Which Cookbook to Buy? 7 Questions to Help You Choose

published Dec 6, 2011
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In a perfect world, I’d have a bottomless well of money, time and shelf space, so I could buy all the noteworthy cookbooks that come out each year.

Alas, this isn’t a perfect world, which is why I’m bookmarking reviewer T. Susan Chang’s list of seven questions she asks herself when rating cookbooks. I think it is going to come in handy when I’m trying to decide if a cookbook is worthy of a spot on my shelf.

Her questions consider everything from the clarity of the recipe instructions to the overall design of the book. Here is what she asks herself when reviewing cookbooks:

Is it useful? Would an enthusiastic cook be able to find a week’s worth of recipes in the book?
Is it thoughtful? Has the author thought of the reader’s needs?
Is it new? Are most of the recipes fresh, not just the same old classics?
Does it tell a story? Are the recipe headnotes and text a pleasure to read?
Is it well-designed? Is it good-looking, with a design that doesn’t get in the way of actually using the book?
Is it focused? Is it more than just a random collection of recipes the author has cooked lately?
Is it the best of its kind? If a book even comes close to a Yes on this question, it is a contender.

To qualify for her best-of-the-year list, a cookbook must have a Yes for the first three questions. The last four are a little more personal, reflecting what she looks for in a cookbook — thoughtful design, a compelling story — which also happens to be what many of us want from a cookbook.

Check it out: The 7 Questions of a Cookbook Reviewer at Cookbooks for Dinner

Get T. Susan Chang’s recommendations: 2011’s Best Cookbooks at NPR

What do you look for in a cookbook?

Related: An Astonishing Avalanche of Cookbooks

(Image: Faith Durand)