Must-See TV: The Best Cooking Shows to Watch When It's Just Too Hot To Leave Home

It’s official. We’re in the dog days of summer, and while picnics, barbecues, and poolside margaritas are fun in theory, there are times when it’s so freakin’ hot out that leaving the comfort of your cool, climate-controlled home – how did we survive before a/c? – is unthinkable. What to do? Watch TV, of course. But not just any TV: food TV!

Thanks to early cooking show hosts Nitza Villapol, James Beard and Julia Child, there is now a food-related reality TV show for every imaginable audience. Below are our picks for best cooking shows to watch this summer. (And don’t worry; we won’t tell if you don’t actually use your oven again until October.) Happy viewing!

1. Food Fighters

Food Fighters

One part cooking competition, one part game show, the recently premiered Food Fighters pits amateur home cooks against celebrity chefs. The challenge? Prepare the home cook’s signature dish. The reward? A cash prize that increases every time the amateur outcooks the pros. Adam Richman of The Travel Channel’s Man v. Food hosts. Of Food Fighterscelebrity chef Lorena Garcia (one of five pro chef challengers) told that, although she’s a competitor, she’s also rooting for the contestants to win the grand prize. “I am sure this money can make a huge difference in their lives,” said Garcia. Food Fighters airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC.

2. Taco Trip

Taco Trip

Though not a series, this one-hour special is worth checking out, thanks in large part to its host. In Taco TripChef Aaron Sanchez, the tattooed charmer best known for his co-hosting of Heat Seekers and numerous appearances on The Food Network’s Chopped, is approachable, curious, and charismatic. He’s also inspired by – which inspires us – the creative tacos he encounters on his cross-country adventure, among them tacos de cecina and mahi mahi a la plancha. Check the Cooking Channel and its website for replays. (Original air date: April 27, 2014)

3. My Country, My Kitchen

My Country, My Kitchen

If you subscribe to the ‘food is about memories’ philosophy (and we do), then My Country, My Kitchen is the show for you. In this two season series that preceded the foodie revolution – it ran from 2001 to 2002 – top chefs return to their homeland to revisit their culinary roots and explore the flavors, foods and cultural inspirations that influenced their cooking. Latin cuisine is heavily featured – among the best episodes are Rick Bayless in Mexico, Michelle Bernstein in Argentina, Norman Van Aken in Miami, and Eric Ripert in Andorra – though destinations also include Vietnam, South India, China, southern France and the American South. It’s a great way to experience regional customs, traditions and foods without getting on a plane, and provides insight to the breathtaking diversity our world has to offer. Visit the Food Network and its website for viewing options.

4. America's Test Kitchen

America’s Test Kitchen

Like bells and whistles, gross-out eating contests, and bombastic hosts shouting at you from your TV screen? If you answered yes, America’s Test Kitchen probably isn’t for you. For 13 seasons, this PBS cooking show has been serving up fantastic recipes and kitchen instructions in a simple, straightforward format that adheres to the principles of honest food and respect for ingredients and technique. Filmed in a real, working test kitchen that is the home of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, each 30-minute episode features two to three recipes centered on a theme. Past topics include A Taste of Spain, South of the Border Supper, and Tostadas and Empanadas, as well as episodes focused on the cuisine of Austria, Asian takeout favorites and Irish comfort food. The series is ongoing. Check local listings for air times.

5. Mexican Made Easy

Mexican Made Easy

There are many reasons to love this show: delicious recipes; respect for Mexican cuisine and culture; mouthwatering food shots. But perhaps the biggest reason to watch is its generous, fun loving, and utterly adorable – seriously, you will want to be friends with her – host, Chef Marcela Valladolid. Though she comes in a diminutive package, make no mistake: Valladolid is a powerhouse in the kitchen, and her simple techniques and no-fuss approach to authentic Mexican favorites have been known to win over even the most seasoned home chef. Inspired by her upbringing in both Mexico and Southern California, Valladolid transforms stereotypes of Latin cuisine into healthy and easy-to-prepare Mexican meals. Mexican Made Easy airs Fridays at 1:30/12:30c on the Food Network.