10 Best And 10 Worst Dishes On MasterChef

Spilling sauces and hot chunks of meat on countertops, overhead timers racing down, and scathing commentary from celebrity chefs. Passionate home cooks, anxious faces before judges, and hopeful hands presenting plates of food with as much tenderness as you would an expensive gemstone. It's hard not to associate this imagery with culinary competitions, most popular among them being MasterChef. With 11 seasons and a 12th about to air, US MasterChef has amassed millions of fans around the world and boasts an infamous entourage of celebrity chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, Christina Tosi, and Joe Bastianich. It's inspired spin-offs and collected awards including the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Multi-Camera Series and the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs.

At the core of MasterChef are the dishes. Since the first episode aired on July 27th, 2010, many dishes have come out of the MasterChef kitchen. From colossal flops to triumphs, some dishes are simply unforgettable. We've rounded up some that have made even the most intimidating judges crumble with delight and others that have stunned them into silence out of sheer horror. These are the 10 best and 10 worst dishes to be presented at the US MasterChef tasting table.

Best: Cutter's box of chocolate truffles

In Season 5, Episode 10, Joshua "Cutter" Brewer crafted a box of chocolate truffles that had the judges swooning. During the competition, Cutter was known to be quite defensive and at times downright argumentative with the judges. However, after tensions had already run high with debates about who to blame for messing up lobster risotto, Cutter was up for elimination beside his teammates Ahran, Christian, Christie, Leslie, and Willie. The challenge: create nine perfectly handcrafted chocolate truffles that were just as pleasant to look at as they were to eat.

When one of the judges, Graham Elliot, asked Cutter to honestly rate his chocolate, he gave himself a seven or eight out of 10. As soon as Elliot opened the box of mint-infused dark chocolate, orange liqueur-infused white chocolate, and toasted coconut flavored truffles, he immediately exclaimed: "Wow, visually these are a 10." Joe Bastianich commented that the orange infusion was so sophisticated you'd think they were made by a "real chocolatier," while Gordon Ramsay commended him for making a box of chocolate at a "professional level."

Worst: Whitney's Caribbean meatloaf

The sordid underbelly of a reality television show like MasterChef is that even though viewers might be wholly invested in the home cooks and their journeys throughout the competition, there is also some pleasure to be derived from the drama. This is where the most horrible plates of food shine brightest. The harsh truth is that you might not remember a judge's glowing praises, but you'll definitely recall a plate that's dumped in the bin.

Following Courtney Lapresi's Season 5, Episode 2 honey cake triumph, she chose Whitney Bray to compete in the elimination test. Whitney's Caribbean meatloaf with lemongrass and soy sauce served on a bed of sweet potato mash and a side of green beans, left the judges entirely underwhelmed. Gordon called it a "TV dinner that's unfortunately turned into a TV disaster," and then apologized ... to the meatloaf! The only apologies Whitney received after that rough judgment was when she was subsequently eliminated.

Best: Yachecia's biscuits and gravy

Season 8, Episode 3 is the first time that judges Gordon Ramsay, Aarón Sánchez, and Christina Tosi welcomed the season's top 20 to the MasterChef kitchen. Contestants were presented with 12 grocery items you're most likely to find in the average American grocery store. Among the ingredients were bananas, broccoli, carrots, chicken breasts, chocolate, cheddar cheese, and canned tomatoes. 

With her ingredients, Yachecia Holston opted to prepare an extravagant breakfast of buttermilk biscuits and gravy, with homemade chicken-apple sausage served on a bed of hash browns and topped with soft scrambled eggs.

The bubbly minister from Detroit, Michigan attributed the creativity on her plate to her work in the church, because sometimes she has to "preach the sermon, sing the songs and be the janitor." She especially impressed the judges by making her own buttermilk for the biscuits. Ramsay sang her praises even though he found the sausage very rich, saying the dish "tastes expensive yet it's made with staple ingredients," while Tosi told her that "you took the most basic grocery store ingredients and you literally churched them up." As Sánchez exclaimed: "Hallelujah, right!?"

Worst: Dan Wu and Cutter's seared venison loin and tuna

Season 5 contestants were again told to go head-to-head in a surf and turf challenge in episode 7, in pairs chosen by Courtney. They were given five minutes to grab all the ingredients they needed to make the classic marriage of seafood and red meat. Dan Wu and Josh "Cutter" Brewer almost immediately floundered. By the time Gordon asked whether they were on the same page, or even just okay, he was met with a deafening silence.

What they presented was essentially two separate dishes on a single plate. One was seared venison loin on a bed of cauliflower and parsnips, while the other was seared ahi tuna on a three-radish salad. True to form, Cutter expressed exactly how upset he was about the whole task, while Dan said he was willing to take responsibility. 

A seething Gordon ranked the combination among the worst dishes ever served up in the competition, while Joe fetched the bin and made the contestants "do the honors" of dumping the plate themselves. Ouch. Unsurprisingly, they ended up in the pressure test and neither of them was eliminated.

Best: Dino's box of cannoli

For Dino Luciano, all was not entirely lost after the opposing team beat him during the team challenge on Season eight's "Holy Cannoli" episode. He, along with other members of the Red Team, had to prepare an entree for 30 food purveyors. Nearly all were obliged to move on to the pressure test (except for Yachechia, who made the only element of the team's dish that worked). The challenge was to produce six rolls of rich, fried-to-perfection cannoli, each with a creamy filling and delicate garnish.

Dino, who joked that cannoli had been his version of a pacifier as a child, made two flavors of Sicilian-style cannoli. Three came with pistachio cream, mascarpone, and blood orange zest flavor, while the other three boasted the tastes of cognac, roasted hazelnut, and peanut butter. For a dish that was inspired by Dino's grandmother, Aarón Sánchez said, "this is how you honor somebody, this is how you keep their spirit alive." 

With the memory of his grandmother behind him, Dino's cannoli secured him a spot in the next round. He went on to become the winner of season 8, taking home the coveted MasterChef trophy, prize money of $250,000, and some serious culinary cred.

Worst: Cutter's artisan pizza

MasterChef sure does love a dramatic ingredient reveal. Season 5's ninth episode saw the contestants open their mystery boxes to find a knife jabbed into the chopping board before a giant smoky box slowly lifted to reveal rows of Alaskan wild king salmon. Each contestant picked up their own portion, which they were to filet themselves before creating a scrumptious salmon dish.

After much scrambling and a lot of smack talk from Cutter and Christian during the challenge, Christian earned a spot on the list of best dishes while Cutter faced the elimination test. His task: prepare a dish using a basket of Italian ingredients selected by judge Joe Bastianich. He delivered an "artisan" pizza that Gordon likened to kids' party food. Joe seemed more offended that Cutter didn't appreciate the cultural significance of the ingredients and spit it out, saying the pizza was a waste of everybody's time.

Best: Terry's blueberry pie with sugar crust

After Season 7, Episode 5's mystery box challenge in which the contestants prepared a dish using Latin food staples, those who didn't fare very well moved on to the elimination round. The challenge: a bake-off, in which mystery box challenge winner Tanorria Askew got to choose the good old, comforting goodness of pie. Versatile, tasty, and classic, you can surely never go wrong with a combination of blueberries and a beloved American favorite that is likely to feature on the dinner table. How could you not triumph? That is exactly what Terry Mueller did.

A handyman who loves to bake, Terry was a gentle, lovable contestant who drew on the precision of his day job and poured that skill into a beautiful blueberry pie with a sugar crust. When the moment of truth arrived as judge Christina Tosi cut into the pie, she revealed a delicate, glistening slice of pie with the sugar cooked down perfectly. The judges were so impressed that Gordon Ramsay handed Terry a slice to taste for himself. Ramsay not only named it the best pie produced during the challenge but one of the best they had ever seen in the competition as a whole.

Worst: Willie's squash and apple caramelle

In an episode where contestants were given the choice between mystery boxes filled with high-end or basic ingredients, Leslie Gilliams came out on top. With that, he also got to choose which stuffed pasta the other contestants would have to prepare for the elimination test. Of course, he went for the most difficult option: caramelle. You might be familiar with ravioli and tortellini, but what about caramelle? Shaped like candy wrappers, this stuffed dish was once the hot new pasta shape for New York chefs (via Grub Street).

Contest Willie Mike nervously chuckled and said he had no idea what caramelle was ... then immediately went to work making a dessert caramelle. At least he didn't have his pasta machine taken away by Leslie as Daniel did. When he delivered his squash and apple caramelle, Gordon was already horrified about tasting what looked like, in his word, "regurgitated dog vomit." As one would do with things that resemble the half-digested contents of someone's stomach, Gordon immediately spat it out.

Best: Christian's pistachio salmon

For someone who initially came across as a humble and devout stay-at-home dad, Christian Collins' self-assuredness quickly grew to become the bane of his fellow contestants' existence. Displaying a deep well of confidence — or arrogance, depending on who you ask ––and a penchant for shutting down others' ideas during team challenges, he was surely Season 2's villain.

Whether or not being the first contestant to ever argue against the judges' feedback (and to be threatened to be eliminated on the spot for the sass) actually makes him a villain remains up for reality television debate. One thing that's for sure though, is that his cooking spoke for itself. Christian even made it to the top 3, having bagged the first challenge in the MasterChef kitchen during Episode 5. With his dish already named the most 4-star "restaurant ready" before it got to the judging table, Christian's pistachio salmon with a strawberry balsamic reduction over fennel asparagus and caramelized fingerling potatoes was a sure hit.

Worst: Tommy's cinnamon rolls

With the start of Season 6, Episode 4 set at California's original theme park, Knott's Berry Farm, there can only be smiles, cotton candy, and joyous adrenalin going around, right? Not when MasterChef is the rollercoaster you're riding. That's especially true when one team captain starts the challenge by saying it doesn't matter whether or not the food is amazing, as long you're smiling. With that philosophy, five members of the Blue Team found themselves up for elimination at the pressure test.

The challenge: bake 12 fragrant cinnamon rolls. Tommy presented a box of matcha and pistachio cinnamon rolls that Gordon said was a sick box that should come with a health warning to not be opened in broad daylight. As Tommy had said in his confessional: "I don't even eat cinnamon rolls." Fortunately for him, Darah's performance was deemed worse, and he survived the elimination.

Best: Courtney's honey cake with mixed berry coulis

Season 5's Courtney Lapresi, with her past employment as an exotic and aerial dancer, didn't cower in the MasterChef kitchen. If anything, the only thing she expressed regretting was not talking more about her background while she was on such a massive platform.

Nevertheless, she proved to be a fierce contender long before she won the coveted title, trophy, and cash prize. During Episode 2, after the first challenge clock ran out, Courtney was called up with Astrid, Cutter, and Willie. Two of them were in contention for the worst dish and the other two for the best. 

Now, we all bloom when we are loved. As it turned out, so do cakes, because after blowing her cake a kiss and calling it sweetheart while carefully placing it in the oven, Courtney's confection came out as a masterpiece. She delivered a gorgeously presented honey cake topped with toasted pecans and a honey caramel, accompanied by a mixed berry coulis with a vanilla whip. This earned her ample praise from the judges, with Gordon asserting that they could easily place her dessert on the menu in any of the judges' restaurants.

Worst: Adam and Caitlin's Japanese fried chicken

In Season 8, Episode 13's pair challenge, Adam Wong and Caitlin Meade struggled to use chicken and potatoes to represent themselves with Japanese fried chicken with miso-potato purèe and a sake slaw. A pretty peeved Christina Tosi questioned their rationale for presenting a plate when they hadn't tasted all of the elements together. 

Even worse, a seething Gordon described it as a "soggy disgusting nugget sat on a bed of unwanted slaw, over gummy s**t purèe that I'd give my grandad to paste his f*****g house wallpaper, not to eat." With that mouthful, the former Harvard student and the personal trainer went head-to-head in an elimination challenge, where Adam made the unforgivable mistake of serving raw chicken.

With that, Adam — who reached the top 10 while only winning as part of a team — became the fifth contestant in the history of MasterChef to eliminate themselves without the judges announcing his axing.

Best: Francis B's meatloaf with burrata and romesco sauce

Courtney's honey cake was not the only top dish to come out of season 5's second episode. Having secured the mystery box challenge win, Courtney not only got to decide which contestants would battle it out in the elimination test but also which dish they would have to prepare in order to secure their spot in the next round. Given the choice between meatloaf, meatballs, and a hamburger, she opted for meatloaf.

Francis B. Legge created a burrata-stuffed meatloaf using short-rib and lamb with bok choy and a romesco sauce. Ramsay thought it was bold to use burrata in meatloaf, but remarked that the risk paid off. 

Judge Joe Bastianich said Legge's combination of an Italian staple with the meatloaf was a true "MasterChef idea," showing he was playing the game at a high level. Unfortunately, Francis was eliminated in the sixth episode, though that takes nothing away from his beautiful meatloaf.

Worst: Caitlin and Jeff's platter

In a competition where the work of your own hands is what gets you through round after round, nothing is quite as grueling as standing by while another person's doing can decide your fate. Throw into this mix some clashing personalities, a racing clock, and judges applying serious pressure, and you have a classic MasterChef tag team challenge. In Season 8, Episode 14, the contestants had to do just that, pairing up and then switching in and out while crafting a Mexican food platter.

Jeff Philbin immediately emerged as the more dominant member of his pair, while partner Caitlin Meade remained largely quiet. What they ended up presenting before the judges was nothing short of disastrous: broken up tortilla, lamb that resembled "dog food," and chicken so over-cooked that Gordon said, "my grandmother's flip-flops have more texture." The only impressive part of the dish? The china on which they served the chorizo.

Best: Natasha's lemon pie tart with bacon chocolate

The first mystery box challenge of season 4 contained a sparse tray of ingredients with one tomato, a potato, bacon, and a handful of chocolate. Using only these ingredients and the help of a pantry box (containing basic ingredients such as flour, eggs, and spices), Natasha Crnjac created a lemon pie tart with a bacon chocolate ganache and meringue. 

Gordon commended her technical ability to render the bacon fat and combine it with the chocolate's cocoa butter, all without letting the result break into a curdled mess. Joe Bastianich said it was a dish you could buy "at a patisserie in Paris or at a 3-star restaurant in New York."

Throughout the competition, Natasha didn't veer far off from Joe's commentary as she showcased her fierce competitiveness. She was one of only two contestants to win every team challenge in which she was captain, the only one to win four elimination tests in a single season, and holds the record of the most overall challenge wins, and a shared record of most team challenge wins (via MasterChef Wiki).

Worst: Howard's black cod with shiitake mushrooms

One thing that infuriates MasterChef judges more than anything else is being served raw proteins. It's not even necessarily about the taste, as raw proteins can be quite dangerous for anyone to ingest. For instance, you can be infected by salmonella from eating poultry and meat that have not been cooked properly. While other delicacies, such as blowfish, can even kill you if not handled and prepared appropriately (via BBC).

After a mystery box in which the contestants had to prepare black cod in Season 4, Episode 6, the judges announced that one dish was particularly appalling. Howard Simpson looked around during his confessional while wondering who made "sashimi," then got called to the judges' table. Not a fork or a knife had touched his black cod, as the judges already knew that it was still raw. Joe Bastianich silently picked up the plate, declared that it was among "the kinds of dishes [that] send you home," and proceeded to dump it in the trash.

Best: Luca's black cod

The star of Season 4, Episode 6's mystery box challenge was black cod. This ingredient is not entirely surprising given that cod is one of the more popular fish to be used for good old fish and chips. However, seafood can be quite unforgiving. It can be delicate and flaky when cooked just right, and a chewy, rubbery mess when cooked all wrong.

Luca Manfè's stunning dish consisted of pan-seared black cod with shiitake mushrooms and snap peas. With a glaze worthy of some of the best Japanese restaurants in the world and wonderful French technique, the Italian-born home cook garnered praise and went on to become the first male and non-American contestant to win the competition.  

Since his win, Luca has launched his very own cookbook, traveled through the US and Canada, opened and closed a food truck, offered cooking classes, and moved to Texas with his family.

Worst: Dan Wu's meatloaf with mushrooms and kimchi

For a dish that's praised for being a wonderful use of kitchen scraps, meatloaf sure has tripped up several contestants on this list.

Unfortunately for Dan Wu, his was yet another case of failed meatloaf. Having stepped up to the judging table with plenty of confidence in season 5, Dan presented a ground veal and pork short-ribs meatloaf with shiitake mushrooms and kimchi. In classic unimpressed style, Gordon declared that the meatloaf was not only disgusting, but one of the worst things he'd ever tasted. What's more, he said, Dan's cooking was out of control and he had embarrassed the meatloaf. 

Dan earned himself a spot in the bottom three contestants, but fortunately for him, Whitney's meatloaf was worse and he got to compete for another day in the MasterChef kitchen. He even eventually opened his own restaurant, Atomic Ramen, where he never has to make meatloaf again.

Best: Francis B's spicy seafood broth with seared scallops

Two episodes shy of Francis B's elimination, and seconds before the contestants lifted the mystery box to reveal their ingredients for the challenge, they were told to be careful because the contents were live. Perhaps by then, MasterChef had recovered from what had turned out to be one of its biggest scandals in 2010. That particular faux pas came about when contestant Sheetal Bhagat, a devout Hindu, had to kill a crab.

Four years later though, the Season 5, Episode 4 mystery box challenge was much the same. Contests were to use a net filled with live crab, lobster, and scallops to create a seafood dish. Francis B created a spicy seafood broth with seared scallops that wowed the judges with its taste and presentation. Gordon even said it was "fusion at its best," and that it looked like it was made in one of the top bistros in the country.

Worst: Eboni and Yachecia's platter

The beauty of a fellow contestant choosing the tag team challenge pairs is that they can be strategic, deviously creating duos they know will crumble. This is exactly what Jason did in Season 8, Episode 14 when he placed Eboni and Yachecia together to create a Mexican food platter, rather poetically saying that "two loud voices may not sing together in harmony in the kitchen."

After 90 minutes of dismissing each other's instructions, the pair created a messy board with missing elements and began to argue with each other at the judges' table. While Yachecia thought they struggled to communicate, Eboni insisted that she'd had to put most of the tray together herself. Back and forth they went until the only elements that the judges somewhat enjoyed were the chicken lollipops and churros. Fortunately for the pair, that was enough to keep them in the competition after they had landed in the bottom two.