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Google Home's new recipe feature is surprisingly useful

The smart speaker breaks down recipes into individual steps and proceeds at the pace you choose.

The Google Home read aloud the steps to make these chicken fingers.
Chris Monroe/CNET

Google Home's latest update earns the always-listening, internet-connected smart speaker a place on your countertop.

Last week, Google added a feature to its Google Assistant that lets you send recipes to the Google Home, which will then read the instructions aloud when you prompt the speaker. That means you use voice commands to cue up the recipe ("OK, Google, start cooking") and let it know as you complete each step ("OK, Google, next step"). You can also ask the Google Home to perform other tasks while you're in the middle of a recipe -- for example, it can play music or tell you what time it is.

Reading recipes out loud isn't new -- there are several Skills from content providers, such as Chowhound, that you can enable on the Amazon Echo line of smart speakers. These skills, however, often read recipes all at once and don't let you pause it or repeat a step, making it easy to miss something.

Google Home's update, which pulls from a pool of more than five million recipes, is the first for a smart speaker to add a more conversational element to recipe instructions. The speaker will ask you if you want it to read ingredients one by one or in groups of three. It recites the steps of the recipe one step at a time and will only move on when you tell it to. And you can ask the Google Home to repeat previous steps or move ahead in the recipe.

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It gets clunky to have to say "Hey, Google" for every step of a recipe. But this lets you move at your own pace and makes you feel like you're in control. Rather than having to adapt to a smart speaker, the recipe feature adapts to you and how you cook.

Unfortunately, the Google Home can only access one recipe at a time, so you can't store multiple recipes and cue them up by name. I hope this feature will appear in later updates to make the Google Home even more useful in the kitchen. And it wouldn't surprise me if Google keeps an eye on the recipes you send to Google Home to make recommendations on what you should cook next.

Google Home's new feature is a big deal for making smart speakers more useful in the kitchen, and it challenges Amazon to step up its sous chef skills with the Echo.