Blog Posts by America s Test Kitchen

  • 4 Secrets to a Better Meatloaf

    Whether basic or dressed up, glazed or plain, cooked in the oven or in the slow cooker, there are many kinds of meatloaf. We've learned through our countless recipe tests at America's Test Kitchen that these four universal principles can improve any meatloaf.

    1. Skip the Meatloaf Mix: Not every store carries meatloaf mix, a combination of ground chuck, pork, and veal. Plus, the mix is inconsistent from store to store, and different ratios of meat and different fat percentages can affect how a recipe works. We prefer to buy ground beef and pork separately, and omit the harder-to-find veal altogether.

    2. Precook Aromatics and Vegetables: No matter how long meatloaf bakes, aromatics and vegetables that are added raw will always taste raw. Sautéing the onion, garlic, and any other vegetables before incorporating them into the raw meat mixture improves their taste and texture.

    3. Use a Panade: Panade, a mixture of bread or cracker crumbs and liquid, helps keep meatloaves (and

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  • How Much Food Should You Prepare? and 3 Other Big Thanksgiving Questions

    Welcome to Cooking 101, a fun, weekly series of cooking lessons and hands-on learning from America's Test Kitchen Cooking School. Who are we? Our knowledge and techniques are based on 20 years of test kitchen work creating foolproof recipes for Cook's Illustrated magazine and for our television shows. We believe that everybody, whether novice or advanced, can gain the skills and confidence to become a better cook.

    Week 8: How to Answer Your Biggest 4 Thanksgiving Questions
    (read other Cooking 101 posts)

    ARE YOU READY FOR THANKSGIVING? In our FREE "Successful Holiday Cooking" course, we lead you through all the tough Thanksgiving topics, like building a cooking timeline, an equipment checklist to prepare one's kitchen, and what essential ingredients to stock up in your pantry.

    A successful holiday meal begins with a well-planned menu. In fact, most holiday dinners go awry because of poor planning. So, for now, don't think about the recipes you want to serve. Start off by answering

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  • Making Beef Stew? 5 Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them

    A good, trusty recipe for classic beef stew should be in every cook's repertoire. When developing our Best Beef Stew recipe, featured with video and photo tutorials in America's Test Kitchen online cooking school, we learned a lot of things along the way. Here's 5 easy ways to take your beef stew from so-so to spectacular.

    MISTAKE #1: Wrong Cut

    Potential Problems: The meat is dry. The meat is bland. The meat is tough.

    What You Should Do: Don't underestimate the importance of using the right cut of beef. Purchase a chuck eye roast or blade steaks--both are from the shoulder--and cut the meat into chunks yourself. Aim for pieces that are 1 1/2 inches in size; smaller pieces are liable to overcook and won't have much presence in the stew.

    MISTAKE #2: Underbrowned Meat

    Potential Problems: The sauce is not very beefy. The meat is bland.

    What You Should Do: When browning the beef, make sure to heat the oil until it begins to smoke before adding the meat. Once the meat is

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  • The Ultimate Microwaved Chocolate Cake in a Coffee Cup

    Coffee Mug Molten Chocolate Cake by Cook's Country

    Recipes for single-serving molten chocolate cakes made in a coffee mug and "baked" in the microwave have run rampant on the web. These cakes promise to be a "chocoholic's dream," but we can attest that these popular Internet recipes don't live up to the hype. The so-called treats that emerged from our microwaves were bland, chalky, rubbery, heavy, and unevenly cooked. Several exploded over mug brims, looking like eighth-grade science experiments gone wrong. Yes, they were ridiculously fast and easy to make, but the cakes weren't worth even this minimal effort.

    Our journey began with the test kitchen's recipe for individual molten chocolate cakes [published in our book, The Best Make-Ahead Recipe], hoping to adapt it for the mug and the microwave. Between a trained pastry chef (test cook Cristin Walsh) and an academic (science editor Guy Crosby)--and after more than 100 tests--we managed to create a recipe for a tender, moist, light, and flavorful molten chocolate cake that could be

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  • The Southern Staple Everyone Should Know How to Make

    Pimento Cheese by America's Test Kitchen

    Spread this on anything for a zippy, tangy, creamy boost.

    Why This Recipe Works: The first few attempts were missing something. After a bit more research, we found several versions of this dish that benefit from a small shot of pickle juice because of its vinegary, sour flavor. This recipe needs a lot of stirring before the mixture starts to resemble pimento cheese, but don't give up if it's looking dry; after some vigorous stirring, the cheese and liquid ingredients start to combine and smooth out. But don't overmix and make it too smooth--those small, cheesy lumps are what gives pimento cheese its characteristic texture.

    Makes about 1 1/2 cups

    ¾ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
    ½ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
    2½ tablespoons pimento chiles
    1 tablespoon mayonnaise
    1 tablespoon pickle juice
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

    Combine all ingredients in medium bowl. Using fork, stir vigorously until thoroughly combined. Season with salt

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  • Slow-Cooker Recipes to Swear by This Fall

    Enjoy these 3 featured recipes from Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2: The Easy-Prep Edition. With this latest collection of slow-cooker recipes from America's Test Kitchen, you can take the fast lane to great slow food.

    Slow-Cooker Chicken and Vegetable
    Slow-Cooker Chicken and Vegetable "Stir-Fry"

    Serves 4
    Cooking Time 2 to 3 hours on Low
    Slow Cooker Size 5 1/2 to 7 Quarts

    Why This Recipe Works: Making a stir-fry usually means quick, last-minute cooking in a skillet that's splattering hot oil. Surprisingly, we found a way to replicate this dish in the slow cooker for an easy, make-ahead, and mess-free dinner. First we poached boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a flavorful cooking liquid, which later doubled as a sauce. A combination of chicken broth, soy sauce, and ginger was a good start. Hot pepper jelly helped to thicken the sauce and contributed a great sweet and spicy flavor. To get perfectly crisp-tender vegetables from the slow cooker, the key was using a steamer basket. Placing the steamer basket on top of

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  • Summer Fave: Barbecued Pulled Pork on the Grill

    Slow-cooked pulled pork is a summertime favorite; however, many barbecue procedures demand the regular attention of the cook for eight hours or more. We wanted to find a way to make moist, fork-tender pulled pork without the marathon cooking time and constant attention to the grill. For the meat, we determined that a shoulder roast (also called Boston butt), which has significant fat, retained the most moisture and flavor during a long, slow cook.

    RELATED VIDEO: Spicing Up the Grill with Christopher Kimball on America's Test Kitchen TV

    We massaged a spicy chili rub into the meat, then wrapped the roast in plastic and refrigerated it for at least three hours to "marinate." We cooked the roast first on the grill to absorb smoky flavor (from wood chips--no smoker required), then finished it in the oven. Finally, we let the pork rest in a paper bag so the meat would steam and any remaining collagen would break down, allowing the flavorful juices to be reabsorbed.

    RELATED VIDEO: Short Ribs

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  • Don't Mess with Texas-Style Blueberry Cobbler

    A cobbler made with a thick, pancake-like batter? Really? Read on for the recipe and why it works.

    RELATED VIDEO: Fun Modern Cakes with Christopher Kimball on Cook's Country TV

    Many of us know cobbler to be a jammy fruit base with a baked biscuit topping, the method we use for our classic Blueberry Cobbler. However, in the Lone Star State, they start with the batter on the bottom and the fruit on top. This version is more dense and cake-like than the traditional recipe, but don't take our word for it: Make both versions to find out if you like your berries on the top or the bottom.

    RELATED VIDEO: Super-Easy Comfort Food with Christopher Kimball on Cook's Country TV

    Follow these steps to make a cobbler fit for a Texan:

    1. First, melt butter right in the baking pan. It gives the finished cobbler rich, crisp edges.

    2. Next, pour the batter into the baking pan over the melted butter.

    3. Finally, scatter on the mashed berries. In the oven, the batter rises over the berries.


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  • 5 Cake Wrecks, and How to Fix Them

    Are homemade cakes giving you trouble? Here are some of the 5 most common cake-baking problems and our solutions for avoiding these pitfalls.

    RELATED VIDEO: How to Decorate a Layer Cake with Bridget Lancaster on our Online Cooking School

    Problem: Cake Layers are Uneven
    Solution: Portion the Batter Carefully

    Portioning the batter evenly is essential to making level cake layers that stack easily when layered. It's worth taking a few extra minutes to make sure the batter is evenly divided between the pans. Weighing the filled pans is the most accurate way to gauge even portions, but if you don't have a scale, use a ruler to measure the space between the top of the batter and the top of the pan. Then re-portion the batter if needed.

    Problem: Cakes Crack and Dome
    Solution: Slice Off the Tops

    Cake layers with a domed top are difficult to stack and frost. Using a smaller cake pan than the size called for in a recipe can cause a cake to dome. Also, make sure your

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  • Like Magic: Make Your Own Chocolate Shell Ice Cream Topping

    Chocolate sauce that instantly hardens into a shell when poured over ice cream is a classic treat, but could we engineer a better-tasting, homemade version?

    RELATED VIDEO: Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies as Featured on America's Test Kitchen TV

    When we sampled Smucker's Magic Shell over ice cream, we were impressed by the way it hardened upon contact but were less bowled over by its cloyingly sweet, mild chocolate taste. We set out to engineer a better-tasting homemade version that would please children and adults alike.

    RELATED VIDEO: Carrot Layer Cake as Featured on America's Test Kitchen TV

    A quick review of the Magic Shell ingredients revealed that the "magic" was the third ingredient listed: coconut oil. Coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat, which makes it solid at room temperature and brittle at cooler temperatures. Combining melted coconut oil in a 2:3 ratio with melted chocolate produced a satiny mixture that solidified into a perfect, shatteringly

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