The Best Cookbooks For Beginners, According To Chefs

Claire Saffitz and Carla Lali Music recommend their favorite cookbooks for a non-intimidating approach to cooking at home.
Feel confident and inspired in the kitchen with this low-pressure book with a deep appreciation for ingredients, a multi-award-winning option that delves into the four elements of good cooking and a fun cookbook written for the untapped food lover in all of us.
Feel confident and inspired in the kitchen with this low-pressure book with a deep appreciation for ingredients, a multi-award-winning option that delves into the four elements of good cooking and a fun cookbook written for the untapped food lover in all of us.

Like many people, the pandemic unleashed an indulgent cook within myself that had been dormant until isolation hit, allowing me to spend hours at the stove coaxing dimensional flavors from a pasta sauce or stew. After days upon days of solitude, I lived for the potential excitement of my meals and, eventually, this “no-cook home cook” had become obsessed with the opportunities of a well-conceived dish –– without any of the knowledge, technical skills or confidence to achieve it.

“I truly believe that there aren’t bad cooks, just bad recipes,” Carla Lali Music, former food director for Bon Appétit and an award-winning author of her own best-selling cookbooks, told HuffPost.

As a freelance recipe developer, cookbook author and former senior food editor at Bon Appétit, Claire Saffitz knows a thing or two about the makings of a good recipe that will yield a good dish every time.

“The best feeling is when a recipe comes together into a dish that’s greater than the sum of its parts and feels nourishing, both psychologically and physically,” Saffitz said. “To achieve this, seek out recipes and dishes that deliver a lot of bang for the buck and use quality ingredients that don’t need a lot of manipulation to taste good.”

If you’re already feeling overwhelmed just by looking at the pots and pans before you, Lali Music insists that you shouldn’t go overboard because the act of cooking for yourself and others is special enough.

“There aren’t many things we get to do as humans that give us both pleasure and sustenance. Eating is one of those things. The time I spend cooking is filled with optimistic anticipation for the act of eating that follows. When you’re making food for yourself, you’re taking care and nourishing yourself. Lean into it,” she said.

Had I possessed a list of chef-recommended cookbooks written specifically for beginner home cooks like me, I might have saved myself the trouble of trying to concoct a recipe that was doomed from the start. So, take my hindsight advice and grab yourself a copy of one of the cookbooks below, each of which contains pages and pages of easy-to-follow and accessible recipes that can nurture the home cook in all of us.

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An award-winning book that distills cooking basics into four simple elements
Penned from the experiences of the author's own culinary novice, "Salt Fat Acid Heat" can be categorized as a master-class in the essential elements of cooking and all the defining characteristics that are essential to good, quality dishes, such as fully developed flavors and versatile textures.

"[It] really teaches the principles of cooking but has simple, easy-to-follow recipes [and] is a great book for beginner cooks. A recipe should feed you but also teach you something about cooking so you can learn and build on that knowledge every time you're in the kitchen," Saffitz told HuffPost.

If you're thinking this title sounds familiar, then you wouldn't be wrong, because this critically acclaimed cookbook inspired the Netflix series of the same name and carries on the book's themes of bridging the gap between professional kitchens and tiny New York apartment kitchens (or any other versions in between).
A satisfying and useful book that celebrates a casual approach to cooking
According to Lali Music, the key to success is finding sources that you trust and recipes that you know have been tested, vetted and optimized for home cooks. "I love 'Roast Chicken and Other Stories' for the casualness of the methods but the strong voice and perspective of the author," she said of this richly satisfying culinary narrative that celebrates the unlimited possibilities of home-cooking.

It contains classic yet updated recipes, like tart-poached salmon and a classic beurre blanc sauce that, although sounds impossible to attempt, is completely achievable thanks to the author's down-to-earth guidance. The book places emphasis on simple ingredients in a dish rather than the number of steps that it took to get there.
A fun option for the food-obsessed who have never owned a cookbook before
The New York Times dubbed Molly Baz's "Cook This Book" as a "thoroughly modern guide to becoming a better, faster, more creative cook, featuring fun, flavorful recipes anyone can make." The book works to demystify basic techniques and instill the value of improvisation in cooking, with recipes like a pastrami roast chicken and a chorizo and chickpea carbonara.

"[It] was written for people who maybe have never bought a cookbook before; all of the dishes are super accessible but include embellishments that make them texturally exciting and very tasty," Lali Music said.
An accessible dive into the flavorful wonders of Asian dishes
This ode to authentic Asian cooking was written as an attempt by the author to recreate memories and the recipes she enjoyed as a child. Although the book might seem like it would strictly adhere to tradition, the dishes are actually prepared in non-traditional ways using common supermarket ingredients to form modern and exciting meals that any home cook can make.

"It is impossible to flip through Hetty McKinnon's 'To Asia With Love' and not want to cook half the dishes immediately; I had flipped through it at least twice before realizing all of the dishes are vegetarian," Lali Music said.

With this book you can learn how to make your own kimchi, unctuous dumplings or spring rolls stuffed with miso kale pesto.
An easy-to-follow book for novices that also teaches cooking technique
Shawn Davis, cookbook author chef and owner of Nashville's Big Shakes Hot Chicken, told HuffPost that opting for a true beginner's cookbook can help you start your relationship to cooking on the right foot.

He recommended this back-to-basics cookbook that features recipes made with just five ingredients that also contains educational elements, like learning proper knife skills and roasting a whole chicken. There's an easy recipe for sweet and spicy baked chicken wings that I'm sure you'll love," Davis said.

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