The Cookbook Author’s Ultimate Guide to Managing 50+ Recipe Testers

Eat This Poem Cookbook

Three very important things happened in October 2015.

First, I signed with a literary agency. A few days later, I was offered a book contract, and in between those two milestones, I gave birth to my son. Suddenly, I had a newborn in my arms and a deadline for my manuscript.

The timing couldn’t have been better. I’d spent the past two years writing, so the book was finished … I just needed to test the recipes in home kitchens. Being on maternity leave until February 2016 meant I was in the fortunate position of not having to think about work, and dedicated all my remaining energy to embracing the final stretch of my cookbook journey which involved some generous volunteers, and a spreadsheet or two.

Whenever my son slept, I was in the kitchen making last minute tweaks, emailing testers, or following up on non-disclosure agreements. Six weeks later, each of my 75 recipes had been tested at least twice—sometimes three or four times—by home cooks.

Recipe testing is a big undertaking for any cookbook author, but the entire thing can be managed fairly seamlessly (and even within a brief window of time) if you’re organized and have systems in place to support you.

In this post, I’m sharing what worked for me, including the five distinct recipe testing phases that emerged over the course of two months when recipe testing became my main priority (well, after taking care of the baby, of course).

The 5 Phases of Recipe Testing via Eat This Poem

Phase 1: Prep

Before reaching out to testers and assigning recipes, start by preparing your spreadsheets, documents, and emails so everything is ready to go.

  1. Create a recipe tracking spreadsheet. List your recipe titles in one column, and title subsequent columns “Tester 1, “Tester 2,” and so on. Next to each name, add a date column (to mark when you sent them materials) and an 'X' column (to mark when they submitted feedback). You’ll begin filling this in once you start the outreach process.

  2. Design a recipe testing signup form on your website. Be sure to include any dietary considerations, or special equipment needs. Knowing someone is gluten-free, or loves baking, for example, will save you a lot of back and forth when you’re assigning recipes. (Here's mine if you'd like to take a look.)

  3. Write an email template. Draft the emails you’ll send to your testers. This can be a copy and paste template you can customize for each person. (See below for what to include!)

  4. Prepare a non-disclosure agreement. NDA’s help protect you and your recipes. It shows your testers you mean business, prevents them from posting photos and videos of the testing process online, or sharing the recipe with others.

Phase 2: Outreach

This is your “shout it from the rooftops” phase when you get to tell everyone about the opportunity. You can either keep it within your mailing list (like I did) or use social media to increase your reach.

If you’re reaching out to a wider pool than just close friends and family, you’ll want to create a landing page on your website with all the details (see #2 above), and create a form to capture all the information you need to distribute recipes efficiently. (Here’s mine.)

The form is really important if you want to save yourself some time. By asking a few strategic questions, you can save yourself from emailing back and forth with people, and help stick to your timeline.

The questions will vary slightly depending on the type of recipes in your book, but in general, you’ll want to get a sense of any allergies/dietary preferences, and if they have any essential equipment. Otherwise you might send a bundt cake recipe to a tester, only to find out a week later they don’t actually have a bundt pan.

Outreach Tips

  • Set a closing date for signing up, and stick to it

  • Explain exactly what you need from testers, what your timeline is, and the benefits of helping you test recipes

  • Request that people only apply if they’re able to commit to the deadline

  • Ask how many recipes they’re willing to make (1, 2, 3+)

  • Gather any dietary restrictions

  • Ask if they’re willing to make something more elaborate (like a triple layer cake or curry paste)

  • Ask if they have special equipment (like a food mill, pizza stone, or stand mixer)

Eat This Poem Cookbook

Phase 3: Assignments

Once you have your testers, it’s time to start making assignments. Start with anyone who listed dietary restrictions or was enthusiastic about trying something more difficult. Try to be mindful about ingredients. If you’re assigning two or more recipes, see if some of the ingredients can overlap so a tester doesn’t have to buy buy too many things.

You already have your email template, so it’s time to start sending them out. I created a new PDF for each recipe and saved it as “TESTER NAME_NAME OF BOOK RECIPES” to make it easy to find. This also personalizes the experience even more.

And just to be safe, assign the deadline for a week or two before you really need the feedback. Most people will be prompt, but there are always stragglers.

After all the emails go out, you can take a short breather as testing gets underway. Expect a few questions to come in (I can’t find dried blueberries! Can I use something else?), and respond as quickly as you can.

What to put in each email:

  • Customized template with recipe names, instructions, and important dates

  • Attached recipes

  • Attached feedback form

  • Attached NDA agreement

Phase 4: Feedback

As responses start pouring in, save feedback forms in a folder. I tried to read through the notes as soon as I received them and made any straightforward changes, like adding a bit more detail in a direction. Also, update your spreadsheet accordingly!

If you get mixed feedback from two testers, send it to a third, or even a fourth, before deciding how to proceed. Some of the feedback will force you to make a judgement call. Everyone’s palate is a little bit different, so just because someone didn’t absolutely love your chicken pot pie or the method you used, doesn’t mean it’s a bad recipe. With multiple testers, it’s easier to discern which issue is a personal preference, and which may be an fault with how the recipe was written.

At the very end, you might have a handful of recipes that need to be retested (I had about 10), so I put out a call for “last minute testing” asking for anyone who could turn it around within a few days, and also listed the recipes I needed help with so people could choose what sounded good to them.

Eat This Poem Cookbook

Phase 5: Final Touches

These details aren’t essential, but they do add an extra special touch to the experience! After the process was over, I emailed everyone with notes for how to add this experience to their resume.

Here's what I said:

Hi testers!
Just a quick little note to say thank you again for testing recipes for Eat This Poem. I turned in my manuscript on time today, and couldn’t have done it without your help. Recipe testing requires you to be detail oriented, follow instructions, and provide concise feedback—skills worth adding to your resume, I think! 

Here’s some language to copy and paste to your LinkedIn profile, if you’d like to use it.

Recipe Tester, Eat This Poem Cookbook (February 2016). Followed detailed recipe instructions as written and provided feedback on results including taste, recipe clarity, and baking times.

I also sent handwritten thank you notes to every single tester. (Just check their NDA form for addresses, or make a spreadsheet ahead of time so you’re ready to go.)

In general, I found organization (thank you, Google Sheets) and gratitude went a long way. As with everything that’s volunteer-based, be prepared for drop offs. Most of my testers were up for the task and very responsive, but a few I never heard from again, even after sending recipes their way. Others let me know closer to the deadline that they just didn’t have the capacity to do it.

Life happens. Be gracious, but quick to pass along the recipes to someone else so you can meet your all-important manuscript deadline and finally see your cookbook come to life!

"Sunday Morning" By David Budbill + Baked Brie With Easy Grape Jam

Baked Brie with Easy Grape Jam via Eat This Poem

The last time my parents came to visit, my mom brought a small cookbook that belonged to my great grandmother, published on December 14, 1940. It was compiled by the King's Daughter's Class of the First Methodist Church in Las Animas, Colorado, and from the description looks to have been a gathering of young women, some newly married and others recently graduated from high school, who met on Sundays. There's even a sonnet inside, making clear that the virtue of this book is not in its looks, but in its usefulness.

"My pages will be stained and written o'er
With careless pencil or pens.
My leaves will be ragged, my back bent,
And I will never look the same again.
But, oh the dainties I helped to make,
In the busy summer morning..."

Cookbook from the 1940s
Cookbook from the 1940s

As I flipped the pages, I found the preserves section. The timing was right since I was looking to make a little cheese platter for a dinner with friends, and warm brie slathered with jam sounded perfect. The only problem was, there were hardly any instructions. Case in point: The instructions for the Grape Conserve recipe totaled six words: Blend and cook down as marmalade. No tips about how long to cook it, no notes about whether or not to strain the sauce (I didn't), or visual cues to tell you how it should look. It harkens back to a time when cooking acumen was handed down and recipes assumed the cook already has an understanding of the fundamentals.

I got to work. But first, poetry.

Easy Grape Jam from Eat This Poem
Easy Grape Jam


by David Bubell

Our neighbor's home-cured, applewood-smoked, slab bacon
I've sliced myself. Mary Jo's cage-free organic eggs "the girls"

Have made for us. Two for each of us, one for Lu Shan, our dog.
And sometimes my own homegrown potatoes parboiled and fried

in oil with onions, green pepper, celery, herb salt, and black pepper.
A little stack of toast from bread baked locally and spread with local

butter. Three or four kinds of jam, one of which I made myself from
my own grapes. A pot of tea—Keemun or Assam, a little golden Yunnan

tossed in. Then sit down at the table as the early morning sun
comes streaming through the windows.

From Happy Life by David Bubell (Copper Canyon Press, 2011). Reprinted with permission from Copper Canyon Press.

Grapes via Eat This Poem

This is how I like to eat on the weekends, and I imagine many of you appreciate a leisurely morning as well. There are slabs of bacon, eggs, homemade jam, and bread. It's an idyllic scene, made better because it's actually attainable. It's about friendship and sharing, too, and that's exactly what I did with my jam. I spread it over a hunk of warm brie, and shared it with friends in their backyard while our kids played in the grass. 

We need more of these meals, where we're not checking Instagram, carrying stresses from the work week, or worrying about needing to get out the door at a certain time. Meals where we're laughing, filling our plates (two or three times), and sipping on a summer wine. Poetry and food have always been an antidote to stress, chaos, and uncertainty, and what I'm always surprised by (though I shouldn't be), is how they're always available to us. It doesn't matter if it's Monday morning or Saturday night. We can always nourish ourselves and read a little poetry.

This book of poems was one of the first I've read in a while, and I devoured it cover to cover in bed one night. It did my soul some good, and reminded me (although I should never be surprised anymore), of how a beautiful line of verse can go straight to the heart. And in this space, we bring poetry straight to the stomach, too. 

Grape jam on the stove via Eat This Poem
Baked Brie with Easy Grape Jam via Eat This Poem
Baked Brie with Easy Grape Jam via Eat This Poem


You might be skeptical when you read the instructions. The walnuts threw me off, especially when I pureed everything in the blender and the ingredients turned pale brown and soupy. Was I actually making jam? I wasn't convinced. I was mentally preparing to stop by the store on the way to our dinner party for a jarred option, but then everything started warming on the stove and as I tasted it after it thickened and bubbled, my fears melted away. It tastes like the inside of a fig newton. 

This is a very unfussy jam. I don't boil my jars and save them for winter. Instead, I make a batch and eat it within a couple of weeks. It pairs beautifully with cheese, and after the dinner party, I added a big spoonful to my oatmeal the next morning.

Makes about 2 cups

2 pounds grapes, washed and stemmed
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup granulated sugar

A round of brie
Crackers, for serving

Add the grapes, citrus juice and zest, walnuts, and raisins to a Vitamix. Blend on medium high speed for 1 minute, until smooth and pale in color. Add to a 4-quart stock pot and bring to a boil; reduce and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour, until reduced and slightly thickened. Let cool slightly, then transfer to glass jars. Use within a week, or freeze for later.

For the baked brie, heat oven to 350 degrees. Place brie on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook for 5 minutes, until warmed through. Drizzle thickly with jam and serve with crackers.

Notes from Brooklyn

Bien Cuit, Brooklyn

October 2013 was the last time I was in New York. It was a work trip (a stressful one at that), and I spent most of my time in Manhattan. Four years later, life looks a bit different than when I turned left out of the Waldorf-Astoria and kept walking until I arrived at NYU. 

On Eat This Poem's book tour, my latest stop was Brooklyn. I recorded an episode of The Food Seen podcast, and had an amazing bookstore event at WORD Books where I was joined with Erin Boyle from Reading My Tea Leaves. In between, I did a lot of walking. I even spent three uninterrupted hours in a coffee shop, which was pure bliss. Here are the places I visited and loved!

Books Are Magic, Brooklun

6 Places to Visit in Brooklyn

Devocion | This is a bright, open space for Columbian coffee. I loved their iced fruit infusion, and would have stayed longer if it weren't for a dinner reservation nearby. (Williamsburg)

Bien Cuit | Smith Street is a vibrant street with plenty of shops to get lost in. Bien Cuit is one of them. It's a darling place to grab a cup of tea, or even a sandwich to take down to the water (I loved the asparagus baguette). The outdoor patio is relaxing, too. (Brooklyn Heights)

Books Are Magic | Another Smith Street gem, Books Are Magic is the new shop on the block. There's a cozy children's area for reading.

WORD Books | The Greenpoint location was home for my discussion with Erin Boyle. Upstairs is for the books, and downstairs is a spacious event space with a small stage. I heard from the staff they're getting ready to open a children's-only store down the street. (Greenpoint)

Aurora | An Italian restaurant with fresh pastas and a cozy garden in the heart of Williamsburg. (Williamsburg)

Rucola | I headed here for breakfast one morning, and to me, it's the quintessential New York restaurant. It's cozy, rustic, and if you sit facing the dining room, perfect for people watching. (Boerum Hill)