC, I have to take a good subway ride or a journey on the ferry down the East River. Being able to make Swedish meatballs that resemble those IKEA sells could be a game changer. So I found a copycat recipe on food blog The Recipe Critic I had to try out.

    Here's what you need:

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    While the recipe calls for just ground beef, I'm a firm believer than any good meatball should be made with both ground beef and pork, so I veered slightly from the instructions.

    I pan-fried the meatballs while I simultaneously simmered the gravy to save some cooking time.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    You roll your meat into balls, throw it in a frying pan with olive oil and butter, and cook them until brown. At the same time, you whip up the gravy with cream, beef broth, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, flour, and some spices. When the meatballs are cooked through, you toss them into the gravy.

    The meatballs were delicious and tasted the way homemade meatballs should. But I should have made them smaller to look more like IKEA's version.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Besides for the size of the meatballs, the texture was also a bit different to the IKEA version. The IKEA meatballs are perfectly round and smooth. When you bite into them, they almost taste a bit spongey. Mine had a bit more bite to them. The outsides were crispy while the insides were super soft, and they tasted more authentic. Judging by the meatballs alone, I preferred the homemade version.

    The winner: IKEA

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    BUT the gravy is where IKEA takes the cake. Their sauce was creamy yet super savory and meaty, but mine tasted a bit flat and overly rich. I could probably eat a whole plate of IKEA's little Swedish meatballs, but my homemade gravy was just too creamy to eat a ton of these. That being said, if you're craving IKEA meatballs and can't make it to the store, these should definitely do the trick.

    Get the recipe.

    4. Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I am fascinated by Taco Bell because I feel like more than any other chain restaurant, they have amassed a true cult-following. And so I needed to know what exactly makes Taco Bell so delicious and so hard to replicate. Especially since on the surface, tacos and burritos are some of the easiest foods to make at home. I found a recipe for their famous Crunch Wrap Supreme on one of my favorite food sites, Damn Delicious.

    Here's what you need:

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Let's be honest, there's nothing fancy about a crunch wrap. You'll need both soft flour tortillas and hard taco shells, ground beef (or whatever filling you like best), nacho cheese, mayo, and then your standard taco toppings.

    The greatest challenge I faced was folding my crunchwrap.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    While spying on the Taco Bell employee who prepared my order, I noticed that Taco Bell's tortillas are abnormally huge. We're talking at least twice the size of any flour tortillas you can buy in a grocery store. To get around this obstacle, I used a second flour tortilla and folded the edges. And while Taco Bell uses a panini press, I just threw my creation back in a frying pan with some butter until it was melted.

    But the end result was awesome.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    First of all: I see the light. Taco Bell is freaking fantastic and I want to shout it from the rooftops. The Cruchwrap is so simple in concept, yet so satisfying. It's crunchy, creamy, savory, and comforting in all the right ways. But with a little patience, it's really not hard to replicate it at home. Unsurprisingly, all of the ingredients from the chopped tomatoes to the tortilla itself tasted fresher in my homemade version. My favorite part though, is that I didn't even feel unhealthy devouring my crunch wrap, as I would if I were to eat at Taco Bell.

    The winner: Homemade version

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Hands down, I would choose the homemade crunch wrap over the Taco Bell version. Taco Bell does a much better job at folding the tortilla so that it's easily portable, but hey, practice makes perfect. My creation tasted like the farm-to-table version of Taco Bell's Crunchwrap (I know, I'm cringing as I type this, too). I obviously understand the appeal of resorting to Taco Bell. It's fast, it's cheap, and it tastes amazing. But if you have some time to cook, I highly recommend trying to make this at home.

    Get the recipe.

    5. Applebee's Oriental Chicken Salad

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    When you see an Applebee's commercial, it's probably not showing off the salad menu, but I certainly am not alone when I say the Oriental Chicken Salad is one of the best things you can order at Applebee's. It feels sort of healthy because after all, there's lettuce, but it's topped with fried lo mein noodles, almonds, fried chicken, and this incredible Asian-inspired honey mustard dressing. Apparently the Internet agrees that this salad is delicious because there are tons of copycat recipes floating around like this one from food blog, Well Plated.

    Here's what you need:

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    At first glance, it seems like there are a lot of ingredients involved in making this salad, but it's actually way less intimidating than it looks. The base of the salad is just a few simple ingredients. The homemade dressing calls for Greek Yogurt, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, and Dijon Mustard. The chicken marinade uses the most ingredients such as buttermilk, garlic, Sriracha, soy sauce, and rice vinegar, but it's very easy to make.

    You can cut back on cooking time if you plan ahead. You can make a big batch of the dressing and keep it in the fridge and you can marinate the chicken overnight.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    You marinate the chicken tenders for at least half an hour, coat them in panko bread crumbs, and bake them in the oven for 15 minutes. The result are crispy chicken tenders that taste pretty indulgent but are never fried.

    This was everything I ever want in a salad. It's healthy-ish, but still a meal you can get excited about.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I love that every bite contains a little crunch, and the slightly sweet dressing is also a great touch. I have to admit, my homemade dressing didn't quite taste as good as the Applebee's oriental dressing. I think it was the Greek Yogurt that threw off the taste, and I think using mayonnaise instead would yield a more similar dressing.

    The winner: It's a tie

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    On the one hand, the homemade salad tasted about a million times fresher than the store bought one. The ingredients were just better. Between the crunchy lettuce, the crisp cabbage, and the sharp scallions, the homemade version tasted like how a salad should taste. But man, there's something about the Applebee's chicken and dressing you just can't recreate at home.

    Get the recipe.

    6. Cheesecake Factory Original Cheesecake

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I'm normally way more into savory foods than sweet ones, but good god, when there is cheesecake on the table I can't resist it. I grew up with a Cheesecake Factory nearby, but there isn't a single one in Manhattan. I figured I had to do my civic duty and test out a similar recipe so that people like me — deprived of a nearby Cheesecake Factory — can still enjoy this classic dessert.

    Here's what you need:

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    And because the internet is a magical place, there are tons of copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's original cheesecake. I decided to try one from the blog, Sweet and Savory Meals. At first glance, the directions looked fairly simple. All you need is a little patience, because the cheesecake has to sit in the refrigerator for about 24 hours after you bake it.

    If you have a food processor and a stand mixer, making this cheesecake is easy pease. But if, like me, you have neither, you'll have to work a bit more.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I crushed the graham crackers and sliced the nuts for the crust by hand. Then I used a hand mixer to whip the filling. Obviously, I didn't have a springform pan either, so I made the cheesecake in a foil pie pan with a parchment paper lining. I know, I am #fancy.

    Overall, the cheesecake was a success, even if it took a bit of work.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    First of all, I will tell you this recipe made a BONKERS amount of filling — like, enough for three cheesecakes. But let's get to the important stuff. The cheesecake was good. The pitfalls: My crust was a bit chunky (probably because I didn't use a food processor). And my filling tasted sort of like custard with a slight eggy undertone.

    The winner: Cheesecake Factory

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Look, it's called the Cheesecake Factory for a reason. Their cheesecakes are works of art. My homemade version was fine (let's be honest, cheesecake is never bad), but it just didn't hold a candle to the real thing — that buttery, dense crust and velvety, slightly tangy filling. A homemade cheesecake will satisfy your sweet tooth, but it's just not the same as one from the Cheesecake Factory.

    Get the recipe.

    7. Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I have a confession: I have never been to Red Lobster. Well, before writing this post, that is. But I've gone years hearing people rave about their Cheddar Bay Biscuits. I love biscuits, and I've heard they're very easy to make at home. So I figured I would finally try Red Lobster's beloved biscuits, then try to replicate them in my own kitchen. To accomplish this task, I had to come face to face with my greatest fear: Times Square. But I was determined, so I laced up my sneakers and marched into the bustling, loud, and filthy center of New York City for a take-out bag of biscuits.

    Here's what you need:

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Following a recipe from blog, Damn Delicious, I set out to make my biscuits. And as it turns out, they are very easy to make at home. You just mix together all the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet ingredients in another, then combine them, and bake the biscuits in the oven.

    After about 20 minutes in the oven, you'll have warm, flaky biscuits.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    My favorite part of this recipe — and actually, the part where it differs from the Red Lobster version — is the butter, parsley, and garlic glaze. Truly, this was 🔥🔥🔥 and it brought the biscuits to the next level.

    The texture of my biscuits was a little denser than the real thing, but they were also cheesier and richer.

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    My biscuits weren't quite as light and airy as the Red Lobster version. In fact, they were a bit flat and could have probably benefitted for more baking powder. But they tasted really delicious. They were super cheesy, very buttery, and they literally melted in your mouth.

    The winner: Homemade version

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Sorry, Red Lobster, but IMO homemade biscuits are the way to go. I personally loved the ever-so-slightly density and extra cheesy flavor of these homemade biscuits. And OMG that garlic-butter drizzle. The biggest difference was the consistency: If you're more into flaky, crumbly biscuits, you may want to stick to Red Lobster, but just know you can easily make some tasty biscuits at home in almost no time at all.

    Get the recipe.

    Do you have a favorite copycat recipe you make at home? Tell us in the comments below.