A recipe is a list of ingredients and complete instructions on how to prepare, combine and cook those ingredients to make a dish.

Reading a Recipe

Click here for samples of common recipe formats.

Before you begin

Read through the recipe and ensure you have all the ingredients and equipment you need. Also note the time needed to complete cooking. There may be some steps that you could (or need) to complete ahead of time.

By reading the instructions ahead of preparation, you will be able to see if there are any ingredients that are split into two stages of the recipe. For example, there are times when a specified amount of sugar is held back for coating prior to baking or butter is split into two parts.

If you are missing ingredients, there are many substitutes that can be used. See Ingredient Substitutes for ideas on alternate ingredients. Using substitutes may change the dish slightly but it eliminates the need to run out to the store for more ingredients.

Note the serving size or yield on the recipe and make adjustments to suit the needs of your family. You may need to double the recipe if you are feeding a large group, or if you are only cooking for yourself, you may want to cut the recipe ingredients in half.

First steps

Clean and clear your work area.

Wash your hands thoroughly.

If necessary, preheat oven and prepare your pans (for example, grease and flour them) ahead of preparing the recipe.

Ingredients and Measurements

Ingredients are usually listed in order of use. They give the specific form of the ingredient as well as the exact amount required.

In cooking there is some flexibility on ingredients and measurements to adjust for personal taste and health goals (for example reduced salt or sugar). Baking on the other hand, requires more precision and accuracy in the measurements to achieve the intended results.

For information on measuring dry and liquid ingredients read Cooking Basics.


Steps are listed in the order they should be done. A numbered list is easiest to follow, but directions can be written in a paragraph form. Read the paragraph carefully and follow all the instructions.


Most recipes do not list all of the equipment necessary, but they do list the size of the baking or cooking dish (for example an 8” x 8” baking pan). It is best to use the pan specified so the item doesn’t overcook or overflow the pan, but this is not always possible. Do not worry if you need to change the size of pan to work with what you have in your kitchen. Lower the cooking time if the batter is more spread out. If you do not have muffin pans, you can always cook the batter as a loaf, but you will need to increase the cooking time.

Temperature and Time

Most recipes will give exact temperature and cooking times. Because all ovens can be slightly different, you will need to use the cooking time as a guide and judge the doneness based on internal temperatures (for meats) or other basic methods. Read Cooking Basics for more information on cooking food properly and how to tell if food is cooked.

Times and temperatures given in recipes are for conventional ovens unless otherwise stated. If you are using a convection oven, the rule of thumb is to decrease the oven temperature by 25°F and leave the cooking time the same.

Read these articles next:
Cooking Basics
Healthy Cooking at Home