She’s our guiding light in the kitchen; our patron saint in chambray. She’s Ina Garten, and she has a whopping 13 cookbooks to her name. If you don’t already own every title, how are you to decide which one to add to your collection next? It’s a tricky decision, especially considering they’re all New York Times bestsellers and they all feature jaunty cover images of the Barefoot Contessa enticing you to join her for a casual Friday roast chicken. Friends, we’ve done the hard work for you. Here, our definitive ranking of all the Ina Garten cookbooks, from “store-bought is fine” to “how easy is that?”
A Definitive Ranking of Ina Garten’s Cookbooks, from “Store-Bought Is Fine” to “How Easy Is That?”
Best for Feeding Your Aspirational Hopes and Dreams
Will this book transform us into a pantsuit-wearing hostess who cooks up game day feasts that are equally delicious and classy, all at the snap of our fingers? Maybe not. But we can’t get over the fact that it’s organized into categories like “When the Boss Comes for Dinner” and “Afternoon Tea,” as if those events might actually occur in real life (no offense, boss, but we only want you inspecting our bookshelves over Zoom, not IRL). While this title is full of Contessa classics like Lemon Cake and Perfect Roast Turkey, it’s also in need of an update: For example, there’s a chicken salad that’s labeled ‘Chinese’ because it contains soy sauce and sesame seeds. Ina…no.
Best for A Whole Lotta Leftovers
We sure wish we were part of the Garten family. This cookbook isn’t an adoption certificate, but it does attempt to woo us with the prospect of bountiful family meals, Ina-style. Think Buffalo Chicken Wings, Penne with Five Cheeses and Parmesan Cheese Sticks (yum). But unless you’re cooking for a large number of people every night, really enjoy meal prep or don’t mind eating the same thing five nights in a row, this wouldn’t be our first suggestion.
11. The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (1999)
Best for the Person Who Bleeds Ina Garten
It’s the one that started it all. The Contessa’s first cookbook opens with a forward from that other aspirational Hamptonite, Martha Stewart. If you’re looking for the confidence boost that you, too, can host easy-breezy dinner parties and whip up Crab Cakes with Rémoulade like it’s no big deal, this cookbook offers it. If you live and breathe all things Ina, you should definitely add it to your shelf. But since many of the recipes are taken straight from Ina’s specialty store (not to mention designed for large groups and those with access to multiple ovens and grills), it’s not necessarily one we’d recommend for beginners.
Best for the Entertainer Who Downplays How Much Time They Spent Cooking Dinner
At the core of Ms. Store-Bought-Is-Fine’s ethos is that she wants to make you look good. Four-Hour Lamb with French Flageolets? No problem. Osso Buco? Couldn’t be simpler. In reality, we’re not sure this idea translates from page to plate unless you already have a good bit of cooking experience under your belt, but we appreciate Ina’s can-do attitude and thoughtful advice. There’s just no way we’re spending four hours making lamb.
Best for Saying to Yourself, “How Easy is That?”
The claim: the Barefoot Contessa’s easiest recipes of all time. The reality: Lobster & Shells isn’t exactly something we’d attempt on a Tuesday, but we see where you’re coming from, Ina. The Weeknight Bolognese truly is fuss-free, the Ultimate Grilled Cheese is a delight and the Stilton & Walnut Crackers are so Ina it almost hurts. But while this one certainly makes us want to say “how easy is that?” over and over out of sheer irony, we’re not sure how easy it really is for the average person to make Foie Gras with Roasted Apples.
Best for Showing Off to Your Friends
Did you know that Garten is completely self-taught? She never went to culinary school or received any professional training, but she did spend years running a catering company out of her specialty foods store (you know, in addition to the White House gig). Cook Like a Pro is chock-full of techniques that promise to streamline your cooking, plus recipes like Cauliflower Toast and Chicken Marbella. But TBH, we find the recipes a little too fancy for regular old weeknights.
Best for Booked and Busy Ina-Philes
The Contessa knows the most valuable thing we have is time. And lucky for all of us, Make It Ahead proves you can still harness the power of “good” olive oil and “good” vanilla, even if you don’t have all day to work on dinner in your East Hamptons barn. Can you make Parmesan Chive Smashed Potatoes, French Chicken Pot Pies, Marinated Herbed Feta and Belgian Waffles ahead? Ina says you can (and when has she ever been wrong?).
Best for Beginners
Ten things not to serve at a party. Ten ways to boost the flavors of your ingredients. Ten ways to finally transform into Ina Garten. These are just some of the handy tips Back to Basics offers. (Just kidding about that last one.) However, Ina isn’t lying, and these recipes are actually some of her most accessible: Baked Sweet Potato “Fries,” Confetti Corn and Blueberry Streusel Muffins have all been hits in our kitchen. There’s even a Q&A section including answers to some of Ina’s most-asked questions. According to Garten, “This book is about how to cook the simple ingredients you can find in a grocery store and how to unlock their essences.” Ina, for us? How thoughtful.
Best for Feeling Like You’re on Vacation
Legend has it Ina and Jeffrey fell in love with the city of light when they spent a few months camping around Europe. Now the Contessa has her own apartment in Paree and damn it if she isn’t going to make that known. (Just kidding, Ina, we love you.) This is a truly worthwhile purchase even if you don’t want to feel like you’re eating dinner at a French bistro every night (we do). The recipes are simple yet delicious—Lentil Sausage Soup, Lemon Chicken with Croutons and Chocolate Truffles, to name a few—and the vibe is “strolling through an open-air market with a baguette tucked under one arm.” Enchanté!
For the Ina Garten Realist
According to the contessa, cooking night after night during the pandemic inspired her to rethink the way she approached dinner, and thus her 13th child (er, book) was born. It’s an inspired collection of easy-breezy recipes—think Hasselback Keilbasa, Scrambled Eggs Cacio e Pepe, Cinnamon-Spiced Shortbread and Chipotle Cheddar Crackers—all with the Ina flair you love. Our queen in chambray gets bonus points for her “two-fers,” which teach you how to transform leftovers from one dinner into something different but equally delicious the second night (because no, we’re not whipping up an engagement chicken on any old Tuesday.)
Best for the Desserts
Do you have a raging sweet tooth? Us too. And even though Ina is shucking corn on the cover, she means business when it comes to the desserts in this book. You have the favorite Beatty's Chocolate Cake (on our list of best chocolate cakes ever), Coconut Cake, Lemon Yogurt Cake, Ultimate Ginger Cookie, Easy Cheese Danish and even a sweet-meets-savory Maple-Roasted Bacon. There are plenty of savory recipes too, but this one goes out to the sugar fiends among us.
Best for the “Awws”
What can we say? It’s impossible to resist Jeffrey. Not only does Ina’s 10th cookbook contain scrumptious recipes inspired and approved by hubby Jeffrey (Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken, anyone?), but it’s also peppered with adorable anecdotes about her and Jeffrey’s 50-plus year marriage. “I have no greater pleasure than cooking for the people I love—and particularly for my husband, Jeffrey,” she writes. And believe us, you can feel the love pouring out of the pages.
Maybe it’s because we feel like we could use a hug from the Contessa right now. Maybe it’s because there’s a recipe for Black & White Cookies (a personal favorite). We think Ina’s newest cookbook is her best yet. It’s Ina 2020, a soothing combination of nostalgia and authority. The easy-to-follow instructions and indispensable tips make us feel like Ina is holding our hand as we master Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara and Tuscan Turkey Roulade. The world is a scary place, but with our chambray queen by our side, we feel a little better.