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Sep 16, 2013 02:54 PM

Cook's Illustrated Subscription--or not

Having had a cold that has lasted over 3 weeks, during the worst of it I checked out the entire stack of CI at our local library. (I was only going to take one, but the librarian encouraged me to take all 14.) I had never read it before having heard it mentioned so many times here on Chowhound, I wanted to see what it was like. I fell in love with it. If half of their tips and tricks are true, I should be a better cook in no time--once I feel like returning to the kitchen.

So I've been thinking of photocopying or just making a notebook of favorite tips, recipes to try, etc.--and then I saw an insert card for their yearly hardcover version. Wondering if I should do that even though I'm not interested in the more difficult/exotic dishes. Wondered too if I should subscribe, but when I checked online, the first question was whether I'd like an online OR print subscription. I had hoped that having a print subscription would give me access to online recipes. It doesn't?

Any suggestions on the best way to access CI? And by "best" I"m also thinking "least expensive". Buy the hardcover versions each year?

But perhaps I should ask this first: can I trust these guys? They write as though they've found the best ways in the world to make everything. Can I really toss all my old recipes and start over with CI's recipes?

Somewhat related: I was in a kitchen store over the weekend and since I mentioned Cook's Illustrated, the clerk showed me a pepper mill that had just been rated as the best by CI. She let me try it out so I dialed it (awkwardly) to the finest grind--and big ol' chunks of pepper came out! She didn't seem to notice but went on about how it's so good. Sorry, but I'll stick with my Unicorn key-top. So that puts a little doubt in my mind about CI's trustworthiness--at least as far as best brands.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. Hello there-

    I also enjoy the CI magazine. I know there's a lot of controversy surrounding the brand but I like the format and thoughtfulness they put into basic recipes. What I found most useful is to just grab a copy of the book:

    It's really great- I use it alllll the time. Great, reliable recipes in a logical format! (and without that weird Kimball ole time intro...)

    1 Reply
    1. re: carlee134

      You're right on that last line: only glancing at his closing lines I've thought: "Why should anyone want to read THAT?" Apparently he wants to prove he's got not-so-hidden depths.

    2. You can buy bulk lots of old issues on eBay - I got 24 once for $30 - that will keep you plenty busy.

      1. Thanks4Food,

        I have subscribed to Cook's Illustrated for years. Now that Gourmet is no longer with us, it may be my favorite cooking magazine. To answer your questions, most of the recipes are top notch. Once in a while, I find a recipe that does not work as well as the writer claims, but this is rare.

        However, there is something else to keep in mind. Most of these recipes are of the "faster, easier" persuasion. If you are a cooking hobbyist, you may not be looking for "faster and easier." Many times I am not.

        What really sets this magazine apart is that it often gives you a scientific explanation for why its techniques work. I think that is the best rationale for buying the magazine. It is more educational than most cooking magazines. But I wouldn't throw out your old magazines or stop subscribing to them.

        As for the best way to get these recipes, if cheaper is your rationale, getting the hardbound collection at the end of each year is probably best. Don't subscribe. Just buy the hardbound edition with the entire year's production (6 issues, totalling about 180 pages) at the end of each year.

        But if portability and being able to read it in the bathtub is a factor, then subscribe . . .

        1. I wouldn't subscribe to the magazine, but I've been getting the hardbound annuals for a few years and think I'll keep on. Not for the recipes, which are too fussy for me, but for all the tips, equipment and taste tests, and sidebars. Easier to keep and indexed.

          As for Kimball's intros, he owns the company and can put whatever he likes into his mag. I just skip it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: John Francis

            If you, like most of us, find Kimball's intros tiresome, you should definitely read this:

          2. We've subscribed for years. I think that's the best way, not the website.

            In terms of what they do, I live a few blocks from their office and saw a number of them fairly regularly at the gym (until I switched gyms), including some of the on-air talent (not Chris, who is as odd in person as you'd think). So take this however you want.

            The basic idea is everything is crowd-checked. All recipes are developed and must be confirmed by a sufficient number of subscriber testers. The kitchen, where I've been many times, is about precision: e.g., when the cooks cut up stuff, they put it in containers so they can measure both volume and weight. They use the stuff they recommend, same knives, same boards, etc.

            A negative is crowd-checking tends to round off the rough edges that often make food more interesting. A positive is you can definitely use what they say and alter it as you want. And they really examine what they do in a recipe and why.

            An example is they counted the number of times you "should" beat an egg (and the pace), something I think is silly given the vagaries in cooking each time. The idea is sort of Victorian, that home cooking is not easy as marketing tells us but hard and requires attention and study. There's truth in that but it's also kind of schoolmarmish, which happens to be the opposite of the character of all the people I've met there except for Chris.