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Rating the Recipes

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the test kitchens.

Every Tuesday through Friday, members of Cooking Light's editorial team assemble in our kitchens to rate the recipes tested that day. Food editors and test kitchens staff are always present; other tasters may include members of the copy desk, art, food styling, and photo departments. Such a broad mix of palates guarantees lively -- and often passionate -- discussion about a dish.

All told, we test more than 4,000 recipes a year. To do that, we use a simple yet rigorous system: Some dishes simply fail, while those that pass receive a numerical rating: 1 is defined as an OK recipe; 1+ is good overall; 2 is very good overall; 2+ is a high-quality recipe; and 3 is superior in all aspects.

"The majority of recipes in the magazine are rated 1+ or higher," says Test Kitchens Director Vanessa Johnson. "We don't publish many 1s because they're usually reworked until they get a higher rating."

Still, we're a demanding crew and 3s are rare. In 2001, Cooking Light published just 11 recipes that gained our highest rating.

A Three Is Born
Three is a small number, a humble number. But at Cooking Light, it's also a magic number. Here, a rating of "3" means a recipe is the best it can be--killer, incredible, a wow kind of dish.

There are many indications that a recipe deserves a 3, one of which is that there's not much left by the time taste testing starts around noon. The first of each day's recipes begin to appear at 7 a.m., so when one of them is outstanding, it's usually nibbled on all morning, leaving just enough for the group to sample.

Cooking Light staffers say they also ask themselves a variety of questions about each dish they taste:

How could you make this better?

If I had this at a restaurant, would I think it was superb?

Would I make this tonight? Would I make it again and again?

Is it better than other versions of the dish I've had?

Can you tell it's light?

Will I tell all my friends to make this?

Would I be proud to serve this to guests?