Home / Ask Kary / How to Read a Recipe

How to Read a Recipe

With all the recipes I’ve posted lately, I thought it would be a good idea to do a refresher course on How to Read a Recipe. Reading a recipe might seem like common sense, but you never know, you might just learn something new!

What is a recipe? A recipe is a set of instructions for making or preparing something, usually food.

A recipe isn’t always straightforward. That’s why before you get started it’s important to read the entire recipe (not just the ingredients list).  It’s like looking at a map before you go on a road trip, you want to know where you’re going before you get there.  It would suck to start a recipe, get to step 5, only to realize that what you’re making needs to rest marinate in the fridge overnight.

How to read a recipe

Things to look for when reading the recipe:

  • Do you need to preheat your oven?  If so, do that right away. Some ovens can take upwards of 20 minutes to preheat.
  • Make sure you have all the equipment you need – or at least be able to Mcgyver something.
  • If you’re boiling something, like pasta or veggies, get the a pot full of water on the stove right away.  That way it will be ready when you need it.
  • Check if you have enough time to make the complete recipe – are there steps, like marinating or letting dough rise, that will take forever?

Anatomy of a Recipe:

Recipe Title

Usually tells you what you are making, but not always!

Introduction to the Recipe

A brief introduction to the recipe, also called a headnote.  It can be the history of the recipe or what inspired the recipe. Often mentions special techniques or ingredients, offers helpful hints and instructions for doubling the recipe.


This is the list of ingredients needed to make the recipe along with simple preparation instructions. For example –  1 carrot, grated (grated is the preparation instruction) or 1 cup butter, melted (melted is the preparation instruction).

If the recipe is written well, the ingredients will be listed in the order they are used. Sometimes, to help you, the ingredients are broken into elements of the recipe, i.e. salad and salad dressing.

The most important thing to know when reading the ingredient list is learning the difference between:

1 cup almonds, chopped – which means, measure out 1 cup of almonds, then chop them.

1 cup chopped almonds – which means, chop the almonds then measure out 1 cup.


This is the recipe method.  It is a set of directions needed to make the recipe. The directions are usually numbered to make the instructions easy to understand and follow.

Tips for How to Read a Recipe:

  • Have all your ingredients prepped (chopped, grated, sliced, etc.) before you start the cooking process. This keeps everything easy, stress free, and you’ll have a cleaner kitchen as you cook because of it.
  • When you find a recipe you like, attach it to the inside of your cupboard door and mark it up.  I write in ALL my cookbooks.  One day, when my cookbooks get passed on, someone will get recipes with a lot of opinions in them.
  • My BIGGEST advice about cooking with a recipe: read the entire recipe and have fun.  The recipe tells you the basics, but by heaven’s sake, have fun!  If you don’t have all the ingredients needed to make the recipe, don’t worry. Unless you’re baking. In that case, a recipe is more of a scientific formula, but when it comes to cooking, it’s a different story.