Cooking is an art form honed over lifetimes, a study you’re never finished with — and that’s what makes it beautiful. Food is necessary fuel for all human beings — and I am firmly believe that you can eat to survive or eat to thrive and everyone gets to choose. You can eat simple foods that keep you going, or you can create dishes that you can savor, revel in — foods that create happiness using some salt, heat and maybe a little butter. I’m a foodie by nature, and I’ve realized over years of eating that good food doesn’t need to be expensive, inaccessible or even that complicated to make. Making and enjoying good food starts with knowledge, and where do we acquire knowledge? Books.
Everyone starts somewhere in their journey to becoming the next Massimo Bottura, and cookbooks are one of the best ways to learn the culinary arts. There are thousands upon thousands of volumes out there that instruct cooks through everything from 2-ingredient pancakes all the way up to Julia Child’s infamous boeuf bourguignon. There are cookbooks that cover food from every corner of the globe, every diet and a plethora of chefs in each category whose perspectives tackle the same style from different angles. There are so many different ways to make good food — and that is such a blessing. I’ve picked out some of my favorite cookbooks and gathered them into this list so you can get started or continue on your cooking journey. This is by no means a comprehensive list of every cookbook a chef should own — it’s simply a place to start. I hope you learn a lot, pause to savor, and end up somewhere delicious.
1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I
I mean, did you really expect any other book to be in the “Best Overall” spot? Chances are, all of the “best cookbooks” pieces you find online include this book, and there’s a reason for that. It’s a legendary book that revolutionized the way Americans approach a style of cooking lauded by many to be the best. French cooking basically defined deliciousness in many ways, and this book has been leading people through complicated French recipes for over 50 years. It’s a book for seasoned cooks and beginners, the confident and the timid, people who love food and people who love it a lot. The best part about this book is that it’s a collection of delicious recipes and a masterclass in cooking skills you can take to all other cookbooks and recipes you tackle. It’s a must-have in your kitchen, if not just to pay homage to the master herself.
2. The Silver Palate Cookbook
The cover of this book holds a special place in my heart, as it’s one of the books my parents used to cook for my sister and I throughout our childhood. It’s also a beloved classic in the cooking space that contains 350 classic, delicious, perfectly seasoned recipes for all occasions. It has tips, wisdom, reference information about ingredients familiar and unfamiliar, and it’s been changing the way Americans cook for 25+ years. The origin of the book, the Silver Palate take-out shop in New York has been around for 35 years, so the recipes and guidance on making people happy with food has stood the test of time. Don’t sleep on this volume, it’s a great way to cover your bases when building the foundation of your collection.
3. Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
BEST 2020 BOOK
This book was released earlier this year and thank god — we could all use some Ina Garten love after the year we’ve had. It’s a #1 New York Times bestseller and chock full of comforting, soul-warming recipes like crispy hash browns, Cheddar and Chutney Grilled Cheese sandwiches and Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas. This book includes Ina staples – like easy-to-follow instructions, comforting advice and dependable side notes that’ll make you feel like your favorite home cook is right there with you. She’s got you covered from the cocktail hour through dessert, so pick up this volume and start cooking your way through this dark winter.
4. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
If I was in cooking school, Samin Nosrat is the cook I’d want as my homeroom teacher. She’s just the best — even watching her Netflix show is like a warm hug you don’t want to end. Her book is perfect for those just starting out who want to master the basics, and learn the culinary science behind them. Her cooking philosophy blew the lid off of the cooking world and propelled her into chef stardom — master the four elements of good food and anything you make will turn out good. Salt which enhances existing flavor in a dish, Fat which delivers flavor and texture, Acid which balances out flavor and Heat which provides the final word on your food’s texture. Nosrat walks you through 100 essential recipes in mastering these building blocks of food with a lighthearted fondness for food you’ll appreciate and walk away with.
5. Dinner: Changing the Game: A Cookbook
BEST FOR FAMILIES
A staple of family life? The dinner table. This book tackles dinner through 200 recipes that create enough food for dinner in one swift go. You can add side dishes to these recipes if you want — but they’re meant to stand and satisfy alone. The chapters progress through main ingredients — chicken, meat, fish, seafood, eggs, pasta, tofu, vegetables, grains, pizzas, soups and salads. This book expands what dinner can be, and makes sure that at the end of the day you have something to marvel over. Families need this book both for simplicity’s sake and so any weekday can become something sensational, easily.
6. Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One
BEST FOR SINGLES
Cooking for yourself? No stress! This cookbook is designed for single diners who want to enjoy delicious food without exorbitant amounts of leftovers. It’s written by the Michelin-starred chef, Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters contestant Anita Lo. It has humorous, self-deprecating commentary throughout the 101 accessible recipes and reminds us that dining solo can be as empowering as it is blissful.
7. Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day
This cookbook is built to help budget-conscious people still eat well, and eat healthy, all while abiding by the U.S. food stamp allotment of $4.00 per day. These recipes maximize all ingredients and teach economical cooking methods that save time, energy, money and space. If you’re in a pinch — you don’t have to fuel your body with anything less than delicious ingredients maximized to their fullest potential. The best part? With every purchased cookbook the publisher donates one to a person or family in need — win-win.
8. Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer
BEST FOR GIFTING
This is another cookbook that’s firmly in the classic canon of foundational culinary texts — a book that Julia Child herself called a “fundamental resource for any American cook.” Irma, a widow and single mother self-published this book in 1931 with the help of her daughter from her apartment. Since then, it has taught tens of millions of people how to cook and become one of the New York Public Library’s 150 most influential books of the twentieth century. The 75th anniversary edition still has over 600 recipes inside, but has been lightly modernized by Ethan Becker — Rombauer’s grandson who has led JOY, still a family business, into the 21st century. You can’t go wrong gifting this to any cook you know at any stage in their learning — just make sure they don’t possess their own copy first!
9. Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat
BEST FOR INDULGENCE
Think what you want about Chrissy Tiegen — but that woman can COOK. She’s the Sports Illustrated model who married John Legend, but her real legendary status came because of her cookbooks and cookware line that stemmed from this first volume. She’s grown her Cravings empire beyond this book with a sequel and website, but this first book is still a must-have. She’s exactly the type of person you want helping you in the kitchen — knowledgeable, appreciative of good food, not afraid to add salt and truly hilarious. This book has all sorts of deliciousness inside from John’s fried chicken to her mom, Pepper’s, Thai recipes. She’ll teach you all the important lessons — like mastering home fragrance with bacon and how to not overthink men or Brussel sprouts. She’s the cooking fairy godmother we all need — and you need this book.
10. Milk Street: Tuesday Nights: More Than 200 Simple Weeknight Suppers That Deliver Bold Flavor, Fast
BEST FOR WEEKNIGHTS
We get it, you don’t always have time to stuff a duck breast on a Wednesday and that’s okay! This cookbook is made for busy weeknights where all you want is to order takeout, but you know you shouldn’t. This award-winning general cookbook has 200 recipes that quickly bring together healthy, delicious meals using pantry staples and not much else. Some chapters focus on time others highlight easy themes like taco “walk away” recipes, roast and simmer or super fast 20-minute miracles. Put down the UberEats application, and crack open this cookbook instead.
11. Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice and Soul
This vegan cookbook looks delicious, and one of the best vegan dishes I’ve ever had was fried chicken so I couldn’t help but pick it for the Best Vegan spot. The author, Jenné Claiborne, grew up eating soul food in Atlanta and decided to adopt the same comforting flavors into her recipes after going vegan. She uses fresh, local ingredients to create plant-based recipes that make food truly glow. Coconut Collard Salad anyone? Or perhaps some Fried Cauliflower Chicken? You’ll get so wrapped up in the nutritional, life-giving food on your plate you’ll forget there’s no meat or animal bi-products involved. Considering going vegan? Start here.
12. True Roots: A Mindful Kitchen with More Than 100 Recipes Free of Gluten, Dairy and Refined Sugar
BEST FOR DIETARY RESTRICTIONS
This award-winning cookbook was written by New York Times bestselling author Kristin Cavallari, who’s approach to clean eating for the mind, body and spirit helped her break free of diet culture into something better. She’s all about balance, and creating avenues for improving the way people eat that aren’t difficult — but rather fun, easy and enjoyable. How does she eat exactly? Organic mostly, nothing white – like flour, salt or sugar — and nothing that’s been stripped of its natural nutrients. She makes her food real — and now you can too. If you’re on a restrictive diet due to allergies or simply want to eat cleaner, check out this cookbook. It provides a healthy, non-toxic lifestyle is anything but bland.
13. Baking: From My Home to Yours
BEST FOR BAKING
Dorie Greenspan is a baking legend, having written recipes for world-class chefs from Pierre Hermé to Julia Child herself. This book is her masterpiece, with over 300 baking recipes for the next generation of bakers looking to master this delicately intricate craft. Baking is hard, but Dorie makes it easier.
14. Plenty: Vibrant Vegetables Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi
BEST FOR VEGETARIANS
This is a vegetarian cookbook from Yotam Ottolenghi, the author of Jerusalem A Cookbook — and the book that launched him as a famous international food expert. Trained at the Cordin Bleu in Paris, the combination of classic French styles with his Mediterranean have made for some crazy delicious creations, including many of the recipes in this book. Plenty is a book that celebrates vegetables and makes them fun, vibrant and tasty to eat. He’s drawn inspiration from diverse food cultures and emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients in this revolutionary volume. If you’ve got a new vegetarian in the house or have set a goal to eat more veggies — this is the route to take.
15. Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto [A Cookbook]
BEST FOR BARBECUE
You’ve probably heard of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas but in case you haven’t — it’s one of the most obsessed-over barbecue restaurants in the whole country, and Aaron Franklin, the founder, has won every major barbecue award there is. This is his debut in the cookbook world, and includes years of his hard-won knowledge as a pit master. It has details on everything from cooking mind-blowingly delicious barbecue to sourcing meats and even customizing your own smoker. If you’re the go-to grill master of your friend group or just love ribs — this is a book you should own.
16. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays
Having a cookbook dedicated to the holidays can be helpful for planning purposes and seamless creation of huge holiday dinners that can be time-consuming to wrangle together. This highly-rated holiday-themed cookbook is written by #1 New York Times bestselling author and Food Network personality Ree Drummond — who brings holiday inspiration to everything from breakfast to dessert. This book is filled with recipes for everything from huge holiday parties to intimate family gatherings, with creative ideas and step-by-step photos so you’ll never get lost.
17. Momofuku: A Cookbook
There are plenty of restaurant cookbooks out there inspired by some of the country’s favorite watering holes for culinary delight and mastery — but Momofuku is truly something different. David Chang changed the way, and continues to change, how Americans think about food. Momofuku is now synonymous with some of the country, and world’s, favorite restaurants and a man whose Asian flavors introduced American cooking to elements from which it’ll never be the same. Chang shares the inspirations that led to some of his restaurant’s most coveted dishes as well as the recipes themselves. Love his pork buns? They’re in here. Pick up a copy for yourself.
18. Let’s Eat France!
If you want to dive deep into French booking, but do it in a fun way, this encyclopedic cookbook is filled with visually appealing infographics and classic recipes for the modern era. It has a region-by-region index of famous French cheeses, French wines, oysters du jour and even a guide to bread. You’ll go from the simple to the very complex on the same page, and eat your way through one of the food capitals of the world. Plus, in between dishes, it’s a beautiful coffee table book.
19. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
BEST ITALIAN COOKING
The only other nation to perhaps challenge France’s title of the best food country in the world? Italy. I mean come on, pasta? Pizza? Italian wine? Gelato? Forget about it. This is the bible of Italian cooking that brings together two classics from author Marcella Hazan into one volume that covers it all. She’s a gifted chef and teacher, and very passionate about Italian food. It’s got delicious recipes and well-explained techniques, and you can trust its authenticity above all else.
20. Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets and Railways of India
Indian food is another one of the world’s most precious delicacies, and this is one of the best cookbooks for exploring its depths. The spices, flavor profiles, textures and rituals that surround Indian food from across regions in the country vary greatly, and this book covers many of them. From biryani rice casserole to egg stuffed flatbreads, from the North to South and East to West, this cookbook has breathtaking photography and is truly a celebration of one of the most vibrant food cultures on earth. Enjoy!