The Big Community Book-Off is Back & We Need Your Help!

We're looking for the very best cookbooks that change the way you cook.

January  5, 2021
Photo by Ty Mecham

What’s your favorite cookbook? Whatever your answer, we’d venture to guess it's not the same as your best friend’s, partner’s, or even your own had we asked last year. Much as you love your dog-eared copy of a decades-old renowned cookbook, perhaps one published just a few months ago has earned a special place in your heart (and on your dinner table.)

Here at Food52, we’re on a mission to find the best cookbooks, which is why last year we launched the Big Community Book-Off, a series of thoughtful cookbook reviews—considered, tested, and written by none other than you, our Food52 community.

Last year, we started off the Book-Off strong: our community reviewers (three different people each time!) each cooked through 5 nominated books to find the best in each category. They reviewed bread books, books on basics, cake books, vegetable-forward books, Instant Pot books, and finally, cookie books, just in time for the December holidays.

With a new year upon us, (not to mention another year of great cookbooks published!) we’re revamping the Book-Off nominations form and review signup sheet! We hope you’re as excited to join us as we are to see the nominations.

How it works

  • 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, January 24, 2021. (This nomination form is also where you should sign up to be a reviewer).

  • We'll collect your nominations and identify the five most-popular books in the field.

  • Each month, we'll share the top five books in a specific category, then solicit reviewers for each set of books. We'll need three reviewers to test through each set of books.

  • Once we've gathered community interest in reviewing each book, we'll send out an email to everyone who volunteered, and the first three replies will be our reviewers—if you’ve already reviewed for Book-Off, you may still fill out the nominations form, but we would like everyone who is interested in reviewing to have a chance before anyone gets to participate a second time.

  • We'll send each reviewer a set of the five books to cook through, and give them a few weeks to read the books and cook a few recipes from each. The reviewers will put their heads together to craft a joint, extended review on their experience. (They'll then send this review to Food52 for editing and publication.)

the rules

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.

  • You must cook at least three dishes from each book. You'll be the one to decide which recipes those are, and you can talk it out with your fellow reviewers to find the best plan (for example, our cookie book reviewers all made one classic chocolate chip cookie from each book, in addition to their other tests.) 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.

  • 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.

  • You must turn in a review of the book for editing and publication on Food52 by the given deadline. (One of our editors will be in touch with you to confirm your participation and field any questions that may come up as you review.) What should the review include, you ask? Feel free to read last year’s reviews as a jumping off point! We’ve also 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 at least three recipes from each. 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!)

  • You must have fun. This is not so much a rule as a hope and a wish. This is your time to let loose! Bring in members of your household to help you cook and judge, 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, Jan. 24, 2021. Happy cookbooking!

Which cookbooks are you constantly cooking from? Tell us in the comments—and please nominate them too!

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