Above all, a cookbook should be useful and accurate, but that’s not why we love them. A great cookbook isn’t just a compendium of recipes; it takes you somewhere–into a cook’s kitchen, to the South of France, or the South Pacific, or back in time. Following a 1961 recipe for Chateaubriand doesn’t simply result in a nice plate of meat. Your movements through the kitchen, the smells of the food cooking, and the taste of the dish are a sensory time capsule, a living thing that you can enter whenever you like.
Even if we’re not cooking from a recipe on a given night, we like to open up three different roast chicken recipes, say, and take ideas from each one. But there are times when following a recipe to the letter is called for, letting the book take you where it wants to go. You only really understand the character of a cookbook when you’ve spent serious time with it in the kitchen. A stained and splattered cookbook, as everybody knows, is a great cookbook. And in the end, your favorites are as particular to you as the people you like to cook and eat with.
It is probably impossible to pick the 10 best cookbooks of all time, but we’ve never let fear of hyperbole stop us before. We’ve limited the list to the 19th-21st centuries–alas, your favorite Medieval cookery tome did not make the cut. Also, memoirs including recipes were left out, for clarity’s sake–that’s why wonderful books like Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin are not on the list.
Click through to see the list of 35 runners up, listed in rough order of preference.
The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne (Harper & Row, 1961)
French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David (Originally published in 1960. Penguin Classics, 1999)
Le Guide Culinaire by Escoffier (Editions Flammarion, 1903)
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (W.W. Norton, 2005)
Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes from the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant by Moosewood Collective (Fireside, 1990)
The Calcutta Kitchen by Simon Parkes and Udit Sarkhel (Interlink, 2008)
Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni (William Morrow, 1980)
The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore by Grace Young (Simon & Schuster, 2004)
Catalan Cuisine by Coleman Andrews (Atheneum/Macmillan, 1988)
The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy (Bantam, 1989)
Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen by Paul Prudhomme (William Morrow, 1984)
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook by Paula Wolfert (Wiley, 2003)
Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia by James Oseland (W.W. Norton, 2006)
The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley (William Morrow, 2004)
Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen (Ten Speed Press, 2006)
1080 Recipes by Simone and Ines Ortega (First US edition: Phaidon, 2007)
Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf, 1973)
The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph (Originally published in 1838. BiblioLife, 2008)
The Silver Spoon by Phaidon Press (First US edition: Phaidon, 2005)
1,000 Indian Recipes by Neelam Batra (Wiley 2002)
Recipes for a Small Planet by Ellen Buchman Ewald (Ballantine, 1985)
The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa by Marcus Samuelsson (Wiley, 2006)
The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock (Knopf, 2003)
The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, 2007)
Thai Food by David Thompson (Ten Speed Press, 2004)
Bouchon by Thomas Keller (Artisan, 2004)
The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks by Dale DeGroff (Clarkson Potter, 2008)
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)
My Kitchen in Spain: 225 Authentic Regional Recipes by Janet Mendel (William Morrow, 2002)
Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table by Suzanne Goin (Knopf, 2005)
Fire and Spice: Parsi Cookery by Joyce Westrip (Interlink, 2006)
Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make A Roux? by Marcelle Bienvenu (Acadian House Publishing, 1991)
The Gourmet Cookbook edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)
Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill (Artisan, 2004)
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (Broadway; 10 Anv edition, 2007)
You’ve made it this far, so click through to see our list of big winners.
1. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (Knopf, 1992)
2. Mastering The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck (Knopf, 1961)
3. The Joy of Cooking (Scribner, various editions 1931-2006)
4. James Beard’s American Cookery by James Beard (Little, Brown and Company, 1980)
5. Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop (W.W. Norton, 2003)
6. One Spice, Two Spice: American Food, Indian Flavors by Floyd Cardoz (William Morrow, 2006)
7. All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens (W. W. Norton, 2004)
8. Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Rick Bayless (William Morrow, 1987)
9. Boston Cooking-School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer (Originally published in 1896. Gramercy, 1997)
10. The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden (Knopf; Revised edition, 2000)
Did we miss your favorite cookbook? Do you think the list is in the wrong order? Let us know.
Check out our other 10 Best lists.