What makes a cookbook ideal for beginners is almost as subjective as the beginner in question; while some newbie cooks want to know everything about why cooking works the way it does, others just want a five-ingredient recipe that will, in 30 minutes or less, result in a meal. So, keeping this factor in mind, here is a list of the best cooking books for beginners.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
by Samin Nosrat
“Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious,” begins Nosrat’s blockbuster 2018 cookbook. That reassuring sentiment is reinforced throughout the book, which rests less on recipes (although there are 100 of them) than on explaining the four titular elements that determine the deliciousness of the meals we make. Nosrat’s message — that you can learn to build food by trusting your instincts — is delivered with contagious enthusiasm, and further sweetened by Wendy MacNaughton’s winsome watercolor illustrations. This is an ideal book for anyone as interested in the “why” of cooking as the “how.”
The Joy of Cooking
by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker, John Becker, Megan Scott
There’s a reason this glorious doorstop of a book is still going strong 88 years after Irma Rombauer self-published its first incarnation. Revised this year by Rombauer’s great-grandson John Becker and his wife Megan Scott, the book remains a master class for anyone who wants to learn the basics — all of the basics. It contains more than 4,500 recipes for everything from popcorn to emu fillets, along with charts, diagrams, and a three-page spread on how to mix and match salad greens — enough, in other words, to more or less qualify as a culinary school with page numbers.
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
by J. Kenji López-Alt
Do not be scared off by this book’s 958 pages, or the use of the word “science” in its title. Its recipes are accessible, thanks in large part to the care (and humor) López-Alt employs in explaining the, yes, science behind them. Even the ostensibly simple act of boiling an egg is given its due, with six pages — including a graph that charts boiling point versus altitude — dedicated to it. This is basically a nerd fantasia, one that’s as likely to appeal to the seriously inquisitive newbie as one who simply wants a foolproof recipe for macaroni and cheese.
How to Cook Everything
by Mark Bittman
For a lesson in the basics — whether it’s the basics of knife skills, kitchen tools, or pots and pans — this one is hard to beat. As its title implies, this is a great cookbook for a beginner who wants an endlessly accessible, broad-spectrum introduction to cooking (the sauce and condiments chapter alone could be its own book). The completely revised twentieth-anniversary edition, published this October, contains hundreds of recipes that emphasize simplicity and convenience — many of them are designed to be cooked in 30 minutes or less.