The 15 Best Cookbooks All Beginners Need

Get cooking with these easy-to-use cookbooks!

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July 19, 2021

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We get it cooking can be intimidating! Especially if you’re living on your own for the first time or in a new place with limited kitchen space. Or maybe you’re strapped for time and need recipes pared down to their essential ingredients and basic techniques. Perhaps you were gifted an Instant Pot or air fryer and have no idea how to use it. It can be daunting to sift through internet recipes of questionable origin or the hundreds of cookbook titles marketed towards beginners. Relax. We’ve got you covered. From tried-and-true classics compendiums to modern marvels of meal prep, these are the best cookbooks for beginners.


With a mix of time-tested classics and modern favorites, the 17th edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook continues to deliver approachable, reliable recipes for home cooks. There are more than 1,000 recipes, each with a photo and helpful tips for ingredient swaps or flavor variations. Besides step-by-step recipes, this cookbook also serves as a reference guide with handy at-a-glance charts for meat and poultry cooking times; how-to-photos to teach technique; and a photo identification guide to clarify the broad range of ingredients available today.

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No matter how much experience you have in the kitchen, Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) will put you at ease. Ina has earned a reputation for her virtually foolproof recipes, and, in this book, she helps home cooks understand technique and process behind each recipe with helpful notes are in the margin — it’s like having Ina by your side in the kitchen. This cookbook not only teaches you to master impressive yet simple dishes such as Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs, but it also offers practical tips and tricks to make you a more confident and knowledgeable cook. (Pro tip: add eggs to your skillet before the butter melts for the creamiest texture, a la Ina’s Truffled Scrambled Eggs.)

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Finally, a collection of recipes that are truly designed to be cooked for one, while factoring in no-waste solutions, time-saving tips and kitchen improvisation ideas. The book is cleverly divided into sections according how the modern cook likes to eat: The Main Event, Sides to Match or Eat on Their Own, Simple Soups and Stews, Salads and Sandwiches, One Pan Dinners and Something Sweet. Its chockful of tips to make you a better cook regardless of your experience, including how to stock a basic pantry, making the most of your microwave and weekly menu and shopping list suggestions.

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Mark Bittman earned legions of followers for How to Cook Everything, but this tome drills down to the basics, making it an indispensable guide for beginner cooks hoping to learn fundamental techniques and bank a few reliable recipes for their repertoire. With straightforward directions and visual cues, you’ll learn the basics, including how to dice veggies or roast meats, while mastering cooking what Bittman calls "building-block meals," including salads, soups, poultry, meats, fish, sides, and desserts. We especially love the beautiful demonstration photos that build on steps from the recipes to teach a core lesson, such as "Cracking an Egg" or "Recognizing Doneness." Before you know it, you’ll have the confidence to try your hand at the suggested variations and come up with your own creative riffs with whatever ingredients you have on hand.

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There’s a reason that Joy of Cooking is found at home on your grandmother’s kitchen counter and on your college cousin’s microwave cart. The enduring classic has been around for 75 years and has taught tens of millions of people to cook, but its revised editions have kept up with the times with recipe updates and additional tips for the modern home cook. The book covers practically every meal and occasion with an ample selection of beginner recipes, including a ten-minute stir-fry destined for weeknight dinner greatness. The 75th Anniversary edition was revised by Irma Rombauer's great-grandson, John Becker, and his wife, Megan Scott. Notable additions include an expanded chapter on vegetables, which includes a handy guide on how to cook vegetables in the microwave and dishes ready in 30-minutes or less. There are also new illustrations focused on technique, which is helpful if you need to hone your knife skills.

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Forget freezer-burned lasagna. With Ali Rosen’s latest cookbook, the term frozen microwave dinner takes on a whole new meaning. The freezer is an oft-overlooked tool in a home cook’s kitchen, but it’s a great way to master meal-prepping and the simplest way to ensure that you have a ready-made, home-cooked meal on hand. There are more than 100 recipes from vibrant grain bowls to seafood cooked straight from the freezer (hello shrimp skewers). Each recipe comes with an option to eat now or freeze for later, including helping tips for maximizing freezer shelf life and thawing (or better yet, cooking straight from the freezer). There are even recipes that benefit from freezer time, including crab cakes, artichoke poppers and potato pancakes. Rosen’s recipes are sprinkled with tips throughout, helping you to build confidence in the kitchen.

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Author, photographer and food writer Jean-Pierre Gabriel spent over three years visiting homes, markets and restaurants across every region of Thailand. With this simple tome, he’s distilled his favorites from Thailand: The Cookbook, into a collection of 100 quick and easy recipes that any home cook can master (minus the airfare). Sections include soups, stir fries, curries, and grilled, poached and fried cuisine as well as sections on traditional Thai snacks and drinks. There’s even a helpful index where recipes are organized by cooking time, from 5 to 30 minutes, so you can get a flavorful home-cooked meal on the table faster than you can order takeout. Hello Thai spring rolls and spicy chicken curry with bamboo shoots!

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Simple, comforting meals are the name of the game in Julia Turshen’s latest cookbook, which features 110 tried-and-true recipes for more nutritious takes on make-ahead mains, weeknight go-to options, vegan one-pot meals, vegetarian and chicken-based dishes. Start with the chapter Eleven Weeknight Go-Tos to boost your kitchen savvy with recipes such as Sizzle Burgers or Fancy Weeknight Salmon Salad. Turshen’s signature "Seven Lists" are here too, including useful suggestions for dietary needs and menu ideas. We especially love "Seven Favorite Solo Meals," which has brilliant low-lift recipe ideas like An Egg with a Cheese Skirt and Toaster Oven Fish Stick Tacos. This book offers the kind of nourishing, approachable recipes that define self-care, written in the kind of approachable, warm voice readers have come to expect from Turshen.

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When chef and cookbook author Jenné Claiborne went vegan, she worried that she’d have to give up the classic soul food she grew up eating in Atlanta. Although she had her sights set on acting, when she traded in the stage for the kitchen, she gave vegan cuisine a starring turn in the recipes she holds close, such as Fried Cauliflower Chicken, and, her favorite, Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls. Claiborne also celebrates the Southern tradition of using fresh, seasonal ingredients and soul food’s plant-based roots with recipes like Georgia Watermelon & Peach Salad and Bootylicious Gumbo. Many of the recipes highlight budget-friendly and nutritious ingredients such as the cookbook’s namesake ingredient, sweet potatoes (don’t miss the sweet potato burgers recipe), okra, turnip greens and black-eyed peas. With more than 100 vegan recipes plus lovely illustrations and photography, this is a book you’ll turn to again and again for reliable, flavorful and healthful dishes — whether or not you follow a plant-based diet.

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If you’re the kind of person who thinks they can’t even boil water or are more likely to use your oven for shoe storage, this is your book. With each recipe, Jessica Seinfeld explains what a potential challenge might be then shows nervous home cooks how to overcome it with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. This is simple food, but it’s also simply delicious — you’ll learn to make the kind of classics that make for a soul-satisfying supper but also have the capability to impress your roommate or dinner guests: think, Caesar salad, lemon salmon, roasted asparagus, roast chicken, even flourless fudge cake. This book will simultaneously build your confidence along with an arsenal of go-to, easy recipes.

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Quick-and-easy recipes using five ingredients or less, all prepared in an Air Fryer? It might sound too good to be true, but this book delivers 175 recipes with minimal ingredients and maximum flavor from French toast sticks to fajita flank steak rolls. Many of the recipes utilize ingredients you already have in your pantry, helping to save money, cut down on trips to the grocery store and give you the confidence to pull together a meal no matter how much time you have. The book’s recipes spans virtually every occasion, from game day to Thanksgiving dinner, plus breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, main courses and delectable desserts, all accompanied by beautiful photos. Also sprinkled in are kitchen shortcuts to help make cooking as simple as possible, as well as flavoring suggestions to tailor dishes to your preferences. Winner winner, air fryer dinner.

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If you have 30 minutes, you’ve got dinner. This cookbook contains 100 recipes from the same authors as the lauded, best-selling Italian cookbook classic, The Silver Spoon. The book is geared toward home cooks of all levels, so recipes have been thoroughly tested to ensure success and each is accompanied by gorgeous photography. With easy-to-follow recipes, you can master dishes such as Spaghettini with Clams or Pork Chops in Butter and Sage. For nights when you just don’t feel like cooking, hit up the appetizers section to pull together a no-cook spread of dishes like Rolled Bell Peppers, Panzanella and Buffalo Milk Mozzarella Caprese Salad.

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100 recipes plus 750 photographs plus an Instant Pot adds up to a fuss-free dinner triumph. The notion of a pressure cooker might seem intimidating, but legions of loyal fans have discovered the versatility and convenience of cooking with an Instant Pot. This cookbook ensures that cooking with one feels easy from the get-go with photos to guide you ever step of the way. Not only will this book totally demystify pressure cooking, it’ll help you turn out impressive meals with less stress and time. You’ll learn to make comfort food classics like Mac & Cheese and French Onion Chicken as well as wholesome fare like Quick Quinoa Salad and Ratatouille Stew. Bookmark Eisner's popular Best-Ever Pot Roast the next time your parents are in town or anytime you’re looking to impress dinner guests.

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Often, grocery shopping and meal planning are half the battle of getting into the kitchen to cook. This handy book helps you prep a week’s worth of meals, whether it’s just for you or the whole family, in just one day. So, instead of wondering what you’ll be having for dinner on the Thursday before pay-day, you can rest easy knowing you’ve got Chicken and Chorizo Spanish Enchiladas in the fridge. Ray’s practical and easy tips are sprinkled throughout the book’s two hundred plus recipes, and the weekly themes help stave off recipe boredom and kitchen fatigue. We also love the section "1 Grocery Bag, 3 Meals," which helps pare down prep and is a great way to dig in and learn the basics. Plus, you can access bonus content and extra recipes for sides via the QR codes throughout the book.

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We’re not knocking instant ramen, but for college students looking to eat healthful, home cooked meals without breaking the bank, registered dietitian Dana Angelo White offers 100 simple, nutritious, and most importantly, delicious recipes. The book also delivers easy-to-follow instructions and tons of practical meal prep tips, which invites even the most inexperienced home cook to get in the kitchen and get cooking. White also provides guidance for setting up a campus kitchen with basic tools and essential ingredients. With this foundation in place, you can start your day with dishes such as Make-Ahead Breakfast Sandwiches or a Tropical Chia Smoothie, and pack a Get-Me-Thru-Class Trail Mix to stave off that mid-morning hangry feeling. Lunch could look like a protein-packed Kale and Chickpea Caesar Salad (which travels well) or the genius Microwave Tomato Soup. For dinner, whip up beef and black bean tacos with a side of watermelon salsa or a batch of Empty the Fridge Fried Rice. Don’t forget to save room for dessert, like Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies or Cheesecake-Stuffed Strawberries. And when you need your instant noodle fix, turn to White’s brilliant recipe for ramen noodle salad.

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