Korean cuisine is filled with diverse flavors and rich history. If you're interested in cooking up your favorite Korean dish or want to explore a new culture's food, you'll need a good cookbook. Fortunately there are many amazing Korean cookbooks out there, and we've rounded up our favorites for you to check out. From the traditional (and very popular) kimchi to more modern Korean barbeque favorites, the recipes are sure to delight.
Here are our favorite Korean cookbooks.
Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking: Authentic Dishes for the Home
Works for beginners and experienced cooks alike
Includes step-by-step photos
Complete with glossary, substitutions, and cooking tips
Not all recipes have the step-by-step photos
Some of her popular video recipes are not included
You know someone is popular when they can be called by just one name, like Maangchi. Known for her popular YouTube videos, she’s carved out a niche for herself as an authority on Korean cooking. Born and raised in Korea, she learned how to cook traditional foods from her family.
Not only does this book cover a wide range of recipe styles, but it also covers a range of difficulties, so beginners will find plenty of introductory recipes, while more experienced cooks can create more complicated dishes. This book has step-by-step photos that help make the techniques simple, along with tips inspired by questions her followers have asked her over the years. And of course, if you still have questions, you can check her videos for even more help.
Price at time of publish: $17.99
Number of Recipes: 125 | Pages: 320 | Published: 2015 | Formats: Hardcover, e-book
Best for Beginners
Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes
Eye-catching art style
Highlights Korean culinary culture
Lighthearted and creative
Format can be a little busy
Cooking a new cuisine can be intimidating, but this book eases the tension by using a graphic novel format that makes cooking a bit more lighthearted. But it’s not all fun and games—there are 64 recipes, along with detailed information about the ingredients used.
The colorful illustrations add a whimsical touch to this cookbook, but they also serve to educate you about the ingredients as well as the steps required to make the recipes. There are plenty of simple recipes, as well as more challenging ones that you can attempt after your confidence has grown. In addition to recipes, there are some personal and cultural notes from the author that make this book even more appealing for anyone interested in Korean food and culture.
Price at time of publish: $14.89
Number of Recipes: 65 | Pages: 176 | Published: 2016 | Formats: Paperback, spiral-bound, e-book
Best for Korean BBQ
Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces
Great for big servings
Covers basics of Korean flavor profiles
Provides substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients
Not strictly traditional, includes fusion recipes
Korean barbecue isn’t the same as American barbecue, and it’s not just because of the sauces. Korean barbecue usually uses thin slices of meat (Chadol baegi) that are cooked quickly, unlike low-and-slow American barbecue.
Author Bill Kim was born in Korea and raised in the Midwest, so he knows what it takes to cook Korean in a typical American home, making this book more Korean-American than traditional Korean.
This book relies on seven different sauces and three spice rubs, often used in combination, to create a wide variety of different flavors. There are a total of 80 different recipes, and there are suggested substitutions for items that might not be readily available for American cooks. Since these recipes rely on the sauces and rubs, you can make those in advance so there’s a bit less work to do when it’s time to cook. Just make sure you have enough of each before you start!
Price at time of publish: $15
Number of Recipes: 80 | Pages: 240 | Published: 2018 | Formats: Hardcover, e-book
My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes
Includes breakdown of essential Korean ingredients
Covers cooking tips and alternative styles of preparation
A bit too wordy at times
In this cookbook that is part autobiography and part culinary lesson, Michelin Star chef Hooni Kim outlines the basics of Korean cuisine and then informs those techniques with his knowledge of French and Japanese cuisine to create innovative, modern recipes with a focus on quality ingredients.
Kim introduces home cooks to the culinary trinity of Korean cooking: doenjang, ganjang, and gochujang (fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, and fermented red chili paste). These components lay the foundation for the 90 recipes in the book, which include modern takes on dishes like dolsot bibimbap and mul naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles in chilled broth). The book is also filled with 100 vibrant photographs taken from all across Korea.
Price at time of publish: $22.49
Number of Recipes: 90 | Pages: 352 | Published: 2020 | Formats: Hardcover, e-book
Koreatown: A Cookbook
A variety of flavors
Some recipes don’t include photos
No mere recipe book, this New York Times bestseller by chef Deuki Hong and food writer Matt Rodbard also takes you on a journey through the spicy, bold flavors of dishes found in Koreatowns and Korean-American communities across the United States. Yes, the book achieves this with plenty of accessible recipes—100 of them—but the writers also include anecdote-filled short essays and interviews, not to mention colorful photos and historical background on each of the recipes.
You'll find recipes for both well-known, traditional favorites—such as kimchi, bibimbap, and bulgogi—as well as lesser-known dishes like jjampong, a spicy noodle soup full of seafood and anchovy stock, and modern bar snacks like braised pig feet and Korean fried chicken.
Price at time of publish: $19.99
Number of Recipes: 100+ | Pages: 272 | Published: 2016 | Formats: Hardcover, e-book
Best for Easy Recipes
Korean Food Made Simple
Includes mains, sides, desserts, and drinks
A blend of traditional and modern recipes
Also includes stories and cooking tips
Not all recipes have photos
Judy Joo may look familiar, and that's because she’s the host of a show on the Cooking Channel in which she concisely demonstrates Korean recipes. This book follows suit, with fun, easy recipes that can be made at home. There’s also information on what to stock in your pantry to be ready to make Korean food any time you want it.
This book has 130 recipes, including popular Korean dishes as well as more creative riffs on Korean food. While those creative recipes may not be traditional at all, they’re a great way to introduce Korean flavors into dishes that are comfortable for an American audience. Recipes for desserts, drinks, and sauces round out the collection, making it a comprehensive book for anyone who wants to try cooking Korean at home.
Price at time of publish: $30
Number of Recipes: 130 | Pages: 288 | Published: 2016 | Formats: Hardcover, e-book
Best for Traditional Recipes
Growing up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook
Part memoir, part cookbook
Includes resources for finding Korean ingredients
A little dated
Korean cooking has deep roots, and this book explores both those roots and the author’s history. Many of these recipes are part of the unwritten food culture, passed down in families throughout generations. There are recipes for special occasions as well as everyday meals. High-end cuisine and countryside cooking are both represented, giving a broad look at the food eaten just about everywhere in the country.
While these are traditional recipes, they’re simple to follow, but may require a few Korean ingredients that might not be easy to find. However, a list of resources for both the ingredients and Korean cooking tools are included. This book has a whopping 250 recipes plus some variations, along with the author’s family and travel photos, and plenty of reminiscences that make this a good read as well as a book to cook from.
Price at time of publish: $38.47
Number of Recipes: 250 | Pages: 272 | Published: 2001 | Format: Hardcover
Best for Kimchi
The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi
Focuses on fresh produce
Covers the history of kimchi
Focused more on modern recipes than traditional
Perhaps you’ve bought a jar of kimchi or you’ve eaten some in a restaurant, but kimchi isn’t just one recipe, as this book proves. Kimchi is seasonal, using produce as it is available from local farms. Kimchi can be ready to eat in just a few minutes, or it can require a long fermenting time. It can be fresh or funky. It can be deeply flavored or light and bright. This book has 60 different recipes for making kimchi and for using it in recipes that are both traditional and modern, and even some that are truly unique.
To make kimchi easier, the ingredients section details the ingredients required, so you’ll have an idea of what the flavors are like before you invest time and energy into the recipes. For vegetarians, there are suggested substitutions that can add the required umami flavor, so there’s something for everyone.
Price at time of publish: $11.69
Number of Recipes: 60 | Pages: 160 | Published: 2012 | Formats: Hardcover, e-book
Best for Korean Food Culture
Seoul Food Korean Cookbook
Includes both English and Korean names for ingredients
Overview of Korean culinary customs
Wide variety of recipes
Too few pictures
The author grew up in the suburbs of America but learned how to make favorite Korean foods from her Korean grandmother. Her book grew from those cooking sessions. The book has 135 recipes for familiar Korean foods like bulgogi and kimchi, but also includes recipes for Korean bar food as well as the inevitable Korean-American fusion foods that arise when traditional foods meet new ingredients.
Besides recipes, this book also has information about food customs, table manners, and tips for eating in Korean restaurants without looking too much like an outsider. Resources for buying specialty ingredients are also included, as are suggestions for substitutions if you don’t have easy access to all of the ingredients.
Price at time of publish: $18.99
Number of Recipes: 135 | Pages: 232 | Published: 2015 | Formats: Paperback, hardback, e-book
Best for Paleo
Korean Paleo: 80 Bold-Flavored, Gluten- and Grain-Free Recipes
Innovative twists on traditional recipes
Amazing photography for every entry
Simple, straightforward instructions
Ingredients list can get long
This book by Jean Choi, a certified nutritional therapist, puts creative, paleo-friendly spins on her family's classic Korean dishes.
Recipes include gluten-, grain-, and dairy-free versions of favorites like spicy tuna kimchi, pickled radishes, bibimbap, bulgogi, and more. Plus, the book features beautiful photography and the recipes are quick and easy to follow.
Price at time of publish: $21.35
Number of Recipes: 80 | Pages: 192 | Published: 2018 | Formats: Paperback, e-book
"Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking" is a winner for its easy-to-follow recipes that don't skimp on flavor or traditional background. It also includes detailed photos to guide you through every step of the cooking process. We also highly recommend "Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes" for a fun comic book/cookbook fusion that will keep you entertained and educated in Korean cuisine.
What to Look for in a Korean Cookbook
A cookbook is only useful if you like the recipes inside. Before buying a cookbook, try to take a sneak peek at what’s inside. Many cookbooks with special focuses will usually advertise that. Other more general cookbooks might cover a variety of foods and flavors, so it’s worth checking out the table of contents. After all, a vegetarian might not want a Korean cookbook that focuses heavily on meat entrees.
A clean, easy-to-read layout is vital when it comes to cookbooks. When you’ve got pans on the stove, you’ll want to read important information at a glance. Many cookbooks have ingredients, preparation info like oven temperature, and numbered instructions in distinct sections. Messy layouts or unclear instructions are frustrating. Flip through a few pages of a cookbook before you purchase to assess the layout. Or, if you’re buying a cookbook online, check out previews or read customer feedback.
Not all cookbooks are meant for all skill levels. Some are advertised as beginner’s cookbooks and cover basic, easy recipes. They’re great for building cooking skills and know-how, but more experienced cooks may find it too simple. It’s important to find a cookbook within your skill level—if it’s too complicated, you could become discouraged and if it’s too easy, it’s not as fun or satisfying. Keep in mind, different recipes within the same cookbook might vary in difficulty.
Additionally, if you’re interested in exploring a new culture’s cuisine, a more beginner level cookbook could be helpful. Someone familiar with making Italian dishes may find Korean recipes very different in terms of ingredients and preparation. Fortunately, many ethnic cookbooks have introductions to ingredients, flavor profiles, food history, and culture.
All that said, don't be scared off from cooking Korean cuisine for yourself. "I think people should try Korean cooking for themselves because it is a cuisine that is very diverse in terms of flavors and ingredients," says JinJoo Lee, food blogger at Kimchimari.com. "There is a whole spectrum of very pungent, spicy, garlicky, funky flavors to very mild, simply seasoned dishes that allow ingredients to shine on their own. Home-cooked Korean food is so much tastier than many commercially made foods. If you ever get a Korean barbecue going, you will see how fun eating can be."
Kimchimari's slogan is: "authentic Korean recipes that anyone can cook," and the site even has a Korean cooking guide for newcomers.
All cookbooks contain recipes, but what elevates a book from good to great are the extras. Common extras include cooking tips, cuisine culture and history, resources, interviews, food maps, photographs. Not only can these extras be helpful in your cooking, they can be culturally enriching as well.
What ingredients are common in Korean cooking?
Korean cuisine is packed with flavor, but there are a number of staples you’ll find in many of the dishes. Rice or noodles form the backbone of many dishes. Seafood and meat are also incredibly popular, typically cut up into bite-sized pieces for easy access with chopsticks.
Other common Korean ingredients include the following:
- Sesame oil
- Chili pepper paste (gochujang)
- Chili pepper flakes (gochukaru)
- Soybean paste (daenjang)
- Soy sauce
- Rice wine (chungju, mirin)
- Dried anchovies (myulchi)
- Roasted sesame seeds
- Dried seaweed sheets (gim)
- Noodles (jajangmyun, somyun, dangmyun)
What cooking methods are popular in Korea?
Korean food is incredibly diverse. A typical meal uses a myriad of spices and sauces, features both hot and cold dishes, and has an emphasis on meats and vegetables. It should come as no surprise, then, that Koreans utilize a variety of cooking methods as well.
"I think one of the most popular cooking methods in Korean cooking is pickling, and in particular, pickling with Korean sea salt (jeol-im)," says Lee. "Pickling or salting vegetables is a very common and favorite way Koreans add different textures and flavor to their dishes. For example, I like to salt my zucchini first, squeeze out excess liquid, and then make it into a zucchini pancake."
As Lee said, pickling is a staple in Korean cuisine, which is showcased in the popular dish of kimchi. Soups and stews are also featured at mealtime, including breakfast—some examples are rice cake soup (duk guk) and bulgogi stew (bulgogi jungol). Grilling is a popular method of preparing marinated meat or seafood for various Korean dishes. Lastly, pan-frying is used for anything from fried fish to savory pancakes (jun).
What is kimchi?
One of Korea’s most famous culinary items is kimchi. It’s a traditional dish that has a variety of uses and flavors, depending on how it’s made. Though the recipe can vary, kimchi is typically made with fermented vegetables, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce. Kimchi is often served as a side dish or can be eaten on its own, and is even used as an ingredient in larger entrees—such as kimchi stew.
Kimchi covers a wide range of flavors, too, including sweet, sour, spicy, and umami. It’s a versatile and adaptable dish that may take some practice to master, but is well worth the effort.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a product reviewer and roundup writer for The Spruce Eats. She's also a cookbook author herself (Make Ahead Bread)—and proud owner of a cookbook collection numbering in the hundreds. A couple of standouts she's reviewed for us: Dinner in an Instant and the Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook.
Allison Wignall, who updated this article, is a writer who focuses on food and travel. She’s always in the kitchen trying to recreate recipes from around the world. In terms of Korean cuisine, she absolutely loves bulgogi chicken and bibimbap with marinated beef. Her work has been featured in publications such as Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and Southern Living.
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