Something smells good in the kitchen: Our picks for best cooking games

During the holiday season, we gather alongside loved ones and think about all that we appreciate in our lives. Let’s be honest, though — it’s also about all the food we’re about to eat. Before the turkey, ham, or roast beef, and bounty of side dishes make their way to the table, the feast has to be prepared. That got us thinking — which games make cooking the most fun? No, you don’t actually get to taste your virtual dishes, but making a meal in games can hit the spot all the same. Here are our picks for the best cooking games, ranging from straightforward cooking sims to engaging distractions in RPGs and action games.

'Overcooked'

In terms of local cooperative play, Overcooked may very well be the most fun we’ve had with a cooking game. Ghost Town Games’ cutesy top-down visuals instantly draw you into the game’s frantic kitchen action. Each player dons a chef hat and dashes around the kitchen chopping up veggies, putting the meal on the stove, washing the dishes, and sending orders out to be consumed. Overcooked shines thanks to its emphasis on teamwork and zany personality. Kitchens are often divided into sections, with players divided by speeding buses, tilting icebergs, and other crazy obstacles. Each level introduces new obstacles, such as busy pedestrians, to keep you on your toes. Your full team of chefs must be working in lockstep to complete the objectives within the time limit and secure a 3-star rating. While Overcooked is technically playable solo, it is significantly more challenging when enjoyed with others. Its charm and appeal come out of learning to collaborate with your fellow chefs and cook like champions.

Overcooked is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

'The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild'

Much has been said about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the superb adventure game set in a brilliant open world. There’s no reason to rehash its brilliance yet again, but what about Breath of the Wild the cooking experience? Foraging for resources is vital to Link’s survival, but who would have thought that combining ingredients to create random surprises would be so satisfying? Part of Breath of the Wild‘s cooking appeal comes from the little dance and accompanying sound that the meat, fruit, critter components, and the lot make when Link combines them over an open flame. Then there’s the “aha!” moment when discovering what dish you have made. Raw whole bird, goron spice, and hylian rice make gourmet poultry curry, while goat butter, rock salt, tabantha wheat, and any meat cooks up a meat pie. Mushrooms, herb, some fresh milk, and rock salt combine to make cream of mushroom soup. Since the number of five-ingredient combinations is staggeringly high, with each one potentially combining into a dish that restores health and/or contains status effects, Breath of the Wild‘s cooking is both a fun aside to exploration and a necessary part of the adventure.

Battle Chef Brigade

Battle Chef Brigade is one of the strangest games included on our list, as it manages to blend together two distinct genres into a unified and cohesive whole. Players compete in Iron Chef-style cooking battles, where you must “hunt” and kill monsters in simple action-RPG style combat, then bring your kills back to the kitchen to “cook” them in a match-3-style puzzle to compose delicious dishes. Developer Trinket Studios uses a gorgeous hand-drawn visual style with exaggerated animations and backgrounds lifted straight out of a fairytale picture book, resulting in something that looks retro in all the right ways. Combine that with a beautiful soundtrack and crisp sound effects, and it’s a game you can easily get lost in for hours at a time, at least until it makes you too hungry to keep playing.

Battle Chef Brigade is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.

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'Suikoden II'

Cult-classic RPG Suikoden II may have lived in the shadow of the Final Fantasy series and other stellar PlayStation RPGs when it launched in 1998, but it has maintained a steady and passionate following over the years. Sure, some may see Suikoden II‘s inclusion on this list as just an excuse to talk about how great the game truly is, but it also has an interesting cooking mini-game, one that thrived on the game’s consummate charm and engaging writing. The cooking contests, which occur in the castle’s kitchen after recruiting Hai Yo, are more about reading into dialogue and observing preferences than about making what sounds good to you. You are up against chefs from around the world in a series of 12 challenges that task you to prepare an appetizer, main course, and dessert for four very particular judges. Each judge assigns every course a score, and if you best your competitor, you win a new recipe. Suikoden II‘s cooking contests were like reality cooking shows before Gordon Ramsay was famous for yelling at aspiring chefs on TV. The judges may not yell at you if you don’t cater to their tastes, but they aren’t afraid to hold up a low scorecard.

'Stardew Valley'

One of the most relaxing games around, Stardew Valley is perfect for playing on the couch after a big holiday meal. Eric Barone’s solo-developed indie hit managed to capture the essence of Harvest Moon while offering its own unique experience. Stardew Valley is all about everyday life in a small town — performing menial tasks, interacting with folks, admiring the scenery. As a new resident who just inherited your grandfather’s house, you’ll have to tend to farmland and, of course, prepare your own food. Stardew Valley is realistic in that you have to acquire recipes before making each dish. Once you secure a recipe, you can use the items in your inventory and fridge to cook up a nice dish. Learning new recipes has its perks, too, as meals can give you enhanced skills in specific areas. The game emphasizes eating at the right time of day, too, since scarfing down a meal too close to nightfall limits its effects. Don’t eat right before bed!

'Cooking Mama 5: Bon Appétit!'

No list about cooking and video games would be complete without Cooking Mama. While the Nintendo series has gone through little evolution over its 10-plus-year history, the mini-game compilations have always been the best dedicated cooking games available for handhelds/consoles. Any of the Nintendo DS or Wii entries do the trick, but we are giving the nod to Cooking Mama 5: Bon Appétit! for the Nintendo 3DS due to its updated visuals and wide array of mini-games and recipes. The best part about the Cooking Mama series is that the mini-games do a surprisingly decent job teaching about the culinary craft while remaining simple enough for young children to grasp. The stylus-based mini-games in Bon Appétit! employ a wide range of cooking utensils and devices to frequently switch up the action.

'Cook, Serve, Delicious!'

If you want a deep but approachable cooking game, Cook, Serve, Delicious! for iOS, Android, and PC is the answer. The simulation experience offers a zany glimpse into what it takes to run your own dining establishment. Working your way up from a tiny cafe operator to a 5-star restaurant owner, Cook, Serve, Delicious! combines strict management sims with hyperfast mini-games in the mold of WarioWare to keep you hooked throughout the entire journey. You’ll deal with unruly customers, strange orders, and all of the minutiae that goes with running a profitable business. Cook, Serve, Delicious! is an entertaining ride through the perils, exhaustion, and hilarity that come with working in the service industry. Beware, like running a restaurant, Cook, Serve, Delicious! can be quite challenging.

‘BurgerTime’

BurgerTime, the 1982 arcade classic, is among the first (and best) games to turn cooking into video game fun. In the game, ambitious short-order cook Peter Pepper had to get all of his precious burger ingredients onto the plates at the bottom of each stage. The only problem is that they were spread out across multiple levels and a few evildoers — Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle, and Mr. Egg — wanted to foil Peter’s creations. We aren’t entirely sure why Mr. Hot Dog didn’t like his cousin, the hamburger, or why Mr. Pickle (or egg even) didn’t like Pepper’s delectable burgers, but BurgerTime did what all great arcade games do — create a simple mechanic that’s easy to pick up, but hard to master. Peter Pepper went on to appear in the wonderful Wreck it Ralph and the abysmal Pixels. All these years later, we imagine he loves burgers just as much as we do. Good for him.

Fun fact: BurgerTime was originally called Hamburger in Japan. Just Hamburger.

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