The 12 Best Cookbooks to Read in 2020

Create something delicious in the kitchen

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Our Top Picks

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

"Includes some of the classic recipes from previous versions as well as updated recipes for the modern cook."

Best Instructional Cookbook: Salt Fat Acid Heat at Amazon

"Home cooks sing its for the way the book teaches how to cook rather than just spewing recipes to be made."

Best Family-Friendly: Magnolia Table at Amazon

"Filled with beautiful photos, the recipes include ingredients that are easy to find so there’s no need to plan ahead."

Best Bread-Baking Cookbook: Flour Water Salt Yeast at Amazon

"Great for beginners who want to learn the basics, and just as good for more experienced bakers."

Best Plant-Based: Sweet Potato Soul at Amazon

"Flavorful, hearty classics with a plant-based twist."

Best Instant Pot Cookbook: The Instant Pot Bible at Amazon

"Has instructions that cover all versions of the Instant Pot, including the Max."

Best Baking: Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking at Amazon

"This book has 120 of the recipes created by both the bakers and the judges."

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

"A Michelin-star chef pays homage to Korean culinary traditions and puts a spin on them."

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

"Family-inspired soul food recipes from the owner of the famous Sylvia's Restaurant."

Best Celebrity: Cravings at Amazon

"The photos are fun, the commentary is funny, and the recipes are tasty."

Best Overall Cookbook: 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.

Best Instructional Cookbook: Salt Fat Acid Heat

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.

Best Family-Friendly: Magnolia Table

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.

Best Bread-Baking Cookbook: Flour Water Salt Yeast

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.

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.

Best Instant Pot Cookbook: The Instant Pot Bible

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 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.

Best 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.

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. 

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
  • Not for those watching calorie intake

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 77 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.

Best Celebrity: Cravings

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.

"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, Editor, The Spruce Eats

Best One-Pan Cookbook: Sheet Pan Suppers

What We Like
  • Includes both simple and more complicated recipes

  • Includes 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.

Best for Sous Vide: Sous Vide for Everybody

What We Like
  • Comprehensive and detailed

  • Full-page photographs

  • Great for beginners

What We Don't Like
  • May not be for more experienced sous vide 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.

"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, Senior Director

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 (view at Amazon). It's great for newer cooks. 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 (view at Amazon).

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.

What to Consider 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.

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