Get the newsletter.

15 Essential Cookbooks Home Cooks Should Have

This post may contain affiliate links; please see our privacy policy for details.

Love to cook? Turn over these new leaves.

There’s just something about a printed page. Here are my picks for the all-time best cookbooks: my favorite essential cookbooks to inspire every home cook.

all time best cookbooks list

The Best Cookbooks of All Time for Home Cooks (In My Opinion)

Even if you mainly seek out recipes and cooking inspiration online (who doesn’t?), something about turning the pages of a cookbook feels particularly comforting and personal, even transportive. The best ones not only give you flavorful reliable recipes without extraneous complication, they also make you a better cook.

But which cookbooks should you own? These 15 essential cookbooks for home cooks are a great place to start.

Cookbooks are an investment, and become a part of our kitchen. I inherited my cookbook addiction collecting gene from my mom. I love them. I have a lot of them. But if I had to narrow it down to “15 All-Time Best Cookbooks to Have on a Desert Island, Assuming This Island Has a Fully-Equipped Kitchen and a Grocery Store,” I would invest in the following.

These cookbooks — plus a couple of bonus suggestions — cover everything from trusted weeknight basics to elegant, seasonal desserts.

This best cookbooks list is, of course, subjective. But I own and have cooked from each one over and over again, and feel confident in recommending them to anyone. I hope you find something you like.

You’ll also like: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Julia Child

best cookbooks of all time list
One of my cookbook bookcases at home. Dessert and pastry books are in another cabinet.

Narrowing down my picks for all-time best cookbooks

Plenty of outstanding cookbooks have not been listed here. That is because so many top cookbooks are such a part of our culinary cannon that they go without saying. These include, among others:

I selected these as some of my top all-time cookbooks because I believe that they are just right for right now, and might fill in some gaps. But let me know in the comments: What cookbooks would be on your list? Which of these do you already own?

essential cookbooks for home cooks

Unpeeled Journal’s 15 Best Cookbooks for Home Cooks

…in no particular order.

1. The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

all time best cookbook pick art of simple food alice waters

This is hands-down the #1 cookbook I would own. I have given it as a gift to numerous people, both for its beautiful, uncomplicated recipes and well-written directions and dish backgrounds. Though not a huge cookbook, it seems to cover everything, from cooking fish in parchment to her famous 1-2-3-4- pound cake.

2. New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

top cookbooks for home cooks

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to own this doorstopper. Deborah Madison is widely considered one of the best vegetarian cooks in the country, and for good reason. She is the real deal, with an encyclopedic knowledge of vegetables and seasonal cooking, using both common and uncommon produce, and how and why to prepare it all. Her palate is exceptional, but her cooking never strays into impractical or “hippie food” territory. Vegetarian or no, everyone would do well to own this book. Try the spinach soufflé and migas to start.

3. The Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten

The first, the classic. The Barefoot Contessa cookbook was first published in 1999, but still feels as necessary today, and is on all sorts of all-time best cookbook lists. Ina emphasizes sophisticated, quality recipes that are not pretentious or difficult to make. The original cookbook covers lots of bases, and many greatest hits from her time as a shop owner. As Ina would day, the entire cookbook is “fabulous!”

4. Milk Street: Tuesday Nights by Christopher Kimball

The title says it all. It’s Tuesday: What to cook that is inspiring and tasty, but neither too elaborate nor simplistic? The answer: anything in this book. Smartly categorized into sections like “”Fast, Faster, Fastest,” “Supper Salads,” “Pizza Night,” and “Roast and Simmer,” Christopher Kimball and the Milk Street crew offer trustworthy recipes that emphasize layers of flavor.

5. The Fanny Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham

There is a reason why this cookbook has been in publication for over 110 years. The Fanny Farmer Cookbook stands as one of the fundamental basic American cookbooks of all time, one that has taught generations of home cooks how to cook. The cookbook makes a great resource not only for recipes (there are over 1,900), but for learning how to cook, all done with charming illustrations.

6. The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

So there you are on a desert island with a full kitchen and grocery store, but do not know how to cook. You also like science. This cookbook has your back. The multiple award-winning tome from the chief culinary consultant at Serious Eats get serious about, well, eats. Every single recipe has been tested, analyzed, perfected, explained, and carefully photographed, step by step. If this sounds plodding, it isn’t. His writing is quick and smart. The vegetable chili has become my go-to recipe.

7. Happiness Is Baking by Maida Heatter

Maida Heatter’s cookbooks read like a big hug from a sassy aunt who bakes. The recipes in this pick for best all-time cookbook are everything you want to bake. Maida, who died at 102(!), wrote cookbooks filled with reliable, carefully-written dessert recipes. Any of her cookbooks are a good investment, though some are out of print. But this one takes the cake (sorry) for being a greatest hits collection of cakes, pies, cookies, bars, and more.

8. New Complete Technique by Jacques Pépin

Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques by [Jacques Pépin]

Hypothetical situation: You read a recipe. The recipes says something like, “dice one onion,” “line the cake pans,” or “skim the fat from the liquid.” Perhaps home butchery or mastering the five mother sauces is your thing. Ok, but how, exactly? This book teaches you how to cook and be in the kitchen like a pro, broken down into easy-to-follow photographed steps. 

Most professional chefs will cite Jacques Pépin’s La Technique as required reading. Chef Tom Colicchio said, “In his books, he focuses on teaching techniques as opposed to recipes so that cooks not only understand the hows, but also — more important — the whys.” Techniques is French and American culinary school in cookbook form. 

9. The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

The Taste of Country Cooking: The 30th Anniversary Edition of a Great Southern Classic Cookbook by [Edna Lewis]

A cookbook that reads as both memoir and love letter, the phenomenal Edna Lewis’s book of Virginia country cooking transports readers every time. Lewis grew up in a small community founded by freed former slaves. In this book, she weaves memories and stories throughout her recipes, organized by season.

10. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

best italian cookbook of all time

Her famous tomato sauce recipe is just the start. Over the decades, beloved Marcella Hazan (originally a biology teacher) taught generations of American cooks how to make authentic Italian food in honest terms, using authentic, good-quality ingredients. Her legacy lives on, now better than ever thanks to the recently-published anniversary edition of this essential cookbook.

11. The Silver Spoon

best all time Italian cookbook Silver Spoon

And speaking of Italian cookbooks, this comprehensive but easy-to-follow cookbook is Italy’s answer to the Joy of Cooking. It’s been Italy’s best-selling cookbook for over 50 years. This essential cookbook covers everything in every category, including pastas galore, sauces, meats, vegetables, desserts, and more. Own this.

12. Once Upon a Chef by Jenn Segal

Once Upon a Chef, the Cookbook: 100 Tested, Perfected, and Family-Approved Recipes by [Jennifer Segal, Alexandra Grablewski]

If your cool big sister was a professionally-trained chef turned food writer for home cooks, you could do no better than the warm and talented Jenn Segal. In addition to the great personality she brings to her cookbook (from her blog of the same name), she has curated a fine collection of tested, family-friendly yet sophisticated recipes that taste pretty much perfect.

13. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

The subtitle to this modern-day classic is “Mastering the elements of good cooking.” Samin delivers on this promise. This multi-award winning cookbook is more than recipes — although they are great! This book teaches you how too cook and build flavor, and how cooking “works” in ways that make it fun and approachable.

14. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

best cookbook of all time

From the iconic San Francisco restaurant of the same name, is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks as well. Her Caesar salad and roast chicken recipes are imperative. The California restaurant and its cookbook have been around for decades, but still feels as fresh and relevant as ever.

15. Jubilee by Toni Tipton-Martin

best all time cookbooks list for home cooks

This award-winning love letter of a cookbook comes filled with over 200 years of African-American recipes that comfort and satisfy. (Examples: Sweet potato biscuits with ham, skillet cornbread, pecan pie, gumbo, spoonbread, and lots more.) Everything is delicious, presented with stunning photos and thoughtful background that provides both history, context, and technique. I am inspired every time I open this best cookbook’s pages.

What cookbooks do you recommend as “must haves”? Share in the comments below.

3 comments

  • Love your cookbook choices. One if my favorites is also The Art Of Simple Food, the recipes work.

  • Judy Hqzel

    Thanks for listing your top ten cookbooks! I’m excited to put some of these titles on my Christmas list. I have only one – Once Upon a Chef by Jen Segal and use it often. I don’t own her new cookbook yet! I’m a serious foodie and retired home ec. teacher and camp cook. Thanks so much!

    • Unpeeled

      Enjoy! I love cookbooks and always look forward to the new fall releases, but best of all I love returning to my old and dependable favorites.

Add a note

Never miss a recipe.

Sign Up for the Weekly Newsletter
Green leaves

You have great taste.

Get the weekly newsletter of recipes and more.

Popular Recipes

See all recipes
Let's Connect
PinterestInstagramFacebook

You have great taste!

Get the weekly newsletter of recipes and more.
Salmon and quinoa dish