3 Recipe Writing Tips: How to Write Recipes Like A Pro

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What makes a good recipe?

A well-written recipe is accurate, comprehensive, and simple

Short phrases and straightforward instructions remove ambiguity, making recipes less intimidating and simpler to follow. 

Customers prefer simple phrases. Instead of writing “braise,” try writing “simmer”, “stew,” or “slow-boil.” 

Developing style guides and standardized recipes for your food business helps you find your individuality and remain consistent. 

We use a three-step process for recipe writing at Good Food Studio:

  1. Research the recipe idea
  2. Select the right recipe format
  3. Include the necessary recipe components

Let’s dive into each step.

#1 Research your recipe idea

Because there are only a few truly original recipes, the secret is in research. Creating a recipe starts with having an idea. 

I draw inspiration from many sources, including seasonal ingredients, eating habits, food blogs, Facebook pages, cookbooks, and holidays. 

I start my research once I have an extensive understanding of the kind of recipe I want to produce. 

The next step is looking into the ingredients and preparation methods specific to the dish, the tools required, and the ideal flavor and texture combinations for a certain element. 

Experiment with flavors and ingredients you are already familiar with to come up with something unique. There is no right or wrong way to accomplish it — it all depends on your preferences and temperament.

If you want to learn the basics of recipe development, read as many food-related books, articles, and magazines as you can. You can probably source a few publications from your local library. 

#2 Select the right recipe format

A uniform format makes writing and following recipes simple. There are three common recipe types you’ll find in cookbooks, recipe blogs, and other mediums.

1. Standard format

This recipe format is the simplest to understand and uses the least amount of room.

It includes an ingredient list followed by a step-by-step process to make the recipe.

Example recipe: Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chocolate chips 
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼  cup melted butter
  • ½  cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt 

Method: 

  1. Mix dry ingredients and add chocolate chips.
  2. Combine egg, milk, and butter and stir into the flour mixture. Do not overmix.
  3. Bake at 180°C for 20 minutes.

2. Narrative format 

Here, you get paragraph-style lists of ingredients, instructions, and improvement tips. It works best for short recipes with few ingredients.

Example recipe: Chocolate Chip Muffins

Measure and mix together 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, ½ cup sugar, 1 tbsp baking soda, and ¼ tsp salt. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips. In a separate bowl, combine 1 egg, 1 cup milk, and ¼ cup melted butter. Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture. Do not overmix. Bake at 180°C for 20 minutes. Serve warm with a cup of coffee. 

3. Action format

With this recipe format, the ingredients aren’t listed separately but rather included in the step-by-step process. 

It’s slightly harder to check ingredient availability, as you have to read the full recipe first.

Example recipe: Chocolate Chip Muffins

Measure and combine the following ingredients: 

  • 1 ½  cup all-purpose flour
  • ½  cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • ¼  tsp salt

Stir in:

  • 1 cup chocolate chips

In a separate bowl, combine:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼  cup melted butter

Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture. Do not overmix. Bake at 180°C for 20 minutes.

#3 Include the necessary recipe components

Your recipe should ideally include the following components:

  1. Recipe headnote
  2. Timing and recipe yield
  3. Ingredient list
  4. Preparation method
  5. Nutritional information
  6. Recipe note

Let’s dive into each component.

Recipe headnote 

A catchy title, beautiful photo, and recipe headnote are effective ways to draw readers in. 

Headnotes usually contain crucial advice or strategies persuading the reader to try a recipe. 

Always make an effort to inspire, inform, or engage the reader through it.

Consider opening your headnote with a brief story describing the goal of providing this dish in your book for the reader. 

For example, did you eat something at a restaurant that gave you the inspiration for this recipe? 

Pairing ideas provide excellent headnote material too. If tomato soup pairs well with garlic bread, say so. 

Your ingredient list and recipe steps will remain clear and simple if this information is included in the headnote.

Timing and recipe yield 

Knowing a dish’s preparation time helps you plan for it better. Recipes divide the required time into two parts: 

  • Preparation time: The amount of time required to prepare, combine, and place the ingredients in the pot, slow cooker, or oven.
  • Cooking time: The total time needed for your dish to cook. 

Total yield refers to how much of a finished or processed product you will have.

A yield should always be included in professional recipes; for instance, a leek soup might yield 15 liters or a cookie recipe may yield 12 cookies.

Ingredient list 

The order of the ingredients list and the list of instructions should match. 

Be specific, give all necessary amounts, and describe the condition of the ingredients listed; for example, melted butter, frozen butter, etc.

Keep the ingredients for a recipe’s main steps separate. Include different subheadings for different components of the recipe.

For example, “red wine sauce” can include all the recipes and instructions for the sauce, and “beef fillet” can include the meat and preparation instructions for the fillet component of the recipe. Repeat this rule with the instruction list. 

Each ingredient should be listed in a separate line. Be clear when naming the ingredients, e.g., write “full-cream milk” or “almond milk” instead of just “milk.”  

Preparation method 

List each step in the method in the order that it occurs during implementation. Important details like oven or stovetop range and marinating time must be included.

The following Tomato Chipotle Soup recipe is clear, thorough, and brief. The steps are laid out exactly how you would carry them out. 

Every step clearly explains what has to be done, including when to complete it (after the onions are soft), the appropriate heat level (medium), and how to present the dish.

Nutritional information 

It’s always a good idea to incorporate nutritional analysis and use the USDA database or the South African Food Data System database. 

This feature can be carried out by many nutrition software packages, such as: 

Recipe notes 

Specify how to store leftovers, including the temperature and type of container required.

Offer extra details such as vegetarian and gluten-free substitutions for ingredients, but only if you’ve tried them yourself and are confident they’ll work.

Additional elements

If you’re posting your recipe online, you can include interactive elements.

Readers expect that recipes will be used for more than just reading and following.

Some beneficial features include: 

  • Print 
  • Email 
  • Save
  • Share to social channels
  • Shop for ingredients 
  • Shop for kitchen gadgets

You can add these features easily using the right website plugin or template.

Recipe development resources: Book recommendations

If you’re interested in learning more about the food science side of things, check out the books I have found helpful in my recipe development path:

Final words on recipe writing

A good recipe satisfies the reader’s needs, which vary depending on the reader’s progress through their cooking journey. 

While food product development requires some effort, it is always quicker and cheaper with professional assistance.

If you’re interested in our recipe development or culinary concept services, contact us today.

In health and happiness,

Chef Lee


Recipe writing infographic

Recipe writing tips - infographic
Recipe writing infographic courtesy of Good Food Studio

Chef Lerato Mokonyane has worked for some of South Africa's best-known brands such as McCain, Topo Chico, Eskort, and Sutherland Wines. She's passionate about recipe development, food photography, and everyday nutrition.

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