Recipes on paper are more practical than videos

Call me old school, but I think the most practical medium for recipes is print. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching recipe videos and seeing the techniques professional chefs use to make delicious meals. But when I hop into the kitchen to make food myself, I’d rather work off a book, a note, or a card. I’m all about those recipes on paper.

This could literally just be an old-school thing. I prefer recipes on paper because I’m used to them. When I learned to cook (“back in my day”), YouTube didn’t exist, and there was no way you were dragging a 32-inch CRT into the kitchen along with the VCR and a pre-taped cooking show so you could cook along with Martha Stewart or Emeril Lagasse. You found their recipes online after the show and printed them out.

Today, although the technology involved is less cumbersome, I don’t cook along with chefs like Matty Matheson or Sohla El-Waylly. I absolutely watch their videos and use their recipes, but I write them down or use their cookbooks instead.

The pausing problem

The biggest reason I think recipes on paper are more practical than those on video is because of the states in which these media exist in any given moment. Videos only reveal the recipe and technique once they are played. When they are not in motion, there is nothing. This is all a pretentious way of saying it’s annoying to pause a video when your hands are covered in food juices that you don’t want to get on your phone or laptop.

Pausing is always necessary though because recipe videos cannot match the pace of the actual cooking process. Are you going to sit through a six-hour video where three of them are just the chef checking various social media accounts as the food marinates? Obviously not. The chef turns off the camera (or grabs another bowl of food they prepared earlier) and comes back when the action is ready to resume. You or I pause the video until our timer goes off and it’s time to resume working.

Recipes on paper do not pose these problems. They exist in full all at once. You look at them when you need a reminder about what ingredients and how much of them you need to add. There’s no touching involved, though they also invariably get covered in food juices. When it’s time for the food to marinate, you leave the recipe on the counter and go do something else.

Recipes on paper are always there for you

Existing in full all at once provides other benefits too. I like to get all my ingredients in order before I do anything. Recipe videos don’t always tell you up front what you’ll need. Often, they tell you what and how much to add as the video goes along. That makes sense from a narrative perspective, since the video flows much more smoothly than if the host spent two minutes listing off ingredients, but it has a negative effect on utility. Recipes on paper lay everything out in an easy-to-see list, so you know right away what you’ll need.

You know what’s super annoying? Finding out you don’t have a key ingredient halfway through making a dish. That situation is easier to avoid when you know up front what you’ll need. (Though that’s really on you for not taking note of what you would need when you watched the video the first time. Improve your planning and organizational skills.)

Most food video creators solve this problem by including the recipe in the video description, but at that point I’m using my phone as a recipe card that has the added downside of needing to be woken back up if I did a task that took longer than 30 seconds. That brings up the same food-juices-on-the-phone problem as pausing a video, and it’s why I am specifically talking about recipes on paper.

Outside the kitchen, videos win

I’ve spent a lot of time knocking videos, but they do offer many benefits. I don’t mean to suggest videos are a bad way to access recipes, just that I prefer recipes on paper. But even paper has shortcomings.

Written recipes, regardless of medium, rarely provide the sort of entertainment videos do. I cannot imagine reading a recipe for entertainment. Conversely, I will watch pretty much any video my favourite chefs produce. Those videos are usually what inspire me to make a certain dish. And the recipe I use is probably the one in the video, after I write it down. But even when the videos are about food I never plan to make, they provide value for me that a comparable written recipe would not.

But the biggest benefit of video recipes is that they show you what the food is supposed to look like during every step of the process. When I write out recipes on paper, I generally don’t provide sketches to pair with the steps. Cookbooks, if they have photos, usually only show you the finished product, after a food stylist made it look even more delicious. Your meal will never look that good. A recipe video gives you a more realistic sense of the final product, in addition to useful looks at the meal at key points during its creation.

On top of that, you get to see a skilled chef use techniques that are difficult to describe in writing. When cooking, as with most things, it’s usually more instructive to be shown rather than told how to do something. Here, you also have a control test to compare your work against. You can trust Sohla’s assessment of whether those peaks are stiff enough. When yours look like hers, you’re done whipping that cream.  

He really wrote a lot about recipes on paper

No medium is perfect, but I’ll always prefer to work with a recipe that has been written down on paper. However, I consume far more video-based recipe content than the text-based alternatives. I’m just like everybody else when it comes to scrolling past the 3,000-word personal stories about the life-changing Greek salad I’m about to make as a side dish to oven-baked shawarma. That’s another reason I’m talking about recipes on paper specifically.

Of course, the dream is to become so talented at cooking that recipes are no longer necessary. I’m still a long way off from that goal, but maybe I’ll get there one day. Given that I’ve been making the same taco spice mix every couple of months for the past decade and still don’t have it memorized, I suspect that’s going to take a while.

Now I want to hear from you. Do you prefer to work with recipes on paper or do you cook along with videos? Or are you doing recipe podcasts? Surely those exist. Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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