10 Tips For Editing A Recipe

I edit recipes for a living. Well, really that's oversimplifying my job. But a huge part of what I do each day involves scrutinizing recipes -- making sure that all the parts are there, that what's on paper translates to what actually needs to happen, that they are consistent with any accompanying text/explanation, and that they adhere to house style and have no errors in content and grammar.

And I kind of love it. I get to read and think about food all day (not to mention eat it when there are recipe testings going on in the kitchen). I think that paying attention to all the little details when I'm editing has made me a better recipe writer, so I thought I'd share some of my tips for how to edit or review a recipe after you've written it. If you read through your recipe using the checklist below, you'll be in pretty good shape and your readers should be able to re-create your dish.

  1. Ingredients should be listed in the order they are used, and if several go in together, they should be listed in volume order (greatest to least).
  2. All the ingredients should be listed in the ingredient list and be accounted for in the recipe. If you didn't call for garlic in the ingredient list and then you say to "add garlic," people are going to wonder how much.
  3. If an ingredient requires a lot of prepping or something unusual or intricate, it's better to detail that in the recipe steps than to create a super-long ingredient list entry.
  4. If something is prepared and set aside in the recipe, make sure it gets added back in at some point. You don't want someone to get to the end of the recipe and still have a plate of shredded chicken sitting on the counter that was supposed to be inside their enchiladas, for example.
  5. Tell people what size bowl, skillet, pot, etc., that they'll need when it matters.
  6. Don't ask people to preheat their ovens and then make a dough that needs to be refrigerated for 24 hours before being baked. No one wants their oven running needlessly for 24 hours.(This one is one of my biggest pet peeves. I see it in cookbooks all the time.)
  7. When possible, give people visual cues as well as timing. There are a lot of variables in cooking and it helps to have both to rely on. So if you want them to cook leeks until they're browned, say that and give approximate timing. (This is even more important with baked goods.)
  8. I didn't always do this, but it's good to include a yield. People like to know how much they're going to get.
  9. Give your recipe a final read for any errors and run spell check. (Please!)
  10. Have your own voice and style and have a little fun with writing recipes. The above guidelines are just to help you make sure your recipe can actually be executed by someone else.
And a bonus tip: If you write about your recipe when you share it, make sure that what you say about the recipe matches the recipe steps. (Don't say you love the asparagus in the dish if there's no asparagus to be found.) And if you're going to garnish your dish with chopped cilantro to make it look nice, offer that option in your recipe so your readers don't wonder why what they produced doesn't look like the dish in your photos.

Do you have any tips to add?