The 7 Most-Used Cookbooks in My Kitchen

Handy references for the home chef


I’ve been cooking for well over two decades and have been actively reviewing cookbooks for more than a year, though that doesn’t include all the books I’ve taken a look at and passed by over the years.

The truth is that I rarely use cookbooks today. Sometimes I need a reference check or some inspiration, but I generally have a handle on what I’m cooking. So, when people ask me what cookbooks I love, I’m sometimes stumped to come up with an answer.

I have several hundred cookbooks that span hundreds of years. I even have a reproduction of the oldest cookbook known to exist: De Re Coquinaria (Cooking Matters), written by a man named Apicius in the first century AD, from which I’ve planned out one dinner party. Writing this has whet my appetite for another, but I digress.

People have asked me for my cookbook recommendations and I’ve come up empty. Instead of relaying what my favorite cookbooks are, allow me to introduce the seven that are in my kitchen today. I don’t know if these are all the absolute best cookbooks, they are simply the ones I seem to use the most!

1) The Professional Chef
By The Culinary Institute of America

Now, this isn’t exactly your typical cookbook. For starters, it’s huge, not inexpensive, and filled with recipes you may not use. Why buy it then? Well, this is a culinary textbook that will show you the right way to perform all the basic skills necessary in the kitchen. It appears that the current edition is number 8 and my tattered copy is only the second edition. So, the content might be more up-to-date, but even this dog-eared copy is indispensable in my kitchen.

Buy The Professional Chef.

2) The Way to Cook
Julia Child

Julia Child has written so many great books it’s hard to choose my favorite. Actually, no, it’s not. The Way to Cook is almost the perfect complement to The Professional Chef, with easy explanations for all the culinary techniques a home chef needs to master. Pair that with some of Julia’s finest recipes and you just might have the only cookbook you’ll ever need.

Buy The Way to Cook.

3) The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2nd Edition
By America’s Test Kitchen

Want the perfect mac and cheese? How about fried chicken, or chocolate-chip cookies? No matter what comfort food you want to recreate, or perfect, The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2nd Edition: Every Recipe from the Hit TV Show With Product Ratings and a Look Behind the Scenes -- the full title of this tome -- has the details that will make your meal a great one. There’s some fun science in here, and once you’ve read a recipe you’ll not only be able to make that dish perfectly, but you’ll even understand why, if that matters to you.

Buy The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2nd Edition: Every Recipe from the Hit TV Show With Product Ratings and a Look Behind the Scenes.

4) On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
By Harold McGee

OK, this is not really cookbook, but rather a “why food cooks” book. This is all about food science, but any avid home chef will be enthralled with all the detailed content. Just about everything that one can do to food is examined here, and you’ll find out the right technique to use for every dish you want to prepare. While this is a scientific book, it’s written in plain English, making it an enjoyable read!

Buy On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

5) Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods
By Tracey Ryder

With the locavore movement taking hold of the world -- and thankfully that really is a true statement -- it’s great to be able to know what’s local wherever you’re headed, well, at least in the U.S. Edible the book is a compendium based on Edible the magazine and features people, places, and foods of the United States. There are some wonderful recipes here, but this is more a reference for the finest ingredients and where to get them!

Buy Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods.

6)  The Visual Food Lover’s Guide
By QA International

While The Visual Food Lover’s Guide won’t be able to tell where to buy an ingredient, it most likely well be able to tell you everything else you might want to know about what to do with it. From cleaning to storing, with serving ideas, cooking tips,  some nutritional info thrown in for good measure, this is become my favorite book bout food when I just want to learn and explore what’s available today.

Buy The Visual Food Lover's Guide: Includes essential information on how to buy, prepare and store over 1,000 types of food.

7) My New Orleans: The Cookbook
John Besh

And finally, there’s the cookbook with the pretty pictures. But John Besh’s My New Orleans is also packed with great recipes that bring me back to the Big Easy, a place where I’ve spent more than my fair share of time. There are some inventive recipes as well as old Creole standbys, all presented in a wonderful volume that will be a valued and appreciated addition to any chef’s cluttered shelf of books!

Buy My New Orleans: The Cookbook.

To view the photos for this article, go to My Cookbook Collection.

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