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The Key Ingredient in ATK’s Failproof Recipes? You.

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Published Apr. 7, 2023.

Ever wonder how a recipe goes from an idea in our test kitchen to a fully formed feature in our magazines, TV shows, or website? As a research analyst at America’s Test Kitchen I am very familiar with how much a recipe can change from when it first comes across my desk to when it is published. 

One of the things that makes America’s Test Kitchen so special is our rigorous recipe testing process, which is why our recipes can change so much from conception to publication. 

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On average, it costs $11,000 to develop a single recipe. That includes cooking up to 40 versions until we land on the final recipe. The process begins with extensive research leading to a handful of pre-existing recipes using different methods. From there, test cooks determine what works and what doesn’t to help them create a solid starting point. Many tests and variations later, the recipe reaches my team, Consumer Insights. 

From there, we send it out to our community of tens of thousands of home recipe testers who make the dish and give feedback.

And we truly value this feedback: At least 80 percent of home testers need to tell us they want to make a recipe again in order for it to move forward. Otherwise, the recipe heads back to the team for further testing in the kitchen.

But how much does a recipe really change from ideation to publication? I spoke to Cook’s Illustrated Deputy Food Editor Andrea Geary about the recipe development process and the role our at-home recipe testing program plays in it.

“With the survey process, it’s a conversation.”
Andrea Geary

With over a decade of experience developing some of the most popular recipes for ATK (such as these Fluffy Dinner Rolls), Andrea Geary relies heavily on the survey process. Not only do home testers help make our recipes more reliable, but “test results help us think about how we want to build a particular issue [of Cook’s Illustrated or Cook’s Country magazine],” says Geary. A recipe that did extremely well in survey might be expanded to multiple pages, or a technique that was successful with home testers might influence how test cooks develop recipes in the future.

Geary also mentioned something she referred to as “the Chili Principle,” which originated from a chili recipe that initially required a lot of chopping and yielded way too many servings for home cooks. The solution? Cut the recipe in half and utilize the food processor to streamline vegetable prep. Test cooks now think about how they can cut back or simplify a recipe for cooks at home. Born from this principle emerged our recipes for two and small-batch baking, which have become popular within the ATK community.

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“For most magazines or publishing entities, it’s one-way,” says Geary. With the survey process, its a conversation. Suddenly home cooks across the globe get a voice. “It makes things better for everybody, and I think that’s hugely valuable,” she adds.

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