Science of cooking

I found the GQ thread Does the order of mixing matter in cooking and baking? tremendously interesting. I do most of the cooking in our household, but mostly just fumble along with recipes and/or trial and error. I’d really like to learn more about the whys of cooking.

It brought to mind Nathan Myhrvold’s project (their website is Modernist Cuisine). At 6 volumes and 2,438 pages, that’s a bit beyond me, even though I’m intrigued. It’ll go on my list, and perhaps in a few years I’ll get to it…

In the meantime, any other doper-recommended books (and/or other resources) on the science of cooking?

I haven’t read it but I understand The Joy of Cooking is supposed to be a pretty definitive textbook for why you do things a certain way in cooking.

As always needs to be mentioned, the old Joy of Cooking is great. The new one, not so much.

My two favorites for the Whys of cooking are Alton Brown and America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated. Both of them have television shows as well as books. Cook’s Illustrated also comes out with a magazine which I think is monthly, but I’m not sure.

Here is a good website, called The, uh, Science of Cooking. Lots of how-tos, how-comes, fixes, and good reading.

Shirley Corriher is often featured on Alton Brown’s show explaining the science of cooking. I like the way she explains things on television, so perhaps one of her books (The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking and The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking) would be good as well.

The Master speaks (no, not that Master—another Master).

Cooking for Engineers.

Moving thread from IMHO to Cafe Society.

“On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee

“Cooking for Geeks” by Jeff Potter

This is the book you want. It explains the chemistry of cooking, and why certain ingredients react in certain ways, etc. Very detailed, very informative.

Herve This is more of a master, since he has been researching the physical chemistry of food (molecular gastronomy) since the 80s. Unfortunately his books are not written/translated that well, though they have some real gems of information on food science.

A fourth recommendation for On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. This is where you learn why kitchen techniques work as they do.

Yet another person chiming in for On Food and Cooking. It’s not only an excellent reference book, it’s also great for just curling up with and learning about, say, the flavor compounds in various cruciform vegetables. I love it.

Cookwise, by Shirley Corriher, is pretty good as well. It comes with example recipes. Unfortunately, I’ve never made anything from it that blew me away, so I don’t cook from it any more; but its explanations of cooking science are clear and illustrated.

Not really. It may be the definitive textbook for bland, Midwestern interpretation of a wide range of dishes, but while it does have some nuggets of gold in it it is pretty mediocre both as a practical cookbook or as a text on food science. McGee has already been mentioned several times so I won’t reiterate, but the Larousse Gastronomique, while not a food science text per se, is probably the most authoritative and comprehensive guide on European-style cooking.


This. Alton Brown’s Good Eats is always a great starting point for the cultural history and science behind a given foodstuff.

A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking

This site goes pretty deep into the science of sous vide cooking. Very interesting geeky stuff and the experiments I’ve done have produced very good results.

Don’t bother ordering the book titled “Sous Vide for the Home Cook”, though. It is not a hard copy of the info on the site; it is really just a recipe book … very disappointing.

In addition, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is a big improvement over The Joy of Cooking, I think, at least in terms of being a practical compendium of cooking.

Agreed. The most recent edition of Joy of Cooking is kind of a mess, in my non-expert opinion. I rarely crack it open these days, but I use Bittman’s cookbook all the time. (And the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, but Bittman is more comprehensive.)

Whoops! Thanks for that. Honestly, I totally forgot about this forum. :smack:

And thanks all thus far. I did find the Science of Cooking website earlier today, but a cursory look didn’t draw me in. Not sure why…perhaps it just seemed too scattershot. I’ll give it another look, and also the Cooking for Engineers site (the Kitchen Notes section looks interesting).

I also came across the book Cooking for Geeks, which sounds exactly like what I’m looking for. Part of the “Most helpful negative review” that got me:

Oh, yeah…that sounds great. How that’s negative, I dunno. :slight_smile: Then I read the following part of the “Most helpful positive review”:

I’m a programmer. It’s what I do. This sounds perfect. I will be buying this one.

I find TV cooking shows to be unhelpful and generally boring; video seems to me like the absolutely wrong medium for presenting culinary lessons – no taste, no smell, no interaction, and no possibility of, say, “cooking along”. And IMHO, there’s simply not enough time to really cover what interests me at the depth I’d like; if there were and they did, the show wouldn’t appeal to a general audience. Besides which, I don’t want to watch someone preparing dishes, in the same way I don’t want to watch someone paint a house.

But I’ll make it a point to check out Alton Brown’s show and am certainly willing to spend some time on others, so long as they come with high recommendations…

+1. Some of Alton Brown’s material MUST come from this book. It seems that in some of his episodes he quotes this book verbatim.

if you like science this is a really good applied chemistry book.