How to Read a Recipe in 5 Easy Steps

Today we are going to talk about the importance of learning how to read a recipe. I’m pretty sure anyone that has spent any time cooking has made a recipe and had a different outcome than they expected. Has this happened to you? It certainly has happened in our kitchen.

And probably more times than not it, was because we didn’t take the time to read the recipe. Or we have never been taught how to read a recipe.

But don’t feel bad, you are not alone. Ready to be the Sherlock Holmes of recipe reading? Good, we’ve got you covered.

A cookbook opened to a recipe for Easy Chocolate Cake. How to Read a Recipe.

Read the Recipe – Every Word

Take some time in a quiet place and read the recipe all the way through. There are typically 5 parts to every recipe. When you have read the recipe through once, grab your phone or a pen and paper and make some notes. Or grab our free Reading a Recipe Worksheet. This is a great 5 Parts of a Recipe Presentation. The key components you want to note are listed below:

Servings or Yield

This is the number of servings the recipe makes. This will tell you right off the bat if this is the right recipe for you. For example, if the recipe serves 10 people and you are serving 2 people, do you really want to eat lasagna for 5 days in row? Or is this recipe something you could make and freeze for meal prepping an easy weeknight dinner? Also, note the portion size so you know if you will have enough food for each person or if you need to add a side dish.

Ingredients and Amounts

Ingredients are usually listed in the order they will be used in the recipe. This prevents you from leaving anything out. Pay special attention to this area as this will tell you the measurement of the ingredient and what form it needs to be in before measuring. While 4 ounces of chocolate chopped will always be 4 ounces of chocolate, a cup of almonds versus a cup of almonds, chopped are very different things. Note any items that require a ingredient be at a certain temperature. Common examples of this are using room temperature eggs or softened butter.

Pro Tip: look for comma’s in ingredient lists, they provide great insight into how the ingredient needs to be prepared prior to measuring. For example, a cup of sifted flour versus a cup of flour, sifted. In the first example the flour is sifted before the ingredient is measured. In the second phrase the flour is measured and then sifted. Make Sense?

Step By Step Instructions

While the best recipes provide step by step instructions. Some recipes steps are written in paragraphs and should be read very carefully. Get our read a recipe worksheet to help you master reading recipes in any format. If you don’t know the meaning of a cooking term in the recipe, make sure to look it up. You can reference our Ultimate Guide to Cooking Terms by clicking on the highlighted text.

Equipment Needed

Most recipes don’t provide a detailed list for what equipment you will need. More than likely you will almost always need a cutting board, a knife, measuring spoons and cups. But some recipes might call for tools or equipment that you don’t have in your kitchen. You want to note that.

One recipe I wrote for Bread Cooked in a Dutch Oven got comments from a user about not having a Dutch Oven. I was appreciative of the comment and realized I needed to update the post to provide alternative ways of cooking the recipe.

Temperature and Time

This varies in recipes. Baking recipes for instance will tell you exact temperatures and time. For example, bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, where others say bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

While important to note, you may have to adjust cooking times based on your oven in the case of baking. Or your altitude in the case of reaching and maintaining a simmer. Read our post on How to Boil Water for more information on this topic. And trust your senses. If the recipe says to cook until golden brown and you are not there yet try adding additional time in 2 to 3 minute increments.

How to Read A Recipe a picture of a wonam in a striped apron holding a cookbook and reading a recipe.

How to Read a Recipe – Other Things to Consider

Is This Recipe Right For You and Your Family?

If you have someone in your family that has food sensitivities you probably already know to check the ingredient list. But food allergies can be so serious it would be negligent not to mention that a full review of ingredients (and sub ingredients) is really necessary.

Take Stock of Your Ingredients

Make a list of ingredients and see what you have on hand. Make a shopping list for the ingredients you don’t have. If an ingredient is not something you normally have in your pantry or it may be exotic, research where you can purchase the ingredient. We can normally find most of what we need in our local stores but if you live in a rural area you may need to check on Amazon Fresh, we also like Cajun Grocers.

Practice Mise in Place

Mise in Place is a French cooking term pronounced ‘Mez ahn Plahs” that means everything in its place. What does that mean for you? It means everything is prepared, measured and ready to go once you begin cooking.

This is a really critical step. The last thing you want is one ingredient overcooking while you are chopping another ingredient. Or finding that you need softened butter and its hard as a rock when you want to make cookies.

Take the time to have everything prepared and ready to go before you start cooking. Seriously, this step reduces a great deal of the stress that people experience with cooking.

Use the Right Tools

Use the right tools for the job. Did you know that you should use different measuring cups for wet ingredients versus dry ingredients? Use a glass or liquid measuring cup for liquids and scoop type measuring cups for dry ingredients.

Preparation Time

Be sure to note the time it takes to prepare the recipe. But remember this is only a guide. It may take the recipe writer 15 minutes to gather ingredients and chop, dice or mince them. It may take you a bit longer if you are new to cooking. So give yourself some extra time. Additionally, if you want to eat at 5:30 and it’s 5pm you probably don’t want to select a recipe that takes two hours to cook.

Follow the Recipe

The first time you make any recipe follow it exactly as written. You may be tempted to make changes but save those changes for the next time you make the recipe.

Taste the Food as it Cooks

Be sure to taste the food as it cooks and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Final Thoughts on How to Read a Recipe

At first this may seem a little daunting, but as you read more recipes you will begin to quickly note the key ingredients, process steps and equipment needed to successfully make a recipe. And remember, not all recipes are good recipes. If something doesn’t come out the way you expected it too, it may not be your fault. So give yourself some grace and try another recipe.

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If you have a tip for reading recipes please leave it in the comments below. We are always working to improve our content so we can provide value to our readers.

Happy Cooking!

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