HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


Cookbooks: In or Out?

An interesting conversation came up at work today, when I brought up the fact that I was looking forward to the third Pioneer Woman cookbook released yesterday.

Some said that I was stuck in the stone age still buying cookbooks, when there were sites like Pinterest, Chow, AllRecipes, etc., full of (printable, if needed) free recipes. I told them I liked having them as part of my "library".

Do some of you agree with my coworkers or me? (Just curious, since we're all food lovers and chefs at heart, I figured this would be a neutral place to ask)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I'm on the fence. I like both.

    1. Tell them that while a whole bunch of recipes are available online, not NEARLY all are. I use both resources.

      1 Reply
      1. re: c oliver

        That was my argument, as well. I stated that I used both frequently. That the Pinterest board with my most pins is the cooking one.Oh and I even subscribe to magazines like Food and Wine, and Everyday with Rachel Ray.

      2. Same "argument" can be applied to other hardcopy print material whether it's fiction, magazines, antiques, etc. What you do is your business, it's not *wrong* to have cookbooks.

        Tell your co-workers (esp. the foodie ones) how they would manage looking up sites and recipes while cooking if their Web service provider were to go down, or their wi-fi malfunctions, or their devices fail. Meanwhile here you are cooking away happily with your stone-age cookbooks :-)

        1. Cookbooks are so much more than just a collection of recipes. I love my cookbooks -- especially the ones with my handwritten (and sometimes dated) notes and comments in the margins, and the ones smudged with splattered ingredients. My cookbooks tell stories that transcend the recipes.

          10 Replies
          1. re: CindyJ

            Oh that's a lovely idea, CindyJ. I never thought about actually writing in them. It's weird too, since I always change a little something when repeating the favorites.

            1. re: chefgabs

              My few gorgeous expensive books i'm afraid to write in- so i write notes on a post it on the page!

              1. re: Ttrockwood

                oh that's funny, Ttrockwood. I have post-its all over my other Pioneer Woman cookbooks. Only hers, though. Interesting..

              2. re: chefgabs

                When my kids were young, and I tried a new recipe they liked, sometimes I'd ask them to write a note into the book saying they liked it. Then, the next time I prepared that dish, I'd point out to them that they enjoyed it before, so I'm making it especially for them. There were fewer turned up noses that way.

              3. re: CindyJ

                I write notes in some of my books too! As for online recipes, I store, on my hard drive, the ones I use frequently, along with the URL and other references. Printable or viewable even when off-line.

                1. re: KarenDW

                  I use Pepperplate for storing online recipes and others that I enter manually. And I use Eat Your Books to help me access long-forgotten recipes in long-forgotten cookbooks.

                2. re: CindyJ

                  Oh that is so true! I always get a certain warm fuzzy feeling when looking in my cookbooks. They're like my cooking buddies that know a lot more than I do and they're never snide or smug about it!

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    I write notes in my cookbooks now as well - to remember what I really liked, what I changed, what didn't work, etc.

                    I actually started doing it after my grandmother passed away, and I ended up inheriting some of her cookbooks. She used to write in them and it always feels like she is there with me in the kitchen when I see her notes in the books...and which recipes were always our favorites based on all the grease stains on the pages!

                    Those are memories you can't get from a blog post or other online recipe...

                    1. re: sockii

                      I've never understood NOT writing in cookbooks unless they're some rare edition that you might want to sell some day. What's the difference in that or getting some splatters and spills on them :)

                    2. re: CindyJ

                      I always write in my cookbooks, too, with variations to try or other pertinent notes.

                      Decades ago, the Mr. purposely smeared some oily spice mixture over the page of one of my newly-discovered Indian favorites. Still have the book, and his excuse back then ("it'll give the book character") really did end up true. I also have some comments written by each of us from the 70s--nice memories.

                    3. I agree with you. I still buy cookbooks. I'm an old fogey. Hey, I use technology all day long and at the end of the day, I like to curl up with a good book. Often a cookbook. My iPad is nifty...but paper beats screen in my heart of hearts.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tcamp

                        i'm with you tcamp (love the avatar, btw!) and, i find it very difficult to compare recipes on my computer - just seems easier to grab a few books and a cup of tea to see where I go with a recipe. Plus, i am really starting to appreciate the photos in recent cookbooks (Jerusalem comes to mind..)

                      2. Y'know, I can go to Starbucks and get the *free* sugar packets, local 7-Eleven for the packets of ketchup, and my neighborhood Burger King for napkins, but for some strange unknown, and yet unexplained, reason, I seem to still buy those items at the market.

                        Perhaps I just like seeing my bank account balance go down periodically. Dunno.

                        1. I use a mix.

                          I no longer see a need to buy generic cookbooks - the kind that give lists of indifferently presented recipes. And if I'm thinking "Hmmm, I wonder how to make X" a quick web search is great.

                          I do like well written cookbooks. In particular, ones for different cuisines that explain the ingredients, cooking techniques and history of the food, or how to adapt a cuisine to available ingredients. They can also be useful for browsing through for inspiration in a way that doesn't work well on the web. And the good ones are *really* good. I've never found a website that can match the encyclopaedic practicality of Joy of Cooking or the sheer amazingness of Marcella Hazan's recipes.

                          I find the online stuff useful, but it can be tricky to get a *good* recipe. A lot of the free ones are not well tested or well written.

                          Personally, I avoid the big sites like cooks.com, allrecipes, etc, because of the sheer number of recipes. I search for a topic and get 500 hits, 95% of which not are going to be very useful to me. Sometimes it's nice to get one recipe from a cookbook where I know it's going to work.

                          1. I like both for different reasons.

                            If I know exactly what I want, then I use the online resources. I can then search for 10 recipes of the same dish and read and compare to see which I like better. In fact, I sometime looked up recipes of dishes which I am well-verse just to see the difference.

                            On the other hand, I like to use cookbook when I am learning a new area. For example, if I want to learn to cook a particular cuisine, then I prefer a cookbook. Cookbook has better explanation of the history, background, techniques. In addition, I don't need 10+ recipes when I am learning a new cuisine.

                            Let me use science education as an example.

                            If I want to learn about biochemistry in general, then I prefer a textbook. If I want to know the impact of omega 3 on diabetes, then I search online for articles.

                            1. I love cookbooks. It's nice to just look things up quickly, but there's something about a book I will always love. Also, I live in a remote area that loses internet service often- there's no cell service or GPS service, either. So a cookbook collection is a good backup.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: PandaCat

                                Poor darling! Where do you live? I just checked out your profile page, and... no profile! I hope you at least have a landline telephone so you can call 911!

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  You're sweet. I live in northwest Montana- about 60 miles from Canada border. I'll fill out the profile, must have spaced it off. I have a landline. It's beautiful here and I wouldn't trade it for any amount of conveniences.

                                  1. re: PandaCat

                                    You live on the Yaak river? Lovely country.

                              2. Here's the thing about online recipes...sometimes they will be "copies" of certain recipes from certain cookbooks, but tweaked. For the most part, I love my cookbooks. Now that the cold weather is inching upon us here in the Northeast, I love getting into bed at night and reading certain cookbooks to see what kinds of recipes I'll try on the weekends--anything new and exciting to bake during the Holiday Season? My "Joy" (of cooking) has been a reference point for me for over 30 years (I'm on my third copy)...My Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook is so splashed and messed up from dessert use that I need a second copy. I'm not kidding. You can pin and facebook and internet so many recipes--and a great many are extremely wonderful. If it were not for Chowhound, my holiday meals would be missing the wonderful butternut squash and celery root gratin that I've made for the past 4 years. But I still adore my books!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: jarona

                                  You make a really good point. We travel a lot so don't always have cookbooks on hand. I find loads of my faves online and most are by the actual original author/source. But sometimes not and I've found ingredients missing or amounts off.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I love my cookbooks - but your travel comment made me think I'd add my solution.

                                    I have an iphone (maybe other phones allow you to do this as well) but I have an ongoing PDF file that I can load into my iBooks folder on my phone - voila, all my go to recipes with me no matter where I go, no internet access needed.

                                    sometimes I type the recipes into word and save as a pdf - sometimes I scan recipes and add to the file. it now even has a table of contents its gotten so large . . . .

                                  2. re: jarona

                                    Interesting I just realized how true this is, or the opposite of a recipe not being given credit.

                                    Example: my mother used to make the Good Housekeeping illustrated cookbook 1980 Chicken Cordon Bleu. It was one of my favorite meals.

                                    Fast forward to 2006, I decide I want to make this and use Allrecipes to find a recipe that is well rated since I didn't have the book.

                                    Make Allrecipes version, comes out great and tastes similar to the version mom made.

                                    Now 2013, decide to make CCB for our Four Weddings and a Funeral theme dinner last night. Now own cookbook off of eBay. Compare the internet recipe version I have been using and the GHIC version and they are the same besides the verbiage. I am stunned, especially since Allrecipes has since included it in their cookbook.

                                  3. I like both. However, I find I do tend to cook more recipes that I find online, versus cookbooks, for everyday cooking, probably because I can access the online recipes from anywhere (ie at work), whereas I have to be at home to look at my books. I also try to find the recipes I marked in my books online, so I can access them anywhere. Not all are available online, but some of the more common ones, like Ina Garten recipes, are available online for the most part.

                                    HOWEVER, if I'm planning a special occasion dinner, I tend to use my books more.

                                    I also just love reading the books and looking at the photos.

                                    1. Don't have or refer to many cookbooks. Will search online for recipes with reservations. Even "good" sites have come up with recipes that just did not work... even with STARS?? Ya have to have an idea if ingredients and amounts make sense.. with baking stuff. With "cooking"... need to be able to recognize that 1 CUP of garlic just might not be right??

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: kseiverd

                                        That is so true. I've seen online recipes that made me howl laughing.

                                        1. re: kseiverd

                                          When people say they "never use recipes," I frequently think that their results aren't as good as they think they are. There's a reason certain authors and sites get high marks. They really are good. PS: I'm a recipe follower :)

                                        2. Cookbooks that comprehensively cover a cuisine, cooking tools, techniques and ingredients as well as including recipes can't easily be replaced by the web. Cookbooks that are just a collection of recipes can.

                                          1. Cookbooks make me happy so I will continue to buy them.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: emily

                                              Exactly my sentiments. And like Hal2010 said, some cookbooks don't just list recipes with instructions, they tell why to do this or that.

                                              1. re: emily

                                                HAHA! I feel the same! I should have just told me co-workers "Because they just make me happy!"

                                              2. In years past, we have collected a large number of cookbooks.

                                                Some turned out to be coffee table books, while others had pages copied for good recipes in the kitchen. Some despite the best of care, ended up being stained.

                                                No more.

                                                We use a computer tablet these days in the kitchen, using a stainless stand to hold the tablet up at a easily viewed angle. We download entire cookbooks, YouTube recipes, and select fine recipes such as those found here on CH.

                                                I rarely handle the tablet once it is set up, but if I need to expand or stop a part of the cooking process, it only take one touch.

                                                On long cook-time dishes, I can listen to music or even watch a film or television.

                                                So it is rare today for us to buy another cookbbook in hardcover.

                                                10 Replies
                                                1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                                  Sounds good. Do you lie in bed reading the cookbooks also?

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Our collection of actual cookbooks fills two wall bookcases.

                                                    French, German, Italian, and English. The Culinaria editions alone are quite heavy and large. Too heavy and large to read in bed.

                                                    No need for a tablet or laptop there either. Our bedroom flatscreen is connected to our household stereo system and computer, using one remote or our smartphones.


                                                    I can assure you that wiring all that was a real pain, as we have solid masonry walls. The end result was worth the effort: ( The cooktop isn't linked by the way ).

                                                    We don't suffer insomnia, but reading a page or two from Larousse - Gastronomique in bed would probably knock anyone out fast asleep. Cooking recipes and cookbooks are not that exciting, and not on the our menu for bedroom entertainment.

                                                  2. re: SWISSAIRE

                                                    Occasionally I'll find a recipe I want to make from Epicurious and I used to sometimes have on my phone app in the kitchen, but that just didn't work for me. For one thing, my hands are frequently wet and/or covered with some sort of food while I'm cooking or prepping, and the last thing I want to do then is touch an electronic device. Also, my phone screen will go dark if I don't touch it regularly, and then it's a pain to turn back on while in the middle of measuring or cooking something.

                                                    So I've gone back to paper.

                                                    1. re: bitchincook

                                                      I understand.

                                                      In our house remodel, the kitchen walls came down, and the kitchen is now part of the dining area. Open to the public, so to speak.

                                                      We have guests over frequently, and a few have noticed the tablet and picked it up to look at the recipe, scroll around with it, or use it for something else:


                                                      1. re: bitchincook

                                                        I often import recipes from Epicurious into Pepperplate. Then, when I'm grocery shopping and inspiration strikes, I open my Pepperplate app and see the ingredient list. I use Pepperplate on my iPad while I'm cooking -- I just turn off the auto-off feature so it stays on until I'm ready to turn it off. For me, the phone is too small for following recipes.

                                                        1. re: bitchincook

                                                          Yes, I hate the dark screen issue. I sometimes use my iPad to display a recipe but hate having to relog on constantly. Is there a way around that?

                                                          While I keep most of my recipes electronically, I tend to print out the ones I plan on using as part of my menu planning and work from the paper. I even do that if I own the cookbook because I can tape the recipe to the cabinet above my prep area.

                                                          1. re: tcamp

                                                            Go to your General settings and change your "Auto-Lock" setting to "Never."

                                                            1. re: CindyJ

                                                              Good point.

                                                              I do this when using the tablet in the kitchen for recipes or Youtube videos, but it does run down the battery more quickly.

                                                              Remember to switch it back to "auto-lock " ( and plug it in on the charger ) when finished.

                                                              Also useful is a small adjustable cookbook stand from Rösle, which keeps the our tablet upright and visible on the countertop.

                                                              This item folds flat and can be put away in a drawer, which is much more practical than our original but large cookbook stand for the wall rack.

                                                              I hope this is helpful to anyone considering the use of a laptop or tablet in the kitchen.

                                                              1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                                                If there's an electrical outlet nearby, you can keep it plugged in while you use it.

                                                      2. Cookbooks: In!

                                                        They are beautiful and inspire me to cook/bake things that I would never think to "search" for. I love reading them, displaying them, and cooking from them. They are like artwork that is also useful.

                                                        Of course I use the internet for recipes, as well. Videos are especially helpful for learning the details of some techniques, such as dough lamination.

                                                        The internet is a tool, but cookbooks are a passion.

                                                        1. IN!

                                                          And that's just where they'll stay!

                                                          2 Replies
                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                              All depends on the question.

                                                              But in this case yes.

                                                          1. I love a good cookbook, myself. But I look for recipes online frequently too.

                                                            A good cookbook, such as Joy of Cooking, gives you so much more than recipes. You can learn so much by reading the sections on various sorts of foods, for instance.

                                                            But when you have, say three ingredients in the house that you want to use, searching for a recipe online is a godsend.

                                                            I don't understand why in this time of abundance in foods and recipes we should limit ourselves.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: sueatmo

                                                              >>> But when you have, say three ingredients in the house that you want to use, searching for a recipe online is a godsend. <<<

                                                              Eat Your Books is great for finding recipes in your own cookbooks that use ingredients you've got on hand.

                                                              1. re: CindyJ

                                                                I am sure you are correct. But I never thought to use it. I think for me it was a matter of an old dog and a new trick!

                                                                And quite a few of my books weren't indexed as well.

                                                            2. I love cookbooks - in fact I guess you could say I have a bit of an addiction for collecting them. I spend a lot of time in used bookstores browsing the cookbook sections for old vintage titles, and recently bought a ton of titles for $5 each at a wholesale liquidation store. It was like Christmas in, well, September for me!

                                                              Like others, I just find them pleasant to browse through, read, or get inspiration from the photographs. I like seeing a cohesive set of recipes presented together, to either teach me something about a cuisine I'm not familiar with, or to really get a sense of a chef's personality and viewpoint. That's hard to do with a google search for a recipe.

                                                              I do use recipes online, maybe 30% of the time when I can't find an appropriate recipe in one of my books - usually when I'm just looking for some way to use up a random assortment of ingredients in my fridge (ie, saying to myself "There has GOT to be a recipe somewhere for plums, pork chops and red wine...") Or like others said, when I just want a basic recipe for how to prepare a certain sauce, pastry, etc.

                                                              I will say I've been using my cookbooks a lot more for actually cooking now that the eatyourbooks.com website's database has grown substantially...I was skeptical about the site when it first launched but as of today about 66 of my 210 (or so) cookbooks are indexed there...and that's about 22,000 recipes that I can now search by ingredient, ethnicity, etc and it makes it a LOT easier to find the recipes I want. I've even started volunteering to index some of my books that I want to start using more, and it's a great way to become more familiar with them.

                                                              1. I'm like a few others in this thread where I've got a rather large collection of cookbooks (I've been collecting them since I was a kid). When I started seriously cooking, I kept notes on the recipes I tried. Nothing can replace those notes. I love looking back over some of them!

                                                                It's physically easier to take a tablet to the kitchen if you find a new recipe online. However, for those of us who don't own one and don't have the room on the counter for a laptop, it gets kind of redundant to copy out the online recipe in longhand then go into the kitchen and make it. Cookbooks, in that case, are still very much "in" (I don't have a working printer in case anyone's wondering, btw.)

                                                                1. In. I use cookbooks Waaay more than online resources. I have a small collection but there's usually a reason why I buy the cookbook. I.e. The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Brother Juniper bread book, and Beard on Bread... these are my go to for bread. Sure I could find 100+ recipes for oatmeal bread online, but why hunt and compare and hope, when I know I've got the best out there on my shelf?

                                                                  Also, like other's have said. I also occasionally pull them out and plan my meals around recipes I want to try out.

                                                                  1. I won't say in or out, but ...in transition.

                                                                    I'm not sure they will ever be 100% of the way out, but I think they are definitely transitioning, much like VHS -> DVD - > Blu-Ray and digital or Records -> 8-Track -> cassette-> CD -> mp3.

                                                                    My mother and I used to read cookbooks almost like most people would read regular books. We both had a pretty large collection, but have been slowly getting rid of them and phasing them out. The fact of the matter is, unless there is an extremely well-told narrative in the cookbook I don't see much point. I would say even in a frequently used cookbook I would only make approximately 20% of the recipes. I just don't have the space in my home. Whereas online you get feedback from others and you can search/bookmark what you like without taking up shelf upon shelf. Even if the online version doesn't have ALL the recipes, the odds of the cookbook having that many more recipes not online that compel me enough to spend money and take up shelf space for it is pretty slim.

                                                                    So now, my new rule is either a) read it at the bookstore or library, or b) check out the eBook version from the library if available. If I can't realistically see myself making at least 50% but hopefully closer to 75% of the recipes, I won't get it. If it's a good cookbook that I can see myself using quite frequently, I'll buy the eBook version (I like using my Kindle in the kitchen instead of taking the actual book - it's smaller and I don't have to worry about pages eventually falling out when I crack the binding too much in attempts to keep it on the page I need). Cookbooks that fall into the category for me: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, Entice With Spice: Easy Indian Cooking for Busy People, and Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. Pioneer Woman would probably fall into that category though I'm not horribly enamored with her stuff. But for me to buy a hard cover version of it, it needs to be a good book in addition to a good cookbook - something that compels me to want to sit in my chair or up in bed and read through it again and again and learn about the cuisine and dream of the menus I could create. Very few cookbooks make it to that list.*

                                                                    *The exception is sometimes I have a weakness for compilation books I find a church rummage sales put together by the church members. You know, the kind where the recipes are all submitted by women like Mrs. Joseph Johnson and almost always include at least 9 different Jell-o salads. I can't help myself, especially when they write little intros to their recipes. It's very sweet.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. I buy cookbooks (and have eBay alerts set up for more, if they're ever cheap enough) but they tend to be "nice" cookbooks like The French Laundry, Mugaritz, Faviken, etc. That's because the stuff in those books isn't really available online. You might say these are aspirational books that I look through for new ideas or ways of treating food that I wouldn't see otherwise.

                                                                      Pinterest, AllRecipes, etc. I think of more as a w

                                                                      1. IN! I'm awaiting a bunch I ordered from amazon as a bday gift to myself. It's my newest addiction. I always felt weird just reading them instead of using them to follow recipes. I've decided to come out of the closet with that. If I want to thumb through them just to admire the pictures, fine. If I want to read them cover to cover as I would a novel with no intention of cooking anything, fine. If I'm inspired enough to actually cook from them, even better. I'm 37 and an ex computer programmer. If loving cookbooks makes me "stuck in the Stone Age" then so be it :-p

                                                                        1. I particularly like the response to your question that was first published in American Way Magazine in July, 1975. The title of the essay was "The Indestructible" and was authored by The Good Doctor, Dr. Isaac Asimov.

                                                                          You can view a physical book on average at least 12 hours a day. It stays open, thus easy to find your place, as well as fully portable without need for attachments. Room for notes and corrections. And has a long life span when properly stored.

                                                                          And I have yet to hear about somebody in a comfy chair, next to the fire, with a soothing drink, engrossed in a Kindle.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                            Although I don't (yet) use an e-reader, I have friends who do exactly what you describe in your last sentence :)

                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                              I love getting introduced to hitherto unknown parts of our social continuum.

                                                                              Thank you!!!

                                                                            2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                              Oh, but you can read on a Kindle exactly in exactly the same poster as you read a book. Around a fire is fine. I often recline when I read and the Kindle is the perfect weight and size for holding in one hand while doing so.

                                                                              I am seriously thinking of upgrading to a Paperwhite.

                                                                              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                "And has a long life span when properly stored."

                                                                                This is the most important part to me. As long as you can read the language it's written in, you can use a book. Once whatever player is outmoded, you will have problems with whatever you were storing/playing/reading on it.
                                                                                I am speaking as someone who lives with a collector of Edison cylinders, radio transcription discs, wire recordings, open reel tapes. Yes there will be people like Mr Rat who will find a way to use and transfer these old recordings, but even a complete techno-ninny can just pick up and read a printed book from the same time period these old recordings were made.