Most of us, no matter how discerning we sometimes get about our meals, have a soft spot for fast food in one form or another. For some, it's a carton of greasy chow mein from the hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant down the street; for others, it's a large fry from the McDonald's drive-thru, with endless packets of "fancy" ketchup (which, as we all know, tastes moderately but unmistakably better than ketchup from a bottle). There's something about fast food and takeout—in addition to being cheap and convenient and, well, fast, it's nostalgic. A single whiff or bite can easily take you back to childhood, when a weekend trip to Pizza Hut counted as a major treat; or college, when a seven-layer burrito from Taco Bell, for all its ooziness and unhealthiness, was exactly what you needed after a night of drinking.
If you don't live near some of your favorite fast food joints, or just want to feel a little better about what you're eating by making it yourself, check out the following 15 recipes for fast food classics. You'll be surprised by how much better they can taste when re-created at home.
Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sandwiches
Want to eat Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday? What's stopping you? All politics aside, you can indeed make your very own crispy-and-salty chicken sandwich with those two crucial dill pickle chips, just like the original, any day of the week. The key to the moist chicken breast is brining for several hours, while a seasoned batter adds a crispy, flavorful coating.
Taco Bell Cemita
Unfortunately, Taco Bell has yet to introduce its own version of the Mexican sandwich, but—with a few extra ingredients—you can make your very own. A simple Taco Bell Cemita takes the insides of two soft tacos, plus a side of guacamole and salsa, and piles it all on a cemita bun with tomato, cilantro, chipotles in adobo, and quesillo Oaxaca.
Chinese-American Beef and Broccoli With Oyster Sauce
Tender strips of marinated beef, seared to a smoky crispness in a hot wok, with charred florets of bright green broccoli, all tossed in a savory-sweet, garlic- and ginger-scented oyster sauce. That's what beef with broccoli should be. The average food-court version is a sad, sad excuse for a meal, but your homemade beef with broccoli will be superb.
In-N-Out's Double-Double, Animal Style
If you're not lucky enough to live near an In-N-Out (hello, East Coasters), or just have an abiding need for home access to In-N-Out (hello, extremely loyal West Coasters), then we've got just the recipe for you. To re-create the Double-Double, grind your own extra-fatty chuck to make the patties, and grill them in a squirt of mustard to do it up Animal Style.
Better Than Chipotle's Beef Barbacoa
Not only can you make Chipotle's much-loved barbacoa at home, you can make it way better. A homemade adobo sauce and seared oxtails add big flavor to the slow-cooked beef. It's a labor of love, but it makes the best beef tacos around.
Perfect Thin and Crispy French Fries
If you can't get enough of McDonald's French fries (when they're fresh and done right, anyway), imagine how good they'd be if you made them at home. A quick blanch in water with salt and vinegar helps the fries cook evenly and stay intact. Fry them once quickly and stick them in the freezer to keep them fluffy. One last dunk in the fryer, and you've got golden, crispy, salty fries—no drive-thru required.
Homemade "Shamrock Shakes"
And speaking of McDonald's, if you're among the many out there who anxiously await the yearly return of the Shamrock Shake, here's a homemade version that knows no season. This recipe eliminates the corn syrup and additives found in the original, and a little time at the stove, plus an ice cream maker, makes whipping up the custard painless.
Takeout-Style Kung Pao Chicken (Diced Chicken With Peppers and Peanuts)
Kung pao chicken has got to be one of the most commonly ordered takeout items in America, and making it at home is surprisingly easy. This recipe is the whole package—it's got peanuts, a mild heat that won't offend anyone's delicate tastebuds, and even that kind of gloopy sweet and sour sauce. It all comes together in about 30 minutes with the help of a hot wok.
The Best Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken tikka masala is the most popular dish in the U.K. for a reason, and a list of takeout favorites wouldn't be complete without it. To make this rendition moist and flavorful, marinate your chicken and fire it up on the grill before adding it to a homemade pureed sauce of tomatoes, cream, spices, and aromatics.
The Fake Shack, Mach Two: The Double Shack Stack Cracked
No need to wait in that hellacious line or (if you're unfortunate enough to not have a Shake Shack near you) pine from afar for a Double Shack Stack—a towering construction of meat, breaded-and-fried portobello mushroom, and cheese. It's got double the burger patty (made with a careful blend of beef), double 'shrooms (with gooey cheese in the middle, of course), and the easy-to-replicate Shack Sauce. Modest, it's not—more like "insanely delicious."
Thai Chicken Satay
Thai food is a crowd-pleasing go-to for takeout or delivery, and chicken satay's among its pleasingest offerings, the one that always seems to get tacked on to the order when someone asks, "Are we getting enough food?" Marinate chunks of chicken in a flavorful sauce and grill them for a great chicken satay from your own kitchen.
Foolproof Pan Pizza
If you're given to reminiscing over the Pizza Hut pan pizza of childhood parties, regardless of how good it actually was, let it be known that you can make a much better version at home. Not only does this one have the extra-crispy bottom and edge, puffy middle, and gooey top that eight-year-old you loved, it happens to be one of the easiest homemade pizzas ever. After letting your no-knead dough rest overnight or longer, you can knock out this pizza in 30 minutes flat.
A Better Big Mac
You can probably recite the formula by memory—two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions, all on a sesame seed bun—and it's a famous recipe for a reason. But, nostalgia aside, there's room to improve on it. Here, the bland McDonald's-style patties are swapped out for beefy, well-seasoned ones, and topped with a sauce made from scratch. The result is a burger that's a Big Mac, but so much more.
Stir-Fried Chow Mein With Four Vegetables
Chow mein has long been a staple of Chinese-American takeout, but making it at home is a snap and, more importantly, super customizable. Throw some julienned vegetables in a wok to cook quickly and combine them with skinny chow mein noodles and a soy-based sauce. Adding more vegetables, tofu, or meat turns it into a meal.
Mr. Softee-Style Vanilla Bean Soft Serve
Whether or not you'd call ice cream from a truck "fast food," it's definitely one of those simple pleasures that many of us remember fondly from our youth (or, you know, yesterday). This super-smooth, nearly melting homemade soft serve uses real vanilla for a flavor boost. Gelatin is the key ingredient that keeps it from puddling, and it refreezes like a dream.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.