HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Cooks Illustrated. For me, it's no longer the "authority" on everything.

Before becoming a CH, I took their tests and advice as the ultimate authority. I'd say, for instance, "Well, CI ran tests and determined that artificial vanilla is better than the real thing." Over the three years of reading CH, I find over and over that CI and ATK get proven wrong fairly often. I subscribed to the print magazine for a few years and stopped mainly cause I thought they were dumbing down their recipes. I still have some of their cookbooks and do refer to them. Their creme brulee is better, IMO, than any I've had in a restaurant. I think their Best Recipes is a terrific all-purpose reference and one that a beginning cook can have success with. But it's rarely ever the first book I turn to. No slight to them, just kudos to the Chowhounds who helped me become more proficient. Any other thoughts out there?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I agree with you on the vanilla issue, one of a number of points on which my taste/opinion differs from theirs. And I no longer subscribe because, owning all the issues since CI began, I was finding that their content had gotten repetitive, tweaking previous recipes so as to have something (unnecessarily) "new" to offer. The final straw was their inclusion of Perdue ground chicken in a shortcut chicken soup.

    That said, I still regard their results as definitive, unless I have personally experienced otherwise. They do a better job of developing and explaining recipes than their competition, and do not appear to be beholden to anyone. Some of my disagreements with their recipes are doubtless just matters of personal preference and individuals' differing perceptions..

    1. I'm with you, I never found that their ratings criteria necessarily jibed with mine, as with vanilla. I have always had the same issue with Consumer Reports, btw.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mcf

        You're so right about both institiutions. I still look to both of them for information, but i've noticed that they both tend to give BIG demerits to price, period. I'd be more comfortable if they said "pricey but work REALLY well" more.
        I think they're both victims of statistical research.

      2. I don't consider anyone the ultimate authority, as tastes and opinions will vary. Their process is interesting. I happen to have a different palate I do enjoy reading about what happens when they try different techniques or alter percentages of ingredients, but I probably won't use their recipe or will wildly alter it to suit my needs That works for me.

        1. Regarding their vanilla test, it seems to me that they said they couldn't tell the difference in most things. They also say that their chefs still use real vanilla most of the time.

          I still like their recipes and their ratings. I don't see any sense in accepting them as a supreme source of knowledge and when they pick a stainless steel ice cream scoop as a winner, I have a tendency to think I want to make sure that the next ice cream scoop I buy is that style and stainless steel. I don't need to buy that one.

          As far as chowhound goes, I have gotten some great tips and links from the most obscure threads. If advice or technique is given on chowhound, I look for confirmation from at least 2-3 chowhounders then if I am interested I seek further info elsewhere.

          I have found that anywhere that personal opinion is involved they are subject to little prejudices and myths that come along for the ride.

          Bottom line. I love to get others opinions, both personal and professional, but I prefer to confirm it on my own.

          1. I consider everything, but never believe anything without a little of my own trial and error (and error).

            2 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit


              If I am researching, both CI and CH are my go to gold standards. CH has more weight depending on who the poster is (posters I trust) for options and opinions. CI is a good base for me on Technique.

              1. I too have been skeptical about the vanilla test. Although I concede that whether the difference can be noticed depends on what it's in. (A vanilla panna cotta, probably yes. A compote with a million other things in it, maybe no.)

                What I've like about them is not so much their bottom lines, but what you can learn about how to put a recipe together by seeing how their different attempts at a given thing have turned out. A good tutorial in methods and approaches, to adapt myself. Or ignore!

                I admit too that I don't use them as much now as I did, but I always scan every new issue to see what I might want to try.

                1 Reply
                1. re: karykat

                  I believed the vanilla test so I bought the artificial and used it in an oft-made oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. The difference in smell and taste was sugnificant, all for the worse. I'll doggedly use up almost any ingredients that I find I don't like, but this time I poured the bottle down the drain. Taste buds differ, after all.

                2. Cooks is just one more club in the golf bag. 150 yards from the pin? Cooks. 190? Maybe Lidia's Italy, and so on. Choosing a cookbook recipe is like selecting a golf club: it all depends on the (infinitely variable) lie.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: steve h.

                    Having said that, I tease my wife that Kimball is the leader of a bizarre cult.
                    Things can get cold and strange in Northern New England.

                  2. I actually find CI to be kind of boring. I'm still mourning the loss of the excitement I would feel each month when the new Gourmet would arrive, and CI never does that for me. I think that The New Best Recipe is a very good book though. As far as basics go, I think that you can't go wrong. For excitement, you have to go elsewhere.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: roxlet

                      I've given Best Recipe to both our grown daughters. Last year when I was trying to cook some for my MIL, I did a beef stew of theirs and a chicken and rice and stuff casserole. They were both well received.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I think it's a great cookbook to give to people learning to cook and it's a good reference/starting point. I've been happy w/ most things I've made from it, keeping it mind it's been mostly baked goods. But, it's not the end all and I'm constantly looking/improving. It's my go-to gift for young people who don't know how to cook.

                    2. I'm with you and actually just wrote to them about it. I've been a subscriber for 10 years or so and always loved it. I've lately started becoming more interested in sustainable cooking/eating and I'm having more and more trouble with their recipes that seem to focus on 'amping' up the flavors of otherwise poor quality ingredients. If they want to talk about how flavorless supermarket pork can be, they should probably mention the superior pork that many cooks seek out from farms or CSA's, etc. that don't need to be doctored up so much. I don't even have a problem with their continuing to focus on lower end ingredients but to not mention things like heirloom tomatoes or small batch butter from a small farm and how the flavors differ from their supermarket counterparts seems not right to me.

                      I do really like the design though. The pictures on the back are often really appealing and interesting.


                      1. I was a Charter subscriber and used to read every word in their articles, but several years ago my life got too busy and the magizines started piling up. The reasoning process they outline would be very helpful for new cooks to help develop they're own cooking instinct.

                        1. You're a little late with the artificial vanilla criticism. They have since had a another vanilla test and the winner was McCormick's real vanilla. You say you don't think CI is the "authority" on everything and then you mentioned one thing that was outdated. You said they are proven wrong fairly often, by whom are they proven wrong? Is there another "authority' we should consider? Do you have anything else you don't believe they are the authority on that isn't outdated information?

                          I never give much credence to the taste tests anyway since it is so subjective.

                          I have found their recipes and techniques to be mostly good and helpful.

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: John E.

                            "Is there another authority we should consider?"

                            Of course there is. There are MANY other "authorities" we should consider.

                            You decide which. For you. But CI and Chris Kimball are not, in fact, the authorities they like to present themselves as being. Eg, they are not the final word on anything, even though they think they are. The idea that their recipes are inherently perfect and Should Never Be Changed is only one way they show that.

                            1. re: ZenSojourner

                              I have not said CI is the 'authority'. I have never assumed that they think they are the end all and authority of all things cooking. I was just a little 'put off' by criticizing them for a tasting that is years old and that has since changed. I would like to hear criticism of anyone, as long as it is valid and current. I'm not aware that their 'recipes should never be changed', where does that come from? I change their recipes all the time.

                                1. re: ZenSojourner

                                  I wasn't aware of that blog because I don't frequent sites like that too often. I do however, understand CI's standpoint. I change their recipes for myself all the time. They are just protecting their intellectual property since a blog in this day and age is much the same as publishing a recipe was just a few short years ago. They don't sell ads, all they have is the content (recipes and such) that they create, so I guess I understand why they asked the blogger to remove a modified CI recipe. It sounds like the CI person was cordial in the way that she handled it as well. I think the 'we tested it over 100 times' is more about ownership of the intellecual property mroe than them thinking they are the be all for recipes. The intent of that statement is more about the financial investment they have in their recipes, I believe.

                                  1. re: John E.

                                    Unfortunately they haven't a leg to stand on legally. Their recipes are also, in fact, modifications of someone else's recipes. The only intellectual property involved is the recipe exactly as they wrote it, including method. She didn't use their method, she didn't even use their exact ingredient list. She changed FOUR ingredients and modified the method, and gave them credit for the original recipe, which, as has been noted, itself looks virtually identical to a published recipe in yet another cookbook.

                                    You can't copyright the idea of a recipe (eg CI did not INVENT potato salad and they can't keep you from using similar ingredients in a recipe for potato salad). And once a recipe has been modified, it's not the same recipe any more. Unfortunately apparently moderators on this board deleted Og's recipe for Mastodon, which was my (humorous) way of illustrating the ridiculousness of owning a recipe and legally restraining others from modifying it.

                                    I saw another blog where the person posted a recipe for chicken burritos. There are only so many ways to make chicken burritos, and they all involve the use of chicken.

                                    This person was accused of pirating someone else's recipe for chicken burritos. Why? Because she used SOME (not all) of the same ingredients that this other recipe included.

                                    The guy who accused her of stealing the recipe wrote the following:

                                    You might be surprised to know she rewrote the method and changed quite a few ingredients for her chicken burrito:

                                    * used half as much boneless, skinless chicken thighs
                                    * specified a sliced onion instead of quartered onion
                                    * added two garlic cloves
                                    * used regular sour cream instead of low fat
                                    * used half as much shredded Monterey Jack
                                    * left out the shredded lettuce
                                    * called for a 1/2 cup guacamole instead of a chopped small avocado.

                                    OK, so here we have a pretty standard food item, chicken burritos, which uses a totally different method and has less than half the ingredients in common with another recipe, even using different proportions for the ingredients they DO have in common, and the poor woman is STILL being accused of having ripped the recipe off! Where does this sort of thing end?

                                    Uh-uh. CI was dead wrong in this instance and they totally lost my respect over this.

                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                      They can stop you from posting a recipe that you've modified and referring it in any way as a CI recipe, I believe. I really don't care one way or the other about this entire issue. I just thoguht it was a bit preposterous to go after them saying they are no longer the 'authority' since I never considered them that in the first place and then to go after them about a taste test that has since been changed to agree with the OP.

                                2. re: John E.

                                  As someone wrote on another CI thread, where they claim that theirs is the best recipe for something, they should substitute "the best so far", or "our best".

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    It's their recipe, they can call it anything they wish.

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      I think they use "the best" recipe, because as an adjective, "best" is so subjective that legally it's okay to use. They can't say their recipes are "better than" [fill in the blank], because that would mean a direct comparison and it could potentially be subject to a legal claim.

                                      I could claim that my spaghetti sauce (for example) is "the best in the Midwest". But I won't. Because it isn't (not even close!)

                                      But I do agree with your point that technically, these recipes are not necessarily the best, the be-all, end-all most terrific recipe of all time, forever and ever, amen.

                                3. re: John E.

                                  Just checked and my Best Recipes is from 1999 and I haven't subscribed in about 5 years, I'm guessing. The vanilla one was just one that stuck in my head. Here on CH I've read really excellent home cooks and professional chefs critique this and that. If you read what I've written, you'll see I've given credit where it's due. And I've given each of our daughters the BR book. I guess I like steve h's golf analogy the best. If I'm going to cook something country or region- specific, it's unlikely that CI is going to be my first choice. But it has a place in my cooking. Just not as big a place as it did pre-CH.

                                  And I have to say that the issue pointed out in that blog is pretty off-putting to me.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I don't know what it is you are referencing with your last sentence.

                                4. Being an authority does not mean infallible.
                                  I rely on CI/ATK/et al, They have a good track record and are one of multiple cooking resources I consider An Authority. But no ones perfect.
                                  The worst example of bad advice from CI was a short cut French fry recipe that called for coating the raw fries w/ olive oil then microwaving before frying. Intuitively I thought that was a BAD IDEA, and sure enough, as I expected, the fries came out limp and greasy soggy.
                                  Then again that could be just another of the many examples of where I messed up... but I don't think sooo.

                                  1. If you watch enough food TV, sooner or later you'll find that Alton Brown or Chris Kimball say the complete opposite of what Jaques Pepin or Juila Child taught us, and I attribute some of this to tradition versus experimentation. But more often than not, you'll see that they agree with their tips and hear the same hint from several sources.

                                    I do have to say, I am a little disappointed with ATK with regard to their perfect hamburger. They have given us at least three different versions, all completely different.

                                    And didn't they just do a segment on French Fries where they did something weird, like freezing them first?

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: GraydonCarter

                                      I watch no food TV nor much else TV. So shoot me :)

                                      1. re: GraydonCarter

                                        While sometimes entertaining, I don't often look to Alton Brown for recipes. I do however like many of the CI recipes. I am interested in what you meant when you said Kimball says the complete opposite of Child and Pepin. I'm not challenging you, but I would like some examples so I can better understand your point.

                                        1. re: John E.

                                          I'm trying to remember now. I had something in mind when I wrote that. One example of the similarities is the lesson "don't crowd the pan" which it seems everyone is in agreement with. But a good example of a contradiction might be the French Fries thing... we'd been taught that longer exposure to oil resulted in oily fries, but ATK asks does lengthy exposure to oil lead to a greasier fry? Their test results showed that "cold-start spuds contained about one third less fat than spuds deep-fried twice the conventional way."

                                        2. re: GraydonCarter

                                          The freezing them first thing I've seen in several "perfect" recipes for french fries, including one purporting to recreate McDonald's fries at home.

                                          I'm afraid I just don't like french fries enough to put that much effort into it. I'd much rather have a baked potato, or home fries. Or almost anything else, come to think of it.

                                        3. I'm too feisty to believe any self-appointed authority purporting to have "The Perfect Anything". There are too many wonderful cooks cooking too many wonderful dishes for Chris Kimball et al to profess to have THE best way to prepare a dish, especially an ethnic dish. That's just arrogant.

                                          Case in point: I trained in France and learned basic techniques from some very knowlegable chefs over the period of a year of solid hard kitchen work (when it was very difficult to be an American girl in a traditional French kitchen). Scrambled eggs were always made slowly, very slowly over a low low heat. They are food for the Gods and I have never changed this method because it produces a great dish. The CI book, "Best Recipes" calls for eggs to be scrambled over high heat. Paying close attention, I tried their method and found that I could also produce decent scrambled eggs. But I prefer the French eggs, time-consuming though they are. Which leads me to the question, are the CI scrambled eggs the best way to produce this dish? No.

                                          CI et al does some good work and brought the idea of recipe testing to the mass American market. They deserve credit for what they've accomplished. However, this stops far short of canonization or bestowing Papal authority on them as the end-all & be-all food authority. There is plenty of room for excellence and CI does not own the sole title.

                                          I'm not a fan but will admit to checking CI when I have a question and this only adds another dimension to my quest. There's room in this wonderful world of food for lots of differing opinions.

                                          1. I've gotten many truly stellar recipes from CI over the years. Their tasting and equipment recs, OTOH, are sometimes just plain silly.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              I agree. I generally like their recipes, some of them I don't care for, but it's probably not their recipe I don't like, but that particular food in general. I find some of their taste tests to be very affected by their NE location (even though they say their tasters represent a wide section of the U.S.).
                                              We used to have a subscription to the CI magazine, once for 1 year and have considered an on-line membership but find that they have enough free recipes from the TV shows to satisfy.

                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                I'm sure we all have. That creme brulee is a real keeper. That would make a good thread, wouldn't it?

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  There's already a thread on the best CI recipes, with a few hundred posts. See discussion list below.

                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                    I was wondering if someone would mention that, and if CI would then investigate. They have a team to ferret out this sort of thing, according to the link ZenSojourner provided.

                                              2. Cooking and the understanding thereof is a lot like cultural literacy. EVERYBODY has gaps! And like knowledge of literature, in cooking our own tastes and preferences dictate the areas in which we gain expertise. If someone says such and such is the greatest vanilla in the world, I just shrug and say to myself, poor baby, s/he's never tasted my Posa vanilla from Mexico. I have the greatest respect for and thoroughly enjoy Julia Child, but when I see her make an omelet, I just think to myself, poor baby, she didn't know any better. Everything boils down to personal taste, and the great problem with Cooks Illustrated is that they do too much by committee. And EVERYBODY knows too many cooks spoil the broth.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  Aha! Maybe THAT'S the problem. The committee.

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    "Everybody knows too many cooks spoil the broth"


                                                    And we all know what happens when you design by committee, too

                                                  2. I like that CI's recipes are tested and modified. I have rarely found a bad one. Plenty that I had no interest in trying.

                                                    Watching the show, I have seen where the home cooks came to a completely different conclusion than the test cooks. I think that is interesting and comes down to chef's wanting things to comply with their culinary background and home cooks just caring about what they think is good.

                                                    Every chef in the world seems to want to cook beef medium rare and vegetables al dente. I like beef medium to medium well and I like my veggies softer than al dente.

                                                    I'm sure that the home cook's especially are effected by their location. They wouldn't be able to help it.

                                                    I still think I would trust CI's recipes, tips and hardware tests over most other individual chefs.

                                                    It would take a great many chowhounders recommendations to overcome a Cook's Illustrated recommendation. In deed, I think many opinions here are shaped by fashion and trend.

                                                    21 Replies
                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner


                                                        To be honest, I do think there is food fashion despite it is a bit contradictory. On one hand, you think what tastes good simply tastes good and a good cookware is simply good peroid. You think many of these culinary things should be timeless, but apparently they are not. Far from it. Take Japanese sushi as an example. It did not enjoy the same level of status in America decades ago, now it is a symbol of finest. I think similar "fashion" transformation has happened to Indian food, Thai food, Chinese food and many other cuisines to lesser extend. The definition of beef doness. Apparently, what was medium done is now considered medium-well. German knives were the things to get not so many years ago, but now there is a fashion push to get Westernized-Japanese style knives like Shun and Global. Just a year ago, I were at Williams Sonoma and the sale lady was telling customers (including me) that Shun knives are better than Wusthof knives. I don't think that a major kitchen store saleperson would have said that merely 10 years ago. Finally, anodized aluminum cookware were all the rage years ago. Not so much now.

                                                        *Edit* I just remember a good current example: Greenpans.

                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                          Oops. it appears we were typing at the same time about the same subject. Yours being more eloquent and mine being more blunt.

                                                          Unfortunately, I suspect both will be deleted for being off subject (has nothing to do with CI).

                                                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                            Yeah, it seems we are typing about the same time. Although we really point to many different things, so this is good.

                                                            *Edit* I don't think we are off topic, because we are talking about CI being a good indicator for food fashion.

                                                          2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                            So would that make a Big Mac the culinary equivalent of prêt-à-porter?

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                              :) Why not Filet-O-Fish as the example?

                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                I have to be sitting down to truly enjoy my Filet-O-Fish ...

                                                          3. re: ZenSojourner


                                                            The following are very fashionable right now:
                                                            Indian cuisine
                                                            Thai cuisine
                                                            Middle Eastern cuisine
                                                            Vegan and vegetarian cuisine
                                                            Chick peas and Hummus
                                                            Grass fed beef
                                                            sustainability cooking

                                                            The following are not fashionable right now:
                                                            corn fattened beef
                                                            Milk fed veal
                                                            Fried foods
                                                            well done and medium well beef
                                                            Canola oil

                                                            Things that are in transition:
                                                            Eggs They were good then bad. They seem to be good and getting more popular now.
                                                            Foie gras Was unheard of then it was very bad due to cruelty. Now it seems to be making a comeback.
                                                            French Fries were good then bad now making a comeback.

                                                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                              How did I forgot to mention Lard. That is an excellent example. I think Crisco is a great example as well.

                                                              "French Fries were good then bad now making a comeback"

                                                              Really? I thought they were considered bad because of the deep frying in oil, so anything change which causes this comeback? Maybe people just don't think they are as unhealthy maybe.

                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                There are several threads right now about french fries. maybe a trend?

                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                  Lard is also making a comeback (at least leaf lard--it's pretty fetishized right now--not so much the hyperprocessed lard found in supermarkets).

                                                                  1. re: nofunlatte

                                                                    And, of course, lardo. That probably has always been popular though, just not in the US til recently. Yum.

                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                      I had to look up both lardo and leaf lard to make sure I knew what they were.

                                                                      Lardo - italian aged, cured fatback
                                                                      Leaf Lard - pork fat from around the kidneys

                                                                      Interesting ... gourmet lard

                                                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                        I've been keeping leaf lard on hand for use in pie crusts for a number of years now. Didn't realize I was on the leading edge of fashion. LOL.

                                                                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                    I think that, at some point, some folk might say "I KNOW they're deep-fried in oil, but I want some, anyway!"

                                                                    P.S. Speaking of fashion, anyone else know the proliferation of sweet potato fries?

                                                                  3. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                    I pay no attention to fashions in clothes so I guess I'm not surprised that I'm oblivious to "fashions" in food as well.

                                                                    I cook and eat what I like. Actually to my knowledge well-done beef has NEVER been "in fashion" - or at least popular - since that is the only way I will eat it and I have been consistently castigated for this for all of my life, or about half a century.

                                                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                      My dad eats well done beef. But the man does wear socks with sandals :)

                                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                        I grew up eating well done beef. It is the only way my mother cooked it.

                                                                        I have since gotten where I appreciate medium especially on a really good piece of meat. For some reason, I can eat prime rarer than the same piece of choice meat.

                                                                        I can eat medium rare but I don't care for it.

                                                                2. My feeling about testing groups and panels is that they rarely provide any information I personally would find useful. The whole nature of the process is that they tend to skew to the least objectionable, rather than the best. In particular, I found that CI tended to skew to the bland side. It epitomizes what people mean when they dismiss Americans as liking bland food and being afraid of bold flavors.

                                                                  1. Speaking of Cook's IlIustrated, I just started a thread on blind taste tests you think would have surprising results.

                                                                    1. I've been a subscriber for almost 10 years, and I expect I will *not* renew when my last issue arrives in a few months when the 10th year is up.

                                                                      The main reason: CI has a very narrow focus. I actually created an index of 9 years of their recipes for my own analysis, and was amazed to see how much of the recipes were updates and riffs on prior efforts, and how little they treated whole classes of food, and even how little they treated important foods like, say, cabbage (a vital foodstuff that is easy to mistreat but for which there is a rich international repertoire of dishes) other than as an incidental ingredient. It's really sad. I challenged them a year ago (on the occasion of the 100th issue) to do some serious broadening, but I think they are more interested in just getting new people for a few years, and relying on inertia for the existing subscriber base. Even given that they probably prepare issues months in advance, I've seen nothing to indicate any shift or even a desire to shift.

                                                                      Heaven knows their subscription practices are notoriously obnoxious. Their attitude about claiming more than their legal rights regarding their recipes is deeply deeply offensive, and alienating, and I hope there is backlash.

                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                                        jfood made the same decision to cancel when they wanted to charge a 10-year subscriber an additional fee to use the on line version. f-'em is where jfood landed and the last few weeks of their "special" offers has indicated that they prefer fools as customers.

                                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                                          I quit subscribing to the bound edition in 2006, and have only found one recipe in the last four years I would've liked to have. Of course, I found it on the internet, and put a copy in a binder. So, no losses there. Too many retreads since 1993, IMO.

                                                                          1. re: amyzan

                                                                            As I've written before here, I started boycotting CI after I logged onto their "free" website only to be bombarded by subscription offers. One could only access the recipes by signing up for a trial offer of a couple of issues. I did so and then decided not to sub. I started getting dunning letters saying I was going to be referred to a collection agency-type deal. I got so made I called them up.

                                                                            They were very nice and said that it wasn't a "real" credit agency, but an in-house department and that I shouldn't worry. I told them that even using this technique and even if it were an in-house collection bureau it was totally cheesey and I didn't want to have anything to do with them.

                                                                            I watch their shows once in a while because they come on in a line-up of cooking shows on local PBS, but so often their dishes are just rehashing of boring stuff that's been around forever. They cater to a conservative crowd that doesn't seem to be very adventurous.


                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                I don't mean to imply that they actually got money from me, only that their methods seemed to go against their homey, friendly shows.

                                                                              2. re: oakjoan

                                                                                Actually, you don't have to sign up for their 'free 2-week trial offer' to get some of their recipes. You can get the 'current' recipes with just an e-mail address. Whether or not their recipes appeal to you is another matter. I use a 'dummy' e-mail address and not my main address so the offers don't bother me. I use the dummy address whenever I have to sign up for something using an e-mail address. It cuts down on the amount of useless e-mails that I recieve. In fact, in my main e-mail address, I don't recall the last spam or junk e-mail I received at that address.

                                                                          2. Clearly, Cook's Illustrated is more helpful to new cooks than highly experienced cooks.

                                                                            They have a great many articles on technique and the science of food and cooking. They have a lot of videos that are very instructive.

                                                                            Their recipes are tested to ensure nothing goes terribly wrong and perhaps because of it, their recipes may be considered bland by seasoned cooks. A new cook would rather it be a bit on the bland side than ruined by over spicing.

                                                                            I can see where as a cook becomes more experienced, CI grows less useful. Their frequent emails attempting to sell us something certainly grow tiresome.

                                                                            Anyway, if all you need are recipes, you can get those from a myriad of free sources. Although that doesn't seem to stop all of us from buying plenty of cookbooks we don't need at considerably more than CI charges.

                                                                            9 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                              Agreed. I stopped subscribing to the actual magazine when I, like others here, found the same recipes with slight variations, and taste tests that differed. But I keep the online subscription since I can look up something technical or check a detail of some basic recipe.
                                                                              For example, I bake, and most baking recipes call for whole milk, and I usually have only 2% for the kids and half-and-half for my coffee. They were able to provide me with the proper ratio to mix and get the right amount of fat per oz (this being 3 parts 2% to one part half-and-half).

                                                                              1. re: Michelly

                                                                                A good example of their reliance on tweakage were the turkey recipes that were part of Create's "Talking Turkey" marathon today. They did brining on one episode, then salt rub on another, then herb paste under the skin on a third and on a fourth, barding with salt pork.
                                                                                Those are all valid alternatives. I am less tolerant when it comes to mashed potato. One year the best mashing potato is russet, another year Yukon gold. Steaming and ricing, boiling before peeling, or cooking peeled cubes in milk with garlic cloves. Seems to me that in the case of potatoes they ought to have been able to find the best method/type, and stick with it.

                                                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                                                  Potatoes are exactly what I thought of when i saw the title of this thread. I have seen their Thanksgiving-season episode each of the last three or four years. Each time, there's a new "perfect" mashed potatoes recipe. How many more "perfect" potatoes are there? shouldn't it be locked down by now?

                                                                                  1. re: mattwarner

                                                                                    Exactly. They present cooking as if there is one and only one exact way to cook any dish. That's both wrong and to me it takes all the heart, soul and joy out of cooking.

                                                                                    1. re: mattwarner

                                                                                      It's always been a bone of contention with me, too--they tried every recipe, print the "best" one and low and behold, a few months later, there's a better recipe/technique, that they charge you for.

                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                        While I understand the annoyance at so many 'perfect' recipes, I don't think the interval has ever been as short as a few months. I have also seen the various mashed potato feature episodes and it seems to me that they are 'perfEcting' a different style of mash such as garlic-mashed or creamy or fluffy or some other type. We have to remember that they are in the business of recipes and almost nothing else so they need to keep churning them out and since they seem to have decided to focus on the lowest common denominator type of cook they are churning out recipes for food in which the most people will be interested.

                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                          Precisely! It's like "Whoops! We missed a recipe!" right after they explain the decades of research and exacting tests that went in to developing the one perfect recipe they'd already announced.

                                                                                        2. re: mattwarner

                                                                                          I have never understood the idea of one perfect way to do anyhting. I make 4 or 5 different kinds of mashed potatoes depending on my mood and what potatoes are most beautiful when I shop.

                                                                                          1. re: magiesmom

                                                                                            Personally, I think the whole perfectionism ideal is just ridiculous with cooking and baking. Yes, baking is science, and it helps to know the chemistry of what you're doing, to understand the principles will turn out a better product. But, it's so overblown--Martha Stewart hawks perfection, and CI sells on that same basis. While I respect what each has done for promoting home cooking in our age of convenience and fast food, please, let's not hold ourselves to such standards. It only serves to discourage and dispirit cooks and bakers, IMHO. I don't understand it either, magiesmom. It reminds me of all the competition shows, and by this I mean the ones that aren't tongue in cheek. I don't get it. At all.

                                                                                  2. We've split a discussion about Cooks' Illustrated's actions toward a blogger to our Food Media and News board, as it is not directly related to cooking. You can find it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/748940