A better approach to recipes

Most cookbooks and recipes that you've seen use a layout that was popularized in 1896 by Fannie Farmer in her best selling cookbook The Boston Cooking School Cook Book. Ms. Farmer's cookbook brought a new level of scientific rigor and thoughtfulness to the culinary world. She helped create the standard recipe format that we use today and is the reason that a teaspoon, tablespoon, and a cup are the common levels of measurement.

Fannie's Format: Bad User Experience

Fannie's Format

The classic format that Fannie Farmer made popular is to list all of the ingredients and then the instructions. Having all of the ingredients grouped together is great when you're making a shopping list, but separating them from the instructions creates a confusing zigzag reading pattern as you constantly switch back and forth between the ingredients and the instructions.

The sample recipe on the right highlights the back-and-forth required for a recipe with six ingredients and three steps.

The more complicated the recipe, the more likely you are to lose your place in the process and end up having to frantically scan the recipe for the a vital piece of information, inevitably while something is burning on the stove!

The Make Better Food Format

However, there's a simple change we can make to reduce this problem: combine the ingredients with the instructions using good design and typographic principles to make the ingredients stand out, the directions easy to follow, and the steps clearly outlined.

Here's how it works:

Lorem Ipsum Soup (Recipe Title Goes Here)

A short description of the recipe goes here.
  • Prep: X min
  • Cook: Y mins
  • Total: Z hours
  • Serves N
  • 2 cups lorem, chopped (ingredient in bold)
  • 3 large ipsums, diced (ingredient in bold)
  • In a large pan, sauté lorem iand ipsum until golden brown. (Instructions follow ingredients in normal font weight.)
  • 1 ½ cups dolor sit sauce (each group of ingredients gets a separate list in the recipe)
  • Stir in dolor sit sauce and simmer until reduced, about 5 minutes. (Group ingredients together based on the order in which they are used. Place the instructions for how to combine or prepare them immediately after each group.)
  • ⅓ cup consectetur broth
  • 2 tablespoons adipisicing powder
  • Add consectetur and adipisicing powder and boil for 10 minutes. (Separate groups based on natural actions, wait times, and ingredients. Anytime there's a pause in the recipe or a shift in what you need to physically do, start a new group.)
  • salt and pepper
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Let cool for five minutes and serve in bowls with bread. (Don't combine steps unless they are naturally grouped together. The added whitespace serves as a visual place marker so that you can easily track your progress and find your place in the recipe if you look away.)
From MakeBetterFood.com. . (http://makebetterfood.com/recipes/format/). Note the recipe's bibliographic source or 'adapted from' source here.

Why This Format Works Better

This format is designed to allow you to follow the recipe from top to bottom without needing to refer back to earlier sections or lists of ingredients. Just start cooking.

By making ingredients bold it makes it easy to glance at the recipe to see what you need to add to your shopping list and to make sure that you have all of your ingredients before you start.

If you've had professional culinary training, this is where you yell at me about mise en place (the French term for preparing your ingredients before you start cooking). This format still permits mise en place since the ingredients are in bold and easily organized, but let's be honest, how many home cooks actually prepare all of their ingredients in advance? Most people just want to start cooking.

This format encourages and embraces a causal approach to cooking. Prepare each ingredient as you go and easily keep track of your spot thanks to the generous use of whitespace.

When a more complex recipe requires several items to be prepared and then combined, I've reorganized the steps. By following the recipe from top to bottom you end up doing everything in the right order and right when it's needed.

In other words, when mise en place matters, it's baked right into the instructions so you'll end up with delicious food rather than a failed experiment. These recipes are user friendly!

Easy-to-Follow, Delicious Recipes

A few times each week I'll post a delicious recipe that I've tested dozens of times and have refined using the best combination of ingredients, instructions, and techniques. I've tried to optimized the flow of steps to ensure that you can follow the recipe from top to bottom with having to jump around, think ahead, or worry about mise en place.

Creative Commons License

Recipes are always a work-in-progress. Every time I make a recipe I look for ways to tweak it, improve it, or make it easier to follow to make better food. That's why all recipes on MakeBetterFood.com are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. You can share, remix, modify, and improve them. Make them your own. Share what works and what doesn't using the comments section on each recipe, or join our Facebook or Twitter page to share your version.

About Me


My name is Kevin and I love to cook. I started cooking shortly after I got married and kept looking for ways to improve my cooking. My day job as a user experience designer prompted me to take a close look at the usability problems in my kitchen. After developing and adapting hundreds of recipes for my family, I decided to start MakeBetterFood.com to share my passion with the world.