Yelp and Urbanspoon are great for discovering new restaurants, but most of us already go out more than we should. When it’s time to eat in, there are dozens of apps that can help you expand or refine your repertoire of at-home meals. Publisher Conde Nast’s Epicurious made a name for itself by offering free and easy access to thousands of recipes, taken from the pages of Gourmet, Bon Appetit and other prestigious magazines. Searching for a particular dish is simple, or you can browse a list filtered according to what type of cuisine you’d like, basic dietary restrictions, or what’s already in your fridge. Results are presented with user ratings and (usually) a delicious-looking photo.
There’s an integrated grocery list feature too, which compiles the ingredients from your selected recipes and sorts them based on where you’re likely to find them. Epicurious currently boasts five million App-Store downloads, and it’s not hard to see why: it may just be the best recipe app out there. But even if it is, there’s no more sense in using just one cooking app than in owning just one cookbook, so here are our favorite alternatives.
Just like Epicurious, Cook’s Illustrated has a curated library of professionally produced recipes, browse-able by pictures or searchable by name and ingredients. What sets Cook’s Illustrated apart is its smart presentation. Not only do its recipes have the potential to be totally delicious; the app includes step-by-step videos to help ensure your efforts in the kitchen produce truly tasty results, and an in-app timer keeps you up to speed.
The app’s best original feature is the “Taste Test” pane. Cook’s Illustrated knows that most of us, faced with the daunting task of choosing a jar of pasta sauce from an entire supermarket-aisle of options, will probably pick whatever has the best label or the lowest price. The app’s side-by-side comparisons of common packaged foods (from eggs to soy sauce to vanilla ice cream)—based on a blind taste-test survey of culinary pros—encourage your inner chef not to settle for cheap ingredients.
The catch: Cook’s Illustrated may be a free app, but access to more than a sampling of its content requires a $25/year subscription.
Allrecipes.com Dinner Spinner
Allrecipes.com may not literally offer us all the recipes ever, but 14 years of collective user-uploaded content adds up to quite a lot. The Dinner Spinner app does about what you’d expect it to, presenting you with a random recipe based on criteria you’ve set. Unlike some recipe aggregators, the recipes you’ll find here here probably weren’t written by professionals. Quality varies wildly, from useful, concise instructions to convoluted, amateurish prose. Perhaps appropriately, Dinner Spinner can feel like rolling the dice. Good or bad, though, it’s free (unless the thousands of recipes in the basic version just aren’t enough, or you simply must have your ingredients list in checklist form).
Cook’s Illustrated Based on Michael Ruhlman’s cookbook of the same title, Ratio isn’t so much a recipe collection as, well, a vendetta against recipe collections. An apologia for a different way to think about cooking, the app offers a basic look at the “32 Critical Ratios” presented in its namesake book, with (again, basic) instruction in cooking technique. Instead of an in-app timer or shopping list, Ratio features a calculator. Let the app know how many servings you want to make and it tells you how much of each ingredient you need. The recipes in the app—which, remember, aren’t really recipes but ‘variations on a ratio’—are just (ahem) the icing on the cake.
Most cooking apps are really just recipe-aggregators, transplanting text and pictures originally meant for print onto a screen. Not so with Jamie’s Recipes. The app’s whole content-delivery system—its eminently readable big text, the ‘swipe to the next step’ interface, and especially the 10-recipe-pack in-app purchases—has been optimized for iOS devices. The food photography is mouthwatering, and even the app’s faux-wood backdrop, a token of the rustic Americana aesthetic Oliver (somewhat ironically) cultivates, looks pretty darn good.
There are a few weird dishes, reminders that Jamie Oliver is indeed a celebrity chef (Curried Branzino with Coconut Rice anyone?) but most of the options are laudably accessible—normal stuff we might actually cook. Each recipe is broken down into simple steps, and many of the meals can be prepared in just 10-20 minutes. The requisite shopping-list feature is present and accounted for, and each add-on pack includes a video in which Oliver struts his stuff and teaches you a basic cooking skill. Of course, you can always skip them and get straight to cooking; you don’t have to love Jamie to love Jamie’s Recipes.