When you enter my apartment, the first thing you'll notice is a giant bookshelf full of cookbooks. You might ask yourself: Are these all cookbooks? Does he read every single one? If I take one, will he notice? The answer to all these questions is yes. So don't even think about taking one of my books; I will hunt you down and smack you with a brioche bun. I am just kidding. But seriously, don't touch my books.
Cookbooks are one of my favorite things in life. I could spend hours sifting through recipes and learning about foods from different cultures. Most people think cookbooks are just a collection of recipes, but they are so much more than that. They teach you techniques, introduce you to new ingredients, expand your palette, and help you re-imagine ways of doing things.
Cookbooks are an invaluable resource for all levels of cooks, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned chef. I will share with you some of my favorite cookbooks. Also, don't forget to check out the end of this page for my tips on buying cookbooks.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.
Best General/Techniques cookbooks
Books in this category have a strong emphasis on food science and technique. They focus more on the how's and why's of cooking rather than just providing step-by-step recipe instructions.
These books are some of the most popular cookbooks, and for a good reason: they will make you a better cook! They will teach you the fundamental concepts of good cooking, and once you learn these fundamentals, you can succeed at any recipe you attempt.
These are the books that I recommend for general cooking and techniques:
- Salt Fat Acid Heat - Samin Nosrat
- On Food and Cooking - Harold McGee
- The Food Lab - J. Kenji López-Alt
- Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1) - Julia Child
- Ruhlman's Twenty - Michael Ruhlman
- The Flavor Bible - Andrew Dornenburg and Karen A. Page
Salt Fat Acid Heat is an excellent book for beginners. The author is extremely good at describing cooking in a way that's understandable for anyone.
On Food and Cooking is a phenomenal book by Harold McGee. It is even a required reading at the Culinary Institute of America. On Food and Cooking dives deep into the chemistry and history of food science and cooking. If you have questions about a particular food, like how it's made or where it comes from, this book will answer them. I'd recommend reading the first eight chapters as I feel those are the most important and will give you the best value for your time.
The Food Lab is one of the most popular cookbooks (especially on Reddit). The author, J. Kenji López-Alt, is a genius. His book covers cooking better food at home while leveraging food science. His recipes are delicious and practical and are always preceded by a short essay on the science behind them. Most of the recipes are centered around American classics like meatloaves, roasts, eggs, steak, etc.. so if you like those kinds of foods, this will be up your alley.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child was initially published in 1961, but the information is still valid today. Most modern western cooking is based on the original ideas of French cooking, so this is a must-read for anyone serious about cooking modern or western-style cuisine. The most helpful section is the one on the five mother sauces, so if you can only read one section, let it be that one.
Ruhlman's Twenty is one of my favorite cookbooks of all time. It defines twenty essential techniques that will elevate your cooking. For example, one section is about salt and how to use it. You can start applying the methods right away to see improvements in your cooking.
The Flavor Bible is more of a reference than a cookbook. The book is organized like a dictionary where each "word" is an ingredient or technique, and underneath each ingredient or technique is a list of other ingredients or techniques which pair well with it. So, for example, under the section "pork," you'll find entries like "apple" or "braising," and each entry will be ranked on how well it pairs with "pork." You can then use this guide to develop recipes and become creative with your ingredients.
Best Chinese cookbooks
Chinese cooking is something I'm very familiar with as my parents are originally from China. They exclusively cooked Chinese food when I was a kid, so I ate it almost daily. Growing up, I learned a lot about Chinese cooking from watching my mom in the kitchen, but when I became an adult, I turned to Chinese cookbooks.
Here are some of my favorite Chinese cookbooks:
- Every Grain of Rice - Fuchsia Dunlop
- Land of Plenty/The Food of Sichuan - Fuchsia Dunlop
- The Vegan Chinese Kitchen - Hannah Che
- The Wok - J. Kenji López-Alt
Every Grain of Rice and Land of Plenty/The Food of Sichaun are my favorite cookbooks by Fuchsia Dunlop. Fuchsia Dunlop is considered by many to be one of the most respected authorities on Chinese cooking in the western world. She studied in the Sichuan province, so many of her books are centered around Sichuanese-style Chinese food. My mom is from Sichuan province, so many of Fuchsia Dunlop's recipes are very nostalgic to me. Her recipes are delicious and easy to make. She also goes in-depth into the various items required for the Chinese pantry.
The Vegan Chinese Kitchen is Hannah Che's first book, but it is already on its way to becoming a classic. It came out in 2022, but I first heard about it on The Splendid Table podcast by Francis Lam. The recipes are so delicious, showing you how to cook Chinese food without using animal products. I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to learn more about Chinese cuisine. You do not have to be a vegan to enjoy this book.
The Wok is another banger by J. Kenji López-Alt. It teaches you the science and technique of cooking in a Wok, something many home cooks have trouble with. I love the emphasis it places on mise en place in the Chinese kitchen, which is the process of prepping and organizing all your ingredients before cooking. Chinese cooking is fast and explosive, so it's crucial to have all your ingredients ready; otherwise, your food will burn very quickly!
Best Indian Cookbooks
I LOVE Indian food. It's probably my favorite cuisine. However, when I first started cooking Indian food, it was extremely overwhelming. There were so many new spices and techniques I'd never heard of. What is hing? What are fenugreek leaves? What is the purpose of a Tadka? These were just SOME of the questions that I had. I had many more and still do but reading Indian cookbooks helped me to answer them.
The following cookbooks are perfect for beginners that have no experience with Indian cooking:
Made in India and Fresh India are two of the most popular Indian cookbooks. The recipes are delicious and straightforward to make. If you work through these books, you'll learn the rhythm of Indian cooking and how to produce flavorful curries and other Indian dishes at home.
Vij's at home is a cookbook by a local chef in Vancouver, but I highly recommend it to anyone. The recipes are not exactly what you'd see in an Indian restaurant, but they are delicious.
I love baking, but I don't do it as often these days. Mainly because every time I bake, I end up with a week's worth of baked goods, but my girlfriend and I don't have the appetite to finish them all!
These are some of my favorite baking books:
- King Arthur Baker's Companion - King Arthur Baking Company and PJ Hamel
- Mooncakes and Milk Bread - Kristina Cho
- Tartine Bread - Chad Robertson
King Arthur Baker's companion has the best, no-frills recipes of any baking book. When I'm baking something, it's the first book I pull off my shelf. The recipes are bare-bones and thoroughly tested. Every single recipe I've done has turned out excellent, and since they're bare bones, you can always add your spin or tailor them to fit your needs.
Mooncakes and Milk Bread is a newer book, but it's SO good. It's primarily about Asian bakery goods, but I recommend it to anyone who loves Asian food and baking. The author, Kristina Cho, is a fantastic recipe developer. You'd think she owns an Asian bakery and is finally revealing all its secrets, but she's just a home cook. Also, her book won the James Beard award for baking in 2022!
Tartine bread is mainly about baking bread, but I think the concepts carry over to all aspects of baking. I highly recommend it to anyone since it teaches you about flour hydration and gluten development which are two of the most critical concepts in baking.
These cookbooks are more advanced, and I would recommend them after getting a bit more experience in the kitchen. They will teach you how cooking is done at the highest levels. They also make great decorations for the coffee table and will make all your guests think you're a cooking god.
These are my favorite advanced cookbooks:
- Kristen Kish Cooking - Kristen Kish
- The French Laundry Cookbook - Michael Ruhlman, Susie Heller, and Thomas Keller
Tips for buying cookbooks
I'm just going to come out and say it... cookbooks are REALLY EXPENSIVE. A brand-new cookbook can cost you anywhere from $20-$100. And with so many wonderful cookbooks being released every year, it can be tempting to buy at least a couple! But most people I know can't afford to spend that much on cookbooks, so here are some tips for buying cookbooks on a budget:
- Buy cookbooks secondhand from thrift stores. Thrift stores have tons of cookbooks, new ones too! For example, earlier this year, I found a copy of Take One Fish by Josh Niland (released in 2021) from a local Value Village for only $9.99. I think over half of my collection is from thrift stores and used bookstores, and I have over 250 cookbooks the last time I counted.
- If you're from Canada, buy cookbooks from https://bookoutlet.ca. Their books are usually from excess inventory, so the prices are low, but their condition is unused. The books I've purchased always come in excellent condition and are more than 50% marked down. They add new books to their website almost daily so there's always something new to choose from.
- Buy books from the Facebook marketplace. Again, it is just way cheaper than buying brand new.
Looking for something to cook?
Try my crispy onion rings recipe. It is an easy recipe that leverages food science to develop an extremely crispy and crunchy onion ring.