I learned how to cook the day I opened my first issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Phrases like Maillard reaction and gluten development and Best Blueberry Pancakes flowed across pages adorned with desaturated sketches, drawing me in with their simplicity and forthrightness. This is the best way to grill salmon or make pie crust, the articles said--and here are three pages of reasons why.
CI brought the scientific method to cooking: Take a hypothesis, test it, see if it comes out like you expect, and learn from it, improving your method next time. If a recipe doesn't work, adjust it. And don't worry about buying artisan bread and hand-cutting your hydrangeas to fit individual bud vases--that's pretentious. Compared to other glossy food magazines, this was a revelation.
This excellent, recent New York Times profile of editor Christopher Kimball--a must-read for CI fans--will give any reader some insight into their methods. For most Americans, cooking is not about art, but about dinner, Kimball firmly believes. Sustenance. Success is often hard-won, dependent on, yes, some flair and some skill, but also on some basic knowledge of what heat and force can do to edible things.