Showdown with Cook's Illustrated

April 10, 2010

We're now at a critical stage of the food52 vs. Cook's Illustrated showdown, with two roasted pork shoulders and two chewy sugar cookies waiting at the gate. One of each will move forward to duke it out with the versions that Cook's Illustrated's food surgeons have been tinkering with for months.

But this is about so much more than pork shoulder and sugar cookies. It's a battle over who comes up with better recipes: Crowd-sourcing or experts? The will of the majority or the will of the bow-tied and suspendered? Home cooks or professionals? Good or evil? 


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We do secretly love the kooky folks over at Cook's Illustrated and respect the work they do -- the rigorous, precise recipe testing in their laboratory to determine the very best way to pan-roast a chicken breast. We appreciate the dedication and the hand-holding, and we learn from them every time we pick up one of their magazines.

But we also believe that there is no one best way to cook a chicken breast (or a pork shoulder or a sugar cookie), that personal voice matters more than abstract precision, and that home cooks are an incredible resource too long overlooked by traditional food media. The creativity, inspiration and expertise flying around food52 every day are amazing, and we want to make sure they don't go unrecognized. So we need your help!


First off, you can start by voting on the finalist recipes. We have four outstanding contenders that the food52 team stands behind but, as always, we want to draw on your collective cooking wisdom and discerning palates to choose the two that will advance. So study the recipes, try them out, watch the slideshows and videos, discuss and be sure to vote before Tuesday at midnight!

In the next stage, which will take place on Slate sometime in May, our two winning recipes will go head-to-head with Cook's Illustrated's. All voting and conversation will take place on Slate, so we hope you'll all go engage in the process there and represent the food52 community. We'll keep you posted about exactly when the showdown will occur, and how to get involved!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • bugbitten
  • DebVancouver
  • fiveandspice
  • icebucketselections
  • The Dog's Breakfast
    The Dog's Breakfast
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


bugbitten June 5, 2010
I wonder if this is a good place to ask others to join me in protesting CI's ongoing characterization of aluminum pans and foil as "disposable"? Perhaps if they received a few more letters of protest we could nudge them closer to our own century, and new concepts like recycling.
DebVancouver May 15, 2010
I'm a member of food52. I'm also a recipe tester for CI. In fact, I recipe tested their sugar cookie recipe recently. As another poster said, a recipe is 'good' or 'bad' based on personal preference. When I made the CI sugar cookie recipe, my husband didn't really like it because his Mom's sugar cookies are always very crisp. My son, on the other hand, loved the CI recipe because he likes cookies that are crisp on the outside and soft and chewy inside.

I think there is a place for both food52 (to learn what tricks work well for others) and for CI (to learn more about the science behind a specific recipe works the way it does).
fiveandspice April 25, 2010
Hi! I just discovered Food52, and I am so excited. I just had to see what this post was about - such a dramatic title - and I must say, I have to agree with you guys and the comments. I love CI but the fussiness of a lot of their "perfect" recipes keeps me from making them. So I adapt them, home-cook-style!
icebucketselections April 13, 2010
On my way to the polls right now!
icebucketselections April 13, 2010
I have to say that while I think CI performs a very valuable service, particularly in our overheated, hyperbolic food world, where everything must be the BEST/SEXIEST/QUICKEST..etc., it seems like they tend to drain a lot of the fun out of cooking. I watch episodes of The French Chef (especially the very old B&W ones) because Julia is both so technically skilled and enjoyable to watch. She made being well schooled desirable. You guys do a nice job of that, too. Sorry I clicked on the contest too late to vote, but if I had, you win hands down!
Food52 April 13, 2010
Thanks, icebucketselections. Such a good point about Julia's accessible expertise and an honor to be compared to her. You can actually still vote on our Roasted Pork Shoulder and Chewy Sugar Cookie finalists on the top right of the homepage. Then the winners of those two contests will go up against Cook's Illustrated's versions on Slate sometime in May. Make sense?
The D. April 12, 2010
Cooks Illustrated was my absolute favourite magazine for about 10 years. No advertising, beautiful black and white, and lots and lots of really useful kitchen wisdom. I also have a stack of their cookbooks on the shelf, and love reading them, especially when I'm attempting something I've never done before. But the last time I made their Boeuf Bourgignon I swore I would never cook another Cooks Illustrated recipe. WAY too complicated. Yes, you know their recipes will work, if you don't mind using every dish and utensil in the kitchen to make them. (We call their mushroom lasagna the Mushroom Massacre.) And even their simple stuff gets over the top somehow. No, I'm sure the wisdom of the crowd will topple the ivory tower. May the 'best' recipe win.
seafood_chef April 12, 2010
As a professional research chef, I feel CI is both required reading and endlessly infuriating! Any recipe labeled "Ultimate" this or "Best" that is begging to be challenged. So where do I start? From scratch? No, I improve the CI version based on my own personal organoleptic standards!
I've made a few CI recipes that were total duds- but please understand that I see a difference between something that "works" and really, truly "nailing" it. I've yet to try a food52 recipe, but I love the chutzpa of challenging the geeky guys in bow ties and 'spenders!!
AntoniaJames April 12, 2010
"Best" means different things to different people. I suspect that the test-kitchen devotees share a particular view of what is "best," and that the food52'ers who aren't devout test-kitchen allies share a decidedly different view of what is "best." In this show-down, "best" may well be determined by which camp has the largest posse. It would be interesting to know how many of the people who vote actually try any or all of the recipes prior to casting their ballots. I for one plan to test the recipes; I hope that those of us who intend to vote on the recipes themselves (and not the concept of the respective platforms) will have the opportunity to comment frankly on the finalist recipes -- and even post photos of the results. ;o)
mpalmer April 12, 2010
I have been a Cook's Ilkustrated Subscriber for over ten years. Every recipe I make from their cookbooks and magazines WORKS EVERY TIME. Their recipes are written in such a thorough and detailed way, it's impossible to screw up. I've been cooking since I was nine years old--I know what I'm doing in the kitchen, and I've cooked from enough cookbooks to know that a lot of recipes are really BADLY written and work maybe 50% of the time. I have made one recipe from Food 52 (steel cut oats in the slow cooker) and it wasn't great--I wouldn't make it again. But, one recipe does not a conclusive test make! I love the inspiration I get from the recipes on Food 52 AND I love knowing that anything I make on Cook's will work. In short, we all need BOTH. Can't we just get along? Stop the showdown with Cook's--appreciate their fine and detailed work and your commonalities. You are both inspiring home cooks.
Merrill S. April 14, 2010
Thanks so much for your kind words -- about both us and CI. We assure you, both we and the great people at Cook's are approaching this challenge with good humor and a sense of camaraderie.
mcs3000 April 12, 2010
I have huge respect for all of the recipe testing Cooks Illustrated conducts. It takes a lot of time and patience. That said, I rarely actually make their recipes and stopped subscribing a long time ago. Food52 has built a community that makes me feel like we're all in it together. I haven't submitted any recipes, but I've made some. I love reading the chef bios and the responses from everyone once their recipes are posted. Food52 inspires me.
msstein April 11, 2010
I find your site such a welcome breath of fresh air. I heartily agree with your assessment of Cook's Illustrated. While I appreciate the value in their testing kitchen and cooking items, I find the term "best" regarding anything in food a bit outrageous. How can taste, creativity and subjectivity not play a part in the enjoyment of cooking and of tasting all sorts of foods? I am getting weary of the excessive competitions, whether they be in magazines, food television programs or ezines. How about we just enjoy food and all of the contributions so many talented foodies have to contribute?
dymnyno April 11, 2010
This will be an interesting contest. I appreciate Cooks Illustrated's hands on approach to demistify and simplify. We as home cooks often inherit, invent, research ,steal or spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel. Cooks gives us very basic answers which gives us home cooks the groundwork to persue our creative flights of fancy.
PaulaK April 11, 2010
I prefer the democratic approach food 52 takes as opposed to the approach taken by Cook's Illustrated, which leans toward experts who look as if they would be more comfortable in a laboratory than a kitchen. Food 52 founders Amanda and Merrill seem to have more respect for the everyday cook. The website recognizes that we are all experts in our own kitchens.