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Alexa falls short in the kitchen

Amazon Alexa is pretty handy in the home, but don't count on this virtual assistant if you need help with a recipe.

Here's one I use in my own home almost every day: Alexa-powered kitchen timers. Just tell her to set one for however long you need, and Alexa will start the silent countdown. It's a handy, hands-free way to manage the clock while you're cooking.
Chris Monroe/CNET

Alexa can order you a pizza, but your options are much more limited if you want to make one yourself. The virtual assistant from online retailer Amazon isn't very helpful when you need a digital sous chef to find and walk you through recipes.

We've been exploring and testing Alexa's capabilities in the wake of Amazon's recent additions to its Echo line of Alexa-powered, Internet-connected speakers -- the Echo Dot and Tap. Alexa is already one of our go-to tools in the CNET Smart Home. It's been relatively easy to connect Alexa to several parts of the smart home and control them with voice commands through the Amazon Echo, such as lights, thermostat and garage door. And Alexa has even found some use in the kitchen of the CNET Smart Home -- I used an Amazon Echo to set kitchen timers, play NPR while I cooked and add food to my shopping list.

But Alexa hasn't evolved enough to be a good cooking assistant. Ask her for a recipe, and she'll tell you that she can't find what you're looking for. Out of the dozens of available Skills (kind of like apps just for Alexa), only two provide recipes. The Campbell's Kitchen Skill will list the top recipes of the day (centered around Campbell's Soup, of course) and then email you the recipe you choose, which pretty much cancels out the hands-free usefulness of the Echo. The promising CookBook Skill has recipes that Alexa will read aloud, but the selection is limited.

The Amazon Echo, Tap and Echo Dot.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I'll admit that my ideas of cooking help from Alexa are lofty. For example, my ideal Alexa cooking Skill would be backed by a full catalog of recipes that would walk you through ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions. There should also be the option to pause a recipe until you tell Alexa you're ready to move on to the next step. More native Alexa cooking capabilities would be even better; I'd like to be able to directly ask Alexa for a pizza recipe without having to go through a third-party Skill.

My requests are big, but not unheard of. For example, the app that accompanies the Pantelligent connected frying pan lists provides audio instructions along with listed steps so you don't have to constantly read the screen. It's surprisingly easy to follow along to a recipe that an app reads aloud when the app only progresses after you've completed a step. And step-by-step cooking instructions are becoming standard in many smart small appliances, so it's reasonable to expect a little more culinary education from Alexa.

Alexa will eventually need a bigger presence in the kitchen, especially since at least one large kitchen appliance has its eyes on incorporating this virtual assistant. Amazon has made strides in delivering Alexa-powered products; now it's time to make it useful in every room of a connected home.