The Best Cookbook For Learning How to Cook
The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook Review
In this post you’re going to dive into The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook: Everything You Need To Know To Become a Great Cook.
I’ll be showing you exactly why this book is one of my most recommended by taking you into the unique features with photos and explanations, and I’ll also let you know if this isn’t the right book for you (but if you want to be a better home cook, it probably is).
If you’d like, you can pop open another tab and check out The ATK Cooking School Cookbook on Amazon by pressing this link.
Let’s Start With America’s Test Kitchen… The Brand Behind The Book!
I was well underway exploring my passion for scratch cooking before I was gifted The ATK Cooking School by both my fiancé and my mum, and I had already accumulated quite a few of their other cookbooks as you can see…
My mum had gifted me that top right book, Family Cooking, around the time I graduated from The College of Idaho and I added to the collection book by book for one very good reason…
America’s Test Kitchen knows their stuff.
I didn’t know much about them before that first book. I’d seen some of their cooking shows on PBS under the same names, America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country, since they’ve been on TV for over 15 years. But after reading through the intro and doing more research on them I knew I could trust the content they were putting out for a few reasons.
They give unbiased opinions.
Hearing Chris Kimball tear into a brand because their potato ricer is difficult to rice with, or why a common supermarket vinegar isn’t worth the bottle it comes in, is super refreshing in a world where everyone is paid for their slanted opinions. I can trust that ATK is giving me their honest, transparent opinion because they’re funding is provided by viewers like me 🙂
…and yes, I realize the irony of including affiliate links throughout this site, but like Chris – I’m only going to endorse what I know will help you become a better cook (like this book).
ATK tests everything.
As their name implies, America’s Test Kitchen is literally a test kitchen. Like… scientists (chefs and cooks) of varying skills test recipes, tweaking and altering one thing at a time until they produce the best version of that recipe. And then they tell you how to do that while explaining what they tested and mistakes they made and overcame.
They explain the “why”
I just mentioned this, but it’s so important I’ll do it again… and probably again further down the post. All of ATK’s shows, books, and magazines do a great job of explaining the “why”.
What do I mean by this? Well, they don’t just give you a great recipe, they explain why what you’re doing in that recipe is important… like why you’d want to use melted butter, softened butter, or chilled butter in a recipe
And they often detail what was wrong with the original recipes before they started testing, and what obstacles they overcame in creating the “perfect” version of it.
This lets you, as a home cook, learn from their mistakes without having to make as many as your own. Besides my own human error, I can’t recall a time an ATK recipe didn’t turn out great. In fact, I pulled off Thanksgiving dinner last year (with help from my
In fact, I pulled off a from scratch Thanksgiving dinner last year (with help from my mum! ) using ATK recipes for the turkey, glaze, gravy, mashed potato with root vegetables, stuffing, and apple pie (including the crust). Here’s a terrible trophy photo:
Now that we’ve established that the authors of the book know what they’re doing by teaching a really REALLY mediocre student (sorry Dad!) how to cook – let’s actually check out what’s in The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook: Everything You Need To Know To Become a Great Cook (another link to the Amazon page in case you’re just dying to check it out).
What’s Inside America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School?
The great thing about the ATK Cooking School Cookbook is that it’s not just a cookbook. It’s a teach-through-doing and explaining the why behind what you’re learning cookbook resource guide extravaganza!
Every core recipe is laid out like you’d expect; with a finished photo, descriptions, cooking time… Here, I’ll just show you a picture because that makes way more sense:
While this overview is pretty typical for a cookbook, I love the “Tools” section that breaks down everything you need beforehand, and the “Difficulty” section in the Recipe Stats.
Clear and Easy Breakdown of Recipes
The great thing about the core recipes is that Cooking School then gives you an easy to understand, step-by-step walk-through of the recipe with high-quality colored pictures:
Have you ever skipped a critical step in a recipe and tried to fit it in only to find it’s too late? The recipe might still be salvageable, but it’s usually compromised in some way. I do this all the time with soups and stews where you’re adding in ingredients at different times due to varying cooking times.
But with the step by step pictures, it helps you avoid that common mistake. It really helps with a more complicated or technical process that you might not have done before as well. You don’t have to whip out your phone to see how to do it, it’s right there in line with the recipe.
What Can Go Wrong in the Kitchen, Will (So Read This And Find Out Why)
And now for one of my favorite parts of the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook… the “What Can Go Wrong” section that accompanies the core recipes.
There are a few reasons why these sections of the cookbook/recipes are great. First off, you can and should read them ahead of time to avoid making those common mistakes for the recipe highlighted in red on the left. And secondly, if something does turn out wrong, you can refer back to see what it might have been so you can fix it next time.
And secondly, if something does turn out wrong, you can refer back to see what it might have been so you can fix it next time.
This helps you, as a home cook, problem solve and learn what NOT to do, which is just as important as what to do when you’re in the kitchen.
Why Do I Keep Writing “Core Recipes”?
Because there are bonus recipes! Yaaaaaaaaay! Okay, maybe “bonus” isn’t the right word, but the ATK Cooking School also writes out each recipe in detail (separate from the photo step-by-step), and then they’ll include easy ways to change up or enhance the dish.
Teaching You the Fundamentals
Following a recipe doesn’t make you a good cook. Having the core skills and techniques to execute every step from prepping the vegetables to plating the dish does.
And that’s where The ATK Cooking School really shines above other cookbooks. Because in each chapter you learn the skills and techniques at the start, along with what tools you’ll need, and then build upon them throughout the chapter.
From the beginning where they break down how to equip your kitchen to set yourself up for success:
to multiple ways to knead bread much further along…
…ATK Cooking School really dives in to show you the right and easiest ways for a home cook to succeed.
A Dozen Cookbooks in One
I mentioned this was 800 pages, right? Not yet… well, it’s like 800 pages.
And ATK makes good use of them and takes you from equipment and cooking eggs, all the way through desserts – and even fits in grilling (gas AND charcoal… including grill maintenance!). Each chapter is arguably a standalone cookbook… and this is coming from the guy who has all of the standalone cookbooks. Here’s the table of contents to prove my point:
Kailee and I have turned into chicken soup snobs because the stock from Chapter 10, the chicken breasts in Chapter 7, and then Kailee’s family recipe for egg noodles makes THE BEST CHICKEN SOUP GUYS. The best. Plus, they just have the whole chicken noodle soup recipe that’s delicious enough to stand alone, but simple enough to make your own.
And the way this book is laid out doesn’t make it feel like an 800-page book. It’s very easy to navigate with the fleshed out glossary and appendix.
It may look like it’s designed to take you through start-to-finish teaching you how to cook the basic egg and finish with delicious tarts, but I certainly didn’t use it this way. You’d get really sick of eggs, and then… vegetables… and so on. But since each chapter is like its own book you can start with bread if that’s what you’re most interested in and still start from scratch. Chapter 1, Cooking Basics, is a required start I’d say.
So What’s Wrong With the ATK Cooking School Cookbook?
Okay, I’m done gushing. There are some shortcomings to this book which might not make it the right book for you. Come see the ugly side of greatness… the yin to the yang… the dark side of the force… the end of whatever I’m doing with this…
It’s Big and Bulky
As we’ve also covered – the book is 800 pages, hardcover, and is full of high-quality pictures… which makes for a really big and heavy book.
Maybe I just need to hit the gym more, but it feels way heavier than the five pounds listed on Amazon. It’s not a book you can have propped up on the counter where you’re cooking unless you’ve got a Martha Stewart-esque kitchen. I’m usually running back-and-forth between the kitchen and the living-dining room (we have a small house) to check the recipe, or I’m taking a photo on my phone and referring to that.
You can get around this with the Kindle edition, of course. I’m not familiar with it so can’t vouch for how easy or difficult it is to use.
It Doesn’t Adhere to a Diet
So this is a plus for me, but I realize some of you might need to follow specific diets or want to focus on a geographic region. While this book isn’t written for you in mind. However, I’d still argue it’s a good book to have even if you’re doing the
However, I’d still argue it’s a good book to have even if you’re doing the the Mediterranean-keto-paleo-Atkins gluten-free juicing cleanse, solely because you’ll learn how to cook the individual parts of a recipe even if the whole recipes in ATK Cooking School aren’t what you’re looking for.
No matter what diet you’re following, you’ll be a better cook having this book as a resource to go to if you need to know how to roast a whole chicken, prep vegetables, and just have a more solid cooking foundation.
The only diet I can think of that wouldn’t find this as useful would be if you have celiacs disease. You’d still find the general “cooking school” parts helpful, but large portions of the book wouldn’t be for you. Instead, I’d recommend the ATK – The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook, Volume 2 so you’re not wasting time scouring through the book for recipes you can use. You can find it on Amazon here: https://scratchthatcooking.com/gluten-free-ATK-Amazon
Lack of Product and Ingredient Recommendations
America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated are wildly trusted for their product and ingredient reviews and recommendations because they are fully unbiased. In almost every other publication they’ll list what the best quality and bang for your buck is.
But ATK Cooking School is sorely missing these. You can still see what products (and some ingredients) they’re using due to the pictures, but they do not get into recommendations in Cooking School. I assume this is to save on space and to make this book more evergreen.
It was published in 2013 and it wouldn’t hold up as well as it does if they were recommending products or ingredients that could be discontinued or change in some way. So it makes sense that they leave their product/ingredient reviews mainly in their television shows and magazines as they can update their opinion in those channels easier. But don’t buy this book expecting them to tell you buy XYZ knife, it is more generic as you can see two pictures up.
It’s Called What?
Look at this title…
The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook: Everything You Need To Know To Become a Great Cook
It’s 17 words long! The hell?! I can’t even optimize this post well because the title of the book I’m reviewing has too many characters in it. To be fair, most of it is a subtitle. But IMO, the only documents with a subtitle that long should be in a medical journal.
The Best Book to Learn Cooking From
To put it simply, if you want to learn how to cook from scratch the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook condenses all the core knowledge and techniques you need, and teaches it in a well put together and easy to navigate volume. It will help you stock your kitchen, hard cook an egg, turn out holiday dinners and desert, and weigh down your circus tent.
And to top it off, since it’s been out for a few years you can pick it up for under $30 as I write this on Amazon for either the hardcover (what I’ve been reviewing) or the Kindle version (which I haven’t used).
Click Here or hit the image below to check it out on Amazon:
What Did I Miss?
Is there more information you need? Want more pictures of my cats? Anything missing from this review? Let me know in the comments below or shoot me a message over on the contact form.
And yes – the links in this post to Amazon are affiliate links as I alluded to. I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you if you choose to buy the book.