The pitfalls of perfect cooking

Many new appliances promise to help you cook perfect meals. But the beauty of cooking is in the mistakes you make in the kitchen.

Ashlee Clark Thompson Associate Editor
Ashlee spent time as a newspaper reporter, AmeriCorps VISTA and an employee at a healthcare company before she landed at CNET. She loves to eat, write and watch "Golden Girls" (preferably all three at the same time). The first two hobbies help her out as an appliance reviewer. The last one makes her an asset to trivia teams. Ashlee also created the blog, AshleeEats.com, where she writes about casual dining in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ashlee Clark Thompson
3 min read
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I hate my current gas stove with the fire of the 18,000 BTUs with which it has burned my salmon, scones and cookies. I inherited this stove from the previous owners of my house. Before that I can only assume it came from the depths of appliance hell because the oven runs hotter than the temperature I set with the white knob on the front of the unit. This stove has truly worked my nerves for two years. 

But I hesitate to get rid of it because my stove imperfect stove has made me a better cook. 

I've had to adapt tried-and-true recipes to fit the whims of the stove's oven, which has forced me to relearn and tinker with my favorite dishes. And because it runs hot, the oven forces me to pay closer attention to my food as it bakes; I can't wander out of the kitchen when I surrender my chocolate chip cookies to its oven. 

Lately, a lot of new small and large cooking appliances and programs have appeared on store shelves and trade shows that promise to perfect every step of a recipe. Guided countertop systems such as the Hestan Cue and the Paragon Induction Cooktop use wireless connectivity and an app to show you each step of a recipe, and automatically control the temperature of the induction burners so that your dish will cook at the correct temperature. The AEG SenseCook line of induction cooktops have special settings like the ability to detect when water inside a pot begins to boil and automatically adjust the temperature so the water transitions to a simmer. Countertop ovens like the June Intelligent Oven use automated programs to cater the way they cook your food to the specific dishes you are making. And the entire concept of sous-vide cooking is to have your dishes turn out the same way every time you cook it.

These countertop appliances take new approaches to cooking

See all photos

As a tech reviewer who focuses on cooking products, I find it exciting to see so much innovation in the kitchen. Many of these products have a heavy emphasis on teaching you how to cook thanks to robust apps packed with information to guide you through a recipe. But as a home cook, I have reservations about these products. 

Part of learning to cook is making imperfect dishes, whether it's because you have a crappy appliance, a disappointing recipe or a lack of the skills required. The mistakes are frustrating (don't even get me started about the Thanksgiving dinner roll debacle of 2017). But every burnt brownie or undercooked cod provides a lesson that you can use for your next meal. For me, the Stove from Hades has taught me to slow down, be careful and pay attention. I feel comfortable and confident using most stoves that come my way because of the patience I've gained with my stove. And I remember the struggles I had as an 18-year-old cooking on my own for the first time; I served up a lot of undercooked pasta and chewy chicken. But each time, I figured out what I did wrong and kept practicing until I got it right. I know that mistakes will happen, but I just try again (or try to hide burnt edges and bottoms). 

Reliance on a gadget that promises perfect cooking could set you up for some big disappointments when you decide to step beyond the app. Sure, your steak will be perfect when you cook it in a water bath and give it a sear on a smart cooktop. But what happens if the company that created your favorite smart kitchen device goes under? What if you find yourself in a kitchen without your crutches? These tools can be great helpers, but they shouldn't be the head chef in your kitchen if you really want to learn and become a better home cook.