Cook’s Illustrated Takes Relentless, Educational Approach to Solving Cooking Conundrums

cooksillustrated_may-june2010.jpgA mere 34 pages and only 10 color photos would seemingly pale in comparison to many of today’s glossy, 100-plus-page food and cooking magazines. But after getting beyond the initial shock of the black-and-white graphics and lengthier articles, I found Cook’s Illustrated magazine to be an educational read that would especially appeal to cooks who aren’t afraid to experiment in the kitchen.

Nearly every dish is presented alongside a cooking conundrum that is followed by various options tested to derive the perfect combination of ingredients to yield the best results. In online reviews, some readers took issue with having to wade through all the wrong ways to prepare a dish instead of just getting straight to the right one.

While the approach might not be for everyone, curious cooks will appreciate that Cook’s Illustrated magazine breaks down the science of ingredient interactions in the preparation process. This allows cooks to glean knowledge from each article that could be adapted to other culinary situations.

The May/June 2010 issue, for example, shared tips on grilling the perfect tuna steak, concluding that a simple vinaigrette of oil, vinegar, mustard and honey was the key to an ideal smoky exterior char enclosing a cool rare center. The article further explained how each ingredient worked together to maintain the meat’s moisture, neutralize odor and boost the browning factor so the steak wouldn’t overcook.

Another example was an article detailing how to pack the most chocolate flavor into a cupcake without making it too dry or crumbly. This quest began with adapting a chocolate cake recipe by substituting
ingredients–such as vegetable oil instead of melted butter–that would
ultimately produce an extra-moist batch. Other more unexpected elements,
such as wood-smoked flour and beer, were used to help boost the cocoa
flavor but were deemed a bust.

Just to give you an idea of the lengths that Cook’s Illustrated
magazine will go to when testing a recipe, more than two months and 800
cupcakes were dedicated to perfecting the directions to prepare the
Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake With Ganache Filling topped with creamy
chocolate frosting.

While Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t contain as many recipes as other
cooking magazines, its staff does take its time in solving culinary
questions like building a better buttermilk waffle, grilling asparagus,
braising chicken or understanding all the uses of garlic. If you’re
curious about who makes the best waffle iron, the best plastic food
storage containers or the best vanilla ice cream, for example, you’ll be
pleased to know that Cook’s Illustrated editors have the answers about
these and other kitchen mysteries.

Sure, these suggestions and recipes aren’t wrapped in the flashiest
or most colorful package, but it speaks to the magazine’s more
cerebral–yet still accessible–approach. Cook’s Illustrated goes beyond
its contemporaries by deconstructing the chemistry of cooking rather
than getting straight to the point, making it a thoughtful and welcome
source of answers for the culinarily curious.

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Michelle Ryan

About Michelle Ryan

Michelle Ryan is obsessed with good food, great shoes and Alabama football way down South in Savannah, Georgia. She hasn’t met a kitchen gadget she hasn’t at least thought about buying (trying them is another story) and devotes her time to Bikram Yoga, baking and trying to overcome long-held finicky eating habits.