Choosing the Perfect Cookbook

October is National Cookbook Month, making now the perfect time to add to your collection. But with thousands of new cookbooks published each year, how do you choose the perfect cookbook? One that gets used over and over, and doesn’t sit on the shelf gathering dust? Follow these tips to find the best book for your needs.

  1. The cookbook WORKS for you. New or busy cooks should seek out books with a variety of family-friendly dishes that are presented in an easy-to-follow format. Look for key works in the title like basic, simple, busy, or quick. Experienced cooks might be looking for more creative recipes, maybe a specialty book on pasta, or Chinese cooking, or vegetarian dishes. Ready to whip up a gourmet meal? Choose a glossy chef-authored book.
  1. Logical recipe arrangement. Are the recipes in defined sections and arranged according to the main ingredient, (chicken, pasta) or cooking method (grilled, baked, one-pot) or type of dishes (entrees, salads, soups)? A book of 800 consecutive recipes may seem like a great deal, but excitement can quickly turn to frustration when the recipe that piqued your interest the other day is hidden somewhere in the middle of a never-ending tome.
  1. Easy-to-follow directions. Most of us prefer easy-to-follow, numbered directions written in chronological order. Avoid cookbooks whose directions are in a narrative format or that are continued on a non-facing page. Any interruption makes it too easy to miss an important preparation or cooking step.
  1. Bonus information. Good cookbooks show the preparation time and number of servings for each recipe. Really good cookbooks also give you bonus information; cooking tips, suggestions of what to serve with each dish, definitions of unusual ingredients, recipe history, and/or nutrition information.
  1. The book lays flat. A user-friendly cookbook has a plastic comb, wire coil, or lay-flat binding. How can you tell if the binding is lay-flat? Hold the book open with both hands and look at the spine. If the cover is attached to the end pages, but not attached to the spine, the binding is lay flat. Force the pages open by running your hand down the length of the open book. You will not damage the binding. Finding a cookbook that lays flat is not always easy though. Bookstores prefer to carry books with the name on the spine for easier shelving.
  1. An extensive index. Cookbook indexes should list recipes both by name and main ingredients. Want to make Florentine rice? You should be able to find it under “F” for Florentine, “R” for rice and “S” for spinach. A good index makes the cookbook one you’ll use again and again.
  1. Provide inspiration. A cookbook should inspire you to go beyond the written recipe and experiment on your own. Some books do this by suggesting alternative ingredients, others by the shear creativity of the recipes. Cooking is a creative endeavor and the best cookbooks will serve as a jumping off point to your own unique dishes.

Follow these tips and soon you will have a shelf of dust free cookbooks! But, you may want to check out this article I wrote last Cookbook Month

Do We Still Need Cookbooks?

by Renee Pottle

Renee Pottle, a freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at Find her professional food writing info at

October 1, 2020

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