Everyone knows shopping at Trader Joe’s can be an anxiety-inducing experience. The crowded after-work rush, the snaking lines, the having to shove through people to get to the refrigerated sections along the perimeter of the store, the sinking feeling when you’re a person away from checking out and just remembered that you forgot something all the way back in produce. It’s all you can do to muster the self-control to wait until you get home and crack open the Two Buck Chuck.
But we still do it, why? Because the value is incredible and so many of the products really are great. I find the ones I gravitate to the most offer easy, convenient solutions to items that fall a bit beyond my skill level (chocolate croissants and spatchcocked chicken) or standard home ingredient database (chicken tikka masala). But for those times when my nerves just aren’t up to heading to battle on the grocery store floor, I like to challenge myself to making some of my favorite TJ’s items at home. Check out these DIY hacks for some of the chain’s most popular, top-selling items.
Don’t assume you have to be a wizard with a wok to master the art of making TJ’s beloved Mandarin orange chicken at home. It’s really pretty simple: Whisk together an orangey, ginger-spiked marinade, pour some over pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast, batter the seasoned meat in cornstarch, fry in vegetable oil, and cover in the remaining sauce. Think about it, it’s like you’re hacking your takeout hack. Get the recipe.
According to the stats, Trader Joe’s riced cauliflower crushes the competition in the produce aisle. A popular item since day one, it continually tops the store’s annual customer choice awards and is a staple among the “Best Of” lists. (It’s been so popular, in fact, that some stores have even had to ration supplies). And it’s easy to understand why: The veggie “rice” is a legit, genuinely tasty alternative for folks looking to keep their diet grain-free.
Sure, for less than $3 a bag, I get why you might want to just throw money at the problem and save yourself the elbow grease. But really, it couldn’t be easier to make at home. All it takes is a head of cauliflower and a food processor (or box grater, if you’re old-school), and boom, just like that, you have the base ingredient for any number of creative meals. Use the couple minutes’ required pulse time to mull over the night’s menu: Fried rice, or mushroom risotto? Moroccan-style couscous or cheesy, Mexican-inspired casserole? Get our Cauliflower Rice recipe.
Although it’s relatively new to TJ’s product line, it didn’t take long for this on-trend item to earn a place at the top of the consumer favorites round-ups. A clever riff on ways to use riced cauliflower, this flavorful, close-enough-to-the-real-thing dough is a great way to feel like you don’t have to skimp on indulgences just because you’re gluten-free. Go classic with a failsafe marinara and cheese pie, or branch out with other favorite toppings like pepperoni or keep it all in the family, so to speak, with a medley of roasted veggies. Get the recipe.
I totally get the appeal of keeping the freezer stocked with something like a box of mac and cheese for those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking. There’s a reason why people can’t get enough of TJ’s Joe’s Diner Mac & Cheese: It’s inexpensive, cooks up in less than five minutes, and delivers on the gooey, cheesy goodness you love. And don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have on hand in a pinch, but still, let’s be honest, it’ll never quite stack up to the homemade stuff. Either the pasta’s a little over, or the sauce needs a little seasoning boost, or it’s missing that great, iconic crust.
While this three-cheese version requires a little more time and effort, it’s doesn’t over-complicate things and offers helpful tips on how to keep the noodles from overcooking or becoming gluey. Plus, the texture from the crunchy, butter panko breadcrumb crust is impossible to beat. Get our Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese recipe.
I get why the Carne Asada Autentica is a favorite item of the TJ’s “butcher” section, the thin strips of seasoned sirloin steak are a favorite filling for tacos or burritos, or served simply over a little cilantro-flecked rice. But the only thing between you and a homemade version are a couple basic seasonings like lemon, lime, garlic, red onion, a little brown sugar, salt and pepper, and a couple cups of light Mexican beer. Now, go ahead and treat yourself to the rest of the beer as a pat on the back for knowing how to recognize when homemade is as easy as store bought. Get our Carne Asada recipe.
The popularity of Trader Joe’s—excuse me, Trader Giotto’s—Oven-Baked Cheese Bites proves that I’m not the only one who likes the idea of combining two favorite snack items, cheese and chips, into one. Because that’s basically what these are, chips made out of cheese. And you haven’t even heard the best part yet: The protein-rich, carb-free snack is actually pretty good for you (or at least, certainly more so than my beloved Cheez-Its or salt & vinegar chips).
A take on the Italian frico, you can keep the formula simple with by sticking to a straight cheese variety, or juje up the (fantastically easy, basic) formula with “everything” seasoning or fiery jalapeños. Get the recipe.
It used to be that every time I made a TJ’s run, I just had to pick up a packet of their pastrami-style Atlantic smoked salmon. And, really it’s great—lots of flavorful seasoning and perfect for my regular bagel and a schmear. Problem was, I’d find myself ready to restock almost right away, it went that quickly. Tricky, since the point was kind of to have an option less expensive than forming a habit at the neighborhood deli.
Turns out the solution is simple: Make your own smoked salmon. It’s one of those great dishes that looks impressive, rakes in the “oohs” and “aahs,” but behind the scenes requires hardly any effort and just a little patience. Not to mention it leaves me with ample supply to go beyond the basic bagel and experiment with everything from a classic benedict to hash, to a savory breakfast casserole. Get the recipe.
I have yet to meet a Trader Joe’s regular who hasn’t wanted to gush about their Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, and understandably so. But I’d like to issue a challenge to the fans of the craveable confection: Why not try making a batch at home?
Admittedly, tempering chocolate can be a little tricky, but once you get the hang of it it’s not all that bad. Besides, think of the kudos you’ll get from your friends (and the shame you’ll be spared from having to admit to the cashier that, yes, you already went through the box you bought just a couple days ago). Get our Peanut Butta Cups recipe.
Inspired by the real deal, these homemade cookies replicate the powerful punch of spicy ginger flavor that makes the store-bought version so popular. The batter’s three-pronged approach includes mixing in not just a heaping serving of both fresh and ground ginger, but also features chunks of crystallized ginger candy throughout. And then once you’ve mastered those, you can up the ante by using the snaps as the base for sandwich cookies filled with bright, lemony icing. Get the recipe.
No offense to peanuts or almonds, I know you’ve been in the game a long time, but there’s just no competing with butter made from cookies. Just take it from the legions of Trader Joe’s shoppers who’ve made the Speculoos Cookie Butter a best-selling cult sensation. It’s crack. Creamy, spiced, spreadable cookie-flavored crack that’s as delicious on waffles, crepes, and toast with jam as is it is mixed into cake batter or used as a dip for pretzels and fresh fruit.
And like any good enabler, I feel it’s my responsibility to let you know that their addictive stuff is super easy to make at home. Like, throw some graham crackers in a food processor with some sugar, spices, and oil, kind of easy. Get our Spiced Cookie Butter recipe.
I’ll be honest, I shudder to think about what I’ve spent over the years on coffee that I could have just as easily made at home. Iced coffee in particular is a money pit. I thought switching over to coffee concentrate would help—I’m a big fan of the excellent French Roast version Trader Joe’s makes—but really, there’s no denying that the most reasonable option will always be to make your own cold-brew at home. The process is as simple as can be and doesn’t require any special equipment (just a little creativity when it comes to flavoring agents—vanilla bourbon, anyone?). Get our Basic Cold-Brewed Coffee recipe.