Reviews For Cook's Illustrated Magazine

The Best Thing Since Julia Child

Long ago I had subscriptions for “food & wine” and “Bon Appetit”, then when I got “Cooks Illustrated” as a gift from my mom I quickly noted the difference. All the other cooking magazines I’d ever bought paled in comparison to the slim-but-mighty “Cooks Illustrated”.

My mom- the ultimate foodie- taught me it wasn’t enough to enjoy food, one must learn to cook! I remember by teen years we’d lounge on the couch watching Julia Child. I loved how Julia was down to earth and made everything simple, even if you didn’t know how to make omelets she could teach you to make duck pate without feeling like a blundering idiot. This is what cooks illustrated is to the magazine world!

There are wonderful illustrations to accompany the recipe making it even easier to follow. It is simple, clear and efficient. If you’re curious to know what makes the recipe “tick”, there’s an in depth article preceding the recipe describing how the chef tweaked the recipe to make it perfect- what they added, what they took away, what they tested, what worked, what didn’t and most importantly: WHY! You can learn a lot about food science just by reading the articles. In addition, they have separate food science articles if you want to learn more- this is knowledge of the pros they’re sharing with you.

To date I have never been let down from a Cooks Illustrated recipe. Case and point: this morning I tried their “Challah French Toast” recipe, it worked like a charm. It was the best I’ve ever had, and my husband- who hates challah with a passion- quickly cleaned his plate. This has been our constant experience, we pick a recipe that sounds good, follow it and it always comes out delicious. I’ve never been “wowed” by a French toast before. Words fail to describe how wonderful the textures were, and how perfect the flavor was, didn’t even need butter or syrup! If it weren’t for the fact that I love maple syrup I could have easily gone without it. I love how Cooks suggest recipe variations based on a standard one, like how to make a dark chocolate version of their chocolate mousse recipe.

You don’t need to have a lot of cooking experience to get the most out of this magazine, in fact I feel it is most useful to people who barely know how to cook but want to learn how without A) attending expensive classes, B) buying expensive books, and C) compromising their schedule. The novice will learn why a good recipe works, which is essential to understanding cooking in general.

For advanced chefs this is a great recipe and unbiased equipment rating source- almost like a “consumer reports” for chefs. I’ve found their tasting lab is also helpful from time to time, when I need a new ingredient and have no idea which brand is the best bet- or if I’m unhappy with one brand it gives me suggestions on what to switch to.

The magazine is slim but if you flip through the other magazine brands you’ll find they both contain the same amount of recipes and articles, only one is stuffed with ads and Cooks Illustrated is not. Furthermore, the content of Cooks Illustrated is far superior to its competitors. The fact that they test numerous recipes to produce the best variation is only part of it, it’s presented well and the information is genuine, useful and unbiased. Other magazines just slap together whatever recipes look interesting, but aren’t necessarily all that great. I’d been very disappointed with several recipes from food and wine and bon appetite in the past, but that’s to be expected since they don’t test these recipes themselves. I completely disagree that Cooks Illustrated’s price is a setback; personally I feel their magazine puts others to shame and I’m delighted to kick over a few extra bucks for something of quality that is intelligently written with out being pretentious or tainted by commercial sponsors.

Lately, due to a shortage of storage space in my apartment, I’ve decided to go paperless and traded in my Cooks Illustrated magazine subscription for their online subscription. I am very pleased! Their website is easy to use, and best of all I have quick access to every recipe in Cooks Illustrated history!!! Every feature and convenience of their magazine is made available online- the equipment ratings, the articles, the tasting lab and their food science. Since I’m very busy, I don’t have time to pick through the indexes of past magazine issues to find what I’m looking for and their online site is a godsend. Their recipe index is searchable by keyword, course, ingredient, cut of meat, and category. The searches include equipment, tips & tricks, and tasting lab articles which you can filter out according to what you’re looking for. There are also video instructions for some of the newer recipes.

Cooks Illustrated is the only food publication I trust and use. Other magazines have a long way to go before they can compete.


Recommended For: Anyone

No hype, just essential information

Cook's Illustrated is the Consumer Reports of cooking magazines. I subscribe to a number of cooking magazines but this is the one that I would select if I were limited to one. There are no advertisements, so the magazine is considerably shorter (and more expensive) than others on the market. However, the articles provide a wide range of information for beginning cooks through serious hobbyists (and I imagine even professionals would find some things helpful). Readers write in with tips and tricks; some of which have been very helpful to me. An example is a suggestion in the December '99 issue to fasten a yardstick to the front of a countertop to assist in measuring bread and pastry doughs. I use a ruler frequently, but had not considered fastening it permanently. This has already proved very helpful with my holiday baking.

The recipes include a description of the development process so that the reader has an understanding of the original idea, improvements, and iterations that lead to a final recipe.

Other articles include comparisons of various foods available in the marketplace, and consumer research on baking and cookware. This has been very helpful to me as I shop for new kitchenware for myself or for gifts.

I've tried a number of recipes and find that they are straight forward and easy to follow. The ratio of total recipes that I actually use in this magazine is higher than with other cooking magazines. For instance, tonight I made dinner rolls (a new family favorite) from a recipe in the December issue and, as soon as I finish this review, will make gingerbread cookies.

While professionally trained cooks might find the techniques too basic, most of the rest of us will find the magazine very useful.


Recommended For: Anyone

The Perfect Magazine

Cook's Illustrated is not only the best cooking magazine, it is the best magazine I've ever read. If I could only subscribe to one magazine (a frightening thought to this magazineholic!) it would be Cook's. This is a magazine that you will not only read cover-to-cover, but will keep forever.

I get several other cooking magazines, and several things make this one stand out. First of all, they don't accept advertising (Taste of Home is another cooking magazine that doesn't have advertising). Every page is full of interesting recipes and reviews. There are no articles about vacationing in the South of France, exercising or growing herbs on your kitchen windowsill like there are in some other so-called cooking magazines.

The articles don't just list a bunch of recipes, they explain in great (and fascinating) detail exactly how the author experimented to come up the perfect recipe. Each issue includes many recipes that I want to try. There are a variety of different types of recipe, from very simple to quite complex, but the most important thing about all of them is that they were included for their taste, not the way they look or their trendy ingredients.

The magazine is also very attractive, with beautiful color drawings of food on the front and back, and numerous black-and-white photos and diagrams inside. Some people might miss color photos on every page, but I don't.

Besides the wonderful recipes, there are also reviews of cookbooks, food (such as chocolate, rice and maple syrup) and cooking equipment (such as roasting pans and knives.) These reviews have been a great help to me in purchasing kitchen items.

I highly recommend Cook's Illustrated to anyone that cooks, or anyone who is interested in food. It is absolutely the best cooking magazine.


The Literary Cook

More than just a how-to, Cook's Illustrated is literature. This is the only cooking magazine I subscribe to, and there is no single reason I keep turning to it, but a variety of reasons, primary among those are the few recipes each issue that I know I will turn to again and again when I want to really get something right.

For instance, their bagel recipe. I have amazed friends, neighbors, relatives, and turned enemies into friends using their bagel recipe. I currently make the best bagels in Spokane (not according to me, but according to the above people--well, okay, according to me too . . . I'm awfully picky).

But the articles are fabulous, each one taking an experimental approach to the recipes for each article, and each one describing the exact process by which a given recipe is arrived at. I have not found a single article in this magazine that was not at least pleasurable to read.

Their reviews of products are usually right-on, and not at all blue-blooded.

Pick one up and take a look. Your tummy will thank you.


Recommended For: Anyone

Most Reliable Recipe Source

I have been an enthusiastic subscriber to this magazine for about 2 years, despite the fact that I'm a vegetarian. (I have to stick mainly to their desserts b/c they are pretty heavy on the meat for main courses.)

The Good:
1) Each and every recipe I've tried has been great. They are recipes to turn to when you have company over - they are that good and reliable. I have forevermore ditched Nestle's recipe and I live by their chocolate chip cookie recipe! Also recc'd: triple choc. chip cookie recipe; choc. souffle recipe; brownie recipe.
2) The articles are in plain English and are incredibly educational. The authors test dozens of recipes for the subject and explain why they determined that, for example, white sugar was better than brown in this recipe, or butter better than oil, etc. etc. Then the author then sets out a "master recipe" and a few variations on the "master" if you are interested in tinkering. It really helps the reader to learn how to cook and experiment on his or her own.
3) No advertisements whatsoever - totally unbiased!
4) Great succint reviews of food products (e.g. best canned tomatoes), cooking tools (e.g. best mixers), and new cookbooks in every issue.

The Bad:
1) Recipes generally have little regard for health (they're often high fat, high salt, high on the simple carbs like white flour and sugar, etc.)
2) Fairly "middle American" palette - focus on traditional American foods generally. I rarely see any Asian or Indian influenced dishes. More typical are articles on things descended from traditional European fare like rack of lamb, the perfect hamburger, or pasta bolognese. These are not bad foods, it's just a little myopic.


Recommended For: Hobbyists/Enthusiasts

The Best Cooking Magazine Ever

First of all, Cook's Illustrated has no advertising. It is sort of the "Consumer Reports" of food, in every issue they do tests of best maple syrup, best jarred tomato sauce, etc. I have found these to be right on, and so carefully done that I often can't distinguish between the top few winners, even though I have pretty sensitive taste buds.

They also cover only a few recipes per issue, say, around fifteen, and usually for basic things that many people cook, or want to cook, like chicken pot pie and cream cheese brownies. They exhaustively research the absolute best way to cook something, write about the search, and give you the final recipe. The great thing is that if you want to learn about food science, you can follow the research along with them, or you can skip the commentary and just benefit from the recipe.

There are a number of recipes from this magazine that are now indispensable to me. Just this evening I made their potato gratin and seared salmon fillet. I had tried many recipes for bagels, none of which ever came close to working, until I tried theirs, which is great.

Once or twice I have tried recipes that are not as good, in my opinion, as the version I already make, and a few times I have made things that have not turned out how they were supposed to, but the magazine's instructions are so precise that I usually fault myself if something doesn't turn out, and vow to try the recipe again.

Besides the great food you can make, Cook's Illustrated has a "Kitchen Tips" section which is fun, and Christopher Kimball, the editor, writes an essay for every issue which so far have been unfailing elegant, and very often moving.

This magazine is an invaluable resource to any serious home cook.


The absolute best cooking magazine.

If you're looking for a cooking magazine that covers many different aspects of culinary arts, as well as not bowing to the "healthy (boring) cooking" mindset, this one is for you! Every issue has 10+ recipes that are tested with every possible permutation (don't you always think "What would happen if I changed this or this?") with honest reports of what happened. Also included are cooking tips, an extensive review of different brands of a particular product (i.e. butter or chicken broth), comparisons of a cooking implement and a few cookbook reviews.

I love this magazine - it's so hard to find good recipes for food that isn't to be made in the microwave or with egg substitutes and skim milk or with so many expensive/obscure ingredients (think Gourmet or Saveur magazine) that you'll never get it together. All the recipes are great for practical day-to-day cooking or for dinner with guests. My minestrone soup, chicken picatta and thin crust pizza came directly from the magazine.

In addition, their recommendation for the sugar/salt brine for poultry is fantastic. You won't believe the difference.


Recommended For: Hobbyists/Enthusiasts

Absolutely Fantastic!

This a great magazine, I have never had a bad recipe here. With their extensive testing, you won't, either. The only problems I've had I've created for myself. Many of their recipes are now my standard recipes. Everyone always asks for my recipes.

If I would have known that you could combine food and science in high school, this is what I would have done for a career. This magazine goes in depth on recipes and really figures out the right type and amount of ingredients, the right equipment and tools, and the right techniques. They scientifically test every variable affecting a given recipe. They then write an article explaining the whole testing process, and how they came up with their master recipe.

Besides recipes, the magazine also offers cook book reviews, kitchen equipment reviews and food products reviews. The reviews of products are always accompanied by an article, describing the product in detail and how they arrived at their final conclusions.I have made several great purchases based on their recommendations. Their food recommendation tasting panels are interesting, if not sometimes down right hilarious. For example, they'll test things like beef broth and then report on their taster's choices along with comments from the tasters. These are always great for a laugh. In regards to the beef broth tasting, one taster about a particular brand had to say, "Where's the beef?"

If you want a great magazine with no ads, a lot of in depth information and interesting facts, this is a great one to try.


The Art and Science of Cooking

Cook's Illustrated is a bi-monthly treat at my house--the skillful pen-and-ink drawings make even browsing worthwhile. The illustrations are always accurate and handsome, and help to soften what is often a science lesson disguised as a recipe.

If you've ever wanted to know about the chemistry of egg whites, the difference made by varieties of chocolate, or nearly anything else, you'll want to read this magazine. The science behind every recipe is explained in easy-to-understand detail. Additionally, every recipe has been tested numerous times, changing small details to try to gain improvement--these trials are described in the article preceding the recipe.

This careful working over of a recipe has it's benefits--I've been terribly pleased with nearly everything I've tried in the magazine, and they are certainly my fall-back anytime I'm about to try a new dinner item. They are to be absolutely trusted with anything relating to meat.

The only problem I've encountered is in their apallation "Fool-Proof". Quite frequently, this particular bit of nomenclature is attached to an item--seemingly usually a cake. It is, for me at least, the guarantee of failure. I have eventually decided, however, that their ideal cake is not mine. Whereas the editor do seem to prefer a fairly dry, very open crumb in a cake, I prefer something a bit denser, and more moist. On a related note, I thought the buttercream frosting recipes were a bit too heavy on the butter--that seemed to be the unwelcome dominant flavor.

If you enjoy this magazine, you may want to take a look at The Cook's Bible, by Christopher Kimball (editor-in-chief of Cook's Illustrated).


Cooking Science

Why should you always add the butter before the half and half when making mashed potatoes? What's the best potato to use? Peel before--or after boiling? And why not use milk or cream instead? This magazine will make you an authority on things we live with every day. It's down to earth, honest and thorough, and since it accepts no advertising there is no pressure to pitch the wrong pots and pans for any job you need. Editors experiment at every level, seeking the right cookware, times and temperatures and the very best ingredients. Looking for the right chicken broth or ketchup? They'll tell you what to buy in the supermarket. The editor in chief's personal column, appearing in every issue, is a sincere, warm, beautifully written essay speaking to the heart of anyone who has ever stood over a stove, preparing things to eat for those we love. Recipes for meatloaf, stuffed peppers and the perfect scrambled eggs take their place beside the unpretentious, perfect souffle. In a world of fast food and designer restaurants, it is good to be able to look forward to dinner with the family again. This is a magazine that proves, like we always did say, there's no place like home.