The Wirecutter but for Recipes?
February 18, 2023 2:07 AM   Subscribe

Is this something that exists? I’d like a site that explores the SEO-blighted hellscape of online recipes and then says “This is the best lasagna recipe for most people.”
posted by Prunesquallor to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Felicity Cloake's "How To Cook the Perfect..." column tackles this.
posted by socky_puppy at 2:18 AM on February 18 [17 favorites]

It’s not quite what you asked - but as someone trying to improve my cooking, I’ve found the question “what is the best recipe for x” is often based on you being aware of and proficient in the building blocks that lead to the final steps: how to cut vegetables, how to deal with garlic and so on. To that end, I’ve enjoyed Chef Jean Pierre’s YouTube channel. He will tell you “how to make the best x” but will also explain why it’s the best - in terms of steps you can reuse. And he is basing that off 54 years as a chef.
posted by rongorongo at 2:55 AM on February 18

I am a fan of America's Test Kitchen where they do a good job explaining why certain techniques work and how flavors can be developed.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:52 AM on February 18 [30 favorites]

NYT cooking is excellent, and you can sort by ratings or “times classic”
posted by pando11 at 5:11 AM on February 18 [7 favorites]

I think you may run into some difficulty with this, since "best" when it comes to food is very subjective. Take brownies - for some people, "the best brownies" are more cakey, for others they like things fudgy and nearly under-baked. So you may want to think about qualities like that when you do searches for various things, and that may help you winnow down the recipes.

That said - I'm seconding the America's Test Kitchen rec, since they do indeed give you a lot of information about "if you do A to your lasagna it will produce B result". But sometimes it will also warn you against doing "C" to your lasagna because it would give "D" result - and you may realize "wait a second, I think I want 'D' result," and that can also help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:31 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

this is the whole idea behind america’s test kitchen (ATK): try out tons of variations on a recipe and settle on the “best” one. i don’t always agree with their definition of best, in past years especially they often chose the blander, less spiced versions of recipes, although pressure from competitors and spinoffs like serious eats and milk street have changed that in recent years. but for a ton of things you can’t go wrong with ATK. They’re especially great for classic american dishes like thanksgiving staples and for baking. i basically only bake from ATK recipes, i don’t even bother to look elsewhere. For more flavorful recipes, especially non american cuisines I usually go to serious eats (which i believe was started by former ATK chefs).
posted by dis_integration at 5:55 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

The bake offs on the Pancake Princess blog are basically what you’re describing: she collects a variety of recipes online, compares them, and then has multiple people try them all and rate the results. Generally just for baked goods, though there are a couple for other things.
posted by firefleet at 6:16 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

the “best” one.

ATK has, as you say, a tendency towards Middle America blandness, but their development process often results in overly complicated recipes optimized for a specific result. They also love ‘One weird trick!’ techniques, which can be hit or miss. I often can’t be bothered with the ATK version when I can get 80% of the results with 50% of the effort.
posted by zamboni at 6:17 AM on February 18 [9 favorites]

Yeah, this is ATK's whole schtick. They've gotten somewhat better on this since Christopher Kimball left, but they still tend towards a certain blandness. My favorite example is their take on the classic French 75 cocktail, which substitutes seltzer and citric acid for the champagne, because the champagne introduces "an unneeded musky note."
posted by firechicago at 6:49 AM on February 18 [10 favorites]

I sense that you want a web site but if you want to distill ATK into pure book form it is the Family Cookbook. It comes in a lay flat red three ring binder (cooking from a lay flat binder is superior to regular books). The recipes are rock solid. I've only had one that utterly didn't work.

Serious Eats got a lot of their cultural DNA from ATK. The site isn't what it used to be and they have a well-earned reputation for elaborate recipes but there is gold to be mined if you look. For every 25+ ingredient, 6+ hour prep and cook Bolognese recipe, there is this magical cast iron pan pizza recipe that is easy and delicious.

Lastly, Kenji came out of the worlds of ATK and SE and is responsible for a lot of the very delicious but very elaborate, boarding on baroque recipes. With that said, his youtube channel of him simply cooking recipes is far more restrained.

When I have a hankering for x, these are the places I look for their version of the recipe.
posted by mmascolino at 7:31 AM on February 18 [9 favorites]

I think you really have to look for specific recipe writers who match your style. For example, I nearly always have success with Melissa Clark's recipes and she is generally unfussy in prep - good food prepared with minimal steps and not a extensive list of ingredients. Deb Perelman is also pretty good in this regard.
posted by brookeb at 7:57 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

For baking, King Arthur Flour has reliably the best recipes, in my experience.
posted by The Toad at 8:02 AM on February 18 [8 favorites]

I rather like "Pro Home Cook", who goes over both techniques and recipes, but is a lot less bound by recipes per se. He pretty much makes up new dishes based on what's available and what's in his garden/farm based on basic techniques and basic staples.

You can also find a lot of interesting info from Epicurious's "4 levels" playlist, where they have three levels of chefs (amateur, home cook, pro chef) cook the "same dish", then have a food scientists go techie on food. :D

Epicurious also have the "swap ingredients" series where the pro chef swap ingredients (and recipe) with a home cook so the pro chef had to fancy up like $18 chili while the home cook had to follow the recipe to make a $335 chili. :D They do this to all sorts of foods. You actually learn quite a bit on alternate uses of ingredients.
posted by kschang at 8:27 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

This is there I tend to use a cookbook, The New Best Recipe: Cook's Illustrated. They really do test obsessively, and I have found the recipes so reliable. I like reading cookbooks, and my 2nd favorite would be Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything; he gives a lot of alternatives and paths to change his recipes to suit your tastes. 3rd is Joy of Cooking.

Cooks Illustrated has a website; I think the recipes are all there, and then some. I'm not sure if all of Mark Bittman's recipes are on his site. You can get an ebook of Joy of Cooking.

NYTimes is reliable, but sometimes over the the top, and I'm annoyed at them because having an online subscription to NYTimes has meant they block all recipes; I have to use a different browser to even get 3 a month.
posted by theora55 at 8:43 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

The Kitchn kind of has (or had) a version of this where they take recommendations from the community of the best recipe in a category and then they take and make the four most recommended and face them off against each other and talk through what the defining characteristics are for each of them - with links to their longer recipe testing post for each one, which gets into even more details. For some reason they don't have a tag so you can just see them all in one spot, but since you mentioned lasagna, here is their one for lasagna. Basically you can google The Kitchn and "we tried four famous xx recipes" and you probably will find a post for it. I've found a lot of good recipes that way.
posted by urbanlenny at 9:23 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Many I might have suggested have been shared already but I wanted to second Kenji on YouTube, and add Brian Lagerstrom to the list. His videos are like the kinds of cooking shows I used to watch, in that they're actually about basic cooking techniques with good instruction and by and large use things that regular people have access to. I agree with what's been said above about "best" being subjective, but I've found his recipe to produce a reliably good result. (If there's bread involved he almost always makes it from scratch, but in a way that's very approachable if it is something you have time for. Of course, you could almost always just buy your bread if you prefer.)
posted by synecdoche at 9:36 AM on February 18

I never search for a recipe without adding “serious eats” to the end of the search phrase. NYT Cooking is also very good, but subscription.
posted by snofoam at 11:38 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

I don't know of a specific search tool that does this. My common-sense rule for finding new recipes online is to only go to trusted sources, which most often means skipping the first 2-3 pages of google results until you get to the genuine recipe-tested sites and food blogs, like Serious Eats, Smitten Kitchen, David Lebovitz, Guardian/BBC, Barefoot Contessa, and food magazine sites like Saveur and Bon Appetit (Cooks Illustrated can be good, but is often fiddly). The main thing I look for is sites that aren't just publishing pretty photos and food tourism, but sites that reliably test the recipes they publish. "The best recipe for most people" is going to be the one that has been tested in a variety of conditions--different kitchens, different ovens, different cooks--and still works.

Offline, despite having a couple shelves-worth of cookbooks, I find myself frequently referring to the Joy of Cooking, as a place to find recipes for every common dish, tried and tested. They are often the most simple and straightforward recipe you will find, as the result of feedback and testing over years/decades. If you asked me, “What is the best lasagna recipe for most people?”, I would always go to JoC first.
posted by amusebuche at 9:59 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I think the best way to achieve this is through finding a well-regarded cookbook by an author/editor whose recipe style (e.g. level of technique, ingredient fussiness, priorites) speaks to you.

Mark Bittman, Alton Brown, Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen), Melissa Clark, Jaques Pepin are all very much worth looking into.
posted by desuetude at 10:07 PM on February 18

I have always thought that Food52's recipe site does a good job of sorting recipes. They have a lot of recipe options (274 lasagna recipies) and you can sort by "test-kitchen approved (50 recipes)," "contest winners (5 recipes)" and "featured (31 recipes)" and all with star ratings and number of reviews.
posted by rtimmel at 8:54 AM on February 19

We swear by the New York Times Cooking app in our house precisely because it cuts through the hellscape to provide consistently good recipes. It's a subscription but we think it is well worth it.
posted by spibeldrokkit at 5:30 AM on February 20

Serious Eats is my go-to, also sometimes America's Test Kitchen (which requires a subscription). If you want a single book, Kenji López-Alt's The Food Lab is quite a nice collection. Many of its recipes and techniques are also on Serious Eats.
posted by Nelson at 8:07 AM on February 20

Just chiming in to mention (because both have been brought up quite often in the answers for good reason) that America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated are essentially the same company (which require a single subscription). Likewise, Kenji Lopez-Alt was a driving force behind Serious Eats and its Food Lab for a while, and while he’s taken a step back, the general approach of rigorous testing and technical explanations around how recipes are developed is a big part of why folks are mentioning all three entities.
posted by exutima at 12:15 PM on February 20

Serious Eats.
posted by Sublimity at 8:48 AM on February 21

Is this something that exists? I’d like a site that explores the SEO-blighted hellscape of online recipes and then says “This is the best lasagna recipe for most people.”

This is an article style on Kitchn now. They call it Recipe Showdown.
posted by srboisvert at 4:27 AM on February 25

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