5 Tips for Choosing an Excellent Cookbook
It’s back-to-school time, pumpkin season, and, for those of us who love cookbooks, it’s time for a whole new crop of fall books. There are so many books published in the span of just a couple of months that it can be hard to keep up with them all. Here are five tips for choosing an excellent cookbook:
1. Read the Acknowledgments
I’ve admitted before that the first thing I do when I pick up a cookbook is read the acknowledgments. It can be a quick scan—just look for the author giving credit to and thanking a recipe tester (or testers). That way, you know these recipes have been tested and are probably going to work well in your own kitchen.
2. Look for Voice
When you read the recipes, can you hear some personality? Are there unique turns of phrase or jokes or opinionated points of view? Nobody wants to follow a recipe that sounds like it was written by a robot. We want to get to know someone through their writing. This tip is especially key for restaurant books written by chefs. Every great chef I’ve ever met has had strong opinions about food and cooking, and these opinions should shine on the page.
3. Check for Both Cooking Times and Doneness Cues
Flip to a random recipe and check for two things: a cooking time (approximate is okay—actually, I prefer ranges like 3 to 5 minutes) and a doneness cue, which is a non-numeric hint to the reader about when a dish is finished cooking. Doneness cues can be visual (“fry until dark golden brown”), physical (“bake until the center of the cake is springy when lightly pressed”), or scent-based (“cook until the caramel smells just the tiniest bit burned”).
4. Scope out the Design Quality
You don’t have to be a famous designer to assess whether or not a book was produced with care and attention to detail. Does the paper feel nice in your hands? Is the binding high quality and likely to last? Are there beautiful photographs or illustrations? If a cookbook makes you want to pick it up and use it often, you’ve found a winner.
5. Don’t Be Too Swayed by Size
The average dimensions of cookbooks change over time. Remember the era when it seemed like all the books were square? Some are enormous and meant to sit on your coffee table. Others are tiny but hard-working and reliable. I do believe in judging a book by its cover, but I don’t put too much stock in a book’s particular size.