John Chandler has a secret, and he guards it carefully, lest yet another friend or co-worker ask him to make it for a dinner party.
Chandler is, by day, a 43-year-old salesman and father of two, a self-proclaimed “Southern boy” who lives outside Dallas and grew up on college football and barbecue. Online, Chandler’s fans know him differently: He is the creator of the World’s Best Lasagna, an artery-clogging tower of sweet Italian sausage, ground beef and ricotta cheese that has reigned as the most popular recipe on AllRecipes.com for more than a decade. It has earned 10,423 ratings and been “pinned” to Pinterest more than 25,000 times. AllRecipes estimates that 12 million people viewed it in the past five years alone.
Given the wild popularity of AllRecipes.com — it averages 20 million visits each month, according to analytics firm SimilarWeb — it’s entirely possible that Chandler’s lasagna is the most popular recipe on the English-speaking Internet.
“How are you calculating that?” asked a startled Chandler, who has posted only one other dish on AllRecipes since the day he submitted the lasagna in 2001. He still can’t believe the recipe’s popularity. Neither can his friends.
“Most of them didn’t know I had this recipe,” Chandler said. “It’s not something I go around beating my chest about. But it makes an interesting icebreaker, you know?”
Lasagna does seem out of character for Chandler, who grew up in Atlanta, moved to the Dallas suburbs a decade ago and describes his heritage as “entirely Anglo-Saxon.” He learned to cook from his mother — the lasagna is his version of her recipe — and began cooking in earnest as an underage college student, when he realized dinner parties made good proxies for nights spent out on the town.
In 2001, his then-girlfriend, an avid AllRecipes user, urged him to put the lasagna recipe online, where others could make and review it. The dish quickly earned a string of five-star reviews and climbed to the top of AllRecipes’ rankings. Her own submissions, meanwhile, never quite caught on.
“We ended it soon after that,” Chandler jokes...
Chandler’s lasagna takes 21 / 2 hours to cook, excluding prep time, and its 20 ingredients cost $40 at a Washington area grocery store. After an hour and a half on the stove, the sauce tastes good the way a jar of Bertoli sauce tastes good: bright and acidic, but not particularly nuanced. And the ricotta filling, which Chandler makes with cheese, one egg and a bit of parsley, seems flat next to, say, the bechamel sauce that’s traditional in parts of Italy, or the nutmeg- and mint-tinged varieties that exist elsewhere on AllRecipes. Other cooks have suggested hundreds of tweaks: less salt and fennel, a cup of red wine, an extra pinch of Italian seasoning — even a wholesale healthful makeover that substitutes lean turkey and low-fat mozzarella for the ground beef and sliced cheese.
Chandler doesn’t mind the changes; in fact, he has used some of them himself. One of his sons has a gluten allergy, and his wife is what Chandler terms a “health nut,” which has forced him to invent different versions of the dish. Chandler also hates following recipes; he’d never even measured the ingredients in the World’s Best Lasagna until he decided to put it online.
“I like blending the flavors and coloring outside the lines,” he said. “The sauce is best when you salt it to taste and then, once you get it going, just flavor it as you go.”
His other advice for cooks who want to make his lasagna : Let it sit in the fridge overnight; it’s better the next day.
Click here for the World's Best Lasagna recipe.
Click here for the World's Best Lasagna (Tweaked) recipe.