The 100 Best Cookbooks of All Time
So many great titles, so little shelf space. These are the best of the best.
Joy of Cooking
By Irma S. Rombauer
Since its debut in 1930, versions of this tome have earned a permanent spot in many kitchens. It was never become irrelevant. Despite its oddball recipe format, this book is an encyclopedic source for techniques, and U.S. culinary history if one has all of the versions.
Buy It: $20.55; amazon.com
The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini
By Cara Mangini
Our markets are more likely than ever to be filled with unfamiliar produce. We can’t eat it if we don’t know what to do with it. This demystifies much of the process.
Buy It: $20.36; amazon.com
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
By Deborah Madison
This book took vegetarian cooking from the fringe to the center of the table, even for committed carnivores. This is beautiful food that just happens to be meatless.
Buy It: $30; amazon.com
The Silver Plate Cookbook
By Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosse
This book changed the cooking habits and culinary perspective of a generation when it came to entertaining. Starting with its release 1982, some cooks wonder what they served to guests before the discovered the iconic Chicken Marbella.
Buy It: $18.36; amazon.com
The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
By Fannie Merritt Farmer
The original was published in 1896 as The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book and was the first in the country to use standardized measurements, a breakthrough that changed how all recipes are written. Marion Cunningham’s revision for the modern era, however, is the version that most people cherish and continue to use regularly.
Buy It: $37.50; amazon.com
How to Cook Without a Book
By Pam Anderson
The author is famous for her well-crafted recipes, which is why this book is so successful in teaching cooks the fundamentals behind a dish. Sometimes we need a recipe, but sometimes we need to know how to just get in there and cook with confidence.
Buy It: $16.02; amazon.com
Mastering the Art of French Cooking
By Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck
One could argue it’s the most famous American cookbook, despite being a deep exploration of French cuisine. Then again, one could argue that French techniques are what taught much of the world to cook. The recipes are secondary to Julia’s exuberant messages of encouragement and empowerment to home cooks: celebrate the successes, laugh off the rest, and have fun with it all. She didn’t want for us to cook French so much as just cook, with confidence.
Buy It: $30.99; amazon.com
The New York Times Cookbook
By Craig Claiborne
This book was among the first to show that American cooking is broad, inclusive, and evolving. The recipes reflect the editorial point of view that Craig Claiborne formed and reshaped during his reign at NYT. The recipes came from all over, but each had to meet the rigors of the paper’s test kitchen before the appeared in print.
Buy It: $22.64; amazon.com
How to Cook Everything
By Mark Bittman
The title is ludicrous because no book can be about everything, but it reveals the intention of the author to simplify and streamline cooking to the point that almost anyone is willing to give it a go.
Buy It: $25.92; amazon.com
The Art of Simple Food
By Alice Waters
Alice Waters is often credited with launching what we now call the farm-to-table movement. Whether that is true is not the point; instead we can agree that she made many cooks and eaters more aware and appreciative of local, seasonal, organic ingredients.
Buy It: $20.50; amazon.com
Julia and Jacque Cooking at Home
By Julia Child and Jacque Pepin
This book shows that there is more than one way to be a brilliant cook, so long as one relies on fundamental techniques. A passion for cooking and a healthy dose of joie de vivre help, too.
Buy It: $15; amazon.com
Baking: From My Home to Yours
By Dorie Greenspan
Packed with recipes and wisdom, Dorie Greenspan is unmatched in her ability to deliver hard-core baking lessons in friendly, accessible language. Her recipes and instructions add up to be a master class in baking.
Buy It: $27.13; amazon.com
By Dorie Greenspan
This time the inimitable Dorie Greenspan focuses her endless expertise on the beloved cookie. One cannot prepare one of her recipes and not be a better baker for it.
Buy It: $23.79; amazon.com
The Victory Garden Cookbook
By Marian Morash
Packed with upwards of 800 recipes, this book is one part gardening guide and one part cookbook. A book devoted to growing and preparing fresh produce was almost anachronistic when it debuted in 1982, a time when few people were growing a garden unless they had no alternative, but in these days of farmers’ markets and CSA boxes, it’s still a wellspring of useful info.
Buy It: $43.89; amazon.com
A Homemade Life
By Molly Wizenberg
This memoir with recipes was among the first books produced by a blogging pioneer that developed a huge online audience. The recipes feel like those you’d get from a good friend who’s not afraid to dish.
Buy It: $9.12; amazon.com
The Breakfast Book
By Marion Cunningham
Few cookbook authors knew more about simple and satisfying home cooking. That’s because she was a true cook who wanted her readers to be cooks as well. This book is devoted to breakfast food that would be welcomed any time of day, especially her perfect yeasted waffle.
Buy It: $16.74; amazon.com
By Marion Cunningham
Not all of the recipes are truly lost, of course, but they are timeless and delicious, so we need to cook them to ensure they never disappear.
Buy It: $16.94; amazon.com
The Cake Mix Doctor
By Anne Byrne
The brilliance of this book is that Anne Byrne recognized that many home cooks wanted to take advantage of the ease and reliability of a packaged cake mix and upgrade it by doctoring it with personal touches that made the final creation feel and taste homemade.
Buy It: $10.22; amazon.com
Canal House Cooks Every Day
By Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton
This book celebration the specificity and pickiness that leads to simplicity. Simple doesn’t always mean quick or easy, but when done well, it’s the most delicious and satisfying type of dish a cook of any skill level can create.
Buy It: $23.60; amazon.com
An Everlasting Meal
By Tamar Adler
This cookbook is about how to use part of yesterday’s meal to create today’s. It’s a delicious ode to the deliberate leftover.
Buy It: $42.19; amazon.com
Dori Sanders' Country Cooking: Recipes and Stories from the Family Farm Stand
By Dori Sanders
This fourth-generation South Carolina farmer is also the author of acclaimed novels. All of her works, including this collection of her family recipes, express her sense of place and how to make the most of what one has at hand.
Buy It: $17.56; amazon.com
Mama Dip's Kitchen
By Mildred Council
Mrs. Council, affectionately known as Mama Dip, is the tour de force behind the iconic Mama Dip’s Kitchen near the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. These recipes are home cooking at its unapologetic finest, designed to fill up and satisfy hungry people.
Buy It: $13.68; amazon.com
Dinner: Changing the Game
By Melissa Clark
Melissa Clark develops recipes and cranks out cookbooks and newspaper columns at an astonishing rate, yet her recipes always seem sincere, as though she really did serve these dishes to her family last night. It’s wise to trust a busy cook to share information on how to find time to cook despite a hectic schedule.
Buy It: $24.50; amazon.com
BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts
By Stella Parks
This cookbook will join the ranks of the timeless and transformative. Stella Park’s knowledge is formidable and her baked goods are brilliant, exactly the type of things we crave.
Buy It: $26.43; amazon.com
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
By Deb Perelman
This pioneer of food blogging knows her way around a stove, not only a keyboard. She's a very good cook, which is not always the case with bloggers. The book feels friendly, happy, and fun.
Buy It: $26.71; amazon.com
Small Victories: Recipes, Advice, + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs
By Julia Turshen
Sometimes a cookbook becomes famous because of a single recipe, such as Julia Tershen’s raspberry jam buns, but one would be wise to cook all of these recipes designed to help cooks, especially novices, get over the barrier of intimidation.
Buy It: $23.79; amazon.com
James Beard’s American Cookery
By James Beard
James Beard has been called superlatives such as “The Father of American Cuisine” and “The King of Gourmets”. This might be his personal encyclopedia, featuring more than 1500 of his favorite recipes that trace that arc of American culinary history from the everyday to the obscure. He was among the first food journalists to argue that American had its own cuisine that was derivative of the old countries.
Buy It: $20.07; amazon.com
The I Hate to Cook Book
By Peg Bracken
Her honesty is refreshing. She might have hated to cook, but she could. Even if one never makes a single recipe, this book is a treasure for her trenchant observations and way with words.
Buy It: $16.99; amazon.com
Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
By Laurie Colwin
Almost everyone who reads a Laurie Colwin cookbook is certain that she’d be among our BFFs. She shares recipes and tips, and is candid and endlessly charming in her confessions about her successes and failures in the kitchen and in her life.
Buy It: $11.16; amazon.com
More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen
By Laurie Colwin
Laurie Colwin loved cooking for herself and for anyone who wanted a seat at her table. These essays celebrate overlooked ingredients and underappreciated points of generosity made possible only by sharing good food with good companions. Each page is delightful.
Buy It: $14.53; amazon.com
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
By Ina Garten
It’s the book that launched her empire. Unlike many so-called celebrity cookbooks, this one is filed with recipes that actually work that produce food we actually want to eat. This is among the cookbooks that changed how we think about cookbook photography.
Buy It: $19.76; amazon.com
Betty Crocker's Cook Book for Boys and Girls
By Betty Crocker
This was the first cookbook for many a baby boomer. Released in 1957, the premise was that basic cooking skills were essential life skills for both boys and girls. It’s a refreshing look back at a time when children were fed actual food instead of not-always-so-happy meals.
Buy It: $12.79; amazon.com
Betty Crocker's Cookbook
By Betty Crocker
There have been a series of releases and revisions of Big Red, but the focus remains on useful recipes for scratch cooking, even as our notion of scratch has changed over the years to take advantage of jump starts and short cuts from convenience products.
Buy It: $15.42; amazon.com
The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
The red and white gingham cover is recognizable to generations of cooks and was often the only cookbook a new bride would consult in an era when marriage often turned young women into housewives responsible for all meal preparation. There have been more than 15 revisions and updates over the years to keep up with the times, but it remains a tried-and-true resource in many households.
Buy It: $23.75; amazon.com
The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook
By Susan Westmoreland
Like most essential American cookbooks, the books from Good Housekeeping have been revised multiple times, although one could make a case that the 2001 version is the most useful because it includes instructive illustrations that promise to guide cooks to success if they follow the diagrams.
Buy It: $14.97; amazon.com
The Southern Living Cookbook
This 1987 book is among the big tomes from big title magazines. It offers a big snapshot and time stamp of the range of recipes produced by Southern Living in their first 20 years. Although no book can be everything to all people, this one came pretty close for the magazine’s devotees.
Buy It: $30.95; amazon.com
Southern Country Cookbook
By Southern Living
This book looks dull by modern standards, but it remains a delightful compendium for cooks seeking to recreate old family recipes.
Buy It: $13.41; amazon.com
The New Basics Cookbook
By Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso
It’s true that the types of recipes and techniques considered basic evolve over time, but cooks never stops seeking instruction in the indispensable information, whether it’s as elemental as boiling an egg or as advanced as molding a terrine. Good information is always a good idea.
Buy It: $15.98; amazon.com
Frank Stitt's Southern Table
By Frank Stitt
Gorgeous, story-driven cookbooks by acclaimed Southern chefs are nearly commonplace these days, but this book was among the first and remains among the best.
Buy It: $24.01; amazon.com
Seasoned in the South
By Bill Smith
Come for the recipes, stay for the stories. There are no photographs, but Bill Smith’s writing richly illustrates each page.
Buy It: $14.93; amazon.com
The Taste of Country Cooking
By Edna Lewis
No scholar of American cooking, much as African-American cooking, can do without this book. Her voice and her recipes are illuminating, and this book is her magnum opus, her love letter to what it means to truly taste beloved food.
Buy It: $17.46; amazon.com
In Pursuit of Flavor
By Edna Lewis
Every word and recipe from Edna Lewis is a lesson in finesse.
Buy It: $12.21; amazon.com
Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook: A Mouth-Watering Treasure of Afro-American Recipes
By Pamela Strobel
Based on the food she prepared in her 12-seat soul food restaurant in the 1960s, this book captures some of what is takes for a recipe to have soul. The book languished in obscurity until a recent revamp and re-release from The Lee Bros. that will introduce her words and culinary repertoire to new generations.
Buy It: $20.40; amazon.com
The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two American Cooks
by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock
There are no finer renditions of certain classic Southern recipes than those found in this book.
Buy It: $21.25; amazon.com
Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History
By John Egerton
Many credit John Egerton with having the audacity to assert that Southern was a cuisine at all, much less one that forms the bedrock of what would come to be called American cuisine. This book is part history, part travelogue, part oral history, and part cookbook. These parts add up to a book that strives with all its might to capture and convey what it means and how it feels to eat like a Southerner.
Buy It: $28.22; amazon.com
The Pleasures of Cooking for One
By Judith Jones
Beyond being the editor of some of the most influential cookbooks ever published, Judith Jones was a talented cook and writer in her own right. In this book she describes the necessity of cooking real meals as a source of joy and sustenance, even when dining alone.
Buy It: $8.45; amazon.com