Behind every great home cook is a dog-eared cookbook, stained with olive oil and splashes of red wine that they were "cooking with." Just ask any member of our digital cookbook club (which you can join here), and they'll tell you: A good book makes for the best sous-chef. Here's a baker's dozen of the tried-and-true cookbooks we turn to time after time.
1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck ($40)
We'd be remiss to start with anyone other than Julia Child, the home-cooking queen herself. Generations of cooks—from professional grade to the greenest of them all—delight in memories of her exuberant personality and cooking style. Not to mention the recipes, for everything from the Platonic ideal of roast chicken to classic boeuf bourguignon.
2. The New Best Recipe, by Cook's Illustrated (price varies)
You'll have to buy it used (or check your library), but the search is more than worth it for ultimate recipes from the authority in home cooking—because, yes, you can have 20 variations of coleslaw. And because a title with that many superlatives can't let you down. An easier-to-find alternative: America's Test Kitchen's collection of 100 essential recipes.
3. The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg ($38)
Less a cookbook and more an instruction manual, this companion gives you the tools you need to become a great cook. Spend some time getting to know which flavors play well with others, and you'll find yourself comfortable freestyling at the stove.
4. Chez Panisse Café Cookbook, by Alice Waters ($37.50)
Nearly every one of Alice Waters's cookbooks can be considered a classic, but none of them represents the best of what California cuisine is better than this. The café itself created a community of artists, activists and friends who started a delicious revolution, which we're looking forward to learning more about in the release of Waters's memoir.
5. Twelve Recipes, by Cal Peternell ($27)
While we're on the topic of Chez Panisse, you should know about Peternell, who recently stepped down after 22 years as chef there. This book is a starter kit for everything you could ever want to make. Learn how to simply boil water and how to make pasta, and then one-up yourself by using that water to boil eggs for your pasta dinner.
6. The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum ($35)
Everyone knows someone with a birthday, so it's high time to learn to bake a cake. Beranbaum taught a generation how to do just that with straightforward directions and a new way of mixing batter. Thirty-plus years later, and it still holds up.
7. Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan ($40)
Dorie Greenspan has more than a handful of James Beard Awards and has coauthored books for luminaries like Pierre Hermé, but this one is our favorite for the home chef. It even inspired an online baking movement called Tuesdays with Dorie, in which more than 400 bloggers formed a virtual cookbook club and cooked their way through the book together. Plus, Greenspan has an undeniable way with kids, scarves and homemade Oreos.
8. Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker ($35)
Julia Child called this "the one book of all cookbooks in English" that she deemed necessary, so it makes our list, too. But even without the glowing endorsement, Joy of Cooking's permanent spot on cooking surfaces from the 1930s on makes it an irreplaceable kitchen encyclopedia.
9. Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer ($25)
Chances are high that you grew up with an original Fannie Farmer as a fixture on your kitchen shelves. Carry on her legacy (writing the first book to use terms like cup and teaspoon) by putting one in your own home. It's been called a document that changed the world and deserves to be seen as such.
10. The Food Lab, by J. Kenji López-Alt ($50)
Jumping off the success of his Serious Eats column, López-Alt published this nearly 1,000-page tome without missing a beat. You won't feel lame about geeking out over it when you wow your friends with peerless steaks and super-flaky biscuits, and the endearing dad jokes will make you chuckle along the way.
11. On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee ($40)
Long before Serious Eats even existed, there was Harold McGee. He's a little bit Alton Brown, a little bit Bill Nye and all masterful cook. His 1984 book isn't about recipes—it's more like a chemistry master's thesis on cooking done right, with textbook methods for cooking everything and the research to back it up.
12. The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook, by Martha Stewart Living Magazine ($35)
Go back in the archives for Stewart's original anthology, which combines all 1,200 recipes from her then-10 years-old magazine into one glorious reference manual.
13. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan ($35)
If you don't get splatters of sauce and olive oil over every other page, you're not doing it right. The late Hazan introduced hordes of Americans to true Italian cuisine. If you make one dish, let it be her tomato-butter-onion sauce, a life-changing staple that's as simple to memorize as it is to make.
This article was originally published by Abby Reisner on Tasting Table.
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