When it comes to cookbooks, your favorite is probably going to be the one that includes all the passed-down family recipes you’ve enjoyed since you were a kid. While you should absolutely keep the tradition of Grandma’s cheesecake and Mom’s macaroni salad alive, there are plenty of game-changing cookbooks out there that will expand your culinary horizons even in the age of YouTube and food blogs. After all, you don’t want to be forced to watch ads, skip around cause you missed something, or read hundreds of words about “go-to family dinner staples in our house” do you? Sometimes it’s nice to just be able to plop down a big fat cookbook in front of you and follow along. That’s why we put together this list of cookbooks everyone should own with a combination of OG classics and modern options that cover everything we think you’d want to cook yourself. Bon Appétit.
The Best If-You’re-Only-Going-To-Own-One-Cookbook Cookbook
The Joy of Cooking – Irma S. Rombauer
Originally self-published by Irma Rombauer in 1931 and continuously in print since around then, The Joy of Cooking has sold a whopping 20 million copies. It’s widely considered one of the most popular American cookbooks and was recently modernized by Rombauer’s great-grandson and his wife. It’s a gateway cookbook, arguably the best cookbook for beginners, and one that belongs in every kitchen. Described, appropriately, as the kitchen bible, this 1,200-page tome will teach you how to make everything from chocolate chip cookies and southern cornbread, to crispy pan-fried tofu and Chicago-style deep-dish with an incredible amount of detail, humor, and charm.
The Best Gourmet Cookbook
Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Julia Child
Like Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking, no list of essential cookbooks would be complete without Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. America’s first celebrity chef and the person widely credited with bringing French haute cuisine to America, Julia freakin’ Child is an American treasure who’s been teaching people how to cook in one way or another for sixty years. This two-volume set includes the 524 recipes of the original along with the 257 added for volume two ten years later. The result is all of the recipes you need to master the art of French cooking. Whether you want to make ratatouille or boeuf bourguignon, brush up on your technique or expand your repertoire, this book belongs in your kitchen.
The Best BBQ Cookbook(s)
Project Smoke – Steven Raichlen
The Barbecue! Bible – Steven Raichlen
If we wanted barbecue for our last meal and we had the opportunity to pick the man by the fire, it would unquestionably be Steven Raichlen. Raichlen has written a small bookshelf worth of tomes, hosted almost as many TV shows, and won a bunch of awards on the topic of barbecue. We thought it was fair to put both The Barbecue! Bible and Project Smoke on the list because of the crossover of grilling and smoking when it comes to great BBQ. Between the two tomes, you’ll have over 600 recipes to practice on your way to becoming the best pit and grill master in your area.
The Best Dinner Party Cookbook
Binging with Babish: 100 Recipes Recreated from Your Favorite Movies and TV Shows – Andrew Rea
If you really want to knock it out of the park for the film and TV friends at your next dinner party, you have to go Binging with Babish and make something from this book. Whether it’s the chocolate lava cake from Chef (Favreau also wrote the foreword), Lemon-pepper Wet Wings from Atlanta, or Tomate du Saltambique from The West Wing (where the Babish moniker came from), Andrew Rea walks you through 100 pop culture and fan-favorite recipes along with behind-the-scenes stories, never-before-seen photos, and answers to frequently asked questions.
The Best Baking / Dessert Cookbook
Everyone Can Bake: Simple Recipes to Master and Mix – Dominique Ansel
Plenty of people spent their quarantine year(s) perfecting the art of baking bread. This is a valuable skill–and one that we also practiced during quarantine. But when it comes to “baked goods,” we’re far more interested in the delightful and delicious desserts you might find coming out of Dominique Ansel’s Cronut kitchen. And that brings us to the modern yet immediately classic cookbook Everyone Can Bake: Simple Recipes to Master and Mix. With easy-to-follow instructions, tips, and plenty of options for your favorite desserts, this book equally teaches, encourages, and guides you on a journey to create the best desserts you never thought would leave your home kitchen.
The Best Cookbook for Seafood
Hook, Line and Supper – Hank Shaw
The prospect of properly cooking seafood tends to be a little daunting. There’s no shame in not knowing how to roast up a fish — it’s not always as intuitive as tackling some fresh veggies or grilling up some meat. But, Hank Shaw’s Hook, Line and Supper demystifies the whole process. With approachable recipes and helpful tips, Shaw lays out everything you need to prep, cook, and serve any seafood. For those who prefer to catch their meal, Shaw teaches you the step-by-step process of cleaning and cooking your fish right out of the water. And, if you need tips for buying the best fish at your local market, Shaw has you covered. If you’re looking to work more fish into your diet or simply want to cover your bases, Hook, Line and Supper is indispensible.
The Best Science Nerd Cookbook
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
We were aware of Serious Eats Chief Creative Consultant J. Kenji Lopez-Alt a few years ago when we put together the How to Carve a Turkey piece, but we didn’t fully appreciate his impact on modern cooking until we binge-watched all of his YouTube videos over the past year. He focuses on the science behind the cooking. He constantly prepares dishes we’d actually want to eat and, more importantly, could tackle in a home kitchen. He provides recommendations for ingredients, tools, cookware, local spots to check out, and also helps people in need. He’s a bomb-ass chef that put together an almost thousand-page tome in The Food Lab that runs through everything you need to know to be the best home cook you can be–in incredible, fact-based detail, with plenty of images and references, over the course of almost 6.5 pounds of hardcover book.
The Best Restaurant Cookbook
Momofuku: A Cookbook – David Chang
If you’ve spent any amount of time in the “food” section of Netflix or on this site for that matter, you know much impact David Chang, Momofuku, and author Peter Meehan have had on the modern culinary world. Momofuku started as a simple Noodle Bar but has since grown into a culinary behemoth that has changed the modern-day food landscape (for the better, in our opinion) with a number of incredible dishes, restaurants, and chefs. Chang and Meehan lay it all on the table in Momofuku: A Cookbook in a way that allows you to enjoy the rise to super-stardom while also recreating favorites like the ginger scallion noodles and, yes, the infamous pork buns.
The Best Budding Chef Cookbook
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking – Samin Nosrat
Samin Nosrat has won countless awards–and also gotten a Netflix series of the same name–for Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. And for good reason. This book more than lives up to its namesake by teaching you how to master, well, salt, fat, acid, and heat to improve your ingredients and dishes, make better decisions in the kitchen, and, ultimately, bridge the gap from at-home to professional level cooking. While it might seem like a complex concept, this is easily one of the best cookbooks for beginners. Boiled down to four aspects over the course of 100 essential recipes–with plenty of variations–this book has everything you need to make bright, balanced vinaigrettes to light, flaky pastry doughs, and everything in between.
New Cookbooks to Keep On Your Radar
If you’re still looking for new cookbooks to add to your collection, there are plenty of recent releases or upcoming cookbooks to check out. These are the best new cookbooks of 2021 to buy or preorder now.
Dana’s Bakery: 100 Decadent Recipes for Unique Desserts – Dana Pollack
Lemon, Love, and Olive Oil – Mina Stone
Cook This Book: Techniques That Teach and Recipes to Repeat: A Cookbook – Molly Baz
FOODHEIM: A Culinary Adventure – Eric Wareheim
The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes from Everyone’s Favorite Thai Mom – Pepper Teigen