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Cook by the Book or Taste as You Go?

Written By:  Craig Ferraro

How do you cook?  I know many people who simply follow recipes, and others who like to experiment as they go.  Which way is better?  Both methods can yield delicious dishes.  Repast Supply Co. would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.  So post a reply here, on Facebook, or Twitter.

I’ll give of my thoughts here to get the conversation started.  If someone asked me which method is superior, my answer, as any economist would tell you, is that it depends.

The first thing I would consider is what type of cooking I am doing.  Certain preparation methods lend themselves to precision and adherence to pre-existing recipes.  I love to smoke (barbecue, that is).  This type of low and slow cooking requires special attention to detail.  The salt content of the rub, the type of wood used, and the internal meat temperature, among a host of other things all require special attention.  I’ve been cooking Q for about 5 years now, and I’m just now starting to experiment.  The best resource (digital or print) available for learning to smoke is  The author of the site, appropriately dubbed Meathead, is detail-oriented, scientific, and unbelievably helpful.

The second thing I would consider when discerning whether to follow recipes or freestyle is the type of cuisine I’m cooking and my familiarity with what yields tasty dishes in this realm.  My Italian heritage necessitates that I cook sauce and meatballs.  I’m still working to perfect each.  For an old school, no frills, guide to Italian cooking check out Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This is the most detailed, informative guide to the cuoco Italiano out there.  Just ensure you have a few hours to spend crafting these treasures!

In recent years I’ve really enjoyed learning about, and preparing Mexican food.  Growing up in Wyoming and Utah, my wife was exposed to authentic Mexican fare. She has, in turn, imparted in me an affinity for the methods made popular south of the border.  Unlike most traditional types of cooking, veggies and meats are roasted and scorched while cooking Mexican.  And it’s delicious.  I’m a novice in this arena, so I nearly always follow recipes.  For beautiful pictures and fantastic food check out Truly Mexican by JJ Santibanez.  

My final thoughts on the topic are as follows.  Follow recipes once or twice until you know what you want the dish to taste like.  Read about methodology and the why behind cooking.  Learn how different ingredients add different elements during different preparation methods.  And, of course, cook a meal for someone you love. 

Please share your thoughts on the ‘cook by the book vs. taste as you go’ discussion.  Reply here, on Facebook or Twitter.  Visit Slow.Cook.Love. often for more thoughts and discussion.