As I posted during Beta, Cooking is not easy to level and there's been lots of commentary on that since Launch. Blizzard seems to be of the opinion that green recipes are an acceptable path for a secondary profession and that capping isn't necessary since there are no rewards for reaching it. Despite the problems, I worked hard to cap Cooking this week and publish my findings.
Getting to 400 in Cooking is fairly easy, just make any of the recipes from the trainer that are available at 350 skill. My only tip here would be to avoid recipes that require rhino or mammoth meat. You'll just have to farm more of those later, so why make it worse now? There are plenty of other recipes to choose from, I used a mix of fish recipes including Smoked Salmon, Pickled Fangtooth and Baked Manta Ray. These recipes will turn green around 390, but you can still get to 400 without too much pain. It took me about 65 cooked dishes to get from 375-400. The last 10 points were gained at around a 30% rate.
At 400 you unlock the vendor recipes from the guy in Dalaran. I hope all of you took my advice and started his dailies as soon as you hit the city, so you have tokens to spend when you reach this point. My strategy here was once again to select recipes that would be easy to farm for, while still avoiding the use of rhino/mammoth goodies for the home stretch. I went with the Spicy Fried Herring recipe since I knew there were lots of spawns in Howling Fjord and I'd have no problem using up the yummy MP5 food for my healer. I also bought Critter Bites and Dragonfin Filet, and I would highly recommend that everyone purchase at least one of those two recipes. Why are they so special? Because they stay green longer than any of the other vendor recipes except the feasts. They don't turn gray until 450 and this may be very important to you later, it sure was to me!
I collected three stacks of Fangtooth Herring, which I used to go from 400 to 420 in Cooking. After that I made about 9 Critter Bites to hit 425 and unlock the feast recipes. At this point, all of your recipes are gray except Critter Bites and Dragonfin Filet, which are green. When you purchase the feast recipes from the vendor, they will be yellow. Buy whichever one you think will be easiest to farm - I went with the Small Feast. I had already been farming rhino meat in anticipation of this process and had about 100 of them waiting in my mailbox. All I needed was the fish and Northern Spices and I hoped that would be enough to push me over the top.
In my previous post about fishing locations, I erroneously stated that Glacial Salmon were in Crystalsong Forest. That was incorrect, it's Glassfin Minnows that are found in Crystalsong. Salmon can be found in Grizzly Hills along the various rivers and lakes. I found a very nice fishing spot at the Blue Sky Logging Grounds. There are a number of spawns around the lake, you can easily fish the upper and lower sections with respawns popping where you started by the time you've completed your circuit. The only caveat is to be careful of the locals, there are PVP-flagged mobs who will jump you if you wander too close. If you need assistance finding any other type of fish, please visit El's Anglin where he maintains an amazing depth of detail on fishing spawns.
For the critter meat, it appears that some of my suggestions from Beta were implemented with regard to drop rates. Rhino meat is easier to collect from the Rhino packs in Borean Tundra. I was using my borrowed hunter (with gorilla) to AOE groups of them and collect the drops. I think I put in about an hour, maybe 90 minutes, to get my 100 pieces of Rhino meat. That's significantly better than the 15% drop rate I was finding on the Beta server. Right now I would estimate that the drop rate is in the 30-40% range.
At 425 I had enough mats to make 50 Small Feasts (100 rhino meat, 100 nettlefish, 100 salmon, 50 spices). I was really hoping this would be enough to get to 450, unfortunately I only got to 448. The feast actually went green at 437, so I suppose that wasn't too bad under the circumstances. Here's where the other two recipes I mentioned earlier come in. At 437 you have three green recipes: Critter Bites, Dragonfin Filet and your Feast. Obviously you can keep making feasts, but they require 6 meats per combine. They are also soulbound, which means you can't mail them to your alt for storage.
Once I'd run out of the mats for my Feast recipe, I wondered if it wouldn't be better to switch to a less ingredient-intensive recipe. However, working under the assumption that my Small Feast would have a better skill-up rate than Critter Bites due to it's higher starting value, I went ahead and made 15 more of them. I did not get a point. Then I made 21 Critter Bites and got 1 point. So clearly it's just takes lots of combines and there is no meaningful difference between the green recipes at this stage. With one point left to gain, I made 14 more Critter Bites and got zero points. It was here that I ran out of the 100 Northern Spices I'd managed to farm and had no Cooking dailies up either. I was forced to wait until the following day, luckily I was able to get 35 more spices on my three toons in Dalaran when the dailies reset. I also bought a few more stacks of Chilled Meat on the Auction, I was tired of farming meat, what can I say? It took another 25 Critter Bites to get my last skill point and reach 450 Cooking.
I hope this gives everyone a rough idea of what to expect if they want to cap Cooking. Plus an FYI for you, there is no Achievement tied to this. I got no ding when I hit 450, which kind of surprised me. I guess I hadn't really looked that closely at the Cooking achievement list to pick up on that. So you can go for it if you want to, and I know a lot of us want that notch on our belt. Just be aware that it took me about 125 combines to get from 425 to 450 in Cooking. Plan wisely and Good Luck!