Apprentice Cooking - 1-75
Level 1-25: Using your Basic Campfire skill is a guarantee skill-up from levels 1-25. Boring, yes - but it’s free!
Level 26-45: There are tons of choices here, largely dependent up the character’s Race and starting zone, along with some recipes that use fish or store-bought materials. Night Elves, Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes, Trolls, and Orcs will find the Roasted Boar Meat easily crafted from neighborhood boars. Tauren and Undead characters will have better luck finding raw ingredients for Charred Wolf Meat or Herb Baked Eggs, Draenei can subsist on Roasted Moongraze Tenderloin, and Blood Elves live in an area ripe for Crispy Bat Wings.
Level 46-75: All races have relatively easy access to the Bear Meat needed for Smoked Bear Meat, which stays ‘yellow’ through the end of this first stage.
Journeyman Cooking - 76-150
Level 76-115: The Crab Cake recipe is sold by cooking trainers all over Azeroth, and uses only the Crawler Meat found on many shore-dwelling mobs.
Level 116-125: Those who can get their hands on the recipe should use the extra claws in crafting Cooked Crab Claw. Horde toons who don’t get lucky with the shared Auction House can fill in this gap with Bristle Whisker Catfish, which is easily fished up in Orgrimmar even at Fishing Level 1.
Level 126-150: Big Bear Steak brings you up to the end of this leveling stage nicely. The mats are available from bears in Ashenvale, Hillsbrad, and Alterac, and unlike other recipes at this stage, you only need one piece of meat per cooked item.
Expert Cooking - 151-225
Level 151-190: Alliance characters who complete the “Costly Menace” quest in Hillsbrad will be rewarded with the recipe for Tasty Lion Steak, good for 40 full levels! Everyone else will have to make due here with Curiously Tasty Omelet and Rockscale Cod. Level 191-215: There are lots of options here, depending upon race, AH availability, and personal taste. The recipe for Roast Raptor can be picked up - conveniently enough - in Stranglethorn Vale by either faction, and the zone is just chock-full of raptor meat waiting to happen.
Level 216-225: Spider Sausage, even though it requires two pieces of raw meat, is a great option here and available to both factions.
Artisan Cooking - 226-300
Cooking really begins to shine at this stage, and its usefulness is only going to increase as the buffs provided by cooked entrees get better and more varied.
Level 226-250: Lots of options here, but two of the best have plenty of raw materials wandering around the Hinterlands: Monster Omelet and Tender Wolf Steak are easily crafted from farming the owlbeasts and wolves, respectively.
Level 251-285: A previously dry zone for those who took Cooking but skipped over Fishing, a trip to Felwood is now all that is needed to advance past this area. Melee toons will love the Charred Bear Kabobs, while casters will prefer their bear flanks shaped into Juicy Bear Burgers.
Level 286-300: You knew it was coming… Head off to beautiful, scenic Silithus for some Sandworm-hunting. The Smoked Desert Dumplings are still the best way to finish off Artisan Cooking.
Master Cooking - 301-375
Level 301-320: Make sure to do the quests for Legassi at the Zeppelin Crash if you’re questing Hellfire Peninsula. The final one, “Smooth as Butter,” will reward you with the Buzzard Bites recipe. Alternatively, pick up the Ravager Dog for less work and the same leveling.
Level 321-335: Blackened Basilisks are delicious AND nutritious, and they make nice gifts for your favorite caster-class.
Level 335-355: This stage finds you in Blades’ Edge Mountains, picking up the recipes for Crunchy Serpent and / or Mok’Nathal Shortribs. The mats are plentiful along the eastern coast of this zone, as well.
Level 356-375: Those who neglect their Fishing skills will find themselves in another dry patch during this stage. You have 20 levels to cover, and only yellow-level recipes. The good news is that mats are plentiful for Rhino Dogs, Shoveltusk Steaks, and Mammoth Meals in both Northrend starting zones.
Grand-Master Cooking 376-450
Levels 376-400: The Great Feast recipe is just about the only thing that’s going to advance you through this point. Doing the daily cooking quests in Dalaran is highly recommended, especially for the Northern Spices and Cooking Awards you receive. You should also do the “Northern Cooking” quest in order to learn the Northern Stew recipe.
Levels 400-425: Both Hearty Rhino and Spiced Mammoth Treats require only one piece of meat, plus a spice, and can be AoE-farmed in mass quantities. Borean Tundra, Howling Fjord, and Sholazar Basin are all great places to find your materials.
Levels 425-450: There are three choices for the final stretch of maximizing your cooking skill. Unfortunately, all require various types of fish. See if you can trade with red meat for seafood with guildies and friends, hit up the Auction House for your supplies, or finally bite the bullet and warm up that fishing pole. Especially since only the Fish Feast recipe provides a useful buff, instead of just a fun one.
What’s in store for Cooking beyond 3.2?
Stay tuned to your favorite Bright Hub channel, right now the PTR rumors are all in a stir about several harvest-themed recipes in the works. You just might see Cranberry Chutney, Cornbread Stuffing, and Slow-Roasted Turkey on the menu coming in Fall of 2009. Can’t you just taste the Pumpkin Pie already?
The Chef’s Hat may be more than just a novelty reward for attaining max level after 3.2 hits the live servers. Cooking will all happen in a flash when your Master Chef dons his special hat. Also, some more much-needed synergy between the Cooking and Fishing skills is in the works, with Waterlogged Recipes that can be fished up and traded in for more Cooking Awards. Since Cooking Awards = recipes and spices, that will definitely help you level your cooking even faster.