Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Best Cookbooks for Beginners


Recommended Posts

How do these Tome-o'-Knowledge type cookbooks fit into the internet age, where I can google 'cornbread' and get five thousand different recipes? I suspect that the recipes as a whole are probably of a higher quality, having been more extensively tested...would you agree with this? Or is it more the advantage of having one go-to recipe, and not needing to wade through the aforementioned five thousand to find one you like.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it's good to have one of those encyclopedic cookbooks like Joy of Cooking so that you know that whatever it is you want to make, you have easy access to a version that works. It might not be the best possible version, but it probably will turn out right. You can find amazing recipes on the Internet, but it takes a certain familiarity with either the recipe or the author to wade through the junk, and novices by definition don't really have that yet.

That said, the Joy of Cooking is definitely one of my least-used cookbooks. My favorite cookbooks (like Bouchon) have color photographs of the food, and I think that's really useful when you're first learning. The JOC's black and white drawings don't always quite do it. I don't know if Bouchon is beginner-level, but it sure is pretty, and has several really basic recipes, like how to roast a chicken. You won't find recipes for everything you would possibly ever want to eat in a book like that, though.

Also, this isn't exactly a cookbook recommendation, but for a beginner, I would consider subscribing to Cook's Illustrated. It's very explanation-heavy and has big pictures and recommendations on tools and techniques. Their recipes aren't necessarily the most authentic version of whatever it is being made, but they definitely work and they do try to make sure that you can get everything in their recipes at your "average" chain supermarket.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If your interested in a career in cooking you can get a pretty good idea of what is expected from the Cullinary Institute of America. You can find downloads for study guides for ASSESSMENTS AND EXAMS. These are not educational but they do give you an idea of what you need to know. I'm using them as a source of direction.

A few sources for internet videos: google, Imcooked, and Ifood.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Besides Joy and the Alton Brown books, here are some suggestions...

While it isn't really the greatest cookbook overall, one of my first books was "Young & Hungry" by Dave Lieberman. It's mostly recipes that are very easy to prepare, and the target audience is early 20s crowd who haven't spent much time in the kitchen. But it has good instruction on a few techniques and the results are usually pretty tasty. I also really enjoyed Giada's first book "Everyday Italian". It's a simple introduction to Italian cooking that isn't too indepth or overwhelming.

I would say recommend to start cooking food that you really enjoy and are pretty experienced eating so you know what to expect and can get encouraged as you progress. Happy Cooking.

"In a perfect world, cooks who abuse fine cutlery would be locked in a pillory and pelted with McNuggets."

- Anthony Bourdain

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Does anyone have a good recommendation for a beginner level cookbook?  Thanks!

Two cookbooks that I found indispensable when I first started cooking were:

Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook

and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

General all around cookbooks - they go into detailed instructions very good for the beginner (Good Housekeeping even provides you with party menus and table settings). I still refer to them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another great little cookbook is Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom. It's small, but is right next to my stove, and is a quick reference on anything, especially for vinegraitte's.

I'm trying to outfit my kitchen so I can cook this whole book. I think there are over 300 recipes. I see it referred on the net as culinary training, the basics.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I taught myself to cook in the early 80's by subscribing to Bon Appetit magazine. With each new arrival I would make every recipe I could during that month's period. These were the golden years for Bon Appetit and just to remind myself of how awesome a magazine it was, I kept all of my issues from 1983 through 1985 and still cook from them, refer to the monthly section on spirits, etc. These days, when I meet someone who is new to cooking, I recommend the same strategy but my magazine of recommendation is Fine Cooking. Just start at the beginning and make your way through the mag, and after a couple of months, you'll be amazed at the good food you'll be turning out in your kitchen.


The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh (disclaimer: I helped Robb with the research and recipe testing)

The Daily Soup Cookbook (every recipe I've tried is a winner)

Gaston Lenotre's abridged book on desserts and pastries

The Dessert Lover's Cookbook by Sorosky

The "Hot" series by Hugh Carpener (Hot Chicken, Hot Pasta, etc.)

Chinese Cuisine Made Simple by Dorothy Huang

Edited by Jay Francis (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 10 months later...

My son is going to be in an apartment for the first time and doesn't really know how to cook. He likes my cooking, but I can't see him making anything too involved. Can anyone recommend something basic?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My son is going to be in an apartment for the first time and doesn't really know how to cook.  He likes my cooking, but I can't see him making anything too involved.  Can anyone recommend something basic?

I think "Starting Out" by Julie Van Rosendaal is one of the better "basic" books. It could serve as a basic cookbook for years. It goes somewhat beyond mac and cheese but give excellent instructions for making some interesting meals.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think "Starting Out" by Julie Van Rosendaal is one of the better "basic" books.  It could serve as a basic cookbook for years.  It goes somewhat beyond mac  and cheese but give excellent instructions for making some interesting meals.

Thanks - I think this is exactly what I'm looking for - very basic recipes. I looked at Starting Out on Amazon and it looks very promising.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You might look at "The Cook's Book".

Each section is by a well know chef, the recipes are good and the illustrations/ instructions are brilliant. Ideal for a beginner.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just discovered Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food He gives you instruction on what to have in the pantry, refrig and freezer and all the meals take no more than 45 minutes start to finish and they are really good!

I have Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food I got it as a gift and love it!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

It's true that in this age of the internet one can Google a dish and get 100 good recipes so I'm of the opinion beginners should get books primarily focusing on technique and apply it to the recipes gleaned from the internet.

The ones that started me off 30 years ago were both Pepin books, LA TECHNIQUE & LA METHODE, Anne Willan's LA VARENNE PRACTIQUE and Bugliali's CLASSIC TECHNIQUES OF ITALIAN COOKING.

All these books are technique heavy with recipe variations and will start you off with a good foundation upon which you can adapt all those recipes on the web. They have many pictures, especially the Pepin Books.

These are still the books I turn to when attempting something new.

My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.

- Errol Flynn

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From a New Zealand perspective the traditional and mainstream cooking at most homes in this country is slightly different from the United States, but not as different as Germany or certainly China. I would recommend people to read:

1. Alison Holst The Best of Alison Holst (CJ Publishing and Hodder Moa Beckett, Auckland, 1991; New Holland reprinted, Auckland, 2007) and The Ultimate Collection (New Holland, Auckland, 2000). These two together contain over 2,000 of the old traditional New Zealand cooking, and ethnic cooking that already found acceptance in NZ kitchens by 1990. An equivalent to The Joy of Cooking.

2. Lesley Christensen-Yule and Hamish McRae A Cook's Bible (Penguin, Auckland, 2007). Absolutely starting from beginners level but leads you to serious gourmet level of cooking. Adapted from The New Zealand Cook written by the same authors for professional cooking students so it is a heavy in subject title. The recipes are more cutting edge than Holst's with more Pacific Rim style dishes.

3. Australian Woman's Weekly Cook (ACP Publishing, Sydney, 2006), Kitchen (ACP Publishing, Sydney, 2007), and Bake (ACP Publishing, Sydney, 2008). The trilogy covers every major cooking techniques and almost all dishes a typical Australian home kitchen needs or wants in early 21st century. Seasoning is less sweet than NZ cookbooks and more cosmopolitan in foodstuff, but very useful for NZ kitchens as well.

4. Marie Claire series, written by Michele Cranston, Kitchen (Murdoch Books, Sydney, 2004) and Seasonal Kitchen (Murdoch Books, Sydney, 2007). Largely same territory as Australian Woman's Weekly but more gourmet-ish at times. A luttle bit analogous to Bon Appetite recipes but with an Australian perspective. Don't expect to find presently unfashionable dishes like roast leg of lamb, chicken a la king, or crepes on these two titles.

Mention must be made of the Edmonds Cookbook series. It is THE authoritative cookbook for most New Zealanders. I found it at times too stodgy (for example many recipes still call for distilled white vinegar for non-pickling purposes, which will destroy the dish), and they are vendor-specific recipes as the series started out and still is released to market Edmonds and related products. For these reasons I don't recommend it to others above the above titles.

The latest publication The Edmonds Illustrated Collection (Goodman Fielder NZ, Auckland, 2007) has updated the recipe collection into the 21st century while still maintaining the best of traditional baking recipes that the Edmonds cookbooks are famous for. It is a good improvement, but I would hesitate if you already have other titles I recommended above.

My two cents. Most books may require specialist NZ online booksellers to purchase. Even Australian online bookselling services, let alone the UK ones, don't normally sell NZ's books.

Edited by johung (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Dave Lieberman's Young & Hungry is a great choice for novice cooks!

His recipes are very approachable/fool-proof and the results are always great.

Obviously, this book isn't for deluxe recipes but they are solid and delliiciousss. Also, Dave's recipes are quite varied (influences from around the world) so that's always a plus.

The instructions are the basic, no fuss sort. I'd definately recommend it and...you get to gawke at pictures of Dave who is reallly a babe :wub:

Edited by Ce'nedra (log)

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 years later...

My son called and ask me to help him find a set of cookbooks for his girlfriend who is moving into an apartment and has little cooking experience.

I think that I have a list but I'm seeking other opinions.

When my kids were in collage I bought them both Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and James Peterson's "Essentials of Cooking ". An aside is that my wife told me then that I wasn't thinking very well as the kids seemed to call quite often to ask how to cook something or other and that stopped after my gift.

I was considering Baird's "Theory and practice of Good cooking" that I learned so much from in the late 70s or 80s as I began to try to actually learn to cook. This may be too dated, what now though.

Also Jacques Pe'pens "Techniques{I don't remember the correct name)". Lastly s copy of Barron's "Food Lovers Companion"

I might add something that was like a 'week night food' book, kind of a 5 ingredients of less for quick meals. Have no idea which to consider.

I look forward to your suggestions.

Oh yes, this young lady starts Med School this coming fall and is a top contender for a USA slot in this summers Olympics [Rifle Target Shooting].



Link to comment
Share on other sites

add a subscription to Fine Cooking. (Taunton press)

some of Julia Child's 'easier' books are always well worth it:

"the way to cook"


also "from Julia Child's Kitchen"


I guess its out of print

cant go wrong with the way to cook and Fine Cooking.

Edited by rotuts (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Agree on Julia's The Way to Cook.

Maybe Jacques' Fast Food My Way?

You have to admit that most of the recipe's in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking are pretty simple and use easy to find ingredients.

No kitchen is complete without Joy.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

oh yea Fast Food My Way and More Fast Food My way and the Child and the subs and youre set.

nothing else needed.

BTW if the person really dosent know how to cook or has little experience the (M)FFMY has videos from the PBS cooking shows

they are superb and very little else needed

Edited by rotuts (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cook's Illustrated's series of books were great for me because they devote a large chunk of each recipe to explaining why it works and what they tried that didn't. Cookwise, On Food and Cooking and later, Modernist Cuisine appealed to my food science bent of understanding what was going on so that I had a framework to improvise and adapt from.

PS: I am a guy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is she interested in cooking, or just in eating decently? Judging by the experiences of many friends, the problem with the bigger all-encompassing cookbooks is that they can be overwhelming for a novice who just wants to make a simple meal. Bittman is great (I've got how to cook everything and its vegetarian sister and find them very useful), but there are so many choices it can also be paralysing.

I think for some people a better choice is a book with good pictures of the final product, short ingredient lists (with minimal prepared ingredients) and straightforward instructions. Locally I would choose one of Bill Granger's cookbooks, a Marie Claire (authored by Michelle Cranston or Donna Hay) or a Donna Hay. I like Bill's Open Kitchen in particular because it gives suggestion for simple accompaniments to complete the meal. These books aren't about learning to cook properly as much as just mucking in and giving it a go and generally getting something tasty at the end. Many of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks take a similar approach, but his ingredient lists tend to be getting longer and longer lately... My feeling is that the wider range of techniques and options provided by Joy of Cooking, Bittman et al can have more of an impact if they come after one has some simple meals under the belt.

Of course, people are all different, and your son knows her best. Some people thrive on seeing the theory laid out in front of them with all the possibilities.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with what you say about Cook's Ill books. they do indeed explain a lot which is why I have so many.

but .....

they dont tell you that the "new book--- the Best" has about 60 % of old prior published Rx.

they do explain a lot

there vids (Free Over the air ) explain a lot more.

after all isnt this person although Sharp and a Shooter going to take Neuro Anatomy?

well I guess not its just " lets get a scan"

back in the day one went to Burger King (for the char) and orderd triple Tomatoes please and that satisfied the veg. requirement for a month.



all bets are off if the MedSch is even re-motley near a Trader Joes!


Edited by rotuts (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites


  • Similar Content

    • By ojisan
      Does anyone have any thoughts about Alice Waters' new "40 Years of Chez Panisse"? Not a recipe cookbook - more of a memoir/history/picture book.
    • By cteavin
      I was getting my daily YouTube fix a bit ago and this video reminded me of you guys: a how to on making dashi with Japanese soups I'd never heard of. The recipe seems simple enough. Enjoy, if you're inclined. 
    • By Rushina
      What would you like to be included in a cookbook you classify as a "good cookbook"?
    • By Multiwagon
      Other than the three written by Michael Ruhlman, which I have read and loved, what other books are out there that are about cooking, but not cookbooks?
    • By OliverB
      I just received a copy of "The Cook's Book - Concise Edition" edited by Jill Norman, and now I'm curious, what's the difference to the full edition? Supposedly it has 648 pages compared to 496 in this edition, and it appears to be much larger in size if the info on us.dk.com is correct. Other than that I can't find any info what the difference might be. It's a neat book with lots of photos about techniques etc, and lots of recipes. As with any DK book production values are high.
      If the contents are the same, I'm happy with the smaller version, but I'd really like to know what I might be missing on those 150 or so pages. If it's just filler, I don't care. If it's some fantastic recipes, I do care....
      Anybody here know both editions? Google was so far of no help. Lots of the full edition are to be had used as well, I'd be happy giving this one as a gift and ordering the full edition, if it's worth it.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...