Favorite all-purpose cookbooks?

Looking to hear about everyone's favorite all-purpose cookbooks -- the sorts of references you call on for roasts and cakes alike. Would love to know which books you turn to the most, and why!

  • 2394 views
  • 25 Comments

25 Comments

ortolan November 15, 2014
I'm the lone dissenter re: Marc Bittman. I think his ideas for recipes and techniques are for the most part completely flawed. I've never had any success following any of his recipes to a tee. I sometimes use them as inspiration. The best all around, foolproof cookbook is The Best Recipe by Cooks Illustrated. It's a reference manual, a how-to for all basic recipes, and its profoundly edifying. It will give you a strong basis upon which to build and later on, improvise with more creativity.
 
klrcon November 15, 2014
Nope, you're not alone. I also use his recipes as inspiration but I typically I like his ideas more than his execution. I don't often get the best results from actually following his recipes, I find they usually need to be tweaked. I wouldn't recommend him to a beginner for that reason. My go to is Cook's Illustrated and then honestly I just start searching sites like this or Epicurious or certain bloggers I trust for the highest rated recipes.
 
Maedl November 16, 2014
I agree with you on Marc Bittman. I am surprised that his book has been so highly lauded here. I have tried his recipes now and again. They 'work' in that they produce a dish, but his flavors lack the complexity that I crave.
 
luvcookbooks November 13, 2014
Bittman's How to Cook Everything hands down. Second up, Marion Cunningham's edition of Fannie Farmer.
 
Meaghan F. November 13, 2014
The NY Times cookbook mentioned by everyone else (although I've been using it less frequently since the Times released their Cooking app) plus the old yellow-cover Gourmet magazine compendium which is my go-to when I need inspiration (the new green-cover one will be on my Xmas list this year). I don't have Bittman's How to Cook Everything book, but I do have the app and love it - basic recipes with multiple variations.
 
Meaghan F. November 13, 2014
A little off topic, but does anyone have the Modernist Cuisine version for home cooks? I haven't seen it mentioned in this thread. (My heart wants it, but my head suspects it's more of a coffee table book than a useful cooking tool.)
 
ChefJune November 13, 2014
Both my "all purpose" cookbooks are by Julia -- "From Julia Child's Kitchen," and "The Way to Cook." Oh, almost forgot -- "Cookwise" by Shirley Corriher for all the scientific stuff.
 
Sue November 13, 2014
Gosh - that's a tough one. I really haven't used a cookbook in about a few years. It's so much easier for me to find recipes online. The website "Simply Recipes" is my go-to. When I did use cookbooks, I didn't have one that I turned to all the time....I used many different cookbooks - Gourmet, the "Williams Sonoma" series were a few that I used back in the day.
 
Melusine November 13, 2014
Despite having JC's "How to Cook", CI's big blue book, a 1980s version of Joy of Cooking, etc, the first book I still reach for information on buying/storing/ preparing just about anything is the CIA's "Cooking A-Z." It was published in 1985 (give or take a year or two), so some things that are readily available to home cooks now mean some recipes need adjusting. The book was a god-send in Tajikistan when virtually everything had to be made from scratch; I use it constantly in Washington, DC to figure out the best cooking methods for different kinds of fish.
 
cookinginvictoria November 13, 2014
There are so many! For reliable guidance and answers to my food and cooking questions, I prefer Fannie Farmer over the Joy of Cooking. I also regularly consult Amanda's red New York Times cookbook. For questions and expert advice about cooking techniques, I adore Judy Rogers (Zuni Cookbook) and Thomas Keller (Bouchon and AdHoc at Home). For vegetable cooking, I turn to Deborah Madison (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Vegetable Literacy) and Alice Waters (Chez Panisse Vegetables). For Italian cooking, I refer to Lidia Bastianich (particularly Lidia's Family Table -- this is the book that I would take to a desert island) and Marcella Hazan's two volume set on Classic Italian Cooking. For French food, my authorities are Julia Child and Jacques Pepin (I particularly like Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home). I often look to Rick Bayless for Mexican food guidance (especially Authentic Mexican). For baking, I turn to Dorie Greenspan (Baking: From My Home to Yours), Kim Boyce (Good to the Grain), and anything by Jim Lahey and Peter Reinhart when I am bread baking.
 
AMH November 12, 2014
Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Marcella Says; The James Beard Cookbook for basics and Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. The Bourdain book is great for true French food and written like he speaks so I can almost hear him in my head when reading. Breaks down complicated classics like Cassoulet into steps that anyone can follow,
 
Pamela J. November 12, 2014
New Basics and Mad Hungry
 
Sam1148 November 12, 2014
Julia Child: The Way to Cook.

It's rather a photo intense version of her previous books. With photos instead of illustrations and glossy paper. For a basic cookbook pictures count.

 
Alice W. November 12, 2014
Cooks Companion by Stephanie Alexander @GrowCookEat
 
LLStone November 12, 2014
Such a tough question.......The cookbooks I continue to turn to are: A Girl and her Goat by April Bloomfield, Plenty by Ottolenghi, and The NYT Cookbook by Amanda. If I had to throw out every other cookbook and only keep 7, then I'd add Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibanez, a bread book by Leader (Bread Alone) and The Meatball Shop Cookbook (a guilty pleasure but would surely get dinner done) and Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen. A tough one..........
 
Amanda A. November 12, 2014
Though I love all the classics that are being mentioned here, I wanted to throw out one that I thought may go unmentioned, which is Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food. Though it doesn't tell you how to make a thick stew, fold whipped egg whites into a batter, or give you the secret to the perfect chocolate chip cookie, the cookbook focuses on ingredients from salt-packed capers to mussels, telling you how to make sense of everything you find in your co-op or grocery. It tells you what to look for in a cheese, how to store fresh herbs, and what qualities you want in a vinegar. I don't just turn to the cookbook for recipes—though the ones in it are great—but I see it more as my physical food wikipedia about grocery shopping and preserving.
 
Faith B. November 12, 2014
My old editions of Joy Of Cooking, NYT Cookbook, and Bittman's How to Cook Everything.
 
QueenSashy November 12, 2014
It is probably more a textbook than a cookbook, but I love The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America
 
pierino November 12, 2014
Bouchon (Keller), Zuni Cafe (Judy Rodgers), and The Splendid Table (Lynne Rosetto Kasper). But there is a copy of Prune out there with my name on it when I can find the time to go pick it up.
 
Mary C. November 12, 2014
Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything' is my kitchen bible!
 
Susan W. November 12, 2014
It truly is such a good one. I have it on my Kindle (and hardcover) and I used to love typing in an ingredient while commuting to work and back and perusing the recipes.
 
Nancy November 12, 2014
For learning how to cook & looking up things you need to do but haven't yet master, these guiding lights. Julia Child, Mastering Vol 1; Joy of Cooking (1975 edition - less trendy, more basic info than some later eidtions); Laurel's Kitchen for vegetarian; Marcella Hazan, Classic Italian Cookbook; Harold McGee for science; Bernard Clayton for bread; Rose Levy Beranbaum for cake; Joan Nathan for Jewish traditional foods.
 
TwoAprons November 12, 2014
My basic, work-horse cookbooks are (in no particular order): The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook (well-tested recipes, though some can be a bit too involved for day-to-day), America's Test Kitchen Family Recipes (more basic than CI cookbook - Sloppy Joes, Buttermilk pancakes - and love that it's ring-bound), The Gourmet Cookbook (tons of recipes, great to peruse for inspiration) and The New Basics Cookbook by Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins (for the vegetable section alone - look up a vegetable and gives great advise on best cooking method and seasoning). Like Susan W said, I usually look up recipes in all of these books then compare and make it my own. I also am constantly looking to my Barefoot Contessa books, though none are as all-purpose as those above.
 
Maedl November 12, 2014
Joy of Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone are the basics, but I also find myself turning constantly to Italian, Greek, and other ethnic cookbooks.
 

Voted the Best Reply!

Susan W. November 12, 2014
I'd say The Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bitterman and the newer (1997) Joy Of Cooking are my immediate go to cookbooks. I also have all of the hardbound Cook's Illustrated mags going back to 1993. As always, I have The Way to Cook and 3 other Julia books at the ready. I tend to look at multiple sources for a certain recipe to drive my self a little batty. Often, what I make is a compilation of several books. Not always a good idea.
 
Recommended by Food52