YouTube's Popular Cooking Videos

YouTube: The Next Food Network?

Potato Ball in a Potato Box

Standing by the stove, Carol adds some oil to her pancetta cooking in a pan, generously sprinkles it with fresh black pepper and stirs. Wiping her hands on her apron, she turns to the laptop set on the counter and eagerly presses play, to continue watching Chef John make the next step of the recipe. 


Though fictional in name, Carol is like many others who are turning to online cooking videos, particularly on YouTube, to make their next meal.

Mia Quagliarello, product market manager for content and community at YouTube, says that recipe searches on YouTube have quadrupled since 2008. Searches for 'slow cooker recipes' and 'healthy recipes' have increased 5,000% in the past two years, while 'curry sauce' has seen a 900% increase and 'make cupcakes' At first, it seemed because people were searching for cooking videos when there was something in a cookbook or recipe that they didn’t understand. And now, with the technology becoming much easier to use and more user-friendly, more cooks are also using YouTube as their recipe source. The popularity of these videos has gotten so big that even The Food Network is looking for their Next Food Network Star on YouTube.

Video is a very dynamic medium that, as Quagliarello says, allows people to put their own spin on what they do, resulting in a never-ending variety of creativity on the web: One woman even prepares Japanese dishes with her dog sitting beside her. There is also Clara, a 94-year-old woman, who hosts a show called Great Depression Cooking that focuses on frugal cooking and has even landed herself a cookbook. Is this the new blog-to-cookbook dream of aspiring cooks?

With this level of accessibility, it’s not a surprise that these web-based cooking shows are becoming so popular. Yesterday, YouTube released the The Most Popular Cooking Videos of 2010, with one of them being Chef John of Food Wishes.

Chef John isn’t popular because he’s trying to mimic a network personality or audition for Top Chef; fans watch his videos because he is all about the food. During his five years as a culinary school instructor in San Francisco, he taught a computer class where he saw students going nuts over YouTube videos. He decided to give it a shot and try something new with online cooking classes. After a few bumps and hurtles, he found his niche.

He explains that about 95% of most video content are “stand and stir” shows where a person is talking to you and showing you what they are cooking. He realized that people actually wanted to see the food being made, and as long as there was a recipe, an entertaining voiceover and good food shots, then they were happy. And that’s what he does.

He starts with a super sexy, close-up shot of the finished dish, with just enough time for you to start salivating, and then he cooks the recipe from the start, explaining as he goes, without the camera losing focus on the food.  For the 3-4 minutes that people are watching him, he really makes them feel like they are making the dish together. He says that it no longer feels like you’re watching a show; you are in the experience.

It works. It works really well. His subscribers have increased from 100 to 75,000 people and he just posted his 500th video a couple of weeks ago (the video of the potato ball in a potato cube below). Will Chef John's prediction made in a recent interview — that “A library of your favorite video recipes from YouTube on your iPad IS the cookbook of the next decade”— come true?


*Chef John takes ‘food wishes’ so send in yours and you might see it pop up on YouTube someday soon. Also check back on The Daily Meal, which will be featuring some of Chef John’s videos like his participation in our Recipe SWAT Team: Meatballs (coming in January).