Why YouTube Food Is Everything You Wish Food Network Was

updated May 30, 2019
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“My perfect breakfast: scrambled egg, sautéed mushrooms, and tomatoes,” Gordon Ramsay explains before showing us his technique for scrambled eggs. With 30 million views and over 28,000 comments, the kinetic four-minute tutorial is one of the most-viewed videos on YouTube.

But here’s the thing: The video really isn’t anything special. It would be considered too long and somehow too rushed in any other setting on the internet, but it still managed to claim an audience that the Food Network could only dream of. That’s YouTube magic — and it’s going to shape how the next generation learns to cook.

The video certainly made an impression on me, as a new cook post-college looking for ways to feel like I had some control and mastery in the kitchen. The technique from Ramsay is still my absolute favorite way to make scrambled eggs. It makes the creamiest, softest, almost porridge-like eggs; whenever I make it for someone else, I feel like a pro.

And it’s all thanks to YouTube. Not a cookbook, not a magazine, not even a food blog — but YouTube.

I am on the older end of the generation growing up cooking with YouTube (the internet only became a thing for me starting in seventh grade — RIP AIM). For the generation after me, Generation Z, who grew up native to the internet, YouTube is their most powerful and influential source of cooking advice and inspiration.

Growing Up on a Steady YouTube Diet

More than Instagram, more than Facebook, and definitely more than Twitter, YouTube has succeeded at capturing audiences young. Nearly every toddler and preschooler with a tablet knows their way around the YouTube Kids app, which helps kids of any age (we’re talking 2-year-olds) peace out with family-friendly videos (at least it’s trying). And let’s not forget about those ubiquitous toy unboxing videos that kids up and down the age spectrum are obsessed with. (Can someone please explain their appeal?)

If you are already hooked by Elsa toy unboxing and Blippi adventure videos on YouTube Kids, why wouldn’t you stay with the video platform, especially if it grows with you? YouTube is not just a place to be entertained — it’s a place to learn.

Enrolling in the School of YouTube

“I think YouTube has helped people learn how to do anything,” cooking star Rosanna Pansino, who has amassed 10 million followers on her YouTube channel, tells Kitchn. This, of course, includes cooking tutorials and recipes.

A study from 2014 found that half of adults watch food videos on YouTube, and millennials — now ages 22 to 37 — watch 30 percent more food videos on YouTube than any other demographic. In fact, in 2014 subscribers to food-specific YouTube channels rose 280 percent year over year, and millennials are a large part of that growth. With the rise of BuzzFeed Tasty in 2015, which has 1.5 billion views on YouTube, you know this number has grown.

YouTuber Binging with Babish — a breakout star who, in the last few years, has gained 2.8 million followers — describes his audience as “people who are learning how to cook away from home.” He says the majority of his audience is between the ages of 18 and 35 years old — young adults learning to live on their own or who are looking for new hobbies.

Pansino says that her followers are a “whole family unit,” including parents, teenagers, and younger kids. “I’ve met some really wonderful 2-year-olds who like watching my videos!”

If millennials are obsessed with cooking videos on YouTube, then this will only grow. The next generation to come — the generation that is native to the platform — will see YouTube as their first teacher.

Why Cooks Are Choosing YouTube Over Other Outlets (Sorry, Food Network)

There are a few key things about YouTube that make it easier for the beginner cook to navigate. While cooking sites, mainstream TV shows, and cookbooks can also provide these things to their audience, they’re not all fundamental like they are on YouTube.

1. It’s hella basic (in a good way!).

I don’t care if you think you’ve found the most thorough recipe for making scrambled eggs in a cookbook or written recipe online — there are always going to be questions from a beginner cook. What does it look like to have “low heat”? How often should I be stirring the eggs? A good cooking video on YouTube will likely answer these questions more efficiently — and for free!

2. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The majority of the videos uploaded to YouTube are not professionally made, and I’m going to take a wild guess and say that most of the recipes aren’t tested as well. In most circumstances I would say this is a bad thing — creating a good recipe is not easy and requires some level of expertise.

But it turns out this is a strength for YouTube. The amateur nature of the videos makes it easier to feel like you’re just talking with a friend, who happens to be just a little bit smarter and funnier than you. The barrier to entry is lower. Also, it’s just more fun.

3. It gets up close and personal.

YouTube is a treasure trove of recipes and techniques, and, unlike Google, I think YouTube makes things more exciting to explore as a new (or advanced) cook.

Take doenjang, or a fermented soybean paste, for example. It’s not something I would have thought to seek out for my own personal cooking, and reading a recipe about it probably wouldn’t have changed my mind. But then I saw this video from Maangchi, who the New York Times calls “YouTube’s Korean Julia Child,” and she brought the recipe to life.

“So many of you guys are following my recipes for years, and I know some of you are really interested in learning how to make doenjang,” she explains before getting into how to make the recipe. Maangchi is giving the viewers exactly what they want, and she does it in such a way that makes them feel like a part of her process.

Carving Out a Space for All Cooks

YouTube is going to help the next generation learn how to cook. It lets the viewer explore with ease and also connect with people and food around the world. It’s right there at your fingertips — all you need to do is like, share, and subscribe.

Read More in Kitchn’s Series on YouTube