In his book A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain did not hide his disdain for food television. There he was, employed by his nemesis the Food Network, to shill a travel show about eating and drinking around the globe. “Cooking professionally is hard,” Bourdain wrote, while “writing, eating, and making a television show is relatively easy. It beats brunch.” This quote goes a long way toward revealing why so many notable chefs, many of whom are featured in this list, have made the recent transition into media. The only reason Bourdain signed a television contract was to enable the writing of his aforementioned book, begging the question of whether he might just as easily have pivoted to podcasting if the medium was more popular in 2002. But regardless of the format — television, books, podcasts — the same question arises: what’s the point of looking at and talking about food if you can’t actually taste it?
Wiser people than I have failed to provide an answer. Listening to a host narrate the sensation of tasting a freshly shucked oyster will never be the same as eating one yourself. But the popularity of food and cooking shows prove that format can matter just as much as subject. Passionate hosts, engaging descriptions, and a good mixture of relatability, information, and escapism are key to the food podcast format. Every show on this list incorporates these elements, successfully overcoming what Bourdain called the “ludicrous artifice” of food media to produce fresh, moreish entertainment. Here are nine of the best food podcasts:
Momofuku founder David Chang is no stranger to food media. Between his streaming shows (Ugly Delicious; Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) and his podcast (The Dave Chang Show), you might be wondering if Chang has time to cook these days. But we can say for certain that he makes room in his schedule to test three recipes a week for Recipe Club, a podcast that he co-hosts with friend and producer Chris Ying. The premise involves a random ingredient or food — think Spam, chicken parm, eggplant — for which Chang, Ying, and one of a handful of regular guest chefs must suggest a recipe. They then test each other’s recipes and describe their experiences on the show (spoiler: there are many disasters) before voting for their favorite recipe of the week. Originally a segment on his other podcast, Recipe Club proved so popular that it spawned its own show, complete with an active (and opinionated) Facebook group.
Hosted by Samin Nostrat (Salt Fat Acid Heat) and Hrishikesh Hirway (Song Exploder), Home Cooking is a traditional question-and-answer podcast that celebrates the trials and triumphs of cooking in your own kitchen. To stave off lockdown boredom, the pair invited listeners to phone with in their culinary questions, from the practical (“Should I soak beans?”) to the absurd (“Can I make a birthday cake with whole wheat flour?”) Although the mini-series might have come to an end — we’re hopeful it might be revived like last night’s pizza — Home Cooking now provides the perfect binge listen. The show is a snapshot into a difficult year that makes the very best out of a few ingredients: talented hosts, zealous listeners, and way too much spare time.
Food is big business. Romanticize it all we like, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that eating — and spending money on eating— is economically vital. The food industry employs millions of people globally; when restaurants closed during the pandemic, the importance of an often-undervalued sector came into full relief. Eater’s Digest is a podcast that keeps you informed about the economics of the food industry. The show takes you into the Eater newsroom to explore topics such as Government Aid for struggling restaurants and Oatly’s IPO float. Even to the financially-illiterate (“Oatly’s IPO float” sounds like a great name for a milkshake), Eater’s Digest breaks down economic news stories in a format that is entertaining and accessible.
If you’re familiar with Alex, it’s likely because of his popular YouTube channel “Alex French Guy Cooking,” in which he utilizes his background in electrical engineering to take home cooking to near-obsessive levels of ingenuity. At one point he “hacked” his oven to cook pizza at a temperature so hot the video was taken down. You’ll also know that Alex is a bit of a food nerd. And French. On Food, But We Digress…, Alex and his editor Joshua have light-hearted conversations about the fun and frustration of taking home cooking seriously. When attempting to answer some of food’s most urgent questions — “Vietnamese pho or Japanese ramen?” and “grassy tea or soupy coffee?” — Alex and Joshua rarely stay on topic, but that’s part of the show’s charm. Food, But We Digress… is exactly what it says on the tin — perfect background listening for when you’re in the kitchen.
Comedian Dan Ahdoot believes in the old phrase “you are what you eat,” but his interpretation isn’t what you’d expect. Dan has a novel technique for breaking the ice with his guests: he asks them to send him photographs of the inside of their fridges, revealing tastes for unexpectedly pedestrian ingredients — and just a little bit of caviar. Would you expect anything less from a celebrity chef? Although we still can’t taste the food, these photographs give us a visual flavor of Dan’s famous guests, including renowned chefs and food writers such as Padma Lakshmi and Jaques Pépin. Green Eggs and Dan achieves excellent pacing through rapid questions, bringing out the best of a chef’s “rock star” personality. If you can tolerate his sycophantic hosting style, there are four seasons of Green Eggs and Dan to satisfy your appetite.
The first season of Yoh Yi Jun’s podcast caught the attention of Vanity Fair and Nat Geo for a reason. Take a Bao tells Asian food stories. Jun is a Malaysian food blogger and a regular contributor to Taste. Both his podcast and blog, Jun & Tonic, have a consistent aesthetic: sleek and vibrant. But where his photography is notably minimal, his recipes are ambitious. Think wine jellies, matcha Neopolitan cookies, kimchi carbonara…you will want to take a bite out of your screen. His podcast, Take a Bao, is just as mouthwatering. It explores topics such as the origins of rendang (“It’s not curry, it’s rendang!”) and the zen in every cup of tea, with episode highlights including a story about the disappearing coffee houses of Malaysia.
There are plenty of great food activism podcasts out there. Politics of Food and KCRW’s Good Food, to name just two of them. There are others, such as Rebel Eater’s Club, that intersect racial and political issues with those around body image, and the discussion taking place in the podcast sphere on these subjects is diverse and overdue. Black Girls Eating is a new podcast that launched in March. After her stint on Masterchef, Tanorria Askew started Black Girls Eating with co-host Candace Boyd (FoodLoveTog) to have conversations about Black culture’s contribution to the food we all enjoy. Their show makes this list of the best food podcasts because it combines social justice issues with a hosting style at once irreverent and informative. Askew and Boyd haven’t just pulled up a seat. They’ve built their own table. A bi-monthly conversation, Black Girls Eating is all about “justice, Black Girl Magic and well-seasoned food,” but it’s also about Askew and Boyd’s friendship. Their ease and humor make for easy listening, a sign that this show will go far.
Put simply, The Food That Binds is the cooking world’s answer to the Longform Podcast. The show adopts an interview format that focuses on the narrative of its guests’ lives and careers; in the case of The Food That Binds, those guests include some of the country’s most respected chefs, including Ron Hsu and Kevin Gillespie. As a restaurant critic and food writer, host Jennifer Zyman knows how to turn what we cook into a good story. In fewer than 10 episodes, Zyman has established a winning format, and while the show can veer into sentimental territory, The Food That Binds reminds us that talking about food, and its role in our lives, is bound to get emotional.
From the San Francisco Chronicle, the Extra Spicy podcast features a medley of ideas, stories, and current affairs. Hosted by Soleil Ho and Justin Phillips, the show reflects the best of “magazine-style” podcasting by leaping between topics without sacrificing intrigue or nuance. The show’s goal is to “stimulate your mind and your appetite” by analyzing bizarre food trends, diet culture, and angry celebrity chefs. Ho and Phillips have a great on-air rapport, but the best part of Extra Spicy is the blend of local Bay Area culture and stories from around the world.
Alice Florence Orr is a staff writer for Podcast Review and is based in Edinburgh. Her work has appeared in Scottish Review, Like The Wind, and Nomad Journal. You can connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.