Cook's Illustrated, January/February 2007
|Company||America's Test Kitchen|
|Based in||Brookline, Massachusetts|
Cook's Illustrated is an American cooking magazine published by America's Test Kitchen in Brookline, Massachusetts, every two months. It accepts no advertising and is characterized by extensive recipe testing and detailed instructions. The magazine also conducts thorough evaluations of kitchen equipment and branded foods and ingredients.
Founder and former editor Christopher Kimball launched Cook's magazine in 1980 with money raised from investors. Kimball eventually sold Cook's to Condé Nast Publications, which discontinued the magazine in 1989. Kimball later reacquired rights to the name, hired several former Cook's staff members, and launched a rebranded Cook's Illustrated in 1993.
Circulation grew from an initial 25,000 to 600,000 in 2004 and one million subscribers in 2007, maintaining a growth rate substantially higher than the general category of cooking magazines. In 2009, Cook's Illustrated magazine had 1.2 million subscribers, a figure that grew by 11% on average over the previous nine years. The 78% renewal rate is twice the 35-40% rate for all consumer magazines. The web site enjoys 300,000 paid subscribers, about half of whom also subscribe to one of the magazines.
The magazine's staff also produces the PBS cooking shows America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country, and publishes cookbooks including The Best Recipe and America's Test Kitchen series. A sister magazine, Cook's Country, which emphasizes home-style cooking and reader submissions, launched in October 2004; the two magazines come out in alternate months. Though the company is still officially known as Boston Common Press, most of its publishing activity is done under the America's Test Kitchen brand.
On November 16, 2015, a news release from Boston Commons Press, parent company of Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen, announced the departure of Christopher Kimball over a contract dispute. The 2016 TV programs had already been filmed and Kimball will appear as host, but his direct participation in the company was ending immediately. He remains a minority stockholder in the closely held company. There had been signs of a dispute between the corporate leadership and Kimball ever since September 2015 when David Nussbaum was appointed from outside the company as CEO, above Kimball.
Each issue of Cook's Illustrated is 32 pages in length, printed almost entirely in black-and-white. The front and back covers contain color illustrations of various foods and ingredients, and the inside of the back cover contains color photographs of the recipes featured in the issue.
Founder Kimball's philosophy, which his magazine reflects, is that there is a "single best way to make a dish" that leads to "nearly bulletproof" results. About 10,000 "friends of Cook's'" provide feedback that help the magazine choose recipes. Approximately ten recipes are presented in each issue, taking the form of a narrative in which the author discusses the recipe's evolution. The author of each article usually begins by relating the reason why they decided to create the recipe. For instance, they might have enjoyed the dish from their childhood, wanted to simplify a typically time-consuming recipe, or tried a dish in a restaurant that they wanted to recreate. The article then follows the recipe's development, which invariably begins with numerous problems in its original incarnation. The author then describes iteratively modifying the recipe's ingredients and cooking method, each time presenting the recipe to a panel of tasters who provide feedback. At the end of the article, the author reaches a final recipe and lists the ingredients and preparation instructions, often with minor variants. Recipes typically include hand-drawn illustrations of any difficult cuts or other uncommon preparation.
Recipes in the magazine often utilize unorthodox, but easy, inexpensive, and commonplace ingredients and instructions. For instance, a recipe for Chinese barbecued pork substitutes ketchup for the traditional red bean curd, which can be difficult to find in the United States; a method for improving inexpensive beef roasts suggests turning off the oven during the final hour of cooking to improve the beef's texture; and a recipe for low-fat cookies includes pureed dates, an unorthodox ingredient that the author preferred over more traditional low-fat alternatives.
Each magazine also includes a detailed taste test, in which a panel of tasters evaluates different brands of ingredients such as ketchup, dark chocolate or balsamic vinegar. In addition to testing each ingredient by itself, tasters also try the ingredient in several recipes, such as pots de crème and brownies in the case of dark chocolate. Often, a category is sub-organized into purposes, such as "best teas plain" and "best teas with milk". The magazine also applies this process of testing and evaluating to kitchen tools and products.
Every issue includes a detailed equipment test, where a panel of users tries a variety of items such as knives, cutting boards or baking sheets. In the case of more expensive pieces of equipment, an overall winner as well as a "best buy" are selected. Both types of tests sort their results into four categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Recommended with Reservations, and Not Recommended. As with recipes, much space is devoted to explaining the selection and testing process, and any exceptions to the general conclusions.
In addition to the featured test, most issues test a few other products with less detail, where the best and worst brands in each category are presented with a brief description of the products' highlights and drawbacks. The magazine also features a "Kitchen Notes" section, providing tips on completing common cooking chores, often relevant to the recipes in the issue; a "Recipe Update", in which the magazine provides variations on recipes from previous issues; "Quick Tips" submitted by readers; and "Notes from Readers", in which the magazine's editors respond to reader questions. Many issues also include a two-page spread illustrating details on a general method or task, such as "Mastering the Art of Stew" or "Stocking a Baking Pantry".
Cook's Illustrated has come under fire for their unauthorized billing practices, difficulty canceling subscriptions and their practices of sending unrequested, automatic product shipments. The business currently has a Better Business Bureau rating of A+ although there are 119 complaints, 88 related to billing/collection issues and delivery issues.
In 2008, Cook's Illustrated received widespread online backlash from bloggers who were sympathetic to Melissa, of "Alosha's Kitchen." The issue centered around the claim that Deborah Broide Publicity, the company that handles PR for Cook's Country, America's Test Kitchen, and Cooks Illustrated emailed Melissa and made what many thought were erroneous claims concerning copyright violations. The company claims they don't allow their recipes to be reproduced in print without permission, even with modifications. This seems to fall under fair use as long as the directions are not identical. 120 bloggers wrote letters of support for Melissa according to a post on the BlogHer website.
Other criticisms are related to Christopher Kimball's frequent writings in the NYT and his own blog that condemn food bloggers and online recipe sites in general.
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