May 24, 2017

Written by

Chris Gonzales


Andy Chilton

Today’s entry in our Books to Make You a Better Human series focuses on a handful of our favorite cookbooks.

No matter your experience level in the kitchen, at least one (but probably more) of these books is likely teach you something new about cooking. Maybe it’s an interesting recipe, a fundamental concept you haven’t heard of, or the history of a particular dish. Whatever the case, you’ll come away a bit more enlightened about making good food.


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The Food Lab cookbook by J. Kenji López-Alt.

The Food Lab cookbook by J. Kenji López-Alt.

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science »

The Food Lab cookbook by J. Kenji López-Alt (of Serious Eats fame) dives deep into the chemistry of home cooking. Over the course of 900+ pages, 300 recipes, and a ton of great photos, J. Kenji teaches everything you need to know to be successful in the kitchen and why certain culinary techniques are scientifically better than others.

Lessons include basic knife care and usage, the composition of eggs + the ways they change during cooking, the shelf life of various cooking ingredients when stored properly, the best way to cook pasta + the five “mother” sauces at the root of nearly all pasta dishes, an in-depth explanation of stock for soups and stews, and much more.

Get the book in these formats:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking »

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a relatively new book by Samin Nosrat and illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton — with a foreword by Michael Pollan, famed author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma — that aims to teach and inspire a new generation of cooks about the fundamentals of cooking, along with what actually makes food taste great:

Master the use of just four elements — Salt, which enhances flavor; Fat, which delivers flavor and generates texture; Acid, which balances flavor; and Heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food — and anything you cook will be delicious. […]

Echoing Samin’s own journey from culinary novice to award-winning chef, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat immediately bridges the gap between home and professional kitchens. With charming narrative, illustrated walkthroughs, and a lighthearted approach to kitchen science, Samin demystifies the four elements of good cooking for everyone.

The book includes 100 essential recipes (along with dozens of variations) so you can put its lessons to practice, and Wendy MacNaughton’s fun illustrations throughout are a treat for the eyes.

Get the book in these formats:

Ratio by Michael Ruhlman.Photo credit: Gabriel DiMartino

Ratio by Michael Ruhlman.

Photo credit: Gabriel DiMartino

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking »

Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio wants you to stop being so dependent on recipes and instead master the actual fundamentals of cooking. Armed with the knowledge within this book, you’ll have the ability and building blocks to become a more improvisational cook rather than one who has to follow a recipe every time they step into the kitchen.

In the words of the author, “Ratios liberate you—when you know the ratios and some basic techniques, then you can really start to cook.” For an example of what you’ll learn from this book, check out Jim Ray’s take on making homemade biscuits from scratch, which we mentioned in our “Quality Recipes” guide in December 2014.

Get the book in these formats:

(Editor’s Note: If you’d still prefer a traditional-style cookbook, check out Mark Bittman’s seminal How to Cook Everything. It’s essentially an encyclopedia of recipes.)

A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs.

A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs.

A New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead »

A New Way to Dinner is a book written by Food52 founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Designed around weekly and seasonal grocery shopping, this book is an indispensable guide to advance meal preparation — that is, cooking a few base dishes on the weekend and using them in dishes throughout the next week (mostly dinners, with a few lunches and desserts thrown in for good measure).

If you struggle to find the balance between a busy life and eating well, A New Way to Dinner will help you master make-ahead meal planning so you can stop stressing out about cooking every night and just enjoy the food.

Get the book in these formats:

The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen.

The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen.

The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles »

Andrea Nguyen’s The Pho Cookbook is admittedly more specific than other books in this guide, but if you’re fan of pho — despite the kitschy names of so many its restaurants (at least here in the US) — you’ll appreciate why we included it. This is the authorative guide to that delicious Vietnamese broth-and-noodle soup — not only in terms of recipes and home preparation, but also the history and culture of the dish.

Get the book in these formats:

For more food goodness, including some cookbooks not mentioned in this guide, check out our “cooking” archive.