Are cookbooks a thing of the past?

cookbooksLucky for me, my wife enjoys cooking and baking. She has a shelf dedicated to her cookbooks, but she hardly ever uses them. More often than not she accesses recipes via the internet. The amount of information that is at your fingertips is astounding and the ease of accessing that information gets easier and easier.

One cookbook that my wife swears by is the Joy of Cooking. It is an encyclopedic volume of just about anything you can think of cooking or baking. She swears by its usefulness and relies on it quite a bit. Other than that, her cookbooks are seldom used. So are cookbooks obsolete? Why clutter up a whole shelf in your kitchen for a bunch of books that you never use? Here are the recipe sites my wife frequents instead of using a cookbook:

One site that I just happened upon is The site lets you enter the ingredients you have in your kitchen and then gives you ideas on what you may be able to prepare. Maybe it’s time to let some of your cookbooks go?

67 Comments for “Are cookbooks a thing of the past?”

  1. posted by Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances on

    I rarely cook… but I still have a few cookbooks that I love and haven’t gotten rid of. Mostly, I just use them for ideas when I can’t figure out what I want to get at the grocery store.

    You might also say that they’re decoration. I have a bookcase between the kitchen and living room that displays the cookbooks, a few containers of dry food stuff, a few bamboo steamers (purely decorative now that I have an electric one), and a jar of chopsticks. A smaller bookcase nearby also displays a tetsubin with matching tea cups, some smaller containers of dry food stuff, the salt and pepper shakers, and two bowls of fruit.

  2. posted by Liz on

    I love cookbooks! I borrowed a more upmarket one from our library and want to try so many things in it that I am going to have to get myself a copy. The internet is useful but anyone can post whatever recipe they like – whereas cook book recipes have been triple tested and tried in different circumstances to ensure they work every time.

    I don’t keep recipe books I don’t use but I menu plan with them in front of me so they get used… I would use two or three different ones in an average week and I have about six to eight all up, all of which get used… (except one that my DH wont part with but never uses)

  3. posted by N. & J. on

    We mostly use the internet for the same reason that some people use cookbooks. Recipes posted online have been tested and you can read multiple people’s reviews so you get an idea for modifications and how well a recipe will work. For the cooking inept like my fiance and I it’s perfect.

  4. posted by FatLady on

    I get most of my recipe ideas from online sources now. Once I realized that about myself I was able to divest myself of cookbooks I’ve dragged around for YEARS. Exceptions: the very basic “Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook” (the loose-leaf one) which I actually use and”Good Housekeeping Illustrated” which was a gift from my mother. I have a couple others but their days are numbered–too many recipes begin with “1 stick of butter!”

    Epicurious is my favorite cooking site. I love to read other cooks’ comments. All the substitutions & changes have made me less “precious” and more relaxed about my own cooking.

  5. posted by Meg from All About Appearances on

    There’s not much counter space in our kitchen, so I usually keep both the laptop and the cookbook out of the kitchen, though maybe nearby on a table (which I suppose may or may not be considered “in the kitchen” since we have a fairly open floor plan).

    In a few cases, I’ve printed out the recipe from the computer, but I usually just slap stuff together without following a detailed recipe. I get ideas for what ingredients to combine and then start putting stuff together until it tastes good.

  6. posted by Stacy on

    I read cookbooks like other people read novels, and I am very careful to only keep the ones that are actually any good. Unfortunately my husband like to browse the discount racks and constantly brings home the cheapo faux ethnic ones. Sigh. Joy of Cooking and New Best Recipe (Cook’s Illustrated) are the absolute defaults, though!!!!

  7. posted by radish on

    Huh, I have never once cracked open Joy of Cooking book – i’ve never found it to be useful or helpful. But I know I am in the minority. I do however swear by my Martha Stewart cook book as I find it to be very helpful with not just getting the basics down, but also getting a flavor I like. Martha’s layout is also impeccable. But in general, I agree, I rarely crack open a cookbook and even wonder about the usefulness of my magazines. the other websites that are terrific are William Sonoma (offer great recipes) and Martha Stewart’s site, where like on Epicurious, you can add recipes to your own ‘inbox’ but also allows you to tag your recipes for easier search and categorization, whereas Epicurious just alpha lists your recipes — a practice that after awhile can become as cluttered as having a bunch of cook books on your kitchen shelves.

  8. posted by Sue on

    I rely on the “Joy” also, and have several of Marcia Adams’ autographed Cooking in the Heartland books. When I find a winner recipe, I put recipe card with it in a photo album, and that sits out on the shelf.

  9. posted by Kalena on

    I would also recommend Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” which is easier to read and more modern than “Joy.” The Silver Palate cookbooks are also old standbys for finding great, tested, entertaining-type recipes.

    Anyone else like the Zucchini & Chocolate blog? (or is that Chocolate and Zucchini?)

  10. posted by JPMartin on

    By keeping recipes online in a blog, you have ready access (using the search) to any dish that you want to whizz up! Just ask my wife (!

  11. posted by Brittani on

    Very interesting site ! Good work ! Congratulations :),

  12. posted by Megabeth on

    I write a vegetarian cooking blog called Veggin’
    and use both the web and physical cookbooks for inspiration.

    I have recently donated most of my cookbooks and just kept the vegetarian-centric ones. (I do keep Joy of Cooking around, though. I can never remember how long I need to cook an egg to make it hard-boiled.)

    I also head to the library to check out cookbooks. That way, they are only around for a limited time, they don’t take up shelf space, and I save some money. I do pick up vintage cookbooks at the library book sales because many of the recipes can’t be found on the web. (And, I know the money is going back into the library.) Some of the vintage cookbooks are works of art and a glimpse into past cooking techniques and ideas.

    I also have a three-ring notebook where I store the recipes I pull out of magazines and other sources. I don’t have the bulk of magazines sitting around and I can still thumb through the notebook for inspiration.

  13. posted by Elizabeth on

    I’m a bit of a foodie and I love actually reading through real live books. I spend ten or more hours a day in front of a computer screen for my job and I think my eyes and brain would fry if I spent recreational time reading electronic documents, but the real reaoson is the tactile and visual pleasure to be had from a tangible book. It always puzzles me that shedding books is recommended for uncluttering. I wouldn’t try to cook following a computer screen in my kitchen and I think a book is an easier way to use recipes than a collection of printouts, which would get pretty tatty I expect. To me, reprinting receipes again for each use is environmentally unwise and a lot more hassle/clutter than opening a book. Cookbooks unclutter my kitchen – I get rid of the ones that are useless or don’t appeal to me.

  14. posted by Vanessa on

    I love to cook, but I’m fairly new to it. I still don’t have a lot of experience, so I like to browse for recipes to try. The internet is easier for searching for a specific recipe to try, but cookbooks are way better for browsing. I like recipe websites, but they won’t take the place of Joy of Cooking, or even my (very first cookbook) Betty Crocker’s Cooking Basics!

  15. posted by James on

    It’s great to hear the debate about how best to use cookbooks. I’ve created a website ( that contains the recipe names and ingredients from actual cookbooks – and allows you to personalise your search to the cookbooks in your kitchen. You can create a shopping list for the right ingredients at the right quantities depending on how many people you’re cooking for. The best thing is that you get to cook from the actual cookbook rather than a sheet of printed paper… It’s at beta testing stage (i.e. I only have a few cookbooks in there at the moment). If it’s not too cheeky to ask on this blog, I’d love to hear your feedback for the concept and the usability of the site. Many thanks in advance, James

  16. posted by susanmkc on ! This site is a compilation of MANY cookbooks, magazines, tv food shows, etc. It allows you to save recipes, search by ingredient, much more. Foodie blogs, and can notify you by facebook when new recipes are added. I still need to part with some of my cookbooks after some scanning, but this has kept me from buying more, and I’ve cancelled magazine subscriptions.

  17. posted by jh on

    I’ve found that other than Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” , I don’t really have much a use for cookbooks. I get a lot of info from the web. I have got other cookbooks, and I like Alton Brown’s stuff since he talks about what goes on, but otherwise, it’s not really that difficult for me.

    Also, when I make things, I tend to photocopy/scan/replicate the recipe on the computer. That way if it gets messy, it gets tossed.

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