Need to find the best cookbooks for beginners? A cookbook publishing insider shares the 7 best cookbooks for beginners, no matter what kind of beginner you are!
There’s almost nothing more exciting than new beginnings, and to me, there’s definitely nothing more exciting the start of a new cookbook collection.
Anytime a graduation, wedding, baby shower or any other gifting occasion comes up, I have to physically restrain myself from buying 5 new cookbooks for that friend entering a new stage of life. And I mean it–someone (ahem, Jarrett) has gotta hold me back.
Because, you see, I think that finding your way in the kitchen is one of the great pleasures of life. And that’s not even mentioning the practical incentives. Like that whole thing about how cooking at home is the #1 best thing you can do to save money, save your health, and save your relationships.
It’s true: cooking is magic for every corner of our lives, which is why it can be so rewarding to give yourself or someone you love the gift of a few cookbooks. But which are the best cookbooks for beginners? Can there even be one set of best cookbooks for beginners?
The 7 best cookbooks for beginners: why this list is different
In researching for this article, I found that many of the other online lists of the best cookbooks for beginners weren’t really for beginners. They shared books that were either too comprehensive (read: intimidating) for beginners or too high-brow (read: doubly intimidating) for beginners. And many didn’t acknowledge that there are many different kinds of beginners, and that therefore, the best cookbook for one type of beginner just wouldn’t do for another.
So instead, I decided to research and prepare my own master list of the best cookbooks for beginners. It’s organized by the type of beginner you might encounter, as well as by what that beginner might actually be interested in learning.
This list is sourced both from my 10+ years of editing and working on cookbooks, as well as my own life as a home cook and a bordering-on-obnoxious gifter of cookbooks. (And no, I haven’t personally worked on any of these–these truly are just my favorites to gift!)
I hope you find this list helpful for spotting that one best cookbook that will work for your beginner, so you can set them (or yourself) on the path of good cooking and good living.
The 7 best cookbooks for beginners
The best cookbooks for beginners who: want to master the basics
How To Cook Everything: The Basics
There are many cookbooks for beginners who want to master the basics, but this is the best one for one reason: step-by-step photos. Beginners often feel a surge of confidence if they can see exactly how each step is done and how the food should look. So the 1,000 photos in this thorough starter will go far to relieve their newbie anxiety.
I especially love the beginning sections that explain—with more photos!—the different ways to cook, from sautéing to braising to pan-frying. (You won’t believe how often I hear beginners express nervousness because they don’t know what “sauté” means!)
This book is the next best thing to treating your beginner to a one-on-one cooking class. And it’s easily one of the best cookbooks for beginners (and pros!) who want to master the basics.
The best cookbooks for beginners who: love to go out to eat
Comfort Food Makeovers: All Your Favorites Made Lighter
America’s Test Kitchen
Here’s a secret: the best way to get a beginner in the kitchen is to convince them they can eat better at home than at their favorite restaurant. And what are the two things that keep us from going out to eat every single night? Cost and health.
Comfort Food Makeovers is the perfect solution for this, as it shows beginners how they can make many restaurant favorites at home for about half the cost and half the calories. Think Olive Garden’s Fettucine Alfredo, Red Lobster’s Cheesy Biscuits, Chili’s Nachos, and much more.
The best part? The crew at America’s Test Kitchen explains exactly what changes they made to lighten up each recipe. So with each recipe, your beginner will be learning how they can modify and substitute their way to healthier food on their own.
The best cookbooks for beginners who: love to watch recipe videos
Tasty Ultimate: How to Cook Basically Anything
Have a beginner in your life who loves to watch those 30-second recipe videos online but hasn’t spent much time in the kitchen? Tasty Ultimate is from the minds behind many of the internet’s most popular over-the-top recipe videos. You know, the ones with the mouthwatering cheese-pulls and ooey gooey frosting drizzles. And here it delivers more of the same in book form.
This book is perfect for the beginner who gets excited about outrageous mash-up foods—things like Mozzarella Stick Onion Rings and Fried Egg Pizza—but isn’t into the old school bouef bourguignons of other beginner cookbooks.
The best cookbooks for beginners who: are foodies but can’t cook
Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook
I love gifting this cookbook as a wedding gift and graduation gift, because it really is chockful of the best-of-the-best recipes. You’ll find simple staples like deviled eggs, no-knead bread, and fried chicken, as well as one of my favorite recipes of all time: Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter.
The recipes are contributed by a star-studded line-up, full of names the foodie in your life will recognize, like April Bloomfield and Nigel Slater. The recipes aren’t fussy, but they are all elevated in some way. Some in exquisitely simple ways (like the onion and butter added to Hazan’s tomato sauce) and others with twists that could be used again and again (like the Salt-Crusted Potatoes that get a Cilantro Mojo dipping sauce).
This cookbook is perfect for beginners who don’t shy away from sophisticated, chef-y food when they go out to eat, but who want to start with the simplest, best versions at home.
The best cookbooks for beginners who: are newlyweds
Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship
This is such a sweet cookbook for beginners because it’s infused with the warmth that comes from cooking and eating as a couple. It’s the perfect wedding gift because it promises the newlyweds a lifetime of hours at the table together, sharing about their days and feeling close again, even as the distractions of kids, work, and to-dos ebb and flow throughout life.
The recipes are special enough that you’ll feel like you’re treating your spouse to something out-of-the-ordinary. Yet the ingredient lists are short enough for weeknight date-night food, not once-a-year Valentine’s Day food.
This is the best cookbook for beginners who are beginning their lives together in the kitchen. Hopefully, it will show them just how important dinnertime can be for staying anchored to each other.
The best cookbooks for beginners who: are college bound
The 5 Ingredient College Cookbook: Easy, Healthy Recipes for the Next Four Years & Beyond
Here’s the truth: your college-bound beginner probably won’t do much cooking. But here’s another truth: this might be the first time your beginner is choosing all of her own meals. And over the next four years, she’s going to start getting kitchen-curious. What better way to speed up that introduction to the kitchen than to make her first cooking experiences incredibly simple and soothing?
That’s why I love this book—it’s not about flashy cooking or learning knife skills or using new ingredients. It’s 5 ingredient cooking for the student who has never once made French toast or macaroni and cheese but is finally ready to try. It’s also great for the beginner who’s on a student budget. It’ll help them swap a few fast food meals for meals eaten at the dorm without settling for styrofoam-y noodles.
Remember: beginners have to begin somewhere. And college really is the best time to take that first baby step into the kitchen.
The best cookbooks for beginners who: are budget-minded
Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day
It’s no secret: cooking at home is the #1 best way to save money (not to mention improve your health)! Yet eating at home can feel expensive and time consuming if you’re surrounded by the wrong recipes. You know, those recipes that make you buy ingredients you’ll only use once, or that call for pricey proteins like shrimp or steak.
Instead, help any budget-minded beginner arm herself with the simplest, most delicious, and affordable recipes she can get her hands on. This IACP award-winning cookbook has been a sensation because it proves that you can eat well on just $4 a day (the U.S. food stamp allotment) without resorting to processed, packaged, nutrition-devoid food.
There’s almost no cookbook collection that wouldn’t benefit from this practical and clever cookbook. But it’s especially one of the best cookbooks for beginners who want to crush their savings goals.
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