Easiest, Fastest, Best Week

A Flowchart to Figure Out If That Random Web Recipe Will Work

October  1, 2016

All this week, we've confirmed what we always knew: that the internet can't be trusted. That calling something "the best" doesn't make it true—and that Google's #1 hits for top recipes searches (fried chicken, brownies, sweet potato fries, and so on) are a mixed bag of extraordinary, complicated, and pedestrian.

But we all use the internet to figure out what to make for dinner! In order to separate the best great from the untrustworthy, follow this flowchart below. It was created using a variety of considerations our editors—as well as recipe developers and cookbook authors we chatted with—think about when picking a recipe online.

Photo by Bobbi Lin; drawing by Sarah Jampel

Tell us: What are your ways for ensuring a recipe online will work out okay?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mrs Beryl Patmore
    Mrs Beryl Patmore
  • Winness
  • SophieL
  • Janice Joy Miller
    Janice Joy Miller
  • heatheranne
Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


Mrs B. October 24, 2016
If a recipe on Food52 has mixed comments -- a lot of people have had problems, have had to adjust certain key ingredients like leavening agents, or users have been frustrated by widely disparate baking times etc. -- AND, if the Food52 editor has not replied to the questions or comments, I dismiss that recipe from consideration immediately, even if there are positive reviews. If the staff here or regular contributors don't wish to help users troubleshoot, and don't re-test to ensure the recipe is reliable and clearly enough written to make it generally successful, I don't bother with the recipe -- or any other recipe they post, for that matter, unless it has consistently received a lot of positive remarks demonstrating the recipe is, actually, "tried and true."
Winness October 12, 2016
I consider any recipe a framework, a spark of an idea, and a source of creativity. If it's a dish I've never made before, I follow the recipe religiously to understand the creator's vision. If it doesn't reach my own vision but is good, then the creative juices kick in and I made it again, but I make it my own. I love Food 52, Smitten Kitchen, Relish and a few others for trustworthy ideas. And I always read the comments to understand why it was fabulous, pretty good, meh, or terrible. If the rating isn't 3 stars or better, I don't bother. But, I have to admit, most of my best recipes reside in my head, passed down from a great-grandmother from Belgium, a grandmother from Verona, and my mother from Trieste. Their cooking chops, including stints as professional chefs, have made for great genes.
SophieL October 6, 2016
I usually go to my trusted blogs and websites (Food 52, Barefoot Contessa, Cooks Illustrated, Food Network, Martha Stewart, Orangette). When a different site pops up, I compare recipes and in all cases, I read the comments. I've had a few not-so-good results from my trusted sites, which I attribute to typos (so very, very irritating).
Janice J. October 6, 2016
I thought this article might be a guide to how to balance flavors. I'd love to see something like that. As for this... I consider the source and trust my instincts. I also tend to change ingredients sometimes based upon what I have on hand.
heatheranne October 6, 2016
I agree with beejay45; I have enough cooking experience that I can figure out if something is going to work, and what to do if it turns out not so good. I rarely follow recipes to the tee anyway...usually I use whatever I've got on hand. But if you aren't there, I like to look at the comments. If there are a ton of comments by people who seem like they have actually cooked it, then I'll give it a go.
beejay45 October 1, 2016
I'm one of those *really more of a guideline* people when it comes to recipes...except with cakes and the like which are unforgiving (and probably why I seldom bake). So, I mostly just read recipes, from whatever source, for a list of ingredients rather than amounts of ingredients. But if you've done much cooking, you'll recognize when amounts are off, if you just let your instincts guide you.

I once used a recipe from Gourmet for stuffed mushrooms, for a dinner party. It seemed like there was an awful lot of butter/oil called for, but this was *Gourmet*! I should have listened to my instincts -- grease, grease everywhere, flowing, dripping - it was disgusting. Probably a typo, but if I hadn't overridden my instincts, it would have turned out great. IOW, I don't fully trust any source, but I'm always looking for new ideas for/ways of combining ingredients, new techniques, just new slants on things. The Internet is great for that.