Ever since Conde Nast ceased publishing Gourmet late last year, maybe you’ve been searching for a food magazine to suit your cooking style and personality, flipping through glossy after glossy, gazing at glam photos of roast chicken and chocolate tortes or Paula Deen and Rachael Ray.
It would be easy to become confused and overwhelmed. There are dozens of food magazines, from the usual suspects (Bon Appetit, Saveur, Everyday Food, etc.) to specialty magazines (Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, etc.) and imports (from Australia, Italy, England, etc.)
Samir Husni is not surprised by the numbers. He’s a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi at Oxford and director of its magazine innovation center.
Food “was one of the earliest adapters to specialized publications. Food magazines and farming and automotive magazines — they were reflective of society,” he said. “Food rose to the top of those categories because it’s one of the essential elements.”
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The value of a food magazine “comes from what I call the ‘usability,”’ he said. “The first place where you see that is in the recipes.”
A glance through the recipe index (most food magazines have them now) lets you know the magazine’s direction — upscale, easy-to-do, comfort.
“Everybody is making it easier because they know that it’s the recipes that are going to grab you. The recipes and the pictures,” Husni said.
Most magazines play to two types of cooks. There’s the person who is “so overwhelmed and they want to simplify their life, so they want to see the final product, they want to see the ingredients, they want to see the recipe,” Husni said. “And there are the people who have the dream that they are going to be on ‘Iron Chef.”’
Which one are you? (Note: We averaged the number of recipes from 2 issues of the magazine.)
We perused seven food-focused magazines, averaging the number of recipes from two issues of each. Here’s how they stacked up.
Motto: “Eat Well/Savor Life”
Average number of recipes per issue: 74 (7 cents per recipe)
Usability: Jam-packed design with cooking prep and shopping info tucked among the stories. A recipe: Pork meatball banh mi.
Nonfood stuff: Mix of travel, entertainment ideas, booze bits and kitchen utensils, with dash of celebrity (John Legend on mac and cheese).
Typical reader: Those who know the difference between couscous and quinoa; want ideas for upping their culinary cred.
Gut reaction: Feeds the mind and appetite.
Motto: “Home of America’s Test Kitchen”
Price: $5.95 (bimonthly)
Average number of recipes per issue: 11 (54 cents per recipe)
Usability: The ultimate culinary coach, explaining the how and why, helping you avoid pitfalls and embellishing recipes with variations. Mostly drawings, few photos. A recipe: Cream cheese coffee cake.
Nonfood stuff: Valuable equipment testing, from basting spoons to electric pressure cookers.
Typical reader: “Practical, down-to-earth people who think of themselves more like chefs than cooks,” Husni said.
Gut reaction: You want to up your game in the kitchen? Grab one.
Motto: “Great Food Fast”
Average number of recipes per issue: 51 (7 cents per recipe)
Usability: It’s a small book from Martha Stewart and friends that’s stuffed with a lot of concise, helpful information on cooking techniques, utensils and nutrition. A recipe: Pork tenderloin with Swiss chard and polenta.
Nonfood stuff: Not much — which means more space for savvy technique tips. (Yes, you can master cooking with parchment!)
Typical reader: You’re comfortable cooking, but want to add some Martha flair and knowledge to your repertoire.
Gut reaction: “Martha is your mentor,” Husni said.
Motto: “We Bring Out the Cook in You”
Price: $6.95/$7.99 (bimonthly)
Average number of recipes per issue: 53 (14 cents per recipe)
Usability: Not overly busy layout, lovely photos, lots of tips. A recipe: Crisp striped bass with preserved lemon, chickpeas and couscous.
Nonfood stuff: Good how-tos on kitchen techniques, shopping, utensils, wine, “food geek” info (baking soda vs. baking powder).
Typical reader: It’s like sitting down with foodie friends and a crisp sauvignon blanc to brainstorm ideas for cooking up the market’s latest bounty.
Gut reaction: Stretch your creative muscles and learn to do more than follow a recipe.
Food & Wine
Motto: (No cover motto? No problem. Name says it all)
Average number of recipes per issue: 62 (8 cents per recipe)
Usability: Helpful wine index, light on techniques, some utensils, some entertaining, lots of people, tough to tell Food & Wine recipes from some ads. A recipe: Sunchoke-kale hash with farro.
Nonfood stuff: American Express Publishing puts it out, so travel stories and chefs get good space.
Typical reader: Cook-traveler comfortable in the kitchen looking for chef dishes and creative recipes.
Gut reaction: Some lovely stories, but ones like “Hot Bread Kitchen” (Nov.) beg for how-to visuals.
Motto: “Savor a World of Authentic Cuisine”
Average number of recipes per issue: 29 (17 cents per recipe)
Usability: Easy-to-use recipes, a nice variety, plus a helpful resource list. A recipe: Shrimp and pickled celery.
Nonfood stuff: A convivial gathering of people, places and recipes, with some wine, travel and food lore/trivia seasoning the mix.
Typical reader: It is, Husni said, “sitting down with your well-traveled friends, having a conversation around the dinner table. We love food, let’s talk about it.”
Gut reaction: A fun and engaging read beyond the recipes.
Taste of Home
Motto: “Real Food From Real Home Cooks”
Price: $3.99 (bimonthly)
Average number of recipes per issue: 65 (6 cents per recipe)
Usability: Lots of recipes and a photo with each one. Recipe index gives cost per serving for each. Some technique. A recipe: Berry port game hens.
Nonfood stuff: Not much, a kitchen visit and some utensil/equipment reviews.
Typical reader: Those looking for a bounty of recipes from fellow cooks.
Gut reaction: Grab a cup of coffee, sit down and see what friendly cooks across the country are stirring up these days.
Looking for something more specialized?
If there’s one area of the magazine rack at your favorite bookstore that seems to be expanding faster than a souffle in a 400 degree oven, it’s the specialty food magazines, whether it’s celeb cooks, specialty diets or imports.
One of the biggies in the specialty area: “Food Network Magazine.”
“It starts you from the basic to the five-course meal so it covers everything,” says Husni.
“The only catch with the ‘Food Network Magazine’ is that it relies on that celebrity chef that the people are used to seeing in their living room.”
That, though, has prevented individual celebrities — from “Cooking with Paula Deen” and “Everyday with Rachael Ray” to “Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade” and “Jamie’s Magazine” from Jamie Oliver — from publishing magazines dedicated to their “name” brand.
“It’s sort of like inviting the star that you like watching on TV and bringing them with you to the kitchen and helping you create this meal.”
“It has that celebrity fantasy and the food.”
Add the vast number of specialty food magazines (“Cooking Light,” “Vegetarian Times,” etc.), to the stack that also includes Betty Crocker and Pillsbury glossies (“an impulse,” says Husni. “Name the ingredient and someone will put a recipe book together for you.
And there are those that lure the vagabond souls, food and cooking magazines imported from from Australia, the UK and Italy, from “Delicious” (Australia) to “Waitrose Food Illustrated” (a UK supermarket). Geared, says Husni to “Women or men who have been overseas, who’ve been traveling and have seen those magazines and are looking for something to bring that international flavor to their home-cooked meal.”
If you’re getting an international magazine, Husni points out it helps if you know metrics (though some magazines include conversion charts).