Inside ATK

How We Make Our Recipes Failproof. Every Time.

Our test cooks use a five-step process that includes home cooks like you.
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Published Apr. 4, 2023.

Here at America’s Test Kitchen we’re known for testing our recipes again and again until we get it perfect for home cooks. Our Texas Barbecue Brisket, for example, took two years and 500 pounds of beef to get right!

While the exact path is different for every recipe, the test kitchen uses a five-step system guaranteed to give us a great outcome every time.

Step 1: Research

Our recipes are wide-ranging: from Laugenbrezeln (German Lye Pretzels) to Gỏi Cuốn (Vietnamese Summer Rolls). Each dish needs proper research so we can be sure we’re doing it justice. In addition to referencing print and digital sources, test cooks interview chefs intimately familiar with the dish to find out everything they can about its history, cultural context, ingredients, and preparation.

This may also include tasting the dish from different restaurants, bakeries, or stores. The test cook developing the recipe then drafts a proposal that is presented to the rest of the ATK kitchen team in preparation for recipe testing.

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Step 2: Five-Recipe Test

Before the ATK recipe emerges, test cooks need to see what other versions of the dish look like. This is where the five-recipe test comes in: The test cook makes five different recipes using various techniques, ingredients, and ratios and compares them. Is clafoutis better with pitted or unpitted cherries, or does it even matter? This stage of the process will get to the bottom of it. And test cooks aren’t the only ones who do the tasting—anyone in the office can join in too.

Step 3: Recipe Development

After figuring out what is good (and not so good) about each of the five recipes, the test cooks start the process of creating and refining the ATK recipe. This includes numerous versions of the dish, with tastings along the way. One test might examine different amounts of baking soda. Another: oven temperature. And because we like to be scientific, tasting samples are always randomized to prevent bias. 

Step 4: Home Recipe Testing

OK, so we have a recipe that we in the office think is pretty delicious and know works in the test kitchen. But how do we know it will work in kitchens at home? That’s where home cooks like you come in!

Cooks of all skill levels and ages come together to test our recipes in development and provide feedback before they’re published. And if fewer than 80% of testers wouldn’t make the recipe again, it goes back to our kitchen for further testing.

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Step 5: Refine & Publish

After receiving feedback from home cooks, the recipe is refined until it is ready to be published. Home testers thought the dinner roll shaping instructions were unclear? Time to tweak the language or add a video. Those lemon bars weren’t lemony enough for folks at home? Let’s up that lemon zest. Once a recipe receives the test cook and home tester seal of approval, then, and only then, do we publish it. 

Why do we test our recipes dozens of times before we publish? So that you only have to make it once to get it right.

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