Cookbooks for Beginners: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat & The Food Lab Give You The Building Blocks You Need

Everyone should read more cookbooks.

I was so fortunate to grow up in a household that not only had a lot of cookbooks but treasured them. 

My mother has an extensive collection of cookbooks that date back to long before I was born and include some of the classics, like the Art of Cooking, practically every Barefoot Contessa book, and the most extensive collection of Susan Branch books I've seen to this day. 

I have her to thank for my love of food and everything that surrounds it. Between reading her diverse collection of cookbooks and watching Food Network with her every weekend for as long as I could remember, it isn't a surprise I have started a food-related newsletter. 

Her collection is currently in storage, but in its place, I have started my own that I plan to grow and hopefully let the next generation enjoy as I did. I've mentioned Christina Tosi Milk Bar cookbook several times already, but I wanted to recommend two cookbooks that everyone should read to get better at cooking.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

Yeah, you could watch the Netflix documentary series of the same name (and you should; it's fantastic, and watching how Samin interacts with food and people will fill you with so much joy), but the book is easily the best resource for any cook of any level. 

It isn't a cookbook like a Barefoot Contessa book, full of recipes and a few techniques. Instead, it's like a cooking bible that you can refer back to time and time again but come away with a deeper meaning every time. 

The book was born after Samin taught her former journalism professor how to cook, and he suggested she put pen to paper. The result was a James Beard award-winning book with everything a beginner needs and all the tips anyone of any level could want to improve their cooking.

It centers around what Samin calls the four elements of cooking. You need to have a balance of salt, fat, and acid while also applying the correct heat to unlock the flavor of what you are cooking. 

Honestly, it works. I was able to apply what I learned from the Fat chapter to better understand the creaming process of making cookie batter. Both of my batters have turned out pretty close to perfect, and I think a large part is due to this book. And if that doesn't do it for you, the illustrations are whimsical and look like the sort of prints I'd want to hang in a kitchen.

Samin also narrates the audiobook, and given the nature of the book, it really works as an audiobook too, so I highly recommend it.

The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

To call J. Kenji Lopez-Alt a pioneer would be an understatement. He helped popularize a more scientific approach to cooking rooted in experimentation to find the best method to cook something.

This book isn't filled with gastronomic hacks or complex methods. Instead, it teaches you how to apply scientific thinking to help you understand how food cooks and why it needs to be handled a certain way to unlock its full potential.

Much like Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat — this book also was a James Beard award winner and is regarded as a fundamental building block of learning how to cook. Unlike Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat —  the book is a little dense and, honestly, takes a long time to get through. 

But it's more than worth what you get out. When you're done reading, you feel like you've just got your Ph.D. in cooking and can't wait to try out your knowledge.

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