Lifestyle reality TV shows are a great reprieve from the real world without being too dramatic. Sometimes you don’t need to see grown women screaming at each other, you just need to watch someone create something beautiful. The best of the best in this type of programming is almost certainly cooking shows. For so many great reasons. One, they literally show people cooking food and eating it. Does it get any better? Plus, the things they achieve on these shows are sometimes actually attainable. You can go out and buy ingredients to recreate dishes — you definitely can’t do that with other reality TV shows!
There are some cooking shows that are a step above the rest. Some are competitions, some are frantic and chaotic, and some just show you how to make a damn good plate of pasta for your friends. Whatever kind of cooking show it is, it’s sure to be addictive. Here are the most addicting cooking TV shows of all time!
17. 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray
The recent boom of reality cooking programming arguably started with Rachel Ray and her EVOO. Ray became a superstar making quick, easy meals that literally anyone could do. She isn’t classically trained or making foods viewers can’t pronounce. Often on the show, she’s messy and unrefined – making it all seem so relatable. She’s the queen of just eye-balling it and actually having fun while cooking, something many chefs on TV forget about. Ray now has her own talk show where she, of course, still cooks for America.
16. Iron Chef America
Based on the original Japanese Iron Chef, this is one intense cooking showing. In each episode, the contestant will compete against one of the in-house “Iron Chefs” in a competition based on a secret ingredient that is, more often than not, weird as hell. The Iron Chef’s included cooking powerhouses like Bobby Flay and Mario Batalli, and unsurprisingly the renowned chefs win a lot. But sometimes they are beaten by a random competitor and newcomer, and that’s always exciting to watch. And nothing beats Mark Dacascos’s crazy secret ingredient reveals!
15. Masterchef: Junior
If you want to watch a bunch of 12-year-olds cook better than you ever will, then this is the show for you. Masterchef: Junior takes the concept of reality TV cooking competition and makes it pint-sized. You’ll be totally enthralled by these kids who can somehow make more than mac n’ cheese like total pros. We’re not gonna lie — it’s inspiring to see these kids find their passion so early on in life. And to see Gordon Ramsay actually be nice for a change!
14. The Great British Bake Off
If you get anxious watching most competition cooking shows, then The Great British Bake off might be just the show you need. While the contestants are most certainly under a lot of pressure, the show somehow maintains a very calming energy about it. Competitors are kind to one another, and they are making some genuinely delicious-looking confections and cakes. There have been some controversial changes with judges and hosts, but watching so-called amateurs excel with divine baking projects is simply beautiful.
13. Barefoot Contessa
Who doesn’t love seeing what Ina Garten is going to make for her dear Jeffrey today?! This was a former White House budget analyst until she decided to leave that life behind her and buy a specialty food store called “Barefoot Contessa.” The rest is history. On her show, she often cooks simple but delicious meals while showing viewers tips for hosting guests or setting the table. But one of the most addicting parts of the show is Ina’s somewhat expensive taste and affinity to ingredients outside the norm. Sometimes it’s exciting to watch someone do things with food that you wouldn’t even think of!
12. Cutthroat Kitchen
This show is unlike any other reality cooking show on TV. While chefs still go head to head in an attempt to win money at the end, the means of getting there is, well, cutthroat. Chefs are given “money” to bid on things that could help them — like exclusive use of salt, prohibiting their opponents from tasting their own dishes, making an opponent cook in a ball pit, etc. But here’s the catch: the more money you spend on those things, the less you have left at the end if you win! It makes for some addictive television as you see what ways these people will sabotage each other while still trying to make cohesive meals. Plus, it’s hosted by the incomparable Alton Brown, what more could you ask for?
11. The French Chef
This is the cooking show that started it all. Julia Child is the Godmother of cooking TV as we know it today. The acclaimed chef spent a decade on air becoming the world’s favorite celebrity chef. She helped inspire confidence in home chefs everywhere that they can do exactly what she was doing. And as anyone who’s seen Julie & Julia knows, her can-do attitude helped many people learn that cooking isn’t as hard as they thought it was! And if you’re going to be played by Meryl Streep in a movie, you must be doing something right!
10. Cupcake Wars
Four chefs compete for a cash prize by making cupcakes. Need I say more? It’s the ultimate addictive TV for anyone with a sweet tooth. The cupcakes are judged initially on taste alone until the last few rounds where presentation is everything. That’s when you see the baking skills come out in full force. It’s fascinating how skilled some of these bakers are — and what they can do with a little fondant and crystalized sugar! Added bonus: the show is currently hosted by Jonathan Bennett a.k.a Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls. And yes, his hair does still look sexy pushed back.
9. Everyday Italian
Italian food is always made better by a chef that is actually Italian. And in this case, Giada De Laurentiis is as Italian as it gets. The chef uses her show to update old family recipes for the modern age and give old favorites a healthy twist. Her focus on flavors that taste good and are good for you will keep you hooked. What’s better than a bunch of delicious food you can eat guilt-free?!
8. Food Network Star
During the height of cooking show mania, when Rachel Ray and Ina Garten became legit celebs, everyone wanted a cooking show. And Food Network came to deliver. This competition focuses on cooking skills, on-camera personality, and ability to cope with the stress of network TV. Food Network stars like Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis serve as mentors and give these aspiring chefs the crash course of a lifetime. It’s a feel-good competition that still has a bit of drama but a whole lot of heart, too.
7. Top Chef
As far as reality cooking shows go, this one’s pretty by-the-books. There are several contestants who compete week-to-week in quickfire and elimination challenges until a single winner remains. But just because it’s basic doesn’t mean it’s not completely addicting, though. You never know what the challenges are going to hold or what crazy food the chefs are going to be asked to make in minimal time. The most recent season switches up the format by sending the chefs to Colorado and higher altitudes, making them think about how the change can affect food prep and even eating! Interesting.
6. Throwdown With Bobby Flay
This is an especially different kind of cooking competition. Renowned chef Bobby Flay travels the country challenging chefs at their own game. The unsuspecting cooks often think they’re shooting some Food Network special until they realize they’re going to toe-to-toe with Flay himself. There’s always a challenge where they must cook the chef’s specialty, putting Flay out of his element. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses, and it’s truly “anyone’s game.” Actually, he has lost more than he’s won! The pure spontaneity, and the idea that it’s a different kind of dish every single episode, usually leads to a Throwdown marathon… or ten.
Masterchef is essentially Top Chef on a different network, but it has one key difference: Gordon Ramsay. But it’s not screaming emotionally abusive Ramsay; it’s a kinder more mentor-like Ramsay. The show takes home chefs and throws them into a competition to hone their skills and win the ultimate prize. They’re typically not classically trained, and that’s where Ramsay comes in. He often demos certain techniques — from his famed scrambled eggs to how to cut apart a fish, we all know he knows it all. His knowledge and the skills of the other cooks make this show informative and entertaining.
4. Guy’s Grocery Games
Admit it: you’ve always wanted to shop for whatever you want in an empty grocery store. This show does just that — well, with a few twists. Chefs compete in Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Grocery Store (LOL) in three challenging rounds. Each round has a different twist, whether it’s only being limited to a certain number of items or only being able to shop in certain aisles or something else entirely. This forces the chefs to get increasingly creative as the competition goes on, but they’re also in a race with the clock. The end of the show is ultimate wish-fulfillment. The winner runs around the store with an empty cart collecting all the items Fieri lists off in an attempt to win cold, hard cash.
3. Essence of Emeril
Bam! Emeril Lagasse is one of the most famous TV chefs for a reason! His spicy dishes and signature “bam!” combine to form one of the most entertaining cooking shows of all time. The affable chef’s Essence of Emeril showcases his Cajun and Creole-inspired dishes that range from appetizers to desserts. He also shares how-to tips to inspire home chefs to try things out themselves. Emeril has been a mainstay on TV since the ’90s, from his days in front of a live studio audience to hosting gigs all over reality cooking television. He’s basically the rock star of the cooking world. And we are his biggest fans!
Four chefs compete in three rounds to cook an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Pretty simple right? Wrong! The chefs not only have a time limit but they must use all the surprise ingredients given to them for their dish. This may include cornbread, gummy candy, or ingredients you’ve never even heard of! The trick is combining completely different flavors into a cohesive dish. It’s not always a success, but it sure is fun to watch the chefs try to make it one!
1. Hell’s Kitchen
This is the show you watch for pure, uncensored Gordon Ramsay. The competition pits chefs against each other to try and win a spot leading the kitchen in one of Ramsay’s restaurants. The competitors go through quick challenges and tests each day; then they end the night cooking in groups for the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, giving real stakes to the food they make. If the customers aren’t happy then neither is Ramsay! Ramsay berates the chefs when they fail in an attempt to toughen them up for the difficult road ahead as a head chef. It’s always fun to watch Ramsay go off on some unsuspecting competitor whose bass was “f*cking raw!”