Once upon a time, if there were a food you wanted to eat, you had to make it yourself. In some parts of America, this wasn't so long ago -- if you lived in the Texas Hill Country in the 1920s, for example, you probably baked all your own bread and cooked all your own food. There are still plenty of parts of the world where it's the case. Even maybe in America, on communes or something?
This is probably not the case for you. You probably live in a place with plenty of grocery stores and restaurants. Even if the pickings are slim in your immediate vicinity, you have the Internet -- and since you're reading this, you do -- you can probably easily order all manner of delicacies delivered to your front door.
And yet, thanks to Pinterest and DIY blogs and fancy cookbooks, there are still many people out there who insist on making many foods from scratch. Which is super rad! Cooking can be one of the great pleasures of life. Especially cooking for loved ones!
But life is short, and some recipes are very long -- too long, indeed, to justify the outcome. This will, in some quarters, be taken as the utmost apostasy, but there are some foods that just aren't worth making from scratch. We've compiled a list of 17 such foods, which are arranged (roughly) from least worth making at home to most worth making at home. We would never want to be dogmatic about such things, mind you, so we've indicated a few situations in which they might be #worthit. But for the most part, leave these to the professionals.
This is, it must be said, strictly subjective, so feel free to dispute it in the comments. We can take it.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: Sprinkles don't really taste like anything. They're decorations. The whole point of them is that they look uniform and brightly colored -- two traits that are nigh-impossible to replicate in your own kitchen.When you actually SHOULD make it at home: Never. Leave this to the sprinkle factory.
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Why you shouldn't make it at home: It's really difficult to make ketchup -- and if you've ever tried the "house ketchup" at a restaurant, you know that it's extremely difficult to improve on Heinz.When you actually SHOULD make it at home: Maybe if you found yourself in a place where there are no stores that sell ketchup? But that sounds like a very challenging place to be. You'd probably have better things to do than make ketchup. So essentially, never.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: It's hard to make -- and there are tons of people and companies that do a terrific job. Plus, making it at home raises some grave food safety concerns.When you actually SHOULD make it at home: Maybe if you were making a really elaborate spread of French hors d'oeuvres, you could make your own pâté. And perhaps you might want to try making your own bacon to see how the whole magical process works. But come on: This is a losing battle.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: We live in the golden age of craft beer! There are hundreds and hundreds of delicious beers available for sale -- and even the most expensive among them will likely be cheaper than a proper homebrew kit. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: If you're already obsessed with craft beer, and have tried all the great ones, and you're thinking of becoming a brewer yourself.
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Why you shouldn't make it at home:
Have you ever tasted someone's homemade bread? At best, it was probably comparable to a loaf you can pick up at a bakery for like $2. At worst, it was a beige brick. A beige brick that took an entire day to make.When you actually SHOULD make it at home:
It could be rewarding, maybe, to really dedicate yourself to making your own bread on a consistent basis -- to develop a sourdough starter using your own wild yeasts and so forth. But you could also just read about Jeffrey Steingarten
or Sam Fromartz
doing that while eating a baguette you bought from a professional baker.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: As with charcuterie, there's a food safety concern here. Improperly canned goods can harbor bacteria that cause botulism, a potentially fatal disease. It also requires all sorts of canning equipment, which will probably sit unused, taking up space in your kitchen and attracting dust, for like 364 days of the year. Plus, jam is sticky. And even the best jam basically tastes like jam.When you actually SHOULD make it at home: When you find yourself with a bounty of fresh fruit so massive that you won't be able to eat before it spoils -- so massive, indeed, that you can't even bake it all into pies.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: Making pasta from scratch takes a lot of time and skill, and it calls for either an expensive pasta machine or forearms strong enough to roll it out by hand. And what you end up with often isn't all that much better than De Cecco, or at least the fancy fresh pasta you can find in gourmet shops. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: Ravioli can be fun to make, especially with a group, and it can be pretty delicious. Not more delicious, mind you, than the ravioli at a good Italian restaurant -- but if you live in a place where the best Italian restaurant is Olive Garden, it may be your only option.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: The same reasons you shouldn't make jam: the risk of botulism and the annoyance of canning. Also, there are so many great artisanal pickle makers out there these days!When you actually SHOULD make it at home: At least pickles, unlike jams, don't need to be cooked. So if, at the height of summer, you have a ton of cucumbers laying around, it can be fine.
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Why you shouldn't make it at home: Another sticky pain in the neck. Candy should be fun. It shouldn't necessitate a special kind of thermometer and a laborious cleanup process. And let's be honest: the perfect candy already exists, and it's called a Butterfinger. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: English toffee, peanut brittle and simple truffles are all fairly easy to make at home, so they're all fine, if you insist.
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Why you shouldn't make it at home: Mostly because of food safety -- preparing raw fish is risky business best left up to trained professionals. If you've ever seen the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," you know that it takes a long time to become a master of the craft. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: It's not inconceivable that a sushi-making party would be a good time. But probably best to stick to vegetarian sushi, no?
Why you shouldn't make it at home: The making of good pizza is, like the making of good sushi, really tough. Though you're not confronting any serious food safety risk here, you have a different problem: Your home oven probably can't get as hot as the oven in a good pizzeria, so you'll end up having to cook the pizza too long, which leads to depressing textures. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: If you grew up in a place with good pizza -- New York, say -- and move to a place without good pizza -- most of the Midwest, say -- you might have to take matters into your own hands.
Why you shouldn't make it at home:
Two words: hot oil. To deep fry something yourself, you have to fill up a pot with several inches of oil and then heat it to a temperature at which it's probably spattering all of your kitchen. And then when you're done -- unless you deep fry so frequently that it makes sense to save it -- you have to figure out some way to dispose of this oil. Plus, don't you probably eat enough fried foods in restaurants that there's no need to bring them into your own home as well?When you actually SHOULD make it at home:
When you're throwing a Super Bowl party and you want to impress your guests with homemade jalapeño poppers
Why you shouldn't make it at home: It takes a long time and it requires special equipment -- plus, you probably won't make anything as good as Haagen-Daaz or Ben & Jerry's, let alone better than one of those fancy ice creams they sell at Whole Foods. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: For a festive occasion at the height of summer, it can be wonderful. Kids also love it. And if some well-intentioned person buys you an ice cream maker as a gift, you'll probably enjoy making ice cream or sorbet a few times.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: The dough is at least as challenging to make as pasta dough or pizza dough -- and you also have to make the fillings and fold the dumplings. Plus, in cities with substantial Asian populations, dumplings are usually super cheap -- both at restaurants and in the freezer aisle of Asian markets. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: Another party situation. Even then, though, your best bet is to buy the wrappers at a store instead of making them yourself.
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Why you shouldn't make it at home:
Shucking oysters isn't easy, and you'll probably cut your fingers the first few times you try it. Plus, there are food safety concerns, especially in the summer. Ever heard of vibrio vulnificus
?When you actually SHOULD make it at home:
If you have a reliable purveyor of oysters, and you live near an oyster bed, and someone teaches you how to shuck, go for it.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: Many chefs believe that you can tell how good a cook someone is by the way they make omelets. That's because it takes a lot of skill to make a proper omelet. And even if you do consider yourself a particularly skilled cook, your skills may not be at their best before breakfast. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: Mother's Day? Or any other day, if you're really confident in your omelet technique.
Why you shouldn't make it at home: So this is total blasphemy. Most chefs would say that good homemade stock is the fundamental recipe of Western cuisine, and that it improves all sorts of dishes. And they would also point out that stock is pretty easy to make and that if you use bones and vegetable trimmings leftover from other dishes, it's far cheaper to make yourself than to buy in a carton. That's all true. But honestly, stock has to be boiled for at least an hour, which can be a hassle. And unless you frequently make braises, soups or traditional sauces, it really doesn't have all that many uses in a home kitchen. So you may find yourself saving chicken carcasses in your freezer for months, and then laboring over a big stock pot for hours, and then ending up with a few gallons of a liquid for which you have no use. When you actually SHOULD make it at home: Oh, you probably always should, for all the reasons above, at least if you have plans to cook a specific dish that calls for it. (And if not, you can always freeze the stock until you do need it.) But "should" is not the same as "will."