Okay, cowgirls and cowboys, do you love the Pioneer Woman? Me too! The accidental country girl is known for down-home, heartland cooking (with extra butter!). And she’s got a totally fresh voice, like you’re in the kitchen with your bestie. Not to mention her beautiful photos, which transport you out of the daily grind and into life on the ranch. You might be sitting at your desk, eating cold cereal, but Ree is up and at ’em, getting ready for a cattle drive. Can you smell the hot coffee, huevos rancheros, and bacon?
Ree Drummond started her wildly popular blog, The Pioneer Woman, in 2006, landed her own show on the Food Network in 2011, and is the author of no fewer than six cookbooks — and that’s not even counting her other publications including a romance novel, children’s titles, and a magazine. Personally, I first discovered Drummond’s recipes in the late 2000s, the golden era of food blogging. Her posts were long. There were so many photos. But it was great storytelling, and I caught myself laughing out loud, and scrolling all the way down. Plus, making succulent pot roast. Oh, and gooey cinnamon rolls. To this day, her favorite turkey brine (with a whiff of fresh orange zest and rosemary leaves) is also my favorite.
As a former cookbook editor who’s worked across print and digital, I’m always interested to see if a blogger can also put out a good book. With Pioneer Woman, the thing is, she’s known for having a truly ridiculous amount of step-by-step photos, and in the cookbooks, those get sized down into tiny thumbnails, instead of a rich slideshow experience. But that said, not everyone loves having a laptop in the kitchen (*hastily wipes cookie dough off keyboard*). For fans of the blog or the show, the books are a comfort. They offer classic recipes, along with fresh ones, and feel like a good value. And they’re cute — sprinkled with photos of her adorable kids and hunky husband, and horses and hounds, all trimmed in ginghams and florals.
If you’re browsing through her books, and wondering which one to start with, here’s what you might want to keep in mind. Her first book was made before she landed the television show, and it’s a little heavy on photos of her family, and maybe not enough focus on food. Her second cookbook was made after the show, and there’s a big jump in the quality of photos. Both contain great recipes, but it does bother me that she uses the term “Asian” pretty broadly, and categorizes “cowboy” and “cowgirl” foods, assigning gender to recipes — aren’t men allowed to like vegetables?
Her third cookbook focused on the holidays, turkey brine most definitely included, and the fans truly love that one, so make it your second purchase, even if it’s not useful every day of the year. Her fourth and fifth books dug into quick and easy solutions, and that’s where she hit her stride, and the sales numbers took off. And the sixth book is a wild card because it’s coming out tomorrow (pre-order it here), but it looks like it’s leaning into more convenience cooking, including a few Instant Pot recipes. (Makes sense, considering she has her own line of Instant Pots!) So for my hard-earned money? I’d start with …
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Ree Drummond’s Best Cookbook: Dinnertime
Buy: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime, $17
Dinnertime was the number-one cookbook in the country the year it came out, selling more than half a million copies. Her first book has the most ratings (2,300 ratings on Amazon and a whopping 36,000 on Goodreads), and A Year of Holidays has the highest marks (4.8 stars on Amazon and 4.35 on Goodreads). But Dinnertime is very close to the top, and by far it was the breakout bestseller.
There’s a reason why this one resonated with readers. It’s all of the comfort-food classics that she’s known for, but streamlined and strategized for busy lives. By 2015, Ree was a major media star, and this was not her first rodeo. But also, at this point, her kids were hungry teenagers, and she’s a pro at cooking at volume. It feels like this book has her best shortcuts and tips, including what to throw in the freezer, and what can go low and slow all day. If you’re a little sad to miss out on buttery breakfasts and desserts, rest assured, she still slides a few into this book.
The Best Recipes to Make from Dinnertime
The ranch mama really knows her meat, including pot roast with red wine and root veggies, classic pulled pork sweetened with brown sugar and spice, and beef stroganoff with seared sirloin steak. It wouldn’t be a Pioneer Woman cookbook without a meatloaf, and this one leans Italian with pancetta and dried herbs, but there are also three variations on meatballs, all easy to stash in the freezer. In a brilliant move, she packs lasagna roll-ups in loaf pans for smaller quantities. But personally, I’ll be making the chicken taco salad and tuna noodle casserole (those crunchy tortilla chips! Those crispy breadcrumbs!), and throwing a Mason jar of hot fudge sauce into the fridge. For, you know, emergencies.
Agree to disagree? Share your favorite Pioneer Woman cookbook in the comments, below! Along with your favorite recipe.
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