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12 Classic Cookbooks Every Home Chef Needs

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What makes a classic a classic? When it comes to cookbooks, the classics are volumes we keep coming back to, whether it’s to cook our favorite recipes we’ve made dozens of times, or to discover something new we’ve never noticed before, but know will be excellent.

Aside from recipes, classic cookbooks also clearly teach us methods and techniques and how to fill our pantries, while the very best ones have a way of transporting us to a place—whether it’s our own backyard or a distant destination—and illuminating its culture of food by telling the stories of the people and places behind the dishes. These are cookbooks you can read cover to cover, like a novel, salivating in the process..

Here are twelve (dog-eared and food-stained) books from the last 20 years that we find ourselves returning to over and over. These are our favorite classic—and new classic—cookbooks.

Meze: Small Plates to Savor and Share from the Mediterranean Table, by Diane Kochilas

Kochilas has probably done more than any other Greek chef to bring Greece’s complex cuisines to U.S. audiences, and any of her cookbooks are worth picking up.

This one, however, best conveys the sense of bounty and celebration of Greece’s traditional style of mezze, or small plates. It’s a revelation for those that think a Greek mezze plate is limited to a handful of dips and stuffed grape leaves.

Try: Beef Braised with Onions, Honey and Bay Leaf

$40 Amazon

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Many of 2008’s best-selling cookbooks were either from celebrity chefs or takes on Americana. This book, in contrast, is from an Israeli and Palestinian duo who live in England. Ottolenghi explores the breadth of vegetable-forward Mediterranean cuisine using Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s homelands as a jumping-off point and it was revelatory. Ottolenghi’s nine cookbooks have sold millions and made stars of cauliflower and eggplant. Their influence is still seen in restaurants around the globe. Also, be sure you don’t miss 2020’s brilliant Falastin from co-author Tamimi.

Try: Marinated Eggplant with Tahini and Oregano

$20 Amazon

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, by Jessica B. Harris

With only 22 recipes, this isn’t a cookbook in the traditional sense, yet it will inspire you to cook like few books can. As the title suggests, the book traces African-American cuisine from the beginnings of slavery in America to present day. It’s a compelling history with far more depth than the subject is usually afforded. High on the Hog also weaves in Harris’s own personal stories and discoveries. It’s an essential tome in the American food-lit canon.

Try: Yassa au Poulet

$13 Amazon

Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, by Nigel Slater

Slater has been one of the United Kingdom’s premier food writers since the late ’80s. His work helped inspire enthusiasm for movements such as comfort food, farmer’s markets, small-scale gardening and vegetable-forward cooking.

Tender isn’t a vegetarian book, but it’s organized alphabetically by vegetable and offers indispensable tips for each, in addition to recipes.

Try: A Sweet and Sticky Casserole of Duck with Turnips and Orange

$33 Amazon

Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen, by Leela Punyaratabandhu

Bangkok native Punyaratabandhu did the impossible with this book by making notoriously complex Thai dishes accessible to U.S. chefs without compromising on flavor, depth or regional character.

Her subsequent books, Bangkok and Flavors of the Southeast Asian Grill, cemented her as a leading cook and educator in contemporary Thai cuisine.

Try: Sweet Dry Curry of Pork and Long Beans

$15 Amazon

The Baking Bible, by Rose Levy Berenbaum

Berenbaum is known for her various “bibles” on cakes (1988), pie (1998), bread (2003), and most recently, cookies (2022), but arguably her most comprehensive baking tome is this indispensable baking cookbook.

Clocking in at 576 pages with 107 cookie, cake and bread recipes, this cookbook lives up to its name, complete with detailed and clear instructions, smart tips and plan-ahead methods that ensure baking success every time. Each chapter starts with the baking legend’s techniques and tricks, followed by her “Golden Rules” and helpful troubleshooting sections that pre-emptively corrects any mishaps. Berenbaum’s clear and concise instructions make this cookbook ideal for both beginner and expert bakers, and everyone in between.

Try: My Chocolate Chip Cookies

$22 Amazon

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks, by Toni Tipton Martin

This book is a dream for cookbook aficionados. The Jemima Code is an archive of African-American cookbooks, allowing one to trace two centuries of culinary history through art and recipes.

As you make your way through The Jemima Code, you may discover that fancified new versions of many of these dishes still aren’t as good as the original.

Try: Ground Nut Stew

$34 Amazon

Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay

As a perpetual best-seller since its 2015 release, this book has probably had one of the largest impacts on home barbecue. It put American (specifically Texas) barbecue traditions on a pedestal. And it explores how barbecue tradition is important, technical and aspirational—yet without dogma. Franklin and Mackay freely admit that barbecue is an ongoing education, with too many variables to state anything as incontrovertible fact.

Try: Espresso Barbecue Sauce

$16 Amazon

The Nordic Baking Book, by Magnus Nilsson

This gorgeous book (also photographed by Nilsson) brings to life the timeless baking traditions of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Nilsson’s previous books, Fäviken (2012) and The Nordic Cookbook (2015), are masterworks, but can be daunting in their complexity and magnitude. This book is informative while still being tailored for home bakers.

Try: Griddled Sweet Norwegian Flatbreads (Tynnlefse)

$32 Amazon

The Food of Sichuan, by Fuchsia Dunlop

Since the 2001 publication of Land of Plenty (called Sichuan Cookery in the U.K.), Dunlop has become the foremost English-language expert in Chinese, and specifically Sichuan, cooking.

All six of her books (including a 2008 memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper) are recommended. But this one is the best place to start for cooking Sichuan food at home, as it’s tailored to experienced cooks and novices alike.

Try: Yibin “Kindling” Noodles (燃面)

$23 Amazon

Vegetable Kingdom, by Bryant Terry

Vegan cookbooks usually fall into two camps: They either try to create vegan versions of meat-based dishes or prioritize health benefits over flavor.

Vegetable Kingdom defies these categories with simple, generous recipes that are always creative, but also tap into comfort food. It’s a must for vegetable lovers of any dietary persuasion. Don’t miss Terry’s other books, Vegan Soul Kitchen (2009), The Inspired Vegan (2012), Afro-Vegan (2014) and Black Food (2021).

Try: Citrus and Garlic-Herb-Braised Fennel

$17 Amazon

The Mexican Home Kitchen: Traditional Home-Style Recipes That Capture the Flavors and Memories of Mexico, by Mely Martínez (2020)

When this cookbook came out, it was instant hit thanks to Martínez’s popular blog, Mexico in My Kitchen, where she has been sharing recipes from her home state of Tampico and greater Mexico since 2008. The book focuses on popular dishes cooked in Mexican people’s homes in places including Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Veracruz, Puebla, Estado de México and Yucatán.

This is Mexican comfort food at its finest, with more than 85 easy-to-follow recipes, each with a story about where it comes from and what it means to Mely. The vibrant, colorful design adds to the joy of cooking from this beautiful tribute to Mexican home cooks.

Try: Green Enchiladas

$14 Amazon