We Tried Rachael Ray's New Meal Kits. Here's How It Went

Meal kit providers are no longer geared only towards people who can't tell a butter knife from a bottle opener. These days, meal kits are also being designed to appeal to people with a little more kitchen know-how, foodies who want to branch out and learn new cooking skills, farm-to-table dining enthusiasts, and celebrity chef acolytes. Martha Stewart joined the game with Marley Spoon, Sunbasket offers "farm-fresh, organic ingredients," and Goldbelly has even begun to offer high-end "Top chef meal kits," developed by renowned chefs and award-winning restauranteurs and marketed as "experiences." As more creative and convenient meal kit services take off, celebrity chef Rachael Ray has joined forces with Home Chef to create a signature weekly meal kit, complete with an original Rachael Ray recipe and next to no grocery shopping required.

To get an idea of what's being offered, Home Chef provided us with two Rachel Ray-branded meal kits to cook for ourselves at home — a Steakhouse Burger kit and a Pork Chops with Sweet Onions and Apple recipe kit. We also got the chance to chat with Ray, and find out why she decided to help develop these recipes, when and where they'll be available, what you can expect to find in each kit, and some juicy cooking tips for making the perfect burgers. This is everything you need to know about the Home Chef x Rachael Ray meal kit collaboration and what we really think of the recipes.

Where can you find the meal kits?

Home Chef offers a weekly meal kit subscription service with several options to customize. You can choose from two to six recipes per week and adjust the size of each recipe to serve two, four, or six people each. From there, you choose from about 25 recipes that have been categorized to appeal to different needs, including one-pot meals, express and 15-minute meals, "culinary collection" recipes, oven-ready meals (that have been almost entirely cooked in advance), and one Rachael Ray recipe per week. Twenty-six specialty recipes have been developed in total for the collaboration, with one new meal kit and recipe being offered each week for 26 weeks. The six-month lineup began at the end of September and will run until the middle of March 2023.

If you're not so keen on signing up for a meal kit subscription service, but you'd still like to get a taste of one of Ray's recipes, over 1,300 Kroger grocery stores will also be carrying a limited selection of Home Chef x Rachael Ray meal kits. Beginning in October, stores were stocked with the first of six meal kit recipes (the Steakhouse Burger with Dijon Mushrooms and Onions, which we were able to try out at home). A new meal kit will be available every month for six months, ending at the end of March or while supplies last. Many Kroger stores also offer a selection of Rachael Ray branded cookware, utensils, dinnerware, and kitchen gadgets.

The recipes are available for free online

Each meal kit comes with a recipe card that you can keep to recreate later. The recipe card lists all of the ingredients and measurements alongside detailed instructions for how to prepare the meal. But if you're willing to forego the convenience of having all of the ingredients pre-scaled and delivered to your door, and you're willing to do some grocery shopping on your own, you can still make the Rachel Ray recipes — and all of the other current recipes Home Chef offers — by downloading the recipe cards on the website, every week.

The current meal selections are listed in the "Our Menu" section of the website. Navigate down until you find the Rachael Ray signature recipe, open it, and click the "download recipe" link for the official recipe card in PDF format. The website keeps six full weeks' worth of menus loaded at a time, including the current week, the most recent deliveries that have passed, and four upcoming menus. With about 25 recipes listed weekly, that's around 150 total recipes available on the Home Chef website, including six Rachael Ray recipes at a time.

The biggest drawback to using the recipes, but not receiving the meal kits, is that you might miss out on a few ingredients. For example, the Tilapia Piccata with Lemon Spaghetti meal kit includes lemon garlic butter. While it's easy enough to make your own lemon garlic butter, it's less convenient than having it prepared for you.

How much the Rachael Ray meal kits cost

Home Chef claims that the meals provided through its subscription delivery service start at $7.99 per serving — which isn't the cheapest meal kit on the market, but not bad either. EveryPlate, for example, claims that their meals will run you about $4.99 per serving. When we scheduled a delivery through Home Chef for four recipes, each serving two people, the initial estimated price came to $79.92 plus $9.99 shipping (not including any other taxes or fees). That was also before choosing which recipes we'd like and any additions to our delivery. The initial price estimate lands the meal kits at about $11.24 per serving, although Home Chef did offer a 60% discount for our first order.

The Steakhouse Burger meal kit available at Kroger is priced slightly differently than the subscription service. While we didn't buy the kit in stores, the packaging was labeled as costing $17.99 for two servings ($8.99 each), not including taxes. It makes sense that the store-bought meal kits would be slightly cheaper, since substitutions aren't offered and personal delivery isn't factored into the price. For a family of four, you're still looking at spending at least $35.98 for a single meal, which can really add up over time. But the huge benefit of having a meal ready to prepare with several time-consuming steps taken care of for you is also often worth the price, especially on busy school nights or whenever you're low on energy and time.

Why Rachel Ray decided to make meal kit recipes

Ray has spent the last several decades teaching her audience how to cook flavorful meals at home that are both easy and budget-friendly. So it makes sense that Home Chef would tap into her universally approachable cooking style to create a menu. "Even if you love to cook there are certain nights of the week where you're going to be exhausted ... and you just don't want to deal," says Ray during our Q&A session about the meal kit release, "and it's a great thing to have a card in your back pocket."

She also thinks that the service is ideal for people just learning how to cook, without first having to struggle with the food-prep stage of the meal. "I'm hoping people use it as a stepping stone, a confidence builder. Certainly for young people if they've never cooked [before]," Ray says. "And vice-versa, it's certainly great for empty-nesters that are used to cooking for huge amounts of people rather than just themselves."

"The most cost-effective thing you could do is butcher your own chicken and buy vegetables, and make a bunch of different meals out of the scraps of the first meal, and keep rolling things over," Ray says. But she also acknowledges that style of cooking isn't for everyone. "There's also folks that ... don't like to cook at all, or don't want to deal with a whole chicken," and these meal kits help serve those kinds of home cooks too.

Rachael Ray's tips for making the perfect burgers

Ray gave us some tips for cooking burgers before we jumped into cooking the meal kit. "You always make a burger thinner in the center and thicker at the edges for even cooking ... you don't want them to be overcooked at the edges and undercooked in the middle," Ray explains. The ground beef provided with the meal kit makes two burger patties, and gets mixed with salt, pepper, the provided steak seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce — so you have the opportunity to practice forming the patties with this kit.

If you're cooking indoors, Ray suggests using a cast iron skillet. But if you're grilling outside, she recommends cooking them on either a flat-top grill or on a skillet on top of the grill. "Everywhere that a protein touches a flat surface it's going to develop flavor and color," Ray says. "If you throw things on the grill, it's only where the grates hit. So I always cook on a plancha or cast iron skillet or flat surface, even if I'm cooking outside."

Finally, you want to pay attention to how thick your burger patties are in relation to the burger buns you're using. "Don't over-bun it, and don't over-burger it. The meat-to-bun ratio is very important. It should have the same thickness in total — you should never have more meat than [the] thickness of your bun." With these tips in mind, we set out to cook the Steakhouse Burger meal kit first.

Cooking the Steakhouse Burger kit

The Steakhouse Burger with Dijon mushrooms and onions came packaged in a cardboard box with the ingredients and a recipe card. (Worcestershire sauce is listed in the ingredients, but was missing from our particular box — we had some in the cabinet to include anyway.) The nutrition information on the back of the package lists each serving (½ the prepared meal kit) as having 860 calories.

The recipe card rates the difficulty level of the recipe as "Expert," although the instructions were straightforward and easy to follow. There was a decent amount of food preparation involved, including washing the produce, breaking down the potatoes for fries, slicing the mushrooms and onions, and mixing and forming the burger patties. But all of these steps were simple enough to tackle, just a little time-consuming.

We prepared the fries first, and threw them in the oven to bake while we cooked everything else. Next, we sautéed the onions, then added the mushrooms to cook, before adding Dijon mustard and deglazing with water — all of which took about 15 minutes. We transferred the vegetables to a plate, wiped down our cast iron skillet, and toasted the pre-cut burger buns in the dry hot skillet. Finally, the burgers were grilled in a little olive oil for about four minutes on each side, before topping with shredded Swiss cheese. The fries were finished baking as soon as we assembled the burgers, and we were ready to eat in about 30 minutes.

Cooking the Pork Chops kit

Many people are willing to tackle a burger, because they're relatively easy to handle, but pork chops can be a little more intimidating for some people. This kit included five small Yukon potatoes that get cooked twice and finished in the style of loaded baked potatoes. It also included the ingredients to make a sweet-and-savory apple and onion topping for the center-cut boneless pork chops. Nutritional information isn't listed on the recipe card, but a link to the recipe online lists one fully-prepared serving at 740 calories.

The recipe card rates the difficulty level of this recipe at "Intermediate", and while it was easy to follow, it requires a few more moving pieces than the burger kit did. First, we put a 2-quart pot of lightly salted water on to boil, preheated the oven, prepared the apples, onions, and chives, and seasoned the pork chops. In the process, the potatoes were boiled to fork-tender, drained, and set aside to cool. Next, we sautéed the onions in the same pot with olive oil, before adding the apple slices and apple cider vinegar, and finally a little butter. We smashed the softened potatoes on a baking sheet, seasoned them, and topped them with cheddar cheese before baking. Finally, we cooked the pork chops in a cast iron skillet with olive oil and butter for about four minutes on each side. The whole meal came together in about 45 minutes, although it wasn't all hands-on cooking time.

The meal kits are ideal for people who like cooking but hate grocery shopping

We'll admit that while we adore cooking at home, going to the grocery store isn't our favorite thing to do by a long shot. Getting groceries delivered felt like a real luxury. Having the food pre-portioned didn't seem to save us very much time, since we still had to wash, slice, and season it all before cooking — But it did free up some space in the refrigerator, since there was no excess food.

Both of the meal kits we tried tasted great, and everyone was more than satisfied with the results. Having a few meals planned in advance cut out the dreaded "what are we having for dinner tonight?" conversation when no one had the capacity left to make a decision. The meals took us about as long to cook as we'd spend on any other weeknight dinner, and the recipes were flexible enough to allow for a little creativity along the way if we felt like adding some of our own ingredients. Not every budget might allow having these meal kits on-hand for every single meal, but one or two a week felt like a real life-saver on tough nights, and still cheaper than ordering out. We think anyone who loves Ray's cooking style will be delighted with these kits and inspired to keep cooking. After sampling the meal kits, you can always find more of Ray's recipes in her cookbooks, and on her show's website