The 30 Minute Meal Test

Find my original article here

Photo by Sage Warner

Life is a rush. Between class, work and meetings, it’s pretty easy to submit to letting a restaurant do your cooking. Many food writers—myself included—want to urge you that this doesn’t have to be the case. But with all the promises of recipes that take “just 30 minutes,” who can we trust? I took two recipes, one by Rachael Ray and one by America’s Test Kitchen. Then, I whipped out a timer to find out for real. Here are my results:

Recipe #1: Rachael Ray’s

Pork Chops With Golden Applesauce


As you may know, Rachael Ray has an entire show’s worth of recipes she claims to take just 30 minutes to prepare (30 Minute Meals). Whether you love or hate her bubbly personality, you have to admit she has taken many viewers from their couches to their kitchens.

Time Promised: The online recipe claims “15 minutes cooking time”

Actual Time To Prepare: 42 minutes

Verdict: One aspect of Ray’s recipes that can be problematic is that she doesn’t include preparation time in her calculation. Luckily, for this dish there wasn’t much, just simply chopping up some apples and putting them in a pot with the spices for the applesauce.

The time it took to cook the chops through was a little longer than she stated, which I think is what resulted in the extra time, as well as making the pan sauce. Overall, when choosing Ray’s recipes it’s best to pick one with a short ingredient list and minimal preparation steps if you are in a hurry.

The dish was pretty flavorful, especially the sweet and tart applesauce (which I used in my oatmeal for breakfast the next day), but the pork chops came out a little dry.

Recipe #2: Middle Eastern Lamb

Patties with Yogurt Sauce

(From The Best 30-Minute Recipe)

The chefs from America’s Test Kitchen—also the masterminds behind the deliciously nerdy Cooks Illustrated—take cooking very, very seriously. They have it down to a science, and try every single way of cooking any given dish for the very best quality. So naturally, their 30-minute recipe can certainly be trusted.

Time Promised: 30 minutes

Actual Time To Prepare: 32 minutes

Verdict: So they didn’t hit the mark exactly on 30 minutes; that’s okay. As promised in the introduction of their book, the recipe included preparation time in the overall cooking time. That was 32 minutes to make a homemade lamb meatball concoction, cook them evenly, and prepare a dipping sauce. My only complaint of this recipe is that since the meatballs and the sauce use similar ingredients (cilantro, yogurt), the sauce wasn’t as flavorful as it could be. But adding cumin and a little more lemon juice didn’t take me any extra time, so I still declare this recipe the winner. Not just because the dish was fast, but also because the lamb was perfectly crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, and I didn’t feel like I made any sacrifices for time.

Quick cooking tips

from the author:

While I enjoy using quick recipes, I think you’re better off being more prepared in your own cooking. Here are some suggestions I have for making the best food, fast.

Early preparation: On the weekends when I’m doing homework, I like to simultaneously roast a big batch of vegetables. That way, throughout the week, I have a side dish. This plan doesn’t have to be vegetables, either. You could do this with pasta, meat or whatever you like to eat during the week (or what’s on your menu).

Make a menu: It sounds extremely housewife-y, but it certainly saves me a lot of time. On the weekends, I make a list of what I want to make during the week (factoring in leftovers as well), and then I put them on my calendar. That way, when I get home from class late at night with a growling stomach, I can look into my fridge and say: oh, right I bought mushrooms, for that pasta. Lots of time saved there.

Start early, if you can: If you have a class at 6:30 p.m., don’t start prepping your ingredients at 6:10 p.m. Most recipes (like Ray’s) don’t include preparation time, since you’re supposedly starting with pre-chopped garlic (yet chopping garlic is cooking, yes?). Anyway, just give yourself some time to let something go wrong, because let’s be honest, something usually does.

Lastly, and very importantly, never cook on an empty stomach. Eat a piece of fruit and then cook. You will be much happier and less stressed on time.


One thought on “The 30 Minute Meal Test

  1. I have been making a menu each week for about the last 6 years. It’s so helpful! I usually plan about 5 meals a week and just make whatever I feel like that night. I’ve recommended it to so many people. It helps cut down on costs too. Great tip!

    I also use a lot of Ray’s 30 minute meals and I recommend them as they don’t take forever and are generally easy. Lots of different magazines now offer recipes as well for even 20 minute meals. I love this quick cooking style during the week. Who wants to come home after a day at work and spend over an hour cooking in the kitchen? Not I (& I even love cooking)!

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