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?