There’s nothing like a seriously daunting cookbook to turn off a novice home chef. Combine long instructions, obscure ingredients, and confusing terms with little-to-no skill or knowledge, and you’ve got a recipe (literally) for disaster. That’s why you should never start with a guide meant for the pros; if you’re totally new to the world of food, you need one of the best cookbooks for beginners to break things down for you in a manageable way.
However, that presents a problem in itself. If you have no idea how to cook, why would you know where to start? You probably won’t, which is why you should look to the pros for answers. While yes, they’re now experts in their field, every chef had to get their start somewhere — and many of them have used a cookbook at one point to help them begin their cooking journey. Thus, they have plenty of experience sussing out what’s truly worth reading.
Following that line of logic, TZR reached out to several professionals in the industry for their recommendations of beginner-level cookbooks. And fortunately, they delivered. Our sources shared their go-to guides for tackling crucial skills, understanding ingredients, diving into new cuisines, and more important topics for learning your way around the kitchen. Get ready to seriously impress your family at the dinner table this holiday season by using their expert suggestions.
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The Professional Chef
Chef Scott Linquist, co-founder of Miami's Coyo Taco and author of cookbook Mod Mex, says this is “basically the go-to book in the culinary world.” According to Linquist, it teaches all the basics needed for a solid knowledge base, including knife skills, stocks and sauces, classic preparation, and more. “I used it personally as our main textbook at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), albeit quite a few years ago, but it still is considered ‘the Bible’ for culinary professionals and I refer to it to this day when I need a little refresher,” he says.
Matt Bolus, chef and partner at The 404 Kitchen in Nashville, TN, says Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi is his recommendation for beginners. “I love all the recipes in this book,” he tells TZR. And that’s not only because they’re simple and straightforward. “It is an amazing introduction to new flavors,” he continues, “as well as an education on how most of us don’t venture to use enough spices in our cooking.”
The Food Lab
According to Maddie Sperling, executive chef at Zou Zou’s in Manhattan, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt is a great cookbook for a beginner. More specifically, it’s perfect for the novice home cook who wants “to know the ‘why’ behind a recipe’s steps, and who is more interested in the science than the art of cooking.” She says that’s because the author demystifies recipes and techniques such as poaching an egg or searing a perfect medium-rare steak that might be intimidating to the inexperienced. “This book is an excellent gift for new cooks, but it is also an invaluable resource for seasoned professionals who want to be better teachers in the kitchen.”
The Moosewood Cookbook
The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen was originally published in the 1970s, and features recipes for vegetarian dishes inspired by the ones she and other chefs cooked at a restaurant co-op in Ithaca, NY. It’s now a classic — and one that chef, cookbook author, entrepreneur, and activist Pierre Thiam highly recommends. “It was one of the books I had in my early collection when I was starting,” Thiam tells TZR, explaining that it helped him hone his skills with cooking vegetables.
Martha Stewart's Cookie Perfection
If you’d rather work on your baking skills, chef Tiffany Lewis, founder of Seattle-based bakery Cookies With Tiffany, says Martha Stewart’s Cookie Perfection is the way to go. “From setting a great foundation from which bakers can understand the elements of what makes a great cookie, well, great, to empowering bakers to get creative within their classic cookie repertoire, [this book] enables you to take ordinary cookies to extraordinary levels with clear, informative, and step-by-step directions and lots of incredible tips along the way,” she explains. “It is my go-to cookbook recommendation.”
Kieron Hales, a recipe developer and the owner and chef behind Cornman Farms, has a collection of more than 8,000 cookbooks. Of those, he always recommends beginners start with Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. “It's a guide to the basic but important ratios that form all recipes, from cakes to sausages,” he tells TZR. “It's freeing because it simply explains how to look at ingredients as percentages of a whole, which makes substituting ingredients or adjusting amounts of ingredients easy!”
The Flavor Bible
Michael Sanguinetti, a personal and private chef at luxury on-demand private dining platform INTUEAT, names The Flavor Bible as one of his top recommendations for new cooks. It’s a guide to using and seasoning ingredients that he says “is a great reference book for beginners who are trying to get inspired and figure out flavor combinations that they may have never tried before,” he explains. In fact, he continues, he still picks it up himself every day, even as a 20-year veteran in the industry.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
If you’re looking to explore some of the basics of Italian cooking, Jessica Botta, chef-instructor of Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education, says Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan is a good place to start. “What is great about Marcella's recipes is that they provide clear instruction (and just the right amount) and are not too complicated, so they are highly achievable for beginner cooks,” she explains. And while the recipes in the book are of course not exhaustive, she continues, they “give the reader a sense of the diverse nature of regional Italian cuisine, which is not always apparent or understood by Americans exposed predominately to Italian-American cuisine.”
For a cook newly exploring Korean food, turn to this cookbook by Eric Kim, recommends Ji Hye Kim, the chef and managing partner of Miss Kim in Ann Arbor, MI. According to her, “the recipes are friendly, both with technique and pantry, without sacrificing flavor.” It’s also a “great snapshot of how a Korean American would be cooking and eating, sometimes finding an easy work-around to a complicated Korean dish (like sheet pan bibimbap) and sometimes introducing Korean pantry to American classics (gochugaru shrimp and grits).” Not only that, but it has “beautifully written essays” that provide context to the recipes. “Love this book!” she says.