The Best Meal Kit Delivery Services of 2018By Christopher Snow
A meal kit delivery subscription is one seriously complicated purchase. These services will mail you three nights' worth of fresh, portioned ingredients and recipes to prepare with them. But every home cook has their own comfort level, every palate has its own taste, and every weeknight has its own stresses before we add "cooking from scratch" to the list.
Since 2012, a seemingly endless number of Blue Apron competitors have emerged, each with unique gimmicks and recipes—from vegan to Southern barbecue, from organic to pre-prepped. That's why I spent no less than three months testing and re-testing these services in a real-life kitchen on real-life weeknights. I cooked with nine different services, doing my best to sample the most popular and most frequently searched options.
But which is right for you? All the details are waiting below, but for now let's cut to the chase. Here are the best meal kit delivery services of 2018.
Updated June 15, 2018
Top 5 Meal Kit Delivery Services...the short version
These are our top picks and why we chose them, abridged for easy reading. Or feel free to scroll down for full details on each service.
Best Overall, Best Taste
The best meal kit subscription delivery service for you is probably Green Chef.
This service's imaginative, rewarding recipes always layer texture on top of taste, and deliberately balance flavor types—sour against salty, sweet against bitter. Green Chef also packs its boxes full of the most numerous and diverse ingredients, and that convenience alone makes the subscription more valuable than many others.
Most Fun, Most Recipes Worth Keeping
Home Chef offered amazing flavors and we had a blast working through these fun, not-too-challenging recipes. Many are classics or twists on classics, so every single recipe card is worth keeping.
Best for Vegans, Best for Vegetarians
Purple Carrot scored high for overall flavor, and did so without any meat or animal products. This vegan subscription sent us fascinating and creative recipes, and it's a great option if you're a vegan, vegetarian, or if you just want to learn to cook like one.
Best Single Recipe
Hello Fresh featured our very favorite recipe of the entire experience and earned high marks for flavor overall. We also loved the company's convenient, refrigerator-ready packaging.
Blue Apron has been around for 5 years now, and it still makes cooking lots of fun. While new cooks are bound to learn something from any of the subscription services, Blue Apron's recipes often feature simple, adaptable techniques that'll find a place in your cooking repertoire from then on.
How We Tested
I'm what you call an "enthusiastic yet mediocre" home cook. I can keep up with most recipes, and I love to experiment in the kitchen, but—I'll be honest here—most dishes don't turn out perfectly on the first try.
In other words, I'm the ideal person for real-world meal kit testing: Enough experience to follow directions as well as the average subscriber, but not advanced enough to go "off book." If your kitchen life sounds like mine, you'll probably get the same results I did.
That's the first way we controlled our testing: by having one person—me—prepare all the meals, working to the best of my ability. I also worked with a detailed scoresheet, where I noted prep times, nutrition information, my opinion of the challenge level and "fun factor," difficulty of clean-up, whether or not the recipe card was worth keeping, and whether any leftovers were... left over.
I also kept detailed notes on the pros and cons of each dish, from prep to plate, and gave each one an overall rating. Finally, I happen to live with one very tired, very hungry schoolteacher, and she was more than happy to provide an overall rating of her own—which we averaged together.
Basically, I was pretty darn thorough.
All the Details
Green Chef advertises itself as the "organic" meal kit company, yet this service is so much more than an organic alternative.
The typical Green Chef bite is loud. You'll crunch through various textures, like snap peas or julienned bell peppers. Recipes also deliberately balance flavor types. For example, Green Chef's Cherry Balsamic Pork features a salty pork chop, but it's offset by a sweet cherry pan sauce. The results are sometimes so "cheffy" you won't believe you cooked them yourself.
Green Chef boxes are also packed with by far the most numerous and diverse ingredients, color-coded by meal, and some are even partially prepped (garlic pre-peeled, pre-cut brunoise carrots, etc.). An equivalent grocery shopping list would run 50 or 60 items long, so the convenience of having these items delivered adds value to the subscription that most competitors don't have.
Green Chef's recipes were fairly challenging, but I had a ton of fun searing and roasting, even when things got hectic. The average recipe took me 58 minutes start to finish—quite a bit longer than the recipe cards claimed, but many recipes were worth hanging onto. Clean-up was slightly more difficult than average, but I appreciated Green Chef's uncluttered website, which made meal selection and dietary restriction preferences easy to deal with.
Imagine you've just paid $60 for your weekly box of meals. The box arrives but, due to leaky packaging, all of your ingredients are coated in a thin layer of raw pork juice. Imagine also that the rest of your experience with this box was so fantastic, you end up naming it the second-best meal kit delivery service of the year. That's what happened to me.
Home Chef got off to the rockiest of starts with me, but the actual cookery was great. Recipes range from classics—like smoky Coffee Rubbed Steak with a sweet reduction sauce and sumptuous brown butter mashed potatoes—to playful fare—like seared and roasted Pork Chops coated in crushed crisped rice. Challenge levels ran the gamut from simple to extremely hectic, but these recipes were the most fun overall. I needed 53 minutes on average to prepare each dish, among the quickest of any subscription, and we kept all of the recipe cards for future use.
I've got to hand it to Purple Carrot, this vegan subscription earned pretty solid scores for overall taste, but did so without any animal products. I was delighted by creative vegan versions of classic recipes, like Tofu Tikka Masala or the Portobello Mushroom "BLT" with maple syrup and liquid smoke. Like Green Chef, there's a strong commitment to texture in this company's recipe design, and we appreciated the consistently easy clean-up and abundance of leftovers.
For the skeptics in your household, it may also be worth noting that cooking vegan doesn't mean starving. Purple Carrot ships you some of the most calories of any meal kit subscription service I tested: nearly 700 calories per serving on average.
Drop what you're doing and go find the recipe for Hello Fresh's show-stopping Mustard Pork Chops and Potato Rösti, the best meal a subscription service has ever sent me. This masterfully balanced, restaurant-quality dish is served with tender green beans and topped with a plate-lickin'-good sauce that sings of thyme and shallot. Crispy potato rösti rest below, ready to sop up any sauce you might've missed. It was a ton of work—80 minutes for a slow cook like me—but worth every minute.
I adored Hello Fresh's convenient packaging system. Each meal gets its own separate, extra-long cardboard box, sized for easy fridge storage like a 12-pack of soda cans. No more rummaging around for ingredients on different shelves! We also kept most of our recipe cards from Hello Fresh, not just those pork chops.
First to market and still the leader by popularity, Blue Apron offers diverse recipes—which could be anything from Penne Arrabbiata to Tandoori-Style Chicken—which often feature important little techniques that you'll find yourself using forever. Maybe it's a quick pickle, a new marinade, or a yummy pan sauce—there's something useful to learn in nearly every Blue Apron recipe card.
That said, the website is beginning to show its age. Meal selection is too restrictive: Checking off the recipe you're most excited about immediately grays out another three, meaning certain meal combinations are totally impossible to ship in the same box. Blue Apron also continues to have the "one lousy meal" problem, wherein each box seems to ship with one meal noticeably worse than the rest.
I do not recommend purchasing a Terra's Kitchen subscription at this time. However, I'm convinced this company is one to watch!
Unlike every other meal kit service tested, your ingredients arrive in a reusable "vessel," with pull-out drawers to store the food. Simply remove the ingredients, peel off the shipping label to reveal a return label, and replace your vessel on the front step. Your mail carrier will circle back the next day to pick it up.
That's not all: Every single ingredient is pre-washed and chopped when it arrives, which means absolutely no prep work is required on your part. As a result, I was able to put food on the table much more quickly with Terra's Kitchen than any other service. Clean-up was a breeze too, and I love how the recipe cards come hole-punched for easy storage in a binder.
Unfortunately, the recipes themselves just aren't there yet.
Timings and temperatures are consistently off, meals are under-seasoned as written, and—most egregious of all—each recipe fundamentally fails to take advantage of the prep work already done for you. For example, our vessel included a few portions of carrot, conveniently peeled and chopped. But the recipe itself—Gingered Carrot Soup—called for me to slow-cook and purée all ingredients anyway. Could've left the carrots whole.
Terra's Kitchen isn't ready for prime time just yet, but as soon as the company puts someone in charge of recipe development that really knows what they're doing, I predict we'll have another serious contender for the top 5.
Sun Basket sent us meals that were quick to prepare, but failed to differentiate itself otherwise. Recipes were challenging but stressful, and we felt the resulting meals simply tasted worse than the competition.
I was also perturbed by Sun Basket's cancellation policy. While a few of these services do require an e-mail to cancel, Sun Basket asks you to first e-mail, then await a phone call from customer service representatives. Not cool, Sun Basket. Retain customers with quality, not obstacles.
Plated, like Sun Basket, failed to differentiate itself in any meaningful way, and we rated overall flavor below average. Of all tested services, I found Plated's estimated cooking times to be the most accurate, but that's about all it has going for it.
I also found it conspicuously difficult to look up billing history information or receipts from the Plated website, and this service is among the most expensive at $12 per serving ($11 is average).
We wanted to like this Southern-inspired service, but there were a couple of problems. First, we questioned the authenticity of a few of these "Southern" recipes, which included Lamb Burgers with Roasted Tomatoes. In fact, why anyone would want to make a burger with lamb—a much leaner meat than beef—is beyond me.
Second, part of Peach Dish's branding is an ingredient that appears in all recipes: "Peach Dish salt." It's kosher salt mixed with paprika, celery seed, garlic, and lemon zest. The flavor is relatively assertive, not very tasty, and—remember—appears in every recipe, making them all taste similar. I'd like to see Peach Dish use its signature salt sparingly and embrace its southern roots more thoroughly.
Haven't found the right meal kit for you yet? Our friends at USA Today College taste-tested Spoon University and Chef'd's new meal kit delivery service for college students.
Image credits: Reviewed.com / Christopher Snow