8 Simple Systems for Organizing Your Recipes

Make it easy to find the recipes you know you’ve stashed. . .somewhere.

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Photo by Justin Bernhaut

Problem: “I can never find that recipe I’ve been meaning to try.”


Solution No. 1: Mark the page efficiently. The next time you’re browsing and see a recipe that makes your mouth water, slip on a Book Dart―it won’t fall off, wrinkle the page, or leave a mark (no more dog-ears). Or place markers for favorites at the top of the page and mark others on the side.



Solution No. 2: Make your own index. On an index card, write the recipe title (or a name you’re more likely to remember), the book or magazine issue it’s in (perhaps shortened to a code, like JC for Julia Child), and the page number. File the cards alphabetically in a recipe box, dividing into sections like Desserts.

Problem: “My cookbooks are scattered around, on the nightstand, on the coffee table.”


Solution: Create a kitchen book nook. Nothing personalizes a kitchen like a row of cookbooks arrayed on a shelf or in a hutch. Keep a chair or a stool nearby so you have a place to sit and peruse. (Cooks often build a pyramid of books near a bed or a sofa because those are the most comfortable reading spots.)

Avoid placing books on open shelves where they’re exposed to humidity and grease, and use bookends to keep books from slumping and bindings from breaking. If your kitchen is tight on space and short on free shelves, consider adding a steel shelf with hooks that dangle below so it can do double duty as a pot rack.

Problem: “I have a big collection and can never find James Beard when I need him.”


Solution: Organize books to match your style. One approach does not fit all. Your system should reflect your own inner logic and tastes. It may make sense to alphabetize one section by author, create another section for a favorite ingredient (tomatoes, lemons, herbs) or theme (barbecue, dessert), and order a third section by geography. If you are big on world cuisines, suggests Bonnie Slotnick of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, start with those from your region, then move along the shelf in a logical direction―say, from California to New York, down to South America, across to Europe, then to Africa, and so on. Another shelf could follow a trail from the beginning of the day―breakfast―and on to sandwiches, snacks, appetizers, and main events.


Problem: “The pile of irresistible recipes I clip is resisting all attempts at order.”


Solution: Create an easy filing system. For a speedy route to your recipes, sort them in labeled folders and keep them in a file drawer or in an open-sided magazine storage box on the bookshelf. Or set up a three-ring binder with tab dividers and plastic page protectors for both full sheets (for pages from a magazine) and divided sheets (for three-by-five-inch recipe cards).

Start simply, with just a few sections (say, Special Occasions, Favorites, and Recipes to Try). Every time you add a recipe, eliminate one that must not have been so irresistible after all, since you never got around to trying it.

Problem: “I no longer want to manage a library. I need to get rid of my cookbooks.”


Solution No. 1: Keep recipes; toss books. The computer is a cookbook hoarder’s best friend. No matter how much you love a book, you probably use only a handful of its recipes, so why not scan the ones you love and file them electronically? (Or photocopy them and file in a binder.) Give the books to a food-loving friend, or donate them to a thrift shop, a neighborhood fund-raising event, or your local library.

Solution No. 2: Make an online cookbook. Once you’ve cleared the shelves, use the Internet to find as well as store recipes―you can search recipes by ingredient or name. When you find a recipe you like, print it out; if the dish is a hit, keep the recipe in a binder. Some sites (like realsimple.com) also let you save recipes via a community profile, or to create a cookbook file where you can paste in recipes and annotate them as you use them. You might also investigate recipe-keeping software that offers additional features.