First thing I want to make clear: there is no ONE best way to put product into your curls. That's like saying there is only one best way to get to New York from Philadelphia or only one best way to make great chili. There are more than a few best ways to accomplish all of those things: what is important is to ask yourself, "What is the best way for ME?"
There are a lot of resources on the Internet today that show how to apply product: web sites, YouTube, blogs, product manufacturer sites, forums, etc. And some of them will work for you and some of them won't. Texture, density and wave pattern play a really big role in determining your results. A girl with fine-textured, thin and wavy hair, for example, typically won't leave nearly as much water in her hair when she applies her gel as will someone with medium texture, thick and tightly spiraled curls; the extra weight of the water will most likely drag her waves down and make her go flat. Not a happy result.
That's not to say that she doesn't have choices, though. Does she want a quiet wave today? She can rake a bit of gel into her hair after a great deal of the water has been scrunched out of it, let it dry and then gently "side scrunch" to finish. More volume? She can apply mousse with a bit of gel for hold into damp hair, scrunch like mad and pop in a few clips for height. Two different routines, two different "best ways," depending on the results desired.
Our own personal best way will even change for a variety of reasons other than our look: transition from winter to summer, moving from a humid to a dry climate, the planet Jupiter is currently in Aquarius (you know we girls with curls will find any reason to mix it up :) ). I know my own routine changes in winter since there is such a drastic reduction in moisture level in the Florida winters: my quarter-sized dollop of leave-in conditioner turns into a palmful most days. However, I would be a flat, greasy, disgusting mess if I tried to do that in August when the dew points typically reach the mid- to high 70's.
The "best way" to find the "best way" is to give yourself the freedom to play and find a couple of product routines you love that work for you. Don't feel you need to hem yourself in and find one "perfect" routine or feel pressured to buy into one particular philosophy. I teach a fairly standardized product routine to my clients, depending on their hair properties, but encourage them to experiment and change it up to suit themselves. I love it when they come in for their next appointment, eager to show me things they discovered in the course of their experience as a liberated girl with curls. Believe me, I learn a lot from my clients too!
I have only one caution: if a product routine you see requires a bucketful of product to hold your curls in place, then it mostly likely isn't the best routine for you. When I am at work, I use far more product than I advise for most girls with curls, probably anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 cup of product total for my below shoulder-length, thick, medium-textured spirals. But I lean over steamy shampoo bowls all day and flip my curls around constantly, showing my clients how to plop, scrunch, clip, rake, shake, etc. I need that extra protection for the eight to 10 hours I am at work.
I wouldn't dare to use that much product when I am regular Tiffany at home, however; it would be way too much and the routine I use doesn't demand more than a few tablespoons of leave-in and gel for great hold, even during a Florida summer. If a routine requires you to really load the product on--if you find yourself thinking, "Gee, that's a LOT of product" or "That is WAY more product than I ever use"--then ask yourself this question, "Why does that routine require that much product for great curls and great hold?"
Living life as a girl with curls is always about what works best for YOU!