Best cookbook tomes

I wasn’t sure whether this warranted it’s own thread or even if it should belong in books, but we talk about cooking here so good enough.

I’m looking for a great all around cookbook. A comprehensive one. I don’t mean, “How to cook Italian” or “Betty Crocker Recipes 2009”, I mean a huge, thick, how to cook everything, reference manual. I used to have access to this great James Beard one, The James Beard American Cookery. It’s great as he divides it into types of meat, soups, vegetables, etc. and it’s pretty comprehensive. It’s a good book, but it was published in 1980, so it’s 29 years old now.

I might just get that one again, but does anyone have any other recommendations along these lines? I want a tome, something I can sit down with and read not only recipes but a narration of cooking principles and techniques in general. For instance, what is braising vs. broiling vs. poaching (I know this, that’s an example).

On Food and Cooking is the Bible of what you’re talking about.

Otherwise, I have “The Professional Chef”, which is the CIA’s textbook, and La Varenne Pratique, which was sold to me by a specialty cookbook store when I asked exactly that question.

The Joy of Cooking, cliche as it is, is also I believe still considered to be a classic.


If you’re into Classic (mainly French/European) cooking this is pretty much the bible.

The Best Recipe.

It taught me to cook. Its recipes are flawless, and the articles preceeding them teach you everything you need to know about how to prepare food. I have earned a reputation as a great home cook entirely thanks to this book. Everything you make from it will be the best version you have ever tasted (provided you follow the instructions), occasionally you will not believe it was possible for a particular food to be as good as it is when prepared to their specifications.

I own two copies - the first and second edition. The second edition is falling apart (the binding is crappier) but they are both loved to death. I now rarely use the actual books, since I will bring my laptop into the kitchen and reference their subscription website. But I adore those books.

Amusingly, I’d go with How to Cook Everything. My brother and sister-in-law gave me this a few years ago, and it has been invaluable.

Seconded. I have the New Best Recipe and it’s great and so is Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I really like that they talk about what they’re going for in a particular recipe and describe the choices they made, what worked, what failed, and show you the way they approached and thought about the recipe before finally reaching perfection.

It is, and has been continuously updated since it’s original release, the most recent version having come out in 2006. I highly recommend it. Most people say the 1975 Edition of it is the best edition, I think that’s the one my mom has.

There’s a really good listing of recommendations in the comments section of this blog post. I agree with the sentiment of the blog post itself, although not specifically the books mentioned in the article.

Thanks for all the recommendations. I’ll be looking at some of these at a bookstore soon (and then buying on Amazon . . . heh heh).

Another vote for The Joy of Cooking (2006 edition). It’s the first cookbook I read cover-to-cover and I use it every week.

Also, thanks for the rec for The Best Recipe. Just wishlisted it (birthday coming up, dontcha know).


To go along with these, I’d recommend two books by Michael Ruhlman: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking and The Elements of Cooking.

The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook may fit the bill - though not big on narrative, it does illustrate techniques throughout.

It has a little of everything… its one of several competing mass market compendiums of cooking.

I won’t buy a cookbook if it doesn’t have pictures.

I realize this does not answer the question but…if I don’t know what it looks like, I won’t cook it :(

As a guy who hates to follow recipes and never, ever does, Ratio sounds like my kind of book.

As far as I’m aware, On Food and Cooking doesn’t have a single recipe in it. It’s not a cookbook. It is, however, a fantastic book on cooking. On my desk at work I have: The Joy of Cooking (1975), Culinary Artistry, several CIA cookbooks (Professional Chef, Professional Pastry Chef, Advanced Professional Pastry Chef, Garde Manger) that I don’t recommend to novices…let’s see.

Obviously Mastering the Art of French Cooking fits in here, as does The Silver Spoon Cookbook. All of Bittman’s books are good, as is anything by James Peterson (Sauces, Fish, etc), but they’re generally single-subject reference tomes. If you ever do any baking at all, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s books are very good, as are Peter Reinhart’s, although he deals almost exclusively with high-end artisan breads. You might also consider The Complete Technique, Jacques Pepin’s English-language translation of his two French works, La Technique and La Methode.

The various CIA cookbooks have amazing production values but are primarily targeted at foodservice professionals and some of their recipes presuppose an amount of equipment the average home cook hasn’t got - steamers and chinois and such. Also, the yields tend to be impossibly high or inaccurately calculated.

The trouble with the question here is that any decent in-depth treatment of a subject is book-length in and of itself.

Alice Waters came out with a cookbook not too long ago called Simple Food. The basic idea is that she gives you a list of items to fill your pantry with, and all of the recipes are based on ingredients from that list. Pretty good cookbook too, although no pictures.

On food and Cooking is great for food science afficionados, but not a cookbook per se. The Best Recipe series is terrific and I highly recommend it.

Check out J. Pepin’s Complete Techniques and see if that is along the lines of what you are looking for.

Great list- you’re a professional? Me, too- I just got a promotion to executive chef (in charge of three small restaurants and a catering operation). People ask me all the time what makes a good cookbook. I tend to say that a good cookbook gives you knowledge, and a bad cookbook gives you recipes.

In that light, the easiest thing to point people to is the Best Recipe series. I don’t always agree with their goals, but they always at least explain what their goal is, tell you how they got there and about other methods they discarded along the way. It’s a great happy medium between teaching someone about the whole of Italian cooking and just giving them a recipe for carbonara sauce when all they want is to just cook dinner. :)

Congratulations on your promotion! I work for Cook’s Illustrated, yes - we do the Best Recipe series, so I obviously appreciate the plug. :-)

Joy of Cooking is great for having just about everything you can commonly think of in it.

I also greatly enjoy Alton Brown’s Food + Heat = Cooking and Good Eats: Early Years. He makes knowing why a recipe works be more important than the recipe itself, which to me is really the more useful knowledge in the long run.

Just as an aside (since it doesn’t address the OP’s question) but if you are interested in good vegetarian recipes, I really like the Moosewood series. Its not 100% vegetarian, but most of the recipes are, and there are a lot of good ones.