Cooking is an art, a science, a hobby, and a profession. Unless you're a fan of ready meals, turkey twizzlers, or rehashing the same old favorites over and over again, there's a good chance that you're constantly on he lookout for new recipes.
Recipe books are great, but they're a collection of other people's recipes, not yours, and in every recipe book, there will be a handful of dishes you actually want to cook. Sure, you can copy out your favourite recipes in a notebook, but this is the 21st century. It's like buying an entire album because of the two decent songs you saw on MTV.
The problem with online recipe sites
There are tons of online recipe sites out there. You'll find them when you're desperate to find something to cook for date night, Sunday dinner, or for a dish to impress your guests at a dinner party.
But recipes you find online tend to come with a few thousand words of related back story, and how are you supposed to store them?
You can bookmark the page, but there's no guarantee that the site will even exist next time you want to cook a rich and creamy mushroom tagliatelle. And if the site owner switches from Wix, and decides to install WordPress instead, there's only a slim chance that the link will survive.
Saving an online recipe as a PDF will result in messed up formatting, and besides, PDFs are difficult to search.
Recipe managers keep your recipes safe, searchable, and accessible
A recipe manager is exactly what the name suggests. It's software to manage your recipes.
To make it onto this list, a self-hosted recipe manager needs to meet certain criteria.
- A recipe manager should be easy to install on Linux or on Windows via Windows Subsystem for Linux.
- You should be able to access the recipe manager over your local network and over the internet. This means that you can consult the ingredients list while you do your grocery shopping, and follow the recipe on your kitchen tablet while you're cooking.
- You need to be able to add your own recipes manually.
- Your recipe manager should be able to fetch recipes and import images from a wide range of online cookbooks.
- Ideally (and this isn't a deal killer), the recipe manager should have a built-in timer.
- A good search and browsing function, which makes recipes easy to find.
- The recipe manager should look good, and have adaptive layout
- Free and open source recipe managers will always be preferred over proprietary software.
Lacking one or two items from our wishlist won't exclude a recipe manager from this guide, but software which contains everything you could want will rank higher.
Tandoor is a well-established recipe manager, which has seen extensive development over the last few years, resulting in an almost perfect experience - on mobile, tablet, and desktop PC.
Installation is easiest via docker or docker-compose, and once you're set up, you can immediately begin adding recipes.
Doubtless you already have a bunch of curated recipes saved to your bookmarks file, and Tandoor makes it easy to import these in bulk.
Click on the prominent "+" sign in the menu bar, and you'll have the choice of either importing a single recipe from a URL, or importing en masse, with one URL per line.
We tested the import function with recipes form BBC Good Food, and found the process quick and painless. As part of the import, you can tick and tag ingredients, change images, and edit steps. While the scrape funcions of most recipe managers rely on the sites having organised recipe schema, we had some luck with Tandoor successfully pulling ingredients and steps from sites which don't adhere to the standard. You may need to do some editing though.
But you don't have to import from random recipe sites, and Tandoor supports importing directly from dozens of other free and paid-for recipe managers, making migration a breeze.
A few other notable Tandoor features:
On a diet? You can batch edit ingredients across your entire database, making it easy to swap out full fat for half fat milk in everything you cook.
Search for ingredients across all your recipes in split-view mode.
Need to generate a shopping list for a particular supermarket? Tandoor can do that for you.
Creating a meal plan for a day, a week, or a month, is easy.
We couldn't find a timer in Tandoor, and while there's no dedicated mobile app, your Tandoor instance will render perfectly in a browser.
Perhaps most importantly, Tandoor is very actively developed. Its creator is always willing to interact with users, and eager to know how Tandoor could be improved.
Check out Tandoor on GitHub.
Like the herb itself, RecipeSage is a valuable addition to any kitchen. Oh, hang on. Sage also means a wise person who knows many things. It's a pun. Nice!
As with all the best recipe managers these days, the self-hosted version of RecipeSage is easy to install using docker and docker-compose.
You can keep and organise your recipes, plan meals, and create shopping lists. And of course, you can scrape recipe schema compliant sites for recipes to add to your own self-hosted cookbook. This feature is still in Beta and a little shaky, but on the whole, it works well. Formatting could do with some work, and there's a lot of empty space which could be put to better use, but that'll come when the dev gets round to it.
So far, so functional, but where RecipeSage really stands out is in its mobile apps.
Sure, most good recipe managers have a responsive layout which makes them easy to view whatever screen your using. But bookmarking is a pain, and if you're navigating around the local supermarket, an app is almost (but not quite) essential.
The app functions almost identically to the full self-hosted website. You can create, search with elastic search, and import recipes, plan meals, take notes, and tick off items on your shopping list.
Our one gripe with RecipeSage is its licensing. While published under the AGPL-3 license, which allows additional restrictions, RecipeSage stipulates that, "this repository and all public RecipeSage branding, docker images, code, binaries, and everything else are for personal, private (non-public), non commercial use only."
The "non-public" bit stings. Does it mean that we have to run our RecipeSage instance on the local network only? Does "non-commercial" mean you can't use it as a resource in your cafe? The readme is unfortunately vague on this.
Mealie is the slickest and best looking of the self hosted recipe managers, and manages to be both lightweight, gorgeous, and efficient thanks to its reactive Vue front end.
As always, a docker and docker-compose install is the way to go.
Aside from its extreme ease of use, Mealie's top feature isn't so much the app itself, it's the extensive documentation which makes it easy to get Mealie up and running, and troubleshoot any potential and actual problem.
Unlike other self-hosted recipe managers, you don't have to leave the page you're on in order to create a recipe or import one from a compatible recipe site. You can be following the steps for a chicken one pot, when you're hit with the inspiration to create a new cocktail. Just hit the floating import button at the bottom of every page, choose whether to create or import , and boom. You're done.
If you're worried about losing your recipes when you move servers, or you'd like to have your recipes backed up "just in case", Mealie has you covered there, too. You can backup manually, or schedule backups automatically, and restoring them is just as easy, too.
By default, the Mealie homepage displays recipes you've recently added. If you haven't added any, this page will be blank.
Privacy is an issue with mealie, too. Yes, you have to create an account and log in to create a recipe, but otherwise, your cookbook is open to the world, and everyone can see your Gran's secret formula for bonfire toffee.
There's probably a way to restrict public visibility, but we haven't found it yet.
Mealie doesn't have any dedicated mobile apps, but the responsive layout makes it very usable when shopping. Ingredients are listed at the top when viewed on a mobile screen, and tickboxes make it simple to check what ingredients are in your cart.
Take a look at Mealie on GitHub.
Recipe Managers help you become a better cook
The key to cooking is experimentation. This doesn't necessarily mean making things up from scratch, but it does mean taking care, and documenting what works and what doesn't.
If a recipe doesn't work for you or needs modification, you can delete it, make notes, or simply hit edit and change the recipe!