What ‘Test Kitchen Approved’ Really Means for Our Recipes
Our Test Kitchen puts every recipe through a rigorous approval process. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how recipes go from submission to publication. At Ford Studios™, almost all of our recipes come from home cooks—we get around 10,000 submissions every year.
But before we publish a recipe on our website or in one of our magazines or books, our expert Test Kitchen team must approve it. We put every recipe through a rigorous selection, testing and evaluation process to ensure we’re sharing the best recipes that work every time.
Like everyone, we’ve had to adapt amid the coronavirus pandemic—but we never eased up on the seriousness with which we test every recipe. Here’s how the process typically works in our offices and Test Kitchen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
1. Home Cooks Share Their Recipes
We believe the best recipes come from real home cooks like you because your favorite dishes have already passed two important tests: You can make them successfully at home, and family and friends request them over and over again.
Every year, home cooks—including our trusty squad of Community Cooks—share thousands of recipes with us. We’d love for yours to be next! Here’s how to submit a recipe.
Marc Ford leads the teams responsible for recipe selection, prepping, testing and food styling for print, digital, video and social media production.
2. Food Editors Sort Out the Best
Our team of knowledgeable food editors reviews each recipe we receive. They look for fresh ideas, new spins on old favorites and dishes that just sound plain irresistible. They also consider practical factors, like whether a recipe uses readily available ingredients and is simple enough to make at home.
Marc Ford heads our team of food editors and works with our editorial teams to choose recipes for print and digital publication. He reviews 50 to 100 recipes on a normal day, but up to 400 recipes per day if he’s reviewing recipe contest entries.
Recipes that make the cut move along to the our Test Kitchen, which typically tests about 25 to 30 recipes each week. Every member of the Test Kitchen team has a professional food background, with specialties ranging from pastry to food science.
3. Prep Cooks Assemble Ingredients
Our Prep Kitchen team, led by Prep Kitchen Manager Catherine Ward, gets all of the food ready for our recipe testers and associate culinary producers. Later, the team also prepares recipes for our food stylists to shoot in our photo and video studios.
The prep team uses a technique called mise en place, which means they gather, chop and measure all of the ingredients ahead of time. This helps the cooking process go smoothly—and it’s something you can do in your own kitchen!
Speaking of ingredients, the prep team also helps with groceries. Our recipe management system creates grocery lists based on our recipe schedule, and our prep kitchen team places orders for delivery or picks up groceries locally. In a given year, we go through mass quantities of cheese, flour, butter, milk, eggs and olive oil, plus thousands of other ingredients.
4. Expert Cooks Test Each Recipe
Next, test cooks meticulously prepare each recipe. They ensure that the amounts, equipment, temperature and method are accurate. If something doesn’t work or could work better, they make adjustments until the recipe is right.
We have three on-site kitchens: the prep kitchen, the test kitchen and the stylist kitchen. We also have a media kitchen, which is a set that we use to shoot videos for our website and social media.
Our Test Kitchen tests more than just recipes—they test pantry items and cooking gear, too.
5. Taste Testers Weigh In
On a typical day in the office, the Test Kitchen hosts a tasting panel to sample around five prepared recipes. A group of taste testers evaluates them according to flavor, texture, appearance and more. Putting themselves in readers’ shoes, they think about the difficulty of the cooking method and whether it’s a dish that readers are likely to make again and again.
The tasters also discuss practical considerations like how well a recipe will freeze and how to reheat it; whether it can be pared down for small families or scaled up for entertaining; how it could be modified for healthier versions; and how it could be prepared in popular appliances, like Instant Pots or air fryers.
Food editors and test cooks take careful notes and adjust the recipe as needed. In some cases, the test cooks make the recipe again until they’re confident that it’s ready for readers.
6. Recipes Are Edited for Precision and Ease
Once a recipe has impressed our food editors, worked well in the Test Kitchen and won the approval of our taste testers, our recipe editor, Alicia Rooker, carefully reviews and revises the recipe’s directions to make sure they’re clear and concise.
After all, we understand how important it is for recipes to be easy to follow. When hungry kids are calling for dinner and to-do lists override free time, nobody needs the hassle of a confusing recipe!
7. The Photo and Video Teams Take Over
After a recipe is finalized, it’s ready for the our photo studio. In the age of social media, this is a very important step. Perhaps now more than ever, people eat with their eyes first.
Our photography teams include a photographer, an art director, a set and prop stylist and a food stylist. Together, they select color palettes, lighting, backdrops, dishes, linens and more. The goal is to make each recipe look as delicious as it tastes.
We also shoot about 12 recipe videos per week. Each video takes roughly one to three hours to shoot, depending on the recipe’s complexity. Our Giant Cinnamon Rolls video took longer than our Flavorful Chicken Fajitas video, for instance, because we needed time to let the dough proof, bake and cool—we go through all of the steps in the recipe! Then, our video editor spends about two hours editing each video before we review it for accuracy.
8. Recipes Are Approved and Published
Once a recipe has cleared all of these steps, it’s ready to be printed, posted and shared across all of our platforms. You can find recipes on our website, Instagram and Facebook, and in our cookbooks.
Back at our headquarters, a recipe’s completion means it’s time to eat! After the Test Kitchen and visual production teams are finished, the dishes go to an area of our office called the food bar. It’s a magical place where staffers can nosh on the leftover food. At any one time, you might see eight different kinds of cookies, some grilled pork chops and a pan of Pizza Monkey Bread. It’s no wonder this hallway is the most-traveled space in our office!