Tips to spotting bad recipes

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Finding recipes online is easy, but ensuring that they are great isn't always as simple. Of course the EYB Library is full of well-tested recipes from trusted sources, but occasionally you may stumble across a recipe whose provenance isn't well known. For these recipes, Epicurious (through Yahoo! Food) has provided a list of five signs that indicate a recipe won't work.

Most of the signs are signs of omission: leaving out ingredients, mismatches between the ingredient list and the directions, or omitting special equipment needed to make the dish. Other signs require more interpretation. For instance, one sign is the inclusion of rambling or confusing paragraphs, noting that "if the recipe you're looking at doesn't make sense on the first (or even the second) read, it's a good sign that it's probably missing other essential information for success." However, one person's rambling may be another person's charming prose.

In other posts we've discussed the optimistic times posted with some recipe instructions (for example caramelizing onions), and this too is a sign that the recipe may be headed for disaster. If the recipe has time estimates but no instructions about what to look for at the end of the time period (e.g. color, aroma, viscosity, or sounds), you might want to look for a different recipe.

What signs tip you off that a recipe isn't going to work?

5 Comments

  • nicolthepickle  on  11/14/2014 at 4:21 PM

    I find recipes without salt in them are usually off to a bad start. It's a basic, but it should be mentioned.

  • veronicafrance  on  11/15/2014 at 6:57 AM

    So according to Epicurious a kitchen scale is "special equipment"?? Mind well and truly boggled. Other than that it's a good list, although I suspect some truly great food writers' recipes wouldn't make the grade. Elizabeth David for example was very concise and often wouldn't provide timings or what to look for at the end of a step -- she expected you to know. No spoon feeding from her, but once you are an experienced cook, you can make her recipes work for you.

  • sir_ken_g  on  11/15/2014 at 11:14 AM

    I do a lot of ethnic cooking. I don't know that I would call them "bad" but recipes from writers published abroad who are not familiar with the US ingredient names and availability are a problem. Likewise ethnic recipes written by those not natives to the culture - nor well traveled are suspect.

  • tsusan  on  11/18/2014 at 1:50 PM

    Very short recipes that have nothing but the single verb "cook" plus a minute indication; i.e., "Cook 15 minutes."

  • Julia  on  11/25/2014 at 4:29 PM

    Many recipes don't indicate how flour is measured which can make a difference in the end result. I also like to see size description given for things like onion, garlic cloves, carrots and celery stalk. The difference between a small and large onion can be significant. If specific brands are important they should also be specified.

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