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 and delicious 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, these are the best cookbooks for beginners.
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 useful skills, such as 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.
Price at time of publish: $37
Recipes: 185 | Pages: 496 | Date Published: 2012
The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples
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" and founder of Miyoko's Creamery, has a solution: Make them yourself at home.
Schinner 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.
Price at time of publish: $25
Recipes: More than 100 | Pages: 224 | Date Published: 2018
Best for Quick Meals
The Best Simple Recipes: More Than 200 Flavorful, Foolproof Recipes That Cook in 30 Minutes or Less
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. There's no extra equipment required—it's just genius (and delicious).
Price at time of publish: $30
Recipes: More than 200 | Pages: 352 | Date Published: 2010
"Every home cook should have what I consider 'the essentials' for cooking equipment: a bamboo cutting board, a good knife that you feel comfortable using, and a cast-iron skillet. You can make magic with just those few pieces." — Tanorria Askew, Podcast Cohost of "Black Girls Eating" and Author of "Staples + 5: 100 Simple Recipes to Make the Most of Your Pantry"
Best for Daily Cooking
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 recipes are unfussy—and it will teach you how to cook beautiful food. Think cauliflower, pomegranate, and pistachio salad; roasted asparagus with almonds, capers, and dill; 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 (tend to your video call while making dinner), and some that are especially “E” for easy. Many use 10 ingredients or even less.
Price at time of publish: $35
Recipes: 130 | Pages: 320 | Date Published: 2018
"Store your produce how you purchase it. If tomatoes aren't sold refrigerated, don't refrigerate them when you get home. Keep them in a cool, dry place," says Tanorria Askew, podcast cohost of "Black Girls Eating" and author of "Staples + 5: 100 Simple Recipes to Make the Most of Your Pantry. "The same goes for things like potatoes, basil, and onions, and certain fruit. If you don't plan to use it for a while, consider purchasing it closer to when you need it or refrigerating to prolong its freshness for a few days."
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 such as 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.
Price at time of publish: $40
Recipes: More than 200 | Pages: 672 | Date Published: 2014
"It's helpful to read any recipe through before trying it. You can easily burn or overcook something when trying to figure out your next step in the recipe. Take a moment to read it through to have a general idea of the next steps and equipment needed as you are cooking. Most of all, be fearless in the kitchen. Some of our favorite foods were made by accident or mistake." — Tanorria Askew, Podcast Coost of "Black Girls Eating" and Author of "Staples + 5: 100 Simple Recipes to Make the Most of Your Pantry"
Best for 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 it 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.
Price at time of publish: $22
Recipes: More than 350 | Pages: 496 | Date Published: 2015
There's a seemingly infinite amount of kitchen cookware and tools out there, so what are the essentials? “Every new cook needs a great set of knives, a sauté pan, saucepan with a lid, and a cast iron skillet," says chef Jennifer Booker, author of "Dinner Déjà Vu: Southern Tonight, French Tomorrow. "I think these are the bare minimum to get you started on your new kitchen and cooking journey.”
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 between.
There are more than 400 recipes, each tested by a team of professional 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.
Price at time of publish: $65
Recipes: More than 350 | Pages: 656 | Date Published: 2012
"Using meal starters and premade sauces is a great and quick way to make a delicious and even restaurant-quality meal within 30 minutes. You won’t then end up with bottles of special spices and sauces for a specific recipe, but will never use again." — Lin Jiang, Yishi Creator and Owner
Gluten-Free for Good: Simple, Wholesome Recipes Made from Scratch
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 by 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 more than 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.
Price at time of publish: $22
Recipes: 100 | Pages: 208 | Date Published: 2016
Best for Daily Cooking
Jacques Pépin Quick & Simple
Fast and easy recipes
Beginner- and intermediate-friendly
Beautiful photography and illustrations
Few recipes are kid-friendly
Jacques Pepin is a longtime legend, having cohosted a TV show with Julia Child, and with decades of cooking and teaching under his belt. His recent "Quick & Simple" is practical and charming, like Pepin himself. There’s no fussing over fancy techniques or ingredients here, just simple ways for home cooks to get dinner on the table. He encourages little shortcuts like buying precut meats and poultry or even pre-sliced mushrooms, saying, “The quality of your cooking is not diminished because someone else has done some of the preparation for you.” Pepin is not in it for Instagrammable meals in this book. He just wants to help you make dinner instead of springing for takeout again.
Price at time of publish: $35
Recipes: 250 | Pages: 384 | Date Published: 2020
“I absolutely love a gas stove and, of course, my KitchenAid mixer. Food processors are always a lot of help in the kitchen, as is an electric pressure cooker.” — Chef Jennifer Booke, Author of "Dinner Déjà Vu: Southern Tonight, French Tomorrow"
Best New Release
I Dream of Dinner (So You Don't Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes
Approachable recipes and ingredients
Ingredient measurements are written in the body of the instructions
Ali Slagle’s cookbook “I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes” is all about practicality. Not only are the recipes straightforward, but the ingredients are easy to find. Slagle even provides recommendations on how to alter recipes for taste or convenience.
There's a fun writing style infused in each recipe, which makes it as much a joy to read as it is to cook. A full-color photograph shows the end result of each tasty entry, as well. Some highlights include pizza pasta, BLT stir-fry, and ricotta frittata with lemon crumbs. The only thing people may find an issue with is the fact that although the ingredients are listed in a column next to the instructions, the exact measurements are listed in the body of the instructions. While this isn't the end of the world, it may take a smidge longer to make your shopping list.
Price at time of publish: $30
Recipes: 150 | Pages: 400 | Date Published: 2022
Best for Air Fryers
Air Fryer Cookbook: 600 Effortless Air Fryer Recipes for Beginners and Advanced Users
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and side options
Includes helpful charts and measurement conversions
Very few pictures
There are a whopping 600 recipes in this cookbook by Jenson William. Entries range from savory meals (such as spice-coated steaks or mango shrimp with hot sauce) to delicious sides (including bacon-wrapped dates and garlicky potato chips) to desserts (such as lemony cheesecake and snickerdoodle pops). What the cookbook lacks in pictures, it makes up for in helpful measurement conversion charts, air fryer cooking tips, and the sheer number of recipes.
Price at time of publish: $21
Recipes: 600 | Pages: 180 | Date Published: 2019
Beginner's Baking Bible: 130+ Recipes and Techniques for New Bakers
Filled with baking tips and tricks
Includes measurement conversion tables
Step-by-step instructions for fundamentals
The world of baking is certainly a tasty one, but it can be a bit intimidating to break into. Heather Pearine’s “Beginner’s Baking Bible: 130+ Recipes and Techniques for New Bakers” will get you going in no time, though. To start, there is a breakdown of baking equipment, followed by several step-by-step baking techniques that will serve as a great foundation.
The 130 delicious recipes are alphabetized, making navigation easy as pie. Though there is definitely an emphasis on sweets, there are a few savory and bready options included. Some highlights include apple-cinnamon scones, fudgy chocolate brownies, spiced hot chocolate cookies, and lemon bars.
Price at time of publish: $20
Recipes: 130+ | Pages: 208 | Date Published: 2019
While "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" is the best place to start for the true beginner, but there are plenty of other great options depending on what you care most about learning. We recommend "The Homemade Pantry" for vegans looking to make awesome plant-based food.
What to Look for in Cookbooks 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 lifestyle choices. This is especially true for those who have allergen sensitivities or are practicing vegetarians or vegans.
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, knife, 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 flavors 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.
Food and Drug Administration. Gluten-free labeling of foods.