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?"
Chandler's recipe takes time: 2 1/2 hours to cook, excluding prep time, and its 20 ingredients will set you back a few $10s. We tested it with a few tweaks to reduce the sodium, as recommended by many comments attached to the original recipe.
If you want to get an early start, the sauce (you'll have some left over) can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. The unbaked lasagna can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, or it can be wrapped well and frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator before baking.
WORLD'S BEST LASAGNA (TWEAKED)
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
12 ounces lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced white or yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped or minced
28 ounces canned, no-salt-added crushed tomatoes and their juices
12 ounces canned, no-salt-added plain tomato paste
13 ounces canned, no-salt-added plain tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried basil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
12 pieces dried lasagna pasta (each 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide and about 13 inches long)
1 pound part-skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg
12 ounces low-fat mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for optional garnish
Heat the sausage in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, using a spatula to break up any large clumps, until the meat is browned with no trace of pink. If desired, drain and discard the fat. Add the ground beef, onion and garlic, stirring to combine; cook until the beef is thoroughly browned and the onion has softened, breaking up any clumps as needed.
Stir in the crushed tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, tomato sauce and water, then add the sugar, basil, fennel seed, Italian seasoning blend, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, the pepper and half of the parsley, stirring to incorporate. Cover and cook for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. The yield is about 6 1/2 cups.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt and then the lasagna. Cook not quite as long as the package directions indicate, so the noodles are al dente. Drain and rinse under cool water; separate them and lay them on a clean surface.
Combine the ricotta, egg, remaining parsley and the 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a mixing bowl until well incorporated.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have a 9-by-13-inch baking dish at hand.
Spread 1 1/2 cups of the sauce evenly over the bottom of the baking dish, then arrange half of the cooked lasagna noodles lengthwise so they completely cover the sauce, overlapping them a bit. Use an offset spatula to spread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, then use half of the mozzarella slices to completely cover the ricotta layer. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the sauce over the mozzarella, then scatter half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly over the sauce.
Next, repeat the layers using the remaining lasagna noodles, the remaining ricotta mixture and the remaining mozzarella slices. Top with 1 1/2 cups of the sauce, spreading it to cover the mozzarella, then scatter the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese evenly over the sauce.
Use cooking oil spray to coat the underside of a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the lasagna; seal the foil tightly around the edges of the baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for 25 minutes so the lasagna's top layer of cheese is nicely browned on top.
Cool for 15 minutes before serving. If desired, garnish with parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Nutrition per serving: 530 calories, 33 g protein, 63 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 760 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar