How To Tell if a Recipe You See on Your Social Feed Actually Works (According to a Professional Food Writer)

Photo: Stocksy/Gillian Hall
The seasoned home chef knows that no matter your skill level, not every recipe will be a slam-dunk. Part of spending time in the kitchen is accepting that some recipes will make your taste buds sing, while others will leave you crying on the floor (just me?). Social media recipes represent the epitome of the challenging cooking truth that, sometimes, you just have to take a gastronomical leap of faith—but is there a better way to predict whether those viral TikTok and Instagram recipes are truly worth your time?

There’s a reason we fall head over heels for the beautiful recipes on our screens. “Being an adult means being in charge of feeding yourself all of the time, and the less mundane and more inspired this task can be, the better,” says Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner, writer and recipe developer. “Watching streams of cooking videos reminds me of watching Food Network growing up, but it's even more satisfying because you see the recipe to completion in seconds.”

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The internet has made it easy to access new techniques and cuisines from across the world, but it’s also made it more difficult to know when these bites will taste as good as they look on film. Many (but not all) recipes in magazines, cookbooks, and chef websites are tested multiple times to ensure that they work in a normal human kitchen. That's an expensive, time-consuming step that a blogger may not be willing or able to take—meaning you have to hope that they know how to develop a recipe that makes sense.

And sometimes it's just hard to tell on visuals alone what recipes are worth the time and effort...because they all look good. “Between editing and a push for aesthetics, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish a legit recipe from an attractive one that should only live on your feed,” says Hoeffner. (It doesn't help that every influencer claims their particular recipe, or take on a food trend, is *the* best one...)

To be clear, sometimes there are just instances where your taste buds don't match with the viral food trend du jour. If you don't like feta cheese, for example, that baked feta pasta recipe probably isn't for you. But sometimes there are recipes that just don't work or taste as intended, no matter how pretty the creator's original video is. (Think of it as the Instagram vs. reality effect of food.) These bad recipes (duds, if you will) are hard to spot, but Hoeffner has some tips for helping you spot the potential #foodfails hiding in plain sight on your feed.

5 tips for spotting pretty, but not tasty, recipes on social media

1. Look for the creator’s credentials and background

One way to filter out the recipes in your feed is to check the background of the creators to see they're trained in the art of developing and writing recipes. “If I see a recipe that looks appealing, I also look and see the creator's background. Did they go to culinary school? Work in a test kitchen or restaurant? Have recipes published by sources outside their own social feeds? These qualifiers are promising,” says Hoeffner. (Meanwhile, someone who just started posting food recipes last month...might be less promising.)

Of course, many home chefs without formal culinary training have also started blogs and social media accounts—that doesn't mean you should automatically skip their recipes. But do a bit more digging—like looking at comments or recipe reviews, for example—before giving one of their recipes a shot.

2. See if any version of this recipe exists elsewhere

Another quick method for spotting a good recipe is to see if anything else like it appears on the interwebs, says Hoeffner. “Nothing is original, and if you haven't seen anything remotely like it anywhere else, that may be a sign the ingredients just don't go to together or the cooking method is not successful,” says Hoeffner.

For example, if you find that this dish seems to be completely unique in this world (say, fish-wrapped kumquats, or a chocolate cake recipe that only requires sweet potato and flaxseed), recreating it in your home is a game of chance. Sometimes that game pays off, and sometimes, it doesn't. But going into that clear-eyed might help stave off any disappointment if it all goes wrong.

3. Consider if the recipe’s ratios make sense

Those who’ve logged their 10,000 hours of cooking and baking will have an innate sense of proportion. If you see a recipe that calls for a quarter cup of paprika, for example—something that's typically only used in teaspoon amounts—you have a pretty clear red flag that there's a typo (or something worse) going on with that recipe. Similarly, your basic vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part vinegar, so a recipe that calls for one tablespoon oil and two cups of vinegar is likely...very wrong. Knowing these simple rules can help you sniff out a no-good recipe. “I'll also look at similar recipes to determine what will work and what proportions are appropriate,” Hoeffner says.

4. Check to see if the recipe creator shares their own #fails

“Creators are under a lot of pressure to churn out content, and if you spend time creating and filming an unsuccessful recipe, that's a lot of time and money you'll lose if you delete the content,” says Hoeffner, who creates her own (gorgeous) social media cooking videos. “I wish there could be more transparency in the space. We can also learn and be entertained from kitchen failures.”

If you see creators candidly sharing an unsuccessful batch of cookies or a “meh” daal, that may indicate one way to tell that they have a high standard for which recipes they post and which they keep in the vault. Meaning, they may be more trustworthy.

5. Use social media recipes as inspo rather than gospel

Rather than bookmarking social media recipes and following them step-by-step, Hoeffner recommends using them to kickstart your culinary creativity. “Mostly, I see recipes on my feed as inspiration and ideas and use my own cooking knowledge to kind of create my own version, to my tastes,” she says.

For example, if you see matcha waffles on TikTok, consider buying boxed waffle mix and adding a touch of matcha instead of whipping up a batch from scratch. If you like the flavors, you can experiment with your own recipe (or find a recipe from a pro) next time.

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