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Cooks Illustrated premium rip off

I think their "premium website" upgrade for recipes is the worst nickel and dime money extraction scheme I have seen in a while. I think it might also be illegal because when you pay your online subscription fee there is NO NOTICE that you will only be able to access part of the recipe file and that additional fees are necessary to access (for me) almost every recipe I search for on their website. Three searches three "you must upgrade to get that recipe". Grrrrr. I totally feel ripped off. Isn't some disclosure necessary before we part with our money?

I was charmed by Mr. Kimball's editorials in the magazine. No more. He is a real as Betty Crocker.

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  1. As a long time subscriber to the mag, when i saw that he charged for the on-line access as well, i let my subscription expire. he is as bad as my cable provider, that takes pond scum to another level.

    1. Can you explain? What would you get with your regular level if not the recipes? I am tempted to let my mag sub runout & just have access to the website whenever I need to doublecheck something or have time to browse the latest.

      1. I'm very disappointed in all the things I read about the Cooks Illustrated business practices. It is by far my favorite food magazine, but I may have to let my subscription run out because of the constant money grabs. I was very surprised when I found out that I had to pay extra for most everything related to the website although I was a paper copy subscriber. I suppose it's fair enough for them only to offer extra if you pay extra, but it feels bad.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Shann

          I used to subscribe to CI and was certain that my obsession with finding the perfect life changing recipe would be satisfied with them. I finely bought "The Best Recipe" cookbook and snuck it onto my bookcase with my other 300+ cookbooks. Two months later out they came with "THe NEW Best Recipe". WHAT!!! Do they mean my book is NOT full of THE Best Recipes? It was the anticipation of owning the book, the satisfaction of finally holding it as my own, and the feeling that I'd been taken for a sucker almost immediately after when they said I should now buy their new best recipe book - that finally ended my infatuation with Kimball and crowd. My new best recipes come from Fine Cooking magazine and website. I love the mag. because it's about recipes - not advertisements. And they are GOOD recipes, with wonderful pictures and instructions. I have stopped CI, Bon Appetit, and Gourmet. May quit Saveur when it runs out in two years, but Fine Cooking is GREAT and they just seem so honest in comparison - without all the nickle and diming of CI.

          1. re: Lotti

            Just in defense of CI, they do operate without advertising so they are under more pressure to get revenue.

        2. Ya know.....I really, REALLY like the "Cooks" TV shows. I dunno--I find them informative as all heck and I enjoy the no bs about the way the food is cooked, the tone of the show. I even had (note I state HAD) a subscription to Cooks Illustrated. I allowed it to expire because I felt I was hounded to subscribe to their website and the online thingy.

          Funny..I, too was charmed by Mr. Kimball's editorials--they were so...so..so unlike the total dysfunction of my own personal life. However, the more I read and hear about this guy...the charming personality--the bowtie--it is all seemingly a gimmick. It's a love/hate kind of thing. I despise his phoniness, but I love him for bringing such informative shows and cookbooks. America's Test Kitchen is one of my go-tos!

          1. hmmm, well you saved me signing up. I got the "free" cooks illustrated app for my Itouch. So far, almost everything requires me to sign up and pay money.
            I started losing my delight with Cooks over cobbler recipes. I had the BEST cobbler recipes with them ---tons of compliments and easy to use [a chart with amounts of fruit, suggested topping etc.] Alas, I mislaid it somewhere in the universe. Cooks doesn't have it in the archives--they have an "improved" version which is way more complicated. Why can't I get the same recipe that was in the magazine?

            If I were you, Lotti, I'd be sooooo ticked.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jenn

              Jenn, here's a link to a post with some of the CI cobbler master recipes. I have the issue you are referring to. E-mail me via the address on my profile if you need more info.


            2. oh and that sounds like an upsell to me. .. . . .perhaps a complaint to the FTC?

              1. I'll bet if you parse the wording of their premium offer carefully, you'll realize that they aren't promising you access to ALL the recipes, either. Their plan could be to toss a little more chum in the water every few years, in hopes of getting subscribers to fork out yet another $20 for the latest bunch of fish heads.

                1. I don't get how people feel ripped off when having to pay more to get more. Its a no brainer, I suppose you think you should just get all of their cookbook content for free right? Did you just become a consumer yesterday? And if you would have looked into it a little, you would realize you can take the editors choice recipes off of the search function, so you won't have to see what you are missing. For a person like me living in a small apartment, I don't have a ton of space for cookbooks, so this makes perfect sense to me to have all of them online and it makes perfect sense for CI to charge for it. They are a business.

                  23 Replies
                  1. re: mlukan

                    I think people are OK with paying for access to a website, and if they do not want to pay, then they move on.

                    I know what I am upset with is I DO PAY for the magazine so I am a customer and if I did not have the room to store the magazines I would like the ability to access the recipes I have already paid for and they have already delivered to my house through the website. Paying to access that for me is a second fee, and it is a no-brainer that paying twice is not something most consumers enjoy.

                    As to the premium or the regular on-line subscription, no dog in that hunt since I will not pay to enter so I cannot comment on the premium versus the regular recipes. But if the analogy is my cable TV provider and CI is taking that business model, count me out. I like the recipes but i will not support that model where everything is an upcharge. Way too many good sites that do not do a gotcha.

                    Hope that helps and offers a little clarification.

                    1. re: jfood

                      See you pay for the magazine though, not the website. I don't understand the mentality and sense of entitlement that just because you paid for the magazine you should automatically have full access to the recipe online. Maybe they should have some sort of code that you could put in for each recipe that you paid for via magazine subscription, but just because they don't have it, doesn't mean its a gotcha. And unless you have been a subscriber since day 1, you will get tons of new content from every magazine they have ever published and have the search function as well. You can also copy and paste every recipe to save on your computer, than you never have to worry about resigning up. Here is a link for 50% off of the subscription I found. Considering its the price of one cookbook for every recipe they have done, its an amazing deal. https://www.cooksillustrated.com/cds_...

                      Don't get me wrong, CI is not perfect, or even close for that matter. But it hardly deserves half of the venom it receives.

                      1. re: mlukan

                        Let's see...people who disagree with you are brainless, entitled and have a sense of entitlement. Sorry but this is just a difference of opinion.

                        I think a business model that charges 2 separate fees to access the data is a bad business model and if you and others like the on-line version and feel you receive value, that is fine with me. I am of the opinion that I am a customer that pays a significant fee compared to other food magazine subscriptions. And the other subscription do not try to extract 2 fees from me, one for paper and one for digital. And in all aspects of life if people speak with their wallets, then maybe a business will change. I for one do not wish to support a business that charges 2 fees, others are willing to do it.

                        It will not move my pleasure meter too much, so i am comfortable.

                        But to call us brainless and entitled is over the line M, in my opinion.

                        1. re: jfood

                          And the other subscription do not try to extract 2 fees from me, one for paper and one for digital.

                          Well...actually, some do. Consumers Reports comes immediately to mind. And yes, I subscribe to both.

                          1. re: al b. darned

                            But CR only charges one fee for online access. They don't have different levels of paid online access (i.e., certain things that cost more above and beyond the online subscription), which it sounds like CI does. They also very clearly disclose subscription prices.

                          2. re: jfood

                            There is a difference in the "access to data". In the case of the magazine, you pay for that issue, that year. With the website, you can search as far back as they have archives. We're not talking about the same data. If the issue was paying for the print magazine, and having to pay additional for access to the online version of the exact same content, I would agree with you, that's bad practice. But with the current set-up (and I'm a CI subscriber to both print and online), I see it as paying for the paper version that come out monthy, and paying a different fee for a different service - a database. Another way to look at it: the customer that subscribes to the print issue today only has access to recipes from now until s/he ends his/her subscription. Why should they have online access to recipes from a year ago, when they weren't a subscriber a year ago?

                            1. re: foreverhungry

                              I absolutely understand the nuances and you phrased each and every aspect of the differences extremely well, with the exception that the paper subsriber has access to the stuff they have both received + until they throw it out, which is even more limiting.

                              And some will agree and want that access, some will not, some will want a discount if they have more than one point of entry, others may not. I was a 30+ year subscriber to BA & Gourmet and stopped, they went out of the print business, so maybe CI can survive. Consumer Report used to be free for AOL subscribers, no longer and you rarely hear of them.

                              There are SO MANY good recipe sites, so much to read on non-ATK sites, so many books in the library, that paying for access and the level that they target is just not worth that price to me. Maybe when I was 25 and learning, probably, but it is not moving the meter for ~$30 a year any longer. FindingTHE BEST beef stew is not what I am looking for any longer, others want it. Yeah it was nice using buttermilk and slits to make breading adhere more to pork chops, but it is not a meter-mover to me at this point.

                              C'est la vie.

                              1. re: jfood

                                I get what you're saying, and I sometimes question CI's subscription price, because, as you said, there are tons of free recipe sites out there, including sites like Chowhound that lets folks chime in with what's worked for them.

                                I'm partial to CI because of the analytical approach they take. It's not perfect or foolproof, but I'm trained as a scientist, and I appreciate the approach they take. I'm sure other kitchens, like FoodNetwork, try various recipes, but CI also spells out what didn't work, and importantly to the dork in me, why specific ingredients/techniques/approaches work, often from a basic chemistry perspective. I like that, and that's not really offered elsewhere.

                                As for the pay-for-content on the internet...Yes, there are a lot of free sites. But I've found that CI recipes work really well, at a much higher success rate than any other site/magazine I've seen (with the exception of Cucina Italiana, which for me right now is the cream of the crop). A lot of people expect internet content to be free, while they don't mind paying for the paper version, which to me makes no sense. That's part of the reason newspaper circulations are in decline across the board (not only reason, but a big one). And as that continues, quality reporting (and quality recipes, techniques, etc.) decrease, because, after all, money has to come from somewhere.

                                Lastly, I also like that CI doesn't contain advertisements. It makes me very suspicious when a Food Network "star" hawks some brand of tomatoes for a recipe. I like the taste tests, and Food Network (or any other site that takes advertising money) couldn't pull something like that off.

                                Do they charge more? Sure. Personally, I don't mind. Because at the end of the day, I don't want 1000 recipe sites, all slapping up the same pirated recipe, or all with some version of Aunt Jane's casserole dish. And, I also want to know why I'm doing a specific technique the way I am, I don't want to simply do it like a robot because I'm told to.

                                All that said, I hope ATK takes all the criticism directed towards them to heart, and addresses it, because obviously, they can't survive without a happy customer base.

                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                  Yeah, my wife gives me "that look" when I have an epiphany about why something worked in the kitchen (should have seen my enormous smile this sunday with slow cooked soft scrambled eggs and her response), even though her dad was a brilliant scientist. To the dork in both of us you have to read, if you have not:


                                  Has en entire section on the science of scrambled eggs and peeling hard boiled eggs, it doesn't get dorkier than that.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Thanks for the reference. It's in my cart. For what it's worth, I think the making of perfect scrambled eggs something magical. I'm not an omelet person. Love scrambled eggs, and like some soft and creamy. Part science, part art. I know the smile you are talking about. Thanks!

                      2. re: mlukan

                        "I don't get how people feel ripped off when having to pay more to get more."

                        Here's why I feel ripped off.
                        I've been a long time online subscriber so I've seen a lot of changes to the CI website.
                        I believe the Editor's Choice recipes were part of the original website database, but for some reason (maybe the popular recipes) were designated "Editor's Choice".

                        In other words, I feel they're wanting us to pay more for the same recipes that now have a fancy "Editor's Choice" badge.

                        CI can do what they want with their website and pay structure.
                        As a former customer, I just wanted some honesty. Charge more for the same content, I'm good with that. But to reduce content and charge more with the premise of getting special recipes is not good.

                        1. re: dave_c

                          "I believe the Editor's Choice recipes were part of the original website database"
                          There were a few recipes that were available from cookbooks for free, but it wasn't even 1/8 of the content available in Editor's Choice. Its a little petty considering how many recipes are available for the price of the upgrade. I mean, how big of a deal would it be to get the upgrade, and copy and paste every recipe and save it on your computer.

                          1. re: mlukan

                            I am not sure that Mr Kimble or the other editors are happy that you are probably violating some rules by downloading and saving

                            1. re: jfood

                              Well considering they have a print feature that enables a printer friendly copy of every recipe, and I'm not selling these for profit. I don't think they would have an issue. They also have a feature that you can send recipes to friends from your account. So they have no issues with sharing. I know you would like to believe that Mr Kimble is a sleazy business man and CI is the equivalent of Enron but thats just not reality.

                              1. re: mlukan

                                once again you have taken this discussion to an unfortunate level. I never called anyone sleazy nor compared it to Enron, so please be accurate.

                                So that i understand your position. People who pay for the paper version are not entiled to the on-line version, but people who pay for the on-line version can digitally save the recipes, and are entitled to create a paper version.

                                Thank you for giving me another reason to let my paper subscription expire.

                                BTW - I e-mailed CI about the cut-paste and save a digital version of their recipe. If they come back and state it is OK, I will apologize, if they say it is a violation of the rules you agree to when you signed up, well....that is your decision how to handle that data.


                                1. re: jfood

                                  al b. darned - "What is a shame, IMO,is he doesn't need to do any of those sleazy business practices we are whining about here. "
                                  J food - "totally agree...word for word."

                                  The Enron thing was a joke. Through the sarcasm in the joke I'm trying to say that some peoples venom for how CI runs their business is not consistent with how much the service costs. I pinch pennies on things that are expensive in life, but not something that cost less than $5 a month.

                                  1. re: mlukan

                                    Very good catch...word for word does mean that so i should have carved out that part...mea culpa.

                                    There also needs to be a means to get an emoticon accepted for sarcasm, it just does not work on the internet most times.

                                    I do not like the practice but venom is probably not the standard for me. I do have venom for Cablevision because the alternatives are not that available. For me and CI, I just do not need it for $35 per year. I can go to the airport, figure out which of the magazines are better in any given month and buy that one. Sometimes it is saveur, or cucina, or one of the others. I get diversity, some peacefulness on the flight and some good recipes.

                                    I am interested in the response though. Will keep you informed and whether you get apology #2 or you have an oops.


                                    1. re: jfood

                                      LOL, totally agree on the emoticon for sarcasm, I should learn my lesson about that. I hope I get apology #2 otherwise I could be in trouble ;)

                                      1. re: mlukan

                                        yes but if you are right then a quick $3.95 for a month subscription and a couple of hundred K of hard drive and i'm good to go.

                                        1. re: mlukan

                                          Bad news M, no apology #2 on its way. According to CI saving their recipe to your hard drive is a violation of their copyright. Since I am not a copyright lawyer I do not know whether they are correct or blowing smoke.

                                          Sounds like it might be the same as the people who get charged with copying songs, but do as you wish with the info.

                                          Happy holidays

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            Awww shucks. I guess I'm kinda surprised they don't make it a flash format making it harder to just copy and paste. O well......
                                            Thanks for the info :)

                          2. re: mlukan

                            Speaking for myself, I think I feel ripped off by CI because I finally understand that they are selling an IDEA, not recipes. They have put a lot of effort into marketing the IDEA that they have the BEst recipes, and if you don't pay for their subscriptions you are somehow missing out. There are lots of magazines and companies that have "test kitchens", but Cook's Illustrated MARKETS their recipes and shows very well as being the "best" and most well tested - the ultimate - perfect. But... they need to keep generating revenue. So they keep coming up with new "better" marketing to convince consumers that the latest is now the Best - ie: better than all the other test kitchen result they came up with in the past - that you need to pay more for. Some people who have been consumers of CI for a long time are catching on, Yes, they have good recipes, but so do many other sources that don't charge for every so called new revision/innovation on the old theme. Kimball is a great salesman/con-man.

                          3. This is a timely topic. I was just about to start this topic but found I was beaten to the punch.

                            I like CI *in spite of* Chris Kimball, not because of him, but that is for another rant.

                            I was browsing CI's site for a recipe when I, too, came up against the dreaded "THIS PAGE IS FOR Editors’ Choice Cookbook Collection MEMBER'S ONLY" dialog. YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!!!! I already pay for two memberships for access to basically the same information, Now you want me to pay more?

                            I already dropped my CI and Cooks's Country subscriptions because I couldn't see paying twice for the same info. Now they want me to pay more for "exclusive access"? I don't think so.

                            What is, to me, more deceptive is the fact you don't know how much the "upgrade" is. There are lots of weasel words trying to justify the new program, but nowhere is there a price for all this new wonderfulness.

                            Attention Cook's Illustrated: There's lots of recipes, even some good ones, on the Internet....FOR FREE!!

                            1. I just went to CI's bulletin board and discovered that there are lots of disgruntled members. But more importantly, I noted the posts grumbling about this began last February. How did I miss this for so long? They didn't nag me about this when my renewal came up last April.

                              From there I learned it costs $14.95 to "upgrade"!!! Half again what my subscription costs! No thanks!!

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: al b. darned

                                where is the bulletin board, would love to add one more ex-subscriber

                                1. re: jfood

                                  On the left side of the screen just below where you sign in you will see three links:
                                  My Account
                                  Bulletin Board
                                  Free Newsletter

                                  You will have to set up a separate account for this, but they don't charge for it yet. You can even join without having a CI web site subscription.

                                  1. re: al b. darned

                                    This topic has been done to death on the boards and a good argument still hasn't really been put forward against charging for cookbook content on top of magazine content. I am willing to bet that for every person not happy about it there are several who are happy they don't have to buy the Giant cookbook to get content from the cookbooks.

                                    1. re: al b. darned

                                      And another point Al.

                                      -Go to the website and try to find out how much it costs for the on-line version...does not appear
                                      -Click on the free trial to see what it costs....does not appear

                                      If this were such an upfront and holier than thou website, you would think that they would be upfront with the charges but nope, nowhere to be seen. Only after you enter all your information does that data point arise, on page 3. And the lure you in and if you do not cancel you get charged. That scam was popular in the 50's and 60's with the Book of the Month Club. People HATED that you need to cancel or you get charged model.

                                      Could you imagine ANY other business that waits for your personal and charge information before telling you what the charges were...think restaurant.

                                      Oh, by the way the word "free" appears twelve, yes 12 times on the home page.

                                      Consumer reports (a) tells you the fee immediately and (b) charges less for a paper subscriber than a non-paper subscriber to enroll for the digital version.

                                      If people want to use CI on line, go for it.

                                      It is just not a model I wish to support with so many other choices that are free.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Go to the website and try to find out how much it costs for the on-line version...does not appear
                                        -Click on the free trial to see what it costs....does not appear

                                        I agree, as I noted one post up. CI tends to be deceptive. I should have caught on years ago when I first subscribed to the dead tree edition. At the end of that year the hardcover edition of that year's magazine showed up in my mailbox, along with a bill. (I don't remember how much, but I'm sure it was as much, or more than, the regular subscription.) Hmmm...didn't I already pay for this content, and have them on my shelf? Yup!

                                        When I called to complain I was told this was automatic when I subscribed and I had to opt out. (The old Book f the Month game.) I informed them I wasn't going to pay for an unsolicitated book and I considered it to be a gift, and would do so every year I received one. I never received another one.

                                        Then there's Chris Kimball's folksy "I'm pretending to be a native Vermonter," when he's no more a Vermonter than our President. He grew up in Westchester County and lives outside Boston. He happens to have the $$ to be able to afford a second home in Vermont. I don't begrudge him, but it is the deception thing again.

                                        What is a shame, IMO, is he doesn't need to do any of those sleazy business practices we are whining about here. He has great business model with ATK, CI, and CC. I would be a happy customer if it weren't for the sleaze. As it is, tho, this is the proverbial last straw and I will be voting with my wallet. I won't be renewing when my subscription comes due.

                                          1. re: al b. darned

                                            Agree, does anyone have the jan/feb issue. Pls read the first sentence of the editorial, hold your breath....is it me or is he celebrating Xmas early

                                            1. re: celeryroot

                                              Could you elaborate for those of us who only have the electronic edition?

                                              1. re: al b. darned

                                                The first sentence just goes on and on and on , as does the 2nd. I read it a few times and still not sure what he is getting at.......seems strange
                                                I lauughed at it

                                                1. re: celeryroot

                                                  It is so obvious and gives an idea of the next issue...

                                                  ATK tests and gives the recipe for "The Best Alice B. Toklas Brownies."

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    I see.......I now know where the missing ingredient went

                                  2. I don't mind the bowtie or other accoutrements of Kimball's Vermont Farmer clown costume. I love his writing. I am intrigued by their obsessive-compulsive approach to recipe improvement. The website, which till today I never questioned having to pay extra for, is often the first place I go to search for a recipe. I haven't noticed being asked to pay extra for the secret "Editor's Choice" recipes. WIthout paying for the website access, you can search the site for a recipe. The summary tells you what issue it was published in, and if you keep the back issues you can look up the recipe without being a website subscriber.

                                    I have no issue with this business model, but need for them to stop recommending kitchen gadgets because when they do, I tend to buy them.

                                    I also have no issue with people who don't want to pay for the online access, but don't much like the name-calling.