7 Tips for Starting Your Own Cookbook Club

7 Tips for Starting Your Own Cookbook Club

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Maria Ribas
Sep 19, 2017
(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Do you know what's better than eating out with your friends? Cooking with your friends. And yet, it's so easy to fall into a rut of solo weeknight cooking and prepped-ahead dinner parties on weekends. The solution? A cookbook club.

A cookbook club will get you back to the great national pastime of community cooking, and it will help you finally cook from all those cookbooks you've been hoarding. It's also ridiculously fun, and you'll learn endless tricks from watching how your friends make a recipe.

Your cookbook club can be a potluck, where everybody cooks ahead and then shares the spoils; it can be a day of cooking, where you shop in advance but show up ready to cook and eat as a group; or it can be a prep day, where you cook in bulk together and then send each other home with extra servings for stocking the freezer.

Whatever you choose, you'll need to decide these seven things before you can get cooking

1. Pick your cookbook club members.

Yes, you should pick your favorite friends, but also consider how much they like to cook and what they like to cook.

Mentally scroll through your favorite people and ask the following questions: Who is most adventurous? Who's most knowledgeable? Who loves the same restaurants that I do? Who has dietary restrictions I can live with? Don't rush this — you can't have a great cookbook club without people who love food in the same way you do.

Next, decide how many friends to invite. Cooking club experts Polly Conner and Rachel Tiemeyer, authors of From Freezer to Table, recommend capping your club at six people. More than that becomes a literal case of too many cooks in the kitchen.

2. Agree on the boundaries.

Here's a scenario: You've rounded up your cookbook compadres and someone suggests cooking from Modernist Cuisine for your next meeting. Now, panic.

Or, you can skip the cold sweat and set your boundaries upfront. Is your cookbook club about discovering weeknight favorites? Trying new techniques? Sourcing uncommon ingredients? Stocking the freezer?

Talk to your club about what would most excite them and what they really need, then choose a theme that hits that sweet spot.

3. Be honest about how often you can meet.

The beauty of a club is that you see each other in real life, but that takes scheduling — a lot of it.

Will you meet every few weeks, every month, or every few months? Will you skip December or break in August? Will you meet every second Tuesday, or choose a new date each month?

Decide how often your club will meet, then downgrade that by 20 percent. Trust me: Overscheduling is the surest way to kill excitement. And if everyone bails at the last second because the schedule is too much, your club will start to feel like just another pressure instead of a party.

4. Decide where to meet.

Once you know when you'll meet, discuss where you'll meet. If you're cooking together, be realistic about who has the best kitchen. No shame in defaulting to the friend with the gas stove!

If it's a potluck, discuss who has the most oven space, who has the largest table or number of chairs, or who might have a partner who can play dishwasher.

Of course, you can rotate locations so everyone has a chance to host, but having a space that's conducive to eating and drinking will make for the most fun.

5. Agree on how you'll pick cookbooks.

Picking each book is where things can get scrappy. There are two ways to set up your electorate system: rotating dictatorship or popular vote.

Rotating dictatorship: Assign one person to each meeting, and let them pick. This is great if your group is adventurous, and you want to try cookbooks you wouldn't have picked up yourself. It's also the most efficient method, since you won't have back-and-forth about the selection.

Popular vote: Allow each member to nominate a cookbook and then vote. The catch? You can't vote for your own pick. If there's a tie, hold a runoff election. This option is great if your friends have similar tastes, and you want more say in the selection.

6. Get great cookbook deals.

Here's a secret of cookbook clubs: Many cookbook publishers offer bonuses for bulk orders, meaning that your club could get fun stuff like extra recipes and printables or swag like wooden spoons and aprons. You do have to preorder, though, so research which cookbooks are releasing soon, then visit the author's or publisher's website to see if bonuses are available.

Another money-saving tip is to look for e-cookbook deals. If you don't already have a cookbook hoarding problem, you're about to. But with a digital cookbook you can find a recipe without sacrificing an inch of your precious bookshelf. The newsletters of sites like Taste and BookBub offer cookbooks at deep discounts (think: $0.99 to $3.99). And that means more money for a fancy cheese plate!

7. Throw your cares out and have the most fun.

Here's what a cookbook club is not about: showing off, lecturing, competing, or apologizing. If your main dish is a flop, blame the recipe (ah, the beauty of a recipe!). And if your main dish is the best thing there, say that to no one. Cookbook clubs are not the Olympics of cooking — no one should be there to impress anyone else.

As C.S. Lewis once said, "Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably." And to that I would add spending time with friends. Eat with your friends, read with your friends, forget phones even exist, and go home with your face hurting from smiling so hard and chewing so happily.

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