Are these the best cookbooks of the 21st century?

 cookbook collage

While almost every 'best-of' cookbook list is dominated by the heavyweights published before the turn of the last century like Mastering the Art of French Cooking, there is no doubt that the 21st century has been good for cookbook lovers. In fact, there is an entire generation of cooks that have never cooked a single recipe from the 20th century masterpieces. Kevin Pang of The A/V Club's Cookbook Club is one of them. 

Pang is a cookbook aficionado. He expresses his admiration for cookbooks by noting that the best of the lot "share the vicarious, time-and-place-traveling qualities with our most beloved works of fiction. What other genre of literature stimulates pleasure centers in the brain that respond to satiation, and fires your imagination to consider its taste possibilities?"

To pay homage to his favorite tomes, Pang has assembled a list of what he considers to be the best cookbooks of the 21st century (so far). Fifteen books appear on his list; just under one per year on average. It would be almost impossible for me to pare down my favorites to such a small number. 

The list begins with Victuals by Ronni Lundy, which Pang describes as a "breathtaking work of literature that sneaks up on you, casts a spell, and corrects your misconceptions; it's a cookbook less about cook and more book." We know that Victuals has been lauded by both critics and home cooks alike, so it is a natural fit for a 'best of' cookbook list. A few books on the list, however, are a bit more surprising. 

Pang chooses Ratio by Michael Ruhlman for the number six spot on his list. Ratio isn't a traditional cookbook; instead of providing individual recipes for dishes, it provides you with 26 ratios for everything from quiches to cookies, which "opens the home cook to infinite variations, ipso facto, creative freedom."

The top book on the list is the most surprising. You might expect to find an all-encompassing, general cookbook like The Food Lab (which did make the number two spot), but instead a single-subject book takes top honors. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Guide rests atop the rankings. Pang chose the book because it was one of the first to explore the moral dilemma of eating meat, and it delivers exceptional recipes to boot. 

Since I am an avid baker, I was a bit disappointed to see only one baking book, and I could quibble about a few other choices. What do you think of the list? 


  • Rinshin  on  8/4/2017 at 10:21 AM

    One person's opinion. None of mine.

  • lkgrover  on  8/4/2017 at 9:30 PM

    He seems to prefer generalist cookbooks, with an emphasis on technique. Not ethnic-specific (except Dunlop's Chinese one). And he doesn't enjoy baking or desserts. I don't have anything on his list.

  • averythingcooks  on  8/5/2017 at 12:33 PM

    So of course this list reflects his opinion and we all could create our own lists. However, as much as I have resisted buying Ratio for a while, I think I am caving today....not just because of this list - it is a cumulative thing :). Also, if I had to add my own vote from the books on my shelf then Small Victories would be on the list somewhere.

  • love2chow  on  8/13/2017 at 10:46 AM

    I think Grace Young's Stir-frying to the Sky's Edge belongs on this list. Engaging stories of adaptability from the Chinese diaspora, beautifully photographed, great tips on technique and the most wonderful collection of recipes showcasing diverse flavors and ingredients.

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