How many cookbooks do you really need?

It’s been all food, all the time on the television in my house. I’m hooked on food show competitions and I dream about turning into a super cook (a mashup of Aaron Sanchez, Amanda Freitag, and Alton Brown would suit me just fine). I also do my fair share of cooking and I use my phone or tablet to find recipes. Both are super easy to use in the kitchen and don’t take up a lot of space.

And, therein lies the problem. I have several cookbooks that are languishing on a shelf in my kitchen. Since I don’t use them anymore, it’s time to part with them. If you’re faced with a similar situation or have amassed a large collection of cookbooks that go untouched, you might want to sort through them, especially if you find yourself reaching for the same ones all the time.

Getting started:

Gather your cookbooks together

It’s helpful to find out exactly what types and the number of cookbooks you have so you can decide which ones to keep and which ones will get passed on to new owners. That will be hard to do if they’re in a variety of places. So, start by gathering them all together, and then put them in categories that make sense for you.

Here are some ways you can categorize your cookbooks:

  • Alphabetical order
  • Cuisine (Mexican, Chinese, Greek)
  • Author
  • Ease of use (30 minute recipes, advanced cooking techniques)
  • Type (desserts, vegitarian, low sodium, grilling, family recipes)
  • Color and/or size

Decide on a storage location

Have you thought about the best location to store your cookbooks or recipe binders? The number of cookbooks you’ll keep will depend on which ones you use the most as well as storage space available to house them. Ideally, you’ll want to have your favorites close to your kitchen so that you’ll have easy access to them. That might mean storing your most used books on the counter with seasonal or less used books in a separate location (dedicated shelf or cabinet). Test out a few different areas in and around your kitchen to see what would work best based on how you move about in that space.

Trade books that you no longer use

If you don’t use a particular cookbook because you haven’t seen it, then be sure to keep it visible so that you’ll remember to look through it. But, if it is visible and you still haven’t used it (or your recipe holder) within the last 12 months, it’s probably time to part with it. Consider passing on these cookbooks to someone else by trading them with a friend or selling them. Keeping them will only fill up space that could be used for books that you use all the time.

Use an app to keep track of recipes

Sure, keep your favorite cookbooks that you refer to often, but if you’re only interested in one or two recipes, you don’t need to buy the entire book. There are several web-based and mobile apps that you can use like, All Recipes, and to find and keep track of recipes that you’d like to try out. You can also create a notebook in Evernote or Pinterest with recipes you’d like to test. If you don’t like them, you can always delete them. And, if you decide to keep them, you can create an digital cookbook using Evernote Food.

As you unclutter your collection, keep in mind that you don’t have to let go of all your cookbooks. Just be sure that you’re not holding on to the ones that you no longer use or want. Share them with friends and family members and think about alternative options before buying new books.

27 Comments for “How many cookbooks do you really need?”

  1. posted by LizSawyers on

    Thanks for sharing this! I was using Evernote to store books and recipes. For organizing books, I found that is better as you can create your virtual bookshelf.? I think it’s better in many ways, especially when you have many books and don’t want to enter any information.

  2. posted by Bethany on

    I like Springpad for storing all my recipes. It’s sort of like Evernote and Pinterest combined.

  3. posted by Julie on

    Since I normally Google or look on Pinterest for recipes I only really use one or two actual cookbooks these days.

  4. posted by Rosalie Donlon on

    I find cooking magazines to be as much, if not more, of a problem than cookbooks. I’ve finally trained myself to photocopy or scan the index to each issue and keep just the index handy in my kitchen, if there are enough recipes that I want to keep the whole magazine. And once a year, I gather the issues I don’t use and donate them to my local library which has a literacy program, or to a local nursing home.

  5. posted by luxcat on

    I only have two large, classic, hard-cover “covers all the basics” cookbooks. I get most of my cooking ideas from magazines, websites and friends. I scan them and save them in folders grouped by type of dish or dish ingredient. When I want to cook one I just copy it into Dropbox and bring my iPad into the kitchen. I realize this might only be a solution for folks with a tablet, small laptop, or REALLY good eyesight and a smart phone, but it works for me and is clutter-free

  6. posted by Gretchen Peacock on

    There are only two cookbooks that I use anymore. One is a very, very beat up cookie cookbook from the 60’s and the other is an ethnic cookbook from the 40’s given to me by my in-laws. I have also added any favorite recipes to a file I keep on my computer. Interesting…I really can ditch the rest of the cookbooks, but I love the pictures!!

  7. posted by Leslie on

    I LOVE old books. Especially old cookbooks. Used to collect them and display (currently they reside in a box in storage). Two of my books are >100 yrs, one is a teaching text and I refer to both of them a few times a year. In my grand plan to reduce/minimize post-divorce, I will be getting rid of some of the cookbooks after I pull the recipes I use consistently. Particularly since I rarely refer to them anymore preferring the internet or simply using the recipe version I keep on my pc.

  8. posted by egirlrocks on is a great place to trade books. I’ve been a member for several years. It’s free to join; you just have to post 10 books to get started. You pay postage to mail books to others; they pay postage when you request books from them. Media mail rate is typically around $2.50 unless you’re mailing a hard-backed book. Members also offer audio books. Just print a label and mail. How easy is that?

  9. posted by cathleen on

    Yikes, this is one of my achilles’ heels.

    My husband is a chef and we own a restaurant and we must own 200+ cookbooks. And I can’t bear to part with them 🙂

    I use my iPad and Mealfire a lot to collect recipes online for personal use but still love paging through cookbooks, even if I never plan on making any of the recipes! They are a source of comfort and inspiration and great memories of parties and loved ones. Fortunately, we have storage for them.

  10. posted by Liz on

    I kept my “pretty” cookbooks and those that have sentimental value and gave the rest away. I also had quite a collection torn out from magazines that I couldn’t part with! I searched for a place on the web to save them where I could do ingredient searches, organize and access via mobile (there is an app for that). I found Springpad and have never looked back. Easy to add new recipes when I see one I like on any web page. It has made my meal planning, cooking and food shopping a breeze!

  11. posted by JC on

    I have 5 feet of shelving designated for cookbooks. We eat quite a variety of different things from all over the world as well as the local fish and game so they are very handy. DS has already called dibs on several of them.

    One day I wanted some input into meal planning so I sat my children down with sticky notes and the books. They had to mark what they wanted to eat. I’ve been gradually trying out the recipes and the reaction is much more positive when I point out that it is a meal they specifically chose.

  12. posted by Sherri on

    Great post… I recently started to keep a handwritten recipe journal. I found a pretty book and I wrote down all my favorite, everyone asks for recipes in it. And then as I find a super good one, that I’ve tested and works and we all love it, it goes in the book, only then. I love to store great recipes and ideas on my digital devices, and of course, love recipes on Pinterest and such, but I worry that if I didn’t have access or something happened, I would lose the good ones. I know how much I treasure some of my mother’s and grandmother’s handwritten cards… I know my kids will love my journal some day…. Just a thought… having the ONE journal works for me… I’ve gotten rid of most of my other cookbooks save one or two…

  13. posted by EngineerMom on

    I love to cook, and collect recipes. However, I have pretty limited space and no tablet/smartphone, so rather than digitize everything (cake batter near the laptop = recipe for disaster!), I kept my favorite all-purpose cookbooks, 3 “specialty” cookbooks I found myself referring to frequently, created the Blue Folder, and the W** Family Cookbook.

    My main decluttering method? Move 2500 miles and pay for the entire move yourself while downsizing from 1400 sqft to 900 sqft with a family of 4. That will definitely make a few unused cookbooks incredibly unappealing.

    In terms of managing my recipe collection, I’ve done two things:

    1. The Blue Folder. I keep a blue folder with my cookbooks. When I find a recipe that sounds appealing, I either write it down or print it out and stick it in the folder. One side is “sweet” stuff (mostly desserts, but also some baked breakfast goods like rolls) and one side is “savory”. I go through the whole thing every year at Christmas and get rid of any recipes I haven’t tried in the past year so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

    2. A custom-made cookbook. A few years ago, I collected a bunch of family recipes while I was visiting my parents. Some were things that had never been written down and some were from old recipe cards in my mom’s collection that were a bit tattered. I put all the recipes together into a Word document, along with some commentary about the history of each or a favorite memory. I had several copies printed and bound at Kinko’s (just spiral bound with a clear plastic coversheet and black plastic back sheet), then gave them to my parents, siblings, and a few family friends for Christmas. Now we all have Grandma Hadley’s stuffing recipe and Dad’s corned beef hash instructions, and we don’t have to go hunting through a dozen recipe cards or find that scrap of paper it was scribbled on during a hurried phone consultation.

  14. posted by Chris on

    Before the iPad, I just kept a binder with clear sleeves and dividers . When if found a recipe in a magazine I wanted, I just ripped it out and put it in a clear sleeve. Simple, low tech, and easy to clean.

    Now I keep all of my recipes in an app called Serving Sizer pro. I was able to find almost all of my old magazine recipes with Google, and simply copy/paste them into the app. Serving Sizer Pro lets you categorize and search your recipes to find what you want. Every week I pick three recipes and email them to myself, so I remember what I’m making that week, and use them to make my weekly shopping list. My old, low tech method worked, but the app lets me really find and utilize my, now huge collection of recipes. I will never go back.

  15. posted by mary on

    FYI – Just went to the link provided for selling cookbooks — here’s the info they list:

    “We only purchase larger collections (in excess of 200 books), and absolutely no microwave cookbooks. Please send us a list of what you have and/or images of your collection, along with your asking price.”

  16. posted by melissa on

    I can’t believe neither you nor your commenters mentioned! I’ve been a member for over a year now, and it’s made me use all those cookbooks I love buying. Essentially, it’s a searchable, online index of all the recipe books you own in physical form at home. So if I search for an ingredient or cuisine, it’ll search all the books I own at home and tell me which ones have those recipes. Such a simple concept, and it’s great for planning meals from the office (and buying any extra needed ingredients on the way home!)

  17. posted by Marie on

    Great question! I went through this process several years ago when we renovated our kitchen and acquired new cabinet space in the process. I had been keeping a couple arms-lengths worth of cookbooks on a side board, but there were always too many things in the way to get to them easily. When we organized the new space, I claimed one small shelf for cookbooks, and ditched more than half of them.

    Things I kept are arranged partly by topic and partly by frequency of use. The latter are set off by a bookend so I can get them out easily.

    Frequently referred to: A vintage and much-used copy of the Joy of Cooking, the little three ring cookbook I’d started to compile in high school and packed with family recipes in subsequent decades, and a larger three ring notebook with page protected compilations of my family’s favorite dishes.

    Themed books: vegetarian cooking (several great basic references and idea sources, one fancy, a couple Moosewood-era tomes), bread (one big reference, a skinny classic), general “complete” references, extra crunchy hippy (macrobiotic, vintage Der Farm), extra specialty (cookies! scones! chocolate!), and thrifty inspiration (Tightwad Gazette, Menonite More With Less).

    I do search and find (and store) recipes digitally, but I can’t use them unless they are printed out or scribbled on a sticky note. Those are usually stuck near my workspace. If they survive the first couple makings, they get transferred to the “favorites” notebook.

    Even though I have more cookbooks than some people, they are all used and loved, out of the way when not needed, easily accessible when they are.

  18. posted by Paula on

    I took all of my cookbooks, kept only the ones I really use, and from each of the others -those with 1-5 I use, I cut the pages and put them into my cookbook binder. Cut my shelf of books by 2/3 and still have what I want and need.

  19. posted by Carla on

    I’ve been cooking on a regular basis since I was 12 so I have about 24 years worth of cookbooks I need to get rid of. My diet has changed dramatically in that time period so many of them are complete irrelevant. Thank you for reminding me of this!

  20. posted by Tim B on

    I’m going through a huge clearout right now. Pretty much all my ‘normal’ books are going. My cookbooks, however, are the exception. They get to stay.

    Cookbooks, to me at least, are more than ‘just a book’. They don’t translate well to kindle, and if you’re going to digitise them, you might as well just throw them out and use recipe websites, which just don’t feel the same to me.

    Digital information is great if you’re looking for something specific. Cookbooks are far better when you just want to flick through and see what catches your eye. I’ll often use the two together – I’ll find a dish I like the look of in my cookbooks, then I’ll google that same recipe, look at the different variations of how to make it, and that’ll give me an idea of how to make it my own.

  21. posted by Jackie on

    Great app suggestions and tips for weeding home cookbook collections. I also use and found it helpful to utilize the cookbooks I own because you can search on an ingredient. I was even able to tag all issues of my 10-year supply of Cook’s Illustrated magazine (so that it became searchable in my membership account – so many times I’ve pulled issues looking for a specific recipe without success!). The previous commenter did not mention that it’s a subscription service – not free, but affordable ( $2.50/mo or $25/yr for unlimited indexing).

  22. posted by Katrina on

    I go through my cookbooks about once a year and try to pick a few that I don’t use to send to charity shops. I currently have 56 books on two shelves of a small bookcase in the dining room just outside the kitchen. I love cookbooks. I usually get a few new ones as gifts every year so I need to find a few to part with. They currently don’t quite fit on the two shelves so I need to find two to get rid of. I will try to do it today!

  23. posted by WilliamB on

    I have about 100 cookbooks, 10-12 years’ of Cook’s Illustrated, and a binder of loose-leaf recipes. They’re all well organized; I can find what I need within a minute or so.

    The Binder:
    Recipes are in plastic sleeves, organized by category: appetizer, Chinese, vegetarian main dish, etc. Recipes I created are in a folder on my computer as well.

    The Magazines:
    I keep an spreadsheet of the recipes I like. The first column is the title, in easy to skim form such as “chix breasts, french braised.” The second column is the issue date. I then put Post-It flags with the title, in the magazine itself so I can find it immediately. I don’t need a column for recipes I want to try because CI comes out very 2 months, so it’s easy to try the 2-4 new recipes I’m interested in before the next issue arrives.

    The Cookbooks:
    It’s not possible to try every interesting recipe in a cookbook all at once, so I need a “to try” section in the Cookbook Recipe Spreadsheet. Other than that, the process is the same as for magazines: spreadsheet with recipe name, cookbook, tried or not tried; and Post-It flags with the recipe name in the cookbook itself. I distinguish between tried and untried recipes by flag location: the flags for untried recipes go along the top of the book, the flags for tried recipes go along the right border. (Of course I don’t keep the flag if I don’t like the recipe.)

    I don’t buy many cookbooks anymore. I reduce the inflow by checking out of the library first. If I don’t like the first few recipes I try, then that’s not the cookbook for me. Same with magazines: I get a trial issue or two; if I don’t like 1-2 recipes per issue, I cancel the subscription. Finally, I limited myself to one bookcase for cookbooks. If I want to a new one I have to make space – a great encouragement to get rid of cookbooks that have only a few recipes I like.

  24. posted by Sarah HP on

    I don’t have too many cook books but I found that when I I often forgot to copy out lists of ingredients for recipes I wanted to make. I spent an hour taking photos of the ingredients lists for some favourite recipes and stored them on ever note. I can now check the lists on my phone when I’m in the store to make sure I don’t forget anything and ensure I buy the right quantities.

  25. posted by Jacky on

    Thanks for sharing. I love cooking , I found this useful for me to collect those cooking recipes that i can cook for my family and friends.

  26. posted by Bree on

    I’ve tried a variety of online services, Palm Pilot notes, lists, indexes, etc, over the years. But since cooking is a shared duty in our family, paper won out. We made our own set of cookbooks.

    We use 5 junior-size Avery binders, with 5.5×8.5 page protectors. I like this size because it’s easy to store, and easy to layout on the counter without taking up much space.

    My books:
    1. Meat Entrees
    2. Vegetables/Soups/Pastas
    3. Breakfasts/Beverages/Seasonal
    4. Baking & Desserts
    5. Entertaining – my Thanksgiving and birthday party recipes/planning are all in here

    My Everyday Food magazines got reviewed and interesting recipes torn out (so sad this is discontinued). Web recipes get printed, tried once, and then get tossed or added to the binders. Family recipes or concoctions we’ve developed on our own get typed up on a Pages template, printed and added to the binder.

    For cookbooks, I flagged the ones that were of interest, copied or typed them up, and passed them on to friends and the library sale.

    For weekly meal planning, we pull out the recipes to use during the week, and clip them to the frig (after adding to the shopping list). After the recipe is used, it goes to the back of its section, so we cycle through. When the binders get too full, I do a purge. If a recipe has been flipped past for nearly a year and we weren’t motivated to use it again or try it for the first time, it gets removed.

    ALL recipes have to have a picture. We are very motivated to meal plan by pictures, and it helps get the kids involved when we make our shopping list.

    We’ve been using this system for at least 6 years now. We originally had 8 binders, but after some purging, the 5 seems to be a good balance.

  27. posted by Sue on

    Would you believe 2,849 cookbooks and still adding?

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