Novice chefs and the time-constrained who want to cook at home without much fuss can appreciate meal subscription services, which ship you the recipes, cooking tips, and exact amounts of ingredients you need to prepare dishes. Home Chef is one of those services, along with, Blue Apron (our Editors’ Choice), HelloFresh, and Plated. These services don’t differ too much in either ease of enrollment or pricing options; mainly, the differences lie in how straightforward the instructions are, the freshness and quality of ingredients, packaging, and most importantly, the end product: Are you happy with the food you made and what you learned? Home Chef has some of the simplest meals to make, but they aren’t all exciting. Depending on a household’s collective palate, this could be a plus.
Enrolling in the service is simple. The first screen asks which types of food you like to eat: meat, seafood, or vegetables (you can select more than one, thankfully). You can also state whether you want to avoid specific ingredients, such as nuts, soy, and gluten, and select preferences for low-carb or low-calorie recipes. Conveniently, when you input your shipping details, you can choose when you want your first delivery; other services default to the first available week, which can result in little to no time to decide to skip that order. Home Chef states upfront that you’ll be charged immediately for this first delivery.
Home Chef offers a lot of plan variants: anywhere from two to six meals per week, for two, four, or six people. Pricing is straightforward; you pay $9.95 per serving for whichever plan you choose. Shipping is free for orders of more than $45 a week, but only the very slimmest plan (two meals for two people) winds up costing less than $45. Shipping is $10 per week for that plan; adding a smoothie ($4.95 each serving) to that order is enough to earn free shipping. If you have strict dietary preferences, you could end up with only one or two meals to choose from; for example, if you select only vegetables and avoid milk as an ingredient. If you have only one meal option you’ll have to add more to the order to meet the delivery minimum (two meals) or skip that one. Home Chef also gives you a heads up if you haven’t met the free shipping threshold.
Other add-on options are breakfast ($9.95 per serving) and a seasonal fruit basket ($4.95 per serving). There are sometimes “premium” meals available at market price. It’s fun to have these add-on options, and you can include them in every delivery or just the current one.
Home Chef makes deliveries from Tuesday through Friday. Delivery day options vary based on where you live, but in Manhattan all four of those days are available. Having only four delivery days can be limiting, though; Blue Apron, for example, offers delivery options seven days a week, varying based on your ZIP code.
Once you give up your billing information, you move on to the fun part: choosing meals. Home Chef recommends meals based on your taste preferences, but you can swap them out for any other meals that are on the menu for that week. You can also refine your Taste Profile with more granular preferences, such as liking or avoiding bone-in or skin-on meat or even identifying which ingredients you don’t mind, such as milk or nuts.
Click on the meal’s module, and you see the recipe card with the ingredients, step-by-step instructions, and what you need to supply at home. We like that you can see all the recipe steps upfront to determine if you want to make it or not, as many meal-kit competitors display only the ingredients before the order is shipped out. We tried Swiss and Asparagus Stuffed Chicken and Bone-In Pork Chop with Smoky Maple Butter for our first week.
Some of Home Chef’s recipes include pre-prepped vegetables, which saves a lot of time. There are also no-cook recipes, including 5-minute lunches like a steak salad with pre-cooked meat. If you need kitchenware, Home Chef sells skillets, pans, knives, mixing bowls, and more, as well as kosher salt and olive oil.
The Home Chef Experience
The boxes all arrived on the chosen day. There’s a lot of packaging—insulation, cold gel packs, and cardboard—which is similar to most of the other services. Home Chef uses “recycled cotton-enhanced, textile fibers” as an insulator. Plated uses jute as an insulator; both seem to be better eco-options than inflated plastic or Styrofoam. Of course, the insulation and cooling are necessary to keep your ingredients fresh in transit and while it waits for you to get home. Everything was well packed and cold when we opened the boxes.
Ingredients for each meal are in bags, which makes it easy to pull together what you need before you cook. Blue Apron is the only service that doesn’t sort ingredients by meal, which uses less packaging but is a bit tedious when it comes time to separate the ingredients for cooking.
The recipes are mainly clear and easy to follow, with colorful photos to help you along. Depending on your skill level, you might need to study up on how to mince, as opposed to chopping coarsely, and the difference between boiling and simmering. Home Chef sends a binder with your first order, and the recipe cards have pre-punched holes so you can file them away easily. None of the other services we tested offer a storage solution for recipe cards.
Once in a while, we hit a wall when prepping a meal. For example, a recipe for quick-braised salmon said to check the internal temperature of the fish, but there was no mention of that in the preparation tips, so anyone without a cooking thermometer will be out of luck. We recommend thoroughly reading each recipe before starting to cook. And we couldn’t always achieve the look on the recipe cards; our stuffed chicken fell apart immediately, but still tasted fine. Overall, the food we made was simple but tasty. (Broccoli Mash sounded awful but was one of our favorite dishes.) As with the other services, portions are generous, so if you like leftovers, you’re in luck. After you cook a meal, you can rate it on a scale of 1 to 5 on the website.
Canceling the service was as simple as “pausing” the account online, with the option of reactivating it any time. Home Chef sends the occasional email to remind you of that, but it’s not excessive.
Help and Extras
The FAQ on Home Chef’s website is a little more sparse than other services, but it answered our questions. The contact page lets you email a question or problem, and there’s also a phone number for a call center that’s open during business hours.
Home Chef’s blog, The Table, offers recipes, resources, and stories about food, such as Ingredient Spotlight, A Brief History of Al Fresco Dining, Killer Tailgate Treats for the Big Games, and The Facts About Food Waste. That’s also where you can find a few specifics on how to recycle packaging. The company also has active Facebook and Instagram pages.
Simple But Homey Meals
Home Chef is less flashy than other services—you won’t find much chatter about locally sourced food, recycling options, or global cuisine. But it delivers on its simple, homey promise: “Home Chef saves time, reduces food waste, and most importantly, brings people together around the dinner table.” You’ll also learn some handy techniques and garner good, reusable recipes, as each of these services provides, and we liked the ability to add smoothies or fruit baskets to our order. Blue Apron is still our Editors’ Choice in this category, for its great tutoring, careful packaging, ease of use, and tasty meals.