iFart once ruled the land of iPhone apps, but now with 200,000 available apps and counting, the process of filtering for value can be daunting. Where’s a cook to turn when she finds herself in the kitchen in need of some guidance? We believe the fewer the better, and have come up with this bare-bones list of apps all serious home cooks should have at their flour-and-sauce-covered fingertips. Culinary school for just over $20? We like.
1. Jamie Oliver’s 20 minute meals
Target user: Novice cooks, those in a time crunch, and anyone who can’t get enough of Jamie’s adorable accent.
What it does: Gives step-by-step directions, complete with photos, for 60 of Jamie’s recipes, all under 20 minutes. Has functions to help you shop for ingredients and tools, prep, and “rattle out brilliant, brilliant meals.”
Why we like it: It’s simple and charming (he makes his banoffee banana split “cheeky” by adding rum), with an easy interface and useful tidbits scattered throughout. Jamie’s proper English manners make you want to be not just a better cook but a more civilized human: After walking you through his stir-fry, he instructs you to “make your table look respectable” before sitting down to eat. Quite.
Target user: Local eaters, of course.
What it does: Based on your location, tells you what’s in season now and for how long, what’s coming to your local farmers’ market soon, and where your nearest farmers’ market is.
Why we like it: You can search not only by location but by ingredient. While artichokes may not be in season now, they will be in four weeks, and Locavore knows that if you must have them this very instant, you can fly to the UK (carbon credits not included). It also links directly to Wikipedia, in case you forgot what an aprium is.
3. KitchenPro Kitchen Calculator
Target user: The cook who’s not keen on math, or the cook whose dinner party suddenly expanded.
What it does: Converts units of measurement and easily scales up and down recipes.
Why we like it: Straightforward and simple, this app converts units of measurement by volume, weight, temperature, or distance. If you wanted, you could measure out how many miles of butcher twine you need to truss a chicken (approximately 0.0006).
4. Mise En Place Lite
Target user: The disorganized cook.
What it does: Helps you project manage by organizing multistep meals, from shopping to prepping to cooking.
Why we like it: It forces you to take control of your kitchen. It’ll remind you to take that roast out of the freezer to start defrosting, or tell you, by day, what you need to buy at the grocery store. If you’re cooking more than one dish, it’ll help you space out your tasks so that everything arrives at the table at the right time.
5. Ask the Butcher
Target user: The uninformed carnivore.
What it does: Gives you pig, cow, veal, and lamb diagrams with links to primers on different cuts of meat, how best to cook them, and approximate cooking times. Also suggests one recipe per cut.
Why we like it: While the recipe section is slim, the diagrams are clear and the information concise.
6. Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio
Target user: The scientific cook, or the cook looking to toss his or her cookbooks aside and wing it in the kitchen.
What it does: Reduces Ruhlman’s 272-page Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking to one simple, handheld app complete with his 32 critical ratios.
Why we like it: Choose from different categories, including doughs, stocks, batters, custards, and learn the ratios that comprise them: i.e. pasta dough is always 3 parts flour to 2 parts eggs. Will adjust measurements accordingly and allow you to save ratio-recipes that you’ve tailored to your dinner table.
7. Food Substitutes
Target user: The cook with allergies, or the cook with a poorly stocked pantry.
What it does: Suggests food substitutions based on categories (i.e. herbs and spices, cheese and dairy, eggs, etc.).
Why we like it: While the substitutions are sometimes not that revolutionary (the substitution for rum is “rum extract,” and the substitution for mini marshmallows is “large marshmallows”), it’s nice to know that if you run out of baking powder and have baking soda and yogurt on hand, you’ll be saved a trip to the grocery store.
8. Grocery IQ
Target user: Anyone who shops for food at a grocery store.
What it does: Allows you to create shopping lists easily by scanning bar codes from your pantry, make store-specific lists, and organize by store aisles for easy navigation. Searches for coupons online and organizes your coupons by printing or emailing them to your phone.
Why we like it: The bar code scanner is seriously cool, and you can share lists easily. For example, one family member can tack something onto a list and it will automatically sync with everyone’s phone.
Target user: Cooks who prefer to cook from recipes (unlike the Ruhlman-ites out there).
What it does: Enables you to search recipes from Gourmet, Bon Appétit, famous chefs, and popular cookbooks using keywords and filtering by main ingredient, cuisine, dietary restrictions, season, course, and more.
Why we like it: While there are tons of recipe applications in the app universe, by and large this one is the most reliable, as the recipes have been tested in professional kitchens or by professional chefs. Sometimes you have to spend a little time refining your search (i.e. “American” + “Breakfast” yielded “Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting”), but a little scrolling will do the trick.
In the Not-Quite-There Category: We were very excited to learn that Nigella Lawson’s Quick Collection ($7.99) boasted voice activation—saying “forward” or “backward” would navigate from one recipe step to the next, and save you smudging up your iPhone’s screen with greasy or floury hands. Alas, the feature didn’t work that well and we want our $8 back. Lots of screaming “Forward! Forward!” into the phone produced nothing, and then an aggravated “Baaaah!” caused the recipe to go backwards one step.