If you’re like me, you believe there’s always something new to learn. And if you would like to learn something about food & science, in a very accessible way, the two books we’re reviewing today might be a great fit for you!
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Cook’s Science & The Science of Good Cooking
Normally, we would review just one book at a time. However, today’s books have so many similarities that it is best to just review them in one go. Both books have been made by the team of America’s Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby (who also wrote Cook, Taste, Learn). Both books fall under their Cook’s Illustrated brand and both books are heavily focused on the science of cooking.
The Authors – America’s Test Kitchen & Guy Crosby
America’s Test Kitchen is a large American media company as they call themselves. All their work evolves food and the rigorous testing, improving & understanding of recipes (the type of thing we like to do here as well!). They’ve got a large team of cooks & editors that have a mission to come up with the ‘best’ version of recipes they can. Apart from these two books, they’ve published a lot more books, have several websites, online courses and a tv + radio show.
These two books fit well into all that other type of work they do with the difference being that these books dive just a little deeper into the science then they normally would.
Add to that the insights & expertise from a professor in nutrition, Guy Crosby. He was the science editor for these two books, adding a touch more science to the book.
Design & Lay-out
Both books are structured very similarly. They start out with a short introduction on science in cooking. In The Science of Good Cooking (affiliate link) the science of measuring, time & temperature, heat & cold, senses and tools & ingredients is discussed. In Cook’s Science (affiliate link) their scientific method (they use a texture analyzer for instance), the chemistry basics (water, carbohydrates, proteins & fats) as well as the concept of flavour perception are discussed. What’s nice about these introductions is that they are pretty concise, easy to understand and truly give you some pieces of knowledge that are useful for the rest of the book.
After these sections, you’re free to roam about in the book. Both books consist of 50 chapters that you can read in any random order. You can also just read those chapters you would like to learn more about. Every chapter starts with a discussion of the science that is relevant for that chapter. After the introduction, they share several recipes that use those concepts they just discussed. Whether you read the book per concept, or whether you look up a recipe and then read the about the scientific concept, both ways make for very easy accessible reading.
Whereas most cookbooks use illustrations to show how a recipe can/should turn out, you will find no such photos in these books. Almost all the photos (and great illustrations) serve to further explain things. They might show photos of different cakes that use different ingredients or methods, or photos of beans cooked with or without salt. Even though in almost every other cookbooks I would find the lack of photos disturbing, that is not the case here.
Using the books
We’ve used the books in two ways so far. One way is to just read through them. Of course, we won’t read all the recipes, but we’d read all the discussions at the start of each chapter. There’s a lot of great little insights we’ve gained from that already.
Second, we’ve used it for actually making recipes. The other day we wanted to make cookies, so looked up a cookie recipe. The recipes are all easy to follow and generally don’t require very exotic ingredients.
What’s special about these books is that they don’t evolve around a single topic (e.g. bread, meat or Indian cooking). Instead, they cover a wide range of recipes and foods. However, they aren’t your food recipe encyclopedia book that you might expect. You won’t find all most popular cookies, cakes or meat recipes in here since they’ve focused on a few areas.
That said, you shouldn’t buy this book if you’re merely interested in recipes. The recipes in the book are good, but, the strength and uniqueness of the book comes from the way they discuss the science of food. The recipes they give you will help you understand & apply those concepts. However, once you’ve learned them, you can apply them in so many ways in so many different recipes. This book is a great example of teaching someone to fish, instead of giving them food. You truly learn how to be a better cook.
This book will appeal to both home cooks with an interest in science as well as to chefs and food scientists like myself. There are so many different concepts in food that you will never know them all. That said, if you are looking for some in-depth food chemistry or physics you might be disappointed, it’s written for everyone to understand, not just the expert.
Deciding on Cook’s Science vs. The Science of Good Cooking
Even if you decide the books are a good fit for you, you may wonder: how to choose between these two books? In our case, we bought both books in one go during one of the yearly sales on America’s Test Kitchen website. As a result, we paid less for both that we would normally have done for just one, so why not buy both we thought!
That said, you might of course just stick with one first and then decide whether to buy the other as well. Both books are very similar, the only thing they truly differ in is the topics they discuss. In Cook’s Science (affiliate link) each chapter is centered around one ingredient and the science of that ingredient. In The Science of Good Cooking (affiliate link) they every chapter evolves around a concept, e.g. developing a crust with frying, salting vegetables, slicing of onions or creaming butter for a cake.
Our advice would be to look at the chapter names of both books and decide which ones you’d be most interested in. The quality of the books is very similar otherwise.
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America’s Test Kitchen, About Us, link
Guy Crosby, The Cooking Science Guy, link