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20 Best Cooking Shows Of All Time Ranked

The wonderful HBO series "Julia" portrays a world where Julia Child had a cooking show on the air so early in the history of television that it wasn't even yet a given that everyone had a TV set in their homes. Considering that "The French Chef" debuted in 1963, it's easy to assume that this was the case back then. However, cooking shows have been a part of the fabric of television for about as long as any other type of show, and they've only grown in ubiquity over the subsequent decades.

Something that these shows often remind us of is that as different as we all might be, one of the things that everyone has in common is that we have to eat. To do that, we have to make something to eat. Okay, not everyone cooks, but most of us try to as often as we can, anyway – and that's where cooking shows come in. More than just teaching us how to prepare meals, cooking shows can also double as travelogues, be part of competitions, serve as the backdrop for the news of the day, or be our connection to cultures we might not otherwise interact with.

These shows are the best of all those, and our list spans from the literal beginning of the cooking show genre to its modern incarnations. As a note, this list focuses on cooking shows rather than shows that are mostly about baking — sorry, "Great British Baking Show."  

20. MasterChef

While there are plenty of people who can't stand Gordon Ramsey, both in the cooking world and just in the pop culture zeitgeist in general, there's no denying that he knows how to put together entertaining cooking shows. While he may not have created or hosted the original UK version of "MasterChef," Gordon Ramsay had already made a name for himself with previous TV series and was the perfect choice to front the American iteration.

There is no shortage of cooking competitions on TV, but what "MasterChef" attempts to do differently is place a greater focus on the stories behind the chefs. They can be overwrought, and Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times stated that the stories sometimes feel "simple and familiar," but it usually makes for compelling television nonetheless. The show has been adapted to dozens of countries and has a bevy of spin-offs that include "MasterChef Junior" and "MasterChef Latino," proving it's a formula that clearly works.

19. Man Fire Food

Most cooking shows feature barbeque in some form, but there aren't nearly enough shows that focus entirely on barbeque – which is a major oversight given that it's such a popular cuisine in so many regions. It isn't the type of thing that should just be relegated to a single theme episode of a cooking show, and chef Roger Mooking realized that. To fix that, Mooking launched the series "Man Fire Food" on the Cooking Channel in 2012.

However, "Man Fire Food" isn't strictly about barbeque. It's also about cooking over fire in general. Mooking not only demonstrates his techniques but also visits the homes and restaurants of fellow flame cooking masters to see the many different ways food can be cooked over an open flame. Viewers see the obvious staples and the more unusual choices of foods that people don't normally associate with being cooked over fire. The show also features various pits, smokers, and other apparatuses that are used for cooking with fire, helping budding pitmasters to pick the right equipment for their own flaming culinary adventures.  

18. The Great Food Truck Race

Food trucks have been playing an increasingly larger role in the restaurant world over the last decade or so, and it stands to reason that there be a show that puts the spotlight on these restaurants on wheels. It needs to be pointed out that "The Great Food Truck Race" is as much about the business of running a food truck, as well as being a literal race, as it is about the cooking that goes on inside the trucks. Still, there is a fair amount of focus on the cooking, and it's fascinating to see how the backs of trucks can be turned into places where high-quality gourmet meals are prepared.

In order to get attention, a food truck needs to be eye-catching and have some sort of fun gimmick, and that's a huge part of what makes "The Great Food Truck Race" so entertaining. In every episode, viewers get to see these larger-than-life personalities acting almost like carnival barkers on the streets to bring in customers to their trucks – and those trucks have plenty of personality on their own. 

17. The Kitchen

Having a cooking segment has long been a staple of talk shows, but why not just have a talk show that is entirely built around cooking? There have been a few attempts at this, including "The Chew" and "The Good Dish," but none have done it nearly as well as the Food Network's simply-named "The Kitchen." Debuting in 2014 and still on the air, the show features a panel of hosts that includes Sunny Anderson ("Cooking For Real"), Jeff Mauro ("Sandwich King"), Katie Lee ("Iron Chef America"), and Alex Guarnaschelli ("Chopped"). Marcela Valladolid was one of the original hosts but left "The Kitchen" in 2017.

Each host shares personal stories and experiences involving preparing and eating food, giving the show a more personal feel than many cooking shows have. It doesn't wade into fashion or news like other similar shows, but that's to its benefit as it keeps it more focused and polished. Beyond that, the recipes shared are designed to be of the more simple variety, the type that someone might be able to realistically whip up during or right after the show. 

16. Hell's Kitchen

It's loud and it's cartoonish, but Gordon Ramsay takes his yelling bully persona to a ridiculous extreme. However, "Hell's Kitchen" is an undeniably fun guilty pleasure cooking show, and there is a reason why it's one of the few to actually be on regular network television (Fox) rather than a cable channel — all while being extremely successful there to boot. 

Foodies might have trouble enjoying the show, and viewers certainly don't actually learn anything from it other than that they wouldn't ever want to work in a kitchen run by Ramsay. Still, there's room in every genre for this type of fast-paced, style-over-substance type of reality show, and cooking is no exception. Just how popular is "Hell's Kitchen"? Popular enough to be one of the few cooking shows to have its very own video game adaptations (yes, adaptations, plural). In fact, it's also one of the few whose format could have a video game adaptation in the first place. 

15. Barefoot Contessa

When a cooking show hits, it really hits, and it stays on the air for literally decades. Such is the case for "Barefoot Contessa," which premiered on the Food Network in 2002 and continues to air to this day. This makes it the currently oldest Food Network show to still be airing during the daytime hours, which is an impressive milestone indeed. 

The hook is that host Ina Garten is in her own home kitchen and prepares a meal that she will later serve to family and friends at a dinner party at her house. It seems like an obvious angle for a cooking show, yet Garten was one of the first to do it, and "Barefoot Contessa" remains the gold standard for that type of show. It also stood out from most of its competitors when it debuted for having a more cinematic feel, featuring a lot of quick cuts, dramatic pans, and long close-ups of various stages of the cooking and serving process. 

In a world where there are more and more competition-based cooking shows that are all about being fast and fun, the chill vibe of "Barefoot Contessa" remains the welcome change of pace from its peers that it's always been.

14. East Meets West

Like with barbeque, plenty of shows feature Asian cuisine but not nearly enough – at least not ones that air in the United States – are entirely about Asian cuisine. In the case of the underrated "East Meets West" – sometimes known as "East Meets West with Ming Tsai" – chef Tsai showcases dishes that fuse Asian and European cuisine into some truly unique meals. Beyond that, when the show aired from 1998 to 2003 on the Food Network, Asian fusion was still on the rise and wasn't quite as widespread as it would become. So, in that way, the show was ahead of its time.

Much of what made "East Meets West" special, however, was Ming Tsai himself. He was one of the most infectious personalities on television at the time, cooking show or otherwise, and his fun and friendly approach instantly drew you in. For a few years there into the mid-2000s, Tsai was a rising celebrity chef, crossing over into appearances on shows such as the beloved PBS animated series "Arthur." He faded out of the limelight a bit after that, hopefully by his own choice, because it's hard to imagine the world was remotely sick of him. 

13. America's Test Kitchen

Julia Child isn't the only PBS cooking institution. "America's Test Kitchen," which debuted in 2001 and has aired a remarkable 500 episodes and counting, has been on the TV screens of American kitchens for more than twice as long as Child was. The show explores the world of test cooks, whose job it is to test out meals for restaurants and other purposes and determine what does and doesn't work, what could be improved, and ultimately if the dish is even viable for its intended purpose.

The Test Kitchen itself is a real thing, doing work for the magazines "Cook's Illustrated" and "Cook's Country," something that has been replicated in recent years with things like "Bon Appetit" magazine's YouTube channel. Still, "America's Test Kitchen" was the original, and it remains the definitive show of its type. The YouTube shows it inspired may be all the rage now, but they will likely continue to come and go while "America's Test Kitchen" will keep rolling along. 

12. Everyday Italian

One of the biggest names in celebrity cooking is Giada De Laurentiis, a mainstay on both her own shows as well as guest spots and appearances on many others. While "Giada at Home" was her first big show where she was front and center, it's "Everyday Italian" that arguably remains her definitive cooking series.

Another show that follows the "Barefoot Contessa" tradition of having a cinematic look, "Everyday Italian" sees De Laurentiis showcase traditional Italian dishes while showing audiences how to prepare them more simply, and often with various American cuisine-inspired angles and flourishes. Keeping with the show's vibe of being about Italian family cooking, "Everyday Italian" often features members of De Laurentiis' family, either teaching her recipes or assisting her in creating her own. De Laurentiis is a natural star, and her charismatic personality and confident screen presence are a big part of why this show has been on the air for nearly 20 years. 

11. Cutthroat Kitchen

Alton Brown is going to make several appearances on this list, but we'll dig more into that when we get to his signature show. For now, we're going to look at the extremely fun and innovative cooking competition he hosted that is aptly titled "Cutthroat Kitchen." What sets it apart from the many, many other cooking competitions is the sabotage angle. Each contestant starts the show with a bank of cash, which they can "spend" on various things throughout – from advantages for themselves to things that negatively affect their competitors. There is an incentive to try and not to spend too much, however, as the winner gets to keep whatever cash they haven't spent.

It's a really neat twist that helped to set "Cutthroat Kitchen" apart within a very crowded genre. Unfortunately, it only lasted four years, while many of its less-innovative competitors live on. Still, it was nice to see a cooking competition show do something truly different with the concept, and hopefully "Cutthroat Kitchen" will inspire future shows. 

10. Emeril Live

Julia Child might have been one of the first chefs who was a true household name – and she was definitely a celebrity in almost every sense of the word. Still, the distinction of "first celebrity chef" typically goes to Emeril Lagasse. What set him apart from Child is that he actually wanted to be a celebrity, and he fully embraced it by playing into his larger-than-life screen presence and his "Bam!" catchphrase. Child had her various catchphrases too, but she wasn't saying them in commercials while starring in her own sitcom.

While Lagasse had his irons in many fires, especially at the height of his popularity in the '90s and into the mid-2000s, the anchor of his fame was always his series "Emeril Live." What set it apart from other cooking shows at the time is that he filmed it in front of a live audience, something that is still fairly rare among cooking shows. It almost had a talk show-esque feel and even included a house band. There are so many ways that "Emeril Live" and Lagasse himself set the stage for the last two decades of cooking shows and celebrity chefs that he has cemented his legacy indefinitely. 

9. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

Guy Fieri isn't everyone's flavor — or their flavortown, to be more specific. His overly energetic nature, tendency to talk right at the camera, and his love of cheesy one-liners will be too much for some people. Still, there's no denying that his "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" is one of the all-time great cooking shows – and yes, his personality is a pretty big part of why.

Showcasing those legendary local hole-in-the-wall spots rather than five-star restaurants and snooty eateries, "Triple D" as he often calls it, is a great way to explore the stops that most of us truly want to make when we take road trips. Fieri is also more than willing to share the screen with the local chefs and owners who run these restaurants, letting them tell their stories and giving viewers a peek into how they make the foods that are the favorites of locals and tourists alike. Sure, he seems to absolutely love everything he tries, but if that helps get people to check these places out, what's the harm in a little overselling? 

8. Chopped

Of all the cooking competitions out there, "Chopped" and its various spin-offs feel like the one that is trying to be the classiest and feel more like a sport than just a game. Each episode features a unique element that the competitors don't know about until it is revealed just before the competition begins, and they have only a minute or so to decide how to integrate it into a multi-course meal before the clock starts ticking.

It's one of those cases of a show that doesn't do anything especially different but does it all with a level of polish and professionalism that most of its peers lack. That's not to say the show is stuffy and overly serious because there is plenty of fun to be had. It's just a nice alternative to the scrappier nature of other cooking reality shows, one that doesn't give in to too much flash, gimmickry, or interpersonal drama. 

7. Chef's Table

The newest entry on this list is Netflix's "Chef's Table," which quickly established its place among the great cooking shows in a fairly short time. Netflix has built up a pretty respectable amount of cooking and foodie content, from Jon Favreau's "The Chef Show" to novelty baking competitions like "Nailed It!" and "Is It Cake?" However, rising far above the rest is "Chef's Table," where each episode centers around a specific renowned chef and both their professional and personal life.

Netflix is rarely shy about spending money on its original properties, even shows like this – which is why "Chef's Table" looks, feels, and sounds very much like a show that has had no expense spared on it. Each episode is almost like its own separate documentary about that chef, such is the amount of work put into each one. It is sometimes accused of being pretentious and not nearly as accessible as other cooking shows (per Vox), and maybe both of those things are true — but they are only criticisms if you take them that way. 

6. 30 Minute Meals

Rachael Ray has long been one of the more down-to-earth celebrity chefs, someone you could actually imagine being your friend and neighbor. Her approachable nature shines through in everything she does, particularly her long-running show "30 Minute Meals." Like the title suggests, the show is about Ray presenting an entire meal that can be prepped, prepared, and plated in under a half hour, as most people don't have entire days to devote to cooking on a regular basis, it's legitimately helpful to have a bank of meals in your back pocket that you can realistically get onto your table in short order.

Ray has more shows to her name than almost any other celebrity chef, and a few of them are duds. However, "30 Minute Meals" stands above the rest, not only in terms of practicality but just in being the best showcase for Ray's special brand of relatability. Unlike most cooking shows, Ray spills, she makes mistakes, and her food doesn't always come out Insta-worthy – but that's exactly why "30 Minute Meals" is such a treat to watch. 

5. Top Chef

The most prolific of cooking competition shows is "Top Chef," with not only a long-running base series but numerous spin-offs. The angle that makes it so compelling is that it feels like a combination of a cooking show and a reality show, having the chefs live together and following their lives both during the competition and outside of it. Imagine "Chopped" meets "The Real World" — if you're old enough to remember "The Real World."

It's a delicious mix, and it works surprisingly well. You get all of the excitement of a cooking competition, and then you get the drama of the in-fighting and backstabbing that happens "behind the scenes," as it were. The food and the cooking smartly remain the focus, however, and even taking it as a straight cooking competition show, "Top Chef" is still one of the best. It's a bit surprising more shows haven't tried this type of thing, but it's not always easy to beat the best. 

4. Iron Chef

A relatively small number of cooking shows from other countries are ever exported here, with American production companies instead preferring to do their own adaptations instead of simply translating or dubbing the original. While there would eventually be "Iron Chef America," the Japanese original also aired here as-is, and there is a good reason for that. Japanese competition shows are amazing in the way the competitors embrace novelty and the way in which both the announcers and judges treat every moment with earnest, life-or-death seriousness. 

All iterations of "Iron Chef" are great, but unlike the difference between "Ninja Warrior" and "American Ninja Warrior," there's nothing like the original. Either way, you can't go wrong with the granddaddy of all cooking competitions, no matter which iteration you choose. An updated version, "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend," came to Netflix in 2022 and is hosted by – who else – Alton Brown. 

3. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Though it is arguably a travelogue first and foremost – it aired on the Travel Channel, as a matter of fact – and is largely about human connection, "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" is still very much a cooking show. Besides the fact that star Anthony Bourdain is a chef who put himself on the celebrity map with a book about working in kitchens, the show always comes back to food and the way it is prepared, served, and shared in various places all across the globe.

The show always had a somewhat bittersweet and poignant tone, even more so in retrospect following Bourdain's passing in 2018. Much of the show is about how isolated we often feel and how the sharing of food is one of the few universal things that brings us all together. Whether visiting a famous tourist destination or a tiny village that few people have heard of, "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" has put food on screen that, in some cases, literally only dozens of people were previously aware of. And that will live on forever. 

2. The French Chef

"The French Chef" was bound to be included here just out of pure reverence for Julia Child's contributions to the cooking show genre, but it goes beyond that. Despite being one of the first, and despite dozens — maybe hundreds — of cooking shows coming after it, "The French Chef" truly does remain one of the all-time great cooking shows even beyond its staggering legacy. 

The world felt a lot smaller in the 1960s, and many Americans were barely aware of any sort of cuisine that wasn't strictly "American." So the mere concept of showing people French food was already a major source of innovation for the show, and actually teaching them how to cook it really sealed the deal. Still, at the end of the day, what made the show famous was Child herself, the very definition of a larger-than-life personality whose infectious smile and endlessly positive attitude truly did teach an entire generation the joy of cooking. 

1. Good Eats

There are plenty of celebrity chefs and people who have more screen credits on cooking shows than Samuel L. Jackson has in MCU movies, but few have reached the type of ubiquity as Alton Brown has achieved. Just look at how many shows on this list he is either the host of or has at least made some sort of appearance on. However, it all started with a little show called "Good Eats," and there is a reason why it has led to him being the face of cooking shows over the last few decades – it's simply the best cooking show of all time.

Not only does Brown pepper the episodes of "Good Eats" with fun skits and characters, but he breaks down food and cooking in a way that no show had done before and few have done since. He never assumes you have this tool or that ingredient like many shows do, nor does he presume that you will want to reach for a dictionary as he tosses off culinary terms you've probably never heard of. "Good Eats" truly teaches you about food and also manages to entertain and make you laugh while it does so. Whether it's the simply named original or its various revivals, "Good Eats" will be hard to beat no matter how long cooking shows exist.