Find our top 6 picks for the best technique and equipment cookbooks of the past 25 years.
Some single-topic technique books don’t know when to stop: They add recipes for bulk that just don’t fit. We saw a slow-cooker
book with a whole chapter of quick bread recipes, for example, and pressure-cooker books with cheesecake recipes. We tended
to set those books aside in favor of the sort reviewed here: six books that blew us away both for their technique expertise
and their solid recipes.
Charred and Scruffed: Bold New Techniques for Explosive Flavor On and Off the Grill By Adam Perry Lang, Artisan, 2012. Paperback. $25; 266 pages
This is not a grilling book for the faint of heart, or for those who prefer to grill with convenient gas. But hardcore coal-heads will read it, taste the food, and consider their eyes opened at last. Lang dips into the downright radical: He cooks directly on coals, a technique he calls “clinching.” He roughs up the surface of ingredients—scruffing—to give them more room for char and flavor. He flips meat a lot as it grills. And he finishes these coal-kissed masterpieces with sauces: Some prepared on the cutting board with meat juices, others, which he calls “spackles,” roasted slowly and acid-spiked.
GIVE THIS TO: Grill fiends who like pushing the envelope. —Tim Cebula
Making Artisan Pasta: How to Make a World of Handmade Noodles, Stuffed Pasta, Dumplings, and More By Aliza Green, Quarry Books, 2012. Paperback. $25; 176 pages
Like the best DIY manuals, this cookbook so thoroughly covers each project—through written detail and how-to photos—that you’ll feel inspired and confident to make everything from ravioli to udon to matzo balls. Green opens the world of artisan pasta to all, showing how to mix pasta dough by hand, in a stand mixer, or in a food processor, and demonstrating how to roll it with either elbow grease or a pasta machine. Besides basic pasta dough are ones flavored and colored with roasted bell pepper, spinach, beets, saffron, red wine, porcini mushrooms, and even chocolate.
GIVE THIS TO: Kitchen-project enthusiasts. —Tiffany Vickers Davis
Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and Share By Paula Wolfert, Wiley, 2009. Hardcover. $35; 334 pages
Paula Wolfert, one of the goddesses of Mediterranean cooking, began collecting clay cooking utensils at the age of 19 but didn’t realize their potential to turn out flavorful, unique dishes until much later. In this book, she shares recipes collected from professional and home cooks throughout the region. Her knowledge of clay cookery is extensive: She understands the advantage of size, shape, and type of clay the pot is made from and includes recipes suited to each.
GIVE THIS TO: Experienced cooks who like Mediterranean flavors. —Deb Wise
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking By Molly Stevens, W. W. Norton & Co., 2004. Hardcover. $35; 482 pages
We were surprised and happy to find that the first recipes in this deeply instructive book are for vegetables—it’s not all pot roasts and coq au vins (though they’re here, too). In this lengthy section you’ll find World’s Best Braised Green Cabbage, a gratifying dish that earns its name by transforming, over a couple of hours, the humble head into a buttery, sweet, meltingly tender dish.
GIVE THIS TO: The patient cook ready to jump from the slow cooker into the Dutch oven. —Robin Bashinsky
The Barbecue! Bible By Steven Raichlen, Workman, 2008. Paperback. $23; 556 pages
Two words for this book: Definitive and complete. If you want one volume that covers everything you’d like to know about grilling and smoking—anything you can do over a fire—this is the, well, bible. A helpful opening chapter of FAQs and authoritative answers establishes the difference between direct and indirect grilling, the characteristics of a good grill (charcoal or gas), the best ways to clean the grill, methods for checking food for doneness, and much more.
GIVE THIS TO: The outdoor cooking geek obsessed with the how’s, why’s, when’s, and what’s of grilling. —Adam Hickman
The Art of Preserving By Rick Field, Lisa Atwood, and Rebecca Courchesne, Weldon Owen, 2010. Paperback. $20; 240 pages
There’s a sweet and calming feel to this book: Sweet in its hominess, the pastel color palette, the ribbon detail on recipe titles; calming because the authors wisely chose not to bombard cooks with too many techniques or details for what, after all, is one of the simplest concepts in cooking. Anyone nervous about the proposition of canning (as I was) will find great pleasure here. Recipes celebrate the integrity of the ingredients: Fruit and veggie relishes and preserves are kept mostly whole, not cooked to oblivion, and ingredient lists are short.
GIVE THIS TO: A first-time canner ready to celebrate the seasons—and preserve them. —Hannah Klinger