Looking to ease the dinnertime dilemma with a meal kit sent right to your door? You're in luck, because you've now got more than a dozen companies to choose from — and counting. Deciding which one to choose is the hard part. They've all got the packaging and delivery down pat, but it's what's inside the box that counts. The big question is: Do the contents satisfy your cravings or leave you wishing you had ordered takeout? That's why each month we'll put a few meal kit services through their paces in order to see which ones deliver more than just efficiency.
You've waited all year to dust off your grill and take your cooking outdoors, so your meal kits need to come along for the ride. The trouble is, not every service offers recipes fit for flames. In fact, most don't. Of course, not everyone has a grill, which is why grilling recipes in meal kits seem to be few and far between. But then again, a grill pan and a hot stove is a perfectly good alternative, as two of the recipes we tested this week made sure to note. These three companies understand that when summertime comes around, we need to take it outside. Here's how their recipes turned out.
This service gets points right off the bat for not requiring customers to sign up for a subscription. Want a kit for a special date night? Or to make life easier for the babysitter? Or just a week when you know you'll be too slammed to shop? They've got you covered.
Check it out: Chef'd
Chef'd also has an incredibly large selection of inventive recipes available at any given time, searchable by cuisine, category, ingredient, and even chef. In fact, a good number of the recipes are borrowed from cookbooks by top chefs such as pitmaster Myron Mixon (yes, you can order a kit to make a 12-hour smoked brisket) and grilling guru Steven Raichlen.
That's where this recipe came from. I had high hopes for the chicken, seeing as it came from Raichlen's book Barbecue Sauces, Rubs and Marinades. Did it deliver? Oh, yes. The grilled potato salad had depth, and the chicken charred up gorgeously on the grill, thanks to a simple rub of just paprika, brown sugar, and salt and pepper. The meat was incredibly moist and juicy, making me wonder if it had come into contact with a salt water solution at some point, whether it was a brine or injection.
If you object to saline-infused meat, well, not having the opportunity to select your own ingredients is both the good and bad of meal kits. In fact, the slender French green beans supplied in this kit were a little over-mature, with the beans inside remaining a little too hard after grilling than I liked. Another issue? The grilling instructions for the chicken were overly simplistic, never stating the temperature beyond "high," whether the meat should be flipped and when, or if the grill should be covered.
I'm not a grilling newbie, so it ultimately didn't matter, and our resulting dinner was devoured in no time.
Martha & Marley Spoon: BBQ Glazed Berkshire Pork Chops & Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with Ciabatta Croutons
If there's one thing that sums up the Marley Spoon experience, it's that it's very dialed in (as you would expect from Martha, right?). As a new customer, I was given a special welcome tote, a bonus bar of chocolate, a multi-page booklet with info about the farms and producers that supply the kits, tips on getting my pantry ready (including which kind of salt to use), and how to recycle the packaging.
Check it out: Martha & Marley Spoon
This service offered two grilling recipes, one simple and one more involved, so I tried them both. Were they as dialed in as the packaging? Pretty close. They were error-free, easy to follow, and overall the results were delicious — although just a tad unbalanced.
First up, the BBQ Glazed Berkshire Pork Chops with Quick Baked Beans & Tomato Salad. The glaze on the pork, which is also used to flavor the beans, skewed a bit too sweet for my taste. The barbecue sauce supplied in the kit was already sweetened. After adding the apple juice and a tablespoon of sugar as directed, I was regretting my rote compliance.
The tomato-onion salad called for just a quarter-teaspoon of fresh thyme to flavor more than a half a pound of vegetables. Luckily, there was enough supplied that I could double it. Otherwise, it would've been virtually undetectable.
The grilled chicken Caesar couldn't have been easier, built with romaine hearts; torn toasted ciabatta; a flavorful vinaigrette of lemon juice, sherry vinegar, garlic, and Parmesan; plus grilled chicken breasts briefly marinated in a mix of garlic and lemon. But the garlic on the chicken, plus the garlic in the dressing, resulted in a very garlicky salad. The company touts that each recipe is tested by professionals three times, so perhaps my garlic cloves were bigger than theirs. In that case (note to Martha), a spoon measurement would have been a better way to go.
I will admit I felt some trepidation as I unfurled my plastic bag of ingredients and found an anemic-looking tomato slightly crushed and oozing. Even more so when I unwrapped two identically sized scallions and saw they were missing their white bulbs, victims of what I suspected was an over-zealous trimming machine.
Things were still looking sketchy as I embarked on making the lime crema, which called for the juice of an entire lime mixed with just 1/4 cup sour cream, plus a tablespoon of water. Against my better judgment I did as I was told, starting with the lime juice, and regretted it. The crema was puckeringly tart. I knew adding the water would take it from runny to flat-out watery, but I added it anyway just to mitigate that acid.
The avocado mash, meanwhile, called for just a squeeze of lime, which after tasting was not nearly enough acid. I'd be willing to bet money the lime amounts got swapped by accident.
Check it out: Plated
Luckily, that's where the problems ended. The ancho chile and cumin spice mix seasoned the tilapia perfectly (and covered up the fish's inherent murky flavor), and grilling the fillets in a foil packet was an idiot-proof way to go. With soft flour tortillas briefly charred on the grill, spiced fish, grilled corn kernels, lush avocado, and tart crema, these flavor-packed tacos turned out to be our favorite meal of the bunch.
Which of these three meals would you prefer?