How to Find Great Recipes Online
The Internet is a limitless recipe resource, but separating the wheat from the chaff can be a real chore. Most searches turn up giant recipe databases with directions of dubious quality, usually with no images to inspire and help you along. There are a few easy rules you can follow, however, when making recipe searches that can lead you to the best resources quickly and without hassle.
Several years ago, my husband and I decided to attempt to perfect that most elusive of Southern foods-the ideal biscuit (something we still haven't fully succeeded in creating). Being somewhat naive at the time, we turned to the internet and Google for our recipe. We started with the first recipe we found out of some giant internet recipe index. The results of our baking--not helped by being a biscuit novices--were simply inedible. We soon realized that the recipe had called for far too much baking soda, and the biscuits were very salty and bitterly alkaline. We learned nothing about making biscuits that day, but we did learn how important it is to have a more discerning eye when searching for recipes online.
Since then, we've continued to use the wealth of cooking information available online, but with much more caution. I've developed several important guidelines that help me unearth real recipe gems from the common mud. Hopefully they will help you, too!
Avoid Indexes and Archives
Google loves giving you these results first--ignore them. Distrust any site that advertises itself with the words "index," "archive," or "database." These sites usually encourage anyone to submit his or her favorite recipes, and the submissions are generally not reviewed in any way. It's a gamble as to whether you're going to find a recipe that is good, bad, or mediocre. Since your average internet user isn't a gifted chef, it's a safe bet that these recipes aren't usually going to be first-rate. You're much better off looking elsewhere.
Look for Specialized, Authentic Sites
If you are looking for a recipe on biscuits, see if you can find a website that is just about biscuits. You'll probably need to look past the first page or more of search results. Use the site's address as a quick way to filter the results: "recipes.howthingsowork.com" is hardly the sort of site you'd expect to be an expert on biscuit making. The same goes for "recipeczar.com," "recipetrove.com," "about.com," and many, many others.
First off, try narrowing your search. I started with "biscuit recipe" but then made it "Southern biscuit recipe" to eliminate the British cookies and recipes for dog treats. Even then, it wasn't until the 52nd Search result--the 6th page--that I finally found a site devoted entirely to the Southern biscuit ("theriseofthesouthernbiscuit.com"). Unfortunately, it was only selling the recipes, not displaying them.
On the way, I noted that the White Lily and Martha White companies also had recipes on their sites. If you can't find a site solely about the food you're trying to make, then recipes by ingredient companies or restaurants are at least likely to be well-tested.
Look for Pictures
Does the recipe include pictures? Do they look to be taken by the author, not simply pulled from a stock image site? Not only do pictures help get you excited about the recipe, but it shows you that the author has actually used the recipe.
When the Search Engine Fails, Turn to Bloggers
In the case of the biscuit search, I just wasn't happy with what I could find on search engines. Instead, I turned to the interlinked network of food blogs. Looking again for the same criteria as above (specialization, authenticity, pictures, and other signs of a tested recipe), I found several likely candidates and one that seemed very good at Pinch My Salt.
The author at Pinch My Salt has already gone through the travails of searching and experimenting with her recipe. She has created an explanatory guide that provides plenty of good information, images, and tips. Here is a recipe that looks like a much better starting point than that disaster my husband and I tried to use years ago!
Through a little searching and sifting, it's possible to find a superior recipe that can teach you plenty in addition to making a great dish.