How 80 People Tested our Cookbook Recipes for Free

Melt_Turkey and Robusto
Every recipe in Melt was tested four times by our band of recipe testers, including this one for Turkey and Robusto Mac and Cheeselets.

A guest post by Garrett McCord, co-author of Melt

One of the greatest fears of cookbook writers is that their readers — the people who have dedicated time, money, and ingredients –- will be unable to successfully execute the recipes. When Stephanie Stiavetti and I started working on Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, we resolved that recipes would be properly tested and that every single one would work flawlessly.

So how to go about this? Years ago I tested recipes for Jaden Hair’s first cookbook. Stephanie and I discussed the process and decided that the best way to test the book was with our blog readers. We put out a call on our [Read more…]

Secrets of Writing Recipes for Big Food Magazines

Kristine Kidd, former food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, ran the test kitchen for 20 years.

Guest Post by Kristine Kidd

When Kristine Kidd was food editor of Bon Appetit magazine, her staff tested recipes from writers and recipe developers, and she decided which ones would run.

A 20-year veteran of the magazine, Kidd is now self-employed and the author of several cookbooks, most recently Weeknight Gluten Free. Here are 14 insider tips. — DJ

At Bon Appetit, we tested hundreds of recipes every month. The ones we published were the ones that worked best in the test kitchen.

We rarely gave a new writer another chance if the recipes did not test well or if we had too much trouble with them. Editorial schedules are jammed and [Read more…]

Q&A: Doc Willoughby on Perfecting Recipes in America's Test Kitchen

Twenty years of perfecting recipes. That’s how long America’s Test Kitchen has cooked, baked and obsessed over the results. Based in Brookline, MA, it’s the test kitchen for a PBS television show of the same name, where the staffs of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines work out their recipes.

How does the staff create a recipe that works every time? I asked John “Doc” Willoughby, the company’s executive editor for magazines. The Harvard grad began his career at Cook’s Illustrated when Chris Kimball founded the magazine in 1993. In 2001, he left to become executive editor at Gourmet magazine, then returned to America’s Test Kitchen in 2010. Willoughby, who writes cookbooks with co-author Chris Schlesinger, a chef, has written nine, including the award-winning The Thrill of the Grill.

Lori Galvin, executive editor of America’s Test Kitchen and a reader of this blog, sent me the company’s latest cookbook, Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: 2,000 Recipes of 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine, and suggested I talk with Willoughby about the company’s process of developing and testing recipes:

Q. What do you do as executive editor of America’s Test Kitchen?

A. I’m in charge of the two magazines plus 24 special issues for newsstands. I follow along the process for each magazine, starting with ideas like, “Do readers want another roast beef recipe? If so, which kind?” Then we survey readers before doing an article.

Q. How much do you rely on readers for your content?

A. Once we decide what we want to do, we [Read more…]

Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman on What She Learned by Writing a Cookbook

Deb Perelman turns in the manuscript for her first cookbook, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, at the end of this month. I caught up with her to ask her how writing a cookbook has been different than writing her blog.

You can meet Perelman at the International Food Blogger Conference in New Orleans August 26-28. She, Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie, and I will be talking about recipe development.

Q. What percentage of recipes will come from the blog?

A. Very few recipes, maybe 10 to 15 percent. I have to put in the greatest hits or it wouldn’t feel like the Smitten Kitchen cookbook.

Q. Where did you get your inspiration for new dishes?

A. I have no shortage of ideas. I have a long list of recipe ideas I’ve been building on for a decade, and I keep them all in Google Docs. I can reach them from any computer, from the phone and from the grocery store.

Besides cookbooks that I know and love, the web is a great tool to research recipes. I gravitate towards recipe sites that have reviews, like the Food Network, Allrecipes and Epicurious. It’s not that I’m looking for new ideas. It’s more like I have my recipe for pancakes, and I wonder if the salt level is too high or how much milk other recipes use.

I get a lot of ideas from restaurants too, where there’s something about the dish I like, like the combination of ingredients.

Blueberry Yogurt Multigrain Pancakes. (Photo by permission of Deb Perelman.)

Q. How is the cookbook different from the blog?

A. There are things I’ve pulled from the cookbook because they were going to be really complicated [Read more…]

Barefoot Contessa's Dogged Recipe Testing

Think your readers will make your recipes flawlessly simply because you’ve made them more than once?

Mega-star and cookbook author Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame doesn’t, even though she has worked in the food business for more than 30 years. She still relies on an assistant and her friends when developing new recipes.

In How Easy is That?, Garten says once she’s tested a recipe repeatedly, she hands it over to longtime assistant Barbara Libath. Then she watches Libath make it.

“Every time I do that, I learn something about how someone at home, with only the printed recipe in front of them, might make the dish,” Garten writes. She’s careful not to [Read more…]