It’s no big secret that our phones and tablets have replaced cookbooks in the kitchen more often than not. Why keep recipes on paper when you can find everything on the internet, right?
Well, I have my reasons (I love books) but if you’re just beginning to cook, you probably have no interest in amassing a large collection of cookbooks or culinary magazines, especially when the written word can’t come to life and show you how to chop an onion.
Thankfully, there are hundreds of food and recipe apps for just about every taste and type of cook.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of food and recipe apps to choose from. I’m sure you’d rather not figure out which ones are losers by a failed culinary experience. Lucky for you, I looked at some of the most popular recipe apps to determine if they’re worth downloading, and if they’re truly beginner-friendly. Use my findings to tackle your first holiday potluck dish, turn over a new cooking leaf in the New Year, or just get in the kitchen to learn something new and cook delicious meals. Don’t forget to have fun!
Good For Beginners: YES!
Since this app is fed by BuzzFeed it has the how-to videos you’ve come to expect from the media giant. And not just a few… Intro videos for every recipe and easy-to-follow instructions makes this app one of the best for beginners.
But what makes it THE app for beginners is even more detailed step-by-step videos that leave no guesswork, all for free! The videos are quick but comprehensive, so you can understand the full scope of what you’re planning to make before you even buy the ingredients.
Easy browsing through tons of recipe categories, plus attractive photos, make the app fun to use, too. Another bonus for the novice and/or time-pressed cook (and who isn’t time pressed?) – the search function brings up a cheat sheet of easy-access categories such as “5 Ingredients or Less,” “Easy,” and “Under 30 Minutes.” Other categories such as “Meal,” “Occasion,” and “Cuisine” make it even easier to filter results without having to type in a specific search. Make-again ratings for many recipes give users an idea of expected success rate. Vegetarians can personalize the app to filter out non-vegetarian dishes. There are occasional ads, but it's worth it for all this amazing free content.
Good For Beginners? Yes
The unique step-by-step interface begins with the prep work so you don’t even have to think about where to start. And no toggling back and forth between ingredient lists and instructions either! Photos for every step let you know you’re on the right path, and a light bulb icon provides helpful tips, sometimes in video format. While the app offers recipes beyond the beginner level, the helpful info such as difficulty, utensils needed, and cooking time, makes it easy to pick the ones that suit a cooking novice.
The search function also offers some popular preset categories to get you inspired quickly. There’s also an active social media component that allows users to upload photos of their completed dishes, so you can see what others have done and share what you’re most proud of.
Good For Beginners: Yes
Cost: $0, with option to upgrade for $50/year
If you’re particularly interested in cooking healthier, this app is for you. It is based on creating a weekly meal plan, which generates your shopping list - and you’re off! No fancy videos or step-by-step photos, but the instructions are clear and easy to follow.
This app also features a unique “Cooking Mode,” a hands-free setting that navigates the recipe steps with a wave of your hand near the top of your screen. No greasy fingers on the iPhone!
Good For Beginners? Yes
There is a TON of content provided by this culinary media company, which began as the aggregator of recipes from all (current and former) Condé Nast publications, such as Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and SELF. Now, it’s so much more than an aggregator, and you can find a recipe for just about anything you need here. Don’t be overwhelmed though - the Select Category tab (signified by the clock icon) makes it easy to browse and filter a much smaller set of choices. The search function also gives you one-tap filters to instantly get you a lot closer to your cooking destination.
You won’t get a step-by-step video for every recipe, but the instructions are clear, a "smart timer" helps keep you on track while cooking, and the app design is very easy to use. It can be a little tricky to determine which recipes are well-suited to beginners, but the rating system and reviews can be a helpful guide.
Good For Beginners? Sort of.
Cost: $0 (with option to donate as you wish)
All of the detailed video content is truly amazing, especially for free! But with only 17 recipes designated as Beginner, and not that many more Intermediate, there’s not much to choose from. Where this app wins is in the detailed instructions that go far beyond typical recipe prep. Chef Daniel Holzman of The Meatball Shop restaurants in NYC teaches entry-level techniques in painstaking detail with tons of explanation. It’s undeniable that learning the proper way to cut an onion is fundamental to cooking, and you’ll get that kind of free, in-depth instruction here. The caveat is that the cook-along style videos require a lot of time and patience, so if you’re ready to learn, watch, and re-watch, this might be the app for you.
Another unique feature of this app is the sliding scale for number of servings. Simply slide to the number of servings you need and the app does the multiplication for you, but be aware that cooking directions don’t change so if you go from 2 to 10 servings you’ll need to adjust things like timing and equipment as well. A few other plusses: the Search tab includes lots of easy-to-use filters, and the Short Cuts tab is fun for browsing and inspiration.
Good For Beginners? Sort of.
This app aggregates recipes from many sources. While the design is easy to use and photos are good quality, the Beginner setting doesn’t guarantee beginner-friendly recipes. With 41 ingredients, the first recommended recipe was hardly suited to beginners, but the fact that each recipe highlights the number of ingredients is helpful. Don’t be turned off by a higher number if it includes a lot of easy-to-measure ingredients like oil and spices.
There’s a big focus on international cuisines, so someone looking to explore the globe from their kitchen could benefit here. The information is comprehensive and interesting, but the content is bolstered by “articles” that link to blog recipes, so not everything is necessarily verified by Yummly.
Good For Beginners? No
Cost: $5.99/month after 7-day free trial
The app is beautiful. The videos are high quality. The chef-instructors are world-class. It’s no wonder they’ve won a James Beard Award, and the 2018 winner for Outstanding Video Series from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. But those awards should tell you something. The industry loves it, which means it’s probably not suited for beginners.
With some of the foremost chefs in the world, such as Daniel Boulud, Nancy Silverton, Dorie Greenspan, and even local favorite, Ana Sortun, teaching you to cook, you’ll want to invest the requisite time to watch the thorough videos and the extensively detailed classes. If you really want to go in-depth on learning to cook, this app is a steal, but if you just want to make dinner you’re best looking elsewhere.
Good For Beginners? No.
Cost: $50/year after 2-week free trial
As a former ATK Test Cook, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what I still consider to be the holy grail of all recipe sources. From beginner to expert, if you can follow directions you can cook successfully with ATK recipes. However, the app is not the place to turn if you’re a beginner in the kitchen. If you already know what you’re looking for you can probably find it in the app, but as soon as you save one recipe the entire interface changes and you can’t browse content without conducting a specific search.
My unscientific poll of beginner cooks found that browsing for inspiration is a key motivator to get cooking. If you’re particularly interested in cooking-school-style lessons, the ATK Cooking School, which you can access through the app with a premium subscription, is well worth the investment. It even comes with access to real, live expert instructors!
Good For Beginners: No
This video-based app is more for entertainment than instruction. It is frustratingly unorganized, light on content, and heavy on junk food. Skip it if you’re interested in making real meals.
Apps For Meal Delivery Services
If you’re into the idea of cutting out the shopping, and even some of the meal prep, delivery services such as Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, and Sun Basket also have apps that include recipes and helpful cooking tips. These can be great for beginners, but all come with the meal delivery subscription cost.
A word of general caution: Avoid AllRecipes, either in app form or online, despite the fact that they often come up first in Google searches. Many of the recipes come from home cooks without recipe writing training, and there is no way to credibly differentiate recipes that work from ones that don’t.