Quality & Qualities of Cookbooks

A few months back, I was sent an announcement that heralded (amidst too many exclamation points and typos – but never mind) the publication of a “definitive list – a must for any foodie – of the best cookbooks of all time.” I admit that my first thought was “What? Another one?” People publish these lists all the time. The Top Cookbooks of the year, the 10 Greatest Cookbooks of all time, the 50 best cookbooks… You get the point. you can find hundreds of “Best Cookbooks of the Year” and no two will be the same because you often have no idea what criteria are being used by the people compiling each list.

Sometimes you know right away. If it’s a themed list (Top 10 Italian Cookbooks or Top 10 TV Chef Cookbooks) you have at least one solid lead on criteria. Another clue is who is putting the list together. Is it an industry publication like Publishers Weekly or Bookseller? Then sales or reviews are likely figuring prominently in their calculations. But quite often, I’m left with a list of titles and authors without no explanation beyond “awesome book and a MUST have for the modern kitchen.”  They could be judging on anything from the color of the spine to what percentage of the recipes include parsley.

It would be helpful to know what those criteria are. If I know the person compiling the list had a parsley obsession, this would inform my reading of their list and I would be able to better assess their list for my needs. If I don’t know about the passion for parsley, I might have NO clue what was actually happening on the list.

cookbooksSo, I’m not going to ask you to tell me your personal “top 10 cookbooks of 2012/2013” or your “5 best cookbooks of all time.”  No. My questions are these:

  • What qualities do you look for in a cookbook? Which of those qualities outrank the other?
  • What might turn you off a particular cookbook?
  • What takes something from being a ‘good’ cookbook to a ‘great’ cookbook?



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