How to Evaluate a Recipe

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I have had several conversations lately about how to decide if a recipe is worth making. Recipes are everywhere and it isn’t always obvious which ones will give good results.

A simple online search for just about any recipe brings up thousands of results. Not all of them are worth making. Some are not tested, some contain inaccuracies and others don’t give you enough information or direction. Many are just fine. Some are spectacular. The same goes for recipes in cookbooks, magazines and newspapers. Just because a recipe is in print doesn’t mean it will necessarily work. A few simple tricks can help you determine if a recipe is worth your time and effort.

First, read through the whole recipe, including the directions. Are the ingredients listed in the order you use them? If they aren’t that is a red flag. Recipe convention is to list the ingredients in order of use. If the ingredient list is all over the place, the results might be too. It is overstating it a bit, but if the recipe isn’t carefully written, you should wonder if it was carefully crafted and tested. You don’t have to automatically pass by a recipe written like this, but make sure everything else checks out before you make it.

Read through the directions to make sure you understand how to do everything. If you don’t, check any accompanying pictures or headnotes to see if they help you. Sometimes recipe authors assume you have skills or experience that you don’t. If you really don’t understand what you are supposed to do, you might want to find a recipe that is more detailed.

Check to see if the proportions of ingredients are similar to other recipes. If you have never made a dish before, compare the amounts of ingredients from several recipes for that dish online or in cookbooks. If one recipe has ingredient ratios that are wildly different from most of the others, you might want to skip that one.

This is not a comprehensive list, by any means. But these are the steps I follow when I am searching for recipes. No, they are not foolproof. I have certainly made some bombs. But for the most part, these are starting points for finding good recipes, both online and in print.

How do you decide if a recipe is worth trying?

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10 thoughts on “How to Evaluate a Recipe

  1. I usually am sold because of a great picture. If I like a picture and recipe name then I look through the recipe ingredients. If the ingredients are something I don’t need to search the ends of the earth to find, I may go for it. Also, I glance through the directions to make sure timelines fit and it’s not too complicated. But, as I said I need a great picture showing me how it should look as the end product.

  2. I love pictures too of the end product. But my first look is at the ingredients list.. If it has too much of things I do not want to use, i skip that recipe. There are too many good ones that are to my taste so I do not find it necessary to change things to accommodate a certain recipe.

      • Sometimes, a long list of ingredients is important, for example if you have components like a quiche, you will have ingredients for the pastry and ingredients for the filling. Likewise with something like spiced rice dishes from Thai or New Orleanian cuisine, where the ingredient list lengthens because of the herbs and spices…

        • That is so true. I really didn’t mean I won’t try recipes with long ingredient lists, but that I look for ones that have ingredients I like. If I look at a recipe and start thinking that I’ll change that and leave this out and change something else, I know I need to look for a recipe that is closer to my tastes.

  3. AGREE with your tips: i think even if you know it’s a quality recipe, you should read it from start to finish, because it’s always good to have a basic idea of the order of things and if there’s anything weird about the recipe process (or something you want to change up). I’ve had run-ins with very trustworthy cookbooks in that regard: just the other day, i was doing one which said – as usual – to preheat the oven at the very start. the issue? the 4 hour chill time on the cookies themselves; no one should be “preheating” for FOUR HOURS. 🙂
    i like your tip on the ratios, too; i’ve seen that as well, where a quick glance of quantities can help you avoid some pretty massive failures. always better to not waste ingredients on recipes doomed to fail, if you can avoid it: sometimes if the recipe is online, i like to read the reviews: even if it has a higher star rating, there’s usually some good information in the comments regarding what people did to adjust, or to find out – when the recipe was rated low by an individual – what went wrong.

    • When I see a mistake like preheating the oven before the chilling time, it makes me look twice at the recipe. Is it a simple mistake, or was there not enough testing? Sometimes I’ll make it anyway, if it looks like that is the only mistake.

      I have avoided some big fails when I have looked at ratios. Sometimes there are recipes that are just so out there. Sometimes they work, but more often I have had failures when I didn’t listen to that little voice in my head that said, “Three cups of that, really?” Or, “That is nowhere near enough of that to make it work.”

      And you are so right about looking at the reviews. Though the ones that really get me are the people that give a recipe a low rating and then proceed to talk about how they changed ten things about it the first time they made it. I tend to change things sometimes, but I would never fault the recipe author for tweaks I made.

  4. It’s the little things that give me pause with a recipe. One recipe I found called for cherry (or grape, I forget) tomatoes, and then told me to ‘peel, seed, and chop’ the tomatoes. Really? Peel each cherry tomato? I don’t think so.
    A pet peeve is when the writer calls for ‘salt and pepper to taste’ in a recipe where the salt and pepper are added prior to cooking, for example meatballs. Just own it and tell me how much you used, if for nothing else as a guideline.

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