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 a college student.
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.
In the 12 years since, both Chandler’s lasagna and AllRecipes have seen their popularity balloon. The website, still a ragtag start-up in the early ’00s, struggled to convince its critics that the Internet was cooking’s next frontier. Esmee Williams, now vice president for brand marketing, left her job at a software company that made recipe CD-ROMs in 1999 to become employee No. 18. Friends questioned the career move.
“No one understood why people would want to read recipes by their peers and not by professional chefs,” she says.
But history has sided with Williams. The Seattle company estimates it has more than 7 million registered users and 30 million unique visitors annually, which makes it the largest English-language food site in the world, ahead of Food.com, Cooks.com and Taste of Home, all of which operate on a similar home-cook-submitted model.
“I personally wouldn’t go to the Internet for a recipe … but I know that’s not fashionable,” said Jan Longone, the 80-year-old curator of the American culinary history collection at the University of Michigan. “I’ll put it this way: 20 years from now, I’m probably going to be obsolete.”