Best Cooking Shows of All Time, Ranked
We've put some very loose parameters in place for what qualifies as a cooking show for this list — essentially, if the main focus of the show was food being cooked and then eaten, you have a shot. But it has to have both components.
That excludes some great shows that focus almost entirely on the eating part, like Jon Favreau's "Table for Five" or the always-viral "Hot Ones" hosted by Sean Evans, as well as excellent scripted shows like "Kitchen Confidential" and "The Bear," which returns for a second season on FX and Hulu in June 2023.
So, which ones are we talking about? These are the absolute best cooking shows of all time.
15. Delicious Miss Brown
Host: Kardea Brown
Years: 2018-present (93 episodes)
Bottom line: Charleston, South Carolina, native and chef Kardea Brown crafted a hit with "Delicious Miss Brown" on The Food Network. It's a homespun show that gives cooking fans an alternative to the fast-paced reality cooking shows that seem to dominate headlines. It's more in line with Julia Child than Gordon Ramsay.
Brown, who films most episodes of the show at her home on Edisto Island, fought back against The Food Network when it tried to get her to temper down an episode that featured a fish fry to fundraise for the famous Hutchinson House on Edisto Island. Instead, Brown crafted a compelling portrait of truths related to the house and its history with slavery and the formerly enslaved people who constructed the house.
14. Hell's Kitchen
Host: Gordon Ramsay
Years: 2005-present (330 episodes)
Bottom line: Gordon Ramsay starred in the American spin-off of the British cooking show of the same name and shot to fame in the mid-2000s, thanks in large part to his fiery personality and no-nonsense approach to the rigors of cooking.
It's important to note that Ramsay's off-the-wall reactions and criticisms of the contestants on the show are very much played up for the camera because he seems somewhat agreeable in real life. "Hell's Kitchen" is a moneymaking juggernaut and has spawned six restaurants of the same name and made Ramsay very, very rich. He reportedly makes upwards of $60 million per year and has a reported net worth of approximately $220 million.
13. Cake Boss
Host: Buddy Valastro
Years: 2009-20 (275 episodes)
Bottom line: If you want to know the true success of a television show — not just a cooking show — you could do a lot worse as a metric than seeing how many spin-offs it produced. For example, "Game of Thrones" has "House of the Dragon." Buddy Valastro's TLC show "Cake Boss" has produced four spin-offs in the last decade, mostly owed in large part to the dynamic between Valastro and his family as they try to run Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Valastro's baking career almost came to an end in 2020, when his hand was impaled by a pin setter in his home bowling alley, but his hand (and possibly life) was saved when two of his sons and his brother-in-law literally sawed off the metal around his hand to get him out of the machine. It's as wild as it sounds.
12. Top Chef
Hosts: Katie Lee and Padma Lakshmi
Years: 2006-present (297 episodes)
Bottom line: There have been six American spin-offs from the original hit cooking series "Top Chef," plus a multitude of international spin-offs as well — thanks in large part to its straightforward, chef versus chef format and its panel of expert judges. It should come as no surprise that "Top Chef" was created by the same production company behind "Project Runway," as they're essentially mirror versions of each other.
This is truly the comfort food of cooking shows, and just like going back for your third plate of pasta, you'll find yourself going back for more helpings of "Top Chef" as you consume episode after episode until infinity.
11. Everyday Italian
Host: Giada De Laurentiis
Years: 2003-08 (212 episodes)
Bottom line: Don't get it twisted — Giada De Laurentiis, the granddaughter of famed movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, was born on third base. But that doesn't mean she's not talented and produced one heck of a cooking show, banging out 212 episodes in just six years and winning a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lifestyle Host in 2008.
Giada De Laurentiis' success with "Everyday Italian" came mainly from her ability to make traditional Italian dishes with American touches, and it has led to a wildly successful career for the host, who evolved the concept into the long-running "Giada at Home" on The Food Network.
10. Man Fire Food
Host: Roger Mooking
Years: 2012-20 (88 episodes)
Bottom line: For some of us, one of the great thrills of eating comes specifically with barbecue and getting the meat sweats — consuming so much wonderfully grilled meat you begin to feel as if it is coming out of your pores.
It's this pursuit of food nirvana that brought us "Man Fire Food," hosted by Roger Mooking, which focuses entirely on his travels to different cities to learn different ways to barbecue. Mooking, who went by MC Mystic as a Canadian rapper in the 1990s, adds gravitas to the show with his diverse background; he was born in Trinidad and Tobago but was raised in Canada by Caribbean and Chinese parents. Let's just say the dude knows a good plate of food when he sees it.
9. Emeril Live
Host: Emeril Lagasse
Years: 1997-2007, 2008-10
Bottom line: "Emeril Live" aired for a decade on The Food Network first, and then it aired for three more years on The Cooking Channel. Host and chef Emeril Lagasse's signature "BAM!" (which he would scream while adding ingredients to different dishes) made the show and its host pop-culture phenomenons.
"Emeril Live" was great because there was no type of food he wouldn't take on, but he always went back to Cajun and Creole dishes when he really wanted to send it home. At its peak, he was drawing in A-List celebrities and the best chefs in the world to come on and cook with him.
8. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Host: Guy Fieri
Years: 2007-present (419 episodes)
Bottom line: You can take all of the high-minded sensibility from critics of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" and the show's host, Guy Fieri, and file it all away under "people who don't like fun and never will."
Originally aired as a one-off special on The Food Network in 2006, "Triple D" became a powerhouse franchise mixing the road-trip concept with an uber-focus on comfort food coming from smaller, non-chain restaurants — episodes typically have a theme around a specific type of food.
While we know Fieri and The Food Network have made truckloads of money off the show, part of its economic impact has been the boost to small restaurants that have to be aware of where every dollar goes. Which is pretty amazing.
7. Iron Chef
Host: Takeshi Kaga
Years: 1993-99 (275 episodes)
Bottom line: The truth about "Iron Chef" is that it's the professional wrestling version of cooking shows — replete with its own kayfabe backstory about host Takeshi Kaga, who is known on the show as Chairman Kaga.
This is one of the oldest shows to make the list. It came from Japan to America without getting "made over" for U.S. audiences, so give the producers credit for knowing not to mess with a good thing. You can make an argument "Iron Chef" has more DNA in common with "American Ninja Warrior" and classic game shows than other cooking shows. This is another reason it made this list — after all, it's OK to think outside the box!
6. The Great British Bake Off
Host: Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith (judges)
Years: 2010-present (124 episodes)
Bottom line: It's a testament to the popularity of "The Great British Bake Off" that in the U.S. (where it's officially called "The Great British Baking Show" because of a Pillsbury copyright on "Bake Off"), we still call it "The Great British Bake Off." So take that, Pillsbury!
For baking, specifically, no show in history has done more. In the U.K. and the U.S., you can trace the spike in the purchase of baking products directly to the show in both places. However, the show isn't without its flaws — the greatest evidence of which was a disastrous, stereotype-filled "Mexican Week" in season 13, which aired in 2022.
5. Barefoot Contessa
Host: Ina Garten
Years: 2002-present (275 episodes)
Bottom line: It was pretty obvious Ina Garten and "Barefoot Contessa" were going to be a hit from the first episode when she gave us a recipe for homemade lemonade and told viewers to add whatever they'd like to spruce up the drink before pausing and adding … "I like to add vodka."
Garten has become famous for her cocktail recipes over the years — her Cosmopolitan/Quarantini recipe from 2020 is legendary — but it's her beautiful Long Island kitchen and the existence of the show as counterprogramming to winner-take-all cooking/reality shows that have kept it rolling.
How'd the show get its name? Garten named it after her first best-selling cookbook, "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," which was named after the 1954 film "The Barefoot Contessa" starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner.
4. Good Eats
Host: Alton Brown
Years: 1999-2011 (234 episodes)
Bottom line: Alton Brown's "Good Eats" is still the third-longest running show in the history of The Food Network behind the dreadful "30 Minute Meals" hosted by Rachael Ray and the brilliant "Barefoot Contessa" hosted by Ina Garten.
This is the show for "food nerds," and Brown, a former music video cinematographer who worked on the R.E.M. video "The One I Love," infused it with his particular brand of quirkiness. The most common feeling coming away from an episode of "Good Eats" is along the lines of: "I thought I knew how to make this basic thing, but I actually did not."
And being better for that fact.
3. Chef's Table
Host: David Gelb (creator)
Years: 2015-22 (38 episodes)
Bottom line: Dave Gelb already had success in this realm after his groundbreaking 2011 documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" became a hit. He made "Chef's Table" for Netflix to serve as a direct follow-up to "Jiro" and employs the same cinematic techniques (translation: fancy) in both projects.
"Chef's Table" isn't really a cooking show in the traditional sense and more like a documentary series in line with other Netflix projects like "Last Chance U." But while "Chef's Table" is most definitely art, it's still most definitely about tasty food, and in addition to its six seasons, there have been an additional four offshoot and miniature seasons focused entirely on a specific place or dish.
2. The French Chef
Host: Julia Child
Years: 1963-73 (201 episodes)
Bottom line: At the heart of Julia Child's success was her personality — charming and kind and creative all at once. "The French Chef" premiered on public television in Boston, Massachusetts, in the early 1960s and pumped out a staggering 201 episodes over 10 seasons. And that doesn't include three different pilot episodes Child filmed that were eventually lost.
Based on a book Child co-authored, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," the popularity of her show endured to the point where re-runs were shown on PBS until 1989 — 16 years after the show's last episode — and have continued to pop up in some form or another on streaming services to this day.
1. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservation / Parts Unknown
Host: Anthony Bourdain
Years (No Reservations): 2005-12 (142 episodes)
Years (Parts Unknown): 2013-18 (104 episodes)
Bottom line: Going with a two-for-one in the top spot on this list is the best tribute we could imagine to the career of the late Anthony Bourdain — perhaps the most famous celebrity chef in the last 50 years.
What Bourdain accomplished with two, travel-meets-cooking shows — "No Reservations" on The Travel Channel and "Parts Unknown" on CNN — transcended what we thought a cooking show could be. Bourdain made a point of getting in touch with the communities he visited. Perhaps the best episode Bourdain ever authored was one chronicling Houston, Texas, on "Parts Unknown" in 2016. His most famous episode? When he interviewed President Barack Obama as the two dined in a restaurant in Vietnam.
Bourdain died by suicide in 2018. He was 61 years old.