The Best Cookbooks for Beginners to Master Chefs

"The Joy of Cooking" is our winner

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The Spruce Eats / Danie Drankwalter

The Spruce Eats Top Picks

"The Joy of Cooking" is our No. 1 pick because it contains an astonishing 4,000 recipes, both traditional and modern. If you have an Instant Pot, we recommend the "Instant Pot Bible," which features more than 350 recipes for all versions of the coveted cooker.

Learning how to cook can be a daunting task, no matter your skill level. Perhaps you're a beginner looking to learn the basics, or maybe you've been cooking for years and want to try a new cooking technique or diet. While looking for recipes online is an easy start, sometimes it's fun to find and follow a physical cookbook, which will not only provide you with recipes to make, but will also teach you how to master cooking on your own. Plus, you can mark the pages you like and store the book on your shelf for later.

From the basics to more specific diets and techniques, here are some of the best cookbooks of all time.

Best Overall: The Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition)

The Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition)

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • More than 4,000 recipes

  • Good for newer cooks

  • Very detailed

What We Don't Like
  • Print is a bit small

A classic for generations, "The Joy of Cooking" has seen many revisions over the years—and each has its own charm. While only the more recent editions are available as new books, if you want the version your mom used you might be able to find it online.

The 75th-anniversary edition is great because it includes some of the classic recipes from previous versions, as well as updated recipes for the modern cook—which several positive reviews pointed out, were written with both care and detail. With over 4,000 recipes total, this is a great starter book, and it’s also ideal for someone who doesn’t have the shelf space for a large collection of books.

Recipes: 4,000+ | Pages: 1,200 | Date Published: 2019

Best New Release: Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings

Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings by America's Test Kitchen

Amazon

What We Like
  • Full spread photos

  • Has no-cook options

What We Don't Like
  • No section specifically for lunch

Many meals can be served up using a board aside from charcuterie, and one of America’s Test Kitchen’s newest cookbooks demos a myriad of options using stunning photography and easy-to-follow tips on topics, such as plating, cocktail pairings, and store-bought ingredients. One of the most informative sections is the introduction, thanks to the simple explanations on how to differentiate between a buffet board, traditional board, and spread. The book also includes recipes for tacos, waffles, martinis, fondue, shawarma, clambake, and more that are well suited for feeding a crowd for breakfast, dinner, birthday soirées, or happy hour mixers.

Recipes: 150+ | Pages: 288 | Date Published: 2022

Best Instructional: Salt Fat Acid Heat

Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat

Amazon

What We Like
  • Packed with unique visuals

  • Engaging instructional section

  • Warm, humorous tone

What We Don't Like
  • Not as much emphasis on science

This book is a James Beard award winner and a New York Times bestseller, and it won several IACP awards as well. But what’s more important is that home cooks sing its praises for the way the book teaches how to cook rather than just spewing recipes to be made.

The instructional parts are engaging, making it easy to follow along. But the book doesn’t stop at instruction since it has recipes that use the techniques, so there’s a good reason to keep coming back to the book, over and over.

Recipes: 100+ | Pages: 480 | Date Published: 2017

Best for Baking Bread: Flour Water Salt Yeast

Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish

Amazon

What We Like
  • Technique-intensive

  • Great for beginners and experts alike

  • Includes pizza-making section

What We Don't Like
  • Focused on one style of bread making

Similar to Salt Fat Acid Heat, this book includes a lot of information about technique, which is incredibly important with bread considering the vast number of breads that can be made with just the four title ingredients. From pizza dough to boules, this book is great for beginners who want to learn the basics, and it’s just as good for more experienced bakers who want to hone their skills or learn new techniques. Home bakers say that the way author Ken Forkish writes not only gave them recipes to refer to but also ultimately helped them approach bread baking more creatively.

While the ingredients are simple, cooks might need a few extra tools to follow the recipes in this book, like an instant-read thermometer, a scale, and a Dutch oven.

Recipes: 30+ | Pages: 272 | Date Published: 2012

Best Plant-Based: Sweet Potato Soul

sweet potato soul cookbook
Courtesy of Sweet Potato Soul.
What We Like
  • Vibrant photography

  • Easy recipes

  • Includes food history

What We Don't Like
  • Not for those avoiding soy

The debut cookbook from popular vegan blogger and personal chef Jenne Claiborne focuses on what made her beloved in the first place: putting a plant-based spin on rich, flavorful, and comforting flavors. In "Sweet Potato Soul," the cooking instructor celebrates her childhood, creatively updating soul food classics in recipes that use fresh, local plant-based ingredients like dandelion, turnip greens, and black-eyed peas. Standout dishes include jalapeño hush puppies, watermelon and peach salad, coconut collard salad, and—the author’s favorite—sweet potato pecan cinnamon rolls. 

This cookbook contains 100 simple, low-prep recipes that don’t shy away from either whole foods or spices, and the pages are packed with vibrant food photography. Reviewers also like that Claiborne includes background information on Southern cuisine and the ingredients it commonly uses.

Recipes: 100 | Pages: 224 | Date Published: 2018

Best for Families: Magnolia Table

Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines

Amazon

What We Like
  • Beautiful photos

  • Ingredients are easy to source

  • Good-quality cover and binding

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't lay flat

With recipes based on family favorites, plus some from the Magnolia Table restaurant, this book has something for everyone. Comfort food shows up, along with healthier recipes. It’s filled with beautiful photos, and the recipes include ingredients that are easy to find so there’s no need to plan ahead and hunt for obscure spices online.

This is a large, hefty book with 336 pages; some readers complained that it didn’t sit flat, so it might be wise to find a sturdy cookbook stand to make cooking easier.

Recipes: 125 | Pages: 336 | Date Published: 2018

Best Part-Memoir: My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes

My Korea Cookbook
Courtesy of Amazon.
What We Like
  • Informative on both basic and advanced techniques

  • Gorgeous photography

  • Easy-to-follow recipes

What We Don't Like
  • Some ingredients may be hard to find

"My Korea" by Michelin-star chef Hooni Kim is more than just a cookbook. Yes, it’s a contemporary take on traditional Korean cooking that earned his New York City-based restaurant Danji the award. But it’s not only his background working in Japanese and French kitchens that inform this cookbook. Kim’s focus here is to pay homage to the Korean culinary traditions and techniques that have influenced his take on the cuisine.

He begins, for example, by acquainting readers with the “holy trinity” of Korean cooking: doenjang, ganjang, and gochujang (fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, and fermented red chili paste, respectively). These ingredients, when combined with his modern spin, boost classic dishes like Dolsot Bibimbap and give birth to new ones like a bacon chorizo kimchi paella.

Kim also illuminates the significance of Korean cooking concepts like jung sung, which means both “care” and “devotion”—an idea he puts into practice in this cookbook, fleshing out its 90 recipes with thorough breakdowns of each ingredient, as well as beautiful photos of the food and Korea itself.

Recipes: 90 | Pages: 352 | Date Published: 2020

Best for Instant Pots: The Instant Pot Bible

The Instant Pot Bible by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

Walmart

What We Like
  • Covers all versions of the Instant Pot

  • Comprehensive, varied recipes

  • Easily available ingredients

What We Don't Like
  • Does not sit flat on the counter

The Instant Pot has become a nearly essential cooking appliance, and there are a huge number of cookbooks that take advantage of that audience. This one is unique in that it has instructions that cover all versions of the Instant Pot, including the Max that can function at a higher pressure than other versions. With this book, there won’t be that annoying moment when the book instructs you to push a button that doesn’t exist on your version of the Instant Pot. Many customers highlighted the "Road Map" recipes, which start with a standard recipe, like a beef stew, and then give options to customize it.

Recipes: 350+ | Pages: 1,242 | Date Published: 2018

Best for Baking: Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking

What We Like
  • Beautiful photos and high-quality pages

  • Includes interesting story lines

  • Provides instructions and definitions for beginners

What We Don't Like
  • Uses metric measurements

  • Some recipes don't match those on the show

Many Americans have fallen in love with The Great British Bake Off with its signature bakes, technical challenges, and showstoppers—all baked in a tent. This book has 120 of the recipes created by both the bakers and the judges. The recipes use metric measurements and ingredients, so it can be a little more difficult for American bakers, but with a kitchen scale (which many reviewers recommend purchasing) or a quick Google search for weight conversions, definitions, or substitutions, recipes are more than doable for home cooks.

Recipes: 120 | Pages: 320 | Date Published: 2015

Best for Soul Food: Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook

Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook
Courtesy of Barnes and Noble.
What We Like
  • Recipes are simple

  • Includes stories of family traditions

  • Good for beginners

What We Don't Like
  • Some wish there were more recipes

"Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook" is a compilation of 125 classic soul food recipes inspired by a cook-off with family and friends that the author held in her hometown of Hemingway, South Carolina. But more than that, the collection, which also includes her family’s own recipes, exhibits the same sense of heart, discipline, and community that have made Woods’ restaurant in Harlem a soul food landmark.

The cookbook is lovingly interspersed with the author's stories and traditions and illustrated with full-color photographs that give it a family album vibe. She cites her grandmother and great grandmother as major influences. 

Most of the famous Sylvia’s Restaurant dishes can be found inside, such as Bedelia’s special oven-fried chicken, Bert’s catfish stew, Frances’s old-fashioned collard greens, and creamy banana pudding.

Recipes: 125 | Pages: 288 | Date Published: 1999

Best Celebrity: Cravings

Cravings by Chrissy Teigen

Amazon

What We Like
  • Fun, beautiful photos

  • Humorous, authentic tone

  • Tasty, well-written recipes

What We Don't Like
  • Some ingredients may be hard to find

You might expect that a model’s cookbook would be filled with carrot sticks and kale chips, but this book is pretty much the opposite, with plenty of comfort food, family meals, and party food. Sure, there are salads, too, but there’s also a chapter of “noodles and carbs” for all the pasta lovers in the house. The photos are fun, the commentary is funny, and the recipes are tasty. This really lives up to the title—it really is the food you want to eat. One reviewer even said it passes the ultimate test: the recipes are so good that his three-year-old asks for them.

Recipes: 100+ | Pages: 240 | Date Published: 2016

What Our Editors Say

"I've made so many of the recipes from this book, and many have become staples for when I'm cooking for my friends. I love the variety of recipes, too—incredible brunch dishes, great weeknight lunches or dinners, and fun appetizers to take to a party." Mary Kate Hoban, Associate Editorial Director, The Spruce Eats

Best One-Pan: Sheet Pan Suppers

Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert

Amazon

What We Like
  • Includes both simple and more complicated recipes

  • Features breakfasts, appetizers, and more

  • Recipes are creative and tasty

What We Don't Like
  • Some ingredients may be hard to find

Sheet pan suppers are the ultimate in one-pan cooking. No need for countertop appliances or an expensive Dutch oven—just put everything on a common sheet pan and pop it in the oven. This book has a good mix of simpler recipes along with more complicated ones that require a bit more prep, so it has a little of something for everyone. While the title says this book is for suppers, many reviewers were happy to note that it also includes appetizers—and a sheet pan holds plenty of appetizers or snacks for a crowd—sides, breakfasts, and even desserts.

Recipes: 120 | Pages: 304 | Date Published: 2014

Best for Sous Vide: Sous Vide for Everybody

sous vide cookbook

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Comprehensive and detailed

  • Full-page photographs

  • Great for beginners

What We Don't Like
  • May not be for more experienced cooks

The folks at America’s Test Kitchen are known for being precise, and perhaps a bit persnickety, which is exactly what’s useful when developing sous vide recipes where precise temperatures make a big difference. While sous vide cooking isn’t as popular as pressure cooking, it has been becoming much more popular as the prices of sous vide devices drop.

From main dishes to desserts—and an excellent crème brulee recipe—this book has enough sous vide techniques and recipes to keep the device busy every day of the week. Beginner sous vide cooks and those wanting to expand their knowledge will appreciate how clear and detailed, yet simple, these recipes are; some customers do note, however, that you may want to look elsewhere if you're more advanced in sous vide cooking.

Pages: 232 | Date Published: 2018

What Our Editors Say

"The times and temperatures that you need to sous vide perfectly need to be precise and America's Test Kitchen is one of the few sources I trust to test out all my favorite recipes." Julia Warren, SVP of Commerce Operations

Final Verdict

The generational classic "The Joy of Cooking" claims our top spot. The 75th edition contains over 4,000 recipes: both the traditional ones found in older editions as well updated recipes, all of which are very detailed. If you're an Instant Pot lover, we suggest the "Instant Pot Bible." It includes a wide variety of recipes that work for all versions of the cooker.

What to Look for When Buying a Cookbook

Experience Level

Are you a home cook just starting out? Comprehensive cookbooks that contain simple, standard recipes written clearly and with an accessible tone are your best bet. They ideally include details like high-quality photos, conversions, ratios, and suggested side dishes. But if you're a more experienced cook who has technique nailed down, choose cookbooks that give you room to be more creative with the recipes. These cookbooks may include more complex recipes, or focus on a specific niche, like bread baking. They may also give you suggestions for how to veer from the recipes or create your own.

Focus

It helps to narrow down what you're looking to cook or make. Maybe you want to home in on something specific, such as cakes, or perhaps you want a cookbook with recipes that fit your lifestyle, such as a plant-based cookbook, or one that focuses on simple dinner recipes that are easy to make regularly.

Ingredients

Make sure the ingredients used in the recipes are accessible where you live. Also check if recipes call for ingredients that are all fresh, or if some are prepackaged. And if some of the ingredients aren't easy to find, see if the cookbook offers substitutions. Other things to look for are nutritional information, pictures of obscure ingredients, and prep time.

Photography and Quality

The best cookbooks have bright, informative food photography that accurately reflects how the recipe will turn out. And the quality of the binding and the pages are equally important. You want to look for thick pages that contain legible typeface, as well as binding that's not prone to cracking when you open it (ideally canvas). These are part of what will make you want to reach for the cookbook again and again.

FAQs

How do you keep cookbooks flat on the counter?

Traditionally bound, thick cookbooks are hard to keep flat. Until the binding gets broken in from use, the pages tend to flip on their own, which means you have to stop cooking to find your recipe. A cookbook stand is one of the best solutions (it works for tablets and online recipes too). Available in many materials and styles to fit any kitchen decor, some even install under the cupboard. These functional kitchen helpers also elevate your cookbook off the counter, where it's less likely to get messy. Look for one that has a front lip or clips that will keep the pages open. Without a stand, place a simple object, such as a small bowl or plate, butter knife, or even a rock, on the recipe page.

How do you keep cookbooks clean?

A cookbook that looks well-used is a badge of honor for many cooks. The stains and wrinkles are a sign of a beloved book and many great meals. Then again, you can do your best to keep your prized cookbooks as clean as possible. If you're a particularly messy cook or want to ensure your favorite cookbook stays pristine, cover the pages with plastic wrap when it's in the kitchen.

When anything does get on your cookbook pages, act quickly to clean it:

  1. Carefully scrape away as much as possible with a spatula or knife, taking care not to spread it too much.
  2. Use parchment between the adjacent pages to keep any moisture from spreading.
  3. Use a dry towel to blot the soiled page until dry.
  4. Sprinkle with baking soda and let sit open overnight, then brush off.
  5. Keep the book open to finish airdrying.

How do you store cookbooks in a small kitchen?

Small kitchens always present storage options, which can be made worse with even a modest cookbook collection. If you don't have a spare cupboard, get creative on storage solutions that keep the books safe and out of the way. Install a shelf to hold the books, put your collection in a wooden box or caddy, or look for unused space to build a cookbook cubby. Consider storing your cookbooks in another room nearby where they're handy but not exposed to cooking residues. Make a space in your regular bookshelf or put a book rack around the corner.

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Donna Currie’s cooking gadget collection is only overshadowed by her cookbook collection, which numbers in the hundreds. From antique books dating to the late 1800s to her own cookbook, Make Ahead Bread, to modernist books, she loves spending quality time with her books before she scurries into the kitchen to whip up something tasty.

Rachel Werner is a cookbook reviewer, culinary writer, and former World Food Championship judge. Her book, product and restaurant reviews, food styling, and photography have appeared in a variety of regional and national publications, including The Gourmet Insider and Fabulous Wisconsin. A selection of Rachel's recipes are also included in "Wisconsin Cocktails," a regionally themed mixology book (University of Wisconsin Press, 2020).

Additional reporting by
Rachel Werner
rachel werner

Rachel Werner is a writer and author whose work has appeared in Fabulous Wisconsin, Entrepreneurial Chef, and the book "Wisconsin Cocktails."

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