A Chopped at home challenge is a fun way to use up random pantry ingredients and get your family involved in cooking!
This is the perfect way to reduce food waste and use up pantry ingredients you didn’t even know you have, or don’t know why you bought! Instead of being disappointed by a weird meal with ingredients you wouldn’t normally pair together, make it into a creative game and get the whole family involved!
What is a Chopped Challenge?
A Chopped Challenge is a competition made from the Food Network show, Chopped. In the show, professional chefs get a mystery basket filled with random foods. The challenge is to combine all the foods in the basket into a creative dish. You can do a Chopped challenge at home with your own set of foods!
In the show, there is a panel of judges who judge them based on their level of creativity, how well the dish tastes, use of all the ingredients, and how well it’s plated (does it look good or gross?).
The Food Network has also put on a Chopped at Home Challenge in the past, inviting viewers to submit their recipes using the basket ingredients! It was sponsored by Sargento Cheese so was sometimes referred to as “Sargento Chopped at Home Challenge”. You can see the past winners here.
Even though the official competition is no longer running, you can have a lot of fun with your family using up random pantry ingredients and trying new recipes while doing your own version of a Chopped challenge!
How to do a Chopped Challenge at home?
There are 2 main ways you can approach the Chopped Challenge at home:
1. Competition style, with 2 or more teams and a judge
2. Teamwork style, with 1 team and no judging, or self-judging
Both ways are lots of fun but I’ll add a bit more detail below so you can choose which one is right for you.
But first, here’s what you need to do no matter what style of competition you choose to do:
- Create a Chopped mystery basket of foods that need to be included in the end dish. You don’t need a literal basket, but if you have baskets, you can use them to add to the effect. Otherwise you can use a large bowl, or even just stack the ingredients at the workstation
- You can do a single round or 3 rounds, like the show (appetizer, entree, dessert). Obviously the more rounds you do, the more complicated it is, so I recommend starting with just one if it’s your first time (and especially with kids!)
- Decide on your time limit in advance. I recommend 30-90 minutes. 30 minutes would be good for very simple ideas that don’t require a lot of prep or cooking. This works well for kids. You could also use the 30 minute time limit for more advanced cooks to add an additional challenge. Give yourselves up to 90 minutes of cooking time if you want to make something more elaborate or that might take a long time.
- Agree on the judging criteria and rules before you start
- All basket ingredients must be included in the final dish
- You can use any other ingredient in the kitchen needed to create your dish
Option 1: Chopped Competition Style Challenge
To do a Chopped competition make 2 or more baskets with the same ingredients and have each person (or team) compete against each other.
Teams compete for or share resources in the kitchen (like the oven).
Each team is judged on the outcome of their dish and there will be winners and losers.
This is a great option for bigger families (3+ people), people who love competition, or if you want to make your challenge as close to the real Food Network Chopped as possible.
Option 2: Chopped Teamwork Style Challenge
In this option, there is just one basket and you work together to make the best meal possible.
You can have a small team and a judge, or just the team. If you don’t have a judge, then rate yourselves and discuss what worked and what didn’t.
There is no competition, and therefore no winner or loser. The fun comes from collaborative creativity and trying something new!
This is a great option for 2-3 people, or families who prefer a fun experience without clear winners and losers. Our family hates competition so this is the option that we choose.
Time needed: 1 hour.
Steps for how to do a Chopped Challenge:
Note: Skip steps 1-3 if you only have 1 team
- Choose the teams
Divide your family into teams, plus a judge (optional). Each team can be an individual, a pair, or a small group.
If you want an official judge, that person shouldn’t be on any team. You could have the parent’s do the challenge while the kids judge the dishes, or have older kids do the competition while the adults are the judges!
Depending on the size of your family and the age of your kids, make the teams so that it’s fair for everyone.
- Agree on the rules
Is this a cut-throat competition with a first come first served attitude, or a collaborative competition where everyone works together and shares resources?
For example, there’s only one oven, so communicate beforehand to decide what you’ll do if both teams want to use the same equipment for their recipe. Does the first team to use it get it, forcing the second team to change their plans, or will you share it?
- Set up work station(s)
Set up a work station for each team in your kitchen. Depending on your kitchen, you might have a separate counter space for each team, or one team at the counter, another at the table. If you have a super tiny kitchen, I’d opt for the teamwork style challenge instead.
- Set up the basket(s)
Make a basket of mystery food for each team. The baskets should all have the same ingredients.
If you only have one can of something, but more than one team, divide it between the teams.
See some Chopped mystery basket examples at the bottom of the post.
- Set the Timer
Set a timer for however long you want the competition to last. Make sure you give yourselves at least 30 minutes, or more if cooking will be required. Somewhere between 30-90 minutes would be good.
- Start cooking!
Teams work together and make a plan for the ingredients. Gather other ingredients needed to complete the dish and get to cooking!
Before the timer goes off, make sure you leave time to plate your dish and make it look nice!
After the timer goes off, all teams must present their dish to the judge(s). The judge(s) will taste and rate each dish based on the criteria below.
If you’re doing self judging, you can formally rate your dish or just have a conversation about it with your teammates. What went well? What could we have done differently?
If you choose to have judges, make sure to decide in advance what the judging criteria will be, so the teams can make sure they address all the scoring criteria!
The judge should try to give praise to each team, not just the winning team. Even if one dish is a total fail, try to find something positive to say about their effort, creativity or something else.
The point of the challenge should be about having fun and trying something new, not discouraging each other from ever cooking again!
If something turns out really bad, don’t make a big deal of it, make fun or hurt the other person’s feelings. Try to be nice to each other, especially if you have newer cooks!
Use a scale between 1-5
How good does it taste?
1 – totally disgusting. Even the dog won’t like it!
5 – delicious! I’d order this in a restaurant!
Is it plated with care, attention, and style or does it look sloppy or unappealing?
1 – looks sloppy or unappealing
5 – wow! It looks like it came from a high-end restaurant. Lots of attention to detail.
Use of ingredients:
Were all ingredients used? Take off points if they forgot to use one of the ingredients.
How well did they bring the ingredients together? Did they make it work into a cohesive dish or does it seem quite random?
1 – didn’t use one or more ingredients
3 – used the ingredients but they didn’t work well together, or you can’t even tell one or more ingredient is used (can’t see or taste it)
5 – used all the ingredients and made them work well together
Use creativity for beginner and intermediate cooks, or technicality for expert cooks.
How unique is the dish? How simple or complex is it?
1 – made a recipe we’ve already made before, or included the ingredients in almost the same form as they were in the basket (ex: just cut it up and added it to the plate, no cooking, skill, or creativity was used)
5 – high level of creativity or skill was used. Tried new techniques or made something we’ve never tried before.
Chopped Challenge Ingredient Ideas
Part of the fun of the challenge is to use up random pantry ingredients that you have on hand.
To make it fun and not too weird, try choosing 2 ingredients that are super versatile, like grains or veggies, and 1 or 2 seemingly random ingredients.
Alternately, choose 1 grain/starch, 1 protein (beans/lentils, meat, dairy), 1 vegetable or fruit, and 1 high flavor ingredient. Choose at least 1 ingredient that’s a bit unexpected, or more if you want more of a challenge or have an adventurous palate!
We choose one or two pantry ingredients we want to use up. Generally we try to pick things that at least semi go together because we aren’t super into eating something totally disgusting (like sardines and maraschino cherries!).
Instead, we might pair sardines with saltine crackers, pickle juice and olives. It’s not a typical pairing, but you can see how those flavors would at least somewhat go together!
It’s also fun to mix ingredients from different cultures to wind up with some fusion dishes.
If you’re doing the challenge with beginner cooks or younger kids, choose ingredients that easily go together in a variety of ways and not use a random ingredient at all.
This would still help their creativity and learning kitchen skills with a higher chance that they’ll enjoy eating what they make. They’ll gain points for trying to use the ingredients in a different way than you’ve used them before.
A good beginner example would be chicken, alfredo sauce, whole peppercorns, parmesan cheese. You could make chicken Alfredo pasta dish, baked chicken with Alfredo sauce, chicken Alfredo pizza, cream of chicken soup, etc.
You could even do a Chopped chocolate challenge where the recipe has to incorporate chocolate!
Try making your own basket ideas, or use the ingredient ideas below:
Mystery Basket Examples
jarred Alfredo sauce
|leftover spaghetti noodles (cooked)|
canned diced tomatoes
chocolate chip cookie dough
Tell me, have you done a Chopped challenge and if so, how did it go? I’d love to hear your stories of awesome creations, weird food combos, and epic fails!