How to Write a Recipe
Your best friend just asked you for the recipe of that delicious pasta salad you made for last weekend’s barbecue. What do you do?
Sure, the easiest solution would be to spit out the ingredients you remember using and say "add a dash of this, a pinch of that, and then mix it all together." But what happens when your friend’s dash is considered a handful to you? And the yellow onion she bought results in a much different flavor than the red onion that you meant for them to include?[related]
One of the beauties of cooking is sharing secrets, ideas and, of course, recipes with friends, family, and beyond, but it can all go south if you’re not passing along the correct information. Recipes are exact and meticulous for a reason; they’ve been tested and relied upon, so keep in mind that those numbers and measurements aren’t there for fun. The next time your friend asks for that pasta salad recipe, use these tips to write your own recipe before passing it along. The results are well worth it.
Be Thorough. Make sure you list all of the ingredients needed for the recipe. This includes everything from olive oil to salt and pepper. The more details you provide, the more accurate your recipe will be.
Be Organized. Ingredients should be listed in the order that they are going to be used in the recipe. This lets the user formulate a plan while reading over what they need, and helps them get familiar with the recipe.
Be exact. The size of ingredients, especially produce, can vary tremendously, so measure everything you possibly can. For example, instead of calling for one clove of garlic, call for a teaspoon or tablespoon measurement to be more precise.
Be Specific. All of the ingredients of a recipe should be prepped and ready to go when the user begins to cook, so if you need something chopped, say so in the ingredients, don’t wait until the instructions. It’ll only stall the user and muddy up their experience with the recipe.
Be literal. Consider two scenarios: the first would be taking a bunch of cilantro, measuring a cup of it and chopping it up; the second would be taking a bunch of cilantro, chopping it, and then measuring a cup. In other words, a cup of cilantro, chopped, is a lot less cilantro than a cup of chopped cilantro, so make sure you’re calling for certain amounts literally.
Start at the very beginning. Consider all of the steps for the recipe and organize them in a timely manner — many chefs in professional kitchens do this day in and day out to make sure they’re getting their food out on time, but it’s extremely applicable for the home cook as well. Does the oven need to be preheated? Put it in the instructions first. Making pasta? Consider the time it takes to boil the water.
Include time and temperature. While all ranges and ovens vary and therefore result in different cooking times and temperatures, it’s important to give the user a ballpark idea of at what heat and for how long something should cook for.
And while we’re on that topic… give examples. Because there is variation in kitchens, be as descriptive as possible when explaining something. Golden-brown, translucent, and sweating are examples of visual cues that will help the user follow the recipe.
Give warnings. If something is particularly tricky or dangerous, it’s always nice to tell the user to heed with caution. My favorite example of this is frying garlic — garlic burns quickly so I always make sure to mention it when writing a recipe.
Try not to be repetitive. If you tell the user that they need one cup of low-fat chicken broth in the ingredients, no need to tell them to add one cup of low-fat chicken broth to the soup, just tell them to add the broth. On the other hand, if you’re using more than one broth, specify that it’s chicken, of course.
Consistency is key. This is your recipe, so please, write it in your own words and make the user feel comfortable (and get them to like you). That being said, make sure you are as consistent as possible when using terms or phrases. You’ll confuse your reader if you call it a baking sheet in the first paragraph and a sheet pan in the second. This should be applied to your ingredients as well; write out tablespoon or abbreviate it (Tbsp.), but don’t do both.
Check your work. As is always the case with writing, read over everything and make sure that the recipe makes sense and there are no grammatical errors. Along with the usual writing errors, another common mistake to watch out for is listing an ingredient and forgetting to put it in the instructions. I’ve seen this mistake in some… er… highly publicized cookbooks, so it’s easy to do.
Follow these tips, and you’re sure to become a pro at recipe writing — and you’ll avoid disappointing fellow cooks when sharing your recipes. Happy writing!
Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce