How to get the latest cookbooks for free

Todd A. Price
The American South
The Libby reader, used by 90% of US libraries, lets patrons check out digital cookbooks.

Do you want hundreds of the latest cookbooks for free without leaving your house? Then check out your local public library. Across the United States, 90% of public libraries use the Libby app for smartphones and tablets to let patrons borrow digital books. Those digital collections include many of the most popular cookbooks, with all the recipes and beautiful photos of the paper copies.

Each library decides which cookbooks to include in its digital collection, but the most popular cookbooks are often easy to find.

"When you come to the big five publishers, we have access to all of them," said Meghan Volchko, a digital content librarian at Libby who helps libraries find the titles their patrons want.

The Libby app is a reader that lets you view the digital book. You can also send the book to a Kindle reader. (Some libraries have used the OverDrive reader, which is also owned by Libby's parent company. The OverDrive reader will be phased out later this year.)

Volchko, herself an avid cook, likes to check out the digital version of a cookbook, try a few recipes that look appealing and then decide if she wants to buy the book.

The Libby app lets you search by title and keywords, like "bread" or "desserts." Or you can browse through the most popular titles under the subject "Cooking & Food," which includes cookbooks and other books about food.

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The Libby librarians are also creating curated collections on themes such as baking or holiday meals. Many libraries will soon start featuring those collections of cookbooks.

Volchko also recommends that you pick up the phone and call your local library when looking for a cookbook to digitally borrow. Librarians know their collections and can recommend cookbooks you might not find. You can also ask the librarian to order a digital copy of a cookbook if it is not in your local collection.

For Volchko, her favorite thing about digital cookbooks on Libby is the search feature. It lets you find recipes that use a specific ingredient, which may not be listed in a recipe's title or the book's index.

"Maybe you've got some carrots and they're not long for this world and you need to cook them," she said.

The Libby reader works with iPhones, iPads, Android devices, Windows tablets and Kindles. A local library card is required to access the digital books.

The librarians at Libby put together a list of the popular cookbooks patrons have checked out and also the top cookbooks by authors from the South.

Most popular cookbooks on Libby

  1. "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" by Samin Nosrat
  2. "Art of the Pie" by Kate McDermott
  3. "Forks Over Knives, The Cookbook" by Del Sroufe
  4. "The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook" by Dinah Bucholz
  5. "Make It Ahead" by Ina Garten
  6. "The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook" by America’s Test Kitchen
  7. "Barefoot Contessa Foolproof" by Ina Garten
  8. "Paleo for Beginners" by John Chatam
  9. "Magnolia Table" by Joanna Gaines
  10. "Skinnytaste Fast and Slow" by Gina Homolka

Most popular cookbooks by Southern authors

  1. "Magnolia Table, Vol. 1 & 2" by Joanna Gaines (Texas)
  2. "BraveTart" by Stella Parks (Kentucky)
  3. "Cool Beans" by Joe Yonan (Georgia)
  4. "The Casserole Queens" by Crystal Cook (Texas)
  5. "The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook" by Sheryl Woods (Virginia)

The high ranking of Crystal Cook's “The Casserole Queens” cookbook on Libby's Southern chart is a reminder, if you need it, that a good casserole is always popular. Add in cheese and potatoes, and you know it will be a hit. Here is a cheesy skillet potato casserole from the Southern Kitchen recipe collection.

Cheesy Skillet Potato Casserole

About the recipe

Loosely based on a French “tartiflette,” this casserole can function as part of a hearty brunch or breakfast, or could serve as a simple entree with a green salad and some cornichons.

The potatoes actually work better if baked the day before. When rendering bacon, it’s important to always start with a cold pan. With a hot pan, the outside of the bacon will crisp (and potentially burn) while the inside is still chewy. Feel free to substitute any cheese you like, or even opt for a combination of cheeses.

Serves: 4-6

Hands-On Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours and 15 minutes


3 russet potatoes

8 strips bacon, finely diced

1 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced

3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

3/4 cup sour cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wrap the potatoes in aluminum foil and bake until completely cooked through, about 1 hour. Unwrap and let cool. Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch, peel, then slice into 1/2-inch-thick coins.

In an 8-inch cast-iron skillet, render the bacon over medium heat. When the bacon is almost crispy, add the onions. Stirring occasionally, cook until the onions are gently caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove half of the bacon-onion mixture from the skillet and set aside.

Evenly distribute the remaining bacon and onions across the bottom of the skillet. Arrange a single layer of the sliced potatoes on top of the onions, then season with salt and pepper. Top with half of the cheese, followed by the remaining bacon-onion mixture. Arrange the rest of the potatoes in another layer, season with salt and pepper, then evenly spread with sour cream.

Top with the remaining cheese, then bake until the cheese is melted and golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, let rest for 15 minutes, then serve.