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Best Overall: How to Cook Everything, The Basics at Amazon
"This book is the perfect starting place for the true beginner."
Best Vegetarian: The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone at Amazon
"You’ll learn some great vegetarian dishes but also how to cook competently and creatively with vegetables."
Best Vegan: The Homemade Vegan Pantry at Amazon
"Learn how to veganize your pantry with this useful cookbook."
Best Instant Pot: The Instant Pot Bible at Amazon
"You’ll not only learn some great recipes but also how to really use your Instant Pot."
Best Healthy: Ottolenghi Simple, A Cookbook at Amazon
"This cookbook makes whipping up healthy, creative meals at home a breeze."
Best Baking: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion at Amazon
"No matter what you want to bake, this book can teach you how."
Best Gluten-Free: Gluten-Free for Good at Amazon
"All your favorite new gluten-free dinners and desserts will be found in this book."
Best for Quick Meals: The Best Simple Recipes: More Than 200 Flavorful, Foolproof Recipes at Amazon
"Who needs takeout when you can make quick, flavorful meals vetted by America’s Test Kitchen?"
If you’re not already comfortable in the kitchen, learning the basics can feel daunting. How can you turn what’s in your pantry into a meal? How do you mince an onion? How long should you boil your egg to get it perfectly jammy?
Best Overall: How to Cook Everything, The Basics
If your cooking skills are limited to sprinkling hot sauce on takeout orders, How to Cook Everything: The Basics is the cookbook for you. It offers more than 1,000 photos illustrating techniques and offers useful hacks like “think of vegetables in groups.”
It will teach you how to crimp a pie crust, the difference between chopping and dicing, how to shop for seafood, how to hold a knife, how to properly rinse your vegetables and fruits, how to crack an egg, and how to cook any grain you’ve got. Written by acclaimed food writer Mark Bittman, this book is the perfect way to start getting comfortable in your kitchen. A great one for college kids, too!
Best Vegetarian: The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
There are plenty of vegetarian cookbooks out there. But Deborah Madison is to vegetarian cuisine what Marcella Hazan is to Italian food and what Julia Child is to French food. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, this book is a gem. You’ll learn the basics of shopping for a knife and keeping it sharp, cutting and chopping techniques, and most importantly, how to build flavor with vegetables, grains, spices, and herbs. You’ll learn how to make flavorful sauces like beurre blanc, salsa verde, chermoula, mayonnaise (both vegan and regular), and more. The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone will make anyone a more confident, creative cook. It just happens to do that through vegetarian cuisine!
Best Vegan: The Homemade Vegan Pantry, The Art of Making Your Own Staples
If you’ve ever bought vegan butter, cheese, or other staples from the grocery store, you’ve probably noticed that the ingredients lists can be complicated and not as healthy as you’d hope. Miyoko Schinner, author of The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples has a solution—make them yourself at home!
She promises flavorful vegan food in less time than you think. Thanks to her recipes, you can stock up on the best homemade vegan sauces, stocks, pasta, cheeses, and other comfort foods. Think almond feta, lemon cashew mayo, not-tella chocolate hazelnut spread, butterless butter, cashew cream, Italian unsausages, condensed non-dairy milk, and more. No special equipment required!
Best Instant Pot: The Instant Pot Bible
One of the many reasons why this cookbook is great is that it not only offers 350 delicious, easy recipes but also gets you acquainted with your Instant Pot. It has recipes for every meal of the day, from tropical oat porridge or easy in-the-shell eggs for breakfast to lamb curry or white rice pilaf for dinner, plus some great dessert options.
Written by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, it also has vegetarian, vegan, keto, and gluten-free recipes, plus some requiring less than 20 minutes under pressure. Another bonus: Recipes are also arranged by function. Always wanted to try the sous vide function? Now’s your chance!
Best Healthy: Ottolenghi Simple, A Cookbook
Chef and restauranteur Yotam Ottolenghi has released several hit cookbooks. While there were some beginner-friendly recipes in his other books (including this incredible green gazpacho recipe from Plenty), Ottolenghi Simple lives up to its name—each of the 130 unfussy recipes is tasty and healthy.
It’s not a book that counts calories or scrimps on flavor, but it will teach you how to cook beautifully with real, nutritious food. Think cauliflower, pomegranate, and pistachio salad, roasted asparagus with almonds, capers, and cill, or fig and thyme clafoutis. If you’re really in a hurry, some recipes are marked S for “short on time,” coming together in 30 minutes or less. There are also “lazy” recipes that require less hands-on time (attend your video conferencing call while making dinner!) and some that are especially “E” for easy. Many use 10 ingredients or even less!
Best Baking: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook
King Arthur Flour made its name selling some of the best flour on the market. Their Baker’s Companion book will teach you how to turn that flour into a (not-hard-to-execute) masterpiece. Whatever you want to bake, you can learn here, whether it’s ciabatta, blueberry buckle, gingerbread pancakes, layer cake, zucchini lemon muffins, or something in between.
There are over 400 recipes, each tested by a team of pro bakers. You’ll find step-by-step technical drawings, color photographs, an ingredients glossary with recommended substitutions if you happen to be out of something, an illustrated section on tools, and more. Meet your new baking bible.
Best Gluten-Free: Gluten-Free for Good, Simple, Wholesome Recipes Made from Scratch
If you’re not already gluten-free, you might be confused as to why a gluten-free cookbook would include recipes beyond baking. If you’re already gluten-free, you probably know by now that gluten can be hiding in numerous sneaky places, including soups, sauces, and salad dressings.
That’s why this gluten-free cookbook, coming from Samantha Seneviratne, a former food editor at Good Housekeeping, Fine Cooking, and Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, is perfect for the budding gluten-free cook. Gluten-Free for Good features over 100 scrumptious recipes for quick meals at any time of the day, from leek and carrot brown rice risotto to blondies, plus a pantry primer and beautiful photographs.
Best for Quick Meals: The Best Simple Recipes, More Than 200 Flavorful, Foolproof Recipes That Cook in 30 Minutes or Less
It’s great to know how to make boeuf bourguignon or how to execute the perfect soufflé. But, most cooking comes down to “here are your ingredients, here is an hour, make dinner.” America’s Test Kitchen’s The Best Simple Recipes includes 200 recipes, each of which takes less than a half-hour from start to finish, with cozy options like vegetarian bean chili to more refined ones like salmon with asparagus and chive butter sauce. It also offers clever techniques—with the salmon recipe, you layer the asparagus spears in the pan, then use them as a sort of steaming rack upon which to place the salmon. No extra equipment required. Genius and delicious!
While How to Cook Everything: The Basics is the best place to start for the true beginner, there are plenty of great beginner cookbook options, depending on what you care most about learning. For example, for vegetable-focused cooking (whether you’re a vegetarian or not), go with The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.