If you read Fine Cooking magazine, you know the test kitchen is a huge part of everything we do. But, we're often asked, what exactly does the test kitchen do, and how and why do we test recipes?
Our recipes come from diverse sources: cookbook authors, chefs, professional food writers. By their nature, when we get them, they tend to only have been tested by one person: the author. Things that work well in the author's kitchen may not work well in other kitchens; a technique explanation that's clear to the author may not be clear to other cooks (with all due respect to restaurant chefs, whom we love, many are not the best recipe writers!). So the test kitchen and food editor's job is twofold: be sure the recipe works as written, and tweak the recipe so it's written as clearly as possible, without any potential for confusion.
Each test is tasted by all the FC editors (yeah, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it) and we give our critiques: is there something missing in the flavor? Is there too much salt, or not enough? Is the texture off? The tester jots down all our notes, revises the recipe accordingly, and tests again, until most of us are satisfied that it's as delicious as it can be. We test each recipe as many times as we need to to reach this goal: sometimes recipes arrive in nearly perfect form; other times, tests may climb to a dozen or more.
We also make sure that over the course of testing, the same recipe is made by different testers, using different equipment, and any effect that has on the finished dish is incorporated into the recipe: for instance, we might discover that cast-iron is really the way to go, or two different testers interpret "small dice" differently, so a more exact measurement is needed.
So which recipes go through this exacting process? Well, all of the ones that run in the magazine. On FineCooking.com, we also excerpt recipes from cookbooks, from either Taunton Press or other publishers. These recipes are generally not tested by our test kitchen, though in some cases, our editors have tried out recipes from books we review in the magazine.