If you have foodies on your shopping list, cookbooks make some of the absolute best gifts. Many home cooks can point to "that one cookbook" that opened their eyes to the possibilities of cooking and sparked a lifelong search for new recipes to try. Sure, there are recipes all over the internet now but that's not the same as sitting down to one book with a distinctive author's style and voice and working through it. The only issue is that there are so many cookbooks published now, it's hard to know which ones are genuinely worth owning. To help you on your way to gift-giving greatness we offer this (chef-compiled) list, showcasing a dozen of the best cookbooks from 2021 and 2022.
What to Consider When Purchasing Cookbooks
Size and Format: Some cookbooks are massive slabs, with stellar photography that makes them Instagram-worthy as coffee table books. They're often genuinely delightful, but probably not the best pick for someone with a small apartment or young kids. Others are compact and sit flat on the counter, for easy viewing while you cook and bake (but may be hard to read if your eyes aren't great). Then there's the option of eBooks, in Kindle or EPUB format, which can be easily viewed on your tablet, phone, laptop or e-reader (the ability to zoom in or enlarge the text is great for older loved ones or anyone with vision issues). Think about your recipient's cooking style and living situation before you settle on a purchase. Note: Prices cited in this roundup will be for the physical version of the book; eBook pricing will vary.
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Recipient's Skill Level and Ambitions: Do you need the perfect gift for an aspiring chef or pastry chef? Or are you looking to help out a novice cook who needs step-by-step instructions and a few reliable comfort food recipes? You'll find cookbooks for either of those readers, and for any food lover along the continuum in between. The ideal scenario would be a collection of recipes that meets their current skill level but challenges the cook in your life to expand their horizons just a bit.
The Book's Focus: Every cookbook has its own distinctive focus. Some are no-frills efforts with a tight focus on simple recipes that make for fast, easy weeknight meals. Others explore a specific cuisine or culture, embedding the recipes in a rich narrative that provides a fascinating cultural context for the food. Some are sticklers for authenticity, while others cheerfully break with tradition in unexpected ways. Whether your loved ones are looking to switch things up with new recipes or learn about an unfamiliar culinary tradition, there's sure to be an appropriate cookbook out there for them.
A sturdy cookbook stand (or an acrylic shield, to keep splatters from fouling the pages) can help make meal prep more straightforward, holding the book upright so it can be clearly seen. Either one makes an excellent accompaniment to your cookbook gift. Pro tip: In your own home, if you don’t have a shield to protect your book, you can drape a sheet of plastic film wrap over the open pages as they lay flat or slide the entire cookbook inside a zipper-seal bag.
1. "Rambutan: Recipes From Sri Lanka" by Cynthia Shanmugalingam
Indian cookbooks are common enough, but books centered on the cuisine of the nearby island nation Sri Lanka have been in short supply. While there's a lot of similarity with southern Indian cookery, the unique brew of native ingenuity and foreign influences found in Sri Lanka (Indonesian, Malay, Arab, Dutch and British among them) give its dishes a distinctively different flair. This fascinating first cookbook from Anglo-Sri Lankan economist (?) Cynthia Shanmugalingam opens a loving window into the country's little-known cuisine, and celebrity cookbook writers Nigella Lawson and Yotam Ottolenghi are among the many to sing its praises. It's a must for any adventurous cook.
2. "Modern Asian Baking at Home" by Kat Lieu
Kat Lieu's name will be familiar to anyone who's part of her Subtle Asian Baking community—you'll see her posts all over social media—or who read her eHow Maker of the Month profile in August of 2022. Like millions of others, she took up baking in a serious way when COVID hit in 2020 and made it impractical to go out to the nearest Chinese bakery (growing up in New York, she says, there was one on every corner). Her easy, conversational style and obvious passion for her subject makes this a great gift for anyone with an interest in the gloriously diverse, colorful world of Asian baking.
3. "Turkey and the Wolf: Flavor Trippin’ In New Orleans" by Mason Hereford
Mason Hereford grew up in Virginia and worked in fine dining in New Orleans before opening his own restaurant, Turkey and the Wolf, in that city. The book is a snapshot of the kind of fun, over-the-top, larger-than-life food he creates there, filled with his own off-kilter takes on traditional Southern favorites. The book, like his food, is irreverent and sometimes salty (there's profanity throughout, which might rule it out as a gift idea for some of the people on your list). It's been described as "elevated hangover food," which is probably as good a summary as any.
4. "The Weekday Vegetarians" by Jenny Rosenstrach
This one's going to tick a lot of boxes for a lot of people. Easy, flavor-forward meals? Check. Kid-friendly recipes? Check. Relatable, normal-person writing style? Check. Plant-based recipes? Check, check, check. The book isn't aimed at existing vegetarians and vegans, focusing instead on those who want to simply reduce their reliance on meat—whether for dietary, ethical or environmental reasons—without giving up tasty, easy, fun food. Fans of Rosenstrach's previous bestseller, "Dinner: A Love Story," will definitely want to check this out. It's important to note that these are vegetarian recipes, not vegan, so you'll still get to use ingredients like eggs, milk and honey.
5. "The Miracle of Salt" by Naomi Duguid
Naomi Duguid has a photojournalist's eye for an image and a nose for a story, and they've made her cookbooks must-haves for foodies who want to know the context, and culture, behind the recipes they cook (hence her collection of IACP and James Beard awards for her previous work). Her new cookbook, "The Miracle of Salt," focuses on the title ingredient's role in preserving and fermenting, and—by making long-term food storage possible in the days before canning and refrigeration—therefore its impact on human life. The book's first section provides a range of recipes and techniques for salt-preserved, pickled and fermented food, and then the second provides a worldwide range of recipes making use of the pantry ingredients you've created in the first section. This book is beautiful enough to display proudly on a coffee table but informative enough to challenge and thrill any food enthusiast.
6. "Aguas Frescas and Paletas" by Ericka Sanchez
Ericka Sanchez, eHow's Maker of the Month for September 2022, is an old hand at aguas frescas and paletas: She vividly remembers helping make them at her grandmother's store in Torreón, Mexico, as a small child. Life took her into a career in sports marketing, but she started the popular food blog Nibbles and Feasts to help keep herself in touch with her roots in Mexican culinary traditions. Her debut cookbook is all about the frozen treats and refreshing beverages she grew up with, showcasing fresh, bold flavors in combinations that are always rooted in tradition even when they're innovative and unconventional. If you're looking for a broader Mexican-themed cookbook for someone on your list, her newer "¡Buen Provecho!" (also from 2021) is another solid pick.
7. "Small Batch Bakes" by Edd Kimber
Lots of us like to bake, and even more of us like to eat baked goods. The problem is that it's very easy to have entirely too much, especially when you live alone or in a small household. Well, U.K.-based baker, food blogger and cookbook author Edd Kimber (winner of the very first "Great British Bakeoff") has you covered. This book provides a selection of sweet and savory treats to fix those cravings for 1 to 6 people, including cookies, tarts, cakes, pies, buns and breads. Seriously, people, there's a recipe in here that makes one chocolate chip cookie. If you know someone who likes to bake but doesn't want to go overboard, this is definitely the right book to give.
8. "Black Food" by Bryant Terry
This is definitely a cookbook, but it's also an exploration and a significant work of art in its own right. Food writer and activist Bryant Terry has gathered together a selection of recipes that span the globe, placing the culinary traditions of African-Americans in context alongside those from Africa itself (thoroughly under-represented in the cookbook world) and elsewhere in the worldwide African diaspora. Aside from the recipes, it's also filled with food-themed stories and reminiscences from a range of Black literary, artistic and cultural figures. It's an absorbing read and a great resource.
9. "Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings" by America’s Test Kitchen
Cheese boards, charcuterie boards and even butter boards are among the hottest trends in entertaining right now, both on social media and in real life. They have the potential to go way beyond cheese and crackers, though, and this typically well-researched cookbook from America's Test Kitchen will give you all the information anyone would need to blow away guests at their next dinner party. The recipes in this collection range from lightweight appetizers to full meals, so it's ideal for that friend who loves to entertain.
10. "Land of Fish and Rice" by Fuchsia Dunlop
There aren't a lot of Caucasian, English-language writers whose books about Chinese food actually get translated into Chinese and published in that country. England's Fuchsia Dunlop is one of that small group, and her earlier "Land of Plenty" (revised and updated in 2019, and retitled "The Food of Sichuan") is widely regarded as the best book on Sichuan food in the English language. In this newer volume, she turns her eye to a different region, Jiangnan (Shanghai is the largest city there), bringing the same meticulous attention to its foods and traditions. This is real-deal Chinese food, including familiar favorites like dumplings and noodles and—of course—plenty of fish and rice. One small quibble is that because of the recipes' authenticity, readers without access to a good Asian market might struggle to find some of the ingredients it calls for.
11. "The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs" by America’s Test Kitchen
The first cookbook you give to a young cook will go a long way toward giving them confidence in the kitchen, along with a stash of favorite recipes to rely on as they go out on their own. There are plenty of good cookbooks out there for youthful novices, but few are as well thought out as this one from America's Test Kitchen. The recipes here range from breakfasts to full dinners, and from crispy snacks to desserts, with every recipe tested and carefully illustrated by the ATK team. You may not have a kid in your circle who watches Food Network and name-drops Michelin-starred chefs, but cooking is a basic life skill and this book will help the youngsters in your life get off to a good start.
12. "Smitten Kitchen Keepers" by Deb Perelman
Way back in the "aughts"—2006, to be precise—Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen became one of the first high-profile food blogs, leading to the self-taught cook's two previous best-selling cookbooks (and millions of followers). Her new book is called "Smitten Kitchen Keepers: New Classics For Your Forever Files," and that pretty much tells you what you're getting. It's the distillation of Perelman's years of recipe writing and testing, the favorite recipes she comes back to over and over again. Whoever you give it to this holiday season, it's destined to become one of their favorite cookbooks.
Bonus: 10 Cookbooks (And Food Books) That Are Stone Classics
Year-end gift guides tend to focus on books published that year, and we've voluntarily limited our list to books from 2021 and later. Of course, you can never go wrong by gifting someone an all-time classic, either. Here are 10 books fitting that description, every single one a proven winner.
Got all the recipes, but don't have the skills to execute them? The French legend has you covered. His two earlier books, "La Methode" and "La Technique," were a master class in cooking skills. This new volume combines and updates them.
If a shelf has just one Italian cookbook on it, this is the one to have.
There are lots of food-science writers around today, but McGee is the OG: This is the 2004 update of his 1989 original, which inspired molecular gastronomy, made food science writing a "thing," and explained to millions of cooks the why behind their techniques.
It was originally published in 1972 and introduced Middle Eastern food to western audiences. This is the handsomely revised and expanded edition from 2000.
The book that created millions of new bakers. Easy to follow, well thought out, and as close to perfect as a cookbook can reasonably hope to be.
Ken Forkish is arguably the foremost and best-known of America's artisan bread bakers. This is the bread equivalent of "The Cake Bible," with lots of food science thrown in.
There are lots of science-grounded writers in food now, but until Meathead, nobody had turned that lens onto 'cue and grilling. This is why he's in the Barbecue Hall of Fame (well, that and his longstanding site Amazing Ribs).
The quintessential Southern cookbook. That's all you need to know.
The subtitle is completely accurate. Anyone who loves seafood should have this book.
An encyclopedic, big-picture view of Mediterranean food and its evolution over the centuries.