In-depth Reviews of Recipe Websites

>> Sunday, December 27, 2009

It may not be apparent why an in-depth review of major recipe websites is related to the subject of our health and well-being, but I felt the need to do some real searching for a tool that would help other foodies out there, if they were interested in something like this. I know a lot of us love to share the recipes that we come up with or come across in our journey to well-being, and usually what happens with these recipes is that they become an entry in each of our blogs, which are scattered across the internet and thus not very indexed and searchable. Sure, there's Google to the rescue, but it's still a very disjointed process with no standards to count on.

I thought it would be great if there was at least one well-thought-out recipe website that would cater to the blogging world as well, so that we could not only talk in detail about our loving creations on our blog but also put them all together in a kind of online book as these sites are so good at.

So, I began the arduous task of testing out what I consider to the be the big names in the recipe biz as well as some more obscure entries in the list that I have since come across. I hope the results will be of use to you.



AllRecipes.com

I consider this the grand-daddy of recipe sites. Whether it was actually "first" or not I'm not sure, but it was the first one I ever came across, and I was impressed enough that it kept me around. Has it simply aged, or evolved with the times? Let's find out.

Adding a recipe on AllRecipes is an absolute cinch - it's all easily editable text boxes, AJAX-enabled image uploading, and actual preview option to help you see what it will look like before you actually submit. When you do submit, you're given an option the other sites don't seem to have; you can save it privately, share it without approval, or share with approval. Sharing with approval will eventually give your recipe their "Kitchen Approved" label, but naturally it will have to be reviewed by staff beforehand.

There are standard recipe site tools like the Shopping List available, and analyzation of the ingredients is done on a per-recipe basis, when you add the recipe to your list. You can manually add items to the list, and then email it or print it. I'd say it's "good enough" for a shopping list option, but could also be done better.

Mobile access to the site is limited to browsing the mobile version of their website, and an iPhone app that will essentially show random recipes, slightly filtered on some very basic search properties. Therefore the site is not the best option for storing your own recipes in, as you'll have to actually search for your own when you want to find them.

I don't see much of any kind of social sharing/networking built into the site at all. You can share individual recipes via email or Facebook, and that's about it. There is a recipe exchange section and you can also browse through other member profiles, "following" them if you'd like, but overall there seems to be nothing in the way of real community or sharing built into the site. I do not see any kind of plugin or widget code available for sharing recipes on your own blog. There is a "supporting membership" that costs extra, and there seem to be some NICE features that come with this, such as instant duplication/edit of existing recipes to "make them your own." Plus, the membership comes with an Allrecipes blog, so if you're really interested in doing things their way - which IS probably easy - this would be for you. There are other ways to interact with others, such as voting on photos, but I'm not sure what this brings you other than random peer review.

Browsing recipes is generally acceptable on AllRecipes; at first it didn't seem like there were very many categories, but then I realized the menus are the drill-down old style, with a page refresh between each click. While browsing through recipes, you're given about 10 per page, but most do not show their photo even if one is available.

So, all in all, AllRecipes is a pretty good website that has progressed tolerably with its age. It's still very useful and pretty user-friendly. It has a decent financial model; advertising on AllRecipes is unobtrusive and not annoying, and memberships are available for those who want to enhance their experience. A pretty good recipe website.



Epicurious.com

Epicurious is hands-down a professionally built site. Personally, I feel it may be a little too well-done as my initial impression was that you could only browse and save recipes found in high profile magazines. The site must have some kind of affiliation with the magazines Bon Appetit and Gourmet but for now I'll leave off imagining that as just an extra bonus of the additional recipes.

Registration is standard-fare and professionally done - no complaints, there. You have your standard recipe box, and I immediately went to add a new recipe to test that procedure - that's one of the most important things to me, since theoretically that will consume a lot of time on any recipe website. Adding a recipe is extremely simple, but you have to wait for a couple of hours before it's available to the public, so Epicurious can review it. In the meantime you can view the recipe privately, which will give you the link so you can blog about it or share it with friends. Strangely, I see no way of adding an image for your uploaded recipe. That's a negative mark, I think. Not deal-breaking big, and understandable, but still disappointing.

Accessing your recipes is acceptably easy and done through either the website or an iPhone application. This is nice, but they are lacking anything for Windows Mobile, Android, or Palm - all of these together make up a significant portion of the mobile market (collectively more than iPhone).

Social integration of Epicurious seems limited. They have a standard forum running with various categories, a video section, chat, and ways to browse and search for other members who might interest you. However, what's really lacking is any interface with existing, external social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. The only thing I saw was a tiny icon for sharing the recipe of the day on Facebook, which is not all a user is going to want.

Browsing recipes on the site is pretty straight forward. You can browse or search based on type of diet, cuisine, meal/course, dish, season/occasion, preparation method, and main ingredient. There seems more than enough options here to cover almost anything except perhaps options like organic, local, and in-season. In what seems to be a big reveal as to the corporate feel of this website, the recipes are separated between "professional" (that is, from a magazine or other commercial source) and "member" recipes. When you browse through member recipes, all those category and type options are gone. You can search through them with a limited text box search, but again - all the complex options are gone again. This is the stopping point where I would begin trying another site, but for now I'll continue to finish this review.

Naturally, the place this website excels is in the food and recipe articles since at least some of these must be sourced from the magazines. They're nicely done, linked to the recipes they talk about, and are fun to read through because there are professional videos and photos to go along with them. I might consider Epicurious as a destination just for research and inspiration while cooking.

There are some very useful tools available on Epicurious. However they have some limitations that may disappoint.

For example, there is a grocery list builder that will take the ingredients from recipes on the site and provide a printable list for you to take shopping. But of course this relies on the quality and availability of the recipes which, for me, were limited since they mostly come from the magazines. I could not see any way to add the ingredients from a user recipe (in fact I found the note that said it is not possible - yet.)

There were other nice but slightly unnecessary tools such as the food dictionary or conversion/equivalent lookup. I say these are unnecessary because these kinds of things can be done just as easily with a Google or Wikipedia search.

The best feature I liked was the integration (partnership, even) with Tastebook, which is a print-on-demand resource for making your own cookbooks. Mind you, I've never actually created one myself as I really don't like hard copies of information, but that's just me. Some people would certainly love this - especially when trying to create personalized gifts.

Overall, I would say there are definite reasons for using and frequenting Epicurious, but that it is not the best option as a home for your recipes. The user seems relegated to a member in the audience of the site and not a true participant, and the take-over and AJAX popup advertising was just a little too much.



Nibbledish.com
previously OpenSourceFood

I started on this site long before I really got into any of the other sites, with the exception of AllRecipes (which I primarily used only for searching for new listings). Adding recipes is easy and actually requires you to use an image, which is good and bad. Good because in the end it provides a better user experience, bad because when adding a recipe you might not always have an image on hand. You could always just do a Zemanta-type search for images, of course.

You can share the recipes outside of the URL in a couple of ways. There's the standard AddThis widget that will let you post your recipe to your blog, but this failed when I tried to test it - even though my credentials were correct. This is more of a failing on the part of AddThis, but it is unfortunate either way. I stand corrected; it actually DOES work and post, but the widget claims that it can't connect to your blog. Having seen the result of the post, I can say that this is a totally unacceptable way of posting a recipe to a blog; it ONLY creates a link to the Nibbledish recipe page.

It's also possible to embed a flash widget of either your most recently added recipes or of a specific recipe. It's NICE, because it does really grab your attention, but it's not really useable as a widget itself to cook a recipe by. I found myself preferring to click through on the widget to be brought to the Nibbledish page that shows the recipe in full.

I do like the format of the display page, and the community feeling on Nibbledish is well-done. Saving or favoriting existing recipes is very easy, but there is no category browsing; everything is done by search or tag.

Nibbledish has in-page advertising and there seems to be a "Pro" account, but I couldn't figure out how to activate this label. It doesn't depend on how many recipes you add, so it seems there may be a financial model at work.



Cooks.com

Cooks.com is an ugly, free-for-all kind of website that is really quite good for its purposes. It requires no login to use - in fact the only thing you CAN create an account for is their forum. It (the forum) looks mostly dead and poorly organized, though, so I wouldn't bother looking into it further.

I actually prefer this kind of an approach to recipe storage than the kinds offered by the magazine sites. Yes, Cooks.com still has advertisements, but I'm even interested in clicking on them just to support the creators of the site, if nothing else. The site works by allowing anyone to submit a recipe in a quick and easy web form. As far as I can tell there is no redundancy check, but they do review the submissions for quality. That being said, there are more recipes on this site than you can imagine.

Browsing through the recipes is tolerable. You get ten recipes per page and no thumbnails in the pages. Thus, it's pretty hard to tell the difference between any one of the 35 Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake recipes.

There are very few tools on the site and no "articles" for browsing. That's about what you get with Cooks.com, though: Lots and lots of recipes.



Chefs.com

I'm not sure this one is going to be worth my time in reviewing. The fact that the registration link rerouted me to the login page, thus disallowing new registrations, should have told me that the site is too buggy. But finding a login on bugmenot.com, I carried on and began looking around.

The first thing I went to try was to add a custom recipe. The best, single word to describe their process is tedious. Ingredients for the recipe must be added individually, pressing an in-page (AJAX) submit button after every line, and then clicking again on the field to set focus for typing the next ingredient. Error messages are not displayed before submission of the recipe, so any time you make a mistake you have to hit back to correct. This sometimes resets submitted values to original, mistake-filled ones. Also, when you've submitted a photo, hitting the browser's back button from the error screen makes their system forget your image, so you have to upload it again. But it doesn't completely forget your image; it tries to upload a temporary file from your previous attempt which has been deleted... and it gives an error. Somehow, magically, I was able to finally submit a simple recipe, and found that chefs.com reviews submitted recipes, so you have to wait for an undetermined amount of time before your recipe is available.

Browsing existing recipes is not pleasant on Chefs. At first I thought there were only about 5 strange categories (like "Kitchen Sink" - I still don't know what this means) but then I realized the categories are never shown in the main navigation; there is an obvious side navigation with unfolding menus to reveal a large number of subcategories. When browsing through a subcategory, you're presented with a short list of 5 recipes that show the name, rating, and number of ratings. This is not a very user-friendly approach; I would expect twice as many recipes, plus an image if possible.

The resources available to users - the Cooking and Community sections - seem a bit cobbled together. Eventually I found myself having browsed away from the site by clicking a link that I thought would keep me on Chefs.com. Social Networking links are available on some pages, but they're essentially simple share links, and are not available on recipe pages.

The rest of the site seems a little less useful yet; they supply one or two food industry news items, and a list of culinary schools around the nation. I guess I'm not sure who the target audience of this site is, and I'm left with a great feeling of lacking.



Recipezaar.com

Recipezaar, like Epicurious, has obviously had a lot of money behind it, but the corporate relationship is less easy to see than on Epicurious. The advertising is less annoying, even though my browser did catch a popup window - it would be nice if corporations, like most of the rest of us, would realize that no one likes popup windows. Of course, I spoke a little to soon for just after I wrote that, I returned to the site to find a popup window sneak by the blocker. This brings the annoyance level to about that of Epicurious's after all.

Anyway, on to the recipes. Creating a new recipe on this site is as easy as they come, with the only real standout difference being a checkbox that has you testifying you've already searched the site for the same recipe and confirmed it's not there.

As I cruise around Recipezaar, it's actually making me not want to use it any more; It becomes more obvious that it's just another big-dollar recipe website that's tied in with a whole bunch of other corporate entities and somehow they all want your dollar. For example, here you have to pay for a lot of the features that on other sites are free, like creating a private recipe, creating a custom avatar (?!), or being able to see large recipe photos. That's just ridiculous, really, and it shows a money-grabbing attitude, not a love for the food or community.

There are other useful sections of the site, like the online cookbooks (which by the way can only be created by advanced members) which are really more like Amazon collections except for Recipezaar recipes. Menus are suggested menu plans for certain occasions, which could be useful if you're scouring for ideas for an upcoming party.

I really like their recipe sifter tool, which is an online recipe chooser that works in an elimination style; you pick several categories at once and it removes the types of recipes that don't match your criteria. This eventually leaves you with 10-20 recipes on average that meet what you're looking for.

Mobile access and social networking are limited on Recipezaar. In fact I wouldn't consider the mobile options for the site worth mentioning, so I won't. The social aspects of the site mostly involve their forums with a custom initial interface. There's a lot of activity in there, so at least there is a large user base to connect with. However reaching out to external networks is limited to an AddThis widget, which should really be consider the bare minimum a site should provide.

In short, I feel Recipezaar is yet another recipe site that is well done but does not stand out from the crowd. This is perhaps a very average rating, and worse than that it will try to push you to buy what are really unnecessary upgrades to support your use of their site. Go somewhere else, get more, and do more.



BigOven.com

This seems like a relatively new site [edit: at the time of this writing]. I had signed up a while ago and promptly forgot about it, but conveniently received an update message from their system while thinking about this recipe-site review. While I had a little trouble receivng my password reminder (I needed to be a little more patient for the email to fit through the pipes, apparently), I really like this site, even from using it only a little while.

I promptly went about adding a recipe. There are pros and cons to this procedure. Adding the ingredients list and description are fairly straightforward, but as BigOven indexes the recipe, it can take up to an hour before your recipe is finally ready for approval or display. Images are actually not uploaded with the inital posting of the recipe, but you can submit a photo as soon as you submit the recipe. Photos are reviewed and approved before displayed on the site. Again, a little disappointing, but they're concerned about quality so if they're efficient about approvals, this can be borne. They have a continual, monthly contest for the best photo submitted wherein you could win $100, so that's how they're incenting people to add pics.

BigOven has a commercial desktop application that you can buy for $30. I went into it feeling excited about it because of all the other sharing possibilities with posted recipes, and I think it's still quite a nice option to have, but having tested out the free trial, it's not as awesome as I had hoped. It's still good, and good enough to use, but it's probably a little expensive for the slightly-less intuitive interface that it offers. I was able to install it and log in with relative ease, and then I went about adding a recipe to my recipe box. I had to tweak the ingredients as I entered them so that they would create a match to existing ingredients in their database. This is only important if you really want to be able to accurately see nutrition data for your recipe, as I like to. After I finished creating a new recipe, I went about posting it to BigOven's website, and while easy, it was not initially intuitive and doesn't seem to upload the image you pick through the software. Once I figured out that it was as simple as clicking the Post Recipe button, I then just went to the provided link and uploaded the image again on the site. It is possible that my original image went through for approval and I just didn't realize I had to wait.

There's also a free, portable app for iPhone, Windows Mobile, Palm, and (apparently) even Android. They go out of their way to let the content on their site be available in many forms; there's even an affiliate program that you could sign up for, which I suppose would be for advertising their desktop app. Actually, their Store section has a wide array of kitchen appliances, books, and other things that they have hooked up through Amazon. So, essentially, it's like sharing the revenue of their Amazon store. You could probably set your own Amazon store up, but this DOES save a good bit of time on that process.

For bloggers, you can create an individual recipe widget with a thumbnail of your recipe plus its rating on BigOven; this of course links to the BigOven recipe URL. This is an automatic linkback, as well, which search engines use for better ranking. Here is a blog example of this in action. I think the blogger actually posted the recipe and then wrote a detailed blog post about it. You can also export HTML for individual recipes so you can do whatever you'd like with it. I like that kind of freedom. Incidentally, it's possible that NibbleMeThis used this HTML to begin their post with; I'm not sure yet what the HTML is rendered like.

Strangely, I did not find a way to get back to my own recipes through the web interface. I found a way - but it's unintuitive; I had to edit my account and then click my personal URL that was displayed there*. Then, I could click on my Recipes tab and see my personal list. Most likely when using the desktop or mobile interfaces, there will be a link to "My Recipes."

* I found that clicking on your icon/avatar skips the edit page.

BigOven has their own on-demand hardcopy request for your own recipes, at a cost of $30.

Browsing recipes is great on BigOven. You can search by season, IN-season, flavor, theme, category, rating, ingredient, anything. I especially love the browse by what's in-season; I've never seen that on a recipe site before.

Community seems to be emphasized a good bit on BigOven. There's Facebook Connect login, Friendfeed publishing, and a widget-of-you for posting on other social networks that links back to your activity on BigOven.

There's a video section where you can "star in your own cooking show" which is a nice and unique feature. It lets you import YouTube videos or upload from your hard drive, but overall the video section seems a little limiting as to browsing options for the general user.

The Community tab displays a list of discussion groups... but I really didn't even like the appearance of it. It seems very disjointed and possibly hard to follow a conversation in it. My initial impression is one of an online chatroom, although it's not in real-time.

For nerds, there is a BigOven API available, which earns them double extra credit points. I think this is going to be my favorite recipe site.



Food.com

This last site I found as a result of browsing through Recipezaar, and I presume it is somehow affiliated with it as well. I do like the concept a lot: It is a website that searches across many recipe websites and allows you to collect recipes in a kind of global recipe box. From what I understood you didn't HAVE to sign up, but I did anyway because I wanted to test out their toolbar.

I was left a little disappointed with the whole process and I uninstalled the toolbar. First off, the toolbar was not much more than a glorified bookmark for the site itself. I can do without unnecessary toolbars on my computer, thank you. After that I realized that the search results provided aren't actually "global" - that is, they only search through their selected partner websites which coincidentally turn out to be many of the major magazine-affiliated websites. Sure, this provides you with a great mass of recipes, but if my sister-in-law posts a specific recipe, I want to be able to find it when I search. In fact, I would prefer that my tools know which sources I prefer and rank their results higher in my list.

Finally, I was a little disappointed as well that there were just a few too many technical glitches with the whole process. For example, the very first time I tried to create a subcategory and move a selected recipe into it, I received a cryptic error and the process failed. Thus, food.com has great potential and would be marvelously wonderful if it really opens up to all networks.



My favorite site, therefore, and the one I'll go with for entering my recipes is BigOven. It's the only one that seems like it was built from the ground up solely for the purpose of empowering the user to best manage the recipes they save. Specifically, the data on BigOven has more freedom than on other sites; you can access it in any fashion you'd like, and you can distribute it any way you'd like. The website is only the transfer medium, which is the way it really should be.

Thank you, BigOven!  Now to enter all my wife's recipes...

Update: BigOven has since come out with a paid app for the iPad, and the New York Times also recommends it. Kudos to BigOven!

8 comments:

Steve Murch,  December 27, 2009 at 9:53 PM  

Wow, really terrific roundup!  I'm the founder of BigOven.com and appreciate the time and care you put into the review.

A couple clarifications on BigOven:

First, to get quickly to your personal recipe page, simply look in the upper right corner after you've logged in.  Click on your avatar, and you'll go right to your page.  Or, the naming convention is "http://www.bigoven.com/~<username>".  So, for instance, mine is http://www.bigoven.com/~stevemur 

Also, currently, images are not automatically posted to the site, by design.  The reason is many people use the desktop software to store recipes they may have gotten from magazines or cookbooks, and, especially when it comes to photos, we want to make extra-sure users take a minute to ensure the content is original and able-to-be-distributed.  (We of course ask that on recipes as well.)  If we implemented one-click photo upload (the way we have one-click import from the web, and two-click postings of recipes to the archive), I fear we'd have a lot of automatically submitted photos from magazines, clippings, etc.  We respect that original recipe producers have their own businesses to run. 

I agree with your comments on our new Foodie Q&A and Discussion Groups area, and we'll be continuing to enhance the display and organization there.

Thanks for taking a look at this category!

- Steve Murch
  Founder & CEO, BigOven.com

Steve Murch,  December 27, 2009 at 9:55 PM  

PS:  For some reason, a space was added to the hyperlink above -- my personal chef page is (without a space on the end), http://www.bigoven.com/~stevemur

Peggy,  December 28, 2009 at 7:18 AM  

It looks like social networking is the new, largely unexplored frontier for recipe websites! I've been to the rest of these, but never heard of BigOven. Thanks for the depth of the reviews, very appreciated.

Psychic Lunch,  December 28, 2009 at 12:25 PM  

Steve, wow - you're fast in finding this...! I was planning on sending a message to BigOven about this post but I guess you beat me to the punch :)

I've since started to add recipes to my desktop app, and I'll be experimenting with it for a while. I've already used the "add from web" (or "screen import") ability and I like that. It's certainly difficult to try to accomodate other sites' recipe formats as I understand they can be in any format or layout.

For getting to one's user page, I think a really easy change you should implement is to link the user name as well as the avatar. I only noticed that the avatar was linked by rolling over it & seeing the cursor change, but an underlined user name would be a visible sign that I can click it.

Thanks for the very understandable explanation of why images aren't auto-posted. It really wasn't a big deal for me to have to upload again to the web, but I really would have LIKED it if it did. Perhaps you could implement a "private" setting that is auto-ON for recipes uploaded from the web app. Then a user could browse their recipes online and individually testify that the image is copyright-free, thus setting the recipe public. Not an easy option, I know, but nice for the user of the desktop app.

Anyway, I'm glad you all happened to send out your email just in time for this article - you hit exactly on the features I was really hoping for! Thank YOU for all your work!

Psychic Lunch,  December 28, 2009 at 12:27 PM  

Thanks for the kind words, Peggy! If you have any tips or questions about any of these, let me know. I'll still be fiddling around with several of them in the meantime, although personally I'm switching to BigOven, so I'll have more answers about it as I learn more.

Deb Rogers,  December 28, 2009 at 3:07 PM  

That BigOven looks pretty neat - I just signed up :)

Psychic Lunch,  April 21, 2010 at 1:36 PM  

Congratulations to BigOven on the iPad app recommendation from the New York Times!

Thoyyib,  May 17, 2012 at 6:26 AM  

One more - http://www.hotfoodrecipe.com

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About Psychic Lunch

Psychic Lunch was founded in 2009 by a nerd and father who wants people to be healthy. The information on this site is researched, but should be considered opinion; that is, you should always do your own research and come to your own conclusions about what is and what is not healthy. Products endorsed on this site are actually believed in and used by the author.

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