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Cookbooks vs the internet?

IMG_1566It is a lazy Sunday morning and, as is often the case, I decide that I want to have a few friends over and cook dinner. But I have no clue what I want to make. So, I look to the one place that never fails to get my creative juices and salivary glands moving: The internet.

It’s no secret that the online age is constantly changing the way that we consume information. And it’s no secret that this new vehicle for information has forced industries– everything from music, to shopping, and print journalism – to adapt or perish. Though some of these changes have not necessarily been for the better, I can’t really lament them too much as I sit here listening to illegally downloaded music and writing a blog post.

This is just as true for the food world as with anything else. Our adoption of the internet as the first place to look for ideas on where to eat and drink has made restaurant owners re-think their marketing plans. A Twitter account can now do more for a chef than most magazine articles.

And it has wormed its way into our home kitchens as well. Whereas only a decade ago, most home cooks still relied on hand-me-down recipe collections, cookbooks, and the occasional Tivo’d episode from the Food Network – back when they actually aired shows that taught you how to cook – our times have changed.

As an avid reader, the one area of technology that I haven’t embraced is the e-book. My house has an iPad, but I have yet to flip through the pages of a novel by swiping my finger across a screen. There is something to be said about the book as a tangible thing – the weight of it in your hand, the creasing of the spine, and the feel of the paper against your fingers. However, the convenience of the internet proves irresistible, often relegating my cookbook collection to little more than kitchen décor.

There is certainly still a market for cookbooks, but it has evolved from the tomes of recipes without which many home cooks would be lost. The appeal has become more aesthetic than practical. I’ll never forget the first time I thumbed through my copy of Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook, mouth agape at the stunning photography and exhaustive explanation of the merits of owning a chinois. I read the book cover to cover…and then placed it back onto my bookshelf, where it remained for the better part of ten years. I’ve cooked out of it once.

Granted, given the difficulty level of the recipes and price tags of the ingredients in Keller’s book, that may be an extreme example, but it still illustrates my point. I appreciate cookbooks and still regularly purchase them, but rarely put them to use. Especially when browsing the “In Season” section of Epicurious is so much more efficient than pouring over hundreds of pages hoping for inspiration to strike. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally cozy up on the couch with a cookbook and look for dishes I’d like to attempt in the future, but that is only when I have the time.

I’m interested to know – do you home cooks out there still dust off the old cookbooks, or have you found yourselves bookmarking more links than dog-earing pages? Am I simply a product of my generation, or is the cookbook as we know it today a dying medium?

- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog

39 comments Add your comment


September 30th, 2011
5:52 am

I still use my cookbooks for old favorite recipes, and I have a few cookbooks (e.g. Marcella Hazan, Rick Bayless, Silver Palate, etc.) that I can always count on for a new recipe. However, I love the feedback from other cooks that we get on sites like Epicurious. It makes it almost risk free to try a new recipe. I don’t think I’ll buy any new cookbooks in the future. (Like you, I have a few cookbooks that I loved looking at, but never actually used…)


September 30th, 2011
6:41 am

I was just ruminating on this very subject the other day. I was dusting my favorite cookbooks off and realizing I hadn’t looked at them in months, maybe years. I always seem to run to the computer and plug in the ingredients I have, to search for just the right meal. I actually enjoy this process more than reading a cookbook because it makes me more adventurous. I may put the cookbooks away.


September 30th, 2011
8:09 am

I love cookbooks. I love being able to flip through the pages and salivate over the photos and the recipes. There is just something about it that I adore. But, when I am looking for something specific, I usually turn to the internet, and then modify, of course! :)


September 30th, 2011
8:10 am

I have a weakness for cookbooks, but it’s true that I do most of my recipe research online. I guess I cook from the internet and pleasure-read from cookbooks. is interesting, but I haven’t taken the time to add all my books. Here’s a post from my blog on my cookbook problem.


September 30th, 2011
9:20 am

While I like the traditional cookbook, one thing I enjoy about internet recipes is the reviews from other users. Another thing I like is it’s easier and cleaner to adjust the recipe to my tastes or family’s tastes or preferences. I usually will copy and paste the recipe into a Word document, format it to the way I want, and make any necessary edits. For example, if my family or I found that 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper was a bit too much, I can adjust it. If people want the recipe, I can just print out a copy and give it to them, instead of having to scribble it down.


September 30th, 2011
9:25 am

I have cookbooks I know I haven’t looked at in 3 years. I always go to the internet and I’ve downloaded recipe apps to my iPhone. I am putting some of the ones I like most on note cards and putting them in a recipe box. My family is pretty simple when it comes to food, unlike myself. So to compromise I make simple but fun things for them. I get my fix when girls night out comes around. :)


September 30th, 2011
9:29 am

My iPad is my cookbook now. I just prop it up on the counter & start baking!


September 30th, 2011
9:42 am

A cookbook? I look at them more as books on food; I rarely use recipes, mostly because it will involve too many steps or cost $50 by the time you are done buying special ingredients.

I buy them to learn — Italian food history, Wild Fermentation, cheesemaking, the science of cooking (various books).

Even worse are the magazines I get — I never get around to reading them, much less cook from them. Then if I’m industrious one weekend, I’ll cut them up and put them in a book that I’ll never use. I would much rather have a database to search through with (vetted) recipes I’m interested in; unfortunately, recipes are scattered from one web site to another.

My tablet is great for reading recipes, though, and I don’t have to worry about getting the cookbook dirty.

johnny fontane

September 30th, 2011
9:42 am

My mother just gave me 12 boxes of cookbooks that she has collected over the years. I just have no where to put them and have easy access to them. My dream kitchen will have a desk and enough shelf space to display these treasures. Her notes written on the pages are something I can cherish long after she is gone. I also got my grandmothers cast iron skillets that have to be over 80 years old. A foodies dream gift.


September 30th, 2011
9:44 am

I have far too many cookbooks – two huge shelves of them. I’ve thought of putting the books away, but I don’t know what I’d put in their place – empty space, perhaps? I tend to cook out of the healthier cookbooks (WW, BFL, etc.) But I love the “look” and the “potential” of the cookbooks that I see in front of me. The possibilities are not limitless, but they are pretty enormous!


September 30th, 2011
9:48 am

@RK: You and I are of similar nature. I do the same with foodie magazines. The cover picture and topics draw me in, I buy it, and then…nothing. You’d think I’d learn by now. I was so psyched when I found a dessert baking book on ebay that my family had when I was growing up. It was one of those that a company used to put together from its co-op or whatever it was. Now, I have my own copy! Haven’t baked anything from it yet, but that’s beside the point…

Tequila Mockingbird

September 30th, 2011
10:00 am

I love going back to my Fannie Farmer’s cookbook for some basic ideas and theory behind why you doe things in a certain way, but use internet recipes to enhance variety and creativity. Love the Barefoot Contessa books, but have only cooked from them a couple of times.


September 30th, 2011
10:05 am

I too have always have a weakness for cookbooks. These days, however, I get them from the library. This way I don’t incur the cost. More often than not, I turn to the internet if I’m looking for something quick and easy.

I'm Hungry

September 30th, 2011
10:28 am

I will actually read a cookbook cover to cover to enjoy it. I continue to buy them used at thrift stores, often to upgrade an old paperback to a hardback. I have also been reading the Food Network magazine for the past few months. I have cooked a few recipes from it and again I enjoy reading it.

I will still go to the Web and search for a recipe because it is so much quicker and easier and allows for a number of comparison of similar recipes.

Oh yeah, I’m Hungry.

JB from East Point

September 30th, 2011
10:36 am

The internet is full of bad cooks and bad recipies. One must be very discerning before using an internet recipe, and it helps to have an understanding of how to cook. This understanding will help you tweak recipies you find online. One area I’ve found the internet especially bad for is bread. Bread cookbook recipies definately turn out better what I can find online.

JB from East Point

September 30th, 2011
10:36 am

The internet is full of bad cooks and bad recipes. One must be very discerning before using an internet recipe, and it helps to have an understanding of how to cook. This understanding will help you tweak recipes you find online. One area I’ve found the internet especially bad for is bread. Bread cookbook recipes definitely turn out better what I can find online.


September 30th, 2011
10:42 am

I use the interent regularly to find inspiration and recipes. I would find it very hard to give up my cookbook collection. Many of them have been autographed by some of the authors, like Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. I also love all of the family cookbooks which have been handed down to me.


September 30th, 2011
10:49 am

I too rely a lot on the internet, especially Epicurious. Like everyone else, the user recipe reviews are hugely helpful. That being said, I still am a huge fan of my cookbooks, and my monthly Bon Appetit and Food & Wine.

Cookbooks, especially the great ones, bring a depth and soul that a webpage can never match. Some teach to a depth that no one page web recipe could ever do–Shirley Corriher Bakewise and Cookwise, Peter Reinhardt’s Artisan Breads.

Some are as entertaining as a novel to read for reading’s sake–Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.

Some present recipes that are so over the top that they’d never make a recipe website, but are incredible to prepare–try the meat stock reduction from Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home. 6 lbs bones, 6 cups onions, 3 cups celery, 3 cups carrots, 3 cups wine, two sequential reductions taking 10 hours total, resulting in under 2 cups of reduction. Unbelievable flavor intensity, and not something you’ll find on

Some are works of art–all the Keller books. Some are great mementos of trips taken–the Blackberry Farm cookbook. Some have recipes that just work–Ina Garten’s brownies and brownie pudding, salmon with lentils, etc etc.

It’s the difference between trying to rustle something up for the family on a Tuesday night, versus the pleasure of spending a leisurely Sunday cooking all day. Both are equally important.


September 30th, 2011
10:56 am

I have a major weakness for cookbooks. I travel a lot and I’m always looking for local cookbooks. My best Cookbook is “A Pinch of Salt Lake” and was put together by the SLC Junior League. I love Junior League cookbooks. Every city I’m in I look for the Junior League Cookbooks….

I have well over 50 cookbooks, a subscription to “A Taste of Home” magazine, two recipe boxes, and 2 3-ring binders for recipes off the internet, mostly

Yes, I like to cook and try new recipes.

I also find it incredibly sexy to see a man who knows his way around a kitchen.

carla roqs

September 30th, 2011
2:47 pm

my cookbooks that my mother gave me have history and i love. the more exotic cookbooks that i purchased are rather as rk said- pretty. generally i can taste something and duplicate it. not too into recipes: too much like following directions. #wildchild


September 30th, 2011
5:01 pm

I use older cookbooks for more classic preparations such as found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Joy of Cooking and Fannie Farmer. Too many changes have been made to more modern cookbooks, such as meat temperatures, that I don’t agree with. The internet is good for ideas when I need inspiration for that chicken breast. You have to be careful though, as I have found some sites to be really bad about accuracy. is one of the worst, with omitted ingredients, ridiculous proportions of wet to dry ingredients or way off temps and bake times.


September 30th, 2011
6:14 pm

So many great postings here… what a joy! I love my cookbooks! Junior League, Town-inspired, Church-inspired, great Chef-inspired… I have pared down my book holdings over the last few years but my cookbooks will never part… For me, the food of my past and present, is the very memory of my life… Food affords me memories of my family, of special events and of good times… I definitely “live to eat”. My Mom’s weekly menu scribblings, her dog-eared pages in tried-and-true local cookbooks, whose recipes might not be all that culinarily-inspired are treasured pieces of my past… They give me access to a smell and a taste that reminds me of “home” and of good food…


September 30th, 2011
6:48 pm

I have my “Holy Grail” cookbooks; the BIG FOUR; Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer (as a “what temp do I roast lamb again” reminder), the NYT Cookbook and International Cookbook, and the New England Soup Factory Cookbook. And then a few that I was given as gifts or found amusing, but the BIg Four are food-spattered, marked up, annotated, and well-loved.


September 30th, 2011
7:36 pm

Internet places that offer folks a chance to write a review are priceless. After reading, you get a feel for how your family wants it to taste like. You don’t make that many mistakes now in trying to get it right!


October 1st, 2011
1:24 am

I collect them, mainly older cookbooks, but I don’t really use them all that much anymore. It’s easier for me to find what I’m looking for online –

That said, I have several “Church” cookbooks from my Mom and Grandmother over the years with recipes in them that you’ll never ever find online. All that old-lady-cooking kinda stuff. THOSE I still look through quite frequently. As well as a collection of hand written recipes my Mom gave me for Christmas one year that had some of hers and my two Grandmother’s hand written recipes in it.

But that’s more sentiment than practicality (although my Mom’s peach cobbler recipe was one of the ones she shared!).


October 1st, 2011
10:32 am

I love reading cookbooks and still buy them occasionally. But, most of the recipes I use are now found online. It is easier and I can access stuff I do not have in my cookbook library. The reviews and suggestions offered by others are useful, too. It kinda makes me sad every time I move another stack of cookbooks to the basement, though.


October 1st, 2011
11:22 pm

I loved my Frugal Gourmet cookbooks, but now can’t get over the author’s misdeeds. So, they are gone.


October 2nd, 2011
8:32 am

EJ…….I must confess, I am not up on the gossip of the Frugal Gourmet. What did he/she do that made you throw his/her books away?


October 2nd, 2011
9:38 am

Funny that you are writing about this today. I have many,many cookbooks from all over the world and for many genres of cooking. I have been reading one each night as my “bedtime reading” for the last 2 weeks. The ones I have collected from my travels bring back great memories of people, places and food which of course cannot be separated. I do use my cookboks often and I search Epicurious for something new and interesting. But once in a while I discover a recipe card handwritten by my mom who has been gone since 1995 and when I see her handwriting, it is like a love note to me after all these years. And that is what cooking is – isn’t it? A love note on a plate to someone you care about.


October 2nd, 2011
9:54 am

I started writing my own cookbook. I use the computer to store and print out family recipes that I have collected “Grandma Susan’s Brown Sugar Pie”, “Aunt Charlotte’s Pound Cake”. Along with the recipe are notes about who the original cook was ans where the recipe was served – i.e. cousin Barbara’s wedding, family reunion, etc. When someone marries into the family she gets a copy of the cookbook in a spiral binder. When she has a good recipe at a special event – Georgia Bowl Day, for example – her recipe is added to the book and sent to everyone.

janet in nc

October 2nd, 2011
10:25 am

Timely blog, I had my own home bake-off just yesterday:
apple honey challah: (fabulous recipe – photos, incredibly accurate)
white chocolate salted oatmeal cookies:
tzatziki: Greek church cookbook, just purchased after the festival.

I have an extensive collection of cookbooks, and use regularly, blogs more-so. I find it curious that many of my favorite food bloggers are jumping on the cookbook bandwagon, especially when many of their blogs are tweaks of NYT, Martha or Cooks Illustrated recipes.


October 2nd, 2011
10:28 am

I use a website called Eat Your Books. You pay a small one time fee and you have the ability to log all of your cookbooks into a search engine. This allows you to search by name, ingredient, recipe type, etc. and then it gives you the cookbook and page the recipe is on. This allows me to use my huge collection of cookbooks just as easily as I would the internet sites and feel good about using my books. It is an amazing invention!


October 2nd, 2011
10:47 am

I only use cookbooks for decoration in my kitchen. If I want to cook something I go to the allrecipes website. You can sort the recipes by rating. So if 500 people before me tried the recipe and gave it 5 stars, I find this a lot more reliable than a book. Also – I have found that there are rarely more than a couple of recipes in each cookbook that I would actually make. A big waste of $25 when I can get everything I need on the internet for free.


October 2nd, 2011
10:59 am

I have never really used cookbooks. Granted, I am 28, so I have more or less grown up with the internet. Generally, if I am trying something new, I will use Google to find several recipes. I look them all over, and I put together a recipe by taking a bit from each site I visit. I suppose this approach is likely most useful for people who have experience cooking.

The one downside to using the internet is that you can’t always be sure if the recipe is tested. Sometimes, I see recipes that call for certain proportions and I know immediately that it can’t be right. Over all however, the net is a great way to find recipes in my opinion.


October 2nd, 2011
12:37 pm

I have both physical and virtual cookbooks. Like JJ, I am partial to local cookbooks. I just recently donated some cookbooks I had not used. Pretty much anything left on shelves I use. I find merit in online offerings but am very discerning about which recipes I try. If I find something then it moves from the computer to a three ring binder.


October 2nd, 2011
12:49 pm

Get the Paprika app for your iPad – you’ll never look back! It has a built in browser from which you can search the internet for recipes. When you find one you want to save on say, simply hit “save” and it downloads the recipe into a preset template which allows you to edit it in anyway you like. The recipes are then resident on your iPad and available to you with or without internet access. The recipes can also be stored/backed-up in the “cloud” for free.

You can also build your own recipes, rate recipes, search by ingredient, create calendars, grocery lists…etc.

Great app! Once you start using it you’ll find this on your kitchen counter every time you cook – I know I do.


October 2nd, 2011
3:22 pm

I enjoy reading a cookbook from cover to cover but find lately that there are only a handful of recipes that I like or may think of making in the future,and that puts a damper on actually purchasing the cookbook.
I now use the internet for most of my recipes searches but I tend to be discerning on which websites I use.
I have collected so many recipes made up of newspaper and magazine clippings over the years that I have slowly begun to try and organize them and maybe get rid of a few. If anyone has a solution to my recipe hoarding, please help.


October 2nd, 2011
3:32 pm

chankagirl……my solution for hoarding; Don’t stop. Just buy more index cards and keep ‘em coming! Or buy a bigger house!

Hollis Ledbetter

October 5th, 2011
2:34 pm

I love cookbooks. I read them like a novel. I have just published a college cookbook called “Oh My Gosh! I’m In College and I Never Learned To Cook. It is being very well received. My website is There are several reviews on google. Check it out. So as you can see I love a good cookbook and feel I always will.