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.
AllRecipes users tend toward the harried and middle-aged, people who enjoy cooking for their families but are hustling to get a quick dinner on the table. They prefer five to seven ingredients that they can find in their pantries. They want nice, clean pictures of each dish. They don’t want to spend more than an hour cooking.
As a result, AllRecipes’ best-loved dishes tend to be classic and easy. Just behind Chandler’s lasagna are a basic pancake, banana bread and sugar cookie, each made with seven ingredients. The site’s top-rated pot roast, which in August was briefly one of the most-discussed pieces of content on Facebook, calls for two cans of cream of mushroom soup, a package of dried onion soup mix and a 5 1/2-pound roast. That’s it.
Chandler’s lasagna is the exception. It takes 2 1/2 hours to cook, excluding prep time, and its 20 ingredients cost about $40.
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. His advice for cooks who want to make his lasagna: Let it sit in the fridge overnight; it’s better the next day. And be careful whom you cook it for, because you could end up making it regularly.