Review Of The 6 Best Recipe Software Programs & Why I Ultimately Chose Big Oven



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I’ve been using Mastercook to organize my recipes for years.

My version of Mastercook is so old (4.0, rather than the current version 9.0). It’s simple and easy, but the interface isn’t very modern.

At the time I started using Mastercook, it was the most popular format for sharing recipes online and with others. I think I’ve been with Mastercook since the product was first invented, version 1.0! So anyway… I just kept using it — mostly because I was more a dabbler in the kitchen, rather than an avid cook. My Mastercook 4.0 is not fancy, but it has done everything that I’ve needed.

Fast-forward a dozen or so years. Today, I’m now very active in the kitchen, complete with all the latest gadgets and gizmos to make cooking fun and easy! The one thing lacking in my cooking repertoire: an efficient way to organize and access recipes from multiple computers. Mastercook 4.0 no longer cuts it.

These days, I’m yearning for a more modern interface with simpler actions and faster response times. So I thought I’d give the newest version of Mastercook — and 5 of the other most popular recipe programs — a try to see which one I liked best.

Should I Continue With Mastercook?

One of the factors that ultimately determined whether I would continue my relationship with Mastercook or not was this:

They only have a 30-MINUTE free trial! Who can tell anything in 30 minutes?! That’s just stupid.

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So I honestly have no idea what the newest version of Mastercook is like. I’m guessing it’s decent. But they sure don’t make it easy to find out.

At the same time, I wasn’t all that comfortable with Mastercook’s progress through the years. Somehow, it’s managed to survive and remain a popular recipe program, but it doesn’t seem well supported. There are lots of open-ended questions floating around out there; the bulk of the questions are answered by fellow users of Mastercook, rather than a knowledegable support team behind the Mastercook recipe software.

Plus, Mastercook was recently sold to another company (Mastercook is now owned by ValueSoft, rather than Sierra) which appears to have opened up a few more holes — in terms of support. Personally, I quickly became frustrated when I couldn’t find one good online page to go to for all my Mastercook questions.

In the end, I opted to move on and end my relationship with Mastercook. Fortunately, most recipe programs import Mastercook recipes without any problems.

So, here’s how the process of deciding on a recipe software program went for me…

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In addition to Mastercook, I’ve also used MealMaster before. (It was a freebie on a computer I bought years ago.)

Back in the day, MealMaster was once a decent recipe program, but much like Mastercook, it just seems a little outdated these days. So no dice.

Their online presence is a little rough around the edges and I’m looking for recipe software that’s forward thinking; not yesterday’s model. While MealMaster has a free trial, I have to say that I wasn’t even intrigued enough to download their latest version to try it. There simply weren’t enough “wow” factors for me.

Worth noting… One of the features I’m looking for is a way to sync recipes on my 2 computers, or at least a way to access my own recipes on multiple computers. An online version similar to the way Google Docs and Evernote sync your data would be nice. And… in the best of all worlds, an iPhone app which would enable me to glance at my recipes when I’m out & about and possibly prepare shopping lists based on the ingredients needed.

One of the first “new to me” recipe programs that I explored was Big Oven. I downloaded the free trial. I have to say… Big Oven is way modern, trendy, and fun. My gut told me, this was going to be my recipe program of choice (see below), but I wanted to make sure, so I kept researching.

While I liked Cook’n and was intrigued by its simple functionality, I wasn’t about to pay $60-$80 on the spot — despite the 200% guarantee. I wanted a free 30-day trial (like most recipe software programs have). Cookn looks like it definitely has a lot of potential. I especially liked the demo video, but I just didn’t like the “pressure to buy”.

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Living Cookbook was the next one I downloaded the free trial for. They too, appeared to have a respectable track record, and they have constantly updated their recipe software through the years. It seemed really modern, and had a lot of potential.

During the installation process, a warning box came up that said my computer was lacking a necessary file/component (Microsoft.net/framework 3.0). You could click to install that missing component, so I did. I wasn’t sure if I should’ve done that or not… especially since it took forever to download. That was scary; I didn’t want to mess up anything on my computer!

After it was all said and done, I quickly realized that this was a space-wasting download. I mean, Living Cookbook is basically a “Windows-looking” spreadsheet program. Technically, it looks like a bunch of folders and files (just like Microsoft Explorer) …ugh! So, that’s what the Microsoft.net framework was all about… a way to make this program look and behave just like the rest Microsoft’s interface. I wasn’t impressed.

Not to mention the fact that the process for inputting a new recipe into Living Cookbook is somewhat tedious and very structured, rather than intuitive and user-friendly. It’s not hard, just boring and spreadsheet-like. And, Living Cookbook is slow too.

Oh, and you can’t import your own recipes with the free trial, so I still don’t really know how that process goes. As you know, that was one of my biggest concerns: being able to quickly & easily import my multi-year collection of Mastercook recipes into whatever recipe program I ultimately choose. (Most other programs let you import from Mastercook in their trial programs.)

So, I uninstalled the Living Cookbook right away …but I was still left with all the Microsoft.net/Framework files taking up space on my hard drive. Bummer. In case you’re wondering, it amounts to 430 files in 29 folders on my C: drive. That alone, totals 137 MB!

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Finally, I downloaded the free trial for Now You’re Cooking. First impressions with this one were the least impressive of all the recipe software programs I tried. But, Now You’re Cooking appeared to do most of the things I wanted, so it was definitely worth a try. Plus, I figured the more programs I compared, the stronger my feelings would ultimately be for “the best” recipe program for me.

Right away, I noticed that the download screens weren’t modern and flashy, so I figured I was in for a slightly outdated interface on this one. I was right. There are no “wow” factors, that’s for sure. But Now You’re Cooking is a good very basic recipe program — much like my current outdated version of Mastercook 4.0, if you ask me. It’s not what I was looking for, so I uninstalled it.

So, there you have it. In the end, I decided to purchase Big Oven for the following reasons…

Why I Love Big Oven Recipe Software

big-oven-logo.gif BigOven was the first recipe software program I downloaded that was completely new to me, and yet I knew right away that it was probably the best one for meeting my recipe organization needs.

To be honest, one of the deciding factors in whether or not I even wanted to try this program was their timely and up-to-date support. I was especially impressed with the prompt replies from support on a wide variety of topics posted by Big Oven users. That’s classy… and reassuring for a newbie like me.

For every question I had prior to (and after) downloading the Big Oven trial program, I searched their support database and quickly found the answer.

I also like how they have consistently improved Big Oven since 2004. They really seem on top of things at Big Oven, and they appear to pay very close attention to their users’ needs.

Oh, and the BigOven iPhone app is a nice bonus too. However, it’s not fully functional — in that you can only access those recipes that you also “share” online (for the world to see). It is a cinch to access some of your recipes while out & about though. This iPhone app has 3 out of 5 stars from over 21,000 ratings and nearly 300 reviews at the Apple Store.

More good things about Big Oven:

  • It’s user-friendly & simple.
  • Has a modern and intuitive interface.
  • It’s quick!
  • You can access your recipes online (from multiple computers, for example).
  • You don’t have to “Save” every little change. Saves happen automatically with every little thing you do.
  • It was a breeze to import my Mastercook recipes and cookbooks.
  • Surprisingly, I actually like the cookbooks that come standard with the program: crockpot recipes, mixed drinks, low carb, and weight watchers. (I deleted a couple of others it came with that I would never use.)
  • They have dozens of FREE cookbooks you can download with one click.
  • You can even customize the “look” of your recipes.
  • For some reason, all of the web-access from within the program only works with IE (not Firefox).
  • You can “scale” recipes for more or less servings without changing the original recipe.
  • The support forums ROCK!
  • They’re so hip & cool at Big Oven that they’re active on Twitter! (@BigOven)

Things I Don’t Like About Big Oven

cooking-with-the-help-of-a-computer-by-valkyrieh116.jpg Obviously, none of these is a deal-breaker for me. I still love BigOven even despite these faults. But they’re worth mentioning…

When you share your recipes online with Big Oven, you’re basically making your personal and private recipes “public” for the world to see and share. I may grow to appreciate that, but I don’t want to have to worry about copyrights and such for all of my recipes. One of the biggest things I liked about Big Oven was being able to access my own recipes from other computers (or let friends & family access my recipes), but I’m finding that I’m limited by the recipes that I can legally, in good conscience, “share” while respecting recipe copyrights (from published cookbooks, for example). I — and others in their online forum — have requested a “private” option for some of the recipes we share online.

There’s a simple word search tool (to find any word mentioned in any of your recipes), and there’s a more advanced search feature (where you can only search recipe titles, or tags, or ingredients). Three faults:

  • You can’t exclude ingredients when you’re doing a search. For example, “give me recipes with ‘steak’ in the ingredients, but not ‘steak sauce'”.
  • When you do a word search (for say, “pizza”) it actually searches beyond the words in your recipes — it searches your Tags too (so I get any recipe that I’ve tagged with “breads & pizza”, rather than actual mentions of the word “pizza” within my recipes). If I wanted to search my Tags, I’d use the advanced search tool for that. But if I just want to find the times I’ve mentioned pizza in a recipe, let me do that too.
  • I’m not crazy about the fact that a search for “apple” does not pick up instances of “apples”. C’mon… make it easy for us, guys.

Yes, Big Oven shows nutrition information for each recipe, but only after you go through the tedious process of “linking” each and every ingredient in each recipe first! That’s a huge pain. In my mind, the nutritional data is useless until they figure out a way to automatically link the nutritional data with ingredients like most other recipe programs do.

For some reason, the rating system only works online. Even though you’re able to assign stars (1-5) to each recipe on your computer, you can’t see those ratings unless you upload the recipe to share it online with others. What’s up with that?!

You can enter/edit everything about a recipe on one screen… except for Tags (and Notes). I use Tags a lot. Why do I have to click to a separate tab when I’m editing recipes?

I’d like to be able to mass-edit a bunch of recipes with, say, “Main Ingredient = Beef,” or “all these recipes should have the tag of Appetizer.” So far, I haven’t found a way to do this.

Overall, Big Oven is very simple and easy to use. While I was able to figure out most things on my own (and thanks to their 22-page startup manual that comes with the free trial download), I can’t say enough about their online support. It ROCKS! And in their online forums, Big Oven reps (mostly Steve Murch, the program’s founder and an avid chef) respond to questions almost immediately. You don’t get that everywhere, folks. I hope that type of support and feedback continues. It’s a great “feel good” for newbies and seasoned Big Oven users alike.

UPDATE #1: Big Oven Doesn’t Meet All Of My Needs

I’ve had a slight change of heart since I originally wrote this. While I like Big Oven as a program on my computer, I’ve become frustrated that I can’t see all of my recipes on any computer whenever I want. Instead, I have to boot up the laptop that I initally downloaded Big Oven onto.

Plus, from Day One I’ve been bummed about the fact that you cannot see all of your own recipes online at the Big Oven website or on the Big Oven iPhone app — unless you make all of your recipes viewable to the public. Even then, you can’t edit them via those avenues.

So I am again in search of a recipe program that lets you manage all of your own recipes By the way, I could care less about “X number of recipes included in the recipe database!” because I’m simply looking for a way to permanently store and access my own recipes whenever (and wherever!) I want. For me, that includes other computers and on my iPhone.

There are a handful of good iPhone apps that let you store and edit your own recipes on your iPhone. Some even let you edit your recipes online at their websites. But they don’t provide a desktop option, which is a huge downside for me. The reason? Because I may not always have an iPhone, so I don’t want to have ALL of my personal recipes stored only there. I suppose if those apps also had excellent export and import capabilities, then I would feel better about being able to eventually move my recipes from the iPhone, if I wanted to.

So that’s where I am now… reluctantly searching for another / better recipe manager that also has an iPhone app and that lets you access and edit your own recipes from any computer.

A few that I recently shared on Twittter and I’ll be keeping my eye on…

  • iCookBook lets you edit recipes online or on your iPhone, but recipes are only stored on the iPhone, not on your computer http://bit.ly/14OFsH
  • Handy Cookbook is an iPhone app that lets you edit recipes from your computer (or iPhone), but recipes are stored only on the iPhone http://bit.ly/EiN1r
  • DRecipe has an iPhone app that lets you store (and edit) recipes http://bit.ly/3X5Dc8. Nice but I want to sync with my desktop too

UPDATE #2: I tried Big Oven for awhile, but I eventually moved my entire recipe collection over to Google Docs. It’s FREE, simple, and practical in so many ways!

More About Recipe Software Programs

Lynnette

I love my kitchen... and I like to cook. But my #1 requirement is that recipes have fewer than 7 ingredients (or arrive on my doorstep via a food delivery service). My absolute favorite thing about being in the kitchen is trying out new gadgets, cookware, and storage containers! I'm SUPER organized in the kitchen (and everywhere else) and I have every gadget I could possibly need neatly and compactly tucked away until I need it. I share only the simplest recipes (which is great for people who don't like to cook), along with time-saving food tips and cooking tricks (that will save you time and money). When I'm not cooking, cleaning, or organizing my kitchen... you can find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites).

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