The Practical Cook’s Guide to Buying Cookbooks

Gentle Readers, today’s regularly scheduled post was delayed by a bit of live music. Alas, The Practical Cook was unable to fully review the cookbook in question due to the Carolina Chocolate Drops being completely awesome. However, there is still something to say on the subject of cookbooks. As the season of gifting approaches, how does one practically approach purchasing cookbooks?

So here is The Practical Cook’s Guide to Buying Cookbooks:

1. Beauty vs. Brains. First consider which type of cookbook you’d like, the art table varietal or the grease-splattered one. Please note that this is oversimplified, and there are happy occasions where there’s a blend of glossy photos and highly-accessible recipes, but those are rare. So make a decision upfront: glossy is good for people whose collections you don’t know well, or who have a show kitchen. For the serious cook, ferreting out a rare volume that’s highly rated may be a better fit.

2. Classics vs. Specialty. Welcome to my personal dilemma. I like having several “workhorse” cookbooks around. For me, that’s Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, Gourmet Cookbook, and Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. Between those, there are few things I can’t muddle through. However, I love Indian food, African food, food that starts with the letter “B,” etc. If you know the person is learning to cook, gift with a comprehensive volume. If you go specialty, pair with an unusual ingredient used in the book for a complete package.

3. Whole Book vs. One Recipe. Spend some time reviewing whether you’d actually cook from it. Read the index, the table of contents, and one recipe start to finish. I have bought cookbooks on the merit of a single recipes. Sometimes, that’s all it has to offer, sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. (And if you need to treat yourself to a cookbook, The Practical Cook is certainly not one to judge.) But also consider buying cookbooks that will teach you method, or just spark your imagination. They are your kitchen reference materials!

More specific reviews pending as I work through a stack of cookbooks! Don’t forget to use your library as a resource: it’s a great way to evaluate a line of cookbooks, a style, a new type of cuisine, etc. I almost always have one checked out for review. The more I cook and eat, I find the author’s perspective on food is the key to whether I’ll find the tome useful. Read the intro, get to know the author, and enjoy!

What are your cookbook buying habits? What’s your favorite one? Share in the comments section below! (If you’re reading this in email, click through and join us by posting a comment!)

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Filed under Kitchen Philosophy, Kitchen Tool Talk

4 responses to “The Practical Cook’s Guide to Buying Cookbooks

  1. Joan

    Thanks for the library shout-out. I used to buy the cookbooks for the library where I work–so fun! Any librarian is probably buying all the cookbooks they would have in their own dream kitchen. And more, of course…everything from vegan cooking to BBQ bibles. Must cover the spectrum, you know!

    • The Practical Cook

      I just floated into a dream sequence at the very notion of being the one ordering cookbooks on such a grand scale! Wow! Any thoughts about must-have cookbooks, or what to look for when buying at home?

      I’m really curious which were the high-demand volumes at the library as well!

      • Joan

        I will need to consult circa stats for actual high-demand items. (Which I would happily do–I love data.) Peeps ask for dietary needs cookbooks, like for diabetes or gluten-free. Also whatever new book from Rachael or Paula. And of course seasonal. When I bought, I’d go for a range of ethnicities but also get the ones that were “quick” and didn’t need a lot of ingredients. But now I need data, not just my memory! Cookbooks remain one of the most popular sections, and is the Dewey number I remember above all else. Librsries are great for trying a book before investing in it.

      • The Practical Cook

        That is all very interesting–thank you for sharing and I look forward to learning more. Hadn’t considered the dietary restriction category, very important!

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