“Never read the comments” is sage online advice—unless you’re talking about recipes.
Credit: Photo: Greg Dupree

Unlike news stories and Yelp reviews, the only thing likely to get heated in the reader notes below a tasty-looking dish is your oven, to the proper temperature, thanks to user betterwithbutter253.

You only have to invest time, ingredients, and salivary glands in an online recipe that neglects to mention adding the eggs once to learn the wisdom of scrolling through the comments. And you might be surprised by just how much you can glean besides missing ingredients. After all, cyberspace has a legion of recipe testers ready to share what they’ve learned. Here, a list of very good reasons to eat their words.

To make sure the recipe is accurate.

There’s a reason cookbooks have copy editors. Writing a recipe isn’t always easy, and even pros can get tripped up and mistype “teaspoon” as “tablespoon” or forget to tell you to spray the muffin tins, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read it Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table.

Commenters who’ve suffered the sting of a failed recipe will be quick to point out just what’s wrong. In the same way savvy cooks know to read a recipe all the way through before commencing prep work, it’s a good idea to skim the comments for any glaring errors.

To adapt the recipe to your wants or needs.

Have a gluten-free dinner guest? Peanut allergy? Fresh out of broccoli? It happens. And most likely, it’s happened to someone who made this recipe previously. They can tell you for sure whether you can sub almond milk for dairy milk, says Taub-Dix. As a proponent of making healthy swaps in recipes, such as whole wheat flour for white, she likes to make sure her substitutions will work.

To get some serving suggestions.

You followed the recipe to a T and made a flawless entrée—but forgot to plan sides. Or maybe you’re just sick of the same old combos. The comments can help, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap. 

To run the numbers.

Even if the ingredients and method are spot-on, it can be frustrating to discover that a 20-minute recipe really takes closer to an hour, or that a batch of cookies won’t make enough for your bake sale. “Other people will weigh in to tell you whether this meatloaf will really serve a family of four,” says Blatner.

To make it easier.

The online foodie community is endlessly creative, and people will chime in with tips about freezing the meat before slicing or grating ginger directly into the frying pan rather than mincing it, Blatner says.

To make friends.

“One of the great things about the virtual world is that you can start your own conversation,” says Taub-Dix. “You can comment on a comment and end up in a dialogue with another commenter.”  

To get storage suggestions.

Want to know if those dumplings will freeze—and how long they’ll be good for? Or if that salad will still taste okay if you make it ahead of time? The comments have the answers, says Blatner.

To know if you should even bother.

We love free recipes as much as the next person, but with the millions floating in cyberspace, there are bound to be a few bombs. Sometimes the most Instagram-worthy dishes just don’t turn out. Reading the comments can reveal whether a recipe is really worth making, says Taub-Dix.