Food fight: Cook's Illustrated and food52 compete to come up with the best recipes for pork shoulder and sugar…

What to eat. What not to eat.
May 5 2010 9:38 AM

Rumble in the Oven

Slate pits Cook's Illustrated against food52. Who can come up with the best recipes for pork shoulder and sugar cookies?

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

Just as citizen reporting is mounting a challenge to professional journalism, wiki food sites are threatening the traditional mode of culinary writing. Instead of relying on professionals to create and vigorously test recipes, crowd-sourced Web publications invite the huddled masses to share their favorite Caesar salad or chicken fricassee. But which model is more likely to produce the most delicious meals? With this question in mind, we invite you, Slate readers, to judge a showdown between Cook's Illustrated, a venerable recipe resource, and food52, a scrappy crowd-sourced startup. It's a fight between highly trained experts and passionate amateurs, between stern Yankee precision and Brooklyn bobo spontaneity.

You'll find links to the competing recipes—for dinner, pork shoulder; for dessert, sugar cookies—at the bottom of the page. But, first, a little background. The Cook's Illustrated approach is famously thorough, and its style self-consciously nerdy. For each recipe—whether prime rib roast or chocolate cupcakes, a crew from the Boston-area test kitchen determines the ideal qualities to pursue for the dish. They test several existing recipes as a jumping-off point and start creating a composite recipe, which may be tweaked dozens of times. After this comes "abuse testing," in which they prepare the recipe with less-than-ideal equipment or common home-cook substitutions. Next, they send the recipe out to a professional tester and to volunteer reader-testers. If no major problems emerge, they finally publish a recipe. The C.I. crew is proud of its scrupulous method—and so confident that, in October, Christopher Kimball, the suspendered majordomo of C.I., threw down the gauntlet in his blog: "I am willing to put my money, and my reputation, where my big mouth is. I offer a challenge to any supporter of the WIKI or similar concept to jump in and go head to head with our test kitchen."


The crowd—at least, the edited crowd as represented by food52—leapt to the challenge. Site founders Amanda Hesser, food columnist for the New York Times Magazine, and Merrill Stubbs, a New York Times contributor, argue that home cooks have a lot of compelling culinary ideas, too—ones that might never find the spotlight if we leave recipe creation solely in the hands of credentialed pros like those at C.I. Food52 is not a wiki site, like Foodista, where the recipes are open for editing from the public. Instead, each week, food52 members, which include both well-known bloggers and neophytes, respond to weekly calls for a recipe on a given theme—such as asparagus or shrimp or something broader like "Best Spring Refresher." Hesser and Stubbs sort through the entries and choose two finalists, each of which they test a few times. (They don't do serious revisions to the recipes: If it's not working, it doesn't rank as a finalist.) Then, once the recipes have been packaged with images, headnotes, and, sometimes, videos, readers vote for their favorite.

There are fine arguments to be made for both the top-down and the grassroots models, but in the end, the proof is in the pork butt. And so for this contest, food52 and Cook's Illustrated have developed two recipes each: one for pork shoulder (often called "butt"), that marvelously adaptable cut of meat, and one for a chewy sugar cookie. It is up to you, the Slate reader/cook, to determine which recipes are, in fact, the tastiest.

With such great power comes great responsibility, and we ask you to take your job as judge seriously. Culinary bragging rights are on the line—it's essential that you prepare both recipes in a particular category before voting and that you share your honest opinion of the results. To vote, fill out the brief questionnaire linked to at the bottom of each recipe page by May 17. Your identity will remain private, of course, but we may end up quoting your observations in our summation of the contest.


Like  Slate on Facebook. Follow us on  Twitter.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.