What Are Your Favorite Cookbooks of All Time?

We're on the hunt for the books that have totally changed the way you cook.

February 19, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Ask any home cook what the best cookbook of all time is, and you'll probably get an excited—and exasperated—response. Where does one even begin? It's an entirely unscientific, exceedingly subjective question with a thousand and one right answers. It's like being asked to pick your favorite child or pet. (Heck, making this decision was almost impossible even when we were just trying to name the best cookbook of the year.)

Naturally, we decided to ask this question anyway, to the best and brightest home cooks we know (that's you!). We're officially on the hunt for the greatest tomes of our time, and we need your help. So, tell us: What cookbook—new or old, long or short, famed or unjustly overlooked—has changed the way you cook? Whose corners are dog-eared, with pages splattered, stained, and utterly well-loved? Which one do you turn to when you're in need of a kick of inspiration and a back-to-basics lesson on a classic dish? And which cookbook's there for you most, when you need a friendly, steady voice to coach you through a head-spinning technique?

We realize this is a big question, so we're giving you some guardrails, in the form of categories. Eventually, we'll stack up those favorites against others of the same category, to compete in the ultimate cookbook showdown: A series of rigorous reviews—considered, tested, and written by none other than you.

We think these cookbook deep-dives will make the competition more objective: apples to apples, miches to miches, if you will. And because the reviews will be written by you and your fellow Food52ers—by home cooks, for home cooks—we know they'll be a heck of a lot more informative, not to mention a lot more relatable and fun. We're calling this series The Big Community Book-Off, and we can't wait to get things cooking.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Gee! Such a mixture of tones, goals and directions! For example, best seems to include books that instruct both in basic and in tricky, almost professional standards. !!!??? Higly detailed directions but/and requirement to have fun. Shades of a sergeant major or school matron. Monthly contests by type of cookbook. But no outline of or how the overall best will be selected after monthly contests...oh well...”
— Nancy

But before we go headfirst into all the fun, let's break down the process and set some ground rules, shall we? The gist is this:

How it Works

  1. We'll gather nominations in this form, where we're asking you to share your single-favorite book in each category. The book can be new or old, classic or modern, from an author we've written about on Food52 or one that might've never crossed our paths before. The only rule here is that the book must still be in print, and currently available at some kind of widely accessible retailer. The nomination form will close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, March 8, 2020. (The nomination form also has information about categories you'd like to see in future months, and you can additionally register early interest in signing up to review—but we'll give you a chance to sign up later, too...more on this in point #3).
  2. We'll collect your nominations and identify the five most-popular books in the field.
  3. Each month, we'll share the top five books in a specific category, then solicit reviewers for each set of books. We'll need at least three reviewers to test through each set of books, so come three, come all!
  4. Once we've gathered community interest in reviewing each book, we'll select our three (or more!) reviewers and connect them with one another over email (or snail mail, or carrier pigeon—whichever you prefer). We'll then send each reviewer a set of five books to work through, and give them four weeks to read the books and cook a few recipes from each. In the two weeks after that, they'll put their heads together with their co-conspirators fellow reviewers, to craft a joint, extended review on their experience. (They'll then send this review to Food52 for editing and publication.)

The Rules

Not to be a wet blanket, but if you're interested in joining, there are a few simple guidelines we'll ask you to follow (they're easy and almost all fun, we promise!). These rules will make the competition fairest and hopefully clear up some questions that might be popping up right now.

  1. You must cook three dishes from each book. You'll be the one to decide which those are, and you can recruit friends, family members, or co-workers to pitch in on the prepping and cooking. But at the end of the day we're hoping to hear what you think—we want to know what it was like for you to cook from these books.
  2. You must connect with your fellow community reviewers to weigh in on the books. Not everyone needs to do the writing, but everyone can, if they'd like—you can decide who does what amongst yourselves. We'll just ask that everyone's thoughts are eventually compiled in one document when you send it to us.
  3. You must turn in a review of the book for editing and publication on Food52. (We'll give you the right email address when we reach out to confirm your participation.) What should the review include, you ask? We’ve got some ideas and thought starters here: First off, tell us where you're coming from and what kind of cook you are. Do you cook from this kind of book all the time, or is it newer to you? Then, explain the premise of each book and outline its contents: for example, the structure, storytelling, photography and other graphics, and finally, the recipes themselves. Do any of the books feel lacking in any of these areas? Are you drawn to one title right off the bat? Explain all this here. Next, carefully read each introduction to find out what the books are promising—and keep these promises in mind when you select and cook three recipes from each (see rule #1). This brings us to detailing each book's recipes: How'd it all go? What worked? What didn't work? Were the instructions sufficiently helpful or did you feel left in the lurch? Finally, you'll declare one book to rule them all. (This is a toughie, but you can do it!)
  4. You must have fun. This is not so much a rule as a hope and a wish. But really, this is your time to let loose! Bring in friends and family to help you cook and judge, host a cookbook dinner party, take photos and videos of your journey along the way. Check in with your fellow reviewers to get their take throughout the process, then share those conversations with us in your review. Sky's the limit!

So, now that we've given you the lay of the land—what are you waiting for?! Run to your bookshelves with reckless abandon, leaf through your collection fast and furiously, and get nominating. Remember—submissions close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Mar. 8, 2020. Happy cookbooking!

What can't-live-without-'em cookbooks are you planning to nominate? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • LaLaRockafella
  • abbyarnold
  • Pamela trefler
    Pamela trefler
  • Katie
  • meggan dwyer
    meggan dwyer
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


LaLaRockafella October 18, 2020
Marcella Hazan - Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
abbyarnold September 13, 2020
How can I get in on this fun? It looks like it was announced in February but I just saw it for the first time today. I get at least one email from Food52 every day, but never have seen it mentioned. What am I doing wrong?
Terry H. September 14, 2020
The emails are just for sales. I wish there was one for the community activities. I know this is in progress, but I don’t how to follow it: this thread seems to be abandoned.
Pamela T. September 11, 2020
I think this sounds really interesting but it is really hard to find. I would sign up to test books but I cant find out what the next category of books will be, let alone how to sign up. Why isn't the Big Communjty Bake Off under one of you categories, like Genius Recipes, so it can be found?
Katie July 7, 2020
Oh, here it is. It's interesting that this didn't take off at a time when many people were spending more time at home and taking on more challenging cooking projects. I wonder if asking unpaid people to create your content according to a bunch of requirements was maybe not the best way to re-engage a community that was losing interest in your project. You're asking people to spend a month: cooking 15 dishes, taking notes on the experience, coordinating with two other people, reading through the introductions of 5 cookbooks, writing a review of the winning cookbook which also seems to include reviews of your experiences with the other four cookbooks. This could have been something fun for cooking enthusiasts to participate in. You turned it into labor.
Katie July 7, 2020
I'm a pretty ambitious home cook, but just reading through your instructions above for VOLUNTEER reviewers stresses me out.
meggan D. April 13, 2020
where do we follow this project? I can't seem to find the nominations or reviews?
Terry H. April 14, 2020
It appears to have been abandoned. ☹️
Joy L. March 28, 2020
Does this project continue? -Acadiana Table -Talk About Good (+ T.A.G.II) (all Cajun). Plus Anything on Mushrooms (including wild)!! -Mediterranean Flavors - Rose Water & Orange Blossoms...Lebanese by Maureen Abood -2nd annual New England Cook-Off Cookbook (yes, from 1988, but I refer it to often. Now, where/how do I get the Rules/Guidelines?
Terry H. March 21, 2020
Hi, just checking in to see if this is still happening. ?
Cynthia G. March 14, 2020
I'd like to hear about regional /ethnic cookbooks from your own area. Is there a category for that? My Vidalia/Asparagus cookbook shall never be pulled from my hands!
cookbookchick March 14, 2020
Vidalia/Asparagus cookbook? Do tell us more!
Cynthia G. March 14, 2020
Mom recipes. Probably can't use now because of ingredients such as real cream! But for sides try a Parm,cream, onion casserole. Bake. The family still asks for this one 1996 ....
jy2nd March 14, 2020
I live in the Midwest. A wonderful cookbook about the food traditions of this area is Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland. A wonderful read and a wonderful cookbook.
cookbookchick March 14, 2020
Thanks, Cynthia!
Terry H. March 3, 2020
The Art of Simple Food and An Everlasting Meal topped my list. For fun I added Sugar Rush. (How can we be sure our submission was received?)
jy2nd March 1, 2020
It’s nothing revolutionary, but I love Sunday Suppers by Melanie Barnard and Brooke Djony. Excellent classic takes on food everyone will like. Like a much older version of Ina Garten’s books, without the extremely expensive ingredients. I also have a full collection of Sunset cookbooks, which I would try to save in a fire. None are less than ten years old, and the pics can be amusing (did we really wear that?) but the recipes are still wonderful. Julia Child’s French Chef cookbook (the one to accompany the show) and her show taught me to cook. I’ve learned a lot watching Jacques Pepin. Rachel Ray was wonderful on teaching time management. I really do have a couple of her earliest books. I don’t cook much from them but I often check a recipe against them to see what I can simplify.
cookbookchick March 1, 2020
Just seven comments so far? This plan is no Piglet.
Megan V. February 22, 2020
About 10 years ago, I was gifted the series of four Nordstrom cookbooks. There are two in the series that are dog eared and splattered and used regularly here at my home. Entertaining at Home and Friends and Family. Nothing is crazy complicated and everything in them is delicious and straightforward.
Panfusine February 22, 2020
Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan, & Grains, greens and grated coconuts by Ammini Ramachandran. Between these two books, I get to cover all my nostalgic flavors that my grandmother and mom used to cook up. Although I don't need any Cookbook for my daily chores, there are recipes in these books that evoke that certain 'Je ne Sais quoi' factor.
Paul February 20, 2020
Haven’t read the categories yet but love the idea. Please select reviewers for any one cookbook geographically, it would be great to get the reviewers together to try the recipes and debate. Maybe some photos. Fair point about what does the best cookbook recipes or pictures, stories and tips or tricks? The reviewers should have some fun with that. Count me in.

ldl February 20, 2020
None of my favorite cookbooks fit these categories. Where would you put Jerusalem (best cookbook of all time), or Burma: Rivers of Flavor? Joy of Cooking? Super Awesome Chinese Food? None of these amazing cookbooks focus on one ingredient or meal.
AntoniaJames February 20, 2020
Idl, I agree that the limitations could be problematic. ("Jerusalem" is one of my all-time favorites, too!) Did you see though that there is a place on the form for suggesting new categories? It says, "Any additional categories that you'd like to nominate cookbooks for?"
(I'm not quite sure how logistically those will be implemented, however.) For the Burma or Chinese book, perhaps a new category could be "Books that focus on / explore a single culture (or related cultures), or one country." ;o)
Nancy February 20, 2020
Gee! Such a mixture of tones, goals and directions! For example, best seems to include books that instruct both in basic and in tricky, almost professional standards. !!!??? Higly detailed directions but/and requirement to have fun. Shades of a sergeant major or school matron. Monthly contests by type of cookbook. But no outline of or how the overall best will be selected after monthly contests...oh well...
Smaug February 21, 2020
Not a bad idea for a website clearly struggling for meaningful content in their new role as a "lifestyle" website, but it seems like a lot of trouble, and anyway my candidates would mostly be 40 years old and probably out of print. My local newspaper (back when food sections were more than restaurant ads) used to have a deal where a reader received a review copy of a new book in exchange for submitting a review (general review plus a review of one recipe). Kind of interesting, though it tended to tell you more about the reviewer than the book.