I search for recipes online almost every day. My husband and I both love to cook and are always looking for ideas and inspiration. But sometimes the world of online recipes can feel like a minefield. Over the years, we’ve learned a bit about navigating this landscape. Here are a few tips and tricks that might be helpful:
Know where you landed.
You searched for a recipe and landed...somewhere. Is it a well-known resource like The Food Network, Martha Stewart, or New York Times Cooking? Is it a chef’s website? Is it a blog? What kind of blog? To be clear, there are tons of bloggers who post wonderful recipes. It’s just good to know who you’re dealing with.
Figure out the angle.
If the website is clearly health-focused or promoting a paleo / keto / vegan diet — that’s something to consider. Those angles are all fine, but it will change the nature of your recipe. Sometimes you're looking for a quality lasagna imposter that’s healthy and satisfying and sometimes you want real-deal Italian grandma lasagna that is NAUGHTY.
Skip the intros!
If you do land on a blog, there’s a really good chance you’re going to have to wade through ten paragraphs of “dear diary” just to get to the ingredients list. I truly don’t understand why this is so prevalent but it’s totally a thing and I have two possible solutions: 1) go find a different recipe that doesn’t make you read about the argument some lady had with her sister in 2015 when she posted this online recipe, or 2) scroll down past all that nonsense to the actual recipe, take screenshots that you can reference later, and NEVER look back.
If you’re looking for a gumbo recipe, don’t just look at one. Look at a few different online recipes — see what’s consistent and what varies. It’ll give you a good idea of the base concept of the dish and it’ll raise red flags if one recipe is way off compared to the others. Yes, reading several recipes is more work. However, it’s not nearly as much of a bummer as making a lousy meal that you have to throw away (or worse, that you have to eat).
Look for red flags.
There are a few things that tell me that someone either doesn't test their recipes, or they’re just not really much of a cook. For example: when every chicken recipe posted on a website calls for boneless skinless chicken breasts. Dark meat is definitively more flavorful than white meat. Skin adds flavor. Fat adds flavor. Meat cooked on the bone is more flavorful. Yes, sometimes boneless skinless chicken breast is appropriate — but it really shouldn't be the go-to.
Another red flag is when an online recipe calls for garlic or onions but doesn’t mention sautéing them before adding to the mix. If you don’t cook the garlic first, it remains pungent and offensive. If you don’t cook the onions down, they remain fibrous and chewy. Maybe they're assuming you know this... But then what else might they have forgotten to mention? Time to look elsewhere.
Salt and spice should always be to YOUR taste.
Here’s where I’m going to give the online recipe-creators a break and give you some tough love. People have such varying preferences when it comes to salt and spice, it’s nearly impossible to please everyone. Understand that they’re giving you a suggestion — the level of flavor is really up to you. Have an opinion! Add some salt, taste it and decide if it needs more. Add some heat, taste it and decide if you want more. These are your decisions to make. It might be their recipe, but it’s your food. Make it to your taste!
Keep in mind, cooking is improv and baking is scripted.
Cooking gives you a lot of leeway. If you’re making a stew, you can add things and leave things out according to your preference, taste along the way and make adjustments. It’s like improv. Baking, on the other hand, is more precise. You’ll need to follow the recipe closely to get it right — and there is no adding as you go. Once a cake goes into the oven, that’s a wrap. Baking is scripted, so find a script you like and stick to it every time.
Reserve new online recipe attempts for a limited audience.
This is pretty obvious, but if you're trying a recipe you found online for the first time, keep your audience small. Even after taking all of the precautions mentioned above, it’s still a roll of the dice. When you’re cooking for an important event or people you want to impress, use the recipes you already know and love.
And finally, save your favs!
We have a private Pinterest board for all of our favorite online recipes. It’s the best way to catalog things we try and want to make again. (We used to have a Google doc and email recipes to ourselves but that was a mess.) Pinterest is perfect. Within our recipes board, we separate them into smaller categories like “breakfast” or “soups”, so as the board grows it’s still manageable and convenient.
And that’s our guide to navigating the wild world of online recipes. Now go make something delicious!