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By a hair, experts prevail in recipe smackdown


Cook's Illustrated's Jack Bishop (left) and Chris Kimball were victorious in an online recipe contest. (Laurie Swope for The Washington Post)

The results are in. On Thursday, Slate announced the winner of its Cook's Illustrated vs. Food 52 recipe smackdown. The experts won – but just barely.

Of 103 voters who prepared both pork shoulder recipes, 54 chose the Cook’s Illustrated pork shoulder with peach sauce. Forty-nine voted for Food 52’s porchetta. The cookie competition was even closer, with 84 of 166 votes going for Cook’s Chai-Spiced Sugar Cookies vs. 82 for Food 52's Chewy Sugar Cookies #2.

Of the seemingly endless number of recipe contests, this was one I was paying attention to. As I wrote about the contest in April, much more than dinner was at stake. “The future of recipe development seems to hang in the balance: Do the experts know best? Or is there more wisdom in the home culinary crowd?”

The answer, it seems, is that it depends who you are. According to the comments submitted by testers, some people loved the simplicity and precise nature of Cook’s recipes. As Slate’s Sara Dickerson reported:

“The looser prose of the food52 recipes sometimes made for confusion — when the sugar cookie recipe said "cream butter and sugars for 1 minute," was I supposed to include the turbinado sugar as well, or was that just for rolling the cookies in the end? And how long should I allot for the pork shoulder to come to room temperature? Should I really aim for room temperature, or rather something in the 50s? These questions can be major or minor depending on the audience. An experienced cook is likely to use a recipe less literally, while someone new to a technique depends on precision.”

(My colleague Bonnie Benwick agreed that the Cook's recipe delivered what it promised, although she liked the buttery flavor of Food 52's cookies better.)

Others liked the spirit and inventiveness of the crowd-sourced recipes, too. Cook’s pork with peaches was far from original, according to some testers. Food 52’s marinade of orange, fennel seed, black pepper, rosemary and coriander added fantastic layers of flavor.

Technically, Cook’s is the winner. But as Dickerman writes, “This particular election did not necessarily provide a broad mandate for experience, tradition, and professional expertise over crowd-sourcing.”

Far from putting the end to recipe contests, the results here are likely to spur more.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  May 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Media  | Tags: Jane Black, recipes  
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Comments

All Cook's Illustrated had to do was submit their Lemon-Poppy Sugar Cookie recipe. It's damn near foolproof and I have people begging me for the recipe when I bring the cookies anywhere.

KISS guys!

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | May 21, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

A problem with the test is the implicit OR rather than AND. I've got a full collection of Cooks Illustrated volumes and when I'm looking for a classic recipe, it's my go to source.

Group sourcing is fun and useful. In my opinion, you have to be reasonably experienced to separate the wheat from the chaff. There's a lot of half-baked (heh) recipes on the net. There are also a lot of great ideas out there. A berbere spice blend recipe I've found is a terrific rub. Some variations are fun. I like to make a kitfo and then using it to stuff a steamed bell pepper.

A serious problem on the net is plagiarism. For example, an Indian style liver recipe (marinated with lemon juice, chili pepper, garlic, ginger, and turmeric; fried in butter/oil). I decided to punch in the name of the recipe to see if there's any ideas. I found a very familiar recipe--word for word the one I'd been using. Why is it such a problem to acknowledge your sources?

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 21, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse

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