Cook’s Illustrated is, of course, a magazine produced by America’s Test Kitchen, which, as its name suggests, has illustrations rather than photographs. The magazine is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and this book collects some of the many recipes it has published over a quarter century.

The magazine’s particular interest is rethinking recipes for dishes that Americans know and love in order to make them better or faster, to produce them with different ingredients or to shortcut those years of experience that it might take a home cook to discover that, for example, it is important to soak potato wedges for oven fries in hot water for 10 minutes before baking them. It is not called America’s Test Kitchen for nothing.

Photo courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen

In “Revolutionary Recipes,” each recipe is preceded by a lengthy essay on what is actually wrong with the way most people make a dish and, after arduous labor involving different techniques, ingredients and/or oven temperatures, a recipe is achieved that can now be given a title so dear to these magazine editors’ hearts:  The best.., Really Good.., Great.., Ultimate.., Foolproof.., and A Better Way to…. If I had to use one word to describe their style, it would be “earnest” (though the phrase ‘knock-down-drag-out’ also occurs to me).

“Revolutionary Recipes” contains a full range of dishes from granola and pad thai to desserts and breads. Each recipe is explained in detail  – which becomes almost mind-numbing in a book this size. Having read the magazine itself for years and now having studied this compendium, I think that most of their recipes are not, in fact, revolutionary. They do, however, often proffer helpful tips for pretty standard dishes that might be produced by a good but not adventurous American cook.

The first recipe I tried from this book was Pasta alla Norma, but I decided I couldn’t write about it because I had never eaten the dish before and am not clear if I didn’t like the result because of the recipe or because I don’t actually like Pasta alla Norma. So, I looked for a recipe like the one that started me reading the magazine back in 2000: Beer Can Chicken. That year, Cook’s Illustrated popularized this grilling technique, which is wacky and delicious and, sadly, not in this cookbook.

Instead, with the snow freshly melted off of my backyard, I got out my grill and tried an odd way of grilling steaks. The recipe is meant to solve the problem of overcooking steaks on the grill while trying to achieve a “well-browned and crisp crust and great charcoal flavor.” The results of my multi-hour production of four small steaks were just OK. The steaks seemed quite salty and, as one of my tasters noted, they were tender inside but the exterior was tough.

This large and useful book may be for you but my advice is, when it comes to steaks, just fire up the barby and grill as you and your prehistoric ancestors always have done and leave the oven out of it.

The Ultimate Charcoal-Grilled Steak, or so says America’s Test Kitchen. Photo courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen

Ultimate Charcoal-Grilled Steaks

Serve 4

2 (1-pound) boneless strip steaks (or rib eye) 1 3/4-inches thick, fat caps removed

Kosher salt and pepper

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Cut each steak in half crosswise to create four 8-ounce steaks. Cut 1/16-inch-deep slits on both sides of the steaks, spaced 1/4 inch apart, in crosshatch pattern. Sprinkle both sides of each steak with 1/2 teaspoon salt (2 teaspoons total). Lay steak halves with tapered ends flat on counter and pass two 12-inch metal skewers, spaced 1 1/2 inches apart, horizontally through steaks, making sure to keep 1/4 inch space between steak halves.

Place skewered steaks on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, transfer to oven and cook until centers of steaks register 120 degrees, flipping steaks over halfway through cooking and removing them as they come to temperature, 1 1/2 hours to 1 hour 50 minutes. Tent skewered steaks (still on rack) with aluminum foil.

Light large chimney starter filled halfway with charcoal briquettes (3 quarts). When top coals are completely covered in ash, uncover steaks (reserving foil) and pat dry with paper towels. Using tongs, place 1 set of steaks directly over chimney so skewers rest on rim of chimney (meat will be suspended over coals). Cook until both sides are well browned and charred,  about 1 minute per side. Using tongs, return first set of steaks to wire rack in sheet, season with pepper, and tent with reserved foil. Repeat with second set of skewered steaks. Remove skewers from steaks and serve.


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