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How do you organize your cookbooks?

One of the great thrills of my new kitchen is that I now have a bookcase in which to put most of my cookbooks. I say "most" because it is not terribly deep and so some of the larger books will have to reside elsewhere. I had previously organized the books around cuisine and general type (i.e. bread baking, cakes, etc.) but now I am thinking that it might make sense to organize them so that the most frequently used books are together with the newest books. I'm not sure. So come on CHers -- how do you organize your cookbook collections?

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  1. My shelves for cookbooks have the tallest shelves on the bottom, so my cookbooks are arranged by size. Smaller cookbooks, usually bar books, baking, and smaller picture heavy books are on the top shelves. The oversized celebrity books and my own larger portfolio books are the bottom.

    1 Reply
    1. re: run2eat

      Size is it for me. There wouldn't be enough room in the world otherwise.

    2. I try to organize around cuisine/subject matter. I say try because I currently own roughly 500 or so cookbooks and I've just never gotten around to completely organizing all of them. It doesn't help that they are spread across three bookcases, two tables, one nightstand and one tv stand shelf. I've just run out of room but I LOVE my cookbooks and there are very very few that I could bare to part with... :)

      1. When I moved into our place, I was so excited to find built in shelves in the butler's pantry. Perfect place for the cookbooks!
        I keep the pamphlets and "community cookbooks" together, then the regular cookbooks. I have a lot of books about food that aren't cookbooks, those are grouped together near the cookbooks. I also have my food magazines stacked up nearby.

        1. I have a bookshelf and 'reading corner' with a comfy chair, ottoman and reading lamp in my kitchen where I keep all of my cookbooks. They used to be a random mess but I decided to organize them a couple of months ago. It took two full days and was quite a job but now I can find things much more easily (yes, I have too much time on my hands!). They're organized by category: Wine & Spirits, General How-To (ie. Joy of Cooking, etc), French, Italian, Spanish, British, Mexican/Carribean, Asian, Canadian, American and Miscellaneous.

          1. i have an out-of-hand, huge cookbook collection and organize it by category/cuisine: spirits/wine/bar, bread, pastry/dessert/cookie, cake, pie, "restaurant cookbooks," culinary textbooks, sauces, soup, charcuterie, salads, general/allpurpose, restaurant & culinary reference, (oversize), british isles, scandinavian, french, italian, spanish, greek, mediterranean, eastern european, pan-european catch-all area, (oversize again), middle eastern, indian, vegan, vegetarian, chinese, vietnamese, japanese, thai, pan-asian catch-all area, south & central american, mexican, african, caribbean. "american" cookbooks are broken into a general category, then the following regions: northern heartland (my region), southern, new orleans/creole/cajun, texas/southwestern, california, eastern, italian-american, native american/early american. bbq is a separate category/shelf. then there are some meat books followed by fish/seafood, & specific ingredient books like mushrooms which i actually use. pickling/jams/preserves, then come historic cookbooks foreign first then domestic, some misc. cookbooks that don't fit anywhere/don't have enough fellows yet to be their own category, then general food writing including recipes, then general food writing not including recipes, then "best of" type recipe compilations, then "community cookbooks"/pamphlets and any ones with a wacky binding, then some magazines. i am *probably* not seeing every category on the shelves in my so-called "library"-- this is mind's eye.

            sometimes it doesn't make sense. for example i keep all of deborah madison's books together in the "vegetarian" category, even though not all of her books are vegetarian. i split jaques pepin's books among numerous categories though. some of his are in french, some in general, and his "la technique" is in with the textbooks. it's not perfect-- there are some russian cookbooks and korean cookbooks that don't have enough buddies to make their own categories and they just kind of hang out in their own areas. i will eventually have to further subdivide "africa" into regions, etc. i like to shift everything around so that the most used categories are on eye level shelves and the less used categories are overhead or at ankle height. some books are at work and others are on the floor somewhere. dh prefers to alphabetize within "his" categories, i prefer to organize by "most used, first." i'm not the most organized person in the world, but if i don't keep the books organized in a way that i can find things i get buried.

            my only advice to the op would be to make sure that all of the books on the shelf in the kitchen are ones you actually use regularly, organized in a way so that you can quickly find what you are looking for. make sure to weed through occasionally and move some books out as needed. i like at least 1 bookshelf in the dining room/area for less used cookbooks-- you still get to display them and they are readily accessible. this could be an attractive solution for the larger cookbooks in the op's collection.

            6 Replies
            1. re: soupkitten

              Reading your post has inspired me to get serious about organizing my books. I really do waste a lot of time when I'm looking for a particular book and have to keep scanning all the shelves, piles etc. to find it...I'm realizing more and more that this also is keeping me from using my books effectively.

              1. re: soupkitten

                Yes, since the shelves are narrow, we are going to put the larger, more coffee table-ish books in the living room or sunroom bookcase. I have been wrestling with the organization all day, made more difficult by the depth of the shelves. For example, which books do you group together and which do you shelve elsewhere, particularly when they don't fit next to each other. This shouldn't be that difficult, but it's proving to be!

                1. re: soupkitten

                  Wow. I'm blown away. I guess I don't have as many cookbooks as I thought, as I don't even have books for some of the regions you mention. Then again, I'm not in the business, so, I'll try not to beat myself up too much for that.

                  Before I read this, I felt proud of myself for changing out my cookbooks with the seasons. I used to keep this season's cookbooks in the bookcase in the kitchen and the out of season cookbooks in the "library", but I'm realizing that the library is actually more accessible, so, now the out of season cookbooks go in the kitchen and the in-season cookbooks go in the library. The books I never use (the novelty/gimmicky ones, etc.) go on the very bottom shelf. The ones I really never use are in some loose order by category and by height if they are really small or really oversized in order to fit on whatever shelves. But, the ones I use a lot or think about using a lot are in a jumble because I seem to drag them out all at once to look at and put them all back in a hurry when rushing around the house trying to pick things up. No time to organize them when you're just trying to keep them off the floor!

                  Of course, that doesn't count the ones next to/under my bed, on the coffee table, under the sofa, on the table in next to the chair in the library...


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    i can not tell you how lame it is to move the cookbook library, as i am preparing to do once again. weighs a damn ton. :( it's okay, i need to do a good weed-thru and reshelve. when i have everything on the shelves again i'm taking pictures, cataloging everything, and putting the collection down as a specified item on my insurance, which everyone should probably think about doing after a couple hundred books or so. . . i think most insurance policies only give you a few hundred dollars to replace books, kind of sad how few books the average american owns. . .

                    i like your idea about having the in-season books more accessible TDQ. all of mine are grouped together and they just kind of bum me out to look at them in january etc. i have a lot of books that have seasonal recipes/are arranged by season in various categories, and i think when i reorganize i'm going to put them all together regardless of cuisine, i'll probably get ideas that way.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      Well, that "Joy of Rhubarb" cookbook just doesn't do you any good in December! And "All about braising" cookbook just doesn't call to you in August!

                      But, it is really hard to know what to do with cookbooks that include seasonal recipes for all four--like Sunday Suppers at Lucques, etc. Thankfully, I just put that one in "California" cuisine...

                      When you weed out your cookbooks, be sure to sell them at the Half Price Bookstore on Ford Parkway so Karykat and I can buy them... HAHAHA!

                      [harkening back to greedygirl's "Do you have cookbooks you've never used" thread on the Home Cooking Board, for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about...there are a few of us who seem to like the same used bookstore]

                      Photos are a good idea, actually. I do that every year or so (when my house is clean) --walk through the house with a camera and photograph everything. The key is to store your photos offsite so you have access to them should the worst happen.

                      I do have a binder (and a three-hole punch) where I put all the recipes I've printed off the www or clipped from the newspaper or whatever...but it's not organized, either, in spite of my best intentions...


                      1. re: soupkitten

                        You know, I've been meaning to do the taking pictures/cataloging thing because you are so right about insurance. I not only have hundreds of cookbooks and books on food, many of them out of print and some of them worth a great deal of money, but I also have an extensive collection of pop-ups (some of them antiques) as well as a huge library of books on art, ceramics, glass, fiber art, and my little guy's large collection of books. Thanks for the reminder that I've really been neglecting something important to me and that I need to get a move on.

                        And I agree with you about how sad it is how few books many people own. A lot of my friends don't have a single book in sight anywhere in their homes. I just don't get it...

                  2. The new, nice, oft' used, ethnic in the bookcase in the entry off the kitchen. Old, paperback and weird (The Mickey Mouse Cookbook, the Campbell Soup Cookbook) upstairs, in the bookcase in the bedroom. Plus lots scattered around the living room, for recreational reading.

                    1. i have a bookcase in the kitchen where i keep my books. top shelf has softcover, bottom shelves hard cover. organized according to size. magazines on the bottom shelf but my dilemma was the amount of gourmets i had collected and now cook;s illustrated. so bought these zippered boxes made of cloth from ikea (think cheap) and all my magazines fit in beautifully. cant keep them in the kitchen without cluttering up the floor so they are next to the kitchen i the sun room. for the present it works but will attempt to make thismore user friendly for the future.

                      1. I have them organized by ethnicity. Then I have them organized by size. Then the ones I really use...lay on top of the pile.

                        1. A few months ago I gave away about 10 years' worth of bound-in-binders Gourmet magazines and annual indexes. No need to keep them since most of the recipes are on Epicurious, and they took up waaaaay too much room. Every year I purge my cookbook collection and donate the books I haven't used in a while and that I'm NOT emotionally attached to to the used book sale at the local high school. That leaves all the rest. The ones I seldom use are on shelves in my pantry closet. The ones I use often are close at hand on a bookshelf in the kitchen.

                          For me, the dilemma isn't so much how to organize the books as it is how to find the recipes I need. At one time I was using the alphabetized pages of a personal phone directory to jot down the name of recipes I'd made and enjoyed and the book/page number where I could find it. That became unwieldy. Now, because I lack a good cross-referencing system, I'm much more likely to go to Epicurious or other websites than thumb through cookbook after cookbook in search of the specific recipe I want. Oh, there are some exceptions, of course. But I feel my cookbooks have been underutilized lately.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: CindyJ

                            I still insist on hanging on to my Gourmet magazines, going back to 1991. Just after my husband suggested getting rid of them, a friend contacted me looking for a recipe. It wasn't online, and sure enough, I found it. My biggest regret was tearing out the indices, which I meant to put in a binder, but which have some how gone some where no longer to be found!

                            I organize the magazines by month - so all of November/Thanksgiving are together, for example - and then I peruse them when that time of year comes around.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              How simple! How obvious! How sad I didn't think of this myself. I will be going through all of my accumulated magazines and grouping them by month. Thank you MMRuth.

                            2. re: CindyJ

                              Yes, that is the same problem I have...trying to find the right recipe out all the hundreds of books on the shelves. But I do on my PC the same thing you did manually. I have made it a point to keep a file noting my favorite recipes and where to find them. Once the file gets to big, I could either dump it into an excel spread sheet or just use the "find" command to look fro specific recipes in the file.

                            3. The ones that I use most often - JC/Hazan, etc. are on a shelf in the kitchen. The rest are scattered about, though I try to keep food writing separate from cookbooks. Many are stacked on my nightstand and in piles on the floor next to the bed!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: MMRuth

                                I have a three ring binder with copies of recipes I use regularly (mostly baking, where the recipe can be important), either photo copied from books and magazines, printed from on line sites, or jotted down from various sources, including the sometimes successful results of my own experiments - this has made the hunt for favorites a lot easier! Cookbooks are semi- organized in broad categories - ethnic, baking, etc. .

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  I just realized that I have a whole half shelf just for Marcella Hazan! More than for any other cookbook writer. And now I am realizing just how many Italian cookbooks I have... and few or none of some other cuisines. I may start a thread asking for recommendations on a few cuisines that I don't have!

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    This is EXACTLY what I do, except my go to's books are Pepin and Waters.

                                    I keep about half on a bookcase in the kitchen (the ones I use most, all subjects mixed together, but aranged by size) including two very large binders of printed out recipes. The rest are in the office or piled up next to myside of the bed. All my mags go in magazine files in the office.

                                    My books on food writting are with my self-suffeincy and gardening books. (makes sense to me!) I think I have roughtly 75 cookbooks... not terribly many, but to my non-food obsessed friends, it's a lot.

                                  2. I have roughly 400 cookbooks, and am fortunate to have a husband who (1) cloves my cooking and encourages it and (2) loves to build things, which include the shelves in the hall head to the main room in the house, which is lined with shelves. My organization is a combination common methods here, by cuisine and by those most frequently used. The most frequent are just a step away from the kitchen door, the others, lined up by order of cuisine groupings, marching down the hall on their shelves.

                                    1. Itry to keep them organized by subject/ethnicity. I do have several hundred though, and books seem to wander into every room in the house.

                                      I save very few magazines. Just too much paper and dust. For awhile I was saving December Gourmets fr the cookies. No more. I don't have the time I used to have for cookie baking and there is always Epicurious. I did find recently that I had stashed almost all of the original Eating Well magazines from years ago. I think those will go to the thrift shop. That was back when everything with any butter or animal fat was banned as bad for you and they were pushing lots of pasta, of which we now eat very little. We have occasionally done a cookbook purge with donations to our local chapter's fund raising book drive. I have some very old cookbooks I'd never part with and then I occasionally have to go through and do a cookbook purge. I keep buying more so I have to make room and some just go out of style and there are some I have which I can honestly say I'll never open again so they go in the donation pile.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Candy

                                        I donated a bunch several years ago, and I have to say that I regret doing it now that I have this extra room for cookbooks. There is something so incredibly satisfying about having a collection, and truthfully this is about the only thing I collect!

                                        1. re: roxlet

                                          I find it very satisfying to have a big collection of quality books as well. I have a very few that may be clunkers that I may part with soon. But other than those, I am very picky about the books I buy and wouldn't think of letting go of any of them.