Oh the hot, sweaty, delicious days of summer.
Whether you’re living through the recent scorching heat wave in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest, summer is often a time of gathering, vacationing, grilling and eating. And you can celebrate the flavors of summertime without ever picking up a wooden spoon by turning to the wild world of summer cooking shows.
Sure, there are food series on TV all year round, but there’s a certain amount of carefree zaniness that comes with summer programming, from a Fox series that asks bakers to be detectives to a Netflix travelogue that makes fried chicken look sexy. We rounded up five summer cooking shows that are fun, funny and even a bit informative. And if you are so motivated, they might give you some ideas for your next dinner.
5. ‘Top Chef: Amateurs’
Bravo (Thursdays, 9 EDT/PDT)
A breezy half-hour series that serves mostly as an Easter egg hunt for fans of Bravo’s food franchise, “Amateurs” is a yummy quick hit of cooking mania. In each episode, two amateur cooks compete in a short challenge, assisted by one “Chef” alum who offers advice as they try their best to cook dishes for the expert panel of judges, including Gail Simmons. There are jokes aplenty about scallops and former “Chef” disasters, as well as joy and verve from the average Joe contestants, who are living their dreams. The $5,000 cash prize feels almost superfluous (although I’m sure the winners appreciate it).
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Fox (Wednesdays, 8 EDT/PDT)
A longtime summer favorite, the amateur cooking series ups the ante this season with a series of “legendary” judges, from Paula Deen to “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto. Cooking shows that center on amateurs (or even better, amateur kids) always have a sweeter, more aspirational side than those about the tough-as-nails world of professional chefs. Adding pros even more famous than judges Gordon Ramsay, Aarón Sánchez and Joe Bastianich this year gives the new season a fresh feel, and adds more pressure for the home-cook contestants.
3. ‘BBQ Brawl’
Food Network (Mondays, 9 EDT/PDT)
A series that uses the word “brawl” in the title feels like the natural evolution of the hyper-competitive brand of Food Network series that pits opposing chefs as warriors in a thunderdome. No fistfights can be seen on the grill grounds of this series, where chefs including Bobby Flay, Eddie Jackson and Michael Symon choose teams of pitmasters to compete in a series of barbecue challenges. The silly banter between the celebrity chefs and the gorgeous smoked meats that come off the grills make the series an advertisement for a good summer cookout. Maybe a competition with your neighbor over the best ribs is due?
2. ‘Fresh, Fried and Crispy’
Netflix (now streaming)
Food critic Daymon Scott “Daym Drops” Patterson, known for his popular YouTube videos, travels the country in search of hidden deep-fried treasures at restaurants, food trucks and holes-in-the-wall. The series is akin to Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” but Patterson is immensely more appealing than the ubiquitous Guy Fieri. He has no gimmicks or catchphrases, just a deep appreciation for food and the people who make it. The way the series shoots the delectably fried, greasy and sometimes cheesy creations is borderline pornographic. If you aren’t hungry when you start watching, you will be when you finish.
1. ‘Crime Scene Kitchen’
Fox (Wednesdays, 9 EDT/PDT)
I have to admit that I was skeptical when I first heard about this Fox competition series, in which pastry chefs attempt to guess what dessert they are supposed to make based on crumbs, wrappers and other leftover clues in a kitchen where the cake or pie was just baked. As host Joel McHale jokes, it’s a rather ridiculous mashup of baking and detective shows. But between McHale’s meta humor, the genuine culinary mysteries set out by judges Yolanda Gampp and Curtis Stone and the sincerity of its amateur Sherlock contestants, “Crime Scene” works. It’s as addictive as the sugary creations on display, a summer guilty pleasure that may even inspire you to turn on the oven in 90-degree heat.
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