Our Readers’ 10 Favorite Timeless Cookbooks

published Aug 26, 2014
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

What defines a classic, timeless cookbook? For some, it’s the indispensable recipes that have stood the test of time. For others, it’s the nostalgia of watching mothers and grandmothers cook from them, only to now turn to the well-worn pages themselves. Some books have become staples on our shelves because they’re a comprehensive reference, and others because they teach us technique. And then there are books that just give us delicious meals, over and over again.

From vintage cookbooks passed down through generations to newer essentials, here are 10 favorite timeless cookbooks as chosen by you, our readers.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

1. Joy of Cooking

Older editions of the Joy of Cooking are both hilarious (if you have one, look up the entry on angel food cake) and instructive in that they give more background and technique instructions than a lot of more modern cookbooks. They also have a great section that covers ratios for a wide range of basic (and funny) cocktails. – jmccourt

I prefer the 1943(?) Joy of Cooking for a wide range of tasty salad dressings/marinades. I also adore the condiment section. Yes, there are recipes I’ll never try due to dated dishes, but the background on why you do certain things and all the conversion charts from the wood stoves to gas, and the obsolete measures mean you can still convert even older recipes easily to modern measurements. – MonW

Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking! I have my pre-1951 wedding gift copy, and I still give the current edition (whatever year it is at the time) to new brides! – rusty.s

Joy of Cooking is my basic cookbook. But the old vintage copies are better so get a copy from the 60s or 70s if you can. – BayCook

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

2. Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

I have, and treasure, my mother’s 1937 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It’s too fragile to use now. – Nami13

3. Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook

My go-to cookbook also is the Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook, 1961. It was my mother’s and she went through several. When eBay came along, my Dad used to hunt down editions and buy them. I have two (so I can leave one to each daughter) and I treat them very carefully. If the house caught on fire, you’d better believe I’d stop to grab one of those cookbooks. – Maeve in SC

My standard cookbook was my mother’s, Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook, 1961 edition. Her previous copy just wore out and was replaced. It outlines cooking and recipes back when food tasted like what it was and not masked by the spices and hot peppers so common in today’s food. – Grossvater

4. The American People’s Cookbook

My family’s go-to cookbook has always been The American People’s Cookbook from 1956. It was my grandmother’s, then my mother’s, and I use it now, especially for baking simple cakes and making things like jam or relish. The binding is falling apart and the pages are yellow but many of the recipes still hold up! – jsteady

5. Plenty

As a guy who grew up exclusively eating meat and potatoes I have to say, I love Ottolenghi’s Plenty. Every single dish I’ve made from this book so far has been amazing. The eggplant dish on the cover has even made its way into regular rotation at my house and it always looks as great as it does on the cover. How many cookbooks can you say that about? – Theo38

Plenty is an amazing book. I especially like that it focuses on veggies without resorting to stuff that “seems more like meat.” – kariwk

(Image credit: Kathryn Hill)

6. How to Cook Everything

The cookbook I reach for most often is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. – rosebud

I love How to Cook Everything and just refer to it as “the Bittman.” Found the layout to be very helpful for learning how to improvise. – ohmydarlin

7. Cooks Country Cookbook

For me personally, it’s the Cooks Country Cookbook. I’m more of a fan of “American” food than anything else so I think it speaks more to my particular palette than any other one I’ve read. It’s our “go-to” for basics like pancakes and biscuits and that sort of thing. Then again, we don’t often cook with recipes. – Battra92

8. The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

I find myself most often reaching for The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook for reference on classic recipes. – Maria @ Sift & Whisk

(Image credit: Emily Han)

9. Essential Pepin

Essential Pepin. Not only does it have hundreds of recipes, but the thing comes with a DVD where Pepin shows you technique, literally starting with how to tie on an apron, and going into a ton of other stuff, like knife skills, stock-making, breaking down poultry, etc. – andypucko

10. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

I’ll add another vote for Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison! This is the cookbook in my collection I’ve had the longest (and intend to never get rid of). – StacyA

Deborah Madison Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It is the best-tasting vegetarian food out there (I’m not a vegetarian). It’s designed so that you can make this food for everyone and add meat if you want, or not. No judgment, that’s my favorite part. – Sally599

Deborah Madison Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. As many have said, you can add meat easily, but this book also just teaches you so many techniques that allow you to riff off the recipes in the book once you get more confident to make endless variations (i.e., the basics of soup-making, fritatta-making, risotto-making, cooking beans from scratch, vinaigrette and flavor combos for salads, etc.). Learning techniques and flavor profiles is the best thing a budding vegetarian can do for themselves to make cooking easy, healthy, and fun. – lotusmoss

What’s your all-time favorite cookbook?