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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 Vegan: The Homemade Vegan Pantry at Amazon
Learn how to veganize your pantry with this useful cookbook.
Best for Quick Meals: The Best Simple Recipes: More Than 200 Flavorful, Foolproof Recipes at Amazon
Best Healthy: Ottolenghi Simple, A Cookbook at Amazon
This cookbook makes whipping up healthy, creative meals at home a breeze.
Who needs takeout when you can make quick, flavorful meals vetted by America’s Test Kitchen?
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 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 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.
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? Whether you hope to perfect your brunch game or just be able to whip up a quick, impressive lunch with your Instant Pot, there's a cookbook out there for you.
From impressive dishes, like salmon with asparagus and chive butter sauce, to easy vegan comfort foods to super-instructional, illustrated techniques on how to use pasta water, fillet fish, season pans, and more, here are the best cookbooks for beginners.
Best Overall: How to Cook Everything: The Basics
600 recipe demonstration photos
Seafood shopping tips
Not all culinary terminology defined
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. It's a great one for college kids, too.
Recipes: 185 | Pages: 496 | Date Published: 2012
Best Vegan: The Homemade Vegan Pantry
Many condiment recipes
Small text size
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. 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.
Recipes: More than 100 | Pages: 224 | Date Published: 2018
Best for Quick Meals: The Best Simple Recipes
Ingredient substitutions given
Not enough images of finished recipes
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, such as vegetarian bean chili, to more refined ones, including 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.
Recipes: More than 200 | Pages: 352 | Date Published: 2010
Best Healthy: Ottolenghi Simple, A Cookbook
Short ingredient lists
Some recipes require more complex prep
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; and 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.
Recipes: 130 | Pages: 320 | Date Published: 2018
Best Vegetarian: The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Menu planning information
Wine pairing suggestions
Not enough visuals
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.
Recipes: More than 200 | Pages: 672 | Date Published: 2014
Best Instant Pot: The Instant Pot Bible
Flexible recipe yields
Quick meal options
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.
Recipes: More than 350 | Pages: 496 | Date Published: 2015
Best Baking: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook
Explains baking terminology
Useful troubleshooting advice
More illustrations advice
King Arthur Flour made its name selling some of the best flour on the market. Its "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.
Recipes: More than 350 | Pages: 656 | Date Published: 2012
Best Gluten-Free: Gluten-Free for Good
Very affordable book
Includes pantry primer
Some recipes over-simplified
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.
Recipes: 100 | Pages: 208 | Date Published: 2016
While "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" (view at Amazon) is the best place to start for the true beginner, there are plenty of other great options depending on what you care most about learning. For example, for vegetable-focused cooking, go with "The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" (view at Amazon).
What to Look for When Buying a Cookbook for Beginners
A plethora of cookbooks have content curated specifically for novices. Take the time to search for a book that contains the information most aligned with current nutritional choices or goals. This is especially true for those who have allergen sensitivities or adhere to a paleo, keto, or vegan diet.
Knowing key ingredients likely to be used frequently can be a huge advantage in terms of stocking a pantry for beginner cooks. Also, pay attention to whether the author has included budget-friendly tips, such as suggested retailers, suitable substitutions, and items that can be purchased in bulk.
Culinary terminology is quite specific. Not understanding the difference between sauté, simmer, broil, and roast is one example of how one recipe could turn out vastly different depending on how a home chef prepares the food. It’s typical for information like definitions and measurement charts to be referenced in the introductory sections of a cookbook (rather than toward the end). Confirm any useful supplemental material is included before purchasing.
Which kitchen tools are essential for a new cook?
Regardless of the food one is planning to make, basic kitchen equipment most likely to be used when preparing most recipes include: a cutting board, skillet, strainer, large spoon, mixing bowl, saucepan, and set of measuring cups and spoons.
Are most types of flour essentially the same?
Whole wheat flour or pastry flour both have different textures and flavor to all-purpose flour, which means swapping one of these in will alter the final taste of recipes stating to use the latter. Same goes for using almond, buckwheat, or oat flours as a replacement for "gluten-free flour" mix.
Can food be put in an oven before it's preheated?
Many foods need to be cooked at one consistent temperature to avoid under- or over-cooking. A good standard rule of thumb is to only put breads, pastries, and any dishes containing eggs in an oven once the specified temperature in a recipe has been reached.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
When writer, podcaster, and professional cheese nerd Christine Clark isn’t writing or teaching a cheese class, she’s digging through her library of 50+ cookbooks for inspiration on dinners, lunches, and ingredients. Her current favorite cookbook is "From the Tables of Tuscan Women" by Anne Bianchi.
This roundup was updated by Rachel Werner, a cookbook reviewer, culinary writer, and former World Food Championship judge. Her lifestyle content, food styling, and photography have appeared in a variety of regional and national publications, including Fabulous Wisconsin, BRAVA, and Hobby Farms Magazine. A selection of Rachel's recipes is also included in "Wisconsin Cocktails," a regionally themed mixology book (University of Wisconsin Press, 2020). Recent examples of her pro foodie pics are available on Instagram @trulyplanted.