- Whether you’re a newbie in the kitchen, looking to expand your repertoire of cooking techniques, or just desirous of more recipe options, a good cookbook that spells out the steps involved in preparing the dish is a must-have.
- There are a lot of books geared toward new cooks, but our favorite is "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" by Mark Bittman.
There are some cooks — my mother is one of them — who don’t need a cookbook to come up with a delicious recipe because they have the talent and skill to create their own. And then there are cooks like me: easily able to follow a recipe in a cookbook and turn out tasty results, but not so good at thinking up new recipe ideas on my own.
As a result, I own a lot of cookbooks, and when it comes to those books, my preference is the simpler, the better. I don’t want to spend too much time figuring out complicated techniques, hunting down exotic ingredients, or hovering over the stove. If you share that kitchen philosophy, we’ll explain why you’ll enjoy the following five cookbooks, all of which make it easy to turn out delicious results even if you don’t possess the skills of a contestant on "Top Chef."
Here are the best cookbooks for beginners in 2019:
- Best cookbook for beginners overall: "How to Cook Everything: The Basics"
- Best cookbook for a Mediterranean diet: "The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook"
- Best cookbook for quick meals: "Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast"
- Best for vegetarians: "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook"
- Best one-pot cookbook: "One Pot: 120+ Easy Meals"
Keep scrolling to read more about our top picks.
The best overall
You’ll learn everything you need to know in the kitchen from "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" including kitchen equipment, basic to advanced techniques, how to design a complete meal, and plenty of tasty recipes.
Wondering what must-have equipment you need for your kitchen? Want to learn how to peel, trim, or dice? Not sure how to crack an egg, roast a chicken, or tell if the meat is done? With "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" you’ll learn all of the above, along with much, much more.
Reading this nearly 500-page hardback cookbook, by acclaimed food journalist Mark Bittman, is like taking a class with a helpful cooking instructor. It’s filled with photographs that clearly illustrate basic techniques, detailed notes telling you what to do and look for while cooking, helpful tips on how to buy, store, and cook food groups such as grains, seafood, and vegetables, and of course, 185 recipes for everything from side dishes to main courses and desserts.
Publishers Weekly says, "A wonderful book of perfectly simple recipes that every neophyte and experienced cook should have in their kitchen." The Oregonian says, "His five golden rules should be embraced by anyone who spends time in the kitchen."
With an average of 4.6 stars and almost 500 reviews on Amazon, it’s clear that plenty of new cooks find the book helpful. One customer sums it up best: "The information really does cover all of the basics. There is information on basic techniques such as how to properly hold your knife, what different methods of cooking (boil, broil, sauté, etc.) are, and how to do them. Information on picking your ingredients to ensure they’re fresh and/or ripe along with proper storage of the ingredients and proper cooking temperatures. The recipes vary in difficulty from how to make a very basic guacamole to a more complex braised beef with wine. The skill levels start as basic as how to properly remove rosemary from the stem and progress as the book progresses."
Pros: Very thorough coverage of basic cooking techniques, photos clearly illustrate cooking techniques, helpful tips on shopping and storing
Cons: A few customers complained that the book’s binding didn’t hold up well
The best for a Mediterranean diet
"The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook" teaches you all you need to know about this heart-healthy, weight-busting, delicious, and good-for-you style of eating and cooking.
The Mediterranean diet is a cooking philosophy, method, and group of recipes that center mostly around plants — whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and olive oil — with just a little bit of fish or meat to add flavor and protein. The benefits of a Mediterranean diet are well-documented: weight loss, a lowered risk of diabetes and heart disease, stronger bones, better moods, and even reduced risk of cancer.
"The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook," from America’s Test Kitchen, briefly covers everything you need to know about the Mediterranean diet, including its history and benefits, the staple foods that make up the diet, its particular food pyramid, how to design a well-balanced meal, and pantry basics to keep on hand, before diving into the heart of the 440-page hardback book (paperback and Kindle versions are also available): 500 recipes with color photos and clear explanations. You’ll find chapters on cooking vegetables, grains, soups and salads, seafood and meat, beans, eggs, fruits, and desserts.
Fans of America’s Test Kitchen cooking show on public television (as well as the magazines and books) know the recipes are extensively developed and tested by its team of chefs and food experts, and you’ll find that meticulousness in this cookbook. While there are many fad diets you can follow, the Mediterranean diet is one that’s recommended by many nutritionists and health experts.
The "dishes can easily be integrated into readers’ existing menus," Publishers Weekly says, like the "Moroccan-style chicken and lentil soup, tagliatelle with artichokes and Parmesan, and garlicky roasted shrimp with parsley and anise."
The cookbook has a 4.5-star rating and more than 600 reviews on Amazon. One customer writes, "There are two things that make this book stand out. This is much more than a book of recipes. There are useful tips, explanations for why they chose a certain item (e.g., dried beans vs. canned, brand recommendations), and excellent charts that compare different types of legumes or fish or beans."
Pros: A thorough introduction to the Mediterranean diet, plenty of color photos, a wide variety of delicious recipes including some that are vegetarian and gluten-free
Cons: A few buyers complained that the font in the cookbook is too small, others felt that too many recipes required ingredients that weren’t easy to find.
The best for quick meals
If you want to cook fresh, delicious food, but don’t have much time to spare, you’ll love the many fast, easy, and few-ingredient recipes in "Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast."
Need dinner on the table in a hurry? Don’t want to be bothered with recipes that have a dozen or more ingredients? Prefer dishes that are delicious, yet reasonably easy to make? Then you’ll definitely want to add "Fresh Food Fast" from Cooking Light magazine to your cookbook collection. This paperback cookbook has more than 250 recipes — many requiring only five ingredients — that go from cupboard to table in 15 minutes or so, meaning you can prepare a healthy and tasty meal at home faster than you can drive through a fast-food joint.
"Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast" gives clear directions and offers plenty of kitchen shortcuts to help you make the most of your time. Recipes cover all the basics: soups and salads, sandwiches, poultry, meat, and seafood, as well as a full chapter on meatless main dishes. There are color photos of every recipe and suggested substitutions for ingredients that might not be easy to find.
The cookbook has a 4.3-star rating and 150 reviews on Amazon. One customer echoes my review: "What I really love about this cookbook is that it doesn’t use a ton of ingredients, and the recipes are not super involved and don’t take a really long time to prepare."
Pros: Reasonably easy and fast recipes, few ingredients required for many recipes
Cons: Some recipes take longer and require more ingredients. some complained that many recipes call for precut produce or canned produce or similar "convenience" items
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