I am obsessed with Papa Johns Special Garlic Sauce. I usually order an extra cup (if not more) to dip my crust into, and if I don’t it all up with my pizza, I’ll save the additional tubs for frozen pizzas later. That being said, I don’t order Papa Johns often, mostly because we have really great pizza options in Chicago, and if I’m ordering from a major chain, I prefer Little Caesars (good price!) and Domino’s (average quality!). But damn, that garlic sauce.
This Papa Johns specialty is creamy and smooth with a mild kicker of garlic, and it actually makes me want to eat my crusts rather than throw them away. The very concept is genius, even if I’m not such a fan of ol’ Papa John himself.
But it’s not like you can just order a shitload of Special Garlic sauce by itself sans pizza. Well, you could, but that might be embarrassing and require lots of clarification as you place your order. There must instead be a way to make a reasonable facsimile of Papa Johns Special Garlic Sauce at home, a copycat recipe that captures its savory silkiness and entertaining dippability. So I took it upon myself to try.
To begin, of course, I’d have to figure out what ingredients are involved in the genuine article. I visited Papa Johns website for some insight; the full ingredient list for every sauce is easy to find, including Special Garlic. Here’s what’s in it:
Soybean Oil, Water, Salt, Contains less than 2% of Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Garlic, Natural Flavors, Soy Lecithin, Vegetable Mono and Diglycerides, Lactic Acid, Sodium Benzoate (a preservative), Calcium Disodium EDTA added to protect flavor, Citric Acid, Beta Carotene (color), Vitamin A Palmitate added.
Notice one thing, however: There’s no dairy in this stuff. If anyone ever describes it as “garlic butter,” that’s inaccurate, because you’re basically staring at the ingredient list for margarine right now.
Margarine is an emulsion of water and vegetable oil, the benefit of which is that it’s easily spreadable—or, in this case, dippable—at room temperature. Many copycat recipes for Papa Johns Garlic Sauce that I’ve come across online insist upon the use of actual butter, which, psshh, to hell with that. I want the unnaturally savory shit.
The Papa Johns website also clarifies that the garlic in the ingredients list is dehydrated. Okay, so basically, it’s garlic powder and margarine. Sweet! I can do that. I went to the store to grab multiple types of margarine to see which would work best; I opted for Country Crock (something we ate frequently when I was a kid) and a squeeze bottle of Parkay margarine.
The ingredient list for Papa Johns Special Garlic Sauce notes that garlic is less than 2% of its entire contents. So I decided I’d try to go for a 1% garlic-powder-to-margarine ratio, which was admittedly rough speculation, since ingredient lists aren’t required to disclose how much of each ingredient is in a product.
I aimed for roughly one gram of garlic powder to 99 grams of margarine (as you can see by the scale, I was off by a measly gram, but who’s counting?). Then, since the Country Crock was cold straight out of the fridge, I decided to microwave it a little until it liquified. I then returned it to the fridge to cool for a while as I created a similar mixture with Parkay.
The reason I picked Parkay margarine is that it’s specifically designed to maintain a soft, squeezable consistency, which has a very similar if not identical texture to Papa Johns Special Garlic Sauce. As you can tell from the photo above, it’s very goopy.
After letting all the flavors meld for a while in both the Country Crock and Parkay mixtures for about 30 minutes, I put them to a side-by-side taste test, excited to see if I did indeed find the right combination of ingredients to recreate my dear garlic dipping sauce.
First I started off with Papa John’s classic Special Garlic dipping sauce as a control (see photo above). I may or may not have used a Domino’s pizza crust for this, but who cares? Domino’s has a 1/2 off online order deal until June 12. Get after it.
As always, the Papa Johns sauce is reliably silky, smooth, and surprisingly not super garlicky—except in the aftertaste, where the garlic flavor grows steadily and subtly and remains in your mouth for a long time. Interesting.
Next, I tried the Parkay-based garlic sauce (above), which by the look of it seemed the most promising of the three. Oh man, was I disappointed. The texture was spot-on correct, but the flavor of the Parkay itself left a lot to be desired. There was one huge, insurmountable tasting note to it. I called over my lovely fiancée to give it a shot.
“Blech, I don’t like this,” she said. “What is that flavor?”
“Plastic?” I suggested. Her eyes lit up.
“Yeah! It tastes like plastic!”
So, in short, no dice.
Would Country Crock fall into the Goldilocks zone? I dipped a piece of the crust into it and was immediately dismayed by its broken texture. The oil had separated from the water when I microwaved the margarine, and even when I tried stirring it back together, it quickly separated again. Crap.
It did, however, taste excellent—just a little too garlicky. It wasn’t quite the same flavor as Papa Johns, but it was pretty close. So I decided to go back and fix my execution errors and create one last batch.
This time, I simply opted for 100 grams of room temperature Country Crock and dropped the amount of garlic to roughly 0.5 grams. I say “roughly” because my scale (which is Escali brand, and great), simply doesn’t measure below one whole gram. I measured out an entire gram, divided that in half visually, and poured the remainder back into my garlic powder shaker. Half a gram doesn’t seem like much, but a little garlic powder goes a hilariously long way.
I then let the Country Crock mixture sit at room temp for a while to let the dried garlic flavor meld into the margarine.
I gave this final version a taste test next to the original Papa Johns Special Garlic dipping sauce, and I came to a somewhat surprising realization. The Country Crock version was even better than Papa Johns.
It had a deeper and more complex, buttery flavor than the Papa Johns Special Garlic Sauce, which for some reason felt slightly watery in comparison. I hit the garlic ratio on the nose, as the garlic flavor didn’t quite scream in my face, but still bloomed as it warmed up in my mouth. I didn’t set out to usurp Papa Johns’ throne, but I may have inadvertently found a better version by simply using a better margarine base. I’m a little surprised myself. And full of garlic dipping sauce.
Either way, the next time I want a delightfully processed dip for my pizza crusts, I won’t have to involve Papa Johns at all. I’ll just be making tubs of this shit instead, since it takes no time whatsoever. You should try making it too. No more tacking a dozen extra cups of the premade stuff onto your next order.
Note: You will need a kitchen scale for this, because the ratio is so delicate.
- 100 g spreadable margarine, preferably Country Crock
- 0.5 g dried granulated garlic
Let margarine come to room temperature until it is a soft consistency (about 20 minutes). Mix in garlic until thoroughly combined and let set for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.
Always serve at room temperature and store leftovers in refrigerator. Use within one month.