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should I subscribe to Cooks Illustrated?

Will I learn things I can't learn by searching the Chowhound Home Cooking board? I'm thinking of subscribing only to the online version, not the hard-copy version.

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  1. You will learn some interesting and useful things, whether you learn enough to justify the cost only you can say. I'm not too familiar with the website but I believe the magazine ran out of ideas about 5 years ago. That's a year before I let my subscription lapse.

    1 Reply
    1. re: inuksuk

      I subscribe and find it interesting to read. There are rebates sites and discount subscription services online that you can go through to save money on the subscription. For example, when I last renewed, I received 25% off of the regular price. Not trying to shill here, so if you would like more info, please let me know (don't want to break any rules here!)

    2. I find the website to be very informative, not only for recipes but also for pretty good product tests. They're thorough about describing the tests, so you don't just have to go by their list, you can make some decisions based on whether they tested the things you're looking for in a product. Ditto with the recipes...the big difference between CI and other magazines and sites is that they describe a process by which they ended up with their final recipe. So, you can alter the process if you're looking for something different as an end point.

      1. I've been a print subscriber for years. I think reading about the process to be the most valuable part. You don't get that anywhere else. I've been a recipe tester also. It's fun to do that occasionally and see how they develop recipes and instructions.

        They definately made Thanksgiving better with detailed brining instructions for turkeys. I don't like their approach to ethnic foods - especially Indian. They are very "Americanized and bland." However, that's not a big focus for them.

        2 Replies
        1. re: TexasIndia

          Most of my cooking is Chinese, Japanese, and southeast Asian. Thanksgiving dinner is the type of meal I'm least likely to cook. It's very helpful that you pointed out Cook's Illustrated bias.

          Are there other magazines or websites that have a strong emphasis on process, like Cooks Illustrated, but have broader coverage of cuisines?

          1. re: TexasIndia

            have to agree with you. good on method & technique. not so much on spice/ethnic. i've found that if i roughly double spice quanities, especially garlic & peppers, the rest of the recipe is usually good.

            what i do like about their approach to ethnic is that they try to do it without using too exotic of ingredients. in parts of the country where ethnic markets are few & far between (like where i live), that's a big boon; you can always use the real stuff if you have access, the recipe will just be that much better. i figure it's better to get a reasonable facsimile of the real thing than to not have it at all. if you really like it, you have a jumping off point. if you don't, at least you don't have $40 worth of spices/condiments you probably won't use.

            the other issue i have with ci is their definition of what constitutes week-night cooking. they will often tout something as having been streamlined enough to do on a weeknight, and yet it still winds up taking up to 3 hours, including clean-up, to be done with it. in my book, weeknight cooking takes no more than 45 minutes prep & cooking time, and 15 minutes clean-up.

            i also concur with inuksuk that ci seems to be running low on ideas. unlike inuksuk, i still subscribe.

          2. I have been a subscriber to CI since issue 1, and there is enough useful info to make it quite worthwhile. What I have done after a couple of years of getting the individual issues, was to bail on those and get the bound volume at the end of each year. This has all four issues in a hardbound book with an index for all. It is much more user friendly to have them organized this way. You can get set up so they will send you the volume when it comes out automatically.

            1. I do enjoy reading the articles, but rarely make the recipes. On the whole I've found their recipes to work well and be entirely satisfactory, but never WOW! Maybe their process of making a recipe hundreds of times so you only have to make it once beats the wow out of it.

              But I still enjoy reading what they did and their tips, reviews, and tastings. I've settled on subscribing to their website, instead of the physical magazine. That way I find updates, too, automatically. And I have no room to store the magazines.

              1. Great organization. Bu if you want save a little money, buy the DVDs. Much easier to follow, since technique is their specialty, and technique plays best visually.

                1. My two cents: I had the hard copy subscription for several years. The magazine is much better than most for learning "how to cook". They focus much more on how to prepare food rather than just provide recipes, so from that perspecitive I liked it. However, their recipes lack imagination - there was rarely a time where I didn't add more seasoning or make some tweaks to give the dish more flavor. So - if you are looking for a place to get ideas, I'd look elsewhere. If you want a aid for increasing your cooking skills, I think it's worthwhile.

                  1. I love their recipes because they consistently work; I used to be a food stylist, and can't tell you how many recipes go untested for books, mags, and websites. I just doctor them up to give them more oomph or ethnicity.

                    They don't do advertisements, which gives them more credibility. Sometimes it's hard to tell in the other mags/websites what is true reporting and what is guerilla marketing.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Claudette

                      I had the subscription for many years. What I use most often is the cookbooks from them. I have the "Best Recipe" and the "Pasta". Best recipe has quite a few basics in there and it is the only cookbook that I always keep out. Great to use a template.

                    2. I have subscribed for many years and like it very much. On average, I pick up one recipe for each issue that I use/like. Some of their recipes are fabulous- e.g. chicken piccata, eggplant parmesan. Some don;t interest me mostly because it is a dish that does not interest me. On the whole, the recipes are somewhat complex but easy to follow. Coumns such as cooking tips and comparisons of brands are interesting. If I were you I would try it out for a year and make my own judgment.

                      1. For a trial run, you can sign up for America's Test Kitchen which is the free website for their PBS cooking show.

                        I subscribe to the Cooks Illustrated website and found it helpful.
                        They test and publish their recipes (to their taste) but I find it's a pretty good starting point.

                        I view CI as a food version of Consumer Reports. Interesting and helpful information, tested recipes, but they don't cover it all.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: dave_c

                          i find the tests they perform/report on ingredients & eqiupment entertaining, if not useful. My favorite has been their report on the viscousity of various ketchups!

                        2. As was said above, justifying the cost is up to you.
                          We pick up the hard copy in the grocery store all the time (Sometimes even get Cook's Country) and we did have a subscription but found that by the time it got to Canada, we could've already bought it.

                          As for the recipes, having a write up on what the dish is and how they came to the end product is very helpfull. It saves you from making the same mistakes that they did.

                          I haven't really made a lot of their ethnic stuff. I've also steered away from some of their regional stuff. I find that they don't, either add enough spice, add things that are totally out of place. Yogurt in a southern dish might be and example.

                          If you're into the ethnic, this might be a good guide line for starters. Make it once, make adjustments the second time, third time etc.

                          The hard copy also has tips and tricks that readers send in as well as the product reviews. Not sure if the online version has that.


                          1. I have also found CI good for techniques and product reviews. They do very little for ethnic cuisines, but overall i've found it to be informative. I've also taken some of the back covers and framed them to decorate my kitchen

                            1. It's a very good magazine for the good quality amateur cook. The magazine is worth it, partly because it's easier to use than the website. They've sent on various half price offers for the website so you can get both at some point for not that much.

                              As a disclosure, they're located a few hundred yards from me.

                              1. I subscribe to the website and use it all the time. It's easy to print a recipe when I need one. I copy them to a word processor and type in my alterations for the next time. I never subscribed to the magazine but would pick them up occasionally. I'd read them cover to cover then plan to get back to a recipe but often didn't. Although I find the website's favorites list annoying because it doesn't sort alphabetically I do use the grocery list function often.

                                While the website isn't the first place I would look for ethnic recipes I do use some that would be considered ethnic. Their pad thai is my standard. It uses tamarind and preserved radish so I wouldn't say they ALWAYS use supermarket ingredients. While it is hard to describe level of heat for someone else I would say it is medium to low spiciness compared to the food I have eaten in Thailand. It's easy to add oomph though.

                                1. I think it's very good for baked goods and plainly cooked fish/poultry/meat - things that rely on science, and not art. I like that they break down how the hygroscopic qualities of brown sugar vs. white affect a final product, or how different proteins react to different types and levels of heat. They're very good at perfecting egg cooking techniques. For me, it's like reading practical applications of Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking".

                                  On the other hand, when I've tried more "ethnic" dishes - dan dan noodles and pad thai are the two recipes that come to mind - they did taste pretty soulless. Maybe it's the process of precisely measuring out ingredients that aren't meant to be precisely measured that kills the dish.

                                  I buy the hardbound volume at the end of the year - I think they do have enough good, useful recipes each year that it's still worth it to me to buy it. This week, I'm making the stellar coconut cake from March/April 2001 (unbelievable frosting), and the simple yellow cake with chocolate ganache frosting from Jan/Feb 2003.

                                  1. I don't really know how to cook, so the articles really help me understand (cuz I don't get it if I'm not told). I also prefer their types of food (the best chicken, lasagna, meatloaf, prime rib, etc.), so that helps too. I don't like experimenting, so they do it all for me. I'm going to check out the online version now.