Today’s modern aspirational cookbooks tend to rely on glossy, lush pictures to show the perfection of its recipes and the lifestyle these cookbooks promote. And while one can spend so much time looking at these photos (because who doesn’t like food porn?), they can only do so much in conveying the process of cooking the recipe. Besides, let's be honest, the images in some books, like restaurant cookbooks are often just there to let the author show off.
Which is why illustrated recipes are staging a comeback these days.
Illustrations, often in watercolor and hand-drawn, are a great way to set the tone and style of a cookbook. Illustrations can portray a lot of things that a meticulously styled food photo cannot. The images can evoke a mood, tell a story, or make recipes more accessible and engaging.
Unlike food photos which tend to promote precision, illustrated recipes make the whole process of cooking less intimidating. Because they create an impression of how a dish should look rather than an exact presentation, readers are enticed to try out the recipes.
The format is also very convenient for conveying instructions. For instance, photos can capture every beautiful detail of a featured dish but an illustration can pare down the image to include only the details that the viewer needs to see.
Today’s illustrated cookbooks run the gamut from watercolor artworks to comic book-stylized graphics. But the best ones are those that have clean visual explainers for every recipe and technique that’s featured in the book.
Here are my top 10 picks of the best illustrated cookbooks on Amazon.
Best Illustrated Cookbooks
- Let's Make Ramen!: A Comic Book Cookbook Paperback
- Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking Hardcover
- The Infinite Feast: How to Host the Ones You Love Hardcover
- Cake: A Cookbook Hardcover – Illustrated, Hardcover
- Meat Illustrated: A Foolproof Guide to Understanding and Cooking with Cuts of All Kinds Hardcover – Illustrated
- Recipes from the World of Tolkien: Inspired by the Legends Hardcover
- The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook:
- Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes [A Cookbook] Paperback
- Cook's Illustrated Cookbook -Hardcover
- Illustrated Step-by-Step Baking: Classic and Inspiring Variations to Hone Your Techniques Hardcover – Illustrated
1. Let's Make Ramen!: A Comic Book Cookbook Paperback
This is a cookbook with a graphic novel sensibility; its step-by-step directions on assembling homemade ramen are illustrated colorfully using hand-drawn pictures. There are more than 40 recipes here that include broths like Miso, Shoyu, and Tonkotsu, components like Chashu, Menma, and Onsen Eggs, and sides like Mazemen, Tsukemen, and Yakisoba.
Also included are an illustrated history of ramen, an informative guide to Japanese cooking traditions, and cultural insights from popular ramen personalities like chef Ivan Orkin.
Recipes are clear, concise, and use imperial measurements. Even if one isn’t into cooking, the illustrations alone make the book worth reading. Lots of reviewers found the artwork detailed and gorgeous.
Great for ramen foodies, beginners, seasoned cooks, and armchair chefs.
2. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking Hardcover
This cookbook is a great manual on learning how to cook delicious meat and vegetable dishes without over-relying on recipes. The first part teaches the hows and whys of good cooking, by using Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat to give food maximum flavor and texture. The second section presents 100 canon recipes and their variations to put the lessons into practice.
There are 150 illustrations and infographics that are beautifully drawn by a renowned illustrator. Lush watercolor drawings and charming hand lettering perfectly capture the book’s casual and artful vibe.
The recipes, meanwhile, range from simple to complex. But since the first section sets up the reader clearly on the cooking techniques, they’ll have the confidence to approach any of the recipes.
Recommended for newbie or decent cooks, art nerds, and fans of Samin Nosrat’s cooking.
3. The Infinite Feast: How to Host the Ones You Love- Hardcover
More than just a cookbook, this book is also a fun guide to entertaining. Sections are arranged around a seasonal theme and the recipe selection emphasizes food for holidays and parties. There are 165 recipes here which include Captain Nemo's Hot Curry Crab Dip, Marie Laveau's Voodoo Maque Choux, Apple Pandowdy Pie, Crabby McCrab Cake, Bon Ton Muffuletta, and Rosemary Foccacia.
It features 1960s-themed illustrations and colorful mid-century vintage photos which accompany the book’s curated and themed menus. There’s a section on how to organize a pantry, along with helpful tips and interviews with celebrity chefs.
Recipes have clear and concise instructions. Those who tried them found them accessible and delicious. Another found the selection a nice balance of home and fancy cooking.
Recommended for anyone looking for party food recipes and collectors of vintage-themed cookbooks.
4. Cake: A Cookbook Hardcover – Illustrated
This is a little cake cookbook that celebrates watercolor illustrations of simple, festive, and pretty cakes. It has the look and feel of an art book but its recipe selection is robust and solid since these are recipes of Scott-Goodman’s favorite cakes. There are only 17 recipes here that include familiar favorites like Coffee Cake with Streusel and Lemon Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze.
Recipes are simple, with some short notes containing info that most bakers will already know. Those who’ve tried some of the recipes found them easy and delicious. One said it had the best coconut and lemon pound cake recipes.
Great for giveaways, art cookbook collectors and fans of Kalman’s artwork.
5. Meat Illustrated: A Foolproof Guide to Understanding and Cooking with Cuts of All Kinds Hardcover – Illustrated
This is a resource cookbook that provides information and techniques on how to prep and cook beef, pork, lamb, and veal. It features a comprehensive overview of affordable and lesser-known meat cuts that are illustrated by hand drawings and 300 kitchen-tested recipes that come with step-by-step color photos.
It also covers shopping, storage, and prepping techniques and includes tricks for tenderizing and curing meat, among others. There’s a full range of cooking styles that are also featured in the book.
Recipes are short and straightforward. The selection covers a wide range of cuisines with dishes like Chinese Barbecued Roast Pork Shoulder, Crumb-Crusted Rack of Lamb, and Sharba, a Libyan-style chickpea and orzo soup.
Readers loved its user-friendly format. One found it a useful guide for learning the flavor profiles of different cuts and the best way to cook them. Another found it an informative resource for anyone interested in butchery.
Recommended for beginner and experienced home cooks.
6. Recipes from the World of Tolkien: Inspired by the Legends Hardcover
This is a collection of LOTR-inspired recipes that are not page-fillers but actual reliable ones that use pantry ingredients, modern cooking techniques, and American measurements. The recipe selection is inspired by British cuisine with samples like Westfarthing Fairings (a biscuit recipe), Farmer Maggot’s Mushrooms on Toast. and the citrus-based Bilbo's Seed-cake.
The illustrations and artwork for this cookbook are a cut above the rest of Middle Earth-themed cookbooks on Amazon. The book also includes anecdotes and explanations about how each recipe ties with Tolkien’s beloved stories.
Those who approached this book as a novelty item were surprised at how the recipes baked well, looked good, and tasted better. Another found them easy to adapt for a range of special diets.
Highly recommended for LOTR fans, amateur bakers, and teenage home cooks.
7. The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook: America's Bestselling Step-by-Step Cookbook, with More Than 1,400 Recipes Paperback
This is an expanded edition of a classic cookbook that was published in 1980. There are new additions to the recipe selection, as well as more color photos to accompany each recipe and technique for easy reference. It also includes complete menus for entertaining.
Recipes are simple, clear, and include detailed how-to illustrations or photos. Most of the cuisine is American-style with a few European-influenced dishes. Those who’ve tried the recipes found them reliable and accessible, even for beginner cooks.
Great starter cookbook for anyone interested in American home cooking recipes.
8. Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes [A Cookbook] Paperback
This is another graphic novel styled cookbook that features 64 recipes and includes Korean ingredient profiles to make this a suitable introduction to the basics of Korean cuisine. From making kimchi and bulgogi dup bap to assembling seaweed rice rolls (gimbap), this cookbook will make it easy and fun.
Recipe directions and ingredients are fully illustrated by comic book drawings and watercolor paintings. Some of their ingredient lists will require items that can be found in a Korean specialty store or ordered online but there are also suggestions for substitutions or instructions on how to make them.
Readers enjoyed the cookbook layout. One said that this cookbook made him easily understand the basics of Korean cuisine enough to make sense of any Korean recipe. Another liked how most of the meat-centric dishes can be easily adapted for the vegetarian diet.
Recommended for cookbook collectors and those looking for illustrated recipes on Korean cuisine.
9. Cook's Illustrated Cookbook: 2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America's Most Trusted Cooking Magazine Hardcover
This is a comprehensive resource of recipes that have been published in the pages of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. It’s also a great reference for cooking techniques because it includes clear hand-drawn illustrations to demonstrate various prepping and cooking methods.
The recipe directions are far more detailed than most cookbooks. All of them have been kitchen-tested. Samples of the selection include familiar cuisine staples like Baked Mac and Cheese, Baked Manicotti, Belgian Beef, Beer and Onion Stew, Beef Stroganoff, and Pumpkin Cheesecake with Graham Pecan Crust.
Readers liked this book for the sheer size of its recipe selection. One liked its user-friendly format. Another liked that the recipes aren’t unnecessarily complicated.
Recommended for anyone looking for a comprehensive recipe selection of American home cooking cuisine.
10. Illustrated Step-by-Step Baking: Classic and Inspiring Variations to Hone Your Techniques Hardcover – Illustrated
The 80 classic recipes in this cookbook are fully illustrated, with step-by-step photos of the baking process. It also includes more than 250 variations of these recipes.
The selection is diverse and includes pastries that are not often featured in baking cookbooks like tortillas, beef wellington, nann bread, and other international pastries. Recipes are simple and straightforward. They also use metric and imperial measurements.
Readers liked this book because it features a lot of instructions and tips that make baking easy for beginners. One liked it because most of its cake recipes are one-layered so it minimizes leftovers. Another liked it that some recipes come with four pages of pictures.
Recommended for newbie home bakers and anyone interested in improving their baking skills.
SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT: MASTERING THE ELEMENTS OF GOOD COOKING by Samin Nosrat
This cookbook efficiently uses illustrations to fulfill its mission to liberate cooks from slavishly following recipes. In fact, during later interviews, Nosrat revealed that the illustrations were central to her proposal for this book. Having whimsical drawings would help make the content warm and inviting so that readers will enjoy and learn from the book.
And with this, she has largely succeeded. Many liked its inventive book design and the innovative way of learning how to make great-tasting food. It also doesn’t hurt that the illustrations are great art and, by themselves, are already worth the price.
This book is the best combination of education, recipes, and reference guides. It’s great for beginners and those who’d rather wing it in the kitchen.