Even Real Cooks Cheat Sometimes

The Joy of Cooking Frozen Meals

The Joy of Cooking Frozen Meals

I Paid: $6.99 for a 28-ounce Meat Lovers’ Meat Lasagna and $8.99 for the 18-ounce Braised Pulled Pork (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 5 stars

Marketing: 3 stars

“The Joy of Cooking” seems like a ballsy name for a line of frozen dinners (although, let’s be honest, “The Joy of Microwaving” just doesn’t have the same pizazz). Branded with the same white-on-red-on-white color scheme associated with the ever-popular namesake cookbook, the dishes are straightforward American favorites: lasagne, pulled pork, and chicken leg quarters, as well as sides like green beans and baked potatoes.

The larger meals all feature cockamamie suggestions about how to “embellish this entrée,” presumably to assuage the home cook’s guilt about copping out and eating from a box. For example, you can add hoisin to the barbecue sauce packet for the Braised Pulled Pork to make “Korean BBQ Sauce.” Seriously? All Koreans now have a legitimate reason to be annoyed with this product. Alternately, you can add shredded mozzarella and sliced pepperoni to the Meat Lasagna to make it “Over-the-Top Lasagna.” Good grief.

That said, the quality of these dinners is consistently high for frozen food, comparable in fact with competent home- or restaurant-made food. The lasagne displays a very convincing sense of balance: A bright tomato sauce is able to assert itself while jostling with a rich but not overwhelming layer of cheese and a substantial but not greasy chorus of beef and pepperoni.

Braised Pulled Pork (which comes in a lump that you fork-shred after heating) is equally good—extremely moist, no artificial flavors lingering around, and it’s served with a barbecue sauce that tastes like baked beans, with adeptly balanced vinegar and molasses notes. The pork is terrific when served on Joy of Cooking rolls (sold separately), which have a reasonably convincing crusty exterior and a robust interior crumb.

So perhaps let’s not dwell on the obvious irony that the most popular American cookbook has morphed into a line of premade meals for people who don’t want to cook, and appreciate that, hey, at least these meals taste good.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow Chowhound on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.

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