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Can I Say That America's Test Kitchen REALLY Irritates Me?!

I was just reading on the home cooking board, about a great chicken roast recipe from ATK. I often watch the program Saturdays on PBS, I seem to be drawn to it even though it makes me bristle.

I really am sick of the introduction when whatever recipe they're preparing that day is described in awful terms, e.g., beef brisket.

They talk about it as if we all have eaten nothing but terrible brisket year after year til they came along. They use words like "tough", "stringy", "dry" and show a disgusting pan of congealed fat and stringy meat. I mean why do they have to overdo it like this? Their intros always use these descriptive terms - "gummy", "greasy", "limp", "soggy", etc.

If they started their shows in a more honest way, perhaps I could get into them. They could just say that they've found a way to make REALLY GREAT fried chicken or whatever, without the pix of pools of grease and burned chicken.

Okay, end of rant.

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  1. This is my favorite food show. I never noticed that and I don't care. It is just my personality. I like the way they try different things and then explain about the best way to do it. Too many shows are based on personality fluff.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I'd like to know the names of the shows with "personality fluff" (nice term!). I never watch the Food Network and so am only familiar with the PBS lineup. Jacques P. too fluffy? Martin Yan? Well he is always hyped wayyyy up, but fluffy? Nah. Weir in the City? Oh yeah! Now here's true fluff.

      Lydia B? Down to earth and interesting imo. Bittman? He's the anti-fluff.

      1. re: oakjoan

        Food Network has the fluff. There are some good shows but for the most part, fluff.

        PBS has the good stuff.

    2. I also love ATK. It's what really got me interested in cooking instead of being scared of choosing the wrong recipe.

      1. I don't watch television, so you have lost me there, but I really resent the fact that they have no references in the back of their books or footnotes. I mean if you have used 50 recipes to work out your absolute best recipe why not a bibliography? A lot of the cookbooks I consider really good are honest on the subject of references. ATK didn't invent cooking or baking even if they would like you to think so. And good "science" always is referenced.

        1 Reply
        1. re: wally

          The "best recipe" refers to those tried out in the test kitchens, not to published recipes from other sources.

        2. I think it is the best cooking show on the air. It is more about actual cooking than entertainment and personality. It is logical, informative and hopefully teach people to cook rather than just follow recipes.

          1. oakjoan, I'm with you
            different strokes for different folks and allathat
            the only cooking show I'm watching at the moment is Molto Mario reruns, and when Bittman comes back on I'll check that out too.

            MM works for me because of the lack of filler and gush. Actual information oozes from all sides instead. I see that's what some like about ATK, but their manner bugs me so I don't watch it.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pitu

              Is there going to be another season of Bittman? I liked that show - the right combination of food tourism and cooking.

            2. The introduction you refer to occupies about 1-2 minutes of air time. The rest of the show is packed with good information.

              I don't agree with everything they do but they always tell you *why* they're doing it so you have a scientific basis for agreement or disagreement.

              For me, ATK is the foodie equivalent to Consumer Reports (loyal subscriber for decades).

              1. ATK is the only cooking show that I absolutely can't miss. The intro doesn't annoy me... and in fact I think they do a good job of quickly showing what they want to avoid when they start researching new recipes. The web site is also well done.

                1. I not only watch it, but subscribe to both the magazine and online access. As a personal chef for a living, this is one source that I continuously search out recipes, techniques and know how when I get a request from a client that I haven't experienced before.

                  The basis for the introductions done in this manner, is that most people don't have the confidence to try things themselves, or think that all restaurants make it better than they can. Truth be told, with a little bit of knowledge, we can all stay home and enjoy things we commonly think we have to have out or pay a high dollar price for.

                  Most of the recipes I use from them are requested by clients each and every time I cook for them. The only thing that annoys me about them, is they usually always recommend All Clad cookware. Granted, there is a good reason, it is constructed more solidly than other brands, but I cannot afford to outfit my kitchen solely with All Clad. I have three pieces, and about 6 other brands as well.

                  1. I am not familiar with the show, but their books are organized the same way, and I love them. I find it to be endearing and funny, and I love knowing what they think is ideal, so I can decide myself if I agree. It is much more helpful than those recipe introductions which say, 'pair this with some hearty bread and a green salad for a quick supper.' i hate that!
                    also, i find their recipes to be great, consistent, wonderful in almost all ways.

                    1. I think they have fallen victim of formulaic programming. They have used the same tired approach to the introduction of the show for too long.

                      1. I agree that it's time for them to lose the intro, but I do enjoy the show.

                        On the other hand, while most recipes from ATK/CI have turned out well, none has ever been WOW. That is, I find their recipes consistently reliable and good, but none has ever been a revelation.

                        1. Agreed. Irritating intro. But I think the recipes are geared more towards people just getting into cooking and want to jump right in without having to learn the basics. Their recipes are designed to be pretty bulletproof, but not necessarily fantastic or memorable.

                          Contrast that to Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way, where for almost every ingredient or technique, he'll offer an alternative or suggest that if you don't like what he's using, use something similar, or leave it out completely.

                          1. The intro itself is a minor nit - but it reflects their whole philosophy, which truly is irritating, and why I quit both the on-line and paper subscription years ago.

                            The purpose of ATK is to teach all us poor ignorant home cooks who don't know the difference between braising and boiling, how to cook things so that we can overcook, overseason, or make a myriad of other mistakes, and still produce edible goods.

                            Rather than discuss the deliciousness of kurobuta or other artisanal pork, they'll teach you how to brine to death a mediocre supermarket pork chop so that cooking it to death will still result in a somewhat more moist piece of shoe leather.

                            They do discuss basics - and I'm not going to throw away the one cookbook I have since it does had good tables for cooking times, etc. But I think that you outgrow this - and if you're seriously into learning about cooking, you outgrow it very quickly.

                            Yes - if you are consistently making things that are ""tough", "stringy", "dry", "gummy", "greasy", "limp", "soggy", etc., then certainly, consult ATK to figure out how a group of people stuck up in the far reaches of Vermont with nothing better to do, go about de-toughing, de-stringing, de-drying, de-gummyizing... etc... their food.

                            But if you're into discovering deliciousness and how to make truly delicious foods, there are much better teachers.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: applehome

                              Wow, harsh! I prefer Kurobuta, but love that they teach how to make the most of what is readily available. If they didn't, the show would have a VERY limited audience.

                              I was a charter subscriber to CI. It is not my favorite magazine as their approach is very dry. But, there is something to learn from each issue.

                              1. re: applehome

                                They're actually based out of the Boston area

                                1. re: keith

                                  In Brookline, no less, and I went to their (I think annual) open house in early December and got to eat munchies, tour the test kitchen, and talk to some of the staff. A very cool night, and I bought my weight in their cookbooks as holiday gifts.

                                  In other words, oakjoan can say that ATK really irritates, and I can definitely say that I disagree. :) To each, and all that...ATK makes me want to get in the kitchen and cook attentively. I really like their scientific approach, and it reminds me of Julia Child's recounting of cooking dishes over and over and over until she got it juuuust right for MtAoFC one.

                                2. re: applehome

                                  Yeah, I've got to say, not only harsh to the show, but harsh to those of us who don't cook and need the basics ... and harsh to Vermont ... what's wrong with Vermont? It is very pretty. Good maple syrup too.

                                  Really, when Kurobuta is involved, I want a restaurant that knows what it is doing to prepare it. There are those of us who have better things in life to do than spend it in the kitchen cooking. We all have talents somewhere. Some of us can cook. Some can't. Being dismissive of those who can't ... or don't want to ... doesn't inspire me to jump into the kitchen.

                                  Kurobuta, indeed. Some of us are poor ignorant cooks that don't know how to boil and egg. Why take it personally if this show is beyond your skill set?

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    Not everyone can afford Kurobuta, either....

                                3. i enjoy the show and cook's illustrated might be my favorite magazine subscription (though i refuse to pay for on line access on top of the mag). but there is something about christopher kimball that really bugs me. i think that he comes across as arrogant, smug, and a little pious. for example, i recall one episode where he was tasting six or so different vinegars (maybe balsamics). after tasting one and declaring it "...terrible, insipid, lousy, etc..." his guest said something along the lines of, "well, christopher, that was actaully rated the best by 100 people in a blind taste test..." he was so deflated. i had to smile. despite his personality, i find the content of the show and the magazine to be very good.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: xman887

                                    That's another thing I don't like about ATK and Cooks. Their tv program offers free recipes online, but when one gets to their website, one needs to sign up for a free issue of Cooks before being allowed into the site.

                                    I did so once. I got the mag., didn't want to subscribe, and let it go. Then I got a couple of dunning letters from them asking for payment for my sub. I ignored them, having never subscribed in the first place except for the "free" issue.

                                    The capper was that I got a letter from a credit reporting agency saying that I'd better pay for my sub or it would reflect badly on my credit, etc.

                                    I called Cook's and complained. They said "Oh, don't worry, that's just our in-house credit department, just ignore them." I let them know that this was pretty sleezy and havent' visited their website again since.

                                    I was really shocked at this practice, since they give off such an upright and honest vibe on their program and in their non-ad mag.

                                  2. I like the show. I used to watch, and love, Rosengarten's "Taste" and he did the same thing -- showed disappointing results of attempts to make the featured food, explaining why the technique or recipe he was showing might produce better results. It made me more aware of which problems to avoid when purchasing or preparing certain items. Sure, some of the negative adjectives were obvious (stringy, burnt, etc.), but I didn't mind. To each his or her own, I guess.

                                    1. This is one of the shows that I DVR or Tivo weekly, I fast forward past the intro and sometimes the recipe of the day as well if its not interesting to me. I agree that Kimball is too "all knowing" so I also like seeing him miss on the blind tastings. I enjoy the show and have learned from it especially the equipment segment.

                                      1. ATK..Foodie grad school...
                                        Julia & Bridget-know it all teachers

                                        That being said..

                                        "those that can...do"
                                        "those that can't ...teach"

                                        1. I don't watch cooking shows, but I do enjoy the ATK cookbooks. I think the intro essays that talk about how they arrived at a particular "best" technique for a particular recipe are fun and fascinating. And many of the recipes are big improvements on whatever I had previously relied on. They are the only cookbooks that I read all the way through even though I've prepared only a fraction of their recipes. I felt like I recouped my investment on the bacon recipe (oven roasting really is a fabulous technique) alone.

                                          1. I think that the recipes in Cook's Illustrated mag are the best. Everyone I have tried has turned out absolutely perfect. I have given out their chicken piccata recipe to dozens of people and even the most inexperienced cooks have a gourmet result. The shows are very informative. i can afford Korumbuto Pork and bought some recently and thought it was nice, but there are better things to spend money on. How about a nice pork shoulder for $3 per pound cooked for six hours. Yum!!!

                                            1. I think that it is unethical for ATK to show up on public t.v. then charge people for the content. If this is non-commercial television that the public pays for, then why are they allowed to make money off of it? That really, really bugs me! Why can't we take the recipes and share them here?

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: sewnsew

                                                Because providing content for a non-commercial television corporation (which PBS is) does not waive copyrights or intellectual property rights. The content of ATK costs money to produce. Just because they use PBS as their medium doesn't mean they aren't entitled to cover the costs of productions, staff, etc., as well as making sure that those who developed the recipes are paid for their creations.

                                                Besides, it isn't a burden to anyone to get the recipes directly from the ATK website.

                                                1. re: Seth Chadwick

                                                  Well said Seth Chadwick, well said.

                                                  BTW, long-time subscriber here to CI & long-time viewer of ATK. I love Christopher Kimball's dry Yankee wit, something that he comes by honestly

                                              2. I rather like the Pygmalion aspect of seeing the bad "before" and the well done "after". It's like a makeover show for food. Sighhh... I always did love a good transformation story.

                                                1. "They talk about it as if we all have eaten nothing but terrible brisket year after year til they came along."

                                                  I find that very irritating about the current crop of food writers in general. Particularly American writers, but sadly the disease has started spreading elsewhere too. Some of us did NOT grow up on Wonderbread, fish sticks and tuna casserole. It's basically the same pattern as every generation of Americans thinking they invented sex ("premarital" and/or otherwise.)

                                                  I've always thought CI/ATK would be great for beginners except that it's much too prone to instill that "wow, I invented cooking!" mentality in its readers, IMNSHO. Their tips and tricks are 90% as old as the hills, and most of the "other methods" they try are stupid things that no experienced cook would consider for a moment. How exciting! They've discovered what cooks have known for generations. Woohoo.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: MikeG

                                                    Hear hear! I watched one episode in which Kimball declared that the wok is not the best for stir-fry cooking because the the bottom doesn't always fit the stove top perfectly. Has it ever occured to him or the writers that when the wok was invented, it was not designed to be placed on top of a modern stove top? While the rest of the show is reasonably good, the tone of the introductory segment REALLY grates.

                                                    1. re: dty

                                                      I don't get your point.

                                                      Kimball et al realize that the wok was not invented to go on a modern stove top. And they feel that it doesn't work very well on a modern stove top. So they recommend using a skillet, which does work on a modern stove top.

                                                      1. re: floretbroccoli

                                                        I felt that he was rather dismissive of the wok as an effective cooking instrument as a whole. There IS a tremendous difference between a great stir-fry dish cooked with a wok and a decent result with a skillet. I understand why the skillet works best with the kitchen here in the West, but the way he presents it makes it sound like their technique is the most superior, which I find annoying.

                                                        And I know I'm incurring the wrath of the board gods, but he ruins the show for me because of his smugness (and for god's sake, he doesn't even cook on the show!). Otherwise, ATK is a good cooking show with many positive personalities and many useful tips.

                                                        1. re: dty

                                                          I saw that episode too and he was.

                                                        2. re: floretbroccoli

                                                          I recently watched the wok episode. It was actually kind of a gross-out to see such high-temperature cooking being done in a teflon pan. I like a lot of the stuff that they do, but there's no comparison between a well-seasoned wok and the pan they used.

                                                    2. I've often felt that same way. A good show (concept) but a little to full of themselves.

                                                      1. Geez, I'm a little astounded at the level of vitriol some feel toward this show. I'm definitely in the camp that thinks the show imparts useful information in a relatively straightforward way. I think Christopher Kimball and his crew fill a niche, and that they do so nicely.

                                                        I guess it's all in the interpretation, but I don't see the apparent conceit that others seem to. I think they do a creditable job with some wit and humor, and they seem to enjoy working with each other.

                                                        I also don't get the griping about their subscription policies on their website. It's their website, they can set it up any way they like. Just as with the show, if you don't like it, you can leave it off your list of daily activities. Doesn't PBS charge for DVDs and tapes of Frontline or Nova or so many of their other shows? How is that so different?

                                                        One place I DO agree is that I also love watching Jacques Pepin. I think he is truly a master of the universe when it comes to cooking of any kind.

                                                        1. If it wasn't for Christopher Kimball, I would like this show. But I find him so incredibly irritating and condescending that, as someone said above, he ruins the whole show with his smugnes and holier than thou attitude.

                                                          1. I love to cook, but I don't enjoy cooking shows, including this one.

                                                            I do like ATK's cookbooks. The whole "here's why some recipes didn't make the cut" is fascinating and useful to me, and I'm generally very happy with the results of the recipes I try.

                                                            1. I watch the show, get CI, and subscribe on line (paying for it did grate, but I ponied up--I mean, you can spend that on a good mixed drink, right?). I abosolutely get that there's a high and mighty/overbearing tone and some it's very dry (unlike their recipes) but I find the info fascinating, so I let the other stuff roll off.

                                                              Also, I'm always thrilled when they do a taste or product test and I'm already using the item. On the plus side, at least that gives me a sense that my likes/dislikes are generally in line with theirs, which is helpful when combing among all the many recipes amongst cookbooks/web etc. for "the best" anything.

                                                              1. I don't watch it for the same reason.

                                                                Premise: No has ever made a good version of this dish. Everyone is wrong. No other recipes are good. The vanity is stunning.

                                                                Solution: Here is the most perfect recipe of all time. (It will 2% different then the one I currently use.) They will always priortize my least favorite aspect of the dish. The "ethnic" dishes are always disgusting. Why do they have to assume that we are shopping in Vermont in the winter.

                                                                1. I respect Cooks' Illustrated for surviving without ads. Having worked in the food end of magazine publishing, I can tell you there is pressure put on publishers by food advertisers to "be kind" to their brands/categories etc. It can effect the recipes they provide and they stories they choose to do/avoid.Good food magazines rise above, sure, but there is a level of trust with good old CI that, corney though it may be sometime, is worth its weight in olive oil! (Also just tried their method of roasting cauliflower/Feb issue-so worth it!)

                                                                  1. Love ATK and CI. I have yet to make a recipe from them that didn't turn out great and prompt a lot of requests from family and friends for it. etc. Eventually, many of my friends have just broken down and bought their own copy of the cookbook becuase they've gotten tired of photocopying pages from mine.

                                                                    1. Maybe I haven't watched it enough for the intro to become stale for me, but I really like the show. Christopher Kimball is pretty annoying, but I kind of feel bad for him (he seems like he probably got picked on for being a dork when he was little). I don't get the magazine, and I've never actually tried any of the recipes (I'm mostly vegetarian, and they're not), but I do enjoy watching the show. They taught me to turn my cookie sheets half way through, and that technique has made a huge difference in my cookies. I'm sure I would have learned to do that from somewhere else eventually, but I heard it from them first, and I'm grateful for that.

                                                                      1. ATK is the #1 rated cooking show on PBS.

                                                                        1. I understand all the annoyances related to CI and ATK, but I find their attitude more amusing than anything. It's entertaining how they take themselves and their "perfect" recipes so seriously, and the crew is so anal and exacting in a way that I ultimately respect and appreciate.

                                                                          More often than not, I learn something from catching their program or flipping through their magazine. In fact, I just watched an episode on cooking pork this past weekend and thought their dishes looked really tasty. The bacon-wrapped pork tenderloins looked particularly good.

                                                                          If you look past the personalities and attitude, I see them as striving for ultimate deliciousness, efficiency, and value. Seeing what goes on in their world (however skewed) sometimes helps me to think outside of mine and come up w/ new ways of approaching the same old thing. I don't believe everything they say or do and I know some of their recipes are duds, but I like them overall.

                                                                          1. I love ATK and take it for what it is. Which is, in my view, a cooking version of Consumer Reports. For that reason it does tend to be somewhat dry and sometimes a bit preachy, but that's exactly like CR and I take it all with a grain of salt. To me, it's refreshing to get a cooking show that's done straight-up without a whole lot of phoney fluff and hype. I don't mind Kimball at all. He's your classic New Englander and while he can be an acquired taste I think he does a good job on the show.

                                                                            1. I am a big fan of both the show and the magazine, but resent subscribing to the mag and THEN having to subscribe to the on-line.

                                                                              I find their pitch no less condenscending than many professor I had in school. I watch, listen, agree with many of theirpoints and shrug at others. We all have our styles and opinions, and thisis just another one. I'd rather watch someone who can give a reasoned approach to WHY they came to the conclusion versus many other shows that just give the conclusion, without anything other than trust me.

                                                                              The most condenscending show is the one from the CIA in which everyone is dressed in their whites and the teacher is running his students through the drill. They reply "yes chef." Ouch!!

                                                                              1. Having worked at CI for a number of years (a while back), I'll offer that no one at the place actually thought the recipes they came up with were perfect or "the only way." It was more about testing (over and over and over again) the range of techniques and ingredients out there for a particular dish, dissecting the problematic recipes, then culling the parts that made the most sense (and tastiness) into one recipe. Then tweaking and testing that one recipe until most people in the kitchen were happy with it and until it came out that way consistently.

                                                                                For that reason, yes, some of the recipes end up tasting as if they were developed "by committee." (There are many times, for example, that I remember voting for the version that had, say, an extra teaspoon of cayenne pepper or MORE BACON than the final, published version.) But at the end of the day, virtually all of the recipes are solid (they work), they are explained clearly enough for even a novice cook to follow, and the story/intro represents a fairly thorough dissection of the recipe---which gives more-seasoned cooks (like the ones on this board!) a blueprint from which to adjust the design of the recipe to their own tastes. In a sense, it's like getting open-source software: Reprogram the code to your heart's content.

                                                                                All that said, I think a lot of people would be surprised by how flawed many published recipes are. Yes, there is a little bit of "stocking the pond" for the sake of drama (you can bet that the test cooks working on a stir-fry story will include at least one recipe in the initial battery of testing that very obviously calls for too much cornstarch), but they're all real recipes, and all are from popular cookbooks/sources. While the average Chowhounder can steer themselves to the good recipes better than the average home cook (CI's target reader, by the way), I'd venture to guess that many would be stunned at some of the missteps that get published. I've always thought it would be funny if CI published the names behind some of the really bad ones. But that would be mean.

                                                                                Anyway, just my two cents. In other news, I'm cooking through a Mario Batali cookbook right now. That's fun, too.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: wittlejosh

                                                                                  Thanks for the inside information. At first I wasn't crazy about the explanations but, as you said, I started reading them and experimenting to make things the way I'd like. And, since there are so many recipes for the same thing, it is nice having a reference for what each ingredient adds to the final product. I can tweak that scone recipe and use cream because I want a heavier scone, maybe not one the editors chose as the "best" but the one that best fits my tastes. And, I can do it w/out having to bake all the variations to get there because it's been done for me.

                                                                                2. Some tidbits I just read here:

                                                                                  Cook's illustrated has a million subscribers, Cook's Country about a quarter million (40% of the latter also get Cook's). "America's Test Kitchen" has 3 million viewers per episode, making it the most-watched cooking show on public TV for six years running.

                                                                                  And this:
                                                                                  A Cook's Country TV show. Like "America's Test Kitchen," it will demonstrate revamping of recipes: two per episode, one most likely a regional favorite.

                                                                                  But this show will be in documentary style, showing more behind-the-scenes action, more of the process. And a live audience will be present for the tasting.

                                                                                  Otherwise, the show will differ from "America's Test Kitchen" primarily in the selection of recipes.

                                                                                  The pilot, filmed at Kimball's Vermont farm, was "awful," he said. "Sort of like 'Green Acres,' but it wasn't supposed to be a comedy. It was like somebody's idea from New York of country living."

                                                                                  Filming will take place at another house near his farm, purchased and restored by Kimball and his wife. "We'll have a real house, not just a set, with real cows in the background."

                                                                                  The show will air this fall.

                                                                                  1. I agree! Stop brining everything please.