It has been said that the invention of cooking, more than any other factor, is what led to the rise of humanity. According to an article published in the Harvard Gazette in 2009, the caveman’s ability to use fire to cook food helped foster the growth of the brain, but also (obviously) softened food so that our early ancestors could spend less time and energy chewing, processing and digesting it. Thus freeing up time to do other things, like make tools, cultivate land and make social friends. All of which became quintessential in the delivery of a good meal (still true today—good kitchen tools, fresh ingredients and friends/family to serve).
All this to say, cooking has been a part of human nature since the beginning of our time. As such, likely billions of cookbooks have been written for public consumption. Once, they were just recipe books, but now they are flush with beautiful pictures and lots of great tidbits of knowledge. And when you take into account the digital realm, the options are endless. So how do you know where to find the best cookbooks? Then how do you find the cookbook that aligns with your skills and needs? Maybe you’re looking for the best vegetarian cookbooks, the best vegan cookbooks or the best cookbooks for beginners.
Whatever your needs, read on to determine the best way to find the best cookbooks for you.
If you are a beginner, you likely don’t need to jump right into Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Maybe you ARE taking a page from the Julie and Julia script, and you do plan to jump right into French cooking (more power to you), but if you’re like most beginners, you’re looking for something that is filled with recipes that have few ingredients, clear instructions and maybe lots of pictures. If you’re an expert looking for a little motivation and inspiration, you’re likely going to look for something with lots of ingredientes, multi-step recipes that require precision and, sometimes, multi-tasking. If you fall somewhere in the middle, you’re probably going to want a cookbook that does also.
Additionally, if you don’t like sweets or don’t like to bake, you probably don’t need a cookbook that features these types of recipes. If you don’t like vegetables, you probably want to stay away from vegetarian or vegan cookbooks. It’s always good to try new things, but a cookbook is an investment (even if it isn’t that expensive), so make sure you’re buying something that will work for you and that will facilitate positive cooking experiences by helping you create delicious, appetizing dishes that appeal to your palette.
Pick a cookbook that is organized in a way that makes sense to you. Of course it’s helpful if it’s logical, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. By organization, we are referring not just to the way the book itself is laid out, but that the recipes make sense and are laid out in a way that is functional and easy to follow. If recipes in the cookbook are consistently giving instructions that seem illogical or out of order, you’ll find yourself growing annoyed in the kitchen. Most recipes are laid out in the following format:
The organization is most important when it comes to the layout of the ingredients (they should, ideally, be listed in the order in which they will be used) and instructions (which, obviously, should be laid out in the order in which they should be completed).
Some cookbook writers take for granted the skill of the person who might buy their book. Before you purchase a cookbook, be sure to read through several recipes (spanning different dishes and courses) to make sure that you understand all the instructions and words the author has used to guide your cooking. This is almost as important as the organization of the recipe. If you have to read the instructions, re-read them and then continuously return to them for direction, it can add to your prep time, delay your meal and ruin your mood.
Don’t take this section as an excuse to limit yourself. We always encourage trying new things and stretching beyond your skill and comfort level, but if you’re a first time chef, you’re likely going to do better with recipes that are more attainable. You know the old saying, “You have to walk before you run?” Well, it can be applied to cooking too. You have to know how to boil water, chop vegetables, brown meat and measure seasonings before you can make bolognese.
Cooking can be incredibly cathartic and rewarding, but it can also be frustrating. It is a skill to be honed and practiced, like any other. Cookbooks are a great way to help you develop your skills, stretch your comfort zone and guide you in the kitchen, but picking one that contains recipes that both appeal to you and align with your needs, preferences, skills and understanding can make all the difference.